2 CORINTHIANS 12
1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
2 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.
He is, of course, speaking of himself. His form of words indicate that he is not speaking as an independent person, or of personal accomplishments, but as a chosen instrument of Christ. When he wrote this, it was fourteen years since the beginning of his ministry in the ecclesias, when Barnabas brought him from Tarsus to Antioch. The vision to which he refers was before that.*
3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)
Paul did not know what form the vision took, or how it was presented to him -- whether he saw with his eyes or just with his understanding. It was not important. God's ways of operation are beyond our capacity of comprehending.*
Out of the Body
It was not a transportation from place to place, but of mind from one state to another, the man himself remaining at his accustomed home. This is indicated by his saying,
"I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord."
He was speaking of these-things seen and heard. He was "in the Spirit," as John was in Patmos, who, though in the Spirit, and therefore caught up, or exalted, in mind, remained still in his island home. But of this, doubtless, for the time, he was as little cognizant as Paul.
They were mentally enwrapped, or extatisized, in a twinkling of the eye, or by a sudden seizure of the Spirit of God. This is a real condition of brain, and may be produced by mere human power. It is called ecstasy. I have produced it several times, and know that the subject of it cannot tell whether he is on earth or in heaven, with body or without it.
Paul and John's ecstasy, however, differed from this, in that theirs was produced by the Spirit, while my patient's was caused by my nervous energy seizing upon his.
The Spirit remaining with Paul and John after the ecstasy had passed away, they retained the recollection of what they saw and heard; which is not the case with those ecstasized by mere human power. The period of their ecstasy is a perfect blank, although their eyes are wide open, and their hearing is not gone.
The particles rendered in and out of, are not εν en and εκ ek; but εν and εκτοζ, ektos: εν has many meanings.
So little cognizant was Paul of his personal relations at the time of the visions and revelations, that he did not know whether the man he speaks of was bodily transported to a third heaven; or whether a third heaven, without the bodily removal, was brought in vision to, or outside of him.
His ignorance upon this point is expressed by εν, with, and εκτοζ, without, in the sense of outside, in connection with the verb and noun.
It is certain that neither bodily nor as a ghost could the man have gone to paradise; for the third-heaven paradise has no existence, and can have none till the second-heaven paradise shall have passed away; and that has not yet appeared, nor will it until the Lord shall come in power and great glory.
Herald of the Kingdom and Age to Come, May 1855
4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Paradise - The Kingdom age and beyond / Third Heaven of v2. See also Luke 23:43
Peter clearly tells us what the third heaven is. Speaking of the great world dispensations, separated by the universal judgments of God, he refers to the "Heavens and earth of old" (2 Pet. 3:5) -- before the Flood -- perishing in an overflowing of water: the first heavens.
Then (2 Pet. 3:7) "The heaven and earth which are now, reserved unto fire of the day of judgment" -- the second heavens.
And finally the "New Heaven and New Earth wherein dwelleth righteousness" (2 Pet. 3:13),
-- for which we look: the third heaven -- the Millennium and Beyond.
Especially the Beyond, as far as the visions of Paul are concerned. The Millennium itself is but the brief stepping-stone to the eternal order of things wherein God will be "all in all."
These visions Paul was not permitted to discuss with anyone -- not even his closest and most intimate associates in the work. They were for him alone, of all mankind. What a burden of glory and responsibility for a mortal man to bear!*
The Third Heaven
The Millennial Constitution of the World, as may be perceived from Isa. 65, is not perfect. It will be a great advance upon both the old Mosaic, and the Times of the Gentiles; but it will fall far short of the constitution and order of things beyond the Thousand Years.
We learn this from Paul in his reference to the visions and revelations granted to him, as it would seem, for his own exclusive benefit, for he would not, could not, or might not, communicate what he had seen and heard to others (2 Cor. 12:1).
...This third heaven, or paradise in full manifestation, is John's New Heaven and New Earth, in which "there is no more sea". In the "Former Earth" which passes away, there is sin, and generation, and death; and because of the existence of sin, and flesh and blood, and death, there are mediatorship, and priesthood, and ruling with an iron rod, in the "Former Heaven". These things are not to continue permanently.
Sin, which is the transgression of law, must be wholly and finally suppressed; flesh and blood must be exterminated from the earth; disease and death, which are "the wages of sin," abolished; mediatorship, and priesthood, necessary in the offering to the Deity of gifts and sacrifices for the sins of the erring and the ignorant (Heb. 5:1,2) "delivered up to the Father;" and religion, which is a Divinely appointed remedy for an existing breach between the creature and the Creator, superseded, as having answered its purpose, and being therefore no longer necessary.
