- Published: 14 April 2011
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We are enjoying your studies. Thank you for all your diligence.
We have commented on this lesson before, but seeing this has not been corrected we thought we should send this again.
The comment concerns the statement of John being caught up into the third heaven. Whereas it was Paul caught up. Would you please give reference for John's experience?
Would you also comment of the three earths?
God Bless your beautiful heart and thank you for writing. We hope the following teaching which are more in depth then the one your reference will help clear up the matter.
Shamayim. This Hebrew word is the one that is translated "heaven" or "heavens" in the O.T. except in those portions where the Chaldee equivalent shemayin is used (Ezra, Daniel and Jer. 10:11). The Hebrew shamayim occurs in the O.T. 419 times, of these, twenty-one occurrences are translated "air", as in Genesis 1:26. In the N.T. only one word, ouranos, is translated "heaven". This Greek word occurs over 280 times, of which "air" accounts for ten occurrences and "sky" for five. "The name 'heaven' in our own language has been explained, according to its etymology, that which is heaved or lifted up, and a similar origin has been assigned to the Greek ouranos, and the Hebrew shamayim" (Imp. Bib. Dic.). Whether the translation reads "heaven" or "heavens", the word is always plural in the original. This no more indicates a plurality of "heavens" than the plural Elohim "God" indicates a plurality of Gods. There is a use of the plural in the Hebrew language known as "The Plural of Majesty" as, for example, "the sacrifices of God" in Psalm 51:17, which means "the great sacrifice".
Creation is divided into two parts, "heaven and earth" (Gen. 1:1), which in Colossians 1:16 is expanded to mean "all things visible and invisible", and the term "heaven" may include thrones, dominions, principalities and powers, as well as physical sun, moon and stars. Heaven is often used as a symbol of authority, for example, when Nebuchadnezzar learned "that the heavens do rule" (Dan. 4:26). The superiority of the heavens to the earth is expressed in the words "on high" (Luke 1:78, Heb. 1:3), "height" (Isa. 7:11, Psa. 148:1, Prov. 25:3). It is possible that, after Genesis 1:1, there are but nine or ten references to "heaven itself", i.e. the heaven of Genesis 1:1, in the whole of the O.T. This can be put to the test by reading the book of Genesis, and noting every allusion to "heaven". We" read of the waters that are under heaven, lights in the firmament of heaven, fowl that fly in the "air", the windows of heaven opened at the deluge, Abraham directed to look toward heaven, to the countless number of the stars, but no passage demands that the term "heaven" should be interpreted of the heaven of Genesis 1:1. We cannot print here the 419 references to heaven, but we can print the nine or ten references that look beyond the present limited firmament.
- "Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heavens is the Lord's thy God" (Deut. 10:14).
Even when we bring these passages forward, they only emphasize the fact that "the heaven" of the O.T. was the "firmament" of Genesis 1:8, stretched out like a curtain or a tent for God to dwell in (Isa. 40:22), and any reference in Psalm or Prophecy that speaks of heaven as God's "dwelling place" refers to this tabernacle formed by the firmament. When we open the N.T. it is pardonable if we there expect to find a great advance upon this limitation of the term "heaven". Twelve times do we read in Matthew of the "Father which is in heaven", but we also read that the heavens were opened at the baptism of the Lord, that the heavens are to pass away, and unless it is a matter beyond dispute that "angels" inhabit the heaven of heavens, we shall find no instance in the gospel of Matthew of a reference to any other "heaven" than the firmament of Genesis 1:8.
We have to wait until we reach the gospel of John for any explicit reference to the highest heavens, and there the Saviour speaks of ascending up to heaven to where He was before (John 3:13, 6:62), to the glory that He had "before the world was" (John 17:5). In these few references is contained practically all that is said of the "heavens" of Genesis 1:1 in the four gospels. The only calling and company, hope and sphere of blessing, that pierces the present firmament above us and ascends to where Christ sits at the right hand of God, is the Church of the Mystery. Christ is set forth, in Ephesians 4:10, as having ascended "far above all heavens" yet revealed as seated at the right hand of God "in the heavenly places". These heavenly places therefore must be above the limitations of the outstretched heavens. This is not invalidated by the fact that the selfsame sphere is called in Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians "heaven", for we must not allow ourselves to rob "heaven itself" of its true title, simply because we have used it so often of the limited firmament. In connexion with this same calling Christ can be said to be both "far above all the heavens" yet "in heaven" at the right hand of God.
