What is meant by the terms 1st Heaven, 2nd Heaven, and 3rd Heaven?
Let’s start by defining Heaven:
- the abode of God, the angels, and the spirits of the righteous after death; the place or state of existence of the blessed after the mortal life.
- (initial capital letter) Often Heavens. the celestial powers; God.
- a metonym for God: May heaven help us!
- heavens, (used with a singular verb) a wooden roof or canopy over the outer stage of an Elizabethan theater.
- Usually heavens. the sky, firmament, or expanse of space surrounding the earth.
- a place or state of supreme happiness: She made his life a heaven on earth.
heavens, (used to express emphasis, surprise, etc.):
For heaven’s sake! Good heavens!
move heaven and earth, to do one’s utmost to effect an end; make a supreme effort:
She promised to move heaven and earth to be there for our wedding anniversary.
Old English heofon “home of God,” earlier “the visible sky, firmament,” probably from Proto-Germanic *hibin–, dissimilated from *himin– (cognates Low German heben, Old Norse himinn, Gothic himins, Old Frisian himul, Dutch hemel, German Himmel “heaven, sky”), which is of uncertain origin. Perhaps literally “a covering,” from a PIE root *kem- “to cover” (also proposed as the source of chemise). Watkins derives it elaborately from PIE *ak- “sharp” via *akman- “stone, sharp stone,” then “stony vault of heaven.”
From late 14c. as “a heavenly place; a state of bliss.” Plural use in sense of “sky” probably is from Ptolemaic theory of space as composed of many spheres, but it also formerly was used in the same sense as the singular in Biblical language, as a translation of Hebrew plural shamayim. Heaven-sent (adj.) attested from the 1640s.
You may be able to guess what these different numbers refer based on the above information already but let’s make them clear now.
1st Heaven – the sky or, at least, the sky that includes planet Earth’s atmosphere. This is not to include stars or other celestial bodies.
2nd Heaven – outer space. To be clear, this is everything beyond earth. This includes all of the void of space, the planets in it, stars and more.
3rd Heaven – in the presence of God in His domain; commonly referred to as God’s home. This is the heaven most often referred to in Scripture and Christian circles – especially when speaking of life after death.
2 Corinthians 12:2 is probably the most well-known text that prompts people to ask this question as the various translations will word it as “third heaven”.
As you can see, each heaven is something different. Their commonality is in that they’re all considered above us. The third heaven is too considered above us as hell is below us. Obviously, heaven and hell are not places we have the power to physically visit by our own power; there is an even greater sense of beyond-ness to them as compared to our known physical universe (which includes the first two heavens).