The Third Heaven:
The Apostle Paul and Kat Kerr Contrasted
Paul went to the third heaven. He had a vision - a revelation - and it was not the first time. Here is what he said:
1 Corinthians 12:1-5: I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 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. 3 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— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. 5 On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast,except of my weaknesses.
Most commentators think 2 Corinthians was written between A.D. 55 and A.D. 57. The vision he described occurred fourteen years earlier, or between A.D. 41 and 43. This would have been around the time of his second visit to Jerusalem and before his first missionary journey. His third heaven experience would have been, it is speculated, his third vision. A record of Paul's visions is as follows: (1) on the day of his conversion he had a vision of the glorified Christ - Acts 9:3 and 22:6; (2) a vision of Ananias coming to him - Acts 9:12; (3) a vision showing he would minister to Gentiles - Acts 22:17; (4) his vision-call to Macedonia - Acts 16:9; (5) an encouraging vision when difficulty arose in Corinth - Acts 18:9-10; (6) a vision that followed his arrest in Jerusalem - Acts 23:11; (7) a vision during a storm at sea - Acts 27:23; and (8) a vision that gave him insight into understanding the mysteries of Christ - Ephesians 3: 1-6.1
It is likely that the report of Paul's vision revealed in 2 Corinthians was the first time he mentioned it. He did so, because some detractors who had come into the Corinthian church were challenging his status as an authentic apostle, thereby at minimum attempting to downgrade the doctrines and theologies Paul preached. Paul's critics, as was the custom, elevated themselves by claiming supernatural knowledge obtained by means of dreams and visions. For millennia, the shamans had gained authority by claiming direct encounters with supernatural entities, and this shamanistic tradition was alive and well in the Graeco-Roman world. It is alive and well in our own day, and shamans continue to enter into a trance state, a soul journey to heaven or hell, in order to bring back information to their clients, which is mostly of a comforting nature.
Reluctantly, Paul describes a vision he had, in order to assert his status and authority as a true apostle of Christ. He does not employ typical shamanistic language, however, nor does he use trance-inducing techniques such as meditation, mind-altering substances, dance, physical deprivations, or any magical devices. His is a distinct vision that fits into what his detractors and the congregation at Corinth would find acceptable.
Paul had not known Jesus during the days of the Lord’s earthly ministry. The apostles in Jerusalem, as well as the general Christian community, had been afraid of Paul, because they knew well enough of his career as their persecutor, then named Saul. Paul had little chance yet to establish himself, whether by personal testimony or through second hand accounts of his dramatic reformation. Being zealous for the work of Christ and for the well being of the churches that he founded, he brought to the table what he could, though at the stage in his career of A.D. 55 or 57, the Corinthians would have had little information to confirm Paul as a full-fledged messenger of the Gospel. But Paul had been to the third heaven.
A commonsense view
The first heaven consisted of the clouds and the air that humans breathed. The second heaven held the lights above the clouds - the sun, moon, and stars. The third heaven was where God dwelt - His abode.2 The foregoing is a generalized way that Jewish people conceived of what was above them. God was above them, far away, and transcendent over them yet with them at the same time.
Paradise was considered the same as the third heaven. Paradise is a loan word from the Persians meaning ‘garden’ and was a reference to the garden where God walked and talked with Adam and Eve. Fellowship restored with the Creator would take place in Paradise, the dwelling place of God.
Paul, referring to himself in the third person and therefore in a humble fashion, was “caught up” to the third heaven. He did not know whether he was in the body or out of the body. He simply did not know. Not too much should be made of Paul's inability or refusal to be more concrete. The distance between his experience and mechanisms used by shamans for vision questing is very great.
Despite the other visions to which Paul referred (see above), this is the only time he reports being in the presence of God, or in the third heaven. My opinion is that Paul's vision and revelation would be like other visions in the New Testament. For instance, John was "in the Spirit" on the Lord's day when he received what we know as Revelation, the last book of the New Testament (see Revelation 1:9-11). What "in the Spirit" means is uncertain, and it may or may not be the same as a vision.
