2 Corinthians 12:1-10 contains many important theological truths that greatly encourage and aid us in our struggles and weaknesses. Contextually, in 2 Corinthians chapters 10-13, Paul is defending himself against the attacks of false teachers. They ridiculed him demeaning his gospel presentation—so from 10-13 he answers the critics:

12:1: “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Here Paul is continuing his defense from the preceding context—namely, boasting of his sufferings on the account of his apostolicity. Paul always had joy in the epicenter of sufferings, Why?: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21). Paul is always boasting (and thanking), however, only in the Lord (esp. pertaining to salvation) as he states in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31:

But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption, so that, just as it is written, “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord (see also 2 Cor. 10:16-17).

12:2: “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows— such as a man was caught up to the third heaven.” The incident to which Paul is referring may either be Acts 16:9-10; 18:9; or 22:17-21. “Three heavens” was the traditional view to the Jews. The “first heaven” denotes the atmospheric heaven (in the sky where the birds fly); and “second heaven” would be space where stars and planets dwell. So, the “third heaven” would refer to a place beyond the stars, the abode of God (in a relational sense).

12:3: “And I know that this man [Paul repeats himself for emphasis] was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows.” Adding to his suffering and apostolic credence, Paul adds this event, which had happened to him, “fourteen years ago” ascending into the “third heaven” in “paradise.” Paradise” appears three times in the NT (Luke 23:43—the abode of the saved dead; 2 Cor. 12:3 Rev 2:7—the restoration of an Eden “paradise” as foretold in Isa. 51:3 and Ezek. 36:35). However, here it may paralleled to the “third heaven” in v. 2—the abode of God.

12:4 “Was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.” Some things were too holy and wonderful to “utter” such as the Divine Name, YHWH.

12:5-6: “On behalf of such a man I will boast; but on my own behalf I will not boast, except in regard to my weaknesses. 6 For if I do wish to boast I will not be foolish, for I will be speaking the truth; but I refrain from this, so that no one will credit me with more than he sees in me or hears from me.” Paul knows that he and thus, his gospel are “foolishness” to the world (esp. his critics)—the Greek term for “foolish” is moron. Paul makes this point strongly in 1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Cor. 1:18). But yet, “God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe” (v. 21). The GOSPEL [this so-called “foolishness”] is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16)!

12:7: “Because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself!” First, note the three hina (“in order that”) clauses (lit. rendering): “in order that I should not become conceited [there] was given to me a thorn in [my] flesh, a messenger of Satan, in order that, me, he might torment, in order that I should not become conceited.” This is an interesting event here.

Second, as to the “thorn,” there has been a variety of views offered. The term skolops (“thorn”) means anything sharp (i.e., a sharp point) as with “a stake upon which to be tied and punished.” Examples of views from the early church include, Tertullian, who thought the thorn was an earache; Chrysostom, a headache; whereas Cyprian viewed the thorn as “many and grievous bodily torments.” However, some, as do we, associate the thorn with Paul’s eye. As we read in Galatians 4:13-15:

but you know that it was because of a bodily illness that I preached the gospel to you the first time; 14 and that which was a trial to you in my bodily condition you did not despise or loathe, but you received me as an angel of God, as Christ Jesus Himself. 15 Where then is that sense of blessing you had? For I bear you witness that, if possible, you would have plucked out your eyes and given them to me.

It seems that the symptoms of this painful physical/bodily disease came in interludes. J. B. Lightfoot infers that it was some kind of epilepsy; and others suggest that it was malarial fever. The fact is, Paul saw this amazing privilege of experiencing the “third heaven” as a potentially dangerous situation in terms of the possibility of his humility turning into superiority, conceit, etc. Hence understanding the potential draw-back of this, he saw the “necessity” of this “messenger of Satan”— although he asked the Lord to take it away. Instead of Paul focusing on the physical affliction, he looked at the spiritual significance. Whatever this “thorn” was, it was a “physical” affliction. This affliction must have been a very “humbling” experience. What does God use to buffer us when we have prideful thoughts or conceit?

