Question: "What does it mean to be absent from the body?"
Answer: The phrase “absent from the body” is found in 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Paul states that he is confident in his eternal destiny and longs for the day when he can be “absent from the body” and be present with the Lord he loves and serves. To be “absent” from one’s body simply means to die because, at death, the spirit is separated from the body and moves into its eternal abode—either heaven with the Lord or hell, separated from God for eternity.
In the same way, Christians are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the presence of God. For we walk by faith, not by sight. We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord. When a born-again believer dies, his soul goes immediately into the presence of the Lord. There, the soul consciously awaits the resurrection of the body. To the church at Philippi Paul wrote from a Roman prison:
“For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you” (Philippians 1:21-24).
Paul’s desire in life was to glorify the Lord Jesus Christ. If he lived, he could continue to labor for the Lord. If he faced execution, he would depart this life and be with Christ. He desired to be with his Savior, but if he remained on earth, he could continue to minister to others.
There are some who believe in soul sleep, meaning that when a person dies, his body and soul sleep in the grave, awaiting the resurrection. But if this were true, why would Paul not want to live to minister as long as possible, rather than sleep in a grave? And if it were true that the body and soul are never separated, it would be impossible to ever be absent from the body and present with the Lord.
We conclude, then, that believers who die are indeed absent from their physical bodies and present with the Lord in conscious bliss awaiting that grand resurrection day!