I received the following e-mail the other day:
I wanted to ask you a question and maybe if you have time, get your thoughts on it.
Do you think there are different levels of heaven? I was reading in 2 Corinthians 12 last night and Paul is talking about boasting. He talks about a man at the beginning of the chapter that went to the third heaven … . He then calls this third heaven "Paradise". And … when Jesus was on the cross he told the thief that "today you will be with me in Paradise" However, later when Jesus appeared to Mary he said, "Do not touch me for I have not ascended to the Father." BUT, he told the thief that “TODAY you will be with me in Paradise.” Furthermore, when we die, the Bible says that we will have a new body, a spiritual body in Heaven. Again, when Jesus came back on the third day he still had the nail marks in his hands and the spear gash in his side. Had he not received a new body? Because he hadn't been with the Father yet? I didn't know if the Greek sheds more light on this or maybe if you had more study in this.
Also, here are a few scriptures I found regarding the "heavens" plural or the "highest heavens."
Ephesians 4:9-10 (this one confused me a little)
Thanks for your time.
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Wow. It’s going to take a lot of doing to answer all your questions. I’ll try to get to them all, the easiest ones first.
1. Did Jesus have a new body?
Yes, Jesus had a new body and it was quite different from His previous body. First of all, it was not always recognizable to His disciples. He seems to have been able to make Himself recognizable or even invisible to them at will. The story in Luke 24:13-31, about His appearance to the two disciples shows this. “But their eyes were prevented from recognizing Him” (verse 16). “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized Him; and He vanished from their sight” (verse 31). Mary had difficulty recognizing Him at the tomb, thinking He was the gardener till He spoke her name (John 20:1-16). Later, when He appeared at the Sea of Galilee, the disciples seemed to be unsure of who He was (John 21:4, 7). Also, locked doors didn’t seem to hold Him back (Luke 24:36; John 20:19, 26).
We have to remember too, that though this was a new body, it was still a body, not just a ghost or spirit. A spiritual body is still a body. He could be touched; He could eat (Luke 24:38-43).
I believe that even in His glorified body, the wounds will always be visible, so that we can remember His sufferings for us through all eternity. In a future appearance in Heaven, John still sees Him as “a Lamb standing as slain” (Revelation 5:6).
By the way, we won’t receive our spiritual bodies until the resurrection.
2. The third heaven/levels of heaven
In the Hebrew Old Testament, the word used is HASHAMAYIM, literally “the heavens.” It is always, I believe, used in the plural (actually the dual) form in Hebrew. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1). While scholars debate this form, the dual usually is used of things in pairs, like hands, feet, eyes. If we read the whole account in Genesis 1, we get the idea that there are two heavens: the “expanse,” where the sun, moon and stars are (verses 7, 8, 14-16), and “the open expanse of the heavens” where the birds fly (verse 20). These would correspond to our modern ideas of the atmosphere or sky and outer space.
In Deuteronomy 10:14 and elsewhere, mention is made of (literally) “the heavens and the heaven of heavens,” which the NASB erroneously translates “heaven and the highest heavens.” “Heaven of heavens” is a common Hebrