Paul’s Vision and Rapture

2 Corinthians 12:1-10

False Visions and Miracles

The religions of this world are full of people who have visions or revelations. Mormonism is founded upon a revelation Joseph Smith had from the angel Moroni. They use Isaiah 29:4 to  support their claim for the authority of the Books of Mormon. However it is really evidence that deal with false prophets. Roman Catholicism is riddled with people who claim to have had visions or revelations. Some of these people have even been canonized and people pray to them.   Visions and apparitions of the Virgin Mary, the appearance of the stigmata, with serious wounds healing so quickly something supernatural seemed required; appearances of the Catholic host on a child’s tongue, statues that wept real liquid for weeks, glowing crosses in Medjugoria, Yugoslavia, statues of Hindu gods drinking milk by the liter, etc. The miracles referred to were seen by hundreds of eyewitnesses and many were confirmed and/or authenticated photographically. Statues that ooze “healing oil, “visions” of Jesus in the clouds and of a linking sun seen in Conyers, Georgia, where a woman “channels” revelations from the alleged Virgin Mary. In fact, Conyers, Georgia was called “a modern day Fatima”—no mean accolade. In Fatima, thousands of people saw a vision of the sun that moved in circles and messages from Mary were given to teenagers. In Medjugoria as well, the sun “pulsated.” Thousands of people were convinced they saw the sun blink, pulsate or move in circles and in the case of its pulsating and blinking, this was said to have been captured on video. No observatory recorded this and it would be physically impossible regardless. While a natural explanation may be possible for what people think they saw, we know the sun did nothing extraordinary. However, the miraculous is also at least a possible explanation in some cases. There are incidents in occult literature of film being impregnated with false images and there are also cases of mass visions, both apparently accomplished by spiritistic power.5

Other things that people saw included strange cloud formations and thousands of rose petals falling from the sky in the dead of winter, something reminiscent of certain poltergeist events. Some people heard, in a statue of Mary, a heart beating.  Are these for real? Does it involve manipulation of the mind whereby things are seen that have no reality external to the individual, as in the case of the moving sun. Are they actual materializations or apparitions of “Mary” or physical phenomena such as the rose petals falling from the sky. Is it Biblical or unbiblical ot just part of Roman Catholic theology?

We have in the Christian professing world, individuals who claim to be able to visualize Jesus in such a way that the Jesus whom they visualize becomes real to us. The evidence is, so far as we are concerned, beyond our grasping. There are a number of individuals who claim that if we visualize our Lord that through visualization he actually may become real to us.

Many claim to have had a revelation from God or Jesus. Such claims from professing Christians that are  contrary to the word of God have brought much confusion and even division in churches to make and surely contrary to  the word of God. It has weakened the faith of others. Some teach we are to visualize our Lord so that he may become real to us. It really means we conjure up Jesus, this is contrary to the New Testament.

Many professing believers today say the Lord spoke to them today, and he said such and such. We should ask them how did he speak? Did he speak audibly? Did he speak by a vision or by revelation? Is it through some charismatic experience such as speaking in tongues that he has spoken to you? Is it divine revelation?

If you’ll go into the Christian bookstores today you’ll probably find many books on visions and revelations the shelves in which individuals claim to have had certain visionary, revelatory experiences and their details of them.

What was different about Paul is he did not want to talk about visions and revelations. He did not want to draw attention to himself or an experience in case people sought after that. He wanted to keep the focus on Jesus. That was the thing by which the apostle determined what is of God and what is not.

Boasting is Necessary

verse 30, “If I have to boast, I will boast to what pertains to my weakness.” “I wish you would bear with me in a little foolishness.” The apostle begins by the continuation of his foolish boasting. Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable in verse 11 he says, “I have become foolish, you yourselves compelled me He is compelled to show the visions and revelations as evidence of his apostolic authority, to expose the opponents in the church at Corinth who sought to attack his authority. The false apostles claims superior spirituality and experiences along with super knowledge and they charged high fees. They would deceive the people and say , “The Lord told me such and such.” The people did not question their authority or the source of their message. The sharing of such spurious visions deluded many at Corinth.

They were saying that he was not an apostle like the Twelve, that the message that he preached was not a valid message, and, his Damascus Road experience was questionable. Paul, faced with these smart enemies is forced to respond with foolish boasting even though he considers boasting unprofitable. He states that in verse 1, boasting is necessary though it is not profitable. But because it is necessary I will go onto visions and revelations of the Lord.

Boasting is Necessary

Vs 1 “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Now, he speaks of some of them, and he speaks of his conversion, of course, in his letters fairly frequently. But he’s forced to speak of this experience; this unusual experience in which he is raptured to the third heaven or as he also defines it to paradise. So the apostle then has had many experiences. He doesn’t like to talk about them. He doesn’t like to emphasize them. He doesn’t like for people to lay stress upon them, but because of the situation at Corinth he feels it necessary to do it. He’s  reluctant to speak about them.

So in verse 2 through verse 4 he speaks of what he calls the man in Christ.

