Through the Bible with Les Feldick
LESSON 1 * PART 1 * BOOK 32
PAUL’S GLIMPSE OF GLORY
Now as we begin this new book let me pause for a moment and say thank you again for all the support that you have given us, and especially your prayers. We know that we cannot do this in the energy of the flesh. Now picking up where we left off in the last program, and that will be in Chapter 11:22. Remember, as we begin, Paul has to constantly remind not only the Corinthians, but you and I as well, that he was the God-ordained apostle of the Gentiles, the non-Jew and he has to constantly defend that. Even the Corinthians which were probably a mixture of some Jews but still mostly Gentiles, were evidently bombarding him with the accusation that, after all, he didn’t have the authority that Peter, James and John had because they had been with Christ for three years.
II Corinthians 13:3a
“Since ye seek a proof of Christ speaking in me,…”
But Paul will show us that he also had direct contact with Christ. Not in the way that the Twelve had in walking up and down the dusty roads of Palestine, but nevertheless the Lord has appeared to this apostle over and over and especially, as we’re going to see today, to give him encouragement in spite of all the sufferings and disappointments that he had to go through. As we come into verse 22 of Chapter 11 he is again coming back to this same point. Those Twelve back there in Israel didn’t have anything over him because look what he says.
II Corinthians 11:22
“Are they Hebrews? so am I. Are they Israelites? so am I. Are they the seed of Abraham? so am I.”
So with regard to genealogy they didn’t have anything over the apostle Paul, because he, too, was all of these. Now verse 23:
II Corinthians 11:23a
“Are they ministers of Christ? [now here is where Paul’s humility shows through, and this is the only reason he says this, because he is always saying `I’m nothing.’] (I speak as a fool) I am more;…”
How could the man say that? Because of the revelations that he had received, not from the pre-crucified Christ, but the Christ after His death, burial, resurrection, and ascension. And that makes all the difference in the world. I’ve made the point that if you made a will back in 1980 and covered everything, dotting every `i’and crossing every `t,’ but then in 1990 you had some changes, you would write a new will then. Then, say, in 1992 you pass away and they go into your personal items and find two wills, one dated in 1980 (in which everything’s in order), and another one dated 1990 (just as signed and dated), well which one do the courts look at? The last one, and that is much the same way with Paul’s apostleship. He had not walked with Christ as the Twelve did, but he had further revelations at a later time and as he says over and over, they now become the primary apostle.
Now we’re going to see it again even in Chapter 12, but for example let’s just jump ahead in verse 11, and again he used the word `fool’ merely to show the fact that he has no pride in himself. He did not have an ego problem.
II Corinthians 12:11
“I am become a fool in glorying; ye have compelled me: (because of their constant resistance to his authority he has to come back and prove it. He says. `you’re the ones that are causing me to say all this, because you won’t believe me.’) for I ought to have been commended of you: for in nothing am I behind the very chiefest apostles, (Peter, James and John)though I be nothing.”
They were what I call the inner sanctum of the Twelve. But Paul says that he is even ahead of them. Now go all the way back to Chapter 11 and you’ll find the same thing in verse 5. Now here we have this three times in the space of a chapter, you might say where the Holy Spirit led him to say the same thing. And what have I told you ever since we started in Genesis? When the Scripture repeats something several times in a rather short span it’s there for emphasis, and we’d better take note of it. All right now look what it says back in Chapter 11 verse 5:
II Corinthians 11:5
“For I suppose I was not a whit behind, the very chiefest apostles.”
Do you see that? So three times now he is making the point that Peter, James, and John were not above him, in fact it’s just the other way around. They have slipped off the scene, and now this man is God’s chosen vessel to take the Gospel of Grace not just to the Nation of Israel, but to the whole world. Now coming back where we left off in Chapter 11.
II Corinthians 11:23
“Are they ministers of Christ? (I speak as a fool) I am more; in labours more abundant, in stripes above measure, in prison more frequent, in deaths oft.”
Now let’s stop for a moment. How much physical suffering did the Twelve disciples go through until they were finally martyred? As far as we know, none. Certainly not during Christ’s earthly ministry. Now we know they were all martyred, I take nothing away from that. But for this man throughout the whole 20 years of his ministry it was nothing but one beating after another. One imprisonment after another, and it was constant opposition from his own countrymen the Jews. And so for a whole 20-year period the man suffered only for the sake of the Gospel, and the Twelve didn’t have to do that. Now we’re going to see in Chapter 12 that he was dragged out of Lystra for dead, but evidently there were other times when, so far as the apostle was concerned, he was next to death whether it was through sickness or through the beatings or through imprisonment or whatever. Now verse 24:
II Corinthians 11:24
“Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one.”
