21 VEmoi. ga.r to. zh/n Cristo.j kai. to. avpoqanei/n ke,rdojÅ
21 for to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.
Paul wrote the Philippians while he was in prison, on trial for his life before the Emperor Nero. He was talking about the possibility of dying, whether he was going to boldly bear witness to Christ, whether through life or through death. Notice that Paul was conflicted because he wanted to depart and be with Christ. Paul believed in some way that if Nero would take his life that night that he, Paul, would in some way be in the care and keeping of God. Usually that has been described theologically as the soul dwelling with God awaiting the real hope which is the resurrection of the body and the renewed Creation. This understanding of where the departed, faithful soul is in death is reflected in what theologians call the intermediate state or heaven. This intermediate state is an interim state; it’s not thee full Christian hope but it looks forward to thee full Christian hope which is the resurrection and the renewal and restoration of all Creation.
By way of comparison, Paul is saying something like we saw the first Christian martyr Stephen saying in Ac 7. V 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” In other words we have this idea in the NT that even before the resurrection Stephen is going to be somehow dwelling with the Lord, somehow with God in some way that’s not fully describable.
Paul, of course, sees this intermediate state very positively. Here in vv 21-23 Paul is making this distinction here between the intermediate state and the resurrection of the body which is the ultimate goal of all Christians, including Paul. In fact, Pp 1 21-23 is one of the few passages in the Bible which even discusses the intermediate state because the Bible’s stress is so much on thee ultimate Christian hope and promise – the resurrection of the body and the renewal and restoration of all Creation. This, in turn, is built on the fact that within Pauline and biblical theology, there is a dualism of sorts in that people are not just bodies or souls but they are body and soul. The Bible uses all sorts of language for this soul.
However, Paul’s thinking here is not dualistic in the sense that there is a preference of soul over the body, or vice versa, as we see in other dualistic belief systems. Instead, in Christian thought the person is a whole human being which is why as Christians we have the ultimate hope of the resurrection of the body. That’s the way God created us. That’s the way God intended us to be. Soul and body! Body and soul! That’s what God DID in the Creation, and, therefore, that’s what God will DO again in the renewed Creation. We will be raised soul and body just as Jesus was and just as we were created initially!
The idea here is that after believers have died, believers will somehow be apart from the body but with the Lord awaiting the resurrection. Remember, edges of language. Thus, we have this intermediate state which relates to this whole expectation, and promise, that the Lord will come and raise their bodies and in some ineffably magnificent way our bodies will be made new, both soul and body. So when believers have died, their spirits are now in this intermediate state that we call heaven, but this is before the resurrection of the body. This is sort of a “plus” to this resurrectional understanding of Christianity. That is, even while awaiting the resurrection, we are in this intermediate state in which we are with the Lord. In this intermediate state the soul of the person, in some mysterious way, is with God awaiting the resurrection of the body. So, in summary, in death the believer is immediately with God; the body of that believer has died and will decay and return to dust, but their spirit as departed and is with Christ because the biblical understanding is that one’s spirit is created to live forever.
Hence, Paul’s understanding is that were Nero to kill him that night, he, Paul, would be with Christ in this intermediate state, where the soul is with God awaiting the resurrection and awaiting the eventual reuniting of soul and body. There, in the intermediate state (heaven), Paul would not be fully human because he wouldn’t have his body. But, in the resurrection, Paul would again have his body. Remember also what we read in Re 6 where we actually hear from people who are in the intermediate state. 9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slaughtered for the word of God and for the testimony they had given; 10 they cried out with a loud voice, “Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long will it be before you judge and avenge our blood on the inhabitants of the earth?” These spirits of the departed believers in Re 6 were in this intermediate state (heaven) and they were waiting for the real hope which is the resurrection of the body and the renewal and restoration of all Creation.
A part of some Christians’ faith is this concept of purgatory which is ultimately concerned with this intermediate state called heaven. That is, there is this theological controversy regarding purgatory surrounding the question “Do people need, or not need, some sort purification during the intermediate state before they can have the ultimate vision of God and everlasting blessedness in the new Creation and the resurrection?” That is, having been found in faith at death and therefore saved and therefore now being in the intermediate state, does the soul of that believer need to be further purged, cleansed or purified of sin and evil not yet accounted for before that soul can fully participate in the life of God and be in the full presence of Christ?
For some Christians the answer to that question is “yes,” and therefore, these Christians believe that their souls go to purgatory where they believe they are not fully in the presence of Christ but have some sort of existence with Christ there in purgatory. This belief is held by Catholics and by some Protestants such as the Anglicans. It’s not held by the Orthodox or most Protestants who understand purgatory to be a late “construction” (one of their traditions) within Roman Catholic Church theology following the great schism of 1054. In that we Lutherans come from within Roman Catholicism, that makes purgatory part of our religious heritage but a part which was shed in the Reformation.
For those who accept purgatory, purgatory is a ‘temporary’ time of purification for the souls of the faithful who had died penitent, that is, in penitence and sorry for their sins. Although these souls are still in some sort of fellowship with God, they are still afflicted with sins which are keeping them from fully enjoying that fellowship with God. Therefore, these souls needed to be purified from sin through punishment before they were fit and eligible to be in the presence of God – even though they were already among the saved.
