In Judaism, Christianity and Islam, the Third Heaven is a division of Heaven in religious cosmology. In some traditions it is considered the abode of God, and in others a lower level of Paradise, commonly one of seven.
The early books of the Tanakh reference Heaven (Heb. Shamayim), but not a Third Heaven or a specific number of heavens. Heaven is mentioned several times in the first chapter of Genesis. It appears in the first verse as a creation of God. His dividing the light from the darkness in verses 4 and 5 this has been interpreted as the separation of heaven into two sections: day (God's throne) and night (where our universe is contained). In verse 8 heaven refers to the atmosphere over the earth in which birds fly, and in verse 14 it's the setting for the celestial lights, later identified (verse 16) as the sun, moon and stars.
A third concept of Heaven, also called shamayi h'shamayim (שׁמי השׁמים or "Heaven of Heavens"), is mentioned in such passages as Genesis 28:12, Deuteronomy 10:14 and 1 Kings 8:27 as a distinctly spiritual realm containing (or being traveled by) angels and God.
The ambiguity of the term shamayim in the Hebrew Bible, and the fact that it's a plural word, give "heavens" various interpretations regarding its nature, notably the ascension of the prophet Elijah.
In the non-canonical Second Book of Enoch, Third Heaven is described as a location "between corruptibility and incorruptibility" containing the Tree of Life, "whereon the Lord rests, when he goes up into paradise." (chapter 8) Two springs in the Third Heaven, one of milk and the other of honey, along with two others of wine and oil, flow down into the Garden of Eden. (verse 6) In contrast with the common concept of Paradise, the Second Book of Enoch also describes a Third Heaven, "a very terrible place" with "all manner of tortures" in which merciless angels torment "those who dishonour God, who on earth practice sin against nature," including sodomites, sorcerers, enchanters, witches, the proud, thieves, liars and those guilty of various other transgressions. (chapter 10)
In the Slavonic version of the Greek Apocalypse of Baruch, also known as 3 Baruch, the author is shown a phoenix, and a dragon residing there is said to eat the bodies of "those that have spent their lives in evil."
In The Legends of the Jews by Louis Ginzberg, this third division of Paradise is said to be, like the other six, "twelve myriads of miles in width and twelve myriads of miles in length," built of silver and gold, and containing "the best of everything there is in heaven."
Aside from the redeemed, the transgressors and various angels mentioned in the Bible and other Hebrew literature, a number of specific figures and spirits are mentioned as residing in the Third Heaven. These include, by source, The Legends of The Jews by Louis Ginzberg:
- the Israelites of the Exodus
- the kings of Judah (notably David, but "with the exception of Manasseh, the son of Hezekiah, who presides in the second division, over the penitents")
An epistle of the Apostle Paul, included in the New Testament, contains an explicit reference to the Third Heaven. In a letter to the Corinthian church he writes, "I know a man in Christ" (usually interpreted as: himself) "who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell." (2 Corinthians 12:2–4) The Greek says "caught away", not "caught up" possibly reflecting Jewish beliefs that Paradise was somewhere other than the uppermost heaven.
The apparent parallelism of the passage equates the Third Heaven with "Paradise" the traditional destination of redeemed humans and the general connotation of the term "Heaven" in mainstream Christianity.
Four allusions to the Apocalypse of Moses occur in close proximity in 2 Corinthians. The allusions are (i) "Satan as an angel of light", (ii) the distinction of Satan and the serpent as two beings, (iii) "Third Heaven"  (iv) "Paradise", The connection to this Jewish material has led to discussion about whether Paul accepted these traditions, or alternatively whether Paul's vision of Third Heaven is a continuation of his conflict with the Superapostles in the previous chapter, and that the material comes not from his own teaching, but in reply to material similar to Apocalypse of Moses being transmitted by the Superapostles to the Corinthians. Whether this is so partly depends on whether irony is detected in this section. The relationship of Paul the Apostle and Judaism is still widely disputed.
