Heaven is a term that has three distinct meanings in the Bible. It is most commonly known as the abode of God and the angels, and the final destination of all who have put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. The word heaven is also used in scripture to refer to the Earth's atmosphere, and again in reference to interstellar space.
There are several Hebrew words that have been translated as "heavens." Shamayim is a usual plural form meaning "heights" or "elevations." Also used is shahak meaning "sky", and rakia, which is typically regarded as a solid expanse as in Genesis 1:6 .
"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep: and the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light: and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good: and God divided the light from the darkness. And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, one day." - Genesis 1:1-5 (ASV)
The word Heaven is used on the second day of creation to refer to the firmament created by dividing the waters. However, there are no physical objects associated with the expanse formed by this action, and therefore, the word Heaven can not be defined with certainty. As such, there is some debate within the creation science community regarding what was created on this day.
"And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament: and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And there was evening and there was morning, a second day." - Genesis 1:6-8 (ASV)
Some hold that Earth's atmosphere was created by this expansion of the waters under from the waters above. In fact, the NIV Bible adds the word sky in place of Heaven in Genesis 1:8 . In contrast, Russell Humphreys asserts that this division began the expansion of the universe which continued until day 6, and the waters above the firmament are the boundary of the cosmos. Support for this latter position may be found in Psalm 148:4 , which says, Praise him, ye heavens of heavens, And ye waters that are above the heavens. The "heaven of heavens" are thought by most to be a reference to space (the realm of the stars), and this verse then implying the existence of water above these heavens.
The creations that occurred on Day 4 are clearly taking place within the firmament of heaven which includes the sun, moon, and stars. In this context, the word heaven is referring to the region we would call space.
"...and let them be for lights in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth: and it was so. And God made the two great lights; the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also. And God set them in the firmament of heaven to give light upon the earth, and to rule over the day and over the night, and to divide the light from the darkness: and God saw that it was good. And there was evening and there was morning, a fourth day." - Genesis 1:15-19 (ASV)
The creation of birds on Day 5 describes them as also flying in the firmament of heaven. Therefore in the context of this passage, the word Heaven is being used to refer to the Earth's atmosphere.
"And God said, Let the waters swarm with swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven." - Genesis 1:20 (ASV)
First and Second Heaven
The Bible refers to the spiritual heaven as the third heaven (see 2_Corinthians 12:2 ). In this context, the atmosphere (air) is considered to be the first heaven, with space (stars) being the second heaven or the heaven of heavens. This view originates before the middle ages, and was considered by Thomas Aquinas
"Behold, unto Jehovah thy God belongeth heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth, with all that is therein." - Deuteronomy 10:14 (ASV)
"But will God in very deed dwell on the earth? behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain thee; how much less this house that I have builded!" - 1_Kings 8:27 (ASV)
See also 2_Chronicles 6:18 (ASV).
"Thou art Jehovah, even thou alone; thou hast made heaven, the heaven of heavens, with all their host, the earth and all things that are thereon, the seas and all that is in them, and thou preservest them all; and the host of heaven worshippeth thee." - Nehemiah 9:6 (ASV)
"But who is able to build him a house, seeing heaven and the heaven of heavens cannot contain him? who am I then, that I should build him a house, save only to burn incense before him?" 2_Chronicles 2:6 (ASV)
The spiritual Heaven is referred to in the Bible as the third heaven, being distinct from the heaven (atmosphere) and the heaven of heavens (space). The spiritual heaven is the home of God and the final destination of all who have put their faith and trust in Jesus. This heaven existed before the six days of creation described in Genesis 1.
"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." - 2_Corinthians 12:2 (ASV)
In the time before the Crucifixion, believers did not go to heaven (John 3:13) because they were still under Adam's sin and had not been redeemed. Upon his Crucifixion, Jesus descended to Abraham's Bosom (Luke 16:22) to preach to spirits the Gospel, and that he was the fulfillment of the promise of a Messiah (1 Peter 3:18-19). Upon Christ's resurrection, these same spirits rose from their graves and walked around, and were seen by many (Matthew 27:53), ultimately ascending to heaven. Now when believers die, they are "absent from the body and to be present with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8).
House of God
"And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven." - Genesis 28:17
"Turn again, we beseech thee, O God of hosts: Look down from heaven, and behold, and visit this vine," - Psalm 80:14
"Thus saith Jehovah, Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool: what manner of house will ye build unto me? and what place shall be my rest?" - Isaiah 66:1
"Rejoice, and be exceeding glad: for great is your reward in heaven: for so persecuted they the prophets that were before you." - Matthew 5:12
"But of that day and hour knoweth no one, not even the angels of heaven, neither the Son, but the Father only." - Matthew 24:36