How many heavens are there? What does the apostle Paul mean when he writes about "the third heaven"?
The Bible speaks of three different heavens. Genesis 1:1 says that God created "the heavens"—plural. The first heaven is the atmosphere around the earth. In describing the rain that brought on the Flood of Noah’s time, Genesis 7:11 says "the windows of heaven were opened." Commenting on the extent of the water, verse 19 says "all the high hills under the whole heaven were covered."
The second heaven is commonly referred to as "outer space." Exodus 32:13 is one of many references to "the stars of heaven." Stars are not in the skies from which the rain falls, but in the space beyond our atmosphere. Nehemiah 9:6 also refers to space as heaven: "You alone are the Lord; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host [the planets and stars]."
A "third heaven" is mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. Paul also called it "Paradise" in verse 4. That word is from the Greek word for park or garden—not just any park or garden, but a magnificent one. It’s the same word used in the standard Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint, to mean the Garden of Eden.
Revelation 4:2 reveals that God’s throne is in heaven, but which one? Obviously, God’s throne is not in the sky where the clouds are and the birds fly—the first heaven. Nor is it in the visible confines of outer space—the second heaven. Putting this reference together with what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians, we discern that the third heaven, then, must refer to the location of the throne of God.
For more understanding, please read our free booklet, "Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?"