Are Paul’s “third heaven” and Jesus’ “paradise” the same place? It would seem so. Paul wrote of his visionary experience this way: “I know a man in Christ 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 and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell” (NIV 12:1-4).
“The man in Christ,” as Paul refers to himself, has not arrived in a final place but in “the third heaven,” a place Paul also refers to as “paradise.” Enoch, whose existence is mentioned briefly in the book of Jude, also described “the Third Heaven” as a halfway place, a place “whereon the Lord rests, when he goes up into paradise” (Second Book of Enoch, chapter 8). That actually tends to match what Jesus said to the repentant man who was crucified next to him: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (NIV Luke 23:43).
So what do we get out of all of this? First, a “third heaven” supports the idea of an intermediate place, instead of a final place, after we die. These passages also draw a connection between that intermediate place and paradise. And they tell us that when we get there, the Lord will be there and so will other recognizable spiritual beings. Finally, Paul’s confusion about whether he was “in or out of the body” is not unlike some of the credible “near death experiences” (NDE’s) we read today—experiences where those who have died meet Jesus in an intermediate place. (Can Reincarnation and NDE’s Be Christian? 2016–chapter 10)
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