There are eleven references to "heaven" in the epistle to the Hebrews, one only speaks of "heaven itself", the others refer to the lesser and lower heavens. For the heavens created as recorded in Hebrews 1:10 are to "perish", but this can never be said of "heaven itself", Christ is said to have "passed through the heavens", dierchomai (Heb. 4:14), and as being made "higher than the heavens" (Heb. 7:26), without involving any contradiction in the saying that He Who passed through the heavens and was made higher than the heavens, was at the selfsame time depicted as entering "heaven itself" (Heb. 9:24). The contradiction only exists in our minds if we fail to distinguish the heaven of the beginning, Genesis 1:1 from the heaven of the ages, Genesis 1:8. The only references to the heavens of Genesis 1:1 that are found in the remainder of the N.T. are those of Peter and of the Revelation, which speak of a new heaven and a new earth (2 Pet. 3:13, Rev. 21:1).
The new heavens and the new earth spoken of by Isaiah are related to Jerusalem (Isa. 65:17,18). Where we read in Revelation twenty-one of a "first heaven" and a "first earth" the word translated "first", protos, is rendered in verse 4 "the former things", and we should possibly translate Revelation 21: 1 "the former heaven and the former earth", the reference to "no more sea" being an evident allusion to Genesis 1:2. In connection with the subject before us, let us turn to the words of Paul as found in 2 Corinthians 12:1-4. In direct connection with the visions and revelations which he had received he refers to an extraordinary experience. Whether he was "in the body or whether out of the body" he could not tell, but he did know that he had been caught up to the third heaven . . . caught up into paradise.
First, we must be clear as to the meaning of the term "caught up". The word "up" in this passage has no equivalent in the Greek, and to attempt to make it have any bearing upon the subject betrays as much ignorance of the original as would be betrayed by anyone seeking to extract the idea of direction upward, from such idiomatic phrases of the English language as "shut up", "wash up", "lock up" and the like. We can omit the word "up", for the Greek word arpazo is translated "take by force", "catch away", "pluck", "caught away" and "pull". The phrase "in the body" translates en somati, which is very like the phrase en pneumati "in spirit" used of the occasion when John was translated to the Day of the Lord (Rev. 1:10). The closest parallel is that of the experience of Philip, who was "caught away" by the spirit of the Lord, and was "found at Azotus", some miles away.
It is evident that the third heaven to which Paul was caught away was Paradise, otherwise his reiteration would need a deal of explanation. Paradise has been located in different regions by different teachers, mainly in accord with their peculiar beliefs concerning the intermediate state. If we keep close to the Scriptural meaning of Paradise we shall know that it is derived from the Hebrew pardes (Neh. 2:8, Song of Sol. 4:13) and means "a garden or orchard", and when we meet the word in the book of Revelation, it has no connection whatever with an intermediate state but is still a garden and orchard, it is indeed the garden of Eden restored and extended.
In what way, we may ask, can this Paradise at the end of the age be in any way related to the "third" heaven? If we count the third heaven as being like the third story of a building, it will certainly appear incongruous. But Revelation twenty-one has already spoken of "a new earth" and a "former earth", consequently it would be true to say, even as Peter in 2 Peter three has indicated, that there was a first heaven, in the beginning (Gen. 1:1); a second heaven, at the making of the earth ready for man (Gen. 1:8); a third heaven, at the end when redemption shall be finished (Rev. 21:1). It was to this "heaven" and this "paradise" that Paul was caught away, and as he stresses more than any other writer in the N.T. the blessings of the New Creation, it is quite understandable that this great goal of the ages, should be associated by him with the visions and revelation he had received in connection with his apostleship.
