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The third heaven

February 2014 | by Kent Philpott

Paul once said that he went to the third heaven: ‘I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows’.

 

‘And I know that this man was caught up into paradise — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses’ (2 Corinthians 12:2-5).

Most commentators think 2 Corinthians was written in AD 55-57. So this vision occurred 14 years earlier, around the time of Paul’s second visit to Jerusalem and before his first missionary journey.

Visions

This experience may have been, it is speculated, Paul’s third vision. His visions can be listed as follows: the glorified Christ on the day of his conversion (Acts 9:3; 22:6); Ananias coming to him (Acts 9:12); the Lord showing that he would minister to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17); Paul’s call to Macedonia (Acts 16:9); encouragement in Corinth (Acts 18:9-10); after arrest in Jerusalem (Acts 23:11); during a storm at sea (Acts 27:23); and insight into the mysteries of Christ (Ephesians 3:1-6).

It is likely this mention was the first Paul ever made about being into the third heaven, and he only did so because detractors in the Corinthian church were challenging his status as an apostle and thereby attempting to downgrade his teaching.

These critics elevated themselves by claiming supernatural knowledge obtained by means of dreams and visions. For millennia shamans had claimed direct encounters with supernatural entities and this tradition was alive and well in the Graeco-Roman world. It is alive and well in our own day too.

Reluctantly, Paul describes a vision he had, in order to assert his status as a true apostle of Christ. He did not employ typical shamanistic language, however; nor did he use such trance-inducing techniques as meditation, mind altering substances, dancing or physical deprivation.

Third heaven

Paul had been to the ‘third heaven’ — surely a way of describing the real presence of the transcendent God. He humbly refers to himself in the third person, as being ‘caught up’ there.

Paul’s experience came to him in much the same way as John’s on Patmos. He did not seek it; there was no ‘soul journey’, no mediumistic trance and no paganistic transportation facilitated by spirit guides. Without warning, he was suddenly seeing that which later he would not speak of, even if he were able. He simply did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body.

Also, ‘he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter’. Commentators suggest four possible meanings for this puzzling statement. First, he was warned not to speak of what he had seen; second, he could not find suitable words to describe it; third, it would have done harm to do so; or fourth, to reveal the vision would make it seem as though he had lost his mind. Whatever the meaning, Paul never revealed anything other than the fact of his vision.

In complete contrast, Kat Kerr, a 60-year-old woman living in Florida (and sporting pinkish hair dyed, she insists, ‘in obedience’ to God’s command), has written a bookentitled Revealing heaven: an eyewitness account. In it she reports on her direct encounters, her visits and conversations with ‘the Father’ in heaven’s ‘throne room’.

Kerr is radically different from Paul in that there is no hesitancy on her part; she freely talks about what she sees and hears. It is apparent that her mission is to communicate what she has experienced in her visits to the ‘throne room’.

On one occasion the Father escorted her via time travel to the very occasion when Jesus was crucified; she says she was right there at the cross of Calvary. Not only that, she was there at the resurrection. Not even the shamans have been as brazen as that!

Apology

As with the psychics and mediums of spiritism, she also ‘visits’ deceased loved ones, in order to bring back reports to the bereaved on their status. Always she reports that the departed are safe in heaven, much to the bereaved’s comfort. In one instance, according to her testimony, a person who had lost a loved one was surprised to hear of the deceased person being in heaven at all!

She reports that every human being has at least one guardian angel from the moment of conception. These angels go with believers along the road of life and at death accompany them all the way to heaven. Sometimes, however, Jesus personally does the work of escorting to heaven, at least for those who have been especially faithful.

She has learned that, if a person does bad things while on earth, the guardian angel is owed an apology upon arrival in heaven!

Kat Kerr recounts her own conversion experience when aged four, then again aged five when she prayed ‘the sinner’s prayer’ just to be sure. She is of a Pentecostal persuasion and her rapidly growing audience is primarily among Charismatics and Pentecostals.

It is not necessary to continue detailing the incredible things Kerr reports about her frequent visits to heaven; these can be garnered by visiting YouTube.

One either accepts what she says is true or disagrees and objects. In the latter circumstance, it is tantamount to declaring her a false prophet. The Old Testament penalty for false prophecy was stoning, although the New Testament settles for rejecting the message. 

Spiritism

There are further dangerous aspects to Kat Kerr’s ministry. First, acceptance of it opens the door to connection with spiritism and shamanism, for this is essentially what she is up to.

We do not find mention in the New Testament of congregations developing such connections. The experiences of Paul and John were exceptional and were not in any way the same as Kerr’s.

Second, there is a mind-bending process going on. People have to suspend scepticism in order to accept the often-bizarre nature of what she proclaims.

Third, Kerr reveals a not-so-subtle expectation that others could or should be doing what she herself is doing. You too can visit heaven and talk with the Father; and here’s how — so why don’t you? Christians will be moved along a slippery slope into the occult realm.

Fourth, those critical in their analysis are likely to be regarded as blaspheming the Spirit or rejecting what God is doing in ‘these last days’.

Paul does not state that he spoke with any person within the Godhead in the third heaven; Kat Kerr, on the other hand, does. Her picture of the Father is akin to a description of conversation with a human friend. I think that this is exactly the relationship Kerr intends to convey — that she has such an exalted status that she is able to be in the very presence of God and talk directly with him just as Adam and Eve spoke with the Creator God in the Garden of Eden before the Fall.

But Paul speaks of God’s utter transcendence: ‘He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone has immortality, who dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see’ (1 Timothy 6:15-16).

It is true that the Spirit indwells all born-again Christians and, through Christ, they have access to the Father in prayer. The Scripture also affirms that we rest in the finished work of Christ and cease from our efforts of trying save ourselves.

But that does not mean we treat God as just another friend or buddy. Kerr ignores the historical Christian understanding of God’s otherness and claims to have been repeatedly in his presence as though she were nearly his equal. This cannot be accepted or ignored.

False prophets

Kat Kerr is not the first to claim conscious contact with heavenly beings. One thinks of Mohammad, Joseph Smith, David Berg of the Children of God, Sung Myung Moon and countless others.

The claiming of special revelation is standard fare in the spiritual market-place. There are others too today currently claiming familiar heavenly conversations with the angels, Jesus and the Father.

We must recognise that not everyone who claims spiritual experiences has to be accepted and believed. In the last days there will be false signs and wonders performed through the power of Satan; and deceptive attacks and demonic tricks are often played out within the Christian community.

We are to ‘watch and pray’, as Jesus told his disciples that last night in Gethsemane. ‘Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world’ (1 John 4:1).

Kent Philpott