Brethren, I do not regard myself as having laid hold of it yet;
but one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead,
I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God
(Philippians 3:13-14 NASB)
Snatched Away to the Third Heaven
& into Paradise
January 10, 2011
(1) Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations
of the Lord. (2) I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago–whether in the body I do not
know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows–such a man was caught up to [snatched
away to] the third heaven. (3) And I know how such a man–whether in the body or apart from the
body I do not know, God knows–(4) was caught up into [snatched away into] Paradise and heard
inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak. (2 Corinthians 12:1-4 NASB [CV])
This set of scripture is used by some as proof that believers go to the third heaven and paradise upon
death. But this cannot be the proper understanding of these verses.
Paul was snatched away, which is the better rendering, but he did not know how this occurred, whether
in the body or out of the body. Paul related this experience to defend his apostleship, not to offer some
grand teaching on going to heaven. He simply was snatched away and heard things that man is not
allowed to speak.
Note that he was snatched away to the third heaven and snatched away into paradise. Some
translations place a bias into these verses by stating that Paul was caught up , not to or into . This has
led to the teaching that Paul was caught up from this earth, which for some people refers to either the
experience at death or the rapture. However, this cannot be determined from Paul’s description of his
experience. He did not know if he was in the body or in the spirit. He simply had a powerful experience.
Paul was obviously snatched away to something not of this earth and time. It is most probable that he
was snatched away to the third heaven, and it was there that he saw paradise. In other words, he was
snatched away to the third heaven and then snatched away into paradise.
Let us look at the third heaven first.
Paul was the only one of all the inspired writers to refer to the third heaven. Most commentators view
the third heaven as a third level in the heavens that currently exists and to which believers are taken
when they die. It is seen as the place where the throne of God is.
There is some basis for believing that there are three heavens described in scripture. The first heaven
refers to the part of the earth’s atmosphere from which comes rain and in which the birds fly (Genesis
8:2; Deuteronomy 11:11; 28:24; Isaiah 55:10); the second heaven refers to all the host of heaven or
where the sun, moon and stars reside (Deuteronomy 4:19; 17:3; 2 Kings 23:5; Isaiah 13:10; Jeremiah
8:2; Revelation 12:1); and the third heaven refers to where God and His throne reside (Psalm 11:4;
Isaiah 66:1).
Interestingly, scientists have identified five spheres or “heavens” above our earth: the troposphere
(weather, clouds and birds), stratosphere (ozone layer), mesosphere, ionosphere (auroras), and the
exosphere, which leads to outer space. Adding outer space where the host of heaven resides and the
heaven of God's throne, one could argue that perhaps there are seven heavens, which is the number of
perfection of what is in view.
First heavens and earth: (5) For when they maintain this, it escapes their notice that by the word
of God the heavens existed long ago and the earth was formed out of water and by water, (6)
through which the world at that time was destroyed, being flooded with water (2 Peter 3:5-6
Second heavens and earth: But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for
ire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:7 NASB).
Judgment of the second heavens and earth: (10) But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in
which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense
heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. (11) Since all these things are to be
destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, (12)
looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be
estroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! (2 Peter 3:10-12 NASB).
Third heavens and earth: But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new
arth, in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13 NASB).
The third heavens and earth are what John and Paul saw as well: Then I saw a new heaven and a
new earth; for the first [former] heaven and the first [former] earth passed away, and there is no
onger any sea (Revelation 21:1 NASB). The word first can be translated former , meaning previous .
We have not been given a record of Peter being snatched away as Paul was or called up in spirit as
ohn was, but all three are in agreement, as it should be.
However, Paul and John stand out among the apostles for the revelations that they received. As
recorded in Revelation 21-22, John was caught away in spirit to perceive the Lord’s day, so was Paul
snatched away to see and hear the Lord’s day. In other words, Paul saw beyond the coming millennial
kingdom to the eon of the eons in which there is a new heaven and new earth, with New Jerusalem
coming down out of heaven, having the glory of God (Revelation 21:10-11). Just like Paul, John saw
he third heaven and paradise that Peter said we should hasten.
Since Paul was snatched away to the third heaven, the paradise that he was snatched away into, most
likely, is also in relation to the time of the third heaven, for this coincides with John’s vision on the isle of
atmos. When he was caught away to the third chronological heaven, he saw paradise.
N ow, what is paradise?
Paradise refers to a park, which is what the garden of Eden was before Adam disobeyed God’s one
command. In the book of consummation, the Revelation, we discover a garden as well, but it is
described as a city-garden (note the trees of life and the river of life), and it is called New Jerusalem .
As the new heaven and earth came into view, John saw this city coming down out of heaven, having
the glory of God. Undoubtedly, Paul saw this same view, but there is a difference in their experiences.
John was called "to come up here" to perceive it, but Paul was snatched away to and into it to hear it,
ut could not write what he saw. I believe Paul, like John, transcended time to see well into the future.
He did not directly offer any details of his experience; nevertheless, I believe Paul did indirectly write
about what he saw when he wrote of the New Creation in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15).
Paul was snatched away to see the New Creation, when all things are new (Revelation 21:5), which I
believe is paradise on the new earth. But the New Creation is about people, specifically the sons of
God. Thus, Paul saw the destiny of all the saints in Christ. But there was even more, for the New
Creation is ultimately about all mankind becoming sons. I believe that when he saw it, it took his breath
away. It was inexpressible. It must have been a shock for a Pharisaic Jew to learn that all mankind will
one day, but not all on the same day, be part of the New Creation. Glory to God!
The Upward Call: #05-1110 [518]
By: Stuart H. Pouliot
I believe Peter offers us another way to explain the third heaven. In his second epistle, Peter refers to
three different chronological heavens and earths, meaning that the heavens and earth pass through
three historical phases. This does not mean that each is an entirely new entity, as if the previous one
disappears. It means that the nature of each is different; that is, they are constituted differently.
onsider the progression presented by Peter.