At the end of Part 1, we theorized that Paul’s rivals in Corinth presented Yeshua as a wonder-worker, a man who ascended to divine status, was possessed by divine power, and whose miracle-working could be passed down to his followers. To some, this depiction of Jesus might seem close enough, the very view, in fact, many hold of him (except for the passing down miracles part). To Paul, the difference was a big as the divide between earth and heaven. Also, the rivals’ view of weaknesses and trials is answered powerfully by Paul, an answer we very much need to better understand the life of faith.
Paul upheld in his gospel the real identity of Yeshua. He is not a special man uncommonly possessed with divine power. He is no demigod or mortal who ascended to godlikeness. His true identity is unimaginably profound, his eminence beyond conception. He is the light God shone out of the darkness, says Paul (2 Cor 4:6). Those who have not turned to Messiah in faith cannot see this light (2 Cor 4:4). There is a veil preventing the view of this concealed reality (2 Cor 3:15-16; 4:3). The veil comes off when a person is willing to open themselves to the revelation about Messiah, to submit to what God has revealed rather than insisting on counter-arguments and objections (2 Cor 3:16). Those who are open to letting God remove the veil behold the divine Glory of Yeshua, realizing that he is the Divine Messiah.
Paul’s own experience on the road to Damascus, and the parallel experience of other apostles and eyewitnesses of the risen Yeshua shines through 2 Corinthians 4:6, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor 4:6).
What Paul experienced on the road, in the heavenly voice and blinding vision, was like seeing Mount Sinai. It was a breaking through from heaven to earth. It compelled its rays of light past Paul’s resistance and illuminated his intellect with undeniable certitude.
Yeshua was the light shining. The light came from him. It was Glory. It was divine Glory. It was the kind of illumination that belonged only to God. No one could bear such a light but God himself, and yet Yeshua bore it. The impossible was true. Yeshua and God were one and yet differentiated.
Paul and other eyewitnesses experienced such visions from heaven. Afterwards, reflecting on Yeshua’s words while he traveled Galilee and Judea teaching disciples and crowds, they started to understand his talk about the Father. The Father-Son duality began to make sense. Oneness is not sameness. Yeshua is the eternally existent, infinite, omnipotent divine Son who is one with the Father and yet differentiated from him.
The super-apostles orated about a different Yeshua. Their powerful holy man and worker of signs was an inspiring figure. They took in the crowds with rhetoric about how these miracles and wonders could be in their lives too. The gospel according to these charlatans was about sharing in the power Yeshua modeled for us on earth. God will make it available to you also and you will never need to be sick or needy or cold ever again.
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But it is all a lie, Paul said. Yeshua’s signs had a different purpose altogether. The answer to the meaning of Yeshua’s signs is not part of the letter, but if Paul had answered this question he doubtless would have said Yeshua’s miracles were pointers to the coming age.
God’s servants right now experience things like cold and hunger. We might be shipwrecked or beaten with rods. Prison is not an impossible condition for someone mighty in the Spirit. There is danger from Gentiles and robbers, and Paul himself had brushes with death at the hands of his own Jewish people. “Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death” (2 Cor 11:23).
Paul in several sections makes clear — in fact he even boasts purposefully like a fool about this — that he suffered nearly every extreme of trial known to human beings. “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:8–10).
The truth is exactly the opposite of the claims of the super-apostles. God’s way is very different from their assurances. Our outer bodies are wasting away but our inner self is being renewed (2 Cor 4:16). These things, even the worst ones Paul names in the various lists of suffering in the letter, are light, momentary afflictions preparing in us “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor 4:17). There is no comparison between this present age and the age to come. The greatest trial here is minor compared to the unspoiled joy that awaits. Our current experience of death is like Yeshua’s experience of the same. Just like Yeshua, our destiny is resurrection (2 Cor 4:14).
So God does not prevent scrapes and bruises for his servants. Far from it, he gives those who welcome his Spirit a power to overcome these things. “We are always of good courage,” said Paul, because “he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor 5:5).
Paul learned this lesson most potently in another experience of the risen Yeshua speaking with him from heaven. He had a debilitating problem in his life, famously referred to as his thorn in the flesh. He prayed and prayed and prayed for it to be removed. Yeshua said two things to him: “My kindness is sufficient for you” and “my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9).
The message of the first half of Yeshua’s saying seems simple but is far-reaching. What God has done is enough. What Messiah has wrought for us in God’s love is more than adequate. The divine plan of redemption may not move as quickly as we would like. The delay is excruciating. The pain is real. Yet God’s act of hesed (lovingkindness) toward us is enough.
The second half of Yeshua’s message says even more. When weak things overcome major forces that command this present world, all creation bears witness that evil never had any real power. The absence or bending of divine light into shadows and mirages is all evil can really manage. Small men lacking oratory skills can undermine the celebrated power of imperial Rome. A handful of socially unimportant Galilean and Judean disciples can turn a mustard seed into a forest of trees.
No wonder Paul can say in his letter, “I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing” (2 Cor 12:11).
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