The great lesson that forces itself upon our attention, however, is the fact that, apart from Paul's ministry, and especially his prison ministry , there is scarcely any reference in the Scriptures, either Old or New, to the heaven of Genesis 1:1. The hope of the Mystery alone pierces the intervening firmament and places the believer "far above all" even where Christ sits at the right hand of God.
Hebrew or Aramaic words employed.
- Adamah, Gen. 1:25.
- Ara, Dan. 2:35.
- Erets, Gen. 1:1.
- Arqa, Jer. 10:11.
- Cheres, Lev. 15:12.
- Yabbesheth, Dan. 2:10.
- Aphar, Gen. 26:15.
Greek words employed:
- Ge, Matt. 5:5.
- Oikoumene, Luke 21:26.
- Ostrakinos, 2 Tim. 2:20.
- Katachthonios, Phil. 2:10.
Some of these words, though listed, will not detain us, for they are not used in any way that impinges upon Dispensational Truth. For example the word used by the Chaldeans in Daniel 2:10 means the dry as distinct from the sea (Psa. 95:5). Ara and arqa are Chaldean variants of the Hebrew erets. The peculiar thing to note concerning Jeremiah 10:11 which uses both ara and arqa, is that this one verse in Jeremiah is written in Chaldee instead of Hebrew, as though this verse were intended as a very definite witness that Israel should make during their captivity. Cheres refers to earthenware, and aphar means dust (Gen. 18:27). The word adamah is rendered by the Septuagint ge, even as is the Hebrew word erets, but adamah applies more particularly to the substance of the earth, the soil, the mould, although, by a well-used figure, extending the meaning of the word to include a region, land or tract of country. So we read: There was not a man to till the ground (Gen. 2:5). It was the ground that was cursed, and when Cain bemoaned that he was cursed from the earth it is the ground still that is in mind.
Erets. This is the word that is mostly translated earth. Usage employs this word in a variety of ways:
- The earth, as opposite to heaven, Genesis 1:1. In Genesis 2:4 heaven and earth comprise the universe. By the figure of synecdoche (see The Companion Bible, Appendix 6) the word is used for the inhabitants of the earth (Gen. 9:19).
- The earth, land or continent as opposite to the sea (Gen. 1:28).
- A land or a country. The whole land of Havilah (Gen. 2:11), The land of Nod, Unto thy seed will I give this land etc., Get thee out of thy country (Gen. 12:1). Very often erets and haerets are used of Palestine, as The land of all lands (Joel 1:2).
- A piece of land, land belonging to a village or city (Gen. 23:15).
- The ground as in Genesis 18:2, but not quite in the same sense as the ground or soil represented by adamah.
- The earth, as distinguished from the heavens (Matt. 5:18; 6:10).
- The dry land as distinct from the seas (Luke 5:11).
- A particular tract of land, a country (Matt. 2:6).
- The land of Palestine in particular (Acts 7:3,4).
- Land for cultivation (Matt. 13:5; Heb. 6:7).
- The ground in general (Matt. 10:29; 25:18).
- Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness (2 Pet. 3:13).
- And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea (Rev. 21:1).
The term earth must often be used with limitation when interpreting th e Scriptures, and much misunderstanding will arise if this limitation be forgotten or ignored. The emphasis that a spiritualizing system of interpretation laid upon heaven has robbed the believer of the joy of remembering that this earth itself will not be abandoned by the Lord, but will be a sphere of blessing in the days to come. This spiritualizing of terms has found a place even in a Greek lexicon which is open before us at the moment. It reads against the Greek ge, The land of Canaan, but figuratively and spiritually denoting heaven, Matthew 5:5. According to this method of interpretation the words of the Lord, the meek shall inherit the EARTH mean, that they will inherit HEAVEN! This of course we only quote to repudiate as both absurd and harmful. There is practically nothing said in the gospel according to Matthew of any believer going to heaven, the prayer of that period includes the petition, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on EARTH as it is in heaven.
