1. First Level: The lowest level in heaven is often associated with the general state of salvation. This level represents those who have accepted Christ as their savior and received the gift of eternal life, but may have had a limited impact or
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The concept of levels in heaven is a fascinating aspect of biblical theology, offering glimpses into the divine order and the multifaceted nature of the spiritual realm. While the Bible provides limited explicit details on the hierarchical structure of heaven, various passages offer insights into different heavenly realms and the beings that inhabit them. In this exploration, we embark on a journey through the scriptures to unravel the layers of heaven as depicted in the Bible.
Are there different levels of heaven? Are there three heavens?
The closest thing Scripture says to there being different levels of heaven is found in 2 Corinthians 12:2, “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.” Some interpret this as indicating that there are three different levels of heaven: a level for “super-committed Christians” or Christians who have obtained a high level of spirituality, a level for “ordinary” Christians, and a level for Christians who did not serve God faithfully. This view has no basis in Scripture.
Paul is not saying that there are three heavens or even three levels of heaven. In many ancient cultures, people used the term heaven to describe three different “realms”—the sky, outer space, and then a spiritual heaven. Paul was saying that God took him to the “spiritual” heaven—the realm beyond the physical universe where God dwells. The concept of different levels of heaven may have come in part from Dante’s The Divine Comedy in which the poet describes both heaven and hell as having nine different levels. The Divine Comedy, however, is a fictional work. The idea of different levels of heaven is foreign to Scripture.
Scripture does speak of different rewards in heaven. Jesus said regarding rewards, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12). Since Jesus will be distributing rewards on the basis of what we have done, we can safely say that there will be a time of reward for believers and that the rewards will differ somewhat from person to person.
Only those works that survive God’s refining fire have eternal value and will be worthy of reward. Those valuable works are referred to as “gold, silver, and costly stones” (1 Corinthians 3:12) and are those things that are built upon the foundation of faith in Christ. Those works that will not be rewarded are called “wood, hay, and stubble”; these are not evil deeds but shallow activities with no eternal value. Rewards will be distributed at the “judgment seat of Christ,” a place where believers’ lives will be evaluated for the purpose of rewards. “Judgment” of believers never refers to punishment for sin. Jesus Christ was punished for our sin when He died on the cross, and God said about us: “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). What a glorious thought! The Christian need never fear punishment, but can look forward to crowns of reward that he can cast at the feet of the Savior. In conclusion, there are not different levels of heaven, but there are different levels of reward in heaven.
Does heaven have different levels?
The Bible speaks of only one eternal home for believers in which all of God’s people will ultimately dwell with Him forever. However, there has been much confusion on this topic due to a passage in 2 Corinthians 12 in which Paul speaks of a third heaven. What did he mean by this?
Although stated in an anonymous fashion (v. 2), it appears clear that Paul spoke of himself when discussing his vision of the third heaven. In it, he made reference to the cultural idea that included three levels of “heaven.” The first level referred to the sky. In fact, the Greek and Hebrew words for heaven and sky are the same. The second level referred to the night skies or what we would call outer space. The third heaven referred to the unseen heaven where God dwells with His people.
In addition to this passage, many people have been confused about levels of heaven because of the popular writing by Dante called the Divine Comedy. In it, he describes nine levels of heaven with details regarding each level. This writing, though creative, is a work of fiction and is not to be accepted as the teachings of the Bible.
Further, many other religious movements speak of multiple levels of heaven or the afterlife. For example, the Mormon Church (LDS) has a concept of the afterlife that includes more than one level of what would be considered heaven. The Mormon Church teaches that there are three levels of the afterlife called the celestial kingdom, the terrestrial kingdom, and the telestial kingdom. Mormon doctrine teaches that the celestial kingdom is the third heaven mentioned in 2 Corinthians 12, is reached by the most faithful Mormons and children who die before the age of 8 years old, and is where both God the Father and Jesus Christ dwell. However, no such thing is taught in the Bible.
While there are many views of heaven and the afterlife found in cultural and religious teachings, the Bible presents only two places in the afterlife—heaven and hell—and does not teach multiple levels of heaven. All of God’s people will dwell in God’s presence forever.
Heavenly Hierarchies: Exploring the Levels in Heaven as Depicted in the Bible
1. The Third Heaven – 2 Corinthians 12:2:
- The Apostle Paul, in 2 Corinthians 12:2 (NIV), makes a cryptic reference to the “third heaven,” alluding to different levels or dimensions within the heavenly realm. Though the Bible doesn’t explicitly define the first and second heavens, this mention suggests a hierarchical structure or at least a distinction between various heavenly spheres.
2. The Heavenly Courts – Psalm 82:1:
- Psalm 82:1 (NIV) offers a glimpse into a celestial courtroom, presenting the concept of divine assemblies or councils in heaven: “God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the gods.” This verse hints at a heavenly hierarchy where God, as the ultimate authority, presides over divine beings.
3. Seraphim and Cherubim – Isaiah 6:1-4; Ezekiel 10:1-22:
- Isaiah 6:1-4 and Ezekiel 10:1-22 provide vivid descriptions of angelic beings known as seraphim and cherubim. These majestic creatures, with multiple wings and distinct roles, are often associated with the heavenly throne room. Their presence suggests hierarchical roles and a divine order within the heavenly host.
4. Archangels – Michael and Gabriel:
- The Bible introduces two archangels, Michael and Gabriel, who are prominent figures in heavenly narratives. Michael is described as an archangel who leads angelic armies in spiritual warfare (Daniel 12:1; Revelation 12:7). Gabriel serves as a messenger delivering important announcements, such as the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus (Luke 1:19, 26). The existence of archangels implies a hierarchical structure within the angelic realm.
5. The Heavenly Jerusalem – Revelation 21:2:
- Revelation 21:2 (NIV) describes the descent of the “Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” The imagery of the heavenly Jerusalem suggests a celestial city, possibly representing a distinct level or dimension within the heavenly realms.
6. Thrones, Dominions, and Powers – Colossians 1:16; Ephesians 1:21:
- Colossians 1:16 and Ephesians 1:21 mention various heavenly ranks such as thrones, dominions, and powers. While the specifics of these ranks are not extensively detailed, the inclusion of such terms implies a structured hierarchy among spiritual beings in the heavenly realms.
7. The Highest Heaven – Psalm 115:16; Psalm 148:4:
- Psalm 115:16 and Psalm 148:4 emphasize that “the highest heavens belong to the Lord.” This suggests that there are different levels or dimensions within the heavenly realm, with the highest heaven being the dwelling place of God Himself.
- While the Bible provides glimpses and hints regarding levels in heaven, the specifics of the heavenly hierarchy remain largely shrouded in mystery. The scriptures portray a celestial order with divine assemblies, angelic beings, and heavenly dimensions, suggesting a nuanced and intricate structure within the spiritual realm. As believers explore these passages, they are invited to marvel at the divine mysteries, recognizing that the full understanding of heavenly levels awaits the eternal revelation promised in God’s Word.