- The first, or physical heaven. The first heaven would be that which we immediately observe above us. We read of this heaven in the first verse of the Bible; “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth”. The heavens would include the air, the upper atmosphere, planets, stars, galaxies, etc. The psalmist could exclaim; “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psa. 19:1). Scripture does not distinguish between the heaven where the birds fly and the heaven where the stars are; both are the first heaven. In the eternal state there will be a “new heaven” as well as a new earth (Rev. 21:1).
- The second, or spiritual heaven.
The second heaven is called in scripture "the heavenlies" or "heavenly places". The heavenly places are mentioned five times in the book of Ephesians. In Eph. 1:3, we find that the heavenly places are the realm of our spiritual blessings. In Eph. 1:20 the heavenly places are a sphere in which Christ has been exalted over every other power. In Eph. 2:6 we find that God had made us to sit down together in the heavenlies in Christ Jesus, meaning that we share the exalted place that Christ has in the spiritual realm. In Eph. 3:10 we find that the heavenly places are the operating sphere of the angels, "the principalities and authorities", and that those angels are learning the all-various wisdom of God through observing the Church on earth. Finally, in Eph. 6:12 we find that we are engaged in a spiritual battle with the forces of evil (demons, etc.) and that this battle goes on in the heavenly places. It requires looking at each of these verses to get an understanding of the second heavens, the heavenly places, into which we are brought as believers indwelt with the Spirit of God.
- The third, or eternal heaven. The third heaven is the abode of God, as clearly identified in 2 Cor. 12. It is where God is, and where Jesus sits at God’s right hand. This is where the soul of the believer goes when absent the body and present with the Lord, even though they are still in the intermediate state. The Father’s house is there also, but we will not enter the Father’s house until the rapture, when we will enter it as a redeemed company, with our glorified bodies.
Three Heavens. In 2 Cor. 12:2 we read that Paul was caught up to “the third heaven”, which indicates that there are three “heavens”.
What will heaven be like? This is a question many wonder about. After all, we want to know about the place we are going. There is really quite little given to us in the Word of God to tell us about heaven as a “place”. Perhaps the greatest reason is that God wants us to be occupied with the Person in heaven rather than the Place! Another reason might be that heaven is so wonderful that we cannot take it in. We simply do not have the capacity for it in our present condition. When Paul returned, he said the words he heard in paradise were “not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:4). But we know it will be a wonderful place! Revelation 4-5, and John 14 are helpful passages. In John 14 we find that our eternal home will be the Father’s house. It is a place characterized by love and light… the characteristics of God Himself. There are “many abodes” in that place; room for all the redeemed. It is a place of fellowship, and above all, nearness and communion with Christ; “I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3). In Rev. 4-5 we find that the center of heaven is the throne of God, and the Lamb of God. There we will come fact to face with the glory of God (Rom. 5:2, Gal. 5:5)! The angels are there, bearing witness to the holiness of God, and crying “holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty”. In heaven we will know in fullness what we only know in part on earth; “For we see now through a dim window obscurely, but then face to face; now I know partially, but then I shall know according as I also have been known” (1 Cor. 13:12). The best understanding we can possibly have at this present time is but a hint; a rough, fuzzy outline of the reality that is soon to be revealed. Heaven is a place where we will not think of ourselves, but rather cast our crowns at Jesus’ feet. Heaven is a place of unending worship and praise. All of heaven is occupied with the worthiness of the Lamb who was slain! Heaven will be total and complete occupation with the Son of God. Much awaits us there that we do not know, nor could we begin to understand it now. But the Person that awaits us there is the same One we have learned to know in this life on earth. Since He will be our sole occupation then, shouldn’t we be occupied with Him now?
There no stranger-God shall meet thee,
Stranger thou in courts above.
He who to His rest shall greet thee,
Greets thee with a well-known love.1