Vs 2-4 Paul reluctantly reveals his unusual one. He had experienced visions and revelations in his ministry. He had the vision of our Lord on the Damascus Road when the Lord appeared to him, then spoke to him, and called him to the ministry of the gospel to the Gentiles (Acts 9 Acts 22 and Acts 26). It wasn’t something that the apostle alone claimed to have happened, but others also had observed but they did not fully understand.

At Philippi he had a vision and words were spoken to him. When he was in Corinth, there also was an appearance of the Lord to him. In Acts 23:11 another appearance of the Lord and in Acts 17:23-24, then in Galatians 2: 2 he makes reference to going up to Jerusalem by divine revelation. He doesn’t like to talk about them. He doesn’t like to emphasize them. He doesn’t like for people to lay stress upon them, but because of the situation at Corinth he feels it necessary to do it. So in verse 2 through verse 4 he speaks of what he calls the man in Christ.

The apostle speaks in the third person through verse 2, – verse 5, “On behalf of such a man will I boast.” But when we come to the 7th verse and the apostle writes, “And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations for this reason to keep me from exalting myself there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me to keep me from exalting myself.” Paul is talking about himself.

We don’t know when this happened Paul says fourteen years ago. If 2 Corinthians was written in the years 55 to 56 in that particular period of time, then it is possible that the apostle refers to the time that he spent after his conversion in Syria and Seleucia. It’s possible he is referring to Galatians 1:21. It is possible that it was an event that occurred when he spent the year in Antioch in ministry there because that would have been about fourteen years previously. The time could refer to Lystra were he was stoned and left for dead. He was dragged into the city as if he were dead. But then stood up alive, did he go to the third heaven to paradise and there saw the things that he describes here, and then by God was given life again by resuscitation? When he left Antioch and went out on his first missionary journey as apostle to the Gentiles.

We don’t need to know exactly when it occurred, we don’t even have to know what he saw and heard but we know it was real. It may have been given to Paul to encourage him when the great period of suffering and hardship occurred, that he mentioned in the former chapter. The vision and revelation he received at that time strengthened him for future suffering.

The Third Heaven – Paradise

Vs 2 – 4, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago, such a man was caught up to the third heaven.” In verse 4 he says, “he was caught up into paradise.” The Greek reads, “I know.” Why doesn’t he simply say I was caught up to the third heaven? The reason that he does this is he wants to go out of the way to keep anyone from saying he’s boasting. He’s flaunting himself. He even describes this experience as if it’s of someone else in the third person.

He says he was caught up to the third heavens or, paradise. Different religious books spoke of different numbers of heavens. Some spoke of three, some spoke of five, some spoke seven, some even spoke of ten heavens. But it was not uncommon to speak of three heavens. Paul is speaking about three heavens. If there are ten heavens, and you only were raptured to the third heaven, well, then that wouldn’t be so much to speak about or any reason to not want to mention it because of boasting.

The three heavens are the atmospheric heavens that are about us in which we have clouds and rain and possible thunder and lightning. Above the atmospheric heavens are the stellar heavens our present universe going out all the stellar bodies, stars, moons, planets and then the third heaven is the limitless spiritual heavens where the Lord God himself dwells. This is the infinite abode of infinite God, it is limitless. Paul was on earth which is marred by sin since the Fall. Satan is the ruler here along with his demons and sinful men inhabit it. Paul’s experience took him beyond outer, the galaxies right into the third heaven which is total perfection. This is what heaven will be like for us. It will be totally new to us, Isaiah 65:17 it says, “For behold I create new heavens and a new earth and the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind but be glad and rejoice forever in what I create.” The present first and second heaven will be removed. “Though, Lord, in the beginning didst lay the foundation of the earth and the heavens are the works of Thy hands, they will perish but Thou remainest and they all will become old as a garment and as a mantle Thou will roll them up, as a garment they will also be changed, but Thou art the same and Thy years will not come to an end.” Ps. 102:10  God is going to change them and there will a new eternal heaven and a new earth.

Paradise is a Persian word that referred to a royal garden. In the Book of Genesis it is used to describe the Garden of Eden. It was paradise. In Revelation 2: 7  our Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches, to him who overcomes I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the paradise of God.” There was a paradise in the beginning, the Garden of Eden, and there is a paradise in the future. The  scriptures present the whole plan of redemption as being the restoration, to God’s original creation. There is the  first paradise, the last paradise, and in between we have the hidden paradise of which we don’t know anything, it is in the Lord’s presence.

On the cross the Lord Jesus told the dyeing thief, “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise.” Paradise, the third heaven, is the place of God’s presence, it’s the goal of all who are redeemed through the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Heaven is beyond human description of the precious jewels and gold Heaven is a place more wonderful than we can ever begin to imagine. We are talking about our home.

Heaven is an amazing and wonderful place, a place of joy and beauty, of peace and happiness that will never end. No sin, no weeping, no pain, no death, no evil, no devil, no heartache is there, nor fear or depression there.  No fighting and quarrelling, no disagreements no disappointments. Heaven is also a place where there will be no sin or suffering, no sorrow or pain.

It will be full of joy.  It says, “In Thy presence is fullness of joy; in Thy right hand there are pleasures forever.” Psalm 16:11. Paul couldn’t wait to get back there.

