Has heaven been divided into three levels of ascending glory? If we are to believe Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, it has been. Smith wrote, “depending upon the level of righteousness achieved, each life’s journey will earn one of three heavens” (Doctrines and Covenant, Section 76).
Joseph Smith’s vision of eternity is all the more astounding because it was his belief that everyone, who has ever lived, is bound for heaven. Whether their life was righteous or wicked, no matter. Eternity would find them in heaven. The only question for each one was which of the three heavens would be their eternal home. There are some more pertinent questions for us, however. Does the Bible support the concept of three distinct heavens, and will every person ever born receive the blessing of spending eternity in one of Smith’s three heavens?
The Third Heaven
In truth, there are three heavens. Paul established that reality for us in 2 Corinthians 12:2, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago…was caught up to the third heaven.” Since the Apostle speaks of a third heaven, there must of necessity be a first and second. But, what are these three heavens, and how should they be viewed?
Whenever your Bible speaks of heaven it is referring to one of three locations:
1 The first heaven is the immediate atmosphere over our heads, which contains the oxygen we breathe and where the birds soar. In Matthew 6:26 Jesus said, “Look at the birds of the air…” The Greek word translated “air” is also translated as “heaven.” James writing in James 5:18 testifies, “And he prayed again, and the heavens gave rain…” Prayer led to the rain being poured out from heaven that is the sky. So, this first heaven is the canopy of sky over our heads.
2 The second heaven is considered to be the celestial heaven. We commonly refer to this heaven as outer space, or the stellar heaven because the sun, moon, and stars are found there. Jesus, in His prophetic overview of the end times declared in Matthew 24:29, “Immediately after the tribulation of those days the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken.” Your Bible informs our understanding that the stellar heaven is in fact the second heaven.
3 Lastly, we find in Scripture, heaven and the home of God. Although, we know that the omnipresent God cannot be contained in one geographical location, we understand from His Word that His presence does abide in a unique way in the third heaven. Here’s how John described it in Revelation 4:2, “… and behold, a throne set in heaven, and One sat on the throne.” 1 Peter 3:21, 22 offers this insight, “… through the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at the right hand of God…” So, the third heaven is where the throne of God is found.
We learn from the Bible of the existence of three heavens, but not three levels of everlasting life. And, not three levels of eternal residency for the righteous and the wicked. Indeed, the reality of God’s heaven is that the redeemed will not spend eternity there at all.
John the Revelator was shown that our forever time with God shall be on the earth made new, but not because we earned it. It is a free gift of grace from God. “Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband,” (Revelation 21:2). None but the righteous shall see God and live forever. As for the wicked, because John also says “. . . there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles…” (Revelation 21:27), we understand there will be no wicked there.
Three heavens to be sure, but only one serves as God’s official residence. The redeemed shall spend eternity on this earth made new, without sin or sinners to disturb our joy.