In this section we will consider the implications of the Bible’s teaching concerning the three heavens.
The following illustration pictures for us the three heavens as described in Scripture.
We will consider the heavens by first looking at what the Scriptures say about the first and third heavens, and then take a more detailed look at the second heaven.
The First Heaven
The first heaven spoken on in the Scriptures is “the vaulted expanse of the Sky with all the things visible in it, generally: as opposed to the earth. It includes both the aerial heavens (the atmospheric heaven beneath the clouds) and the vast sidereal heavens comprising the stars and galaxies. The natural created skies.
The first heaven is the heaven populated on day four and five of the creation week. These heavens do indeed “declare the glory of God” as expressed in Psalm 19, speaking of His eternal power and limitless nature.
“The heavens declare the glory of God;
and the firmament sheweth his handywork.
Day unto day uttereth speech,
and night unto night sheweth knowledge.
There is no speech nor language, where their voice is not heard.
Their line is gone out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them hath he set a tabernacle for the sun,
Which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
and rejoiceth as a strong man to run a race.
His going forth is from the end of the heaven,
and his circuit unto the ends of it:
and there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.” (Psalm 19:1-6 KJV)
The Third Heaven
The idea that there are three heavens is largely based upon Paul the Apostles statement in 2 Corinthians 12:2:
“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven.” (2Cor 12:2 NKJV)
Other scriptures define that multiplicity of heavens. The following are a few examples from both Old and New Testaments:
“The heaven, even the heavens, are the LORD’s; But the earth He has given to the children of men.” (Psa 115:16 NKJV)
“He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)” (Eph 4:10 NKJV)
“For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens;” (Heb 7:26 NKJV)
Jewish mysticism and Islam both speak of seven layers of heaven, but we will not venture here to consider extra-biblical conjectures. It is sufficient for us to know that the heavens are plural, and that the inspired Scriptures define three distinct heaven(s) for us.
Strongs #3772. ouranos, ouranou (from a root meaning ‘to cover,’ ‘encompass’, heaven; and, the heights above, the upper regions)
“the region above the sidereal heavens, the seat of an order of things eternal and consummately perfect, where God dwells and the other heavenly beings”
We will take our outline of what is called ‘the third heaven’ from the definitions given in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words.
The two scholars point out the following characteristics of the third of the three heavens we will be discussing:
Characteristics of the Third Heaven
- This is the eternal dwelling place of God (Matthew 5:34; Psalm 11:4)
- From thence the Son of God descended to become incarnate,
John. 3:13,31; 6:38,42.
- In His ascension Christ “passed through the heavens,” Heb. 4:14; He “ascended far above all the heavens,” Eph. 4:10, and was “made higher than the heavens,” Heb. 7:26; He “sat down on the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,” Heb. 8:1; He is “on the right hand of God,” having gone into heaven, 1Pe. 3:22.
- Since His ascension it is the scene of His present life and activity, e.g., Romans 8:34; Heb 9:24.
- From thence the Holy Spirit descended at Pentecost, 1Pe. 1:12.
- It is the abode of the angels, e.g., Matt 18:10; 22:30; cp. Rev 3:5.
- It is to be the eternal dwelling place of the saints in resurrection glory, 2Cor 5:1.
- From thence Christ will descend to the air to receive His saints at the Rapture, 1Th. 4:16; Phil. 3:20,21,
- and will subsequently come with His saints and with His holy angels at His second advent, Mt. 24:30; 2Th. 1:7.
- In this present life “heaven” is the place of spiritual citizenship of believers, Phil. 3:20
Fellowship with God in the third heaven
It is also here that the eternal fellowship of the Father and the Son takes place, a fellowship into which we are invited:
“that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ.” (1John 1:3 NKJV)
From this place and position we also exercise our authority as believers:
“and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus,” (Eph 2:6 NKJV)
This is something we will discuss in relation to prayer later in this session, and expand upon in other modules dealing with prayer, authority and spiritual warfare. [Module 6: Fellowship With God]
We are encouraged to set our mind and affections on the realities of the third heaven, even though invisible to the natural eye. The enduring nature of spiritual things compared to natural things makes the invisible world in a sense more ‘real’ than the visible world around us. Paul refers to this truth in many scriptures, including 2 Corinthians 4:18 and the following reference:
“Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits at God’s right hand in the place of honor and power. Let heaven fill your thoughts. Do not think only about things down here on earth. For you died when Christ died, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.” (Col 3:1-3 NLT)
The Second Heaven
We have left this ‘heaven’ until last in our study because it is the one that requires the most attention. The second heaven, the spiritual ‘heavenlies’ of this world, are mentioned and revealed many times in the Scriptures. It is in this arena that the spiritual conflict between the Kingdom of darkness and the Kingdom of God largely takes place.