In other words, they would stop at 39. The Law said 40, but in order to make sure they didn’t miscount and to be on the safe side they would stop at 39. But you know what? Very few victims could take that many, and usually the chief priest would have to stop the whipper before they would get up to that point. Most men couldn’t take that many stripes, they would die as they were being whipped. You and I, in our modern age, have no concept of what a human being looked like after they had been beaten 39 times.
Stoning was even worse. I was reading the other night in a biography on the apostle Paul how, when the Jews stoned someone to death, the corpse was obscene. It stands to reason that is correct as they would use rocks so big that it would take two hands to smash it down on the victim. And by the time they were through with them they were literally pummeled to where they were obscene. All right, the apostle went through that also, so we have to constantly remember (as we sit now in our western culture and most of us for sure have never had to suffer for our faith yet in order for us to have our New Testament as we know it), this is what the man had to go through. Now there was some reasoning for it and it goes back to the old saying. “What goes around, comes around.” Remember for several years this man did the same things to his victims. He was unmerciful to his fellow Jews because they had believed in Jesus of Nazareth. And that’s why God told Ananias there in Damascus:
“For I will shew him (Saul) how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake.”
I’m bringing all this out to get you ready for Chapter 12, because we’re going to have a tremendous experience in that chapter. So here he’s been suffering at the hands of the Jews, at the hands of the Romans.
II Corinthians 11:25
“Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep;”
The Book of Acts only records one shipwreck so there must have been two other times he was dumped in the water. And the same way with these beatings. I can only find once in the Book of Acts where the Jews gave him the 39 stripes, and yet he says that they did that to him five times. Three times he was beaten with rods and that’s almost as bad. Then once he was stoned and that’s the one we will look at in Chapter 12. Now verse 26:
II Corinthians 11:26,27
“In journeying often, (remember the man covered what is now Turkey and Greece on foot) in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen (the non-Jewish world) in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; 27. In weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often in cold and nakedness.“
We’ve had it pretty good haven’t we? I don’t think any of us have gone through any of this for the sake of the Gospel. If the Lord doesn’t come back soon, the day may come, as we never know what the future holds. We do know that right now, today, thousands of Christians are being tortured and put to death. Some are sold into slavery in other parts of the world. In fact I was reading that since 1900 more Christians have been martyred than all then rest of time back to the time of Christ. Now we don’t realize that.
But remember that communism held forth in Russia for 70 years, and it was ruthless. The Nazis in Germany were ruthless, and the Chinese have been ruthless and still are. In Africa we have no idea of the amount of Christian people who have suffered for their faith. So here we sit in America, and we’re so blessed with all of our liberties, and freedoms, and our guarantees of freedom, and too often we do not stop to think that this is a rare commodity that we hold in our hands. This is something that too many areas of the world would just love to be able to do. To be able to sit down without fear and study the Word of God. So let’s never fail to thank God that we are in such a place of liberty and opportunity. Now verse 28, and remember on top of all these hardships he had other concerns.
II Corinthians 11:28
“Beside those things that are without, that which cometh upon me daily, the care (or the concerns) of all the churches.” (assemblies)
I like the word `assemblies’ better for Churches. That meant wherever he went he would establish a small assembly of believers. It was usually in a home, and it was called the local church. As reports would come back to him (that maybe some false teachings and vile sin had come into that congregation), we know that it just tore at the man. Now verse 29.
II Corinthians 11:29
“Who is weak, and I am not weak? who is offended, and I burn not?”
In other words, Paul identified with all these converts that he had brought out of paganism, or Judaism.
II Corinthians 11:30-32a
“If I must needs glory, I will glory of the things which concern mine infirmities. (his weaknesses) 31. The God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which is blessed for evermore, knoweth that I lie not. 32. In Damascus…”
In Damascus where it all started as we find back there in Acts Chapter 9, where Saul of Tarsus met the Lord on the road, was blinded, and then led into Damascus. After he got his sight back, and got food, remember how he went into the Synagogue and proclaimed that Jesus was the Christ.
“And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.”
