21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; 24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sakes. [Philippians 1:21-24 NASB]

8 but we are of good courage and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. [2 Corinthians 5:8 NASB]

In light of these passages: did Paul believe that, as soon as he died and left the "flesh" (his body), he would be immediately transported to the presence of Christ and that he would be consciously aware of it?

  • Is there something in these passages which suggests to you Paul believes he would immediately be with Jesus once he died? Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 6:13
  • @AnthonyBurg - Paul is saying that by leaving his body then he would "be at home with the Lord" / "depart and be with Christ", and he doesn't express any sort of long delay between the two events, which could be read as an immediate happening (and many read it that way).
    – user38524
    Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 11:21

3 Answers 3


Clement of Rome

It may be helpful to read here the words of a man who was taught by Paul, Clement of Rome:

  1. There was Peter who by reason of unrighteous jealousy endured not one not one but many labors, and thus having borne his testimony went to his appointed place of glory.

  2. By reason of jealousy and strife Paul by his example pointed out the prize of patient endurance. After that he had been seven times in bonds, had been driven into exile, had been stoned, had preached in the East and in the West, he won the noble renown which was the reward of his faith,

  3. having taught righteousness unto the whole world and having reached the farthest bounds of the West; and when he had borne his testimony before the rulers, so he departed from the world and went unto the holy place, having been found a notable pattern of patient endurance. (1 Clement 5:4-6)

Here we have an apostolic father who is suggesting that although Peter & Paul have not yet been resurrected, they are already in a better holier place and have already received some form of glory. Clearly Clement believes there is something between death and the resurrection.

The Spirit isn't going nowhere, it's going somewhere

This would make for a very straightforward interpretation of these passages:

…Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. (Acts 7:59)

And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost. (Luke 23:46)

They knew their body was dying but their concern was for their spirit - because they believed their spirit was going to the realm of God.

This is supported by Ecclesiastes 12:7

Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

Conscious activity by the dead--possibly in the presence of God?

I've offered more in-depth thoughts on Revelation 6:9-11 here making the case that the spirit remains conscious after death; I think these verses are very relevant:

9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:

10 And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?

11 And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled.

The dead here are speaking, being spoken to, and are being given robes. This suggests that not only are they conscious, but their disembodied spirits have substance.


Whether these passages speak of entering the direct presence of God or entering a spiritual place he has prepared--free from the whims of flawed mortals--perhaps we cannot be entirely certain.

Jesus, Stephen, and Paul all believed that their spirit was going somewhere. Maybe these passages cannot plot that location on a map, but Paul's own disciple Clement reaffirms Paul's understanding: it was not the realm of men, but the realm of God.


The best way to understand Paul's teaching here is to see it in the larger context of his teaching about the resurrection.

  • The source of our eternal life at the resurrection is Jesus and His resurrection. 1 John 5:11, 12, 11:25, Rom 1:4, 6:5, 1 Cor 15:12-21, Phil 3:10, 11, 1 Peter 1:3, 3:21, etc.
  • The resurrection of the dead will occur at the end of time when Jesus returns. Matt 22:30, 31, Mark 12:23, Luke 14:14, 20:33-36, John 11;24, 25, 1 Thess 4:16, 17, 1 Cor 15:21, 22, 46-55.
  • There are two resurrections – one of the righteous and the wicked. Rev 20:5, 6, John 5:28, 29, Acts 24:15, Heb 11:35. See also Rev 1:7.
  • People receive their rewards at the resurrection, not before, Luke 14:14, Rev 22:12, 13.
  • People receive real bodies at the resurrection, albeit different from what we have now; 1 Cor 15:35-54.
  • People are unconscious “sleeping” in the grave until awakened by the resurrection, Acts 2:29-31, 34, Matt 9:24, 28:13, Mark 5:39, Luke 8:52, John 11:11, 12, Acts 7:60, 13:36, 1 Cor 7:39, 11:30, 15:6, 18, 20, 51, 1 Thess 4:13-15, 5:10, 2 Peter 3:4, etc.
  • The teaching about bodily resurrection is also found in the OT; Job 19:25, 26, Isa 26:19, Dan 12:2, 13. See also 1 Sam 2:6, Job 14:14, Ps 17:15, 49:15, Hos 13:14 (which is quoted by Paul in 1 Cor 15:55).

The fact that people are described as "sleeping", ie, unconscious in death suggests that when we die, as far as the person is concerned, the next immediate event is the resurrection.

Thus, in 2 Cor 5, Paul is describing the events as they would be perceived by himself when he died.

  • "People receive real bodies at the resurrection, albeit different from what we have now; 1 Cor 15:35-54." As opposed to unreal bodies? I'm not sure what you mean here. Paul says we receive 'spiritual bodies', whatever that means. Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 5:44
  • How do you know people are unconscious after they die but before the resurrection? Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 5:45
  • "at the end of time" Specific passage for this? Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 5:48
  • @AnthonyBurg - I have listed my references above
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 9:21
  • 2
    For an alternate interpretation of "sleeping" see my thoughts here: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/questions/56349/… Commented Mar 7, 2021 at 22:17

We only have to check the immediate context to see what Paul understood.

He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus. Phil 1:6

that you may be sincere and blameless for the day of Christ v10

Christ will even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death v20

The day of Christ is commonly understood to be the day of his return - when the dead in Christ will rise. So Paul is using shorthand to express the reality of the fleeting moment between death and his resurrection - however long it was, the next moment he would be with his Master at last! Death is what Jesus experienced while in the grave those 3 days and nights according to the plan and promised sign. The 'robber' who was with him on the cross would also die and await the resurrection. Jesus wasn't doing anything while he was dead. Paul wont be either.

There is no reason or scripture to think Paul was going to bypass the resurrection and go straight to 'paradise'. Pauls 1 Cor 15 outlines clearly the process for the next life.

So will it be with the resurrection of the dead: What is sown is perishable; it is raised imperishable v43

Paul is also clear about a rumoured immortal soul - What is sown is perishable - it can and will die at death. What is raised - in a resurrection, is now alive evermore. Just as Jesus experienced.

having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit 1 Pet 3:18

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Mar 8, 2021 at 7:21

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