A lot of people will quote that Paul was taken to the 3rd heaven in an effort to support their claims of visions and heavenly experiences, but have you ever noticed the context of Paul’s description of being caught up into the third heaven?
In second Corinthians 11 and 12 the apostle Paul is correcting the Corinthians for allowing false ministers, especially false apostles, to take advantage of them. During his rebuke Paul uses sarcasm at times and that’s one reason why we should never a take any single verse out of its setting.
With regards to Paul’s “heavenly experience,” he mentions it reluctantly. He doesn’t share it to provide proof that he was sent by God. That’s the tactic of false apostles. Paul tells about this experience to show the Corinthians that these kind of things are not what we are to boast in.
Notice what he says in context:
“If I must boast, I would rather boast about the things that show how weak I am. God, the Father of our Lord Jesus, who is worthy of eternal praise, knows I am not lying. When I was in Damascus, the governor under King Aretas kept guards at the city gates to catch me. I had to be lowered in a basket through a window in the city wall to escape from him. “This boasting will do no good,” but I must go on. I will reluctantly tell about visions and revelations from the Lord. I was caught up to the third heaven fourteen years ago. Whether I was in my body or out of my body, I don’t know—only God knows. Yes, only God knows whether I was in my body or outside my body. But I do know that I was caught up to paradise and heard things so astounding that they cannot be expressed in words, things no human is allowed to tell.” (2 Corinthians 11:30-12:4)
I find it interesting that Paul didn’t describe his experience as a spiritual Disney World or fantasy land like so many of those who make such claims.
Paul goes on to say the following:
That experience is worth boasting about, but I’m not going to do it. I will boast only about my weaknesses. If I wanted to boast, I would be no fool in doing so, because I would be telling the truth. But I won’t do it, because I don’t want anyone to give me credit beyond what they can see in my life or hear in my message, even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. Three different times I begged the Lord to take it away. Each time he said, “My grace is all you need. My power works best in weakness.” So now I am glad to boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ can work through me. That’s why I take pleasure in my weaknesses, and in the insults, hardships, persecutions, and troubles that I suffer for Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:5-10)
The difference in a true minister and a false one is this – A false minister will boast in his “supernatural experiences,” but a true minister will only boast in his weakness so that power of the Lord will rest on him and Jesus will be glorified.