Paul was very concerned about the Galatians believing a gospel other than the one they were originally taught. He didn’t want them “deserting” Christ and “turning to a different gospel—which is really no gospel at all” (Galatians 1:6-7).
In order to convince them to believe in the gospel he preached, Paul reminds them that this gospel was not a teaching he received from the other apostles. Instead, Paul makes the extraordinary claim that he “received it by revelation from Jesus Christ” (Galatians 1:12).
What is Paul talking about here?
Let’s put the pieces together. First, Paul had an encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:5). So Paul begins his Christian life with a “revelation from Jesus Christ.” But it didn’t stop there.
Paul lays out his journey immediately after his conversion:
“…my immediate response was not to consult any human being. I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia. Later I returned to Damascus. Then after three years, I went up to Jerusalem…”(Galatians 1:16-18).
What was Paul doing in “Arabia” for all those years? I believe he was being discipled by the risen Jesus himself and taught by the Holy Spirit.
Think about what Jesus did for the other men who became apostles. He spent 3 years discipling them and revealing the Kingdom of God to them. Then, “after his suffering, he presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). The risen Jesus kept showing up to the disciples to 1) convince them He was still alive, and 2) speak to them about the Kingdom of God. Before Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, He needed to make sure the disciples were fully aware of the truth of the gospel and the Kingdom of God.
So when the risen Jesus would show up in those 40 days, “beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). And “he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45).
What Jesus did for the other men who eventually became the first apostles, I believe He did for Paul in those first few years after Paul’s conversion. I believe Jesus appeared and reappeared over and over again, teaching Paul the truths of the Kingdom and the power of the gospel. This is why Paul can say he received the gospel, not from men, but “by revelation from Jesus Christ.”
And that wouldn’t be the last time Jesus appeared to Paul. We know Jesus appeared to Paul in Jerusalem right at the start of his ministry. Paul said, “When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking to me. ‘Quick!’ he said. ‘Leave Jerusalem immediately, because the people here will not accept your testimony about me.’ “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles’” (Acts 22:17-18, 21).
We know Jesus appeared to Paul to encourage him in Corinth. “One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (Acts 18:9-10).
We also know that toward the end of Paul’s life when he was arrested in Jerusalem, “Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome'”(Acts 23:11). All of these accounts point to the reality that Jesus continued to appear to Paul throughout his life. This confirms the probability that Jesus started these regular encounters with Paul back in Arabia where Paul received the teaching of the gospel “by revelation from Jesus Christ.”