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The Groaning Tent and the Exodus
By Ed Vasicek
A man went to a psychiatrist with a problem.
“Doc,” he explained, “I keep being plagued by two recurring dreams. One is a dream that I am a wigwam. In my other dream, I dream I am a teepee. Doc, you gotta help me. Am I going crazy? Is there something wrong with me?”
“Relax,” consoled the psychiatrist. “There is nothing wrong with you. You’re just two tents.”
The subject of tents was something Paul the Apostle took seriously. He was a skilled tent-maker by trade. Because tents were not far from Paul’s mind, he was in familiar territory when he compared life’s temporary nature to tent dwelling.
Most of us agree that this life has its good points, but frequently life is less than great. We seek to give thanks in all things (1 Thessalonians 5:18), but sometimes it takes quite a bit of effort to do so, especially when our health is an issue.
Paul tells us that our current life is like dwelling in a tent (temporary and insecure), but our future life is compared to dwelling in a building (permanent and secure). We have an eternal dwelling awaiting us in heaven. Keeping our eyes on heaven might make us “other-worldly,” but being conscious of our future destiny helps us cope with this present world!
In 2 Corinthians 5:1-5, Paul reminds us that we live not only in a tent, but also in a groaning tent. One day our groaning tent will be replaced with God’s building in glory. I believe Paul is using imagery from Israel’s Exodus experience to illustrate this truth.
First, notice that being trapped in mortal bodies makes us groan (2 Corinthians 5:1-4)
When Paul wrote his letters to the various congregations, he assumed they were fluent in the Old Testament. After all, the Old Testament was the only Bible the early church possessed, even in gentile congregations. The New Testament was not yet written, and the books that had been written by this time had yet to be collected.
When the original recipients read about believers “groaning” in this tent, they would have correlated this “groaning” to the Jews who groaned while slaves in Egypt. Exodus 6:5 reads, “Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant.”
Unlike some branches of Christendom specializing in denial, do you see how realistic a picture the New Testament paints? Eras of life can be characterized by groaning—whether our burden be physical, spiritual, or emotional. Groaning is part of the bundled package of life (Ecclesiastes 3:1-8). Although our souls have been redeemed, the redemption of our bodies is yet future, so the Holy Spirit groans on our behalf as together we (and all creation) groan and await the redemption of our bodies (Romans 8: 22-26).
For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. (ESV, 2 Corinthians 5:1-4)
Paul compares our bodies to the tents the children of Israel dwelt in for forty years. Many of us have camped in tents, pop-ups, trailers, or cabins. Although we enjoy roughing it, we are usually glad to get back home. Most of us are not content with a nomadic existence.
God, on the other hand, was perfectly content for His Shekinah to dwell in a tent, the Tabernacle. The Shekinah moved along with His people, according to Deuteronomy 1:33,
[God] went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.
But God’s Shekinah was transferred from a tent (tabernacle) to Solomon’s beautiful, stationary temple (2 Chronicles 7:1-3). In the same way, we are looking for a heavenly dwelling, a permanent resurrection body (like the temple).
The Bible describes believers as pilgrims, nomads, strangers; we want to set down our roots permanently, but this world keeps changing—and so do we. We want security rather than a run of security marred by trauma, loss, and trials.
Our presence in heaven apart from our bodies is being temporarily “naked,” but when Jesus returns to the clouds, those of us with Him in heaven will be awarded new bodies (I Thessalonians 4:13-17).
Meanwhile, back on earth, our bodies keep renewing themselves. Did you know that our bodies are really a pattern? Dr. Richard Swenson (M.D.) comments:
“90 percent of our atoms are replaced annually. Every five years, 100 percent of our atoms turn over and become new atoms… We are continually being recreated from dust and returning to dust,” explains David M. Baughan, M.D. “We are not objects or machines that endure, we are patterns that have the capacity to perpetuate ourselves.” (More Than Meets the Eye, Navpress, pp. 17-18)
In simplified colloquial language, God keeps our pattern on file, and one day He will create new, immortal bodies for us—minus the effects of the curse.
Second, notice that the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee of our immortality (2 Cor. 5:5).
Devout Jews pray the Amidah prayer daily, thus evidencing that the Jews have and many still do believe in the bodily resurrection. Here is part of that prayer:
He sustains the living with loving kindness, resurrects the dead with great mercy, supports the falling, heals the sick, releases the bound, and fulfills His trust to those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, mighty One! And who can be compared to You, King, who brings death and restores life, and causes deliverance to spring forth! (chabad.org).
The belief in the bodily resurrection is at least as ancient as the first written book of the Bible, the book of Job (Job 19:25-27):
For I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
My heart faints within me!
When Paul wrote these words, only Jews and Christians believed in the resurrection of the body. Because most other religions believed only in a shadowy, spiritual existence beyond the grave, Judaism and Christianity must have seemed quite fantastic.
We would argue that our faith is fantastic because we have a fantastic God! We await not only heaven, but also our resurrection bodies. How long will we be without bodies in glory? The answer may be as irrelevant as time is irrelevant in glory. We may be so enthralled with the fascinating joys of heaven that—before we notice—we will return with Jesus to the clouds and receive our new bodies.
The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of heaven and these new bodies:
He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor. 5:5)
Just as the Red Sea wind (Hebrew, ruach, spirit, or breath or wind) foreshadowed Israel’s eventual conquest of the Promised Land, so the Spirit (Greek, pneuma, spirit or breath or wind) opens the way for what is to come. Thus the Holy Spirit is both the divine finisher (in matters of sanctification) and the one who leads the way toward what is to come!
You blew with your wind; the sea covered them; they sank like lead in the mighty waters. (Exod. 15:10)
Our mortality will be “drunk down” by immortality. In verse 4, Paul wrote, “so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.” Just as the sea swallowed the Egyptian army alive, so our mortal state will be swallowed up, leaving nothing but our immortal state (illustrated by the Hebrews who survived).
As our bodies age, deteriorate, decay, or are plagued by disease, remember: one day all believers in Jesus will receive new bodies. No more health care. No more pain. No more imperfection. The presence of the Holy Spirit in your life serves as a divine reminder of your destiny!