“I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the THIRD HEAVEN” (2 Cor. 12:2).
In our last message we looked at the significance of the third day in God’s kingdom program. Every son of God who desires to lay hold of their inheritance in Christ must be awakened to the realities of the third day. All our former spiritual experiences in Passover and Pentecost are fragmentary expressions of Christ – possession of the earnest (down payment) of our inheritance. But, eye has not seen, nor ear heard, neither has entered into the hearts of man, the things God has prepared for His sons in this third day. Our deep yearning, our daily travail is to possess all the unsearchable riches hidden in Christ as we walk in His fullness of this new day.
It is in this spirit that Paul shares about the experiences of the third heaven. According to commentaries, the Jews of Paul’s day made a distinction between “the supreme heaven, the middle heaven, and the lower heaven”. The supreme heaven referred to the highest world, hidden, prized, and closed off from being known. The widely accepted teaching of the Church about these three heavens claims: the first heaven is the area where the birds fly (atmospheric heaven), the second heaven is the area above this where the sun and the moon and the stars are (stellar heaven), and lastly, the third heaven is where God resides. Such understanding falls far short of the deeper mysteries of the truth of God’s word.
We should settle in our minds that our omnipresent God is the God of all the heavens. He fills and rules every heaven. “He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things” (Eph. 4:10). He has filled all the heavens so that God in Christ is experienced in different degrees in every heaven. Therefore, the heavens are levels of spiritual experience where we encounter and know God in different measures.
Although the phrase “third heaven” is only mentioned once, it is disclosed to us in other ways throughout scripture. The third day, the third feast, the third section of the tabernacle, the third part of man (spirit) all relay one and the same thing – the third heaven. These are not confined spaces but indicate height, elevation, eminence in God. Thus, Hosea declares: “After two days will He revive us: in the third day He will raise us up, and we shall live in his sight” (Hos. 6:2).
The fact that Paul refers to the third heaven as paradise has led many to believe that he was speaking of a literal location. But, I reiterate that Paul was speaking of a realm of spiritual attainment where man is raised up to possess a higher dimension of Christ’s life. The expression, “you have been RAISED UP with Christ” (Col. 3:1) is a figure of speech signifying our spiritual position in Christ. This means that we have been elevated to the same state of glorification and co-heirship with Jesus Christ. It has nothing to do with physically being raptured through the clouds. As we go on to read Colossians 3:2, we see more clearly how we are raised up: “set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth”. We are raised up in our mind – in our thinking, understanding and consciousness. Is this not why we are encouraged to continually repent (change our mind) in order to put on the mind of Christ? The message is just this: be raised up in your thinking and affections to mind the things of the third heaven.
I’m sure most of you who read these lines have already experienced the first and second heavens. The first heaven corresponds to our “born again” experience in the Outer Court of the Tabernacle. The second heaven relates to the Holy Place, where we experience the baptism of the Holy Spirit and become infilled with Spirit and experience the power of His indwelling life. The third heaven corresponds to the Most Holy – the realm where we begin to hear the voice of the seventh trumpet declaring the fullness of God’s dominion within.
So glorious was the experience of this man who was caught up to third heaven that the apostle Paul saw it fitting to boast about it. There has been much contention about who this man is, many believing that Paul was speaking of himself. But, it matters little who this man was. What is more important is for us to recognize all that is possible for those who find their reality in Christ, even while in the body. Dear saint, do you see yourself in this man? Surely, He represents you and I. He represents every son who has been raised up to the highest heaven to live in the sight of the Lord.
Notice also that in testifying about this man, Paul does not mention what he saw in the third heaven, but what he heard. Paul testifies that this man was caught up into paradise, and heard utterances beyond the power of man to put into words, and which were indeed unlawful for man to utter. He heard the sound of the third heaven. He heard “unspeakable words (rhema)”. He heard the living voice of divine revelation too lofty for natural man to hear or comprehend. He heard words that only the circumcised ears of the apprehended can hear. Here then is an indicator of which heaven one walks in. A person lives in the heaven they hear out of. This is why sharing what one has heard in the third heaven to another who dwells in a lower realm is difficult. This is why many who congregate in church today cannot hear the message which we now declare.
