“And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows—how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:3-4).
Luke 23:39-43 provides us with the account of an exchange that took place between Jesus and a thief who was crucified alongside Him, one that directly relates to the passage quoted above…
“One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’
Then he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus answered him, ‘I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise'” (NIV).
So this repentant thief and the Apostle Paul both entered a place that Jesus referred to as “paradise.” One source defines this word as found within the New Testament…
“In the NT, paradise is mentioned three times. In Luk_23:43 it refers to the abode of the righteous dead. In Rev_2:7 it refers to the restoration of Edenic paradise predicted in Isa_51:3 and Eze_36:35. The reference here in 2Co_12:4 is probably to be translated as parallel to the mention of the “third heaven” in 2Co_12:2. Assuming that the “first heaven” would be atmospheric heaven (the sky) and “second heaven” the more distant stars and planets, “third heaven” would refer to the place where God dwells.” (1)
While Paul was caught up to this place, he apparently heard things that were so beautiful, incredible, and astounding that it would have been a crime to attempt to express them in a human language. But what is it that makes heaven what it is? Well the primary answer to that question is that the Lord Himself will be there- and as Psalm 16:11 tells us, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”
Since God reigns in Heaven, it also possesses the characteristics of His Kingdom- things like love, joy, peace and righteousness. In addition, there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain in Heaven as we’re told in Revelation chapter 21. So while Paul may have been reluctant to talk about this experience, these were some of the things that surely helped sustain him during his many long years of ministry.
(1) NET Bible® notes [Luke 23:43] http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=Luke&chapter=23&verse=43&tab=commentaries Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.