“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago…was caught up to the third heaven.” 2 Corinthians 12:2
When we think of spending an eternity with God somewhere, we typically think of heaven — only one heaven. But, did you know the Bible talks about three heavens? Paul specifically mentions it in 2 Corinthians 12:2 when he said, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago…was caught up to the third heaven.”
What does Paul mean? Is there an actual third heaven? How many heavens are there? What are the first two? Does any of it affect your eternity with Christ?
The First Heaven
The first heaven is the lowest level of heaven where “lowest” does NOT refer to a degree of heaven or achievement level for the faithful Christian. Anyone who tells you that is a false teacher. No, the lowest level of heaven means simply the sky.
It’s the air we breathe as well as the different layers of the physical atmosphere surrounding the earth. Think back to middle school science with me for a quick second. We’re talking about the exosphere, thermosphere, mesosphere, stratosphere, and troposphere. It’s the area of space that extends out away from the earth until it touches solar wind (about 6,200 miles in altitude from sea level).
The first heaven also includes birds and things of the air like rain and clouds. Basically, all flying animals or anything weather-related. In the Greek language, the same word for “heaven” is translated as “air” (ouranos), and it’s why we often see heaven referred to as things in the sky throughout the Bible.
Here are some examples:
“…And wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand….” Daniel 2:38
“I will destroy humanity whom I have created from the face of the earth, both humans and beasts, creeping thing, and birds of heaven.” Genesis 6:7
“The fountains of the deep and the windows of heaven were also stopped, and the rain from heaven was restrained.” Genesis 8:2
“Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Matthew 26:64
“And [Elijah] prayed again, and the heaven gave rain and the earth produced fruit.” James 5:18
The Second Heaven
The second heaven is what we often call “outer space.” It’s where we find all the sun, moon, stars, and planets in the universe. Some people call it “celestial heaven.”
“When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have ordained, what is man that You are mindful of him….?” Psalm 8:3–4
“…I will multiply your descendants as the stars of the heaven….” Genesis 22:17
“Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Matthew 24:29
“And take heed, lest you lift up your eyes to heaven, and when you see the sun, the moon, and the stars, all the host of heaven, you feel driven to worship them and serve them….” Deuteronomy 4:19
Heaven of Heavens
The second heaven also includes the “heaven of heavens” and the “highest heaven.” Though we don’t know how far the universe extends, it seems the Bible is referring to its outer edges (if there are any), whether physical or metaphysical. Perhaps even spiritual.
“Indeed, heaven and the highest heavens belong to the Lord your God, also the earth with all that is in it.” Deuteronomy 10: 14
“Praise Him, you heaven of heavens and you waters above the heavens!” Psalm 148:4
“Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain You.” 1 Kings 8:27
The Third Heaven
Though a physical area cannot ever contain the Lord God due to His timeless nature, the third heaven is where He sits on His holy throne. It’s His dwelling place, and it’s where we will spend eternity in His presence and glory.
“We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven.” Hebrews 8:1
“But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God.” Acts 7:55
“Hear in heaven Your dwelling place; and when You hear, forgive.” 1 Kings 8:30
“…Then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
“The Lord has established His throne in the heavens.” Psalms 103:19
“Give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Matthew 5:16
“For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us.” Hebrews 9:24
Highway to the Third Heaven
We can look up and see the clouds and birds in the first heaven, and we can build rockets to take us to the second heaven, but there is only one way to get to the third heaven. Only one way we can stand in God’s presence and personally experience His glory: His gift of grace.
It is only by the Lord’s free gift of grace we can be sure of eternal rescue from sin so we can one day see the third heaven with our own eyes. Because of the covenant of salvation Jesus gave us when He died on the cross, we no longer need to earn His salvation. God knows we’re not good enough to stand before a perfect and holy God. No amount of work could earn it no matter how much we might fulfill every law given by Moses.
Jesus came to set us free from all that. He willingly gave up His earthly life so that His glory would be revealed by overcoming sin and, three days later, death. If it seems hard to believe, you’re not alone. The Israelites also struggled with it and so do many people today. How can it be that easy? Paul explains it in his letter to the Ephesians.
“For by grace are you saved through faith and not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works so that no one can boast.” Ephesians 2:8
God’s grace is a free gift to you. If you want it, all you have to do is believe Jesus is the promised Messiah, that He completely and forever forgives you, that He died on the cross and rose from the grave three days later as witnessed by over 500 people, and that He is coming again one day to rid His creation of sin and death forever when He destroys Satan. It’s that simple.
Those of us who believe in the hope of salvation Jesus provides will one day see the third heaven. Oh, what a day that will be!