The Second Epistle to the Corinthians: 12

2 Corinthians 12:1‑7  •  8 min. read  •  grade level: 8
“Well, it is not of profit to me to boast, for I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord” (verse 1, JND). Driven by the attacks at Corinth upon his ministry into giving an account (ever so brief!) of what the service of Christ had included for him in persecution, in hardship and in care, Paul turns to another subject connected with his apostleship: that of visions and revelations of the Lord.
“I knew a man in Christ” (it is an inaccurate rendering, and should read, “I know a man in Christ”) “above fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I can not tell; or whether out of the body I can not tell; God knoweth”).
Paul was himself the man of whom he wrote: the man in Christ. “In Christ” left no room for human boasting.
Turn back with me to the fifth chapter, and read again verses 14 to 18, including,
“Therefore if any man be in Christ he is a new creature” (or, it is a new creation).
“Of such an one will I glory, yet of myself I will not glory,” the apostle says, in the fifth verse.
“Such an one caught up to the third heaven. And I know 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” (or things said) “which it is not lawful for a man” (not allowed to man) “to utter.”
How great was the favor shown to Paul, thus to be caught up to scenes of divine glory! Must it not have been, in part, to prepare him for the path of suffering that was to be his as the Apostle to the Gentiles?
The expression, “the third heaven”, found here only, was a Jewish term for heaven itself as beyond the atmosphere, beyond the stars. In the fourth verse it is “paradise,” twice mentioned elsewhere in the Scriptures.
To the dying thief in Luke 23:4343And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. (Luke 23:43) the dying Saviour said, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise.”
“To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God.”
Another has referred to these passages as relating to heaven, “the capital of God’s dominion where He has the garden of His delights.”
It was there where blessedness is that Paul heard things he could not utter.
The Scriptures in many passages very preciously bring heaven before the children of God. It is the place, first of all, where God dwells (Psa. 2:4, 11:4, 103:19 and 123:1); from which He looks down upon the earth (Psa. 33:1313The Lord looketh from heaven; he beholdeth all the sons of men. (Psalm 33:13)), there His blessed Son was from eternity—in the beginning with God (John 1:1-21In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2The same was in the beginning with God. (John 1:1‑2)), and laying aside His glory (Phil. 2) He came down from heaven (John 6:3838For I came down from heaven, not to do mine own will, but the will of him that sent me. (John 6:38)) to endure the death of the cross. In resurrection, and in the act of blessing those He had drawn to Himself, He was parted from them and carried up into heaven (Luke 24:50-5150And he led them out as far as to Bethany, and he lifted up his hands, and blessed them. 51And it came to pass, while he blessed them, he was parted from them, and carried up into heaven. (Luke 24:50‑51)).
We, believers, await the nearing moment when the Lord Jesus shall descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ shall rise first, and we who are alive and remain, shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:16-1716For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16‑17)). Meanwhile if we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord, but it is better far to be absent from the body, present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-86Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: 7(For we walk by faith, not by sight:) 8We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord. (2 Corinthians 5:6‑8)), the present portion of believers who die. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, the first man, we shall bear the image of the heavenly one, the Lord Himself (1 Cor. 15:42-5042So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: 43It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory: it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: 44It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. 45And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening spirit. 46Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. 47The first man is of the earth, earthy: the second man is the Lord from heaven. 48As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. 49And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly. 50Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. (1 Corinthians 15:42‑50)).
We are not promised many earthly blessings, as Israel was, but we have been blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places (or, in the heavenlies) in Christ (Eph. 1:33Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: (Ephesians 1:3)).
