What are heavens? (The 3 heavens explained)

As a theologian, I have always been interested in learning more about the spiritual realm. I was especially captivated by the mention of ‘heaven’ and ‘heavens’ in different contexts in the Bible. As part of my research, I met with my professor of theology and a local pastor to learn about the heavens. I recently held a service in my community to share more about the topic when one member asked me what heavens are. He was conflicted because the common knowledge is that there is only one Heaven, which is the place where God dwells. Since I had already gone through the topic and had all the supporting scriptures, I was able to answer his question extensively. So, what are heavens?

According to the Bible, the heavens are the immediate atmosphere, outer space, and the place where God is. Hebrews 4:14 says that Jesus passed through the heavens, which refers to his ascension in Luke 24:50-53. He was carried up into Heaven through the sky.

I invite you to join me as we discover what the Bible says about the different levels of Heaven, what the levels are, and the biblical proof of the three heavens. Read on as I uncover answers to these and more questions.

What does the Bible say about the different levels of Heaven?

Paul mentions a third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2. The verse is what some have interpreted as saying that there is a third heaven. According to the assumptions, there is a heaven for Christians with the highest level of spirituality, one for mid-level Christians, and another for those who lack unwavering faith. Does the Bible support this? No. Other than Paul’s mention of the third Heaven, there isn’t a scripture that states that there are different levels of Heaven, at least not regarding the above presumption.

By third Heaven, Paul meant the spiritual realm, where God dwells. It does not have levels; rather, by terming it a third, he aimed to distinguish it from the sky and outer space. Genesis 1:20 states that God commanded the birds to fly in the expanse of Heaven. We see birds flying in the sky – the heavens. Psalm 8:3 also mentions Heaven as the place where God set the moon and the stars. So, technically, the Bible talks of different levels of Heaven, just not in the way that many Bible readers have interpreted it.

How are the heavens different from Heaven?

The 3 heavens explained
How are the heavens different from Heaven? Image source: Pixabay

The heavens are visible to us: the sky, moon, and stars, while Heaven is a spiritual realm outside our physical universe. 1 Kings 8:27 talks of Heaven and the highest Heaven. In this case, Solomon does not say heavens; instead, he simply says Heaven, then goes ahead to say the highest Heaven. As much as he uses a similar name, he puts one above the other, not the highest in terms of vertical extent, but rank and importance.

Psalm 89:5-7 talks of the heavens in a different way than simply the stars, moon, and sky. The heavens are personified and given the ability to praise the wonders of the Lord. The scripture refers to the angels and other heavenly beings. So, the heavens have two meanings in the Bible: the spiritual creatures who dwell with God, and the sky and the outer pace. On the other hand, Heaven remains the highest place where God resides. While many people have embraced the existence of the three heavens, the Bible does not call them the first, second, or third heavens. These names are inferred from the fact that Paul mentioned a “third heaven.”

The first Heaven

Paul’s statement that there is a third heaven logically implies that there is a first and second heaven. The first Heaven is the atmospheric realm. It consists of the air we breathe and the immediate space surrounding the Earth. In Genesis 6:7, when God wanted to destroy the Earth, he said he would destroy the birds of Heaven. We can always see birds flying above us. The space where they soar is the first Heaven.

James 5:18 says that Elijah prayed, and Heaven gave rain. So, the atmospheric Heaven goes as far as the clouds. The Greek word ouranos, which translates to air, also translates to Heaven.

The second Heaven

The second Heaven is celestial and includes the sun, stars, and moon, collectively known as the heavenly bodies. The name itself already qualifies this stretch as Heaven. Matthew 24:29 talks of the stars falling from Heaven, and Deuteronomy 4:19 describes the sun, the moon, and the stars as the hosts of Heaven. We can always see all three when we look at the sky, meaning the sky is also Heaven.

The first and second heavens are usually generally referred to as heavens, as stated in Genesis 1:1.

The third Heaven

Also called the Heaven of Heavens. In the prayer of Solomon we discussed, he said that God is not geographically restricted since Heaven and the highest Heaven cannot contain him. Even so, Hebrews 8:1 speaks of a throne in the highest Heaven where a high priest sits at the right hand of the Majesty. God created the heavens and the Earth, but there is only one place where his throne is specified to be, and that is the third Heaven, the very place Paul referred to.

This does not mean that God only reigns in the third Heaven.

Hebrews 9:25 gives us more insight. Jesus Christ entered the holy place, which was not made with hands. The first thing that comes to mind when you think of holy places made with hands is probably churches, temples, or other places of worship. The scripture, however, calls these places copies of the true one. God reigns over all existence. The scripture further states that Christ entered the presence of God for us. The presence of God is, in itself, Heaven. So, wherever he is, that is the third Heaven.

Biblical proof of the three heavens

What are heavens?
Biblical proof of the three heavens. Image source: Pixabay

Genesis 1:7-8 states that during creation, God separated the water under the expanse from the water above the expanse and called the expanse heaven.

2 Peter 3:10 states that the heavens will pass away (in this case, the first and second heavens) on the day when the Lord will come back like a thief.

Revelation 6:12-14 talks of what will become of the first Heaven during the end times, including the falling of stars from Heaven.

Revelation 21:1 says God will do away with the first Heaven, and there will be a new heaven and a new earth.

Psalm 8:3-4 says that the heavens – the moon and the stars – are a work of God’s fingers.

Hebrews 7:26 states that the high priest is exalted above the heavens.

Psalm 104:12 supports the existence of the first Heaven, where the birds dwell.

Isaiah 13:10 talks of the stars of Heaven and their constellations.

Revelation 11:19 talks of the opening of the Temple of God in Heaven to reveal the Ark of the Covenant.

Daniel 2:38 also mentions birds of the heavens.

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