Three Heavens?


A couple weeks ago I was asked this question from one of our members, “My parents and I were talking about what the Bible says about heaven last night and my dad mentioned about the three heavens which really confuses my mom and I because we tend to think of heaven as being just one thing. What are the three heavens? Also when the Bible talks about streets of gold and many mansions in heaven should that be taken literally or is it a metaphor? I was not sure because I thought heaven was supposed to be more like earth but without sin or any imperfections.”  What great questions.  Let me see if I can break this down in bites, or bytes for you techies!

First, what are the 3 heavens in the bible?

Second, streets of gold and mansions in heaven; literal or figure of speech?

So, what is the bible talking about when it tells us in 2 Corinthians 12:2 that Paul “was caught up to the third heaven.”  What does Paul mean by “third heaven” and “caught up”?

“Caught up” here is translated from the Greek term, harpazo, which is the same word used in 1 Thessalonians 4:17 about the rapture (harpazo) of the church.

So, what are the 3 heavens in the Bible?

The first “heaven” would be the atmosphere.  It is first mentioned  in the account of creation in Genesis 1:6-8.  There it talks about something called the “firmament,” the place between the waters below (on the surface of the earth) and and the waters above (a sphere of water surrounding the earth that came down with the flood).  Other references to this firmament calls it heaven, being the place that generates rain, etc. such as Deut. 11:111 Kings 8:35Isa. 55:10 (to name a few).

The second “heaven” talked about in the bible would be the expanse of space beyond earth’s atmosphere.  This “heaven” or “heavens” is said to contain the sun and stars.  Bible passages would include Gen. 15:5Ps. 8:3Isa. 13:10, just to name a few.

The third “heaven” spoken of by the Apostle Paul would then be the presence of God, where the Lord dwells.  Bible verses such as 1 Kings 8:30Ps. 33:13–14Matt. 6:9 all talk about this place which we would normally consider “heaven” to be, being with God.  There are some that try to raise a distinction between the third heaven and “Paradise,” but the parallelism used grammatically in the Greek with both phrases requires “heaven” and “paradise” to be the same entity.  If “heaven” is being in the presence of God and the Tree of Life is in God’s presence and there are verses in the bible that place the Tree of Life in “paradise,” ( Luke 23:43Rev. 2:7;  Rev. 22:21419), then the third “heaven” and “paradise” are synonymous.  All that being said, the “third heaven” Paul speaks of is what we would normally think of as heaven itself, being in the presence of God.

All of that was just the first question. 

So now, real gold streets and mansions just figures of speech?

Rev. 21:18+21 tell us pure gold, like clear glass.  It seems fairly emphatic to be not just like gold, but actual pure gold, so pure it is like glass.  This is spoken of for not only the streets, but also the New Jerusalem walls themselves (vs. 18).

As far as the idea of “mansions” spoken of by Jesus Christ in John 14:2, the Greek term used here is monia and literally means room, dwelling place or staying.  That is to say, in God’s palace, there is a place being prepared for you, it is designed just for you, and it is a place in God’s palace where you belong.  Imagine the nature of this dwelling though, if since Christ has ascended to the Father, He has been busy preparing it for you.  I know that God dwells outside of His created constraints of time, but if He created all the physical world as we know it it 6 literal 24-hour days, then what must these places of dwelling look like after all this time (humanly and speculatively speaking of course)?

Thank you so much for these questions.  I hope this helps clarify God’s truth and strengthens your faith.

We will be caught up into the 3rd heaven in death or rapture, where Christ has been preparing a place for us to dwell, where we belong, in the very palace of God, and will dwell until the consummation of time when He creates the New Heaven and Earth, with the New Jerusalem.  We will have entrance into the walled city of Jerusalem with its’ walls of gold on the streets of gold for eternity.

The best part of it all, as a child of God, He says it will be a place with Him where I belong.


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