In Genesis 1:1, we read:

God created the heavens and the earth.

The Bible refers to three heavens. The Hebrew word, shamayim, is found over four hundred times in the Old Testament. This word is always plural, which can indicate multiple heavens or be used as an intensified description of one. It can also be used loosely in the same way we use “skies.” The Greek word ouranos and its derivatives are found over two hundred fifty times in the New Testament.

The Sky

The first heaven is the sky. This is where birds fly and clouds drift. When God created this heaven, it separated the waters. This implies there was a layer of water in the upper atmosphere, and it seems this water came down during the global flood. Heaven is often paired with land – “heaven and earth” – to describe our habitable environment. “New heavens and a new earth” is symbolic in prophecy for the kingdom of the new covenant (the church) as well as the eternal home of its citizens.  Genesis 1:20; 1 Kings 18:45; Genesis 1:6-8; Genesis 7:11-12; 2 Peter 3:1-13; Isaiah 65:17; 66:22


The second heaven consists of the rest of the physical universe – what we call space. This is where the celestial bodies exist, such as the Sun, Moon, and stars. Sometimes, this is called the “heaven of heavens” or “highest heavens” to describe its position above the first heaven. A common imagery of shaking the heavens refers to the fall of earthly nations or empires. The celestial bodies in the second heaven were often used as metaphors for kings and nations. The physical heavens will be destroyed along with the earth at the Christ’s return.  Deuteronomy 4:19; 1 Kings 8:27; Isaiah 13:13; Haggai 2:6-7, 21-22; Hebrews 12:25-29; Matthew 24:29; 2 Peter 3:7, 10-13; Revelation 21:1

The Third Heaven

Paul referred to being caught up into the third heaven and described it as paradise. This is God’s dwelling place – an invisible, spiritual realm. Jesus passed through the physical heavens to enter the third heaven when he ascended. This is the “new heavens and new earth” described in New Testament prophecies – our inheritance, hope, and true citizenship. Unlike the physical heavens, which will be destroyed, this heaven is eternal.  2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Hebrews 4:14; Acts 1:9-11; Hebrews 9:24; 2 Peter 3:1-13; Revelation 21; 2 Corinthians 5:1-2; Colossians 1:5; Philippians 3:20; Matthew 6:19-20; 1 Peter 1:4

“Rise up, bless Yahweh your God from everlasting to everlasting!
O may Your glorious name be blessed
And exalted above all blessing and praise!
You alone are Yahweh.
You have made the heavens,
The heaven of heavens with all their host,
The earth and all that is on it,
The seas and all that is in them.
You give life to all of them
And the heavenly host bows down to You.”
Nehemiah 9:5-6 (LSB)

~ SR

Related words: paradise

Ruhmann, Scott. “Word of the Week: Heaven.” 27th Street Church of Christ. Access date: . http://www.churchofbend.com/wow/heaven.htm