Are there different levels of heaven?

Dante’s famous work “Inferno” describes a man’s journey through hell. As he travels he descends deeper and deeper into torment, each level worse than the one before it. This depiction of hell has caused many to wonder if the Bible teaches that there are various levels of hell. A natural second question follows, are there levels of heaven? Is heaven arranged so that those who lived best during this life get the greatest joys in heaven?

After death the Christian will stand before the Judgment Seat of Christ. This judgment will be an examination of the Christian’s service after salvation. After the individual gives an account of how he has served, “he shall receive a reward.” (2 Corinthians 3:14) The Bible promises various rewards to the faithful Christian including crowns, rich clothing, precious stones and favor with God.

The rewards given to saints probably will be all returned to Jesus. Revelation 4 describes a group of 24 elders seated before the throne of God in heaven. They have crowns of gold given to them, but they take their crowns off and throw them at the foot of God’s throne, declaring that to God alone belongs glory and honor. Though the Bible does not say this specifically, it seems likely that all Christians will return their rewards to One who gave them eternal life. Certainly, the cry of every believer in heaven will be, “Not unto us, O LORD, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.” (Psalm 115:1)

Likely there will be various positions of service in eternity. In Revelation 2 and 3 Jesus promises that certain saints will be “pillars in the temple of God” (Revelations 3:12) and others will be given “power over nations.” (Revelation 2:26) Possibly every one in eternity will be given a specific of responsibility. Some may serve before God’s throne, some may serve on the New Earth and some may serve in the New Jerusalem. Whatever the responsibility may be, it is certain that every task will be full of joy. The drudgery of work is part of the curse of sin. When the curse of sin is removed, work will never be misery. Work will be delight, and the redeemed will bring the glory and honor of their work to God. (Revelation 21:26)

The eternal condition of the saved will be one of great joy. The joy of every believer is, “God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them.” (Revelation 22:3) In eternity all the redeemed will have access to the presence of God, to the city of God and to the tree of life. The Bible does not teach that some Christians will have greater favor or greater blessing in eternity. There may be different positions of service, but none have less access to the presence of God which is the true joy of heaven.

The truths of rewards in heaven are taught in Scripture to motivate us to faithful service for the Lord. Those who are not faithful will have nothing to present to their Savior. They will be saved, but will stand before Him ashamed and empty handed. Let us therefore “labor, that, whether present or absent, we may be pleasing to Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:9)

What is Heaven?

The hope of every Christian is that they will go to Heaven when they die. But what is Heaven? Common perceptions of Heaven seem to involve sitting on clouds and playing harps, large gates guarded by genial old men, or beautiful golden mansions lining streets of gold. You may be surprised to learn none of those things are found in the Bible’s descriptions of Heaven.

Heaven is a real place, but it probably does not exist in the physical universe as we know it. Heaven probably exists in a the spiritual plane or a spiritual dimension. This is not certain, but what is certain is that Heaven was created by God. “In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.” Heaven was created by God and is the place where He dwells (1 Kings 8:30). In Heaven resides the throne of God (Isaiah 66:1) and the temple of God (Revelation 14:17). Heaven itself is called God’s throne (Matthew 5:34)

Aside from God, the other inhabitants of Heaven are the righteous angels (Mark 12:25) and the souls of believers who have died (Luke 16:22; Revelation 6:9). Contrary to popular opinion, Satan has not yet been barred from Heaven. The book of Job describes a time when Satan appeared before God (Job 1:6). Revelation says that Satan always stands before God making accusations against Christians (Revelation 12:10).

Isaiah 6 gives a brief glimpse into Heaven by describing the throne room of God in Heaven. God is seated on His throne and His glory fills the Heavenly Temple. Surrounding the throne of God are mighty angels who cry out the praises of God. Revelation 4 fills in the details of God’s glorious throne room. God’s appearance is described as a brilliant jewel surrounded by a glory like a rainbow hewed gemstone. In front of the throne of God are seven burning lamps and a great crystal basin. Joining the angels in praise to God are saints of God. Heaven echoes with the perpetual praise of God. The glories of Heaven itself are never really described in the Bible because the true glory of Heaven is not found in it’s buildings, streets or environs. The true glory of Heaven is God.

