Friday, 25 December 2015
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 2 Corinthians 12:2
Verse 1 said, “It is doubtless not profitable for me to boast.” This verse now moves into the third person to avoid any such hint of boasting. He says, “I know a man in Christ.” This is referring to himself. There are a couple of ways of knowing this is so.
First, anyone else’s visions wouldn’t have had any bearing on his comments here. They would be superfluous to the intent of his letter. Secondly, in verse 7 he moves to the first person, still talking about the same thing. Paul is accomplishing his feat of not boasting while still conveying a thought which the Corinthians could boast in concerning his status as an apostle.
This man, meaning himself, is “in Christ.” He was, at the time of the occurrence, already a Christian. This is something he speaks of concerning the redeemed several times. One example is –
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.” Galatians 6:15
The dating of this epistle can be fixed at 57/58 A.D. Next he says it was “fourteen years ago.” This would make the event he is writing about around 43/44 A.D. Therefore, this is after his conversion, but it is something not specifically mentioned in Acts. Speculation as to when and where the vision occurred is just that, only speculation.
After this, he says, “…whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows.” The vision was so real to him that he felt as if he was in a body, but yet, he could not prove that he actually was. This resembles visions of the OT, such as in Ezekiel –
“And it came to pass in the sixth year, in the sixth month, on the fifth day of the month, as I sat in my house with the elders of Judah sitting before me, that the hand of the Lord God fell upon me there. 2 Then I looked, and there was a likeness, like the appearance of fire—from the appearance of His waist and downward, fire; and from His waist and upward, like the appearance of brightness, like the color of amber. 3 He stretched out the form of a hand, and took me by a lock of my hair; and the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven, and brought me in visions of God to Jerusalem, to the door of the north gate of the inner court, where the seat of the image of jealousy was, which provokes to jealousy. 4 And behold, the glory of the God of Israel was there, like the vision that I saw in the plain.”
Ezekiel said he had a vision while he “sat in my house with the elders of Judah,” wherein he was transported to Jerusalem, having been taken “by a lock of my hair.” There he saw and heard and experienced, and yet his body surely remained in his house. This may be something akin to what Paul experienced. The vision was so real that he simply couldn’t tell the state of his earthly body at the time.
Still referring to himself, he next says, “…such a one was caught up to the third heaven.” Nonsensical debates are made as to what Paul is referring to when he says “the third heaven.” What we can deduce is that it is a real place, and that it is “other” than where we are. People write lengthy commentaries on celestial gradations of what one “heaven” or another “heaven” is like, but it is all wasted ink. What we have from Paul is all that we need to understand the rest of the vision’s details.
As a point of interest though, he uses the term harpazo which is translated as “caught up.” This is the same term he uses for what believers will experience at their own rapture which is noted in 1 Thessalonians 4:17. Thus, there is no reason to not believe in a literal rapture where our bodies will be changed and we will be transported to be with the Lord. Those who deny this must then deny Paul’s vision in these verses. With God, all such things are possible.
Life application: The Bible gives us enough information to understand what happened in certain circumstances in only a limited way. The admonition to not go beyond what is written is good at such times. We should be careful to not make up things, stating them as fact, concerning things of which we cannot be sure. In other words, when someone analyzes a passage such as that of Paul’s vision, make sure that it is in line with his words, but that it does not unnecessarily go beyond them.
Lord God, it sure is wonderful to peer into Your word and try to determine what is being said from the past so that we can determine what will occur in the future. Will there be a rapture? What will heaven be like? How much worse will the world get before Jesus returns? These things excite our curiosity. But help us to not go beyond what is written. Instead, help us to carefully analyze Your word only as far as You have revealed it to us. And then, help us to be patient as we wait on its full realization! Amen.