...Henceforth, the earth, not burnt up, but perfected, and rendered the paradisaic arena of all the unutterable joys and beauties and ecstatic things beheld and heard of Paul, becomes a fitting habitation of Deity in unmediatorial intimacy with the humblest of mankind; for then the Father will be "the all things in all men".
How truly great, then, is the voice John heard out of the heaven, saying, "Behold the tabernacle of the Deity with men, and he will dwell with them; and they shall be his peoples, and the Deity himself will be with them, their Deity".
They shall all of them be Divine people, like to the Saints then the rulers of the nations for the past thousand years. Having come forth from the graves, they become, together with the living who suffered not themselves to be deceived by the Devil and Satan, and seduced from their allegiance to the King of kings, in the Gog and Magog revolt, the postmillennial harvest of the dead and living, of which Jesus and his Brethren are the Firstfruits. "The Rest of the Dead" being thus added to these, the whole number given by the Father to the Son, is complete.
"And the Deity shall wipe away every tear from their eyes and there shall be no more death; nor shall there be sorrow nor crying, nor pain any more: for the former things have passed away". "And there shall be no more curse" (ch. 22:3).
Such is the consummation of the Divine purpose in the creation of the heavens and the earth. He formed it to be inhabited: to be a tabernacle for Himself with men. He could, had it pleased Him, have created it perfect, and filled with immortal inhabitants, at the beginning.
To have done this would have prevented all the crime and misery that blot and crimson the record of the past; but then the world would have been a characterless automaton; and unfit for association with the Governor of the Universe, whose attributes are moral, as well as intellectual and potential.
He desired a society for our planet consisting of tried and faithful friends, such as Abraham, who loved Him better than his dearest son. He proposed to develop it upon the principle of belief in His promises and obedience under trial; and to crown the whole with incorruptibility and life. Having prepared such a society as this, and concentrated it from all ages and generations into one glorious community, He would then put His hand to the final completion of its dwelling-place, as he declared to John, saying, "Behold, I make all things new".
7 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.
What was Paul's "thorn in the flesh"? It is impossible to say. There are many theories. We can, however, determine certain things about it, from this passage and others. The two most widely held theories as to what it was are epilepsy and ophthalmia -- a painful, handicapping, offensive-appearing eye disease.
It is to the Galatians and Corinthians, the two places where his authority is challenged and his person derided, that he speaks of this affliction. What we do know about it is that it was first of all humiliating and humbling -- this present passage says that was its divine purpose.
It was a burden and a handicap in the work of the Truth. He speaks of it as a "thorn" -- or more properly a "stake in the flesh." He speaks of it as a "temptation" and an "infirmity" that is a trial and a weakness.
The big lesson is that Paul had to be handicapped, humbled, mortified, humiliated, for his own safety and good. Pride is the great danger. We can all see it so clearly in all its silliness in everyone else.*
8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.
9 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.
He apparently knew its purpose, but still he found it such a grievous burden that three times he implored that it be removed. The first two times he appears to have been refused, without being given an explanation, but on the third occasion he was given an answer by Christ that was all-sufficient for him.
The affliction was given, he says at first, "lest he be exalted" by his special privileges, and position in God's purpose. This is negative -- to prevent something undesirable happening, and Paul would feel it had served its purpose and he was doubtless confident -- perhaps rightly so -- that the danger of that had passed.
But Jesus' final answer gives the positive, constructive side; and Paul understood, and was content...The painful, distressing, humiliating thorn in the flesh was not just a negative leash to keep Paul from going wrong. Rather, in the love and wisdom of God, it was a positive force to make him a more fitting, suitable, and useful vessel for the grace poured upon him and the work set before him. *
We must accept it, and patiently submit for a time, and rejoice in it if we can. We know we could get on by adopting a different policy. If we would hold the thing slacker, widen it a little more, open the bands of a cheerful communion with the looseness and corruption of the churches, not calling it looseness and corruption, but other people's ways, we could sail out into the popular stream, and catch a little of the pleasant breeze and glide down the stream to the blue ocean of prosperity.
But it is not possible, without treachery to the restrictions and separations enjoined by God on all who wish to be His children; and such treachery will in the end appear madness, though it may be convenient for the time being.
