Does the Bible Say There are Levels of Heaven?
Let us start at the beginning, Genesis 1:1. Verse one says, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. We know that there are different “heavens” because the sky as we see it can be referred to as “a heaven.” Some people may refer to space as “a heaven.” Where God resides is heaven (a reference to God dwelling in heaven appears in 1 Kings 8:30). Deuteronomy 10:14 declares, “Behold, the heaven and the heaven of heaven is the Lord’s thy God.” We know that heaven cannot contain God and that the angels are there (and those who have received their reward in heaven).
The Apostle Paul refers to the third heaven in 2 Corinthians 12:2. He says he was caught up in the third heaven; he could not tell if it was in or out of the body, but he did see paradise. He also mentions that God gave him a thorn in the flesh so that he would not become arrogant due to his visions. God did give him the grace to endure.
What Is the Third Heaven?
We know that heaven is a place of paradise, and it is the highest level up and the reference of the third heaven. Humans can not reach it by spaceship. You have to have an invitation. Before Jesus died on the cross, a thief on the cross asked if Jesus would remember him when he came into his kingdom. “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Dictionary.com describes paradise as heaven or the final stop of the righteous. It is a place of extreme beauty, delight, or happiness. That is where we want to be.
Make no mistake about it: heaven is a glorious place. Wherever God is, there is beauty, majesty, and glory. Revelation 21 paints a lovely picture. Apostle John says, “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.”
John says he saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. He heard a great voice coming out of heaven say, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” In Revelation 22, John describes heaven as having “a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.” The tree of life is there, bearing twelve types of fruit every month. The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.
Scripture does give a hint that heaven might be multi-layered. Look to Hebrews 4:14, which reads, “Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession.” You can interpret this however you like. Most people think Jesus is traveling through the sky, space, and then into heaven.
Photo Credit: Sandro Botticelli/Wikimedia Commons
Are There Levels of Hell?
Then begs the question, if there are levels of heaven, are there levels of hell? In Dante’s Inferno, hell has nine levels. He describes hell as being comprised of nine circles. The Bible does allude to degrees of punishment in hell (look at Luke 12:46-48). The comparison here is of servants not being prepared, and punishment is given according to their knowledge of what they were supposed to do.
Dante paints a picture where sinners’ punishment is comparable to the crimes committed in their life. Three types of sin provide three main divisions of hell in Dante’s writing. The sins include lust, gluttony, anger, and greed. Other circles of sin are violence, fraud, and treachery.
I tried to read a book about hell once. It’s called 23 Minutes in Hell. I could not complete the task. This book is supposed to be a real-life experience or revelation of hell. It was too graphic for me to complete. Hell is not a pretty place, nor is it comfortable, and this book drove home that reality. I would not be surprised if there were depths of hell. Level one is still not a place where you or I want to be. If you like scary movies, this is your book. This book is complete with ugly beasts and plenty of torment. Let us stay prayed up and miss the mess.
What Are the Levels of Heaven in the Divine Comedy?
Man has tried to answer the questions of levels of heaven and hell. Dante’s Divine Comedy, written around 1308-1321, is no different. Some say they have gotten revelations of heaven. I suppose we will have to wait until that wonderful day to find out the truth. I don’t know any accounts of those who have gone and lived to tell the tale except for Jesus. When He died on the cross, he preached to the spirits in hell. Of course, He, God, the Holy Spirit, and those in heaven know its depths.
The Divine Comedy is a long narrative poem, which Dante wrote in the first person describing his fictitious journey into Inferno (hell), Purgatorio (purgatory), and Paradiso (heaven). The Roman poet Virgil, representing the highest level of human knowledge, guides Dante through all of hell and most of purgatory. Dante is also guided by Beatrice who has a strong resemblance to a historical Beatrice of his time period. She is his guide through the end of purgatory of most of paradise. Saint Bernard of Clairvaux guides Dante through the final portions of paradise. Saint Bernard represents contemplative mysticism or the practice of being aware of God or the Divine. It also has to deal with insight or spiritual intuition.
Dante’s work which is a representation of life after death is regarded as one of the preeminent works in Italian literature. It is literary and not meant as a literal explanation of theology, although it has references to what Christians believe and what Muslims or Jewish may believe in depicting heaven and hell. Roman Catholics recognize Purgatory while many other Christian religions do not. Purgatory is the means of purification of temporary punishment for souls who die in a state of grace. This process prepares them for heaven.
In The Divine Comedy, there are seven terraces or levels of purgatory. These correspond to the seven deadly sins. Each terrace purges a sin until the sinner has corrected themself and is now able to advance to heaven. Purgatory is not a biblical doctrine. The Bible tells us to seek God while He may be found. The Bible also tells us that we will be judged once we leave this earth.
In this narrative poem, there are celestial spheres of heaven. I would like to remind you again that this is a work of fiction and not meant as a literal description of heaven. The structure of paradise is based on four cardinal virtues and three theological virtues. According to Dante, the seven lowest spheres of heaven center around cardinal virtues Prudence, Fortitude, Justice, and Temperance. The first three spheres deal with deficient of these cardinal virtues.
Literary critiques describe The Divine Comedy as an allegory. Each large division of the poem or canto can contain many different meanings. Dante referred to the poem as a comedy because, in his period, comedies had happy endings. Tragic poems were of a more serious nature. Do some research and you be the judge. I will just have to receive heaven by faith and be content with where God places me. It would be cool to have your mansion down the street from the tree of life though.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/cherezoff
Dr. Sandra Hamer Smith is a Christian and wife to Sylvester Smith. She has one stepson, Greg. Smith lives and resides in Memphis, Tennessee. The University of Memphis alumnae has been in education for about 20 years after receiving the call to teach. Dr. Smith primarily teaches language arts. Prior to education, she worked in local and national television news for 13 years including positions as an overnight news anchor, reporter, and assignments editor at two local network affiliate stations. Smith was also a freelance correspondent for BET news. Dr. Smith has freelanced for the Tri-State Defender newspaper and Contempora magazine. She is the author of the self-published novel GLORY…THE HAIR. Smith is also a playwright and poet. The Tennessee native is a member of Temple of Deliverance COGIC, Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc, Omicron Delta Kappa, The Golden Key International Honour Society, and Kappa Delta Pi.
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