In response to a presentation of this past Sunday, I received a question about the “third heaven” of which Paul speaks in 2 Corinthians 12:2 :
I am acquainted with a man in Christ, fourteen years before this, (whether in a body I am not aware, or outside of the body, I am not aware — God is aware) such a one was snatched away to the third heaven.
Although the Talmud and the Kabbalah and also the Koran speak of seven heavens, the Bible acknowledges that there are three. Heaven is the collective name for everything that is above us. The Greek word for “heaven” (ouranos) is derived from the words for “see” and “upwards”. Directly above the earth’s surface is the atmosphere, where “the birds of heaven” fly. Above that is the space where “the stars of heaven” are. And above it is the place where into Paul (in or outside the body) has been taken: the third heaven. This, in the Hebrew Bible, is spoken of as “the heaven of heavens” (Deut.10:14; 1Kings 8: 27; 2Cron.2:6; 6:18; Neh.9:6; Ps.68:33; Ps.148:4). This is the heaven which is above or transcends the two, visible heavens.
Some have thought that the “third heaven” must be understood chronologically: it would be the new heaven mentioned in Revelation 21. The speculative idea is that the current heaven has been preceded by an earlier heaven, that would have been destroyed before Genesis 1:2. Then, they connect that to 2Peter 3:5-7, which is supposed to speak about that. This is a forced idea, partly because Peter, in this passage, the same as in 2Peter 2:5, speaks of “the world of the ancient time” in the days of Noah. But, in my opinion, decisive against this view is that the new heaven of the future, will not, at all, be the third, but the second heaven in the series. Revelation 21:1 says:
And I perceived a new heaven and a new earth, for the FORMER heaven and the former earth pass away…
The word “former” here is “protos,” which is the superlative of “pro”, i.e., the foremost or first.
Summarized: there is no reason to take the “third heaven” otherwise than as “the heaven of heavens”; this the highest heaven.