Levels of Heaven?

Yesterday in Gathering, one of our guests raised the question about levels in heaven. Will people who have been more faithful as followers of Jesus on earth reside in "higher" levels of heaven? Are there degrees of rewards in heaven?

Here's a little insight I'll throw out there for you today. Let me know if you have any thoughts about it.

The idea of levels of heaven was not a distinctively first century, Christian idea. Paul hints at levels of heaven when he writes this to the Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 12:2-5 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. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell. I will boast about a man like that, but I will not boast about myself, except about my weaknesses.

Paul clearly means that "third heaven" is heaven itself. The "first heaven" in antiquity commonly meant the skies or the earth's atmosphere. The "middle heaven" if you will would be where the moon, stars, planets, etc traveled about. This doesn't really imply levels in heaven itself. It just means that heaven would somehow have to reside above the earth, above the skies, above outer space.

Later in church history, early fathers such as Justin Martyr, developed an entire cosmological system in response to Gnostic thinking about the universe, Satan, demons, angels and heaven. The diagram above represents some of the thinking on the part of early church apologists. Note the various levels and how they are grouped in a hierarchy starting with Hell building all the way to heaven. This is perhaps where we get ideas of levels.

Scripture itself never talks about levels IN heaven. The focus is on a place created by God in which God and his people will dwell eternally. There may be varying degrees of reward for the kinds of things people have done to serve God in their life-times. The bible speaks of crowns. Paul mentions our works being judged and found to be of varying qualities of significance (some will burn up, other will be refined like gold, silver, etc). No really "good seats" in heaven for really good Christians like Mark Ashton and the rest of us get so-so seating! In fact if it is a graded experience in any sense we might actually be surprised to find out what "the first shall be last and the last shall be first" is really all about.

Let me know what you think! In my next post, I'll give you a little more on Early Church Father cosmology....