One has to be caught up to a higher realm in order to hear the sounds of that realm. Both Ezekiel and John testify of this experience. Ezekiel affirms: “the Spirit LIFTED ME UP, AND I HEARD behind me a great thunderous voice: ‘Blessed is the glory of the Lord from His place!’ I also heard the noise of the wings of the living creatures that touched one another, and the noise of the wheels beside them, and a great thunderous noise” (Eze. 3:12). Similarly, John was caught up in the spirt as a door was opened in heaven and the first thing he experienced was a voice like a trumpet talking with him (Rev. 4:1). As you ascend to the heights and eminence of His presence in the midst of the throne, rest assured that God will open your spiritual ears to hear utterances beyond the power of man to put into words.
I’m sure most of us have heard various testimonies of individuals who have had heavenly visitations. But, there is one thing I have noticed about these testimonies – they are often accounts of what these people saw rather than what they heard. These folks often testify about how beautiful heaven is, paining images in our minds of a blissful place called heaven. But, despite the countless testimonies of this kind, no divine revelation that has shifted the paradigm of the church has come from such experiences. Surely, this is not what Paul meant by being “caught up to the third heaven”. Paul was not boasting about a man who came back to sketch vivid descriptions of scenic landscapes. What use is it to us to hold on to such images while we remain spiritual infants. But, once you lay hold of the essence behind these representations, which are mere shadows, then the Lord will darken them.
You will notice that there is no natural light source (i.e. sun or candlesticks) in the Most Holy. It is pitch dark. This is why Solomon referred to the Lord as dwelling in thick darkness (1 Kin. 8:12). The Psalmist also writes: “He made darkness his secret place, His pavilion round about Him were dark waters and thick clouds of the skies” (Psal. 18:11). This imagery depicts God’s holy presence. When the tabernacle was constructed, the Lord covered it with the cloud of His glory. Inside, the Most Holy was enclosed with a thick veil so that no natural light (natural understanding) could enter.
The most holy bespeaks a realm of spiritual experience where we no longer walk under the faculties of the natural mind. As we step into the Most Holy, the Lord darkens (makes obsolete) all the outward forms and traditions of religion that we depended on to commune with Him. God stands alone as our all in all without any natural intermediary. The shekinah glory of His presence becomes our only source of light. Only then can we truly testify that the Lord is our light. Dear saint, it’s time to encounter the Lord that dwells in thick darkness.
Therefore, an important dealing of the Lord in the third heaven is to purge our mind from every carnal and religious corruption that pollutes His temple. Again, He does this by His word. He sanctifies and cleanses us by the washing of water by the word (Gal. 5:26). The highest heaven is a realm in which God speaks strong words, testing words, transforming words, to those who can bear to hear it. For “out of the throne proceeds lightnings and thunderings and voices” (Rev. 4:1). He shakes not only our earth but also our heaven (Heb. 12:26). He disrupts our ideological dogmatism, wrecks our fleshly doctrines, darkens our natural understanding, and unlocks the faculties of our spirit to hear and see Him in all His glory. He does all this right here in our earthly habitation.
It’s high time to awake from the delusion that religion has fed us. We have to move on from every supply, every illumination of yesteryear, and everything we have experienced and attained to in the lower realms of the first two heavens. For only the third heaven can permanently change the conditions of our earth. This is a realm that is only experienced in the inward man of your spirit. Look not to some far-away utopia. Heaven is His throne in you. And it is from His throne in you that His life and power flow.
Lord, open the ears of your people to hear those unspeakable words of the third heaven and help us to manifest the fruits of this new day that men may encounter your kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. Amen.