2 Corinthians 5 Study Notes


5:1-10 This section, probably motivated by Paul’s recent brush with death (1:8-9), contains the most extensive teaching in Scripture on the “intermediate state,” or the condition of believers between the death of the body and its resurrection.

5:1 Paul compared our bodily existence to living in an earthly tent, and the resurrection body to a palace or other grand building. The author of the letter to the Hebrews also compared heaven to “the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb 11:10).

5:2 On we groan, see 1:8 and 4:8-9 for examples from Paul’s experience. The resurrection will be something like putting on new clothes (put on our heavenly dwelling).

5:3 The word naked is a reference to being disembodied. A human soul or spirit apart from bodily existence—thought of as a desired state in some religious systems—was never considered desirable in the Scriptures. Paul shared this view.

5:4 Paul’s preference was for the final state of the resurrection body rather than the intermediate and apparently bodiless situation of the Christian dead.

5:5 Life in the resurrection is impossible without the proper preparation. This verse emphasizes God’s sovereignty. On the Spirit as a down payment, see 1:22 and Eph 1:14 for the other NT instances of “down payment,” always connected with the Spirit. The beginning of salvation is receiving God’s person (the Spirit); the goal of salvation is enjoying God’s person fully and forever (Rv 22:4).

5:6-8 Paul drew three contrasts between this life and the intermediate state: at home in the body/out of the body; by faith/by sight; and away from the Lord/at home with the Lord. As long as the saints still live in the body, they perceive Christ only by faith. Paul’s pattern is to refer to living believers as “in” Christ or the Lord but to dead believers as “with” Christ or the Lord, when faith becomes sight in conscious fellowship with the Lord.

5:9-10 At home or away refers to either earthly bodily existence or away from bodily existence (disembodied). The main way in which the righteous dead may be pleasing to him is by receiving a positive verdict before the judgment seat of Christ. See Rm 14:10 for the other NT instance of “judgment seat” as a future event for believers. The biblical teaching is that Christians are saved by faith, but they will be judged according to the good or evil deeds they have done. This is a judgment to determine rewards, not eternal destination. See esp. 1Co 3:10-15.

5:11-12 The fear of the Lord is the awe and respect due to Christ as the judge of a believer’s works. A prominent OT wisdom theme (Pr 1:7), fear of God may not be forgotten by NT believers (Ac 9:31; Rv 15:4). The Corinthians needed to be reminded of this fear in terms of their treatment of Christ’s apostle. Paul’s motives were pure, both before the Lord he feared and before the people he served.

5:13-14 Paul’s opponents probably had suggested that he was religiously unbalanced (see Ac 26:24). He was “insane” in that the love of Christ compelled him into vigorous apostolic ministry. On the other hand, his ministry among the Corinthians had never been that of a madman (1Co 2:1-5). Indeed, he had kept his “third heaven” vision private for fourteen years until he mentioned it later in this letter (12:1-10). The heart of Paul’s message was that the Jewish Messiah had died on behalf of all kinds of sinners (1Co 15:3). Jews as well as Gentiles were included in Jesus’s substitutionary death (Rv 7:9). In union with Christ, sinners who believe the gospel have died to sin and have been raised to walk in a new way of life.

5:15 The phrase those who live refers to believers who are now spiritually alive (Eph 2:4-6). Christ’s death and resurrection ministry have become the pattern for the believer’s death and new-life ministry. Paul personally modeled this as well.

5:16 The phrase from a worldly perspective is a good rendering of the Greek text (lit “according to the flesh”). There are always two conflicting perspectives on a situation: the worldly versus the divine. A worldly view of Christ led to his crucifixion and to Paul’s persecution of Christ-followers. After the light of divine revelation broke in on Paul on the Damascus road, he could no longer know him in this way (Ac 9).

5:17-18 The words in Christ refer to being in union with him. Genuine conversion begins life transformation, but not by reforming the old nature. The indwelling Spirit creates divine life in believers (Rm 8:8-10), so that the new has come. Other NT passages communicate this truth by using language such as “born again” or “regeneration” (Jn 3:3-8; Ti 3:5; 1Pt 1:23). Those who were enemies of God have now become friends by being reconciled to him. God’s wrath against sin was satisfied in the death of his Son. Sinners—who formerly put self-interest above God’s glory (Rm 1:21; 3:23)—have been brought to cherish God as their highest treasure (2Co 4:6). The ministry of reconciliation—being an agent of this good news—was Paul’s special responsibility, but the task belongs to all who have received this ministry.

5:19-21 What Christ did, God did. Christ’s death mainly affected the world, that is, human sinners (rather than evil supernatural beings, for whom no divine provision for reconciliation has been made). Christ’s death upholds God’s righteousness. Trespasses were placed on the one who did not know sin. In return, the righteousness of God is credited (imputed) to all who are in him. The message of reconciliation is known to others only when ambassadors for Christ spread it. The Great Commission is the responsibility of reconciled human beings, not angels (Mt 28:18-20).


Greek pronunciation [kah tahl LAHSS oh]
CSB translation reconcile
Uses in 2 Corinthians 3
Uses in the NT 6
Focus passage 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

The Greek verb katallasso basically means to change or exchange. It was often used as a monetary term referring to changing or exchanging money, but in general it referred to exchanging one thing for another. A common use of katallasso was in reference to changing someone from an enemy into a friend, that is, bringing together or reconciling two people or parties that are at odds with each other. This is how katallasso is used all six times in the NT, as is also the case for all four uses of the related noun katallagÄ“ (meaning reconciliation; see Rm 5:11; 11:15; 2Co 5:18-19). These two words are found only in Paul’s writings. In 1Co 7:11, Paul used katallasso to describe a husband and wife being reconciled. Paul’s other five uses of the term explain unbelievers and God. Because of sin, unbelievers are God’s enemies (Rm 5:10), but they can be reconciled to God through faith in Christ (2Co 5:18-19).