There is no point in me talking about the promises to overcomers unless you also share my understanding of what the Scriptures say about heaven. Overcomers are at the end of their sometimes long, and always testing, journey with the Lord and are looking forward to rewards. A lot of these rewards are related to the next life so it is good to know a bit more about that. Scripture is full of revelations about heaven.
First let us draw a (biblical) distinction between the heaven and earth that now exists (2 Peter 3:5-7) and that which is to come, i.e. the new heaven and new earth:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea.
(I’ve written in an another article about the significance of the mention of a sea in this verse.)
Everyone who lives on it is familiar with this old earth and the heaven we can see in all its glory around us on a starry night. Most people also vaguely think about heaven in terms of where they might go when they die. Very few think about the distinctions between the old and new heaven and even fewer think about the implications of there being a new earth to come.
Paul says in 2 Cor. 12:2-4 that he knew someone (evidently himself) that was caught up to the third heaven or paradise. This implies that there are three heavens. The rest of Scripture would lead one to believe that the first one is the heavens we see around us physically (Psalm 8:3), the second is where the prince of the power of the air and other various spirits rule (Ephesians 6:12). The third is where God, Christ (and us in Christ) are seated. There is a hierarchy to these heavens, the third rules over the second and first, and the second rules over the first.
There is also a connection between each of these heavens and predestination and free will. From the view point of the third heaven everything is predestined – we ought to live in that as much as possible (Hebrews 4:14-16, 10:19-25) – the devil looks up from the second heaven and knows his time is short and manipulates all he can in the first. The first is all most people see and they think from there that their choices determine everything – as indeed they do.
Do you believe in predestination or free will? The answer is yes.
Of course only God can make all three views true at the same time. Equally, because all three viewpoints are true we quickly reach the inadequacy of intellectual comprehension and rational thought to describe it all. I don’t have a problem with that. I’ll continue to use my mind anyway whilst knowing its limits.
As far as the third heaven is concerned there are others who have gone into it and returned. Jesus of course came from it and returned to it. The others went to it and returned from it like Paul. Moses looked into it when he went to the top of Mount Sinai and copied what he saw when he made the tabernacle (Exodus 24 – 31 and Hebrews 5:5). Daniel saw Jesus presenting His blood to the Father on the mercy seat after His resurrection (Daniel 7:13-14, Hebrews 9:16 – 10:22), Isaiah saw the throne room and got his sins forgiven there (Isaiah 6:1-7) and Ezekial saw the motorised version of the Lord’s throne (Ezekial 1). Zechariah saw Jesus there (Jesus in Greek = Joshua in Hebrew) (Zechariah 3-4). Stephen looked into it when he was being stoned (Acts 7:55, 56). However the person who gives us the most detailed description of what it looks like is John in Revelation. As homework, look up each of the passages above and note down all the similarities between what each of them saw. I think you will find that the same place is being described in each case.
[I’m quite convinced that others have gone to the third heaven and returned since like Colton Burpo (of Heaven is for Real) but, while interesting, I don’t think we need to go outside Scriptural examples to prove the point.]
The new heaven is not of this creation. In the sequence of events detailed in Revelation 20-22, the old heaven and earth are done away with, the great white throne judgement occurs and then the new heaven and earth are ushered in. There is a three fold aspect to this new heaven also. The new heaven exists on the new earth, the new earth holds the third heaven (or inner sanctum) which is the heavenly Jerusalem. Which of these heavens we can enter into can be deduced from the messages to the overcomers as well as other Scriptures which I shall deal with later in this series.
And of course there is the lake of fire also. We’ll deal with that a bit too.
I’m going to write this disclaimer at the end of the rest of this series: Always remember, I could be wrong about anything I write here (1 Cor. 8:2). Let the Holy Spirit instruct you and not me (Hebrews 8:11). And ask your pastor or whoever you trust in this kind of thing if you need to.