I must needs glory, though it is not expedient; but I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.
I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body, I know not; or whether out of the body, I know not; God knoweth), such a one caught up even to the third heaven.
And I know such a man (whether in the body, or apart from the body, I know not; God knoweth), how that he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.2 Corinthians 12:1-4 ASV
There are three heavens as understood by the Jews:
(1) The air or atmosphere where the clouds gather (Genesis 2:1,19),
(2) the firmament containing the sun, moon and stars (Deuteronomy 18:3; Matthew 24:29), and
(3) God’s dwelling place (Matthew 5:12,16,45,48).
There are no geographical connotations whatever in these words, for the third heaven where God dwells is not a thing of space and physical location at all.
It is a state of being beyond, above and higher even than the second heaven.
The great value of this astounding revelation of Paul the apostle does not lie in what is explained (as a matter of fact, he did not EXPLAIN anything); but its value lies in the revelation that no explanation of such things is possible.
There has never been anything written that carries any greater internal evidence of being the truth, than what Paul wrote here.
The visions and revelations referred to occurred more than fourteen years previously; and it may be assumed that Paul would never have mentioned them at all, except for their connection with the “thorn in the flesh.”
Plainly, Paul did not intend to convey any information at all beyond the fact that he had experienced such marvelous events.
He explained his brevity (2 Corinthians 12:4) by declaring it to be:
(1) an outright impossibility to elaborate, and
(2) contrary to God’s will, even if he could have done so. Finite, limited, mortal and sinful people simply do not possess the intellectual tools to comprehend, either the God and Father of mankind, or the nature of his dwelling place.
Of God, men may know only what is revealed; and, even with regard to that, only a fool could believe that man fully understands all of that, in any complete sense.
There is another important consideration which supports the understanding of two events, rather than merely one,; and that is Paul’s use of the word “Paradise.”
There is no authority whatever for making this mean the same thing as “the third heaven,” despite the fact of endless arguments that they are the same.
“Paradise” in the New Testament is found only here and in Luke 23:43 and in Revelation 2:7.
Yet the Lord had promised the thief on the cross, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). In the light of these scriptures we must set aside the learned opinions to the effect that Paradise and the third heaven are the same place.
Jesus had been with the thief in Paradise already, but he had not yet ascended to the third heaven. However, we call attention to the “if” that stands at the head of this paragraph.
Such questions are clearly insoluble, and I leave them where I find them. We shall never understand this passage otherwise than in the dim and vague outline in which St. Paul purposely left it.
Regarding, “Unspeakable & unlawful” In these words are Paul’s reasons for not satisfying human curiosity about the things he mentioned (see 2 Corinthians 12:2).
The Greek word here rendered Paradise is Oriental, being first used by the historian Xenophon, denoting the parks of Persian kings and nobles.
The thought of a garden is in it. Jesus used the word in his promise to the thief (Luke 23:43), and Paul was caught up into it (2 Corinthians 12:4), apparently identifying it as “the third heaven.”
Heaven is perhaps as good a synonym for it as we have. However, such conclusions should not be applied to the use of “Paradise” in Luke 23:43, where a slightly different sense is evident.
The usage of it there would appear to be equivalent in meaning to “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22).