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Two Corinthians Twelve

by Dr. Henry M. Morris

(taken from the Defender's Study Bible)

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

2 Corinthians 12:2 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.

above fourteen years ago. This unique experience of Paul may have been when he was stoned to apparent death at Lystra, then recovered, possibly being miraculously resurrected from the dead (Acts 14:19-20). This is uncertain, however, and there is no other New Testament reference to this event.

in the body. Paul had already written about a future bodily rapture into heaven and also about the departure of the soul from the body into heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17; 2 Corinthians 5:6-8), so both types of events are possible. In this case he was not sure which it was. Perhaps in His visit to heaven he had encountered both men in physical bodies (e.g., the Old Testament saints raised after Christ's resurrection—Matthew 27:52-53) and also translated souls awaiting resurrection (see notes on 2 Corinthians 5:1-8), and he could not be certain of his own state at the time.

third heaven. The pagans in many cases believed in seven heavens, but there is no Biblical hint of any such thing. It is possible that Paul was translated in time to the future heaven—that is, the new heaven and new earth, the first having been destroyed by water, the second by fire (2 Peter 3:5-13). More likely, however, he was translated beyond the heaven of the stars and the heaven of the birds (Genesis 1:15, 20) to the heaven where God's throne is (e.g., Isaiah 14:13; Job 22:12), the heaven to which Christ ascended to the right hand of God at His throne (Mark 16:19; Ephesians 1:20).

2 Corinthians 12:3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)

2 Corinthians 12:4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

paradise. “Paradise” here seems to be synonymous with the “third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2), or more likely some specific part of the third heaven. Although the word “paradise” does not occur in the Old Testament, the Septuagint translators of the Old Testament into Greek did use it to translate “the garden of Eden.” It occurs only two other times in the New Testament. Christ told the dying thief: “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Also, He told the church at Ephesus: “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God” (Revelation 2:7). This statement not only relates paradise back to the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:9; 3:22) but also to the future New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:2, 14). Although we cannot now be dogmatic, it seems that paradise (perhaps incorporating also the New Jerusalem now being prepared—John 14:2-3) is that region of the third heaven, where all the departed saints are blissfully awaiting, with Christ, the soon-coming day of His return to earth.

unspeakable words. The marvelous words which Paul heard in paradise are incapable of being communicated to mortal ears (1 Corinthians 2:9). Perhaps certain aspects of them, however, were given to enable him to convey the glorious promises of the future resurrection day (e.g., 1 Corinthians 15:51-57; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). However, there were others he was not allowed to communicate, even if he could.

2 Corinthians 12:5 Of such an one will I glory: yet of myself I will not glory, but in mine infirmities.

2 Corinthians 12:6 For though I would desire to glory, I shall not be a fool; for I will say the truth: but now I forbear, lest any man should think of me above that which he seeth me to be, or that he heareth of me.

2 Corinthians 12:7 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.

thorn in the flesh. This “thorn in the flesh” was not some spiritual burden, but a physical ailment to keep Paul continually aware that, despite the abundance of spiritual privileges given him, he was painfully human. The exact nature of this physical problem is unknown, though there have been numerous conjectures. Actually, it is best that it remain unknown, so that Christians of all times and places (each of whom has some “thorn in the flesh,” which God has not been pleased to remove) can better learn to know and appreciate the sufficient grace of God which enables them to continue serving Him despite the pain, and which encourages them to look all the more toward His coming at that day when “there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying,” and not even “any more pain!” (Revelation 21:4).

messenger. “Messenger” is the same word as “angel.” Satan, being a created being, is not omnipresent, but he has a multitude of fallen angels, or evil spirits, that do his evil work among men. In Job's case (Job 2:4-6) and here in Paul's case, God allowed these creatures to vent their hatred against God's people in inflicting them with physical afflictions, hoping thereby to cause them to rebel against God or to destroy their testimony in some way. It would be unwise, of course, to blame all pain and sickness on Satan, except in the general sense that he introduced sin and its consequences into God's perfect creation. Nevertheless, this particular cause of pain is always a possibility that should at least be considered, and perhaps dealt with accordingly.

2 Corinthians 12:8 For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.

besought the Lord thrice. Although Paul's prayers and spiritual gifts had brought physical healing to many others, he could not heal himself. While God is often pleased to answer prayers for healing, it must always depend upon the will and purpose of God for the individual. In God's infinite wisdom and in the light of eternity, it may be best in many cases not to heal, and we must be content, if that is so.

2 Corinthians 12:9 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.

glory in my infirmities. We need to learn to thank God, rather than complain to God and others, about our “infirmities,” reproaches, “necessities,” “persecutions,” “distresses for Christ's sake” (2 Corinthians 12:10). God's strength, paradoxically, is not measured in ordinary human terms (e.g., riches, physical prowess, beauty, intellect), but rather “is made perfect in weakness.”

2 Corinthians 12:10 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.

2 Corinthians 12:11 I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, though I be nothing.

2 Corinthians 12:12 Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds.

2 Corinthians 12:13 For what is it wherein ye were inferior to other churches, except it be that I myself was not burdensome to you? forgive me this wrong.

2 Corinthians 12:14 Behold, the third time I am ready to come to you; and I will not be burdensome to you: for I seek not yours, but you: for the children ought not to lay up for the parents, but the parents for the children.

2 Corinthians 12:15 And I will very gladly spend and be spent for you; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I be loved.

2 Corinthians 12:16 But be it so, I did not burden you: nevertheless, being crafty, I caught you with guile.

2 Corinthians 12:17 Did I make a gain of you by any of them whom I sent unto you?

2 Corinthians 12:18 I desired Titus, and with him I sent a brother. Did Titus make a gain of you? walked we not in the same spirit? walked we not in the same steps?

2 Corinthians 12:19 Again, think ye that we excuse ourselves unto you? we speak before God in Christ: but we do all things, dearly beloved, for your edifying.

2 Corinthians 12:20 For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults:

swellings. Meaning “arrogant acts of pride.”

2 Corinthians 12:21 And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.