12:8 “I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me.” Paul had “begged” (note the aorist parekalesa—“implored/pleaded/begged”) the Lord Jesus three times to take it away—and each time the Lord said, No! Also, note that Paul prayed directly to Jesus Himself (cf. vv. 9-10). We see other NT examples where prayer is directly given to Jesus Christ Himself, such as Stephen’s prayer to Christ in Acts 7:59 and especially in John 14:14 where Jesus states: “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (cf. NASB, ESV, NIV).[1] This passage is an excellent example of Jesus Christ asserting His deity by showing that He hears the prayers of His people at all times and in all places (proving His omnipresence) and, as God, He confirms that He Himself answers prayers (cf. Ps. 25:11; 31:3).

As in Paul’s case, the Lord answers prayers, but according to His own will and purpose. 1 John 5:14 says: “This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.” Likewise, James 4:15 reads: “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and also do this or that.’” Calvin rightly comments: “For God answers us, when he strengthens us inwardly by his Spirit, and sustains us by his consolation, so that we do not give up hope and patience.”

12:9 “He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. . . .’” Since our eternal hope is glory with Him (not here on earth), is there anything in this life or more to this life than God’s grace and our future glory with Him? That is why Paul instructs us in Colossians 3:2-3 to

“Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”

We should imprint these passages in our minds—lest we forget God sustains us in His sovereign Hand. In Deuteronomy 32:39, the Lord expresses directly and absolutely His sovereignty in life, death, sickness and health:

See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal, and there is no one who can deliver from My hand.[2]

So although the discipline and training of the Lord may be painful, (Heb. 12:1ff.), whatever happens to us in this life, God is working it out for the higher good and for our sanctification—as we need it! Consider these most useful passages:

  • Psalms 20:6: “Now I know that the Lord saves His anointed; He will answer him from His holy heaven with the saving strength of His right hand.”
  • Rom. 5:3-5: “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; 4 and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; 5 and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”
  • Romans 8:28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”
  • James 1:12: “Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial.”
  • 1Peter 3:14: “But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed.”

So, now we can see why Paul can go on to say in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10:

Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.n the early church, it was a great honor and privilege to suffer for Christ. Paul endured his afflictions patiently; in fact, he was joyful when they occurred—for the sake of Christ for whose sake he lost everything and suffered much! When Paul was weak, he saw Christ as strong! For this, Paul was rejoicing always—until his death.


[1] Since God is triune, we can pray directly to any of the persons in the Trinity. Regarding John 14:14, the earliest and best NT manuscripts contain the pronoun me (e.g., P66 א B W et al). Hence, modern translations record Jesus as saying: “If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it”— affirming that we can pray directly to Jesus. However, this is not true with the KJV. Since the KJV relies on late inferior manuscripts (viz. the Textus Receptus—the Greek text upon which the KJV is based), the KJV omits the Greek pronoun me, thus, the KJV reads: “If ye shall ask any thing in my name I will do it”—with no mention of praying to Jesus directly, only to pray in His name. Hence, the KJV cannot be used here with groups such as the Muslims, JWs, and LDS who deny that prayers can be prayed directly to Jesus.

[2] In the LXX, the first part of Deuteronomy 32:39 reads: Idete idete hoti egō eimi kai ouk estin theos plēn emou, literally: “See now, see now, that I am [egō eimi] and no is [“there is no”] God except Me.” This seems to be the backdrop of Jesus’ unambiguous claim to be God in John 8 and 10. In John 8:24, 28, 58 et al, not only did Jesus claim to BE the absolute “I am,” but also in John 10:27-30, He claimed that He gives eternal life to His sheep and promises: “No one will snatch them out of My hand” (cf. also Ps. 95:7) and then affirmed His coequality with God the Father: “I and the Father are one” (v. 30).