emptypen asked: Hi Unka Glen! Thanks so much for all you do. I was wondering what your thoughts are about “the third heaven” (2 Corinthians 12:2 NKJV). The phrase seems to be the same in all versions of the Bible that I’ve seen, but I’ve never heard it before - other than from Mormons, but that’s a whole different ballgame. I don’t think it’s super doctrinally important or anything, but I was just curious. Thanks again!
Unka Glen answered: You are right that it isn’t super important doctrinally, but as you also point out, some people have tried to make it into some funky doctrine. So let’s work this out. First, the verse in question: “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.” (2 Corinthians 12:2 NIV)
The Old Testament actually referrs to seven Heavens. Wow, huh? So does that mean I get to go to a better heaven than these losers? Can I get a better grade, and go to A+ Heaven? No. And sadly, that won’t stop the relentless urge on the part of Christians to rank themselves relative to each other. Your rank is the same as mine: Sinner Saved By Grace.
So if there are seven Heavens, how do we decide who goes to the really good one? Well, here’s the thing, I didn’t say that there were seven DIFFERENT Heavens, because in fact, I’m saying it’s seven different ways of referring to Heaven. A tad disappointing, I know.
But we can boil them down to three Heavens for the sake of simplicity:
1. The Sky, as in, everything in the atmosphere above us.
2. The Firmament, as in the place where the sun and moon and stars are (outer space).
3. The Dwelling place of God, as in, ya know, the real heaveny Heaven (the spirit realm).
If you think about it, we use the word “heaven” in roughly the same way today, we refer to the stars moving through the heavens, and so on. But when we’re referring to full-on Biblical Heaven, we’re referring to that third definition of Heaven, and thus when Paul refers to someone who caught up to the third Heaven, he simply means that third definition of Heaven I listed, not just someone who was lifted up in the sky or something.
As for me, I have a funny feeling that when you see me in Heaven, I’ll be the one with burnt-off eyebrows, face smudged with soot, smelling of sulphur, and a really shocked expression on my face, as I mutter, “man, that was close.” I’ve been a bit naughty, and perhaps naughty enough to be left to dangle for a bit. Nonetheless, I will be there with all the straight people.