In 56 AD Paul is visiting Corinth for a third time (2 Cor.12:14; 13:1,2). He was in Corinth first when he founded the church in 50 AD. Paul then made a quick second trip (2 Cor. 2:1) across the Aegean Sea from Ephesus to Corinth in 55 AD in between writing First Corinthians and the “sorrowful letter” (2 Cor. 2:4; 7:8). Now, he warns the Corinthians he is coming a third time and, “On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier.”
According to the Old Testament judicial principle a single witness cannot accuse a man. There must be at least 2 or 3 witnesses to accuse and condemn. Paul uses this principle to justify the fact that this third visit will be a judicial house cleaning enforced by apostolic authority. On the first two visits Paul testified to/against the Corinthians (plus, this letter of Second Corinthians is his fourth letter to/against them.) There has been enough testifying, it now time to bring the verdict. And, Paul plans on doing so when he arrives in Corinth a few weeks after this letter arrives.
“This will be my third visit to you. ‘Every matter must be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ I already gave you a warning when I was with you the second time. I now repeat it while absent: On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others.”
It appears some of the rebellious leaders in the Corinthian church have said that they would like to see Paul prove he was truly an apostle. So, Paul tells them that he will provide proof that Christ is moving through him as an apostle by not sparing those who are promoting rebellion against him and living in sin:
“On my return I will not spare those who sinned earlier or any of the others, since you are demanding proof that Christ is speaking through me.” – Second Corinthians 13:2, 3
When Paul arrives it will be in the power of the resurrected Christ, not the weakness of the crucified Christ. The crucified Christ died for the Corinthians, but the resurrected Christ will defend his apostolic ministry entrusted to Paul. Paul is warning them of which phase of Christ’s ministry they are challenging. They are “demanding” to see Christ’s resurrection power when they say his Apostle is weak and inconsequential as he proclaims the message the resurrected Christ gave him.
“He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him in our dealing with you.” – Second Corinthians 13:3, 4
Paul tells the Corinthians to examine themselves, because if they are believers then Christ lives in them. This means there should be some kind of manifestation of a desire to cooperate with Christ’s ministry of presenting, supporting, hearing and living according to his word. Paul tells them that Christ lives in them, unless they fail the test! But, they should be sure that when Paul arrives they will discover that he and his ministry team have not failed the test. The presence of the resurrected Jesus in Paul’s ministry will be obvious to the Corinthians.