The Apostle said, “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” (II Cor. 12:2). Strangely, the man of whom he speaks in this verse is identified as himself in verse 7. This vision happened to Paul fourteen years previously. This epistle was written near the close of the year 57 AD, and fourteen years ago would place this vision about the time he and Barnabas were sent fourth from Antioch on the first tour among the Gentiles, AD 40-41 (Acts 13-14).
When Paul went to Lystra and Derbe, some Jews came from Antioch and Iconium and stirred up the people. The same group who had wanted to worship Paul and Barnabas as gods now agreed to their being stoned. “They stoned Paul, and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19).
Was Paul really dead, and did the Lord bring him back to life? The very next day, Paul who had been at death’s door, started a 60-mile trip. This may have been the time when Paul was “caught up to the third heaven.” Paul does not know if he literally went to the third heaven or went in the spirit. He does know that it was the third heaven.
The Bible speaks of three different heavens. The first heaven is where the birds fly and where the clouds are (Gen. 1:6-8). The second heaven is where the sun, moon and stars are (Gen. 1:14-18; Matt. 24:29). The third heaven is the habitation of God -- Matthew 5:16, 45, “Your Father which is in heaven.”
Some in the church are teaching a theory that God will leave His throne in heaven and come down to live with the redeemed on a refurbished earth. The false premillennialists doctrine teaches that they will live and reign on the earth for a thousand years. The false Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that eternal life will be on earth where the saved will live on a refurbished earth for eternity. There is absolutely no scripture that teaches the idea that eternal life for the redeemed will be on this earth! To the contrary, Peter wrote that this world, including everything in it, will be burned up with fervent heat (II Peter 3:10).
Paul went on to say that the third heaven where God is, is called paradise. “How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter (II Cor. 12:4). This means that Paul saw and heard things which he was not allowed to reveal; in other words, he saw the future glory for Christians, and it was not on this earth!
The meaning of the word “paradise” is not a common word in the New Testament, found only here and in Luke 23:43 and Revelation 2:7. The Greek word is “paradeisos” meaning a park and place of future happiness. It originally meant a pleasure park and used in Genesis 2:8 for the Garden of Eden. Later, it was applied to the abode of the righteous after death. In II Corinthians 12:2, it is regarded as the same as the third heaven.
The Apostle Paul relates his experience of being caught up into the third heaven, paradise, the abode of the righteous after death which was certainly not on this earth. He did not know whether or not he was in the body, transfigured, or in the spirit without the transfigured body.
Paul says he was caught up into paradise, the same place the thief on the cross when to (Luke 23:43), the same place that Lazarus went to (Luke 16:23), same place where the Tree of Life is said to be (Rev. 2:7). Paul saw the future glory for Christians, and it was not on this earth!