“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2).
So who was this “man in Christ” mentioned in the verse quoted above? Well as we’ll see later in this chapter, that man was none other than Paul the Apostle. It appears that Paul’s reluctance to boast of these visions and revelations from God was so great that he insisted upon referring to himself in the third person. This served to minimize attention upon the one who received this revelation and maximize attention upon the One who was responsible for this encounter.
The time line given for this event was fourteen years prior to this letter to the Corinthian church. So the revelation that Paul is about to discuss likely took place around A.D. 42-44. Although the Bible is silent regarding that portion of Paul’s life, one scholar tells us about Paul’s likely whereabouts during that period: “This was probably during Paul’s unrecorded early ministry in Tarsus, just before Barnabas came to get him to help at Antioch (cf. Act_11:25-26).” (1)
The focus of this revelation was “heaven,” a word that possesses several different Biblical meanings. For instance, heaven can refer to the area within our atmosphere in the realm of anything that flies through the air. This word can also be used to refer to outer space, the expanse where the sun, the moon, and the stars reside. We can find an example of usage in Psalm 19:1 where we’re told, “The heavens declare the glory of God.”
Finally, the word “heaven” can used to identify the place where God dwells. an area that Paul referred to as the “third heaven” here in 2 Corinthians 12:2. This served to positively identify the location for this encounter and eliminate the potential for misunderstanding between the other two uses of this word.
Yet despite the impressive nature of what we are about to read, these verses represent the only Biblical record of this event. Since it had been well over a decade between the date of this revelation and the book of 2 Corinthians, there was plenty of time for Paul to position this experience as the centerpiece of his ministry if he desired. We’ll talk more about why Paul may have declined to do so in a later study but for now, we can say that Paul was serious about fulfilling a statement he made earlier in this letter: “What we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord” (4:5).
(1) Dr. Bob Utley, Free Bible Commentary 2 Corinthians [12:1] Copyright ©2014 by Bible Lessons International http://www.freebiblecommentary.org/new_testament_studies/VOL06/VOL06B_12.html