The angels of God are in heaven (Matt. 22:3030For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. (Matthew 22:30)), but as ministering spirits, they are sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation (Heb. 1:1414Are they not all ministering spirits, sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation? (Hebrews 1:14); and see Acts 27:23-24; 8:26; 12:6-1123For there stood by me this night the angel of God, whose I am, and whom I serve, 24Saying, Fear not, Paul; thou must be brought before Caesar: and, lo, God hath given thee all them that sail with thee. (Acts 27:23‑24)
26And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. (Acts 8:26)
6And when Herod would have brought him forth, the same night Peter was sleeping between two soldiers, bound with two chains: and the keepers before the door kept the prison. 7And, behold, the angel of the Lord came upon him, and a light shined in the prison: and he smote Peter on the side, and raised him up, saying, Arise up quickly. And his chains fell off from his hands. 8And the angel said unto him, Gird thyself, and bind on thy sandals. And so he did. And he saith unto him, Cast thy garment about thee, and follow me. 9And he went out, and followed him; and wist not that it was true which was done by the angel; but thought he saw a vision. 10When they were past the first and the second ward, they came unto the iron gate that leadeth unto the city; which opened to them of his own accord: and they went out, and passed on through one street; and forthwith the angel departed from him. 11And when Peter was come to himself, he said, Now I know of a surety, that the Lord hath sent his angel, and hath delivered me out of the hand of Herod, and from all the expectation of the people of the Jews. (Acts 12:6‑11)
).
By nature the children of wrath even as others, we have learned from God’s Word (Eph. 2:3-73Among whom also we all had our conversation in times past in the lusts of our flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind; and were by nature the children of wrath, even as others. 4But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, 5Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) 6And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: 7That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus. (Ephesians 2:3‑7)) that He, rich in mercy, for His great love wherewith He loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ (by grace we are saved), and hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.
Paul in our chapter mentioned only one revelation; in Ephesians 3:1-71For this cause I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, 2If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: 3How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, 4Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) 5Which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; 6That the Gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: 7Whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. (Ephesians 3:1‑7); 1 Thessalonians 4:1515For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. (1 Thessalonians 4:15), and 1 Corinthians 11:2323For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: (1 Corinthians 11:23) others are referred to, and the turning event of his life is related in Acts 9:3-8, 22:6-11 and 26:12-18. But the circumstances of what he relates in 2 Corinthians 12:2-42I 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. 3And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) 4How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (2 Corinthians 12:2‑4) were altogether different, in that, the apostle was caught up to scenes of glory, and heard what he could not pass on to others.
Paul would boast of the man in Christ; to be near God in the glory, as out of the body, does not puff up, as another has said. All is Christ, and Christ is all; self is forgotten. Of Paul, the man, he would not boast, unless in his weaknesses (verse 5),
“For if I shall desire to boast, I shall not be a fool, for I will say the truth; but I forbear, lest any one should think as to me above what he sees me (to be), or whatever he may hear of me” (verse 6, JND).
“And that I might not be exalted by the exceeding greatness of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn for the flesh, a messenger of Satan, that he might buffet me, that I might not be exalted. For this I thrice besought the Lord that it might depart from me. And He said to me, My grace suffices, for (My) power is perfected in weakness” (verses 7-9, JND).
The “flesh”, the old nature, is the same in an apostle, as in the weakest believer. In the language of another, “Nothing amends the flesh. Once come back into the consciousness of his human existence on earth, the apostle’s flesh would have taken advantage of the favor he had enjoyed to exalt him in his own eyes, to say, ‘None have been in the third heaven but thou, Paul’.
“But God is watchful; in His grace, He provided for the danger of His poor servant. To have taken him up to a fourth heaven—so to speak—would only have increased the danger. There is no way of amending the flesh; the presence of God silences it. It will boast of it as soon as it is no longer there. To walk safely, it must be held in check, such as it is. We have to reckon it dead; but it often requires to be bridled, that the heart be not drawn away from God by its means, and that it may neither impede our walk, nor spoil our testimony.
“Finally, observe, that the humiliation needed to reduce the rebellious flesh to its nothingness, is used by Christ to display His power in it. Thus humbled, we learn our dependence. All that is of us, all that constitutes self, is a hindrance; the infirmity is that in which it is put down, laid low, in which weakness is realized. The power of Christ is perfected in it.
“Paul needed to have the flesh reduced to weakness, in order that there might not be in it the motion of sin which was natural to it. When the flesh was reduced to its true nothingness, as far as good is concerned, and in a manifest way, then Christ could display His strength in it.” (Synopsis of the Books of the Bible; 2 Corinthians. J. N. Darby).
What was the “thorn” given to Paul? Scripture does not say.
To be continued, D. V.