QUESTION: What Are  The Three Heavens?

ANSWER: We have seen that the term heaven is used in a number of ways in Scripture. In addition, we have also noted that terms like “paradise” and “Abraham’s side” are also references to heaven or the presence of the Lord.

Furthermore, we encounter the term “the third heaven” in Scripture. What exactly is it referring to?

We will discover that when the term “heaven” is not used symbolically in Scripture, it usually refers to one of three realms. The idea of more than one ‘heaven” can be seen as follows.

Jesus Passed Through The Heavens

The fact that Jesus “passed through the heavens” seems to give evidence there is more than one heaven. The writer to the Hebrews said.

Therefore since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens—Jesus the Son of God—let us hold fast to the confession (Hebrews 4:14 HCSB).

Another translation puts it this way.

We need to hold on to our declaration of faith: We have a superior chief priest who has gone through the heavens. That person is Jesus, the Son of God (Hebrews 4:14 God’s Word).

Consequently, the reference to plural “heavens,” seems to refer to more than one “heaven.”

There Is A Third Heaven

Furthermore, the Bible specifically refers to the “third heaven.” Paul wrote about this to the Corinthians. He stated is as follows.

I know about one of Christ’s followers who was taken up into the third heaven fourteen years ago. I don’t know if the man was still in his body when it happened, but God certainly knows (2 Corinthians 12:2 CEV).

The third heaven is another term for the dwelling place of God. If there is a third heaven, it seems there must also be a first and second heaven! The Bible, however, does not mention a first and second heaven.

The Three Heavens Explained

Usually, the three heavens are divided as follows.

1. Our Immediate Atmosphere

2. Outer Space (The Sun, Moon, And Stars)

3. The Home Of God

The biblical evidence for the three heavens is as follows.

The Atmospheric Heaven-The First Heaven

The first heaven is linked to what we call the “atmospheric heaven.” The atmospheric heaven includes the air that we breathe as well as the space that immediately surrounds the earth. The technical term for this is the “troposphere.” It extends about twenty miles above the earth. The space above this is called the “stratosphere.”

The Scripture uses the term heaven to describe this area.

Then the Lord said, “I will wipe off from the face of the earth mankind, whom I created, together with the animals, creatures that crawl, and birds of the sky — for I regret that I made them (Genesis 6:7 HCSB).

In this passage, the “birds of the sky” are the “birds of heaven.” The Hebrew word used here is the same word, in other contexts, used of the presence of God, heaven.

Jesus also spoke of the “birds of the sky” or the “birds of the air.” In the Sermon on the Mount the following words of Jesus are recorded.

Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they (Matthew 6:26 NKJV).

The word translated “air” is ouranos, the same Greek word that is elsewhere translated “heaven.” Thus, the word can mean heaven, sky, or air. It all depends upon the context.

We have another example of this use of the term in the book of James. James wrote.

And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit (James 5:18 NKJV).

Here we are told the “heaven gave rain.” Another translation puts it this way.

Then he prayed again, and the sky gave rain and the land produced its fruit (James 1:18 HCSB).

It is the sky which gave rain, the first heaven. Therefore, Scripture often uses the term heaven in the same way as we would use the work “sky.”

2. The Celestial Heaven-The Second Heaven

The term heaven is also used of what we call the celestial heaven. This is what is known as the “second heaven.” This use of the term heaven refers to outer space or the stellar heaven. It includes the sun, moon, and stars. We find this use of the term in the words of Jesus when He describes coming events. He said.

Immediately after those horrible days end, the sun will be darkened, the moon will not give light, the stars will fall from the sky, and the powers of heaven will be shaken (Matthew 24:29 NLT).

The stars are said to be “in heaven” or in “the sky.”

The Scripture also speaks of heavenly spheres which beyond that which is visible from the earth. It is called the “heaven of heavens.”

Remember that the sky, the highest heaven, the earth and everything it contains belong to the Lord your God (Deuteronomy 10:14 God’s Word).

The psalmist also wrote about this heaven of heavens. He said.

Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens (Psalm 148:4 ESV).

Therefore, there seems to be a second heaven, a celestial heaven.

3. Heaven As The Home Of God-The Third Heaven
The Bible is clear that God cannot be limited to any one geographical place. At the dedication of the first temple in the city of Jerusalem, King Solomon asked the following question when praying to the Lord.

But will God indeed live on earth? Even heaven, the highest heaven, cannot contain You, much less this temple I have built? (1 Kings 8:27 HCSB).

He realized that the Lord was not limited to that one particular place. Indeed, the entire universe cannot contain Him.

Yet Scripture also teaches us that there is a certain geographical place where God’s presence resides in some unique sense. It is also designated heaven. The writer to the Hebrews said.

The main point we want to make is this: We do have this kind of chief priest. This chief priest has received the highest position, the throne of majesty in heaven (Hebrews 8:1 God’s Word).

God’s throne is spoken of as residing somewhere. Indeed, it in heaven.

A. The Martyr Stephen Knew He Would Be In God’s Presence
Stephen knew that upon his death he was going a specific place. This would be into the presence of the Lord.

But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God (Acts 7:55 NKJV).

While God does not reside in one particular area, there is a place where His presence dwells in a unique way. Stephen, was allowed to see that place as he was nearing death.

B. Heaven Is God’s Presence 

Heaven is called the presence of God. We read in Hebrews.

For Christ has entered into heaven itself to appear now before God as our Advocate. He did not go into the earthly place of worship, for that was merely a copy of the real Temple in heaven (Hebrews 9:24 NLT).

The exact location of the abode of God is not revealed in Scripture. It is merely spoken of as being above the first and second heavens.

It Is An Actual Place

We can conclude that there is such a specific place as the third heaven. It is always spoken of as being above the first and second heaven. In addition, since these first two heavens are actual places we should also conclude that the third heaven is a real place also. There is no reason to assume it is symbolic especially since the first two heavens are speaking of known realities.

While the Lord is not limited to this third heaven, in some special way He has a place there. This is the clear teaching of the Bible on the subject.

Summary To Question 7 What Are The Three Heavens?

Sometimes the word heaven is used symbolically in the Scripture. When used of an actual place, Scripture speaks of three distinct heavens. The Apostle Paul spoke of being transported to the “third heaven.” What exactly is meant by these three heavens? What is the first and second heaven?

The first heaven is the immediate atmosphere above us. It is the sky; the place where birds fly. The technical term is the troposphere. The same Hebrew and Greek word translated as heaven is translated as “sky” in contexts which refer to the first heaven.

The second heaven is the stellar heaven. It is the place where the sun, moon, and stars exist. This is the stratosphere. Again, the same Hebrew and Greek words are used for this heaven as they are for the third heaven.

The third heaven is the special place where the God of the Bible resides in a unique way. It is always spoke of as above the other two regions.

While God has some type of residence in the third heaven the biblical writers never assume that He is limited to that one area. Indeed, as King Solomon prayed at the dedication of the temple even the heaven of heavens could not contain Him.

There are a couple of things we must take note of with respect to these three heavens. Since the two other regions are actual places, there is every reason to believe that the third region, or the third heaven, is also an actual place.

Yet, as we have emphasized, God is certainly not limited to one geographical place. His presence is everywhere in the universe.


Don Stewart is an internationally recognized Christian apologist and speaker. He graduated cum laude from Talbot Theological Seminary and the International Seminar in Theology and Law in Strasbourg, France, as well as from Biola University. Don is also a best-selling and award-winning author/co-author of over seventy books. [ read more ]


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