Sets of threes are very prominent throughout The Bible. First and foremost is the Holy Trinity consisting of God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ), and God the Holy Spirit (or Holy Ghost). There is also a Satanic Trinity that appears in the book of Revelation. This is Satan, the False Prophet, and Antichrist. Furthermore, human beings are made up of a physical body, spirit, and soul.
Heaven is also a trinity. There is the first heaven, which is a physical sky/space. The second heaven might be a spirit realm where we go right after death, although an alternate explanation is that it is another physical realm located between the first (sky) and third (paradise) heavens. The third heaven is the one spoken of in the book of Revelation. This final heaven is where John saw the Throne of God and the New City—the New Jerusalem that will sit on the New Earth. It will have the pearly, jewel encrusted gates, streets of gold that are as clear as glass, and is where the Throne of God will rest eternally.
I am no expert on this subject, but I think that there are facets of my ongoing study in the paranormal that play interesting roles in my understanding of heaven—and the afterlife in general.
*****For the Skeptic******
This post is not for you. If you are in the least bit curious about the possibility of life after death, I hope you will keep an open mind. I will including scientific, Christian, and supernatural concepts throughout. Someone who is not religious will find this entire topic to be superstitious. If you are closed-minded, please discontinue reading right now.
THE FIRST HEAVEN: THE ATMOSPHERE
When The Bible says “God created the heaven and the earth”, the author of Genesis was describing our physical universe. Merging science and Christianity, one could think of Genesis 1:1 as the “Big Bang” that put all existence into motion. Nothing physical existed, and then it did in an instant. In Genesis 1:6-8, God created the “firmament,” which begins with the invisible ring surrounding our planet that we know as the Earth’s atmosphere, and continues into infinite space.
THE SECOND HEAVEN: A SPIRITUAL REALM
There is a bit of a divide amongst Christians where the second and third heavens are concerned. Some theologians believe that the second heaven is, in fact, outer space. Others believe that the second heaven is a type of “intermediate” heaven that co-exists with us here on Earth. I am not sure which way I should lean, and here is why:
Through my investigation of the paranormal, I have come to a strong belief that we humans, are not alone on the Earth. There is something supernatural that exists around us, and is largely invisible to the naked eye. Some paranormal believers view this as the energy of our loved ones that cannot be fully eliminated from existence. Sometimes this energy travels into the universe, but sometimes it remains on Earth. I believe that this energy is not physical, but a spiritual phenomenon. I fully believe that we are at any given moment surrounded by angels, demons, and loved ones (who are not trying to communicate with us, by the way).
Science is coming to similar conclusions about the possibilities of at least one co-existing extra-dimension. Super String Theory and the concept of the Multiverse are becoming more realistic as empirical data is being tested by modern and postmodern physicists. According this article, physics is in the process of uncovering 1. Infinite universes, 2. Bubble universes, 3. Parallel universes, 4. Daughter universes, and 5. Mathematical universes.
Furthermore, The Bible has some great passages about the sudden appearance of angelic figures. These beings are not seen descending from the sky, but they just materialize as an army of God (2 Kings 6:17), in a fiery furnace (Daniel 3: 24-25), as a host of messengers to shepherds (Luke 2:13), and as God’s messenger to Mary (Luke 1:26-38).
I believe this view to also be consistent with so many stories told of a dying person speaking to people whom the rest of us cannot see just before passing on. As their physical bodies die, their spiritual, or heavenly, bodies cross over. It is an immediate occurrence, and it may be as simple as passing through a veil.
The great theologian Randy Alcorn describes this process akin to travelling from Miami to Santa Barbara, but there is a layover in Dallas. The intermediate heaven would be this temporary stop in Texas. However, the final destination for Christians is yet to come.
I am fairly sure that this spiritual realm exists. However, whether it is actually the proposed second or “intermediate” heaven is up for debate.
THE SECOND HEAVEN: A PHYSICAL REALM
The counterargument, which is actually a very compelling one, is that the second heaven is physical space where the sun and stars are found.
First of all, there are many passages in the New Testament where Jesus Christ is sitting or standing at the right hand of the Father (Acts 7:56 is my personal favorite). If this is the case, then these verses HAVE to be referring to the third heaven.
Another idea put forth by theologians is the concept that we when we are IN Christ, we are a part of him, and he is a part of us. The best example is in Mark 10:8 which talks about a man becoming one flesh with his wife through the consummation of marriage. As the Bride of Christ, we become “one flesh” with Jesus.
A part of us, a spiritual part of us, is forever linked to Jesus Christ in heaven. If Christ is located in the third heaven, then we must also be there. One theory is that while our physical body is here on earth, a part of our soul enters heaven. We occupy both planes at once.
Consider Luke 15:10, where Christians in heaven are rejoicing in the “presence of the angels of God” whenever someone becomes a new Christian. Some would say this is because those in heaven are watching what happens on Earth and are aware whenever someone new gets saved. However, given this dual existence theory, those in heaven may be completely ignoring the happenings on our planet, and they would know of a new convert because there would now be a new Christian soul who popped up in heaven with them.
This view of the second heaven also makes sense to me. Many of the verses used to justify heaven as a spiritual realm may be misinterpretations of the third heaven or an entirely different dimension.
It is up to you which version of second heaven you choose to believe in, but I must say that having three physical heavens seems a little bit more consistent with the first chapter of Genesis.
THE THIRD HEAVEN: THE THRONE OF GOD
I believe this heaven to be a physical place that exists above or outside of the known universe. The third heaven does, indeed, hover above the Earth somewhere. This is consistent with the ascension of Christ (Acts 1:9-11) and the return of Christ (Revelation 1:7; Matthew 24:27; 1 Thess. 4:16-17), as a place that is located above the clouds. If we were talking about the intermediate heaven, why would there need to be an ascension at all? I believe that Jesus Christ and angels can travel between the second and third heavens.
The book of Revelation gives a great description of the third heaven, including the streets of gold and throne of God. The throne room is not found in the second heaven. Remember that Satan also was able to approach the throne of God in order to gain permission to test Job. Satan is an angel, and is also the king of the Earth. Thus he can not only occupy the spiritual realm behind the veil around us, but can travel to the third heaven.
The description of the “dead in Christ” rising and meeting those who are yet alive in the clouds in the air is also indicative of the spatial relationship between the second and third heavens. In other words, the dead are in the second heaven around Earth, and will rise up to the third heaven in order to enjoy the marriage supper of the Lamb and return with Christ to destroy his remaining enemies on Earth.
The final act of Revelation is the remaking of the physical Earth (a “New Earth”) and the New Jerusalem (with physical dimensions) that DESCENDS to its final resting place. It does not materialize or appear, but physically descends from the third heaven.
In order to occupy the new, physical, heaven on Earth, we also need new, physical bodies. Thus, the concept of the “glorified body” comes into reality. Philippians 3:21 describes that our current bodies are “vile”, but will “be fashioned like unto [Jesus’] glorious body.”
This all makes sense with the concept of the trinity that is paramount to understanding Christianity. Feel free to disagree. If you have a different, but relevant point of view, I would love to hear it.