The heavenly and the super-heavenly callings are the subject of further revelation, made known in the epistles and in the book of the Revelation, and it is the essence of true interpretation to keep these callings distinct. Those who read these words to-day have no connection with the earth as a sphere of future blessing, and the consideration of this subject is only of service as a part of the greater study of the different spheres and callings of which the earth is but one, and apart from its relationship with the heavenly spheres and callings, it need not have been included in this analysis, as the earthly sphere and calling of the Scriptures is practically unknown in the Scriptures that relate to the present dispensation. Before leaving this word earth we will use its varied meanings to illustrate the parallel variety of uses that we find of the word heaven, on the principle that we should proceed from the known to the unknown.
The reader should know, but he may need reminding, that a concordance is a human invention, and should therefore be treated as such. A concordance deals simply with the occurrences of words, and it is entirely outside its scope to deal with the meaning of words. Further, while it is a good servant, it is a bad master. Let us show what we mean. We turn to any concordance and open at the word ge. We note that the occurrences occupy several columns of print. We are assured that we have before us every occurrence of the word ge. So far, so good. But what do we know about this word? We notice that the first occurrence in the New Testament reads the ge of Judah (Matt. 2:6), and we might (if we did not already know better) think that ge was something particularly connected with the Jews.
The next reference is more extended but not fundamentally different. The ge of Israel (Matt. 2:20). We cannot here go through the 251 occurrences, so we omit a few lines and at Matthew 5:5 read, they shall inherit the ge while at Matthew 13:5 we read, of seed, that it had no deepness of ge. We pass over the gospels and our eye lights on 1 Corinthians 15:47, the first man is of the ge. We glance at Hebrews, where we find that In the beginning the Lord laid the foundations of the ge (Heb. 1:10), and that this ge drinketh in the rain (Heb. 6 :7), that if the Lord were on ge He would not be a Priest (Heb. 8:4), and that Israel were led out of the ge of Egypt (Heb. 8:9).
The reader, however, is not misled by this assortment. He knows that the one word ge denotes the earth as distinct from heaven, the ground into which the seed may be sown, or any particular land, whether of Judah, Egypt or elsewhere. But the reader should remember that he does not get this from the concordance. A spirit being, wishing to convince other spirit beings, who had no personal acquaintance with the earth, that these various meanings of the one word were fantastic and untrue, might impress some of his hearers by a formidable concordance of passages. To us it would prove nothing, but to them it might prove an end of all argument.
Now let us reverse the point of view and ask, what do we know of heaven by acquaintance with it? Is it all one undivided space? Is there a top and bottom to it? Can it be measured by miles? Is it three-dimensional space? Is there anything outside or over heaven? If so, can anything that is over the heavens also be spoken of as in heaven? How can we answer? If at this point another, equally ignorant by acquaintance with the heavens, should produce a concordance of occurrences of the word heaven, the long list of words might impress the fearful, but it would no more prove anything about heaven than the list of occurrences of the word ge proved that land and ground and earth were all one and the same in meaning and intention.
Let us now come from the known to the less known, and the unknown. Let us turn from ge earth to ouranos heaven. The concordance presents u s with a list of 283 occurrences. Let us proceed as we did with ge.
- The kingdom of ouranos (plural) is at hand (Matt. 3:2).
- Behold the fowls of the ouranos (sing.) (Matt. 6:26).
- The ouranos (sing.) is red and lowring (Matt. 16:3).
- The stars shall fall from ouranos (sing.) (Matt. 24:29).
- The ouranos (sing.) gave rain (Jas. 5:18).
- Descending out of ouranos (sing.) from God (Rev. 21:10).
Now, just as, from one point of view, a Jew living at Jerusalem could be described as living in (en) the ge (in the land), he could also be described as living upon (epi) the ge (on the surface on the earth) without involving a contradiction. So also, and in a greater number of ways, can the heaven be spoken of without confusion and contradiction.
All God's Blessings,