For years now I’ve been answering questions each week that people email me in relation to what I’m teaching or what they are learning about the things of God. Some I can answer quickly, others I spend more time on. I call this D-MAIL for discipleship mail. The blog is a perfect place for me to let many others in on what we are talking about so we can grow together in our understanding of God and Scripture. This question came via a recent comment on one of my Todd Bentley and the Florida Healing Outpouring blog posts.
QUESTION: Pastor Steve, I saw a teaching Bob Jones, Todd Bentley and Patricia King did on the third heaven. I searched the Bible on this and could find only one scripture (2 Corinthians 12:1-5) where Paul lightly touches on the third heaven, yet they have made whole teachings on how to get there etc. Could you explain to me if there are any other references to a third heaven in the Bible and what exactly are we talking about here and how it is possible that going up to the third heaven 3 times a day (as Bob Jones and Patricia King say they do) can be a better substitute than just reading and obeying Gods written Word?
MY RESPONSE: Paul’s reference to his third heaven experience rubber stamps (as being true and accurate) a whole other body of Jewish writing and tradition regarding a layered heavenly realm. A third heaven implies a first and a second. The ancient rabbi’s constructed a multi-layered world, sort of like a large onion composed of various layers with the physical world in which human beings lived at the center.
I’ll plop in a couple quotes here from other sources:
“These layers were called “firmament” or shamayim (heavens or sky) in the Old Testament or “heavens” in the New Testament era. There are many other non-Biblical books and writings that also describe these layers. This model was still in use in the Middle Ages (1400s AD) when Dante wrote of the various levels of heaven and hell. Most often this model contained seven heavens but in a few writings there were only three layers. Even though the number of layers was different these models of the universe shared some common traits. The lowest heaven, the core of the “onion,” is the visible physical world that all people can see.”
“The Bible refers to three “heavens.” We learn in Genesis chapter 1 verses 6 and 7 that God created the firmament. He called this firmament “heaven” in verse 8. The Sun and Moon were placed in part of it (verses 16 to 18), and birds fly in another part (verse 20). We would typically refer to these “two heavens” as outer space and our atmosphere. The third heaven (referred to in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 2-4 among other places), would be the spiritual realm where God and the angels reside.”
Other references to the third heaven are not as clear but include: Deuteronomy 10:14 and 1 Kings 8:27 . Those who talk about the third heaven have much more than one Scripture to base this on. But even if there was only one remote reference, it’s still there, it’s still God-breathed and useful for teaching.
In the 2 Corinthians 12 passage Paul speaks of these “surpassing great revelations” which, literally rendered reads “abundance of revelations.” It’s probable Paul had numerous and frequent experiences in the heavenly realms. Importantly, there is no verse that says this doesn’t happen today. In fact we are encouraged to set our minds on heavenly things (Col. 3:2) – it actually says set your affections on heavenly things. We need to love God and everything surrounding God in the heavenly places.
Scripture says we can approach the throne of grace with confidence (Heb. 4). Is the throne a literal place? I believe it is, though not in the natural realm. But, most only spiritualize this verse? Revelation 4 speaks of the throne and John describes it vividly (because Jesus invited him to “come up here” and see). We too need to press in with our praying to these real places in the heavenly realms. We are seated with Christ in these heavenly places. Timidity and hesitancy regarding heavenly places is not what God wants. The death of Jesus ripped the veil.
What I see going on is the “membrane” between the natural and supernatural worlds is very thin right now. Perhaps this is due to the prayer movement and the fervent seeking of God we see in our day. Many people are frequent in going back and forth between these realms. I’ve had a few experiences myself – they changed my life and I’d welcome them 10 times a day. Some days I just put my Bible on the table, close my eyes and seek his face. I’m thankful Todd Bentley is having heavenly experiences. These should be normal part of the Christian life. Why do we all sing – “open the eyes of my heart Lord I want to see you – high and lifted up, shining in the light of your glory” – and then write off Bentley and others as goofy because they speak of actually seeing with the eyes of the heart the Lord high and lifted up, shining in the Light of his glory?
Your comment about this perhaps being a substitute for reading and obeying God’s Word confuses me a bit. I don’t believe any of the people you mention would say heavenly experiences substitute or render unnessesary time in God’s Word. But, let’s be careful here. We don’t worship God’s Word – it merely reveals him. He is what we seek. We go to the Word for a greater revelation of Him. I love God’s Word because it’s from him, but he is the prize and time with him is to be sought. Trained as an evangelical, my testimony is that my Trinity used to be Father, Son and Holy Scriptures. I’m so thankful God released his Spirit into my life and awakened my heart to the reality of the spiritual realm. The stunning thing was to discover all this is in the Scriptures after all.
This will mess with some but Bentley says things like – “I receive more from one hour of soaking than I do reading fifty Bible chapters, because God instructs me in stillness.” Some read that and hear Bentley saying “we don’t need the Bible we just need to be with God.” Or worse, they mis-interpret him to say “what I’m getting from God is more important or authoritative than the Bible.” But he’s saying neither of these things. He’s not saying there is no need to read the Bible or that it’s okay if the Lord shows us something that contradicts the Bible. He’s merely underscoring the richness of time in the presence of God.
Jesus in John 5:39-40 referred to “those who diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.”