The second heaven is the spiritual realms of the earth, and is populated by spiritual beings, both good and evil:
These spiritual beings include:
- Angels (dispatched from the third heaven as messengers and ministers of God)
- Demons (or fallen angels) who consider this to be their domain of authority and from here seek to thwart the purposes of God’s Kingdom)
- Mankind, as spiritual beings, both redeemed and unredeemed, also operate to varying degrees in this realm.
Just as we build our understanding of the natural world from the testimony of scripture, we also form our picture of spiritual reality from the testimony of the Word. Scriptural pictures of activity in the second heaven are witnessed in the following portions of the Biblical commentary:
Daniel Chapter 10 – The Prince of Persia
In this revealing account we witness Daniel praying and fasting for 21 days. During this time an invisible struggle takes place. A messenger is dispatched from the third heaven to deliver Daniel’s answer, but is withstood by the demonic principality ruling over the earthly kingdom in which Daniel is living, Persia. Michael, one of the few angels in Scripture designated by name, is dispatched to help the messenger angel deliver his response to the praying saint. Upon breaking through and speaking to Daniel, he also reveals that another demon prince will soon enter the fray, the prince of Grecia, which was indeed the earthly kingdom to overcome and follow the Persian empire.
In your study you can also look at the following verses from Ephesians: Ephesians 2:2; 6:12; 3:10
The themes considered here will be expanded upon in later sessions but some main points to note are as follows:
- There are authoritarian structures of government in the invisible spiritual realms.
- These invisible governments are territorial and affect and control earthly governments.
- These demonic governments in the spiritual realm (the second heaven) oppose the servants and messengers of God.
- The visible earthly realm and its inhabitants effect the invisible heavenly realms, just as Daniel affected this realm through prayer.
- Because of the demonic resistance, perseverance in prayer was necessary for the answer to Daniel’s prayer to be fully realised.
- The church has now been given the authority and responsibility to make known in this realm the will and wisdom of God.
- Spiritual resistance and a wrestling with contrary powers in the heavenlies is to be expected in the life of the believer, who has been equipped by God for this very purpose.
Authority of the Believer in the second heaven
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth.” (Matt 28:18 NKJV)
Jesus, by His sacrificial death, wrested from the devil the authority lost by Adam. This authority is then invested in His disciples who are commanded to go, in this very same authority, and preach the gospel, commanding people everywhere to repent, and teach the nations to obey the commands of Jesus Christ.
Just as the earthly realm is subject to the principalities in the second heaven, so the authorities of the second heaven are now subject to the citizens and government of the third heaven.
Jesus authority in the third heaven is unchallenged. In heaven there is but one will. Donald G Barnhouse makes much of this fact in his thought provoking (and sometimes controversial) book, “The Invisible War”.
In Chapter four, “Two Wills” he says of satan’s rebellion and its effects:
“It is of extreme importance that we catch the transition which comes with the introduction of this second will. It is now manifest that eternity has taken on a new aspect, or, to put it otherwise, that time is fully under way. The quality of eternity is the fact that there is but one will – the will of God. Then all was holy, all was righteous: there was no evil whatsoever. The quality of time is that there is more than one will. There came into the universe a second will, rising from the heart of Lucifer, (one of) the highest and most wonderful of all created beings in the universe. In addition to the voice of God, there was now a second voice saying: “I will…” There was rebellion; but, more important, back of rebellion, there were two wills. That means conflict. It is possible to say that the shortest definition of sin is simply “I will…””
It is in the second heaven, where satan still attempts to exercise rule and assert his will, that our authority as believers must be exercised. Our authority and our struggle is not in the natural realm:
“For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.” (Eph 6:12 NKJV)
This is why the Scriptures encourage us to pray at all times “in the spirit” (Ephesians 6:18). This does not only mean pray in tongues, our spiritual prayer language, but to pray all manner of prayer from our new creation spirit, in the realm of the spirit, and in submission to and in partnership with the Holy Spirit. We are seated with Christ in heavenly places (in the third heaven), and from this place of heavenly authority, we exercise spiritual government in the heavenlies.
In this engagement we can at times experience resistance from the illegitimate demonic forces who have set up their ungodly administration in the second heaven.
