Paul's "thorn in the flesh"
This interesting verse in 2 Corinthians 12:7 has been commented on many times in the writer’s experience, with much puzzlement by most participants.
The ideas as to what is being referred to vary from the minor to the major illness; physical deformity; mental or physical disability; human proclivity; etc. with many variations on the above.
When prayerfully examining the Bible text, a number of obvious comments can be made, which fit the context of the narrative.
All references (unless stated) are from the 1611 KJV Companion Bible.
The first words of Paul in 2 Cor. 12:1, “It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory”; give immediately the overriding concern of both Paul (and God) as to Paul’s reaction to what is to follow in the narrative; as the experience Paul is about to have is almost beyond description in human terms!
The word “glory” (from the Greek “kauchaomai” ) has differing meanings, depending on the context. Strong’s number 2744 renders: glory, boast, brag, rejoice; all of which can be appropriate or inappropriate; again depending on context.
In the above context, the experience of Paul was so exhilarating and privileged; that God the Father wanted it to be described and used for the benefit of the Jews (approx. AD 57, and the Jews still had first priority at that stage in time; i.e. pre-Acts 28:28); and for Paul to be rejoicing (glorying) appropriately!
Paul continues in the 1st verse: “(But) I will come to visions and revelations of Christ Jesus”. It must be remembered here that Paul was/is a “chosen vessel” (Acts 9:15); and that although the “Apostle to the Gentiles”, he had to continue in his first duty to his brothers, the Jews; until they finally rejected Jesus as Messiah at Acts 28:28; which is why he was told by the Risen Christ on the Damascus road that He would give Paul instructions regularly in his ministry as and when the situation changed! See: Apostle Paul:
Paul then in verses 2-5, went on to describe what can only be expressed as remarkable, and possibly unique; quoting what undoubtedly was referring to himself in the ‘third person’.
That experience left him in a state of wonder and ecstasy, such that in verse 6 he gives his reasons for his reluctant attitude! Undoubtedly God/Christ Jesus raised him to the “third heaven” to fortify him for the onerous task ahead of him; especially as he had to leave behind his beloved brothers at the end of Acts; when the Gentiles became first priority, and the experience left him wishing to exalt, rejoice, praise etc.; reminiscent of that joy of King David dancing before the procession of the retrieved Arc of the Covenant into Jerusalem, (2Sam. 6:14).
In verse 7 is the well-known comment re. the “thorn in the flesh”; and the reason it was ‘given’: “lest I should be exalted above measure, through the abundance of revelations”!
There is however the difficult to understand for some people statement: “the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure”!
If it was more understood by people on earth that the prince/god of this world at present is Satan (1 John 5:19); the meaning of Paul’s words would become clear; and, people would understand that there is warfare under way at present, which cannot end until Christ’s enemies are made His footstool (Psm. 110:1; Heb. 1:13; 10:13 & Matt. 22:44), and He returns to earth in power and great glory; at which point Satan will be imprisoned! Rev. 20:1-3.
The points made in the previous paragraph give the lie to those who advocate that Satan had/has the power to kill the servants of Almighty God; some even postulating that he could have killed Jesus in Gethsemane; see: Jesus in Gethsemane.
Yes, Satan does have considerable power, still; but it is limited to what God the Father allows within the Dispensation of the Ages! See Job, chapters 1 & 2.
Even though Paul knew that Satan’s power was limited to “buffeting” in his case; he still requested three times with God that it should be removed! God knew that Paul needed frequent buffeting (as a fallen human being) “to keep him balanced between” third heaven revelation ecstasy and ‘feet on the ground’ service for Him with the Jews; and latterly with the Gentiles after Acts 28:28! Also, Paul above all humans knew more of the Grace of God in Christ Jesus; after his hearing (v4); “unspeakable words which it is not lawful for a man to utter”; and was therefore able to easily understand God’s reply to his request; v9, “My grace is sufficient for thee: for My strength is made perfect in weakness”!
Summary: the experiences of Saul, later Paul in Acts chapter 9; and 2 Cor. 12; showed a special conversion from persecutor to death of the hated (by Jews) sect of the Christians; to one, if not the most potent advocate for Christ Jesus that has ever lived. His remarkable meeting with the Risen Christ on his journey to Damascus, his special preparation in Arabia (Gal. 1:17), and his transport to the 3rd heaven have the hallmarks of special preparation for special service to Almighty God/Christ Jesus; which is borne out in his experiences before the mighty of His day, and his writings.
What needs to be understood and accepted is that Paul was the “mouthpiece” of the risen Christ, and Almighty God; instead of being seen, as is so often the case by many teachers and preachers as “in opposition to Christ’s teachings in the Gospels”!
Christ taught the Jews for the yet to be “Kingdom of God on earth” and His Words and teachings are relevant to then, called by some the Millennium (Rev. 20;6; Isa. 2:4).
Paul (as the mouthpiece of Christ/God) taught the Jews the Gospel of Salvation in Jesus as Messiah; and latterly explained the Dispensational “Mystery Church” of post Acts 28!
So; “Satan’s message” 2Cor. 12:7); the “thorn in the flesh”; was the Divine way of keeping Paul’s feet on the ground for service, after his probably unique experiences, converting him from murderer to advocate; and author of the most remarkable and revealing texts available to Christians!
His last seven letters are the main roadmap for people living in the present “Age of Grace”; which will end when the events of prophecy and Revelation begin regarding the Jews and the world.
They are; Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, Titus, Philemon, 1 & 2 Timothy.