What is the 3rd heaven in the Bible?

The concept of multiple “heavens” is found throughout the Bible. The apostle Paul references the “third heaven” in 2 Corinthians 12:2, stating he was caught up to this paradise. But what exactly is this third heaven? And what are the other biblical heavens?

Quick Summary of the 3 Biblical Heavens

Here is a quick overview of the 3 main heavens described in the Bible:

  1. The first heaven is considered the “sky” or earth’s atmosphere where birds fly and clouds pass through.
  2. The second heaven is considered “outer space” where the sun, moon, and stars reside.
  3. The third heaven is the dwelling place of God, angels, and departed saints. It is sometimes equated with Paradise.

Now let’s explore each of these biblical heavens in more detail.

The First Heaven – The Sky and Atmosphere

The first heaven represents the literal sky or earth’s atmosphere. This is the lowest of the heavenly realms. Several Bible verses refer to the first heaven:

  • “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?” (Matthew 6:26)
  • “The devil took him to the holy city and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.'” (Matthew 4:5-6)
  • “The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matthew 7:25)

These verses depict things we see in our visible sky – birds flying, rain falling, and wind blowing. So the first heaven represents the atmosphere around earth.

The Second Heaven – Outer Space

The second heaven is outer space where the sun, moon, stars and planets exist. A few Bible verses point to this cosmic realm:

  • “And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so.” (Genesis 1:14-15)
  • “Praise the Lord, sun and moon; sing praise, all you shining stars.” (Psalm 148:3)
  • “The sun will be turned to darkness and the moon to blood before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord.” (Joel 2:31)

These verses depict the sun, moon and stars – making it clear the Bible authors conceived of a second heaven beyond our immediate atmosphere.

The Third Heaven – God’s Dwelling Place

The third heaven represents the highest and most holy heavenly realm – the dwelling place of God. Several verses point to this reality:

  • “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built!” (1 Kings 8:27)
  • When the servants of the king of Syria said that Elisha could prophesy the words the king spoke in his bedroom, he replied: “Go and see where he is, that I may send and seize him.” It was told him, “Behold, he is in Dothan.” So he sent there horses and chariots and a great army, and they came by night and surrounded the city. 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?” He said, “Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” 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.” (2 Kings 6:13-17)
  • “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. And I know that this man–whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows– was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)

These passages reveal heaven as the dwelling place of God, filled with angelic beings and departed saints. The third heaven is beyond the first two and represents the highest realm of holiness.

Paradise and the Third Heaven

Some equate the third heaven with the biblical concept of “paradise.” The apostle Paul used these terms interchangeably when he says he was caught up to the “third heaven” and caught up to “paradise” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). Paradise refers to a place of blessedness and divine presence. Other verses reinforce this idea:

  • “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 – Jesus’ words to the thief on the cross)
  • “To the one who is victorious, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
  • “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who is victorious, I will grant to eat of the tree of life that is in God’s paradise.” (Revelation 2:7)

Paradise is depicted as a place of God’s presence and blessing. As such, it is essentially synonymous with the third heaven.

Accessing the Third Heaven

Very few people have entered the third heaven while still living on earth. The apostle Paul is one example, as he says he was “caught up to the third heaven” and “caught up to paradise.” While he does not give details about his experience, he calls it inexpressible (2 Corinthians 12:2-4). The few other glimpses of heaven we get in Scripture also lack extensive details:

  • In Revelation 4, the apostle John enters the throne room of heaven in a visionary experience. He vividly describes God’s throne, the four living creatures, and the 24 elders – but not much more detail.
  • In the Transfiguration, Peter, James and John witness Jesus in his glorified state, talking with Moses and Elijah. They hear God’s voice speak from a bright cloud that envelops them.

While mystics throughout history have claimed out-of-body experiences and supernatural visions, the Bible gives us only a few inspired accounts of those accessing heaven while still on earth. But it provides glorious depictions of the hope that awaits believers when they enter eternity.

Glories of the Third Heaven

Here are some key things the Bible reveals about the glories of the third heaven:

  • God’s throne and direct presence (Revelation 4; Psalm 11:4)
  • The tree of life and the river of life (Revelation 22:1-2)
  • The New Jerusalem – the glorious heavenly city (Revelation 21:2)
  • Multitudes of angels (Daniel 7:10; Revelation 5:11)
  • Departed saints and martyrs (Revelation 6:9-11)
  • No more death, sorrow, crying or pain (Revelation 21:4)
  • The Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:9)
  • Eternal worship of God (Revelation 5:13)

What an incredible realm to anticipate! No wonder Paul called it “paradise” and “inexpressible.” The third heaven defies all we know on earth – which is why the Bible gives us only glimpses and hints of its wonders.


The third heaven represents the highest dwelling place of God, filled with inexpressible majesty and glory. While the Bible gives some descriptive glimpses of this paradise realm, the full wonders await us for eternity. The third heaven is the glorious culmination of the biblical cosmos – earth’s atmosphere, outer space, and finally God’s dwelling. May this hope inspire us all to persevere in following Christ!

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