John was exiled to the Isle of Patmos by Roman authorities. Alone in a cave on a hillside grotto on that island (tradition tells us), he saw things that were heavenly, not earthly. He reports it as though he turned and saw a real life play set before him.
Paul's experience simply happened to him; he did not seek it. It came upon him in much the same way as what happened to John on Patmos. There was no ‘soul journey’ and no mediumistic trance, nor was there a paganistic transportation facilitated or attended by spirit guides. Without warning, without expectation, without any means at all, Paul was suddenly seeing that which he would not speak of, even if he had been able. Only God knew how it all took place, which Paul emphatically asserts with the double denial, "whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows."
"He heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter," is one of the more puzzling statements Paul makes as he describes the vision experience. Commonly, commentators suggest four different solutions to explain Paul's meaning. One, he was warned not to speak of what he had seen. Two, he could not find words suitable to describe the incredible content of the vision. Three, it would do harm to do so. Four, to reveal the sum and substance of the vision would make him sound like he had lost his mind. Whichever it was, and the short list may miss it all together, Paul never revealed anything other than the fact of his vision.
Kat Kerr and "Revealing Heaven: An Eyewitness Account"
Kat Kerr, a sixty-year-old woman living in Florida and sporting pinkish hair dyed ‘in obedience’ to God's command (she insists), wrote the above titled book. In it she reports not on her visions but upon her direct encounters, including conversations, with "the Father" in heaven's “throne room.”3
Kerr is radically different from Paul, in that she freely talks about what she sees and hears. There is no hesitancy on her part, unlike Paul. It is apparent that her mission is to communicate what she experienced in her visits to the “throne room.”
On one occasion the Father escorted her, via time travel or what some would call 'astral travel', to the very time when Jesus was crucified. She says she was right there at the cross of Calvary; not only that, she was there at the resurrection. Wow, not even the shamans have been as brazen as that!
She visits various persons’ loved ones in order to bring back reports on their status in heaven. Here is where she is closely identified not only with the shamans but also with the psychics and mediums of the occult branch of spiritism. Always she reports that the departed are securely saved and well, much to the comfort of the bereaved. In one instance, according to Kerr's testimony, a person who lost a loved one was surprised to hear of that person being in heaven at all.
She reports that every human being has at least one guardian angel that comes to be with him or her at the moment of conception. These angels go with the believer all along the road of life, helping, rescuing, and at death accompanying the faithful departed all the way to heaven. She learned that if a person had done bad things while on earth the guardian angel is owed an apology upon arrival in heaven. Sometimes, however, she says that Jesus personally does the work of escorting to heaven, at least for those who have been especially faithful.
Heaven, she reports, is within the created universe and has streets of gold as John of the Revelation saw.4
In so many ways Kerr is biblically sound and presents a standard gospel message, which is firmly in the Arminian stream. She recounts her own conversion experience at age four, then again at age five, when she prayed the sinner's prayer just to be sure.5 She is of a pentecostal persuasion, and her rapidly growing audience is primarily among the charismatics and pentecostals.
A more significant concern
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 and typing her name in the search field. There are other more significant and dangerous aspects to her ministry.
One, it is a divisive ministry. One either accepts what she says as true or one disagrees and objects. In this latter circumstance it is tantamount to declaring her a false prophet. The Old Testament penalty for ‘false prophecy’ is stoning; the New Testament settles for simply rejecting the message. As the issue of Kerr’s veracity and authenticity is forced into discussion, it will impact congregations and relationships. In some instances husbands and wives will be divided; in others, the leadership of a church may embrace Kerr while others are duty bound to reject the whole business. This is happening right now, since Kerr has caught on in a big way.
Two, acceptance of her ministry opens the door to further connection with spiritism and shamanism, for this is essentially what Kerr is up to. We do not find mention in the New Testament of congregations developing such connections or recommending them. The experiences of Paul and John are exceptional and are not anywhere the same as Kerr's.