Heaven is the temporary residence of all believers. At death every Christian enters immediately into Heaven (Philippians 1:23). At the end of this age Christ will return from Heaven to take all Christians to be with Him in Heaven. (1 Thessalonians 4:16) In Heaven the Christian’s inheritance is kept secure for them (1 Peter 1:4). Christ will descend from Heaven with His angels and saints to conquer the antichrist and to establish His thousand year kingdom on earth.

Following the millennial reign of Jesus Heaven and the entire physical universe will be destroyed (Revelation 20:1) to be replaced with a new Heaven and a new Earth. But that new Heaven will not be the Christian’s eternal home. Instead, God and all the redeemed will dwell in the New Jerusalem on the new Earth. (Revelation 21:2-3) It is the New Jerusalem, not Heaven, which has its streets paved with gold. Heaven is the glorious dwelling of our glorious God, where the souls of saints reside and where dwells the One who is the hope of all believers (Colossians 3:1-3)

Will we recognize each other in heaven?

One of the great hopes for the Christian is that the separation imposed by death is only temporary. Though all grieve the loss of loved ones, the saved know that all believers will be reunited together in Heaven. We look forward to this glorious reunion, but many wonder if they will recognize their loved ones when they get to heaven.

The Bible does not give a direct answer. Some of what the Bible says about heaven gives guidance towards an answer to this question. The Bible teaches that all the saved will be robed in new bodies, glorified bodies, in heaven. First Corinthians says that at the resurrection the Christian will be given a celestial body. Paul illustrates the difference between the earthly body and the celestial body is as different as a seed is from the plant which grows. The body we have in heaven will not suffer under the effects of sin. The glorified body will be entirely perfect. The Christian’s heavenly body is nothing like the body we have now on earth.

Despite the difference between the heavenly and earthly bodies, every time a glorified saint is seen they are recognizable to others. When Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man, the rich man in hell saw Abraham in heaven and recognized him. At the Mount of Transfiguration the disciples saw the glory of Jesus briefly revealed. They also saw two Old Testament saints speaking to Jesus, Moses and Elijah. These men were recognizable to the disciples. We don’t know how, since Moses and Elijah died long before the disciples lived. Yet, the two men were recognizable for who they were.

Most telling is that Jesus was recognizable after His ascension and in His overwhelming glory. Late in his life the Apostle John saw a vision of a man surrounded by golden candlesticks. John said that one was “like unto the Son of Man.” (Revelation 1:13) John then describes the overwhelming glory of Jesus, but despite the incredible display of Jesus’ majesty, He was still recognizable to one who knew Him. This suggests that Christians in heaven will also be recognizable to those who knew them on earth. 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.”

What is Soul Sleep?

If a couple Jehovah’s Witnesses knocked on your door to tell you about their church, there is one doctrine that they probably won’t talk about right away. Jehovah’s Witnesses and Seventh Day Adventists are the two most well known groups in America that believe in soul sleep. The doctrine of soul sleep teaches that when a person dies, the soul, just like the body, loses all awareness and sensation. At death the soul of the person does not cease to exist, nor does it enter into heaven or hell, but it becomes unconscious of anything until the day of resurrection.

This doctrine finds support in the Bible’s use of the word “sleep” to describe death. When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, He told His disciples that Lazarus was asleep. In 1 Thessalonians 4 Paul refers to those who have died when he says, “But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep.” Proponents of soul sleep believe the figure of sleep applies to the deceased’s body and soul.

Other support is found in passages like Psalm 146:4, “His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.” and Psalm 6:5, “For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?” Since man is more just body, since the dead do not think, and since the dead do not praise God, then the soul the soul must go into an unconscious or unaware state after death.

