“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a man was caught up to the third heaven.
“And I know how such a man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows– was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” (2Co 12:2-4)
The Corinthian Church was struggling over the effect of false apostles who were making inroads into their group. These false apostles were arrogant and boastful in their claims of being apostles, while at the same time attempting to convince the Corinthians that Paul of not a true apostle.
It was in the face of these accusations that Paul felt it necessary to remind the Corinthians of his having laid the foundation for the Corinthian Church, of his apostolic journeys and trials and sufferings, and how these false apostles were perverting the gospel message.
Jude, the brother of Jesus, gives an ample description of the false apostles and false teachers:
“These are the men who are hidden reefs in your love feasts when they feast with you without fear, caring for themselves; clouds without water, carried along by winds; autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted; wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever.” (Jud 1:12-13)
In dealing with these destroyers of the faith, it is also here that the apostle Paul is very careful not to overemphasize the fact of his having been caught up to the third heaven.
However, what makes this so fascinating is that the apostle is sharing some things that we know so little about. Paul had been ‘caught up’ into Paradise, that is, the third heaven, and heard things that he was not even permitted to speak. Yet in this short narrative we can learn a bit more about our heavenly home.
Let me begin with the terms that Paul uses. The first one is a term that applies to the future of all believers.
Paul was Caught Up
Paul is actually using a term that belongs to the doctrine of, ‘the rapture of the church.’ The Greek word for ‘caught up’, is the word, ‘harpazo’. This word is always used but one way in the Scriptures. It is a translocation word. It speaks of a sudden seizing, a catching up, a snatching away, a carrying off, a removing, or to take something by force of power.
Harpazo is used fourteen times in the New Testament and in each case it always speaks of translocation, or movement from one place to another.
Here is how it is used for the church:
“For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first.
“Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up [harpazo] together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.” (1Th 4:16-18)
The apostle Paul uses the same term ‘harpazo’, to describe his having been caught up into the third heaven, and for what will happen to all believers in their time. We are going to where Paul went.
Where did Paul go. He calls attention to…
The Third Heaven, Paradise
The apostle equates the third heaven with the term Paradise.
To you recall what Jesus said to the thief on the cross? Listen:
“And he [the thief] was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!’
“And He said to him, ‘Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.” (Luk 23:42-43)
Did you take note that Jesus said the thief would be with him in Paradise.
Do you know that there are those who wish this story wasn’t in the Bible? Why? The reason is it blows apart most of their religious-minded thinking.
Take note – What credentials did the thief have that would qualify him to be with Jesus in paradise? He was at the least a common thief, and who knows what else.
The thief wasn’t baptized. The thief could not make any restitution. The thief did not go through a list of his sins by way of confession. (Certainly some of this is to be done, but they in themselves do not qualify us for heaven.)
Listen again, very carefully. When the other thief hurled abuses at the Lord Jesus, listen to this thief that spoke to Jesus –
“… [He rebuked the thief who hurled abuses] ‘Do you not even fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?
“‘And we indeed are suffering justly, for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’
“And he was saying, ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom!'” (Luk 23:40-42)
Know what else this story does? It destroys the argument, ‘I don’t believe in death-bed repentance.’
If we would take more time to study the Scriptures themselves, and less time majoring on our religions, who knows what kind of person we would become. For one thing, we would likely become much more compassionate, more caring, and more loving of those around us.
If the truth be known…
The Only Way to Get to Heaven is the Way of the Thief
I know this sounds strange. But I’m begging you listen carefully to what thief had to say. It will help you understand why his way is the only way.
There are three components involved to make our passage into heaven. The thief had them all. Here is a brief summary:
- We must recognize that there is no personal goodness in us that would qualify us for heaven. ‘We are justly under condemnation and are suffering justly. We are receiving what we deserve.’
- We must realize fully that Jesus alone can save us, atone for our sins, and no other. Jesus was the perfect, without sin, sacrifice. ‘This man has done nothing wrong.’
- We must believe in the Lordship of Jesus, and appeal to Him personally. ‘Jesus, remember me when You come in Your kingdom.’
It Helps to Remember Where We Came From
I realize that when we become born again, we are no long considered to be sinners. The Bible actually sets forth that we are now saints. The word ‘saint’ means a holy one, that is, a person that belongs to God. This simply means that we are no longer judged as sinners.
But to think back on where we came from is good. The apostle Paul did this.
“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.
“And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief.” (1Ti 1:12-15)
Why not take time for this song. It pretty much agrees with that the apostle had to say.
In Christ always,