First, Second, and Third Heaven
Solving the Mystery of the Three Heavens
What is the third heaven?
And what is the second?
And the first?
In 2 Corinthians 12:2, the Apostle Paul wrote that he was “caught up to the third heaven.” Logic tells us that if there is a third heaven, then there must be first and second heaven too. The Bible does not speak about more than three heavens, so we don’t deal with more either.
The word the Old Testament uses for heaven is shameh, and it often writes in the plural as shamayim. The root of the word means lofty. The first verse of the Bible says in the plural: “In the beginning God created the heaven[s] and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).
The New Testament word is uranos. You can also often find it in the plural. In Matthew 4:17, Jesus said, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven[s] is at hand.” (You can check out Young's Literal Translation. It uses the plural in both cases.)
So if we follow the wording of the Bible, we can see that there are more then one heavens. How is this?
There is a scripture that can help us. It is Psalm 8:3. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have ordained.” So there are visible heavens. They include the moon and the stars.
When we look up at night, we see the moon and the stars. When we look up during the daytime, we see the light blue air and the clouds. And we use different words that describe what we see.
We call the nearest layer above the sky. At night, we see much farther into space. And beyond the visible space, there is the dwelling place of God. We call it heaven. So as we go up, there are three layers: the sky, space, and heaven.
The Hebrew and Greek languages, however, use only one word for all these. They don't have different words for the different layers, so they use numbers to show the difference. They say first, second, and third heaven. The first “heaven” we call the sky, the second “heaven” we call space, and the “third heaven” we call heaven. That’s why the Bible often speaks about heavens in the plural, while in our thinking, there is only one heaven. So here it is:
1st heaven = sky
2nd heaven = space
3rd heaven = heaven
As you can see, the “mystery” of the three heavens is linguistic, and this is its solution.