While this may seem to be reasonable and compelling evidence, the Bible makes several clear statements death which make the doctrine of soul sleep impossible. When Jesus taught about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 He plainly taught that when a person dies he immediately enters into his conscious reward. There is no delay between death and awareness. If the soul has no awareness, then the rich man could not wake up in hell. He would be aware of nothing until the resurrection. If the rich man awoke at the resurrection, Abraham was a liar when he said that the man’s brothers could read the Old Testament and thus be saved from hell. What Jesus describes is immediate, conscious awareness of the afterlife.

The book of Revelation tells of martyrs at the throne of God pleading for the punishment of their tormentors. They are clearly conscious, clearly communicating with God and clearly in heaven between their death and the resurrection. Why would they be asking God how long until He would judge their persecutors if they had been resurrected and were at the judgment the same time as their murderers?

The Bible uses sleep as a figurative term to describe the apparent condition of the dead. Sleep is not intended to describe the condition or awareness of the soul. The poetic passages of Psalms and Ecclesiastes that refer to the silence of the dead are speaking of the inability of the deceased to do any thing upon this earth. Soul sleep is not a Biblical doctrine, but a false teaching which denies the clear truths of the Bible about death, judgment and the afterlife.

How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?

In an article entitled “Ten Questions about Hell from an Atheist” author Herb Silverman writes, “Our earthly binary divisions are usually quite arbitrary. People may vote when they are 18 and buy alcohol when they are 21, but they are not permitted to do so the day before. We recognize such rules for what they are — distinctions without a real difference. Not so when it comes to the cutoff between an eternity of bliss and an eternity of torture.” He wonders, “How much more deserving is the worst person in heaven than the best person in hell?”

Only one person in heaven deserves to be there. That one is Jesus who is fully God and fully human. Aside from Jesus the best person in heaven is not in the least degree more worthy to be in heaven than the worst person in hell. The difference between heaven and hell is not worth, merit, deserving or goodness. No one goes to heaven because they deserve it. Those who enter heaven do so because they have been saved from what they deserve.

Salvation is never an issue of what the person deserves. “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, not of works, lest any man should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us.” (Titus 3:5) Heaven is not about getting what you deserve. Heaven is about the mercy of God which does not give you what you deserve and the grace of God which gives you what you do not deserve.

Every person deserves eternal judgment in hell. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned:” (Romans 5:12) “But he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18) “But the fearful, and unbelieving . . . shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8) Because all have sinned, all deserve eternal punishment.

What everyone deserves has been placed on Jesus. What no one deserves is given to those who trust Him for forgiveness. “For He hath made Him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.” (2 Corinthians 5:21) “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God.” (1 Peter 3:18) The punishment of sin that everyone deserves has been suffered by Jesus. Those who turn to Him for salvation are forgiven and given eternal life.

The distinction between those in heaven and hell is not an arbitrary division. The difference between those who make it and those who don’t is not based upon a barely understandable determination that one is slightly better than another. All are guilty. Everyone has been condemned. The difference between heaven and hell is the response of the sinful person to Jesus. Those who believe Jesus is God and Savior, who trust Him and only Him for forgiveness of sin, will have eternal life. Those who do not will not. “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life.” (John 3:36)

Will we have freewill in heaven?

The eternal existence of believers is almost impossible to comprehend. A serious consideration of what things will be like in eternity soon brings the mind to the end of its imagination. The most profound speculations end grasping at tenuous threads of understanding. One matter of question is the internal makeup of the believer. Will the saved have freewill in eternity? If they do what is to keep them from sinning? If they don’t would that not mean they are little better than organic robots?

The Bible’s teachings about eternal joy does not provide a psychological profile of the saved. Scripture describes the bliss of eternity in the presence of God, the beauty of the place God will make for His people and the glory of God. The Bible does not say much about how men will think, how they will act or what will motivate them in eternity.