We are in the social ditch, and we know it. There is no advantage in disguising the fact from ourselves and others. We cannot aim at a respectable standing. Respectability, as a rule is alienated from the love and obedience of God; not that non-respectability per se is any better, for, as David says,
"Rich men are a lie;" as he also says, "Poor men are vanity;"
it is not in any human condition of itself to be wise; but humility of circumstance is more favourable to godliness than the reverse; and therefore it is wise to be content with the fact declared by James, that
"God hath chosen the poor of this world," provided they be "rich in faith."
He has not rejected the rich but their salvation is a matter of difficulty, by reason of the unfavorable influences to which they are exposed. All this belongs to the dark side of our calling.
10 Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.
When I am weak, then am I strong.
After the third entreaty for relief from the thorn, Paul understood and was content.
It was not just a matter of resigning himself to the inevitable, and patiently accepting something he could not help. That is not enough. That will never do. That won't accomplish anything.
That again is just negative. That's no glory to God. If it is glory to anyone, it is glory to the one who suffers meaninglessly in patience. Paul goes much further (v. 10) --
"Therefore I TAKE PLEASURE -- I rejoice -- in infirmities, in contempt, in hardship, in persecution, in distress for Christ's sake, for when I am weak then am I strong."
When I am most helpless physically, socially, financially -- most helpless from every natural, worldly point of view -- then am I closest to the infinite strength and power and might and care of Christ who strengtheneth me.
We can see -- and Paul could see -- that his thorn in the flesh was not just an external added burden to counteract the effect of his visions and revelations.
Rather it was an integral, essential part of the whole pattern of Christ's infinite grace upon him. It was part of the special, unique revelation that was personally given to him of the marvellous working of the wisdom of God.
What is the lesson for us? We are not Paul. The more we learn and realize and meditate upon concerning this man, the more we realize our utter comparative uselessness and insignificance and unprofitableness.
Here was a man who, second only to Christ himself, was completely enrapt and enveloped in the purpose of God -- who stood at its very heart and vortex.
But the lesson IS for us. In our little, secondary, inconsequential way, the lesson is for us.
It means a complete reversal of all mental values, so as to be able to truly, sincerely find peace and rejoicing in tribulation and deprivation: a complete change of life-interest, of life treasure, of life-meaning.
Everything that seems important to the natural mind must become completely unimportant. Everything that seems unimportant to the natural mind must become infinitely important. All the meaningless little round of daily care -- what shall we eat, what shall we drink, wherewithal shall we be clothed, where shall we live -- must become utterly unimportant to us, if we are to learn the lesson of life.
These things truly must be taken care of in an orderly way, as quickly and simply as possible, but they CANNOT become objects of interest or absorption or continual conversation. The mind must be filled with better things.
Paul is so intensely absorbed in the infinite grace and glory of his divine calling that to him all the troubles and cares and losses and sufferings and burdens of the present are but a light and passing thing of little moment.
He sums up his glorious philosophy of life beautifully and movingly in the latter part of chapter 4 of this epistle --
"God has shined in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ."
"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."
"We are troubled on every side, but not distressed; perplexed, but not in despair. . ." (2 Cor. 4:6-8).
How often are we too "perplexed!" But, like Paul, we must never despair.
"Persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down but not destroyed."
"Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day."
"For our light affliction which is but for a moment. . ."
This is how Paul sums up the intense, lifelong burden of suffering and sorrow that he endured for Christ --
"... our LIGHT affliction which is BUT FOR A MOMENT worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory."
"We look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen,"
"For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal" (2 Cor. 4:9, 16-18). *
12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.
Modern charlatans: No wonders and mighty deeds = not an apostle
An apostle must be able to work signs and wonders and mighty deeds, as signs of his apostleship (2 Cor. 12:12)...Now, reason and common sense teach that if men are real successors to apostolicity, they will be like Peter and Paul in all their qualifications and attributes; but reason also teaches that after the ascension of Jesus, no man can be qualified for the apostleship unless the Lord appear to him, as in the case of Paul.
Elpis Israel 2.1.
15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.
The apostle's agape (a self-sacrificing bond which moved him to strong emotions and exhausting preaching) toward the ecclesia was not reciprocated by the Corinthian ecclesia.
Not that he was deterred in his efforts on their behalf (2 Cor 2:4). He realised that true happiness and contentment were to be found in seeking the welfare of others. Helping them to an understanding of Yahweh's infinite love and wisdom. Agape is not necessarily a two-way bond. It IS a quality of character we MUST develop in ourselves, to forget ourselves - and serve others, if we are to be in harmony with the mind of Christ, and fit vessels for the future age (Eph 5:2,25).
* Bro Growcott - In Labours Abundant