~ A place to find answers to gnawing spiritual questions ~
Question: I have a NIV bible and in 2 Corinthians 12:2 it says, "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven." My question is what is third heaven?
Answer: One of the principal rules in interpreting Scripture is to look closely at the context. It is also important to take Scripture literally as much as possible.
A close examination of the context of this passage reveals that "the man" Paul is referring to is himself. At the end of the previous chapter he shares some of his many trials and tribulations, as his life of being an apostle of Jesus Christ was not all tinsel and lights, but was filled with much persecution. He speaks of the experience he had in chapter 12 as an actual fact. It is important that we receive it as such. It was reality to him, and it should be reality to us. (How like the Lord to give Paul a taste of heaven in the midst of dark trials!) The King James Version also includes the phrase, "(whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;)..." Paul had a real trip into the heavenly world, his only doubt being whether he was in the body or out of the body. This same experience was repeated in the very next two verses.
Notice that in the context of this passage the "third heaven" (v. 2) and "paradise" (v. 4) seem to be used synonymously. Note further that the apostle regarded heaven or paradise as a place; a place in which God's glory was. One of the most popular commentators of the Bible states that it was "... the heaven of the blessed, above the aerial heaven, in which the fowls fly, above the starry heaven, which is adorned with those glorious orbs : it was into the third heaven, where God most eminently manifests His glory." (Matthew Henry's Commentary, Vol. VI - Acts to Revelation, p. 641.) I tend to agree with Matthew Henry's breakdown of the heavens. The first heaven would be the sky in which birds fly. The second heaven would include outer space where the stars and the planets dwell. The third heaven is where God dwells. Note that these first two heavens are visible to man, but the third is divine. We are not capable to see that place with the physical eye, but by faith we believe that Jesus has gone before us to prepare for us a mansion, and if we accept Him as Lord and personal Savior, we shall go there by and by.
Regular Bible readers will readily recall how that Christ took His disciples (Peter, James and John) up into a mountain and was transfigured before them. He then brought them back down into the world to labor among sinful men. Paul's experience was to encourage him in his many trials and persecutions as he labored for the Lord. (See Acts 9:16 and also Acts 20:22-24.)
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