Thursday, July 5, 2012

To Paradise and back

I have heard many say that Paul is the man who was caught up to the third heaven.  I have my doubts because he says in 2 Corinthians 12:2, “I knew a man,” which sounds like it wasn’t him, but someone else.  What do you see?

In context, I believe it is Paul.  Let me tell you why I believe that.  Paul is dealing with the fact that he is their apostle.  Throughout 1 and 2 Corinthians, Paul is constantly defending his apostleship.

1 Corinthians 9:1-2
Am I am not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?  If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.

He is saying to them that they are the proof of his ministry.  They were rejecting Paul even though it was through his ministry that they were saved.

Acts 18:1, 8
After these things Paul departed from Athens, and came to Corinth; … And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.

Paul was doing what was fairly common among the Jews; he was being humble.  He was trying to exalt his apostleship without exalting himself, so he goes to extremes (by referring to himself in the third person).  In 2 Corinthians 11:23-27 Paul describes how he has suffered for Christ’s sake like no other man, which is also proof of his apostleship.  False teachers did not (and do not) suffer the way Paul did.

2 Corinthians 12:1
It is not expedient [beneficial, necessary] for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.

The Lord was constantly appearing to Paul in visions and revelations and there were more to come.  He is telling them that he is the man; he is the apostle they should listen to, not those teachers who glory in themselves.

1 Corinthians 4:15
For though ye have ten thousand instructers in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.

So in light of the context of the book, Paul is defending his apostleship.

2 Corinthians 12:2-5
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.  And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)  How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.  Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

He says ‘I will glory about that man,’ but when does he ever do it?  Paul doesn’t go on to talk about another man.  He doesn’t go on to talk about anyone else but himself.  So it is a veiled reference to him.  He is trying to exalt himself as apostle; but he is also trying to remain humble.  He doesn’t want to have to do this.  He tells them they should be commending him.

2 Corinthians 3:1
Do we begin again to commend ourselves? or need we, as some others, epistles of commendation to you, or letters of commendation from you?

So he is constantly dealing with his apostleship.

Second of all he says, ‘I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago.’ If it is not Paul, who is it?  And if it is someone else, where does he glory about this man besides what he says in 2 Corinthians 12:5?  Why would he be talking about another man?  What does he have to do with Paul’s ministry?  It doesn’t make sense.  When Paul wants to talk about other men, faithful brothers in ministry, he will let you know who they are.

1 Timothy 1:18
This charge I commit unto thee, son Timothy, according to the prophecies which went before on thee, that thou by them mightest war a good warfare;

2 Corinthians 8:16
But thanks be to God, which put the same earnest care into the heart of Titus for you.

1 Corinthians 16:17
I am glad of the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus: for that which was lacking on your part they have supplied.

Ephesians 6:21
But that ye also may know my affairs, and how I do, Tychicus, a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord, shall make known to you all things:

Philippians 4:18
But I have all, and abound: I am full, having received of Epaphroditus the things which were sent from you, an odour of a sweet smell, a sacrifice acceptable, wellpleasing to God.

Colossians 4:9-10
With Onesimus, a faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you. They shall make known unto you all things which are done here.  Aristarchus my fellowprisoner saluteth you, and Marcus, sister's son to Barnabas, (touching whom ye received commandments: if he come unto you, receive him;)

He says to mark them.

Philippians 3:17
Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample [a sample of the whole].

If Paul begins to talk about some ‘random’ man in 2 Corinthians 12, but then doesn’t go on to talk about him further, what would be the purpose?  He is referring to himself.  Both epistles to the Corinthians are all about Paul’s apostleship to these carnal saints.

In the Schofield Reference Bible, you can find the dates when the epistles are believed to be written.  According to Schofield and others, there was something that happened in Acts 14 that was fifteen years before Paul wrote 2 Corinthians 12 (‘above fourteen years ago’).

Acts 14:19-20
And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, who persuaded the people, and having stoned Paul, drew him out of the city, supposing he had been dead.  Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, he rose up, and came into the city: and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.