Three, there is a ‘mind bending’ process going on. Much of what she details of her visits crosses the line of that which is plausible. If one accepts that Kerr visits heaven, then one is compelled to believe what she reports to happen there despite its unusual nature. With the wide acclaim Kerr is presently enjoying, people will have to suspend skepticism in order to accept the often-bizarre nature of what she proclaims so as to go along with the crowd. Thus comes into play the toxic or cultic mindset. Little by little we can be led astray.
Four, Kerr has a not-so-subtle expectation that others should be or could 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? Pretty soon Christians are being moved into the occult realm. Talk about a 'slippery slope'!
Five, those who are critical in their analysis are ignored or shunned by the suggestion that opposing Kerr is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. The idea is that if Kerr is critiqued, it is the same as blasphemy or rejection of what God is doing in 'these last days'.
The core contrast between Paul and Kat Kerr
Paul does not state that he spoke with God - not the Father, not the Son, and not the Holy Spirit - in any mention of a vision he experienced. On the other hand, Kat Kerr does. Herein is the great and telling contrast between Paul and Kerr. Kerr's description of her interaction with the Father is more akin to that of a conversation with a friend than anything else. I think this is exactly what Kerr intends to convey, that she has such an exalted status she is able to be in the very presence of God and talk directly with Him, reminiscent of how Adam and Eve spoke with the Creator God in the Garden of Eden before the Fall (see Genesis 2:15-17, 3:1-19). It is disingenuous for her to state or imply that anyone could do the same.
Paul spoke of the utter transcendent nature of God in his first letter to Timothy: "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" (vv. 15b-16).
It is true that the Spirit-indwelt, born-again Christian is seated with Christ in the heavenly places, indicating that the priesthood of the believer conveys access to the Father in prayer. It also points to the fact we rest in the finished work of Christ and cease from our efforts of trying save ourselves. But it does not mean we are presently in the heavenly places. Kerr ignores this standard and historical Christian understanding and claims to actually repeatedly have been in the very presence of God, although God dwells in "unapproachable light." This contrast cannot be ignored or accepted.
Kat Kerr is not the first one to make claim conscious contact with angels and/or deity. One thinks of Mohammad, Joseph Smith, David Berg of the Children of God, Sung young Moon, and countless others. The claiming of special revelation is standard fare in the spiritual market place.
And where will this all lead? What is next for Kat Kerr? Her reporting is firm and clear, so there are only two responses: she is either spot on or a false prophet. She will attract a following, and churches and couples will be forced into either compliance and acceptance or resistance and rejection of her claims. Her followers could develop a new cultic expression within the visible Christian church. She may tone it down some, but due to her published videos and book, it will be nearly impossible to move away from the heavenly visitations statements.6 Nothing short of a clear confession and repentance will suffice.
It is with a saddened heart that I write this essay. It is crucial, however, for Bible based Christians to stand up and be counted. Fortunately, I no longer identify with the charismatic and pentecostal movement, because if I still did it would be harder for me to write this.
We must recognize that everyone who claims spiritual experiences does not have to be accepted and believed. There will be false signs and wonders performed by the power of Satan. This we know about, and the demonic tricks are sometimes played out within the Christian community. Deceptive attacks almost always come from within.
"Watch and pray," Jesus told His disciples that last night in Gethsemane. So we are to watch and pray.
2 Some Jewish traditions report seven heavens, even ten. The use of numbers like three, seven, and ten have special meaning in ancient Jewish beliefs as well as Scripture and point to completeness, wholeness, and fulfillment. "Third heaven"- surely the very presence of God.
5 There is a mystery to conversion, and most mature Christians are aware of false conversion, especially in a culture that is saturated with Christianity. In my book, Are You Really Born Again?: Understanding True and False Conversion, published concurrently by Earthen Vessel Publishing and Evangelical Press, the issues of false conversion are examined.
6 Kat Kerr is not the only one presently claiming heavenly conversations with angels, Jesus, and the Father. This has some recent history particularly among the Fourth or Fifth Wave folks and those who are on board with the goings on at the Bethel Church in Redding under the leadership of Bill Johnson.