In the Old Testament one key passages helps makes sense of these questions. Jeremiah 31:33-34 says, “After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD: for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” God promised the believing Israelites, and all believers (Hebrews 8:6-8), to place His law in their hearts. He promises to re-create the person to place His law within them. In eternity none will need to teach another the truths of God because everyone will know Him. The heart transformed and written with the law of God so changes the person that he will always desire to do what God has commanded. He will no longer desire to do that which is contrary to God. In eternity the saved will will always desire to do that which is right.

The Bible does not say anything else about the extent of human freedom in eternity. Revelation speaks of the nations serving God and going into the city to bring their gifts to Him. This may imply substantial freedom of movement and decision, in which the person is able to come and go, labor and serve how they please. Whatever the saved do in eternity they will do of their own freewill because they desire to please God.

Many understand free will as the ability to do anything desired, regardless of whether it be right or wrong. This is not so. Having a heart that only desires to do the will of God does not make the person an automaton. God is the only being in the universe with ultimate and true free will. He does whatever He pleases. (Psalm 115:3) At the same time God does not and cannot sin. He is not limited in his ability or His freedom. He cannot sin because sin is foreign to His nature. This does not constrain His will or bind His freedom.

A man cannot determine to become a hen and then lay eggs. This is no restriction on his freedom but a product of his. None but a deranged man would desire to sit in a box of straw and cackle while he deposited calcified ellipsoids. The saved will be given a new nature which delights to do the will of God. The ability to dishonor God is not an improvement on the nature of man, it is a derangement of man. The will of the eternally redeemed can no more desire to sin than a human male can lay an egg. This is not bondage but true freedom.

How can those in heaven be joyful while the lost suffer in hell?

“In heaven we’ll all be sociopaths.” This provocative article title refers to the awareness of those in heaven of the suffering of those in hell. The Bible says that those who enter into eternal life will have eternal joy, free from all sorrow, pain and tears. The Bible also indicates that the people in heaven will be aware of the suffering of the people in hell. At the very least the people in heaven will know that billions of people are in hell. How can the people in heaven have this knowledge and still be happy?

None can deny the sufferings of hell are terrible. No one should delight in them. God does not delight in them. (Ezekiel 33:11; Lamentations 3:33; 2 Peter 3:9) No one in heaven will enjoy the pain of the wicked. The joys of heaven are not malicious or sociopathic. However, God will be praised because of His justice and holiness. Those who hated God and rejected His Son will suffer the punishment prepared for the rebellious angels who rebelled. (Matthew 25:41)

Those in heaven will not weep over the suffering in hell because in heaven we will understand all things perfectly. On earth all men view the judgment of the lost through sinful eyes. None can fully comprehend hell’s justice or God’s holiness. In heaven, the full justice and appropriateness of hell will be understood.

The assurance of the Bible is that God will wipe away all tears from the eyes of the redeeemed. (Revelation 20:3-4) God will come down to earth in all His glory. He will establish His throne in the New Jerusalem. He will be the glory of the earth. The sun will not be needed. There will be no night and no darkness because the glory of God will illuminate all things. The curse of sin will be completely removed. All in the new earth will bring their praise directly to the throne of God. The glory of God will be so great that it will forever enamor those who stand in His presence. Hell is horrible, but God’s glory is so great it will outshine the terrors of eternal suffering.

Instead of denying the goodness of God because of the bliss of heaven consider your own goodness. How grieved are you right now because of the suffering of those in hell? Do you weep because of their agony? Do you work to tell the gospel to the unsaved so they can be delivered from the punishment of their sin?

This does not mean that none should rejoice in this life. All should give thanks to God for His good gifts. You can delight in births, sunsets, snow, Spring and all the other blessings of God knowing. Though millions are suffering in hell we can, and should, rejoice now in the good gifts of God. The seriousness of hell should stir everyone to live with due regard to the eternal realities awaiting everyone.

Are the people in heaven watching us?