New Testament apocrypha
- John the Baptist
Latter Day Saint movement
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that Heaven contains three degrees of glory; the third or highest heaven is called the Celestial Kingdom. Joseph Smith recorded revelations about this distinct teaching after meditating on the subject: "If God rewarded every one according to the deeds done in the body, the term ‘Heaven,’ as intended for the Saints' eternal home, must include more kingdoms than one."
According to Islamic tradition, Muhammad's Mi'raj (ascension through the heavens) included an admission to the Third Heaven by the angel Gabriel, in which he met Joseph, who received him warmly. Islamic tradition also places Azrael, the angel of death, in the Third Heaven. The third heaven is depicted as being constructed of pearl and/or other luminous metals.
- Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume VI (Acts to Revelation): Second Corinthians Chap. XII, Public domain, Library of Congress call no: BS490.H4, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library
- Ginzberg, Louis (1909) The Legends of the Jews, Chapter 1, at sacred-texts.com
- See a good Commentary on Youtube (Ruckman, Andrew Gen. 1 part 1)
- van der Toorn, Becking, van der Horst (1999), Dictionary of Deities and Demons in The Bible, Second Extensively Revised Edition, Entry: Heaven, pp. 388–390, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, ISBN 0-8028-2491-9
- Baruch, Apocalypse of at jewishencyclopedia.com
- E. W. Bullinger A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek "2, 14, To this "Third heaven" and " Paradise " Paul was caught away, 2 Cor. xii. 2, 4, (not " up," see under " catch,") in " visions and revelations of the Lord," 2 Cor. xii. 1. One catching away — with a double revelation of the New heaven and the ..."
- Lee Martin McDonald The Biblical Canon: Its Origin, Transmission, and Authority 1441241647 -2006 "; death as the separation of soul and body (2 Cor 5:1— 5; Apocalypse of Moses 31); Satan as an angel of light (2 Cor 11:14; Life ofAdam and Eve 9:1; Apocalypse of Moses 17:1); paradise located in the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2; ..."
- William R. Baker - Second Corinthians -1999 - Page 392 "11:14 And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. Paul's assigning of a role for ... Their modus operandi is deception just like the one for 51 Adam and Eve 9:1; Apocalypse of Moses 17:1-2. For summaries, see Furnish ..."
- David E. Garland – Second Corinthians 0805401296 1999 p 485 "Paul's uses a Hebraic idiom, “an angel of light,” to refer to Satan as a shining angel.264 The story in Genesis 3, ... ... does not explicitly mention Satan as an angel of light. Paul may allude to popular Jewish tradition. In the Apocalypse of Moses, Eve recalls her seduction: “Satan appeared in the form of an angel and sang hymns like the angels"
- William R. Baker 2 Corinthians 1999 p 392 Footnote: "Adam and Eve 9:1; Apocalypse of Moses 17:1–2"
- Gary A. Anderson, Michael E. Stone, Johannes Tromp Literature on Adam and Eve: collected essays 2000 p 54 "In Apocalypse of Moses 16:3 Satan talks to the serpent and encourages him to serve as the instrument of Eve's deception ... Satan deceives the serpent by the lying promise that if they (Satan and the serpent) expel Adam from the Garden,"
- Frank J. Matera II Corinthians: a commentary 2003 p 280 "... and the third heaven are identified in the Greek edition of The Life of Adam and Eve (=Apocalypse of Moses) 37:5"
- Christopher Rowland, Christopher R. A. Morray-Jones The mystery of God: early Jewish mysticism and the New Testament 2009 pp 394–395
- cf. discussion of irony and possible use of Apoc. Moses. in Martin, Ralph P. 2 Corinthians Word Biblical Commentary 40, Thomas Nelson 1st.Ed.1987, (2nd Ed. predicted 2010)
- Davidson, Gustav (1967), A Dictionary of Angels, Including The Fallen Angels, Entry: Third Heaven, Free Press, p. 288, Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 66-19757, ISBN 9780029070505
- Introduction to D&C 76
- Mi'raj at the Canadian Society of Muslims Website
- Al-Burhan fi Tafsir al-Qur'an. V. 5. p. 415.