PAUL'S VISIt TO PARADISE
The subject to be discussed in this Bible message is “Paul]s Visit to Paradise.” The apostle Paul had the exalted experience of being caugbtup to the third heaven and he received communications and revelations which he was not permitted to make known. He relates this experience in 2 Corinthians 12:1—4, and it should be understood that he is speaking about himself in this passage. Paul said, “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such a one caught up to the third heaven. And I knew such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful f or a man to utter.” As a chosen apostle of Christ, Paul experienced what he
called “visions and revelations of the Lord.” The word revelation as here used means an uncovering. Just as you would remove a cover and see what was hid thereby, so Paul had the cover removed and saw things of the “third heaven” as they are hid behind the veil. A vision is an experience where one sees with a supernatural sight what would be seen by the natural eye, if it were there. Hence, a vision corresponds very closely to reality.
When Paul made this visit to paradise, he didn't know whether he was in his body or out of it. Paul could have had this experience in three different ways. First, it could have been a vision. Second, he may have been caught up bodily into heaven. Third, it is possible that his body was separated from his spirit, as in death, and his spirit went to the third heaven while his body remained on earth. If he was caught up bodily to̓ paradise or had a vision, he was in the body. However, if the spirit was separated from the body, then he was out of the body. He could not tell at the time whether he was in the one condition or the other.
First, we learn from this passage what a true Christian is. In 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul said, “I knew a man in Christ...” A man in Christ or a woman in Christ is the scriptural designation of a Christian. The phrase “in Christ” means united with Christ or in a close relationship with Him. If you are “in Christ” you are a Christian; if you are not “in Christ” you are not a Christian. Union with Christ makes one a Christian. 2 Corinthians 5:17 says, “Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.” Ephesians 1:3 declares that God has “blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.” All spiritual blessings are in Christ, and no one enjoys a single spiritual blessing from God who is not in Christ. One of those spiritual blessings is the forgiveness of sin. There can be no forgiveness of sin for anyone who is not in Christ. People who are in Christ have appropriated to their souls Christ's atoning death on the cross. Jesus said in John 12:32, “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me.” We look therefore to Calvary for the power which attracts men and women to Christ. Moreover, we look to Calvary for the specific act by virtue of which Christ personally became the founder of His church. Acts 20:28 reveals that Christ purchased the church with his own blood. Since through his death Christ proposed to draw all men unto him, it is evident that all true Christians are members of the one church he bought with his blood. There are no Christians out of His church. If a person is truly “in Christ,” he is also in Christ̓s church. How do we get into Christ? Romans 6:3,4 says, “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into into his death? therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death....” The Bible says we are baptized into Christ. Faith and repentance are insufficient. The concluding step that finally puts you in Christ is baptism. Well then, how do we get into His church? I Corinthians 12:13 says, “For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles..” The Bible says we are baptized into the one church and that baptism is water baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Scriptural baptism puts me both in Christ and in the church. If you want to know what it means to be a Christian, you must know what it means to be “in Christ”.
Secondly, we learn from Paul's visit to paradise that there are three heavens. Since it is revealed that Paul was caught up to the third heaven, this implies that there are first and second heavens. The first heaven is the atmosphere; the second heaven is the planetary heaven; and the third heaven is the dwelling place of God. The first heaven is mentioned in Genesis 1:20 which declares that God made birds that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven.” Heaven here refers to the atmospheric regions above where the birds fly. On the second day of creation Genesis 1:7 states that God made the firmament or the atmosphere. We read about the second heaven in Genesis 22:17 where God promised Abraham that he would multiply his descendants as the stars of heaven. This is the region of the heavenly bodies. This is another heaven, for the birds cannot fly in this heaven because there is no oxygen in the second heaven. We find a reference a third heaven _in Isaiah 66:1 which says, “Thus says the Lord, The heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool...” Deuteronomy 10:14 speaks of “the heaven of heavens”. The third heaven is located beyond the first and second heavens. Ephesians 4:10 declares that Jesus, “ascended up far above all heavens....” The meaning is that he ascended far above the first and second heavens. When Paul was caught up to the third heavens, he was caught up to the headquarters of God, for the Bible speaks of no heavens higher than the third heaven.
Thirdly, Paul's experience in paradise refutes the philosophy of materialism. This belief of infidelity holds that man is all matter. When he dies all there is of him dies, and there is no life apart from the body. Atheistic materialism does not believe in the existence of the soul and denies that man is an eternal being. The Sadducees of Jesus' day were Theistic materialists; they believed in God but did not believe man had a soul or spirit. There are people today who profess to be Christians who are Theistic materialists. They are soul-sleeping materialists who hold that the spirit of man doesn't exist apart from the body. They affirm that the soul sleeps as unconscious as the body in death till the day of resurrection. At this time God supposedly will create the spirit of man again and unite it to the resurrected body. This is out and out materialism.