We actively pray, physically present on the earth, but spiritually seated above the principalities and powers residing in the spiritual realm surrounding the world:
“…and what is the exceeding greatness of His power toward us who believe, according to the working of His mighty power which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all principality and power and might and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come. And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” (Eph 1:19-23 NKJV)
As Christ’s body, other spiritual authorities are under our feet. The answers to our prayers however can be hindered by interference in the second heaven. This is why it is essential that we have a working understanding of our authority in Christ, and of the spiritual dynamics of prayer and perseverance in spiritual endeavour.
Human spiritual activity in the second heaven
It is noteworthy that the act of witchcraft is attributed to the working of the flesh, the natural unredeemed soul life of man, not a working of the spirit:
“Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: …sorcery (witchcraft)” (Gal 5:19-20 NKJV)
Witchcraft is the action of the unredeemed soul and spirit in the second heaven. It engages with the spiritual powers that reside in that realm in order to control and effect the natural realms (the first heaven arena).
As Christians we too can operate and seek to engage in spiritual exercises out of our soul area, our mind, will and emotions. We need to understand however, that this merely engages us in the battleground of satan’s kingdom, and we meet him on his own ground, the second heaven. Authority and power are two different things. We are called to ‘subdue’ the enemy (Genesis 1:28), not according to his rules, or through a show of ‘power’, but crush him through the overwhelming authority of covenant with Almighty God:
“Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you.” (Luke 10:19 NKJV)
‘Authority’ will always overcome ‘power’ in spiritual conflict. In our original mandate as mankind we were commanded to subdue the earthly realm, bringing into subjection to the will of God.
Neil T Anderson in His excellent book, “Victory Over The Darkness” (which we highly recommend to every student) points out that confrontation with the demonic realm is not so much a “power encounter”, but rather a “truth encounter”. “You shall know the truth”, Jesus said, “and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). In Christ we have been given both the power (dunamis) (Acts 1:8) and the authority (exousia) (Luke 10:19) to subdue the enemy.
The Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament (TWOT) defines ‘subdue from Genesis 1:28 as follows:
“951 to Subdue, bring into bondage, keep under, force. (ASV, RSV similar.)
This verb and its derivative occur fifteen times in the OT. It is evidently related to Akkadian kabasu “to tread down,” and Arabic kabasa “to knead, stamp, press” (cf. also Arabic kabasa “to seize with the hand”). In the OT it means “to make to serve, by force if necessary.”
Despite recent interpretations of Gen 1:28 which have tried to make “subdue” mean a responsibility for building up, it is obvious from an overall study of the word’s usage that this is not so. The word assumes that the party being subdued is hostile to the subduer, necessitating some sort of coercion if the subduing is to take place. Thus the word connotes “rape” in Est 7:8, or the conquest of the Canaanites in Num 32:22, 29; Josh 18:1; 1 Chr 22:18. In 2 Chr 28:10; Neh 5:5; Jer 34:11, 16 it refers to forced servitude.”
Had Adam obeyed this directive in Genesis chapter three and subdued the rebellious suggestions of satan in the garden of Eden, much anguish would have been averted! It is now our turn, as individuals within the second perfect Man, Jesus Christ, to exercise this same authority over the ‘gods’ of this world, bringing them into subjection, and crushing them under our feet in the name of Jesus.
“But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God, from that time waiting till His enemies are made His footstool.” (Heb 10:12-13 NKJV)
“And the God of peace will crush Satan under your feet shortly.” (Rom 16:20 NKJV)
We need to rise above our natural abilities. We cannot engage successfully in a spiritual battle through intellectual means, or by strength of will. Our weapons are not carnal, but mighty through God. He has invited us to operate from a high spiritual place of authority in the third heaven. We should humble ourselves and seek Him for a greater revelation of this truth, and of the reality of the spiritual realm, just as Paul prayed in Ephesians Chapter 1:16-23. The throne that we boldly approach in prayer is not an earthly throne, but the very throne of God in the heaven of heavens (Hebrews 4:14-16).
The Bible clearly defines the created world as consisting of two distinct realms, the greater of which is the invisible realm of the spirit. The natural world is subject to this unseen realm. Through Christ we have been given authority in this sphere to subdue ungodly kingdoms, and establish the rule of Christ in the heavenlies, making known the will and wisdom of God. It is here that the greatest battles are fought and the greatest victories are won. An understanding of these truths is essential for effective operation as a Believer.