Caught Up to Heaven [TWO-PART SERIES]

PART TWO – LEADING UP TO OUR FINAL DESTINATION

PAUL’S BURDEN OF PROOF – 2 Corinthians 12:1-6

Paul speaks from experience that there are events that follow our physical death.  The burden is to prepare us, not for DEATH, but for the events that occur between your dying and your final destination.

WHAT DOES THE WORD OF GOD SAY ABOUT THE EXPERIENCE OF DEATH AND WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NIV)

[2] I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.  Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows.

[3] And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– [4] was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

At death, we sometimes expect great pain, but Jesus says there is none.

When we die we suddenly find ourselves somewhere else (2 Corinthians 12:4).

One of God’s best spokesmen said, knowing that the home we live in on earth is like a “tent” and is destroyed or dissolved at death, and we have a building, a house, that God is building, an eternal house not made with hands. [2 Corinthians 5:1]

So you won’t stay around and “haunt” anything after death!

We are conscious after death (2 Corinthians 12:2 (b). ).

Although Paul’s related experience isn’t from his DEATH, most probably from a near-death experience fourteen years earlier.  In Acts 7:55-56, we read of Stephen’s reaction to his soon to be death from stoning:

[55] But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. [56] “Look.” he said, “I see haven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”  [NIV]

I want you to know that not only are we conscious after we die, but we are even more conscious!

Here are some arguments from Paul as to why we are more conscious than before.

  1. He saw, heard and experienced amazing things.
  2. His mental ability was so acute that he was able to compare this new life with what he just left.
  3. His new consciousness knew things from his former one that he couldn’t communicate.

Something in this place of existence in the third heaven forbade him to tell what he saw.

We stand before God and face judgment

Hebrews 9:27 says we are ALL “appointed once to die and after that the [certain] judgment (AMP),

There are several judgments mentioned in the Bible and I don’t want to take a detour here, so I’ll leave it at that.  When you die, you are judged,  The names of all the judgments I’ll leave for another blog study.

When you die your eternal fate is forever sealed (Luke 16:19-31). 

 

In this parable told by Jesus, two men died and already at their eternal destinations.  One was in a bad place and one in a good place.  The one in the bad place prayed and asked God to let him leave from the bad place and go to the good one.  God informed him that it was impossible for a great wall had been fixed.

Those who have placed their FAITH & TRUST in Jesus will never be away from His presence.

Romans 8:38, 39 (NIV) – “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

UNIQUELY TOUCHED

Paul has told us this incident he describes in 2 Corinthians 12, shows that he had been uniquely touched by God.  Through his vision, we learned that PARADISE isn’t a shadowy waiting-room, but the euphoric place of unspeakable glory!  Its GLORY is that of the ultimate heavenly glory, which is the glory of the Presence of the Son of God (Rev. 1:9 ff, 22:1 ff).  

Therein PARADISE, the Third Heaven, the souls of the saints (Christians) are home with Christ, the last Adam (1 Cor. 15:45), where they’re beyond the reach of sin.  Without fear of being driven out as happened in the first Paradise.  There they await the crowning consummation of their redemption, the union of souls and their resurrection body when the New Heaven and the New Earth will be introduced and all of God’s purposes in creation complete and eternally fulfilled.

In this TWO PART SERIES, there’s something I want to leave with my readers:

The LAST ENEMY to be destroyed is DEATH (1 Corinthians 15:26).

The 23rd Psalm

THE LORD is my Shepherd [to feed, guide, and shield me], I shall not lack.  [2] He makes me lie down in [fresh, tender] green pastures; He leads me beside the still and restful waters. [Rev. 7:17.]  [3] He refreshes and restores my life (my self); He leads me in the paths of righteousness  [uprightness and right standing with Him–not for my earning it, but] for His name’s sake.  [4] Yes, though I walk through the [deep, sunless] valley of the shadow of death, I will fear or dread no evil, for You are with me;  Your rod [to protect] and Your staff [to guide],  they comfort me.  [5] You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.  You anoint my head with oil; my [brimming] cup runs over.  [6] Surely or only goodness, mercy, and unfailing love shall follow me all the days of my life, and through the length of my days, the house of the Lord [and His presence] shall be my dwelling place. [AMP]

There’s also something I want you to do:

Never again FEAR DEATH if you’re a committed Christ follower.  If you are not yet a follower make it ASAP.

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CREDITS:

PHOTO/IMAGES:  Google Image Search.

