OUR EARTHLY TABERNACLE
2 Corinthians 5:1-4 For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house, which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked. For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life.
Paul has just described things that are seen, as temporary, and unseen things aseternal, in the last few verses of the preceding chapter of this letter. In the subject lesson, he tells us that our physical bodies are similar to the temporary nature of a tabernacle, or a tent. The tabernacle, in which Israel worshipped God during their wilderness wonderings, was only a temporary dwelling place of God, until they had taken and occupied the Promised Land of Canaan. Only then were they commanded to build the temple in which God was to permanently dwell. Tents are used today in times of disaster when permanent homes are damaged and destroyed. Tents are used as encampments for military personnel that are on the move. Tents serve as temporary living quarters for scouts and vacationing campers. Rarely are tents used as permanent homes.
In the lesson text, the temporary nature of tabernacles, or tents, are compared to the human, physical body of men and women. The body is temporary because it will ultimately succumb to death, decay, and, as our Creator tells us, return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Gen. 3:19). However, while living on earth, the human body is the temporary dwelling place for the soul of mankind. Referring back to the previous chapter, we can say that the temporary body of mankind is that which is seen, while the soul is eternal and is unseen, with the human eye. As he begins this chapter of his letter to the church at Corinth, Paul recognizes the true nature of both the temporary, human body, and the permanent, eternal soul of mankind.
Paul says this fact, ...we know to be true. "We" meaning Paul and other inspired, first-century preachers of God's word, and also refers to all faithful Christians throughout all ages. We know that Christians are implied in the lesson text because of the anxious, forward-looking, anticipation of the transformation from the physical bodies of mankind to their spiritual bodies in the world to come. The unfaithful and unbelieving men and women of the world have nothing to look forward to, except the eternal punishment reserved for their souls. Knowing that when this tabernacle, this physical body is dissolved, there awaits another body created by God, a house not made with hands, that will be eternal in the heavens. It is for this new, eternal body that Paul says we groan, that is, we long for with great anticipation; we long for that eternal body that will be free from the pain and suffering that must be endured by the human body here on earth. It was Paul's desire to put off the tattered, worn-out clothing of the earthly body and put on the divine clothing of the soul that is prepared to enter into the bliss of eternal life in heaven.
The final verse of the lesson text reads, For we that are in this tabernacle do groan, being burdened: not for that we would be unclothed, but clothed upon, that mortality might be swallowed up of life. Here again, as above, "we" refers to Paul, other faithful preachers of God's word, the Christians at Corinth, as well as to all faithful Christians then and now. We, that are temporarily dwelling in this mortal body, do groan. Due to the heavy loads of life on earth, we long for deliverance from its burdens. What a wonderful consolation awaits all children of God knowing that, at death, the old, worn raiment referred to as our human body, will be replaced with the heavenly raiment fit for inheriting eternal life. As Paul wrote in his first letter to the church at Corinth, For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:53-54).
For the faithful Christian, the loss that comes by death to Our Earthly Tabernacle, in which the soul dwells, is not a loss at all. Rather it is a victory, because then the soul will become our eternal habitation, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. And, like Paul, it is for this that we groan.