The Spirit World: Chapter Fifteen (Heaven)

This entry is part 17 of 23 in the series The Spirit World


(This is a continuation of The Spirit World book series. This post assumes the prerequisite reading of earlier posts in the series.)

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 and its derivatives in the New TestamentOuranos and shamayim have three distinct meanings in scripture.  In both Greek and Hebrew culture and language, heaven was distinguished contextually to refer to one of three places.

The First Heaven refers the atmospheric skies; that place between earth and outer space.  It is here where the birds of the air fly and clouds accumulate.  Ouranos and shamayim used in this context are commonly translated “skies” or “air” for clarity to the English reader.  Examples of the first heaven are found in numerous Old and New Testament texts.

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 is what modern man would call “outer space.”  It is the expanse of the stars and solar systems beyond the atmospheric heavens.  Ancient man understood a distinction between outer space and the skies.  Examples of the second heaven in the Old and New Testaments are frequent as well.

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[ourano  to the other.

Matthew 24:29-31 is a good example of ouranos used interchangeably in a singular text, referring separately to the first and second heavens respectively.

The Third Heaven is what the author refers to as “Heaven proper.”  It is the home and throne of God.  It is this Heaven, of course, which refers to a spiritual realm rather than a physical one.

Because of the three usages of shamayim and ouranos in the Old and New Testaments, one must be careful to observe the context of each use to ensure proper theology is being applied.

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


The first deduction concerning the third heaven is that it is a spiritual realm which several have been permitted to observe personally.  As such, there are eyewitness accountings for the existence of this abode.

On such eyewitness to the existence of Heaven proper is none other than the Christ, himself, Jesus.

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.”

In this text, Jesus states that he has come from ouranos, “down from heaven,” and that he has seen the Father.  This text also affirms another deduction which will be observed momentarily, which is that the direction of Heaven proper is always considered to be upward from the earth.

Additionally, the Apostle Paul experienced an opportunity to witness Heaven proper while still alive on the earth.

2 Corinthians 12:2-4 (NIV)
2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven [ouranos]. 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 one establish several things in this text.  First, that the third heaven is one and the same as “Heaven proper.”  Secondly, that the third heaven is the same as Paradise (at the time of his writing, which was post-resurrection of Christ).  And, thirdly he affirms that it exists by his personal testimony to have witnessed it.

As a side note, Paul states that he is uncertain whether he was in the body or out of it.  Clearly the experience was exceptionally realistic.  However, by Paul’s own testimony, it is essential that those who are to dwell in Heaven proper must be glorified prior to their dwelling there.  He notes,

1 Corinthians 15:50 (NIV)
50 I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.

It is clear that one’s inability to inherit the kingdom of God while flesh and blood is directly tied to one’s perishable nature.  For that reason, one may also consider Paul’s visit to Heaven to have been “out of the body,” as Paul noted as a possibility.  The body, being tarnished by sin, is that which is perishable.  Being not allowed to inherit eternal life via the perishable body may indeed be synonymous with not being allowed to even visit Heaven in the same body.  Yet, Paul is inconclusive, himself, about the nature of his visit, so very real were its characteristics.

Lastly, the Apostle John also notes a visit to Heaven, which is understood to be a “spiritual” visit, from John’s introduction to the event in Revelation 1:10, noting, “On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice…”  Yet, clearly seeing Heaven, though most likely with spiritual eyes, John also gives a personal testimony to its existence.

Revelation 4:1-2 (NIV)
1 After this I looked, and there before me was a door standing open in heaven [ouranos]. 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 [ouranos] with someone sitting on it.

The second deduction, though perhaps elementary, is that Heaven proper is indeed God’s dwelling place.  While God is demonstrated in scripture to be omnipresent, or everywhere at once, numerous scriptures note that Heaven proper is the location of his throne, and his center of presence in some way. 

In Revelation 4:1-2 (above) it is clear that Heaven is the seat of God’s presence and glory.  Here he is demonstrably present, sitting on a throne with angels worshipping him day and night.  Thus, one must presume God’s permanent manifestation in that place, both day and night.  Concerning the worship of God in Heaven, the text later notes,

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.”

The two references to worshipping “day and night” are John’s own descriptions, of course, as he writes what he sees in his vision.  It will be observed later in this work that Heaven is a place devoid of a literal night.  Thus, John’s reference to day and night was indicative of the continual, ongoing nature of the worship of God in Heaven.

Speaking of the Lord Jesus, Mark also notes Heaven to be the place of God’s throne.

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.

A third deduction, already eluded to, is that Heaven is always noted to be in an upward direction from the earth.  Several Old Testament texts affirm this note further.

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!

While much more can be noted concerning this abode, such will be described in the next chapter, The New Jerusalem. 

image The Spirit World series will continue weekly until the entire book is published online. If, however, you enjoy this series and do not wish to wait, you can purchase the paperback version of The Spirit World here.

Series Navigation<< The Spirit World: Ch. 14 (The Confinement of Jude 6)The Spirit World: Ch. 16 (The New Jerusalem) >>

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