I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.2 Corinthians 12:2-4
What happened to Paul 14 years before?
2 Corinthians has been supposed to have been written about 58 AD. That means whatever happened occurred around 44 AD. Most guess that the purpose of the visions and revelations were to strengthen him in his challenges and trials. It appears to be around the time Barnabas accompanied Paul from Tarsus to Antioch. They then went from Antioch to Jerusalem with alms for the poor in Jerusalem. The vision either occurred on the journey or when they got to Jerusalem. And why has Paul waited until the end of 2 Corinthians to talk about it? Even then he doesn’t say much about it. Some think this happened at the time of his conversion in Damascus while others feel it happened when he was praying in the temple (Acts 22:17). The truth is we really don’t know and anything we might say is conjecture. There is nothing in Paul’s comment that enable us to tag it to a particular time. Somethings we are able to work out from other Scripture and other matters (like this one) must remain a mystery. We must be careful in our “study” that we don’t lose touch with reality and make it up.
- And what is meant by ‘the third heaven?
- Are there levels of heaven?
- Where does this thought come from?
The Jews sometimes speak of seven heavens, and Muhammed has borrowed this idea from the Jews.
- The Velum, or curtain, וילון – “Which in the morning is folded up, and in the evening stretched out.” Isa 40:22 : He stretcheth out the heavens as a Curtain, and spreadeth them out as a tent to dwell in.
- The firmament, or Expanse, רקיע – “In which the sun, moon, stars, and constellations are fixed.” Gen 1:17 : And God placed them in the Firmament of heaven.
- The Clouds, or Ether, שקים – “Where the mill-stones are which grind the manna for the righteous.” Psa 78:23, etc.: Though he had commended the Clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven, and had rained down manna, etc.
- The Habitation, זבול – “Where Jerusalem, and the temple, and the altar, were constructed and where Michael the great prince stands and offers sacrifices.” 1Ki 8:13 : I have surely built thee a House To Dwell In, a settled place for thee to abide in for ever. “But where is heaven so called?” Answer: In Isa 63:15 : Look down from Heaven, and behold from the Habitation, מזבול, of thy holiness.
- The Dwelling-Place, מעון – “Where the troops of angels sing throughout the night, but are silent in the day time, because of the glory of the Israelites.” Psa 42:8 : The Lord will command his loving-kindness in the day time, and in the night his song shall be with me. “But how is it proved that this means heaven? “Answer: From Deut 26:15. Look down from thy holy habitation, ממעון, the Dwelling-Place of thy holiness; and from heaven, השמים, and bless thy people Israel.
- The Fixed Residence, מבון – “Where are the treasures of snow and hail, the repository of noxious dews, of drops, and whirlwinds; the grotto of exhalations,” etc. “But where are the heavens thus denominated?” Answer: In 1Ki 8:39, 1Ki 8:49, etc.: Then hear thou in Heaven thy Dwelling – Place, מכון שבת, thy Fixed Residence.
- The Araboth, ערבות – “Where are justice, judgment, mercy, the treasures of life; peace and blessedness; the souls of the righteous, the souls and spirits which are reserved for the bodies yet to be formed, and the dew by which God is to vivify the dead.” Psa 89:14, Isa 59:17; Psa 36:9, Jdg 6:24; Psa 24:4; 1Sam 25:29; Isa 57:20 : All of which are termed Araboth, Psa 68:4. Extol him who rideth on the heavens, בערבות ba Araboth, by his name Jah.
The is no substance to it. It was a fanciful notion.
In the Biblical text only three heavens are mentioned.
The atmosphere, what appears to be intended by רקיע rekia, the firmament or expansion, Gen 1:6. The starry heaven; where are the sun, moon, planets, and stars; but these two are often expressed under the one term שמים shamayim, the two heavens, or expansions, and in Gen 1:17, they appear to be both expressed by רקיע השמים rekia hashshamayim, the firmament of heaven. The place of the blessed, or the throne of the Divine glory, probably expressed by the words שמי השמים shemei hashshamayim, the heavens of heavens
But on these subjects the Scripture affords us but little light and anything more than the above is speculation and fanciful thinking. What is clear is that Paul received a vision or a glimpse into heaven. You will have to wait to meet him to talk if you want to know more about it. But if you do manage to talk with him, any talk will be superfluous because you will be there. Just look around and see for yourself. But of course that doesn’t mean to say you will get the same revelation Paul received just because you are in heaven. But by then you will know as you are known and you won’t have to ask any questions anyway.
There is another small issue in these verses? Is this Paul talking of himself or some one else (I know a man . . . )?
Literally in 2 Cor 12:2 Paul says “I know a man in Christ” Most feel he is talking about himself. Some make much of this. I don’t think it is a big deal. There are others who don’t refer to themselves but use the 3rd person. Mark uses it to preserve dignity, John does so as not to appear to boast. I think Paul is doing the same thing here and is merely employing the third person so as to not draw too much attention to what he received. He is being modest in the midst of his “boasting”. But of course many translations make the choice for us as in the case of the NLT and translate “I” in place of “I know a man”. But don’t get hung up about it. It is not a big issue.
It is sinful arrogance to assume that the Truth is always or only what my feeble mind understands it to be.Rick Warren
If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.Albert Einstein
Studying God’s Thoughts Will Make You Wise, While Studying Man’s Only Makes You Clever.Robb Thompson