As such, following the death of the sinner who had not made complete (temporal) satisfaction in this life for their sins – the souls of the faithful were held in purgatory for purification before they were eligible to fully enjoy fellowship with God. Purgatory might also include some punishment if sins committed during life had not been adequately forgiven. As such, at death the soul that departed this life was purified for a time – possibly a very long time – in purgatory until being finally released in order to enjoy full fellowship with God. Because of the way the Roman sacrament of penance had been created in the church, everyone had to go through purgatory before being in the presence of God. Hence, for most medieval Christians purgatory had become more of a problem than was hell itself!!!
Hence, those of this belief say purgatory is a time of purgation and purification that is necessary before entering fully into the blessings of the intermediate state. There being no viable scriptural basis for this concept, purgatory is rejected by the Orthodox and most Protestants including Lutheranism.
Therefore, the question of purgatory is a relatively minor question because it only applies to this intermediate state. As such, while some Christians accept purgatory and other Christians do not, they still all importantly agree on the ultimate hope which is, and has always been, the resurrection of the dead and the renewal and restoration of all Creation. The discussion of purgatory only involves the state awaiting the ultimate hope. It only involves the intermediate state of heaven and not the true and ultimate Christian hope. Importantly, all Christians are agreed on thee ultimate Christian hope, that of the resurrection of the dead and the renewal and restoration of all Creation.
22 eiv de. to. zh/n evn sarki,( tou/to, moi karpo.j e;rgou( kai. ti, ai`rh,somai ouv gnwri,zwÅ
22 but if I am to live on in the flesh, this would be fruitful for my labor; and what I shall choose I just do not know.
The idea here of being fruitful for my labor is that “I would gain people for the Lord.”
23 sune,comai de. evk tw/n du,o( th.n evpiqumi,an e;cwn eivj to. avnalu/sai kai. su.n Cristw/| ei=nai( pollw/| Îga.rÐ ma/llon krei/sson\
23 and I am hard-pressed from two sides: having the desire to depart [to die] and be with Christ, for that is far, far better (more better by far);
It’s very clear that were Paul to be killed that night, Paul understood that he would be with Christ immediately – that at least his soul will be. In other words, this would not be a period when Paul was waiting to be with Jesus because he would be with Jesus during that period. Jesus will be with us.
So this is very mysterious. We’re on the edges of language here. All our language about the future is a set of true signposts pointing into a fog but they are not signposts that give us a photographic reproduction of what we’ll find when we get there.
So here in the text Paul was hard-pressed because he wanted to stay living and not be put to death by Nero because were he continue living that would mean he could win all the more people for the Lord.
However, if he had his druthers, if it were not for this drive and commission from God to win people to the faith, if it were his own interest alone, he would really rather be with Christ. That’s what he was saying. … having the desire to depart and be with Christ for that is far, far better; Again, this is Paul’s tautology of earnestness with this double superlative. Paul is making his point beyond all measure.
tautology in logic is a statement, classification or accounting that overlooks and excludes no possibility, for instance, She is either married or not.
That is what Paul was doing here as he also did elsewhere such as at Pm 16 and Ro 8 19. Tautology of earnestness is a literary technique he used to emphatically make his point.
In other words, v 23 explicitly tells us that would Paul be put to death, his soul would be immediately with Christ where Christ is, in heaven – in this intermediate state. So we have this idea that Paul would be with Christ in heaven, not with his body because his body would be put to death and decay, but with his soul which would be dwelling with Christ in heaven. In other words, Paul is saying that when his body dies, his soul would immediately, mysteriously and incomprehensibly be in the presence of and dwelling with Christ in heaven, apart from his body because his body would have been put to death and undergoing decay elsewhere.
Theologians understand this as the first judgment, the second and final judgment to come not occurring until Christ’s second coming when all will be raised (Dn 12 1-2) for the final judgment (sentencing).
Hence, when Paul said this in v 23 he understood the intermediate state to be a blessed conscious state in which he would be consciously with the Lord, though apart from his body. [See 1 Th 4 13 discussion.]
24 but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for you.
24 to. de. evpime,nein ÎevnÐ th/| sarki. avnagkaio,teron diV u`ma/jÅ
JW: but to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake.
So Paul is caught in this dilemma. He knows that in order to do the work of the Lord he must remain in the flesh, but he’d prefer to die because that will mean (v 23) departing and being with Christ.
The other important idea here for Paul is that when he dies, he knows he will not pass into non-existence, soul and body. His body will die but his soul will go to be with the Lord. Since the Lord is in God’s space that we call heaven, presumably the idea here is that his soul will be in heaven with Jesus. Paul also spoke about this in other passages such as 2 Cor 5 7-10 where he said, 6 we are well-pleased to be apart from the body and present with the Lord. 6 So we are always confident; even though we know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord
In other words, and although Paul does not use the specific language spirit or soul in the text, still, presumably that’s exactly what he’s talking here – about the soul or the spirit – or however you want to talk about it. That is, he was talking about his soul or spirit that would be in heaven, that is, with Christ. So in this case, and in this case only, you can have that concept of ‘going to heaven when you die’. But this is only a temporary, intermediate state that the soul is in. This is clearly stated here in this text. It’s here in the Bible. That’s why theologians call this the intermediate state or the interim state. In this intermediate state that we call heaven, we are apart from the body but present with the Lord.
Notice also how Paul is very full and rich and positive about it. I want to depart and be with Christ for that is far, far better (v 23). It seems as though few Christians of our own day and age share such a conviction to want to be with Christ as Paul here clearly expresses his desire to be.