In his second Epistle to the Corinthians, and chapter 12, the Apostle describes how that he was granted a vision of “the third heaven”:

“I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.  And I knew such a man (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) how that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Cor. 12:2-4).

The question that arises, is What is “the third heaven”?  In Scripture, the term “heaven” is used to represent the rulership of earthly kingdoms.  The idea is that God is in heaven, and he rules over the earth (Dan. 4:26), and so the “heaven” speaks of the place of rulership and the “earth” those who are ruled.  So, the Babylonian dynasty is said to be elevated in rulership:

“thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north.  I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High” (Isa. 14:13-14 See also Isa. 34:4-10).

Israel also had a “heaven” and “earth” as part of it’s polity.  Consider the following passages, which describe the message of Yahweh to His people:

“Give ear, ye heavens, and I will speak; and hear, O earth, the words of my mouth.  My doctrine shall drop as the rain, my speech shall distil as the dew, as the small rain upon the tender herb, and as the showers upon the grass” (Deut. 32:1-2).
“Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for Yahweh hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me” (Isa. 1:2).


This passage in Isaiah is particularly interesting, as it contains a parallelism which describes what the heavens and earth represent:

“Hear the word of Yahweh, ye rulers of Sodom; give ear unto the law of our God, ye people of Gomorrah” (Isa. 1:10).

In terms of the outworking of the purpose of Yahweh, this was the First Heaven, the beginning of his people’s dominion.

But Isaiah also speaks of a second heaven and earth when he describes the kingdom to come:

“For behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.  But be ye glad and rejoice for ever in that which I create: for, behold, I create Jerusalem a rejoicing, and her people a joy” (Isa. 65:17-18).

Notice the two heavens described here: “the former” which would be forgotten, and the “new heavens” which would replace them.  These “new heavens” will be a time when Jerusalem will become a rejoicing and joy—which will only take place when Messiah reigns over the tribes of Jacob, and when the extent of his dominion will be over all the earth.

The book of Revelation provides us with a rare insight into what will lie beyond the Second Heavens, or after the Millennial reign of Messiah:

“And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea … And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God … And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new …” (Rev. 21:1-5).

Brother John Thomas translates this passage slightly differently: instead of “the first heaven and the first earth”, he renders it “the former heaven and the former earth”.  This is because the heavens and earth which are being replaced are the second, not the first.

“And I saw a New Heaven and a New Earth; for the former heaven and the former earth had passed away; and the sea is no more …” (Rev. 21:1, JT translation, from Eureka)

Assuming what we state above is correct, this would mean that “the Third Heaven” is the situation pertaining to the time after the Millennial Reign of Messiah.  It is beyond the kingdom age, and it is a vision of this that was given to the Apostle when he was in a vision state.  It was “not lawful” for him to disclose the words and vision which were revealed to him, and the Scriptures give only scant details of what things will be like after the Millennium.

1 Corinthians 15 describes that time, when the earth will be restored to the friendship of the Yahweh:

“When all things shall be subdued unto him, then shall the Son also himself be subject unto him that put all things under him, that God may be all in all” (1 Cor. 15: 28).

Notice the emphasis of dominion here: the Son and his new creation will be “subject” unto the One who put all things under him.  This is the Third Heaven, when “all” of Yahweh will be “in all” of and immortal race of men, showing forth the praise of His glory.  This is the vision that was revealed to the Apostle Paul, and which, doubtless strengthened him to overcome the trials he was to face as he ministered to the early ecclesia.

Christopher Maddocks