Questions From Readers
At 2 Corinthians 12:2-4 the apostle Paul describes one who was “caught away . . . to the third heaven” and “into paradise.” Since there is no mention in the Scriptures of any other person having had such an experience, it seems likely that this was the apostle Paul’s own experience. Whereas some have endeavored to relate Paul’s reference to the “third heaven” to the early Rabbinical view that there were stages of heaven, even a total of “seven heavens,” this view finds no support in the Scriptures.
When we examine the context, it becomes apparent that the apostle is not referring to the heavens within earth’s atmospheric expanse or to outer space. The apostle wrote: “I shall pass on to supernatural visions and revelations of the Lord. I know a man in union with Christ who, fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know; God knows—was caught away as such to the third heaven. . . . he was caught away into paradise and heard unutterable words which it is not lawful for a man to speak.”—2 Cor. 12:1-4.
It therefore appears that the reference to the “third heaven” relates to the spiritual heavens and indicates the superlative degree of the rapture in which this vision was seen. In this regard, one can note the way words and expressions are repeated three times at Isaiah 6:3, Ezekiel 21:27, John 21:15-17 and Revelation 4:8, evidently for the purpose of expressing an intensification of the quality or idea.
Caught away to the “third heaven,” the vision-viewer entered “paradise” and heard unutterable words. A key to understanding Paul’s description of the vision is found in the prophecies of the Hebrew Scriptures that relate to the restoration of God’s ancient people. Throughout many of the prophetic books of the Bible divine promises are found regarding the restoration of Israel from the lands of its exile to its desolated homeland. God would cause that abandoned land to be tilled and sown, to produce richly and to abound with humankind and animalkind; the cities would be rebuilt and inhabited and people would say: “That land yonder which was laid desolate has become like the garden of Eden.”—Ezek. 36:6-11, 29, 30, 33-35; compare Isaiah 51:3; Jeremiah 31:10-12; Ezekiel 34:25-27.
However, these prophecies also show that paradise conditions related to the people themselves. By faithfulness to God, they could now “sprout” and flourish as “trees of righteousness,” enjoying beautiful spiritual prosperity like a “well-watered garden,” showered by bounteous blessings from God due to having his favor. (Isa. 58:11; 61:3, 11; Jer. 31:12; 32:41) The people of Israel had been God’s vineyard, his planting, but their badness and apostasy from true worship had caused a figurative ‘withering away’ of their spiritual field, even before the literal desolation of their land took place.—Compare Exodus 15:17; Isaiah 5:1-8; Jeremiah 2:21.
Thus the paradise envisioned by the apostle Paul could refer to a spiritual state among God’s people, as in the case of fleshly Israel. This can be seen from the fact that the Christian congregation was also God’s “field under cultivation,” his spiritual vineyard, rooted in Jesus Christ and bearing fruit to God’s praise. (1 Cor. 3:9; John 15:1-8) As such it had replaced the nation of Israel in God’s favor.—Compare Matthew 21:33-43.
Paul’s vision, nevertheless, must logically have applied to some future time. An apostasy was due to set in among the Christian congregation, was already working in Paul’s day, and would result in a condition like that of a field oversown with weeds. (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-43; Acts 20:29; 2 Thess. 2:3, 7; compare Hebrews 6:7, 8.) So, Paul’s paradise vision would not reasonably apply while such was the case. Rather, it would evidently relate to the time of the “harvest season” when the genuine Christians would be gathered by the angelic reapers and would enjoy rich blessings and spiritual prosperity from God.
The anointed footstep followers of Jesus Christ who are living today are indeed enjoying a spiritual paradise, as can be seen from the spiritual prosperity now evident among them. In fact, the spiritual prosperity today under God’s established kingdom is more glorious than that enjoyed during the apostolic days, the initial period of Christianity. Sharing in today’s spiritual prosperity are the “great crowd” of “other sheep” who look forward to enjoying a literal paradise here on the earth in the near future.—Rev. 21:1-4.
● On what basis is the prophecy at Ezekiel 21:25-27 applied to Judean King Zedekiah?—A. S., U.S.A.
The prophecy in question reads: “As for you, O deadly wounded, wicked chieftain of Israel, whose day has come in the time of the error of the end, this is what the Lord Jehovah has said, ‘Remove the turban, and lift off the crown. This will not be the same. Put on high even what is low, and bring low even the high one. A ruin, a ruin, a ruin I shall make it. As for this also, it will certainly become no one’s until he comes who has the legal right, and I must give it to him.’”
The general agreement among Bible scholars, Jewish, Catholic and Protestant, is that this prophecy does indeed apply to the last king of Judah, Zedekiah, and not without good reason. Ezekiel tells that he began to prophesy in the fifth year of the exile of King Jehoiachin, which began in 617 B.C.E. (Ezek. 1:2) King Nebuchadnezzar replaced King Jehoiachin with King Zedekiah, Jehoiachin’s uncle. (2 Ki. 24:12-17) King Zedekiah was therefore ruling when Ezekiel began to prophesy. He certainly proved to be a “wicked chieftain.”—2 Ki. 24:18-20.
Chapter 21 of the book of Ezekiel begins with a prophecy directed against Jerusalem and “against the soil of Israel,” and Eze 21 verses 20 and 21 tell that the king of Babylon would come against Judah and Jerusalem. Since King Zedekiah was the only, as well as the last, king of Israel that was ruling during the time that Ezekiel prophesied, it follows that Ezekiel 21:25-27 must apply to him.
And this prophecy did indeed have fulfillment upon him and in his time. It said, “Remove the turban, and lift off the crown.” This King Nebuchadnezzar did for him, taking off Zedekiah’s royal turban and removing his crown by taking him into captivity in Babylon. The prophecy pronounced a threefold, that is, a thorough-going ruination, and that also took place with the utter desolation of Jerusalem and Judah. As a result of this the “low” pagan Gentile ruler Nebuchadnezzar was “put on high” and “the high one,” King Zedekiah, sitting on David’s throne, was brought “low.”
Further, since King Zedekiah was the last of the line of King David to sit upon an earthly throne in Jerusalem, it was indeed true that after him “it will certainly become no one’s until he comes who has the legal right, and I must give it to him.” That one, as the virgin Mary was told by the angel Gabriel, was none other than the Son of God, Jesus Christ.—Luke 1:32, 33; 22:28-30.