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What does the Bible mean by the "third heaven"?

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The Bible speaks of three different heavens. Genesis 1:1 Genesis 1:1In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.
American King James Version×
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 Genesis 7:11In the six hundredth year of Noah’s life, in the second month, the seventeenth day of the month, the same day were all the fountains of the great deep broken up, and the windows of heaven were opened.
American King James Version×
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 Exodus 32:13Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, to whom you swore by your own self, and said to them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give to your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
American King James Version×
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 Nehemiah 9:6You, even you, are LORD alone; you have made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth, and all things that are therein, the seas, and all that is therein, and you preserve them all; and the host of heaven worships you.
American King James Version×
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 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 1 It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. 2 I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) such an one caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knows;) 4 How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
American King James Version×
. 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 Revelation 4:2And immediately I was in the spirit: and, behold, a throne was set in heaven, and one sat on the throne.
American King James Version×
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?”

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