Remember how I put it back there in the Book of Acts? Well you see that message was no longer sufficient. God was going to turn from the Jew only and let the Gentiles be the primary players. It was not the message that God wanted this man to preach. It was not enough to simply believe that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God. God had further revelations to give this man. So there in Damascus God forced the issue. What happened? Oh, the word got out that there were people who were ready to put him to death. There were Jews who understood that he had turncoated on them. So he had to flee for his life, being let down over the wall in a basket, and then God took him to Arabia for three years for those revelations of the mysteries. But here in II Corinthians is what Paul is making reference to. He says right from the very beginning his whole life of fear and suffering began.
II Corinthians 11:32,33
“In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: 33. And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands.”
Now that’s the way to start a career isn’t it? Right off the bat he has to start running for his life. Well it was all part and parcel, you see, of getting the man ready for the Gospel of Grace as we know it today. That Christ died for our sins, and He was not left in the grave, He’s alive evermore, He arose from the dead. And that’s our Gospel that we believe for salvation as we find in I Corinthians 15:1-4. Paul is going to take this Gospel to the ends of the then-known world.
And today, even with all of this in Paul’s writings in the New Testament, that Gospel is so shunned. We just do not hear the uniqueness of Paul’s apostleship. What a sad commentary because this is where we are going to find eternal life. It’s the very heart of our New Testament from Romans through Hebrews, and this is why I’m always stressing the fact that this man was brought into all of this suffering and turmoil so that you and I as Gentiles can have this tremendous Gospel of the Grace of God. Now let’s move into Chapter 12. Keep in mind two basic points that I’ve been trying to make throughout II Corinthians. How that he has to defend his apostleship. That he does have the authority even though he did not walk with Christ up and down the roads of Palestine. Paul had that apologetic authority. The second one was that we’re not under Law, but rather Grace. So these things are going to be preeminent in his writings not only to the Corinthians but as we go on through the other letters.
II Corinthians 12:1
“It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.”
In the next verse he says something that I suppose a lot of people just gloss over (and they really don’t know what he’s talking about).
II Corinthians 12:2
“I knew (know) a man in Christ above (or about) fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.”
Now there is so much in this verse that I hardly know where to go back in our references first. But I think we’ll go back to the time that he is referring to and that would be back in the Book of Acts Chapter 14. This was on Paul’s first missionary journey. But he’s gone up into central Turkey on that first missionary journey, and at the little city of Lystra he had performed a miracle. You would have thought that would have settled everything but rather it got everyone in an uproar because they thought he was a god. But it turned on him and when they suddenly realized that he wasn’t a god, they came violently against him. And the Jews were leading the mob.
“And there came thither certain Jews from Antioch and Iconium, (these were cities close together) who persuaded the people, and, having stoned Paul, (according the Jewish system of execution) drew (probably use a rope to drag) him out of the city, (of Lystra) supposing he had been dead.”
Remember the ancients weren’t that stupid. They had a good idea when life was still in the body, so I have to feel that for all practical purposes Paul died as a result of this stoning.
“Howbeit, as the disciples stood round about him, (don’t forget what I told you about people who were stoned. Their corpse was so crushed and mutilated and yet this is miraculous. We don’t know how many hours he laid there with his fellow believers in a dither of what to do.) he rose up, and came into the city: (I think if I’d been him I would have headed in the other direction,) and the next day he departed with Barnabas to Derbe.”
Now if you will come back to II Corinthians. The reason I tie this with the stoning in Lystra is because, chronologically, it fits. It was probably about 45 or 46 AD when Paul was on that first missionary journey, and we know that he wrote II Corinthians in about 60 AD So chronologically it fits. It was at this time that he experienced this tremendous opportunity to see the glories of Heaven, Paradise. Now let’s read on. He says:
II Corinthians 12:2b
“…(whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell; God knoweth,) (well I think it’s obvious to us that he was out of the body. I think the body was the one laying outside of Lystra having been stoned. So the soul and spirit took flight.) God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.”
Now we’re going to look at these three heavens in Scripture for a moment so come with me to the Book of Genesis. There is the first heaven, the second, and the third. Now the first heaven is what we would call the air or atmosphere – the area where the birds fly, so we know what the Scripture is talking about. The second area is what we now call space or the area of the stars and so forth. The third one is Heaven as we know it. It the very abode of God.
“And every living substance was destroyed which was upon the face of the ground, both man, and cattle, and the creeping things, and the fowl of the heaven;…”
So it was already referred to in Genesis that the atmosphere is part of what the Bible calls the first heaven.