This entry is part 17 of 20 in the series Spiritual Realms


The Term

In Hebrew, the term translated “heaven” or “heavens” is shamayim, which is used about four hundred times in the Old Testament.  “Heaven” is likewise translated into English from the Greek term ouranos or derivatives of it in the New Testament.  Ouranos and shamayim have three distinct meanings in scripture.  In both Greek and Hebrew culture and language, heaven was distinguished contextually to be one of three places:

·         The First Heaven: 

o   This is the atmospheric skies; that place between earth and outer space where the birds of the air would fly.  Sometimes ouranos and shamayim used in this context is translated “skies” or “air” for clarity to the English reader.

Genesis 1:20 (NIV)
20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the expanse of the sky [shamayim] [KJV “heavens”].”

Jeremiah 4:25 (NIV)
25 I looked, and there were no people; every bird in the sky [shamayim] [KJV “heavens”] had flown away.

Matthew 8:20 (NIV)
20 Jesus replied, “Foxes have holes and birds of the air [ouranos] have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.”

Acts 10:12 (NIV)
12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles of the earth and birds of the air [ouranos].


·         The Second Heaven

o   This is what modern man would call “outer space;” that expanse beyond the atmospheric heavens of the stars and solar systems.

Genesis 1:16-18 (NIV)
16 God made two great lights–the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He
also made the stars. 17 God set them in the expanse of the sky[shamayim] to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good.

Matthew 24:29-31 (NIV)
29 “Immediately after the distress of those days “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky [ouranos], and the heavenly[ouranos]  bodies will be shaken.’ 30 “At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky[ouranos], and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky[ouranos], with power and great glory. 31 And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens[ouranos]   to the other.

                                    Here is seen ouranos used interchangeably in one context

·         The Third Heaven

o   This is what I often refer to as “Heaven Proper.”  It is the home and throne of God.  It is this Heaven, of course, in which a spiritual realm of the living will exist.

Because of the three usages of “heaven” in the Old and New Testaments, one must be careful to observe the context of its use to ensure proper theology is being applied.

The texts

There are some 39 or 40 texts using either shamayim or ouranos in the context of the third heaven.  Rather than list them all, they will be investigated in conjunction with a summary of their deductions.


The existence of the third heaven has been testified to by eyewitnesses

John 6:46-51 (NIV)
46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Here, Jesus himself states that he has come from ouranos “down from heaven” and that he has seen the Father. 

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NIV)
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know–God knows. 3 And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– 4 was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell.

It is later clear from the text that Paul speaks of himself as the man who went into “Paradise,” which he also calls tritos ouranos, “the third heaven.”  Paul clearly helps us establish several things in this text:

§  That the third heaven is “Heaven proper”

§  That the third heaven is the same as Paradise

§  That it exists per his personal testimony

Revelation 4:1-2 (NIV)
1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven. And the voice I had first heard speaking to me like a trumpet said, “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” 2 At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it.

Here, John has a vision of the third heaven and is brought “up here” that he may see the future.

The third heaven is the abode of God – or “Heaven Proper”

·         Revelation 4:1-2 (above) demonstrate this is God’s home, for:

o   He is present, sitting on a throne

o   Angels worship him day and night (thus, this is his permanent placement)

§  Revelation 4:8 (NIV)
8 Each of the four living creatures had six wings and was covered with eyes all around, even under his wings. Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

·         (we will learn later that there is no “night” in heaven, so this is probably a reference to time, indicating a “continual” worship of God, with no breaks between)

·         Mark 16:19 (NIV)
19 After the Lord Jesus had spoken to them, he was taken up into heaven and he sat at the right hand of God.

·         1 Kings 8:42-43 (NIV)
42 for men will hear of your great name and your mighty hand and your outstretched arm–when he comes and prays toward this temple, 43 then hear from heaven, your dwelling place, and do whatever the foreigner asks of you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your own people Israel, and may know that this house I have built bears your Name.

o   This is part of Solomon’s prayer of dedication to the temple

o   Here, he states clearly that heaven is “your (God’s) dwelling place” even while dedicating the temple for his “name” (his “Name” also in v.29, 44, 48 & others)

Heaven is always upward in direction

Deuteronomy 2:25 (NIV)
25 This very day I will begin to put the terror and fear of you on all the nations under heaven. They will hear reports of you and will tremble and be in anguish because of you.”

Psalm 14:2 (NIV)
2 The Lord looks down from heaven on the sons of men to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God.

Proverbs 30:4 (NIV)
4 Who has gone up to heaven and come down? Who has gathered up the wind in the hollow of his hands? Who has wrapped up the waters in his cloak? Who has established all the ends of the earth? What is his name, and the name of his son? Tell me if you know!

Heaven is the abode of the dead in Christ

            (Established in the section on “Paradise”)

            (will be further established in the next section)

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