Bible Dictionary:  Vine’s Complete Expository Dictionary by W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, William White, Jr.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV), Amplified Bible (AMP), Contemporary English Version (CEV), New King James Version (NKJV).

 

Caught Up to Heaven [A SERIES]

PART ONE – PAUL’S EXPERIENCE

[1]  I must go on boasting.  Although there is nothing to be gained.  I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord.

[2]  I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven.  Whether it was in the body or out of the body, I do not know–God knows.

[3]  And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– [4] was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.

[5]  I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.

[6]  Even if I should choose to boast, I could not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth.  But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do, or say…

[The New International Version Bible (NIV)]

What Paul says in verse 1, he is forced to say so that the Corinthian church members might look at him from God’s perspective.

Paul’s restraint increases as he discloses what was probably the most intimate and sacred of all his Christian experiences.  Paul repeats that he is speaking of himself only because circumstances have compelled him to do so.

What Does the Bible Tell Us About the Experience of Death and About What Happens Next?  [2 Cor. 12:2-4]

“The Journey to Paradise” – Revelations, and Visions:

Revelations are apocalypses, literally “to remove the cover, to unveil.”  It’s the unveiling of something hidden which gives light and knowledge to those who see it (Eph. 3:3; Rom. 16:25).  

Revelations are more general than visions.  You might have revelations without having visions but one never has visions without revelations.

Visions, dreams, and trances are hard to distinguish.  A vision comes to one in an ecstatic state (Isa. 1:1; Ezek. 12:27) and brings revelation knowledge.  The experience points to a special awareness of God concerning what He is doing or going to do.

Several years ago I was asked by a local pastor if I could write a play for the upcoming Resurrection Sunday.  I was given two months to put everything together.  And by the way…I’ve never done anything like this before.  So lacking confidence, not knowing where this was going, I began to pray for guidance.  NOTHING!

Then, perhaps out of desperation and lack of faith, I found myself lying face down on the carpet pleading for God to give me inspiration.  And then I heard in my spirit, “Mel, get up from the floor, and wait.”  “Wait?  I have a month to put this all together, Lord!”  His response was “Just wait”.

That night in my sleep, I felt a nudge to my shoulder and thinking that I was dreaming, rolled over to the other side.  Again a nudge, but harder this time.  As I sat up on the edge of the bed, the voice returned:  “Mel, get up and go to the dining room table.  Get a pen and a paper tablet and I will give instructions on what I want you to accomplish.”  This was at 5:30 AM.  Was I still dreaming, is this really happening?  I got up and followed His guidance and instructions and at 7 AM the outline was finished.  The storyline, the set design, the title….everything but a script!  Yes, God even took care of that.  Was this a dream, a vision, a revelation?  All I do know is, the experience showed me what He was doing and going to do!

Background To The Text [2 Corinthians 12] –

Most Bible scholars believe Paul had a near-death experience.  Paul mentions that at least on one occasion he was left for dead.  As he writes he speaks of this experience and says some guy he knew had it.  Writing about something that happened to an author and inventing a second person to deliver a message is common literary practice.

Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12 speaks from experience that there are events that follow our physical death.  The burden of this conversation prepares us, not for death, but for the events that take place between our dying and our final destination.

Caught Up To Heaven (verses 2-4).

One vision which Paul recounts stands out from the rest in its extraordinary character.  His ecstatic episode which he was transported to Paradise began in VERSE 2.

Paul is sure his remarkable experience occurred but uncertain whether the “caught up” [RAPTURE] experience was in the body or out of the body.

BODY RAPTURE is not regarded as impossible.  TWO instances are recorded in the Old Testament, Enoch (Gen. 5:24; Heb. 11:5) and Elijah (1 Kings 2:11; Mk. 9:4) and in the New Testament, Jesus was bodily raptured into heaven.

At any rate, such a one was caught up (Gk. harpazo, “to snatch away”).  “Caught up” is a form of the Greek word harpazog, the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 which in reference to the RAPTURE of the Church.

Paul was “raptured” to the third heaven.

The Third Heaven

The third heaven designates a place beyond the immediate heaven of the earth’s atmosphere of clouds and beyond; the further heaven of outer space and its galaxies and into the presence of God Himself.  (Heb. 4:14, 7:26; Eph. 4:10)

The FIRST HEAVEN is atmospheric, the SECOND HEAVEN is composed of the stellar universe, and the THIRD HEAVEN is the unique dwelling place of God–a different dimension.

