Saturday, December 1, 2007

The Three Heavens

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 speaks of the "Third Heaven", it says: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. 3 And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter.

So what is the "third heaven"? And what are the other two heavens? That is what I will be taking a look at in today's blog. First, I think that we know what two of the three heavens might be right of the bat. Let's see if you agree with me. The first heaven is merely a reference to the sky above us, and all of the stars. Like when we say that the heavens opened up with rain. A great example of the use of this is in Genesis 15:5 - where God tells Abram, "Look now toward heaven, and count the stars." This type of use of "heaven" is used in both the Old and New Testaments, as is done in Deut. 11:11, Psalm 19:6, Isaiah 13:10, and James 5:8. So let's call the sky and the stars above as the First Heaven.


And we know that God the Father and His Son sitting at His right hand are living in a place we call Heaven, this being the majestic home of God. This is the glorious place where the Prophet Isaiah was transported to, the very throne room of God in Isaiah 6. This is where the Apostle John was caught up in the Book of Revelation (Rev. 4-5). And this is where Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for His believers (John 14:2-3). This is also the place that Paul is speaking of in 2 Cor. 12:2-4 (quoted above.) So let's call this the Highest Heaven, or the Third Heaven.


So what is this place that is the Second Heaven? Pastor Jack Hayford has a great study on Revelation (called Focusing on the Future), and in this study he explains that the Second Heaven is a reference to the unseen, spiritual world that surrounds us here on earth. And this is well supported in the Scriptures. There are two great examples of this – first, in 2 Kings 6:15-17 we see the Prophet Elisha involved in a war between Syria and Israel. When Elisha's servant freaks out because the Syrian army is so large, Elisha prays that the servant's eyes are opened. Here is what he sees: 1


5 When the servant of the man of God rose early in the morning and went out, behold, an army with horses and chariots was all around the city. And the servant said, "Alas, my master! What shall we do?" 16 He said, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them." 17 Then Elisha prayed and said, "O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see." So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.


Cool, cool, cool! There are armies of unseen armies of God, in the unseen, spiritual realm around us. This is the Second Heaven. And they help us! But we know from the world around us, that there must also be unseen demonic activity around us. And this is shown in the second verse that gives us as an example of the unseen spiritual realm around us, which is in Daniel 10. In Daniel 10, the Prophet Daniel is a godly man, who is fasting for three weeks and in prayer to God. 21 days after he started his prayer, Daniel receives a visit from the Arch-Angel Gabriel who explains that he was delayed for 21 days because he was in battle in this unseen Second Heaven around us with the ominous Prince of Persia. Here is what God's Word says about this battle:


12 Then he (i.e., the Angel) said to me, "Fear not, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand and humbled yourself before your God, your words have been heard, and I have come because of your words. 13 The prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days, but Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I was left there with the kings of Persia, 14 and came to make you understand what is to happen to your people in the latter days. For the vision is for days yet to come."


Whoa, what a cool verse with all sorts of implications that we can draw from this. This shows that the Arch-Angel Gabriel was in battle with an evil Prince of Persia. This was such a ferocious battle that it delayed the intended response for Daniel for 21 days. And the spiritual battle was turned when the Arch-Angel Michael came to help. Lots of meat in this chapter, but for now, let's just understand that the unseen spiritual realm around us, the Second Heaven, is a place where there are both forces of God and Satan.


Finally, in the New Testament we see references to thrones, dominions, principalities and powers (also called rulers and authorities). See, Ephesians 1:20-21, Colossians 1:16. I believe this is a reference to this unseen realm of the Second Heaven. And the most important point of this entire writing is that Jesus is far above every created thing, including all principalities and powers, rulers and authorities. Jesus triumphed over Satan and his kingdom by His death on the Cross. The battle is won. As is made more clearly than I can ever say is what is contained in Colossians 2:15 –"And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross." And nothing in the Second Heaven, no principalities or powers can separate a born again believer from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:38).


If you would like to study more about the unseen principalities and powers, here are a few more verses to look at: Eph 3:10, Eph. 6:12, and Col. 1:16. Thanks to my Mom who first raised this question a few weeks ago over lunch. God bless you!


Bryan & Meggan said...


That is an interesting conclusion for what the second heaven is. I've actually never heard that position before, though I have not studied this topic too extensively. Since I always (or at least almost always) appreciate your challenges, let me write a quick challenge for you!

I've always understood the first heaven as a reference to our earthly sky (cf. Genesis 8:2; James 5:18).

The second heaven then refers to creation physically outside of the earths atmosphere, such as the moon, planets, stars, etc. (Genesis 15:5; Hebrews 11:12).

And finally, the third heaven refers to the spiritual realm/dimension of God (2 Chronicles 30:27; Hebrews 8:1).

The greatest strength I see in this interpretation of the identification of the second heaven is the fact that Scripture uses the actual word “heaven” in reference to it, whereas in your view the term “heaven” is being applied apart from the text itself.

Moreover, in the references you cited in support of your view for the second heaven, while the word heaven is absent from them, the rest of the books are littered with the word. By my count the ESV includes the word “heaven” in its translation some 14 times in 2 Kings, and in Daniel there are 32 occurrences of “heaven”. The uses of “heaven” in those books fit both in your first and third heavens, but none in your second. Why would those books, especially Daniel, so readily use the word “heaven” and yet not apply the word to your “second heaven”?

What do you think? Can you come up with any references with “heaven” that you would put in your category for the “second heaven”?


tom wolff said...

Hi Bryan,

Thank you for calling me on my failure to provide any specific verses that use the word heaven in describing the "Second Heaven". Again, I am relying on California's own Pastor Jack Hayford who writes the following about the Second Heaven:

The second heaven is the spiritual realm associated with earth; it has been called the earth’s spiritual atmosphere. It is from this dimension that the principalities and powers that dominate the earth exercise their rulership. Paul probably speaks about this “heaven” more than any other writer in the Bible, but we do see the concept elsewhere. In the Old Testament, Psalm 89:6 (For who in the skies can be compared to the Lord? Who among the heavenly beings is like the Lord) is obviously stating that the Lord is greater than all other spiritual beings, and Isaiah 34:4 speaks of the casting down of the spiritual rulers in the heavenlies. References in the New Testament are even clearer. Mark 13:25 speaks of the powers of heaven being shaken, and Ephesians 3:10 speaks directly of the principalities and powers in heavenly places. The most obvious reference to this spiritual realm is in Ephesians 6:12: “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
Hayford, J. W., & Hayford, J. W. I. (1997, c1994). Focusing On the Future : Key Prophecies and Practical Living. Spirit-Filled Life Kingdom Dynamics Study Guide. Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

So you caught me in adding the verses from Daniel 10 and 2 Kings more as the best descriptions of what is in the unseen spiritual realm around us, even though they do not mention the heavenly realm. But I think the verses given by Pastor Hayford do show that there are verses talking about the heavenly places, that look to speak of the unseen spiritual realm around us, or the Second Heaven.

I also think that this makes the most sense of the verse that says that Satan fell to earth. This then means that Satan is inhabiting the unseen spirutal realm around us, or the Second Heaven. And so he is not actually physically on earth with us.

I hope this helps. Let me know if you find this persuasive.