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 Vol. 8, No. 5 

May 2006

~ Page 9 ~

How Many Heavens

By Hugo McCord

Enoch (2nd century B.C.) wrote of ten heavens (Book of the Secrets of Enoch, 22:1). Jewish rabbis counted seven heavens (Testament of Twelve Patriarchs, Levi 2-3, cited by David Smith, Life and Letters of St. Paul, p. 335). The Bible mentions three:


That vast aerial expanse (not a "firmament," meaning "that which is firm") above the earth where "the birds fly" and where are the sun, the moon, the stars, "and all their multitude," Moses called "the heavens" (Genesis 1:17, 20; 2:1). David wrote, "The heavens tell of God's glory, and the expanse proclaims the works of his hand" (Psalm 19:1).


As eye-opening and stunning as are the physical heavens, in no way can they be compared to the eternal, the spiritual "heaven of heavens" (Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 68:33; 148:4). The spiritual, eternal heaven is "the dwelling place" of God, called by Jesus "my Father's house" (1 Kings 8:30; Matthew 6:9; John 14:2). There is his throne (Isaiah 66:1; Acts 7:49), and there are uncountable angels (1 Kings 22:19; Hebrews 12:22; Revelation 5:11).

Into "heaven itself" Jesus ascended, "far above all the heavens," to "appear in the presence of God for us" (Ephesians 4:10; Hebrews 9:24). Jesus is preparing places that have been "reserved in heaven" for those who "are kept by the power of God through faith for the salvation ready to be revealed at the last time" (1 Peter 1:4-5).

Another Bible name for the "heaven of heavens" is "paradise," an attractive and beautiful word. Among the Persians paradise was a grand enclosure or preserve, a hunting-ground, a park, shady and well-watered, in which wild animals were kept for the hunt; it was enclosed by walls and furnished with towers for the hunters (Thayer, p. 480). Among the Jews, paradise was "a garden, pleasure-ground, grove, park" (Thayer, p. 480; cf. Nehemiah 2:8; Song of Solomon 4:13; Ecclesiastes 2:5). In the Greek Old Testament (LXX, c. 250 B.C.), the Garden of Eden was called "paradise" (paradeisos, Genesis 2:8-9). It is therefore no wonder that Jesus used the word "paradise" to describe the eternal, spiritual, heavenly garden: "to the one who overcomes, I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in God's paradise" (paradeisos, Revelation 2:7).


However, when Jesus promised the dying thief beside him on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 23:43), he was not referring to the eternal, spiritual, heavenly garden. The Lord did not mean that he and the thief were going to the "heaven of heavens" that day, for three days later, on his return from paradise, he told Mary Magdalene, "I have not yet ascended to the Father" (John 20:17). The "Father's house" (John 14:2) is "in heaven" (Matthew 6:9), to which place Jesus had "not yet ascended" (John 20:17), but he had been in paradise while he was in the tomb.

Thus, Jesus used the word "paradise" with two different meanings: (1) "the paradise of God" in which those who overcome will "eat of the tree of life" (Revelation 2:7), which can be none other than the "heaven of heavens" (1 Kings 8:27), the "dwelling place of God" (1 Kings 8:30), the "Father's house," (John 14:2), and (2) "the paradise" where Jesus went while his body was in the tomb, from which he did not "ascend" to "the Father" (John 20:17).

The second meaning fits the experience of a man, apparently Paul himself, who in 43 A.D. "was caught up into paradise" (2 Corinthians 12:4), which he also called "the third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2). If Jesus' words in 27 A.D., that "no man has ascended up to heaven" (John 3:13) were still true in 43 A.D., then the paradise, the third heaven, into which Paul was caught up," was not "heaven itself" (Hebrews 9:24).

Since everything associated with the word "paradise" is beautiful and attractive, it is likely that the paradise to which both Jesus and Paul went, which Paul called "the third heaven," is the same place that Jesus called "Abraham's bosom," a place of "comfort" (Luke 16:22, 25). It appears, then, that there are three Bible names for an intermediate place of "comfort" where the redeemed are waiting until judgment day: "paradise," "Abraham's bosom," and "the third heaven." Then they will ascend into "heaven itself" (Hebrews 9:24).

As to the question, "Are Enoch and Elijah in heaven?", they are not in "the heaven of heavens" (Deuteronomy 10:14; 1 Kings 8:27; Psalm 68:33), not in "heaven itself" (Hebrews 9:24), for "no one has ascended up to heaven" (John 3:13). But I believe that Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2:1, 11) are in "the third heaven" (2 Corinthians 12:2), which is also called "paradise" (2 Corinthians 12:4). The spirit of Jesus was in paradise while his body was in Joseph's tomb (Luke 23:43), and after his return from paradise he told Mary Magdalene, "I have not yet ascended to the Father" (John 20:17). Now he has ascended into "heaven itself" (Acts 1:9-11; Hebrews 9:24).Image

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