Risen from the Dust
Throughout the bible, heaven is the antithesis of hell; a beautiful paradise where God, his angels, and his holy temple abide, "The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD's throne is in heaven" (Psalm 11.4 KJV bible), "I saw the LORD sitting upon his throne, and all the host of heaven standing on his right hand and on his left" (2nd Chronicles 18.18 KJV bible), "Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven" (Matthew 6.9-10 KJV bible).
In the scriptures, however, heaven not only refers to Paradise as we understand it, but can also mean sky (atmosphere), or outer-space. For example, the expression "birds of the heavens" appears frequently, and clearly refers to the sky or atmosphere, not spiritual heaven, "he who dies in the field the birds of the heavens will eat" (1st Kings 14.11 NASB bible). Also, heaven is spoken of as the domain of the sun, moon, and stars, "And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven, and when thou seest the sun, and the moon, and the stars, even all the host of heaven" (Deuteronomy 4.19 KJV bible). So biblical heaven can refer to either the sky, outer-space, or Paradise depending on the context in which it is used.
Even though the bible generally identifies all three distinct locations (sky, outer-space, and Paradise) as heaven, it does not teach that they are all the same thing. Instead, it testifies to the existence of different types or levels of heavens, "Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the LORD's thy God" (Deuteronomy 10.14 KJV bible), "But will God in very deed dwell with men on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee" (2nd Chronicles 6.18 KJV bible), "He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things" (Ephesians 4.10 KJV bible). The bible identifies various levels of heavens that are distinct and unique from each other.
We are given further insight into this subject when Paul tells us of how he was taken up to the "third heaven", in 2nd Corinthians 12, "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...How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter" (2nd Corinthians 12.2-4 KJV bible). Paul identifies the place that he was taken up to as Paradise, indicating that the third heaven is Paradise.
If Paul regards spiritual heaven or Paradise as the third heaven, then what are the first and second heavens? Most likely the sky or atmosphere is the first heaven, and outer-space is the second heaven. So while the bible accurately describes the natural world, it remains that we must use context and common sense to determine what is meant by the word heaven(s) in a particular passage.
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