I have been attending church for over six decades and have never heard a minister mention the “third heaven” as discussed in 2 Corinthians 12:2 or the “second death” as foretold in Chapters 2 and 20 of Revelation. Since the Bible discusses “heavens” in many parts of the Bible from Genesis forward, I briefly wondered why preachers never brought this subject up. But then I realized that it would be controversial, perhaps even causing a loss of membership at that church.
Most Christians believe that Jesus died for their sins, so that they will have no consequences awaiting them in the afterlife. Unfortunately for them, this is only part of the Bible’s story. The Bible makes it clear that the first heaven is very accessible to believers through the sacrifice of Jesus and the grace of God. But what is the second heaven?
There is no second heaven discussed in the Bible, but the second death is mentioned in Revelation four times (Rev 2:11, 20:6, 20-14, and 21:8). Revelation is not easy reading, but it states that the second death is into the lake of fire based on the things you have done during life, Rev 20:13-15. The Bible merely provides consequences for bad decisions. It seems to state that if you were not deceived by the Devil and you did well, you would have a “first resurrection” (Rev 20:6); but if you were deceived and did not do so well, then you would be tossed into the lake of fire along with Satan (Rev 20:14). The first resurrection should be into the new or second heaven since Revelation 21:1 describes the first heaven passing away at this point in time, leading to the second heaven.
In effect, the first death is not fixed in stone as the believers and nonbelievers are separated by a chasm. The Devil will have an opportunity to deceive the believers until the second death becomes permanent, when all those who have been adjudged as deficient will fall into the lake of fire, Sheol. The Bible also mentions the destruction of the heavens by fire before reaching a new or second heaven. 2 Peter 3:12-13.
The third heaven is probably not a place. Paul describes it as possibly an “out of the body” experience. 2 Corinthians 12:3. The Bible also says that the kingdom of God, probably the third heaven, is “within you.” Luke 17:21.
In conclusion, the first heaven is probably the one that all Christians believe they will reach through God’s grace and the sacrifice of Jesus. Then we undergo a more difficult test with a judgment being rendered based on our works during life. It is a pass-fail test. If you fail, you receive a second death in the bowels of Hell. If you pass, you go to the second heaven where the final test is taken.
One of my ministers, who agreed to talk with me about the third heaven privately, told me that the third heaven is a final goal of returning to the Garden of Eden. The final test provides an opportunity for us to improve ourselves even more as we attempt to reach the last heaven, which is God’s kingdom. The Bible is not specific about the requirements for the final exam.