2 Corinthians 12: The Third Heaven – Paradise
Paul opens by explaining that as an Apostle of the Lord, it is not; “…doubtless… I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord.” (2 Corinthians 12:1) Apostles of the Lord can and will have visions and revelations! With that being said, Paul goes on to explain that he knew a man who had gone to the third heaven. Paul explains that he did not know if it was in body or spirit that he knew this man. Paul explains; “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 knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.” (2 Corinthians 12:2) What is the Third Heaven? Paul continues; “…he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words…” (2 Corinthians 12:4) Earlier in the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul also spoke about the “Third Heaven”; “There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial; but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another in glory.” (1 Corinthians 15:40-41)
3 Degrees of Glory
What Paul spoke of is something extremely important, yet many Christians either do not understand what he speaks of, or simply decide to ignore it. Through modern revelation, Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints know that Paul is speaking of the Three Degrees of Glory that are found in the Plan of Salvation. So, what is the Plan of Salvation? It is a plan that God has given to us, to understand the deepest questions of our soul; Where did we come from? Why are we here? and Where are we going after death?
In my scriptures I have a small piece of paper inserted into my Bible that outlines this plan. It is there to help me remember the sacred love that God has for us all! Before the world was created, we all lived with God! We are His offspring, however we lacked one major thing that God possessed, and that was knowledge and experience. While we will never EVER become God, we can however strive to be LIKE Him! God (Our Heavenly Father) wants us to become like Him and because of this He created a world for us to live and dwell, that we might learn and grow from our trials and tribulations.
Where did we come from?
The Book of Genesis recounts the story of the Creation; where God created not only the world, but also created man to dwell on the earth. He provided our first parents (Adam and Eve) to make their own choices in the Garden of Eden, disobeying Father meant that they were cast out of the Garden. Men “fell” from the presence of God, and as a consequence would have to work by the “…sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread…” (Genesis 3:19) Mankind would now have to work and learn by themselves, without the presence of God directly in their lives. Mankind would have to walk by faith and not by sight.
Many Christians argue that what Adam and Eve did was a sin, and because of that sin, we are all born with an “original sin”. However, what Adam and Eve did was actually part of the Plan that God had set in motion forever. In the Book of Mormon we learn about the purpose of the Fall of Adam and Eve;
“Adam fell that men might be; and men are, that they might have joy…. The Messiah cometh in the fullness of time, that he may redeem the children of men from the fall. And because… they are redeemed from the fall they have become free forever, knowing good from evil; to act for themselves and not to be acted upon… and they are free to choose liberty and eternal life, through the great Mediator of all men, or to choose captivity and death, according to the captivity and power of the devil; for he seethe that all men might be miserable like unto himself.” (The Book of Mormon: 2 Nephi 2:25-27)
The Book of Mormon helps us to understand more of the Plan of Salvation. Yes, Adam and Eve did disobey a commandment of God. They partook of the Fruit of Knowledge of Good and Evil, in defiance of God’s word. However, God being all knowing, knew that they would disobey. He set in motion a savior for them [for all mankind] that we might be able to choose good from evil.
Are we born with sin? No. We read in Ezekiel that; “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son…” (Ezekiel 18:20)
When Christ came to the earth, He died for our sins and with His grace we can all be saved. Salvation is a FREE gift! Accepting it however is our own choice! With acceptance of this FREE gift, we are asked to live by God’s commandments and become a Disciple of Christ! What does Disciple mean? Disciple comes from the same root word as “Discipline”, therefore disciples are disciplined in the commandments of God and walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ! It is not enough to just say you accept Christ into your life. You must constantly prove those words to be true, through your actions!
Why are we here?
While we are on this earth we have a choice to either follow Jesus Christ or Satan. Following Satan means that we will not be able to return to live with our Father in Heaven, but rather live an eternity of anguish where; “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Luke 13:28)
If we chose to follow Jesus Christ, we must through personal revelation come to a knowledge of Him and have Faith in him. We must repent of our sins and be baptized as he was baptized. After baptism we must also receive the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the Power and Authority of the Priesthood. Upon completing these steps, we must then live our lives in accordance to the covenant and promises we made at baptism. We must follow His commandments and live as He would live. Then and only then can we return to live with our Father in Heaven and be “…caught up into paradise…” (2 Corinthians 12:4) as Paul had spoken.
Where are we going?
Finally, we ask “where are we going after death”? The Gospel of Jesus Christ through modern revelation has revealed the answers to these questions. We all know that we will die, and when we die we will go to a Spirit World where we will wait for the Day of Judgment. Those who were faithful to the Lord will wait in a state of Paradise and those who were not faithful or did not have the opportunity to learn about Christ during their earth life will have an opportunity to be taught and accept the Gospel on the other side.
When Jesus Christ finally comes for a Second time, all men and women will be judged according to their works, merits, and intents of their heart. Upon the completion of this Judgment, each person will receive their glory according to the guidelines mentioned. This is where Paul speaks of “Three Heavens”. This is the Glory of the Sun, Moon and Stars.
Paul ends his address by explaining that his; “…grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness. Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)
We too must remember that God has a plan for each one of us; the Plan of Salvation helps us to understand the most basic questions of life’s supposedly “unanswered” questions. The truth of the matter is this… God speak today, He has authorized servants speaking on His behalf! We are not alone, nor has God abandoned us! We need to remember that God is GOOD, and He knows what’s best for us… if we are faced with difficulties, we need to remember that with weakness, vulnerability, in infirmities and in trials… comes STRENGTH!