Paul was stoned to death and then rose up.  When you do a study on stoning, every time someone was stoned in scripture from beginning to end, he was stoned to death.  ‘Stoning’ means stoned to death.  You don’t get hit in your head and body by multiple stones thrown by people intent on killing you and not die.  You don’t survive that.

Paul died and went up to heaven; God sent him back and Paul boldly went right back into the same city where he was stoned.  Paul’s ministry changed after that.  He realized that until he had finished his course and as long as he had the willingness to serve the Lord, he would finish his course no matter what man did to him.

2 Timothy 4:7
I have fought a good fight, I have finished my courseI have kept the faith:

Paul reminds Timothy of what had happened to him decades earlier – the stoning and persecution he had endured in Lystra.

2 Timothy 3:10-11
But thou hast fully known my doctrine, manner of life, purpose, faith, longsuffering, charity, patience, Persecutions, afflictions, which came unto me at Antioch, at Iconium, at Lystra; what persecutions I endured: but out of them all the Lord delivered me.

They tried to kill him; they did kill him, but God sent him back to prove Paul’s apostleship.  So it makes sense that he would bring that up in Chapter 12.

If you can name another person who Paul says went up to the third heaven, I would ask you why Paul would be talking about him when in all the other Chapters written to the Corinthians he is defending his apostleship.  Why bring up someone else?

Paul is making a contrast between himself and the other ministers who were glorying in their fame and popularity.  Paul says that he could glory in the fact that he has visions and revelations and that Christ would appear to him even more in the future.  This is an early epistle.  He still has Romans, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus and Philemon to go.

2 Corinthians 12:2-5
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body [his physical body – not the Body of Christ], I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.

When a believer dies, his soul goes to heaven.  When that happened Paul didn’t know he was dead.  They stoned him to death; he fell asleep and woke up in the third heaven.

How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

Remember this?

1 Corinthians 13:1
Though I speak with the tongues of men [humans] and of angels [celestial beings],

Why would Paul mention that to the Corinthians?  Every time when angels appear to mankind they speak human languages.  So those ‘unspeakable words which are not lawful for a man to utter’ are not the tongues of men.

Paul could speak the tongues of angels and communicate with them in their own language because he heard that language when he went to the third heaven. All this starts to make sense when we look at these verses together.  It has to be Paul.  Paul dies in Acts 14, about 15 years before he wrote 2 Corinthians 12. He says that he can speak with the tongues of men and of angels.  Then he says that he heard unspeakable words that are unlawful for man to utter, which had to be this heavenly angelic language.

Paul ends this passage in 2 Corinthians 12 by saying,

Of such an one will I glory [this is a veiled reference to himself]: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

He is saying that now he has to talk about himself but he is just going to talk about his infirmities.  Interestingly enough, the infirmity that he brings up is the fact that because of the abundance of continuing, supernatural revelation from God, he had to be humble.

2 Corinthians 12:7-9
And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.  For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

So in my mind the man he is talking about is Paul himself.  I would love to hear anyone’s opinion about who they think it is with an explanation as to why Paul did not go on to talk about that person.  Explain how Paul can be talking about his ministry, apostleship and office…

Romans 11:13
For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office:

…in all the other chapters in 1 and 2 Corinthians, and then all of a sudden start talking about some unknown man. 

But Paul is making a veiled reference to himself ‘as not to glory’ in these supernatural things that no other man experienced besides him.  He is so humble that he will glory instead in his infirmities.  He goes to the opposite extreme.  He is comparing the two extremes that he was the only man whoever died, went to heaven, talked with angels and was resurrected, with how he suffered more than any other man for Christ.  Both prove his apostleship.

All these verses work together to show that the man was Paul.  He uses his stoning to death as an example for Timothy to encourage him to endure in the ministry because Paul died and God sent him back, so Timothy too can finish and be faithful.  Paul always magnifies his office, not himself.  It is clear to me that Paul is speaking about himself because of the context and what he is trying to accomplish with his epistles to the Corinthians.  But...

Romans 14:5b
…Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.

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