Q: I have heard that you teach that there are three heavens mentioned in the Bible. Would you please elaborate on this? If true, why do the Jews and some Christian groups teach that there are seven heavens?
A: The Bible does indeed reveal the existence of “three” heavens. While the first two heavens are “physical” in nature, the third heaven is composed of spirit — it is referred to in Scripture as God’s dwelling place.
That there is more than one physical heaven can be seen in Genesis 1:1, where we read, “In the beginning God created the HEAVENS and the earth” (New KJB; RSV).” Also, in Genesis 2:1, “Thus the HEAVENS and the earth were finished, and all the hosts of them” (New KJB; RSV). These verses imply that “the whole material universe was created simultaneously with the earth” (Herbert W. Armstrong, “Mystery of the Ages,” p. 45).
The first two heavens — the physical heavens — can be divided into the earth’s atmosphere and the space beyond our atmosphere — commonly called the universe.
The atmosphere or the “first heaven” — the air that surrounds the earth — refers to the space where the birds fly, the clouds and the wind roam, and from which the dew comes. We read in Genesis 1:20: “…let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.” We also read, in Genesis 27:28, that God promises to give “the dew of heaven.” Finally, we are told in Deuteronomy 33:28, that Jacob’s “Heavens shall also drop dew.”
The physical universe, which is beyond this earth’s atmosphere, can be described as the “second heaven.” It represents the space where we find the sun, the moon, the stars, and all the other planets that God has created. We read, in Genesis 1:14-17, that God referred to sun and moon as “lights in the firmament of the heavens” (verses 14, 15, New KJB), and that He “set them in the firmament of the heavens to give light on the earth” (verse 17, New KJB). David pondered, in Psalm 8:3, over God’s “heavens, the work of Your fingers,” and he especially continued to talk about “the moon and the stars, which You have ordained.”
In addition to these two physical “heavens,” we find that the Bible speaks about another heaven, a heaven composed of spirit — the third heaven, where God lives. No human being has ever ascended to this heaven (compare John 3:13) — the only one who went to this heaven after His resurrection was Jesus Christ. We are specifically told that David did not ascend to heaven (Acts 2:34).
It is therefore obvious that Elijah did not go to the third heaven, where God’s throne is. We read, in 2 Kings 2:1, 11, that Elijah was taken up “into heaven by a whirlwind.” We also read that his disciples understood that Elijah did not go to the third heaven, as they were concerned that “the Spirit of the LORD has taken him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley” (verse 16). In fact, God transported Elijah to another place here on this earth, where Elijah continued to live until his death. He wrote a letter and had it delivered to king Jehoram, AFTER he “went to (the first) heaven,” as Jehoram became king right at the time of Elijah’s disappearance (2 Kings 1:17; 3:1). 2 Chronicles 21:12-15 gives us the contents of the letter, referring to the evil deeds of king Jehoram that he had committed after Elijah had been taken away and transported through the air to another place here on earth.
On the other hand, the Bible tells us that some have seen or even gone to the third heaven “in spirit” — that is, in a vision. We read that John went to God’s throne in heaven “in the Spirit” (Revelation 4:1-2). We also read that Paul “was caught up to the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2), referring to this experience as “a vision” (verse 1).
As we see from 2 Corinthians 12:2, the heaven which is called God’s dwelling place is referred to as the “third heaven.” No additional heavens are mentioned. Notice this comment taken from the Nelson Study Bible: “The Hebrew word for heavens may refer to the physical heavens, the sky or the atmosphere of earth…, or to the dwelling place of God (Ps. 14:2), the spiritual heaven. The expression is probably derived from a word meaning ‘to be high, lofty.'”
The third heaven is, according to the Bible, located “on the farthest sides of the north.” Lucifer described his plan to dethrone God in this way, in Isaiah 14:13-14, “‘I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne [here on earth] above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of the congregation On the farthest sides of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High [or, I will be the Most High.]'”
We also read that “promotion cometh neither from the east, nor from the west, nor from the south.” (Psalm 75:6, Authorized Version). Rather, it comes from the north — from God’s dwelling place in the third heaven.
There are indeed three heavens — not “seven.” The Encyclopedia Britannica, ed. 1959, sheds some light on the wrong concept of “seven heavens.” It points out, “In the cosmogonies of ancient peoples there was a plurality of heavens, varying from three to seven, the higher transcending the lower in glory.”
In addition, note this comment from Rienecker’s Lexicon of the Bible, “At the time of the Old Testament, Judaism knew of a plurality of heavens, which number was determined in LATE Judaism as seven. The Holy Scriptures know nothing of this number. Paul speaks of the THIRD heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2-4. The letter to the Hebrews states that Christ was seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens (Hebrews 8:1). It adds that He, as High Priest, passed through the heavens (Hebrew 4:14) to enter into the most important heaven, where He appears in the presence of God for us (Hebrews 9:24).”
Although it is taught by traditional Christianity that we will go to heaven when we die, this is NOT the Biblical teaching. For more information as to what happens to us when we die, please read our free booklet, “Do We Have An Immortal Soul?”