Gaebelein's Annotated Bible
It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.3. Revelation in which He Might Glory. His Apostleship.
1. Caught up to the Third Heaven. (2Corinthians 12:1-6) 2. The Thorn in the Flesh. (2Corinthians 12:7-10) 3. The Marks of His Apostleship. (2Corinthians 12:11-15) 4. His Continued Deep Concern. (2Corinthians 12:16-21.)
2. The Thorn in the Flesh. (2Corinthians 12:7-10)
3. The Marks of His Apostleship. (2Corinthians 12:11-15)
4. His Continued Deep Concern. (2Corinthians 12:16-21.)
In the previous chapter the apostle gloried in that which in the eyes of man has no glory at all. From the ignominious experience of being let down in a basket he turns to another experience in which he was caught into the third heaven. “I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Of these he undoubtedly had many, given to him by the Lord, to comfort and strengthen him. We would never have heard of this great spiritual experience he speaks of now, if he had not felt the need of boasting on account of the deceiving teachers among the Corinthians. He had kept it as a secret to himself for fourteen years; an evidence of his humility. (What a contrast with a certain class of people in our own times who claim to have returned to apostolic faith and apostolic power. They also speak much of visions and revelations, but they constantly make them known, print them in tract form, etc. Often they think themselves more advanced in spiritual things than others and give sad evidences of being puffed up.) In telling us of this experience he does not speak of himself as the apostle, but “as a man in Christ.” It was therefore not a distinction put upon him on account of his calling as an apostle. As a man in Christ, that is, a heavenly man, for such every believer is, he was taken up in a marvelous, unaccountable way, into the heavenly sphere.
“Paul was in a state neither intelligible to himself nor explicable to his brethren. Yet he knows well the man, and can attest the visions which he is unable to describe. It was himself, but in a condition equally distinct from nature and from ordinary spiritual experience. He had while in this state a faculty of perception independent of both bodily and mental organs.” He was in this state, undefined by himself, caught up into the third heaven and being caught up into paradise, he heard unspeakable words, which it is not allowed to man to utter. The word “paradise” is found but three times in the New Testament. The lord used it first in speaking to the dying thief (Luke 23:43) promising him that he would be with Him in that blessed place that very day. Once more our Lord uses this word, promising the overcomer to eat of the tree of life which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).
The passage here is the third in which this word is used. It is the wonderful place above in His glorious presence, and Paul, being caught up to that place, had a foretaste of the joys and blessings of the redeemed. But he does not tell us anything he saw, but only what he heard. And the words he heard were unspeakable; they were unutterable --he had not the ability nor the permission to make them known. Thus the apostle, to whom the great truth concerning the church and her heavenly destiny was especially committed, passed through this great experience. And all who are “in Christ, “who constitute the body of Christ, will ultimately be caught up in clouds to meet the Lord in the air and be forever with the Lord. Then we shall know the unspeakable words. Surely the heart burns within us when we think of such a destiny. And Paul saith, “Of such a one will I glory, but of myself will I not glory.” It was of himself as in Christ he gloried; as he looked to himself as a man, the earthen vessel, he could not glory, save in his infirmities. But was there not danger of being exalted on account of this great experience? Linked with the revelation, is the thorn in the flesh.
“And lest I should be exalted above measure through this 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.”
There was danger of pride of heart after such a vision, and so the Lord permitted a messenger of Satan to buffet the apostle for his own good. Here we have one of the most interesting evidences, that the flesh, the proud, old nature, is still in the believer and not eradicated as some claim. He had perhaps the greatest experience a human being ever had, and yet, though he did not exalt himself, in view of the tendency of the old nature to lift itself up, there was given him this thorn in the flesh. (“Alas! what is man? But God is watchful; in His grace He provided for the danger of His poor servant. To have taken him up to a fourth heaven--so to speak--would only have increased the danger. There is no way of amending the flesh; the presence of God silences it. It will boast of it as soon as it is no longer there. To walk safely, it must be held in check, such as it is. We have to reckon it dead; but it often requires to be bridled, that the heart be not drawn away from God by its means, and that it may neither impede our walk nor spoil our testimony.”--Synopsis.)
What was this thorn in the flesh? Numerous answers have been given to this question. It is evident that it was not something sinful as some suggested, but it must have been some affliction in his body, which made him contemptible in the eyes of others and in his preaching. The exact nature of this affliction in the flesh cannot be determined. And he had gone to the Lord with this thorn in his flesh. “For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.” And the answer came to him. The thorn was not taken away but something better he hears from his Lord. “My grace is sufficient for thee; for my strength is made perfect in weakness.” The assurance of the sufficiency of divine grace was to comfort his heart in the affliction, and that the power of God needed his weakness for its display, was to encourage him as the servant of the Lord. He at once understood the divine message. It enabled him not only to bear with infirmities, reproaches, necessities, persecutions and distresses for Christ’s sake, but to take pleasure in them, for he knew all these things were the things which enable God to manifest His power. He therefore gloried most gladly in infirmities.
They had compelled him to become a fool in glorying. It should have been different. Instead of his self-defense and vindication in writing all these things to them they should have commended him, for in nothing he was behind the very chiefest of the Apostles, yet he adds “though I be nothing.” He speaks of the signs of an Apostle which were wrought among them by himself. What love and tenderness he manifests once more towards his weak and wavering Corinthian brethren! And still he has deep concern about them. “For I fear lest, perhaps when I come, I find you not such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not; lest there be strifes, emulations, wraths, contentions, back-bitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults; and lest when I come again, my God should humble me with regard to you, and that I shall bewail many who have sinned before, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed.” What a Christ-like servant he was!