A popular country song from the 80’s says there are holes in the floor of heaven. Our loved ones in heaven are peering down through heaven’s (apparently) half rotten flooring to see what we are doing on the earth. (By the way, I can say with absolute certainty that no one in heaven is wishing she could be here on earth with us.) What does the Bible teach about those in heaven? Do they know what is happening on the earth? Are they watching their friends and family?

The people in heaven appear to be aware of some events that happen on earth. In Luke 15:10 Jesus tells the Pharisees that “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repents.” It seems like Jesus is saying that believers who have died rejoice when someone on earth is saved. If so, then they are aware of some of what is going on in the earth.

This does not mean our loved ones in heaven spend a great amount of time watching us. Deceased Christians do not become guardian angels for their loved ones. That notion is more spiritistic than Biblical. The Bible has very few references to believers in heaven now. In Luke 16 Jesus tells of a man who died and went to heaven. In heaven he was receiving comfort and would not return to the earth.

The book of Revelation says the most about Christians in heaven. Everything it says describes believers as surrounding the throne of God worshiping Him. It seems that those in heaven are focused entirely on the glory of God.

Hymn writer Fanny Crosby described the focus of all in heaven with her hymn “My Savior First of All”.

Oh, the dear ones in glory, how they beckon me to come,
And our parting at the river I recall;
To the sweet vales of Eden they will sing my welcome home;
But I long to meet my Savior first of all.

Oh, the soul-thrilling rapture when I view His blessed face,
And the luster of His kindly beaming eye;
How my full heart will praise Him for the mercy, love and grace,
That prepare for me a mansion in the sky.

Aside from rejoicing at the salvation of souls nothing in the Bible indicates deceased believers are watching or are even deeply interested in what is going on in the lives of family and friends on earth.


Won’t we get bored in Heaven?

Eternity is a long time. What will Christians do for all that time? Won’t we eventually run out of things to do, things to discover and things to invent? Eternity stretches out before our imagination and leaves us baffled by its magnitude. From our perspective in this brief life we cannot understand how we will find pleasure that will remain for eternity. What is to keep eternal bliss from becoming eternal boredom?

The Bible says almost nothing about the eternal state. When the Bible speaks of what happens to believers after death it speaks about their condition in between physical death and eternal life. The joys of heaven and the blessings of the kingdom do not necessarily describe the Christian’s actions during eternity. When a believer dies his spirit enters into heaven where it rests and worships God. At the rapture the body of the Christian will be resurrected and made perfect. The glorified body will be united with the soul of the deceased. When Jesus returns to the earth to establish His kingdom all the saints, the living and the resurrected, will reside on the earth with Him for one thousand years At the end of Jesus’ one thousand year reign God will destroy this earth and create a new one.

The creation of the new heaven and new earth will begin eternity. On that new earth will be a wonderful city called the New Jerusalem. Revelation 21 describes the splendor of that city. The last four verses of Revelation 21 and the first five verses of Revelation 22 are the only verses in all the Bible which tell of the saved one’s actions in eternity. The multitudes of redeemed will come to the New Jerusalem bringing to God their glory and honor of Him. All the saved will serve God and reign with Him forever. The Bible provides no specifics about what this service and rule will look like. Whatever form it takes, the saved will be actively working for the Lord for all eternity.

One of the hardest things about trying to imagine eternity is the complete inability of our minds to comprehend the joys awaiting. What color is the smell of perfume? What does a C-sharp look like? Our perceptions are very limited. The eternal delights are much like color to one who has never seen or sound to one who has never heard. Eternity’s joy is invisible to our current desires. We can only imagine what the delights of heaven will be like. Even then our imagination is likely to be very wrong. Only in heaven will we be able to fully appreciate them the pleasures at God’s right hand. (Psalm 16:11)

The joys of God are infinite and never to be exhausted. One of the losses of sin is our sense of wonder. The hallmark of sin is it quickly grows wearisome and the sinner must seek more excitement. Sin is never satisfied or satisfying. Those things which are Godly pleasures are satisfying and ever delightful. In heaven the joy given to us will be ever fresh and eternally satisfying.