Paul says twice “whether in the body, I do not know or out of the body, I do not know. God knows.” He doesn’t know wither he was caught up in body  and all or just spirit.  He does not think it matter much. How different he is to people today who are willing to boast about such thing. So whether Paul was caught up body and all like Enoch or Elijah or whether only in spirit, he was comfortable with either. He did not get caught up because the biblical doctrine would forbid it. He is comfortable with both of those things.

Revelation Beyond Normal Spiritual Experience

Paul emphasizes in verse 4, “I was caught up into paradise, and I heard inexpressible words which a man is not permitted to speak.” The things he heard were inexpressible because they were simply indescribable. One could not describe them humanly down here upon the earth or anyone down here upon the earth could understand them. How can we explain the throne room of God? How can you describe his glory? Ezekiel and John fell down before him when they had a vision Ezk. 1:28; Rev. 112-17. Gods throne, gods glory, Gods paradise is for his own.  The new heavens and new earth is “the home of the righteous” (2 Peter 2:13). Absolutely pure, untainted by sin. Paul says its inexpressible.

Peter tried to describe the inheritance of the saints, as incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away in first peter. It is impossible but fantastic, incorruptible, undefiled, fadeth not away, it is not like anything down here on the earth. Things down on the earth corrupt, become defiled and fade, it’s corruptible. Incorruptible things are heavenly things. Human things are corruptible. It cannot be described. It is not in the human capacity to understand. They were things that we could not understand.

They were impermissible, they were private. He was not permitted to talk about them. They were not given to him to pass on. Why Paul? They were only for his benefit to endure the mission to the Gentiles. It helped to anchor him in the storms of life, to persevere to the end. We do not get his visions. He goes on to say some things about it that gives us an insight into how he responded to this great experience. An immature believer would yield to pride and boasting.

Paul Reconciles Both Men

Vs 5-6 He says, “On behalf of such a man will I boast. But on my own behalf, I will not boast except in regard to my weaknesses.” The two Pauls are different. He reconciles the man in Christ and Paul himself. The man in Christ, he  will boast of. The man in Christ has the great experience.  Subjectively, as Paul himself is concerned, he wants to boast about his weaknesses. He dislikes to boast over this experience. Why? Because he does not want to boast except in his weaknesses, so that the one who boasts is to boast in the Lord (10:17, “But he who boasts, let him boast in the Lord,…”

He says as he began the chapter, “it’s unprofitable, boasting is necessary, it’s not profitable.” And but he said, “I’ll have to go on because of the circumstances.” He does not want to draw attention to himself.  He is afraid to do so in verse 6. He says, “But I refrain from this so that no one may credit me with more than he sees in me or hears in me. Boasting, I will not boast of the man in Christ except insofar as it serves the purposes in Corinth, but I will boast in my weaknesses.” He knows God gets the glory and the power of Christ rests upon him, while he remain weak. God in glorified in his weaknesses, and therefore he will boast in his weaknesses, he will not boast in these great experiences.

Paul’s attitude is the opposite to so many evangelists or preachers today.  They promote self-esteem or their ministry. He says, “I refrain from this so that no one may credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.” People look for recognition for glory the apostle is not concerned about people appreciating him. He wants to glorify God. The idea of boasting or promoting self he does not like.

He was not looking to make a reputation for himself, others done that. How do you test someone who says God spoke to him?  We have no way of testing that. It’s their word and that’s all. Paul doesn’t think like that. He says his reputation must not rest upon inaccessible claims.

You test a person by their observable behaviour not their self assessment. It is not just what a man says but what he does and how he lives. How his Christianity manifests itself in his behaviour. That’s a valid test. The apostle says, “I refrain from this so that no one may credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.”

And, thirdly, Christ and the gospel message are the proper focus. Messengers, other than our Lord, are sinners even apostles.

Pauls experience surpasses other Christians. No one ever had so wonderful experience of visions and revelations, but so far as Paul was concerned, he wished them private. He was almost embarrassed to mention them. Today people are writing books about going to heaven or about their experiences. Many unthinking people including Christians think it is wonderful and even promote their books. They are misguided. Paul said, “I do not want to boast. I want to boast only in my weaknesses which glorify God because they show how God has delivered my in all my weaknesses. I refrain from boasting about experiences so that you won’t credit me with more than you see in me or hear from me.”

Paul’s faith was not built upon his psychic tendencies, nor mystical experience, nor a religious nature, nor his good works. He was  a man in Christ. His faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. Anything we do must be for his glory. Your experience must be upon Him. If you want to experience the Paradise Paul experienced you must trust Christ.  You cannot go to  heaven as you are, you’d be very unhappy. You need a new body. You need to be rid of sin. the pure in heart, according to the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes, are promised that they will some day see God. We are to, “Set your affections on things above and not on things on the earth.” Col. 3.

God’s final call. God’s last invitation. Jesus in the closing words of the Bible invites all to come to Him and receive the promise of heaven: “… Let him that heareth… come. And let him that is athirst come. And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Rev.  22:17).

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