Happy New Year!
Last Sunday, I preached a New Year’s message (or a goodbye-to-the-old-year message) from Ephesians 5:15-17. (Watch your step; Redeem the time; Seek to do God’s will everyday); simple enough; but I was also delving into some of the darker issues of the day that have many of us feeling as if the time is getting short. I read 2 Thessalonians chapter 2 wherein Paul clears up similar apprehensions, and after the service I entertained an interesting question.
“If John’s Revelation was written (happened) long after Paul had died, how did Paul know about ‘the man of lawlessness’ etc?” I thought maybe this questioner wasn’t the only one who was curious:
I call it the “Gap Theory” of Paul’s Post-Cross Education. Remember Saul (Paul ) was a young Pharisee well on the road to becoming a leader, he was a student of Gamilel, who we meet in Acts 4. He held the coats of the men who stoned Stephen in Acts 7 and Acts 9 records his trip to persecute the believers in Damascus. It was on that road that the Risen Christ knocked him off his horse. The rest of his history we pieced together from the rest of Acts and the 13 epistles that God preserved. We, obviously, don’t know about every trip he made nor every conversation he had, and what I’m about to present is a deduction as much as it is a revelation. 🙂
Three key texts are involved. Paul’s earliest letter (in the canon) is his letter to the Galatians. Paul talks about the Gospel being preached to him without human intervention, but rather received directly from Jesus Christ (Gal 1:11-12). He also discussed spending three years in Arabia before spending 15 days with Cephas (1:18-19). I refer to this as the “gap” between Acts 9:22 & 23.
The question remains, what happened during those three years when Paul: a) met with no apostles; and, b) apparently received all sorts of revelations (Eph 3:3; 1 Cor 11:23; 1 Thess 4-5; etc).
Some scholars teach that Galatians 1:11-12 is referring exclusively to the Damascus Road encounter and that Paul spent those three years in Arabia learning from other non-apostolic disciples (followers) of Christ. That’s a nice answer but it totally discounts one other passage, 2 Corinthians 12.
I believe that as Paul was explaining to the believers in Corinth why he was so beset by physical struggles, and he also gives us the final clue as to how he knew things; like the things that were revealed to John in the Revelation. Paul uses third person because he believes it would be prideful to speak otherwise….
Boasting is necessary, though it is not beneficial; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 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 a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows— was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. In behalf of such a man I will boast; but in my own behalf I will not boast, except regarding my weaknesses. 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. Because of the extraordinary greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me—to keep me from exalting myself! 2 Corinthians 12:1-7
I believe that Christ is the cornerstone of the church and apostles were the foundation, Paul being the last and being especially targeted to minister to the Gentiles needed to spend three years with Jesus, just like the other apostles did pre-cross.
These two passages are testimonies not didactic, so let’s not try to make doctrine out of them; I just think they offer a reasonable explanation. I cc’d the Galatians passage below.
Happy New Year! May we ALWAYS want to know Him and His Word more deeply!
11 For I would have you know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel which was preached by me is not of human invention. 12 For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.
13 For you have heard of my former way of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when He who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, 17 nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.
18 Then three years later I went up to Jerusalem to become acquainted with Cephas, and stayed with him for fifteen days. 19 But I did not see another one of the apostles except James, the Lord’s brother. 20 (Now in what I am writing to you, I assure you before God that I am not lying.) 21 Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. 22 I was still unknown by sight to the churches of Judea which are in Christ; 23 but they only kept hearing, “The man who once persecuted us is now preaching the faith which he once tried to destroy.” 24 And they were glorifying God because of me. ~Galatians 1