In VERSE 3, Paul again clarifies his mystifying experience to his readers.  He’s uncertain if he was in a bodily or disembodied state.  Whether his soul was separated from the body for a time and taken up into heaven, or whether he was taken up, body and soul together, he wasn’t sure.

[3] “And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows–“

VERSE 4 teaches us that human words are inadequate to tell us about heaven.

[4] “was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things that no one is permitted to tell”

If the THIRD HEAVEN describes the place of his rapture, then Paradise specifies the wonder of his rapture.  [The third heaven of v. 2 and the Paradise of v.4 are one and the same.]

Paradise is a Persian word for an enclosed park, garden or pleasure ground used only three times in the New Testament.  In Luke 23:43 with the thief on the Cross, and in Revelation 2:7.  In the Old Testament, this term is used in Genesis as the Garden or Paradise or Eden.

I believe Paul witnessed the state of the spirit-souls of the redeemed who had died are “at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8), but still in a “celestial body” so we won’t feel naked until the day when we are covered with the glorified and incorruptible resurrection body (2 Cor. 5:1-3. 1 Cor. 15:42, Phil. 3:20-21).  Then the REDEEMED of the Lord will shine forth with full splendor of eternal Christ-likeness.

Paul heard unspeakable (“inexpressible”) words.

Unspeakable word is an oxymoron, speaking which may not be spoken, for even in the heavenly state it is beyond words.

Human language is too inadequate to describe things that transcend all knowledge and understanding.

We often speak about Paradise trying to describe its state and heaven to define its features and whereabouts, but the truth is that we are stepping over the threshold into another dimension, a reality not of this world, infinite, spiritual and only distantly sensed by us in our earthly tent.  And yet as born-again believers in Christ, we know with assurance that one day we’ll be at our permanent home.

The Scriptures will occasionally part the mists of our earthly existence and grant us brief glimpses of the GLORY yet to be revealed.  (2 Cor. 5:11-12, 1 Corinthians 15:50; Rom. 8:38-39; Phil. 1:21. 3:20-21; 1 Thess. 4:13; 2 Tim. 4:8.)

From Paul’s experiences, we are granted a view of the indescribable GLORY that lies ahead and thereby secured him to patiently endure all the severe suffering in his ministry.  He thus knows that the sufferings of this present age were not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to come (Rom. 8:18; 2 Tim. 4:18).

Someday we will arrive in heaven realizing that everything we see and experience is new and indescribable in earthly vocabulary.  I’m so thankful that God used illustrations that we could understand that gives us just a glimpse of eternity.

CURRENT EVIDENCE (verses 5-6)

Paul could have boasted, as his rivals do, of impressive religious credentials, experience, and achievements, but he doesn’t.  Instead, he speaks only of his weaknesses.

[5] “Of this same [man’s experiences] I will boast, but of myself (personally) I will not boast, except as regards my infirmities (my weaknesses)”  [AMP}

Paul’s weaknesses, trials, and tribulations he went through for Christ’s sake, that had left him broken of body, mind, emotion, and spirit.  For these areas became the very places where God could do His greatest work in and then through Paul.

Paul wouldn’t be like his opponents who glorified in their earthly state or pride.  For God alone is due to all the glory!

Though boasting includes many lies, in verse 6 Paul affirms his trustfulness.

[6] “Even if I should choose to boast, I would not be a fool, because I would be speaking the truth.  But I refrain, so no one will think more of me than is warranted by what I do or say”  [NIV]

Although all of Paul’s boasts were true and about true occurrences, not to mention all the other reasons he could boast, he didn’t dwell on those things.

And the reasons why?

Others might think too highly of him.  He didn’t want to be judged by the past, or what he said about himself, but that men should judge him by what they presently heard and saw.

[NOTE:  I will continue this study, being CAUGHT UP, with Part Two in the Series – The Leading Up To Our Final Destination.]

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CREDITS:

Dictionary:  VINE’S Complete Expository Dictionary Of Old And New Testament Words by W. E. Vine, Merrill F. Unger, and William White, Jr.

Photo/Images:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV); Amplified Bible (AMP); New King James Version (NKJV); or as noted.