Every phase of materialism is refuted by Paul's experience in paradise. The apostle did not know whether his visit to the heavenly region was out of the body or
in the body. This necessarily implies he may have been out of the body. If such an experience is not possibleto one out of the body, then Paul would have known that he was not out of his body. If the inspired apostle knew that man's soul is unconscious at death and simply ceases to exist, then Paul would not have said, “I don't know whether I was in my body or out of my body.” Paul definitely suggested that he may have gone into the third heaven with his spirit while his body remained on the earth. The Bible teaches that life does not depend on the body; life continues apart from the body at the time of death. Paul declares the possibility that what he saw and heard in paradise was enjoyed while he was out of his body. Hnce, life after death is clearly established by Paul's experience in the third heaven.
Fourthly, Paul's visit to the spirit world refutes the popular belief of spiritualism. Spiritualism is a modern form of infidelity with claims to communicate with the spirits of the departed. It is also claimed that information can be received by the living from the dead. This superstitious belief was called necromancing in the Old Testament. Paul made an actual visit to the spirit world, but he distinctly said that it was unlawful for him to reveal the things heard at that time. Being unlawful in his case it follows, therefore, that it is unlawful in any case for people to reveal to the living what they experience while absent from the body. The only authentic instances of anyone communicating with us from the spirit world are found in the Bible, and only a very few people in all of human history were given this opportunity by God. In each case it was the result of a direct miracle by God. God called Samuel, Elijah, and Moses back to life for a very brief message. One of the outstanding miracles of Jesus was to raise Lazarus from the grave after he had been dead for four days. After his death, Lazarus was in paradise for four days. I am certain that his friends asked a lot of questions about what he saw and heard during his trip to the spirit land. What a theme for a lecture in modern times: "Four Days In Paradise.” Such a speaker would be mobbed. We can see at a glance the wisdom of God in putting His veto on permitting people to talk about their eperiences beyond the grave. There is no evidence that Lazarus said anything about% what he saw or heard while his body was in the grave. The Same is true of all others whom Christ or the apostles brought back from the spirit world.
One reason for not allowing communications from the dead is that from the beginning God designed that people should be saved on the great principle of hearing the gospel. The Bible says that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. 2 Thessalonians 2:13 says, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” The knowledge of salvation does not come to us by communications with the dead. It has always been God's plan to save people who believe and obey the truth. The faith which God requires can be found only in the Bible. He has given mankind but one divine revelation of Himself, and this is found in~ the Bible. He has given the race but one inspired book, and He intends that they shall honor it. The Creator has made the Bible the only source of information concerning the other world. If we could communicate with the dead, of what use would the Bible be? There would be no point in studying the Bible, if we could go directly to the spirit world and communicate with those whom we love and know. The Bible would be about as useful as a year-old almanac. However, God has vetoed any communication from the spirit world, and we are restricted to the Bible to obtain the faith which we must have in order to be saved and go to heaven.
WHERE IS PARADISE?
Fifthly, we learn from this incident that paradise is located in the third heaven. In 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul said that he was caught up to the third heaven, and then in verse 4 he states that he was caught up to paradise. The logical conclusion is that the place called paradise is located in the third heaven. The word paradise is of Sanscript origin and signifies a park or garden. In the Bible it signifies a wonderful place of existence beyond death. Jesus used the word paradise to describe the place where the souls of saved people go after they die. In Luke 23:43 Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Verily I say to you, Today shalt you shall be th me in paradise.” Jesus had a reference to the soul of the thief. The souls of both Jesus and the thief went to a place in the spirit world called paradise. Their bodies went to the grave, but their souls went to hades. The apostle Peter made this statement about Jesus when he died in Acts 2:31, “...his soul was not left in hades, neither did his flesh see corruption.” We learn from this statement that the soul of Jesus went to hades, but it did not remain there. This is explained bythe fact that Jesus arose from the dead after three days in the grave. Thus the soul of Jesus was separated from his body three days, and this was not long enough for the body to decay. The word hades means unseen and refers to the unseen world of spirits to which the soul goes at the time of death. Since Jesus is said to have gone to paradise and hades, we conclude that paradise is a wonderful place in hades, the unseen world, and that is where the souls of saved people go. The souls of all lost people go to a different region in the unseen world of spirits. When Judas Iscariot died, Acts 1:25 says that he went to,“his own place.” When people die, all go to hades which is the unseen world. However, saved people go to paradise, and lost people go to a different location in the unseen world of hades. The spiritual condition of a person at the moment of death determines into which region of hades his soul enters.
Finally, we learn from this story that heaven is a place of reality. Paul̓s experience shows heaven to be a real literal place and not a mythical state of some kind. Paul was in the presence of heavenly beings and heard words he could not lawfully repeat. Who spoke the words Paul heard we are not told. The fact remains that he was not allowed to repeat what he heard. He saw and heard He saw and heard things so wonderful as to require an affliction of the flesh lest he should be exalted above measure. Because of this visit to the heavenly region, Paul was in danger of pride and over—exaltation by man. After telling us about this wonderful experience, said in 2 Corinthians 12:7, “And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure.” The only people who can go to paradise today are those who become Christians and die faithful Christians. How is it with you? If you want to go to paradise when you die, then yield your life to Christ, our Lord and Savior. Believe in Him with all your heart, turn away from a sinful life, confess that faith before your fellow men, and then seal it in the beautiful act of baptism, a burial in water followed by a resurrection to a mew life in Christ. If as a Christian you live soberly, righteously and godly for the rest of your life, you will go to paradise when you die, and after the final judgment you will go to heaven.