 

 

 

Staring Into the Abyss – Revelation Chapter 9

Why have the pulpits stayed away from teaching…preaching from The Revelation to John?  We seem to hear about Heaven in messages, but Hell…not so much, if at all.  And did you know, that “Hell” is mentioned in Scripture more than Heaven is?  So in my reading and study in Revelation this month, I’m sharing my understanding in Chapter 9 beginning with the Fifth Trumpet Judgment:

REVELATION 9:1-21

The chapter begins with a STAR falling from heaven and being given the KEY to the Abyss.

Revelation 9:1 (NIV)

[1] “THE FIFTH ANGEL sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star had fallen from the sky to the earth,  The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss.”

There are those today who use this kind of apocalyptic language when they speak about what to fear today.

To my friends in Great Britain…those who are freaked out about what Brexit will bring and here in the United States…what President Donald Trump might bring about as ‘staring into the Abyss’.

In the culture of the Apostle John’s day, the ABYSS was considered to be the place of the dead and the demonic.  [See footnote [i].]

The STAR (Rev. 9:1-2).

It’s important to notice in verse 1 that the word “star” isn’t being used literally but figuratively.

How do we know that?

Well, deductive reasoning comes into play.

The “star” is given the KEY to the shaft of the Abyss and in verse 2 is referred to as “he”.  You can’t hand an actual star a key, but you can hand it to a being.

So who’s the Star then?

There are several times in Scripture where STARS refer to angels.

In Revelation 20:1 at the end of the Great Tribulation, an angel comes down from heaven;  “he was holding the key of the Abyss (the bottomless pit) and a great chain was in his hand” [AMP}. 

 I believe in the study that this is the same angel as in Revelation9:1.  This angel returns the KEY through the Tribulation.

I’ve read some commentaries that say the STAR refers to Satan on the basis of Isaiah 14:12:  “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn!  You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations.”

The reason why the “star” in verse 1 can’t be a reference to Satan is that Satan will not be thrown down to earth until Chapter 12 of Revelation, and only then will he have no access to God’s immediate presence where he goes to accuse the brethren as he did in Job 1.

So it has to be the FIFTH TRUMPET ANGEL who in 20:1 of Revelation comes down out of heaven with the KEY to the Abyss.

The ABYSS (“bottomless pit” KJV), is NOT Hell or Hades.

I’ve read commentaries by scholars in the past that believe the Abyss may be the bottom of the great gulf fixed in Hades.  This is the gulf that separates the place of torment and the place of comfort we read about in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.  As a side note, remember that Ephesians 4:8-10 tells us that Jesus cleared out Paradise.

Scripture supports that Hades included both Hell AND Heaven (Abraham’s bosom, or what Jesus and many of the everyday Jews of His day referred to as Paradise).

According to Jesus, in between the TWO was “A great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”  (Luke 16:26) [See footnote [ii].]

Abasos (bottomless) appears seven times in Revelation.

It is always in reference to the place of residence to the incarcerated DEMONS (9:2, 11; 11:7; 17:8).

Satan himself will be held there during the Millenial reign of Christ, chained and locked-up with the other demonic prisoners (20:1, 3).

God is SOVEREIGNLY chosen to place DEMONS in the Abyss for the purpose of punishment.

We don’t have much information as to what the PIT might look like other than the CREATURES that come from this “bottomless pit”.  

It’s important to note there are TWO types of DEMONS described in Scripture.

  1. Those that are FREE to roam the earth.
  2. And those that are confined to a certain place in Hell.

The FREE Demons – (Matthew 12:43-45)

There are those “unclean (evil) spirits” that seek to indwell the bodies of people.

This is the “evil spirits” that were cast into the PIGS by Jesus.  [Reference]: https://theworddetective.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/thats-a-lot-of-pork-chops/

Evidently, these DEMONS travel in groups and there must be many of them.  Apparently over a thousand “evil spirits” possessed the wild man of Gerasa, because they gave themselves the name “Legion” (Mark 5:1-20; Luke 8:26-29).

I believe these “evil spirits” are the fallen angels and we need to understand that they are real.  The good news for Christians is we cannot be possessed by a DEMON because the Holy Spirit possesses us.  Although, if we are not following Jesus daily, we can be influenced by these evil spirits.

The IMPRISONED DEMONS – (Jude 1:6-7) 

[6] And angels who did not keep (care for, guard, and hold to) their own first place of power but abandoned their proper dwelling place–these He has reserved in custody in eternal chains (bonds) under the thick gloom of utter darkness until the judgment and doom of the great day.

[7] [The wicked are sentenced to suffer] just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the adjacent towns–which likewise gave themselves over to impurity and indulged in unnatural vice and sensual perversity–are laid out [in plain sight] as an exhibit of perpetual punishment [to warn] of everlasting fire.  [AMP]

These fallen angels have been imprisoned.  I’ve read in commentaries where scholars believe that these are the ANGELS who violated the laws of God–“took wives of all they desired and chose” from the “daughters of men” [Genesis 6:2, Amplified Bible].

These are the fallen angels referred to as “the sons of God”.  Their offspring have been called the Nephelium who were giants.  There are some controversies with this thinking, but that’s another study.

In 2 Peter 2:1-10 we find more confirmation of these imprisoned demons.

The Greek word for HELL in 2 Peter 2:4 is “Tartarus”, which is a portion of HELL.  Some Bible teachers believe that this is also the Abyss.

The First Woe – Revelation 9:2-10.

The Abyss is opened and there is so much SMOKE, it became “smog like” in appearance.

In 1967-2001, my family lived in Costa Mesa, California, south of Los Angeles.  There were days that the smog conditions were so bad that your eyes burned, lungs were affected, and a dense haze closed in as a squeezing bench vise.  I haven’t been back to the area since then, so I don’t know if the conditions have improved.

Out of this “SMOG” in Revelation 9, come locust-like scorpion creatures.

They will be shaped like LOCUST, likened to horses, have faces like men, hair like women, and teeth as lions.

These creatures have breastplates of iron and their wings are like “the roar of a vast number of horse-drawn chariots going at full speed into battle.”  [Rev. 9:9; Joel 2:5]

They also possess stings in their tails like scorpions.

It’s been suggested that these might be helicopters armed for war.

Although, you might see some similarities in this description and John would have no idea what a “helicopter” was, personally, I still believe these are literal creatures.

Some would say that no one on earth could see them because they are “spiritual creatures”, but that doesn’t add up in study after reading Joel 2:6 – “At the sight of them, nations are in anguish; every face turns pale.”  

In Joel 1-2 we find this scene being prophesied.  You should make time to read these two chapters and I believe you’ll get a better picture of how terrible this JUDGMENT will be.

The Destroyer (Apollyon) – Revelation 9:11

In VERSE 11 we find the angel of the Abyss and the king over these terrible creatures.

Although the above IMAGE comes from an artist’s imagination, it still captures the essence of the character portrayed in Scripture.

His Hebrew name (Abaddon) and his Greek name (Apollyon) are both given.  Both names mean “Destroyer”.

This fallen angel must be of high rank in Satan’s army.  Now don’t be led astray here in believing this is Satan, himself because Satan isn’t locked up in the Abyss.  He’s roaming around like a lion, seeking who he can devour [1 Peter 5:8].

As Satan always tries to copy God, I believe Apollyon is probably equivalent to an Archangel in Heaven.  The main thing here is to notice, just as his leader’s goal is to DESTROY, so is his!

The Torment – (Revelation 9:5-6)

Notice that these CREATURES will not kill those who they sting.  The STING will torment them for five months.

The PAIN is so bad during this time period that they will wish there were dead and think they will die, but they won’t.  Maybe the reason they won’t die is so that they will get some of their attention and submit to Jesus Christ as Savior.

Joel 2:12-13

[12] “Even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”

[13] Rend your heart and not your garments.  Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and he relents from sending calamity.

I also believe that some may notice certain people are NOT stung by the creatures.

In Revelation 9:4 we’re told that the CREATURES were instructed to only sting those who don’t have the seal (mark) of God on their foreheads [AMP].

This means that just like the plagues of Egypt, God’s people are not harmed during the JUDGMENT.  As far as what the “seal” or “mark” is…that’s another blog-discussion.

As terrible as this JUDGMENT is, we can see that God is giving people another opportunity to follow Him.

Maybe you are reading this without Jesus.  God is giving you an opportunity.

Don’t wait until it’s too late!

And, Christians, as always:  Be urgent about sharing the Gospel message.

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CREDITS & FOOTNOTES

Footnote [I]:  “Revelation 9: Are We Heading Into the Abyss?” – By David Peterson, in Christian Today, Jan. 3, 2017.

Footnote [ii]:  Devotions.com – “Bible Indicates Paradise Was Once Part Of Hades”.

Blog’s Photo/Images:  Google Image Search.

Bible Translations:  New International Version (NIV) – Copyright 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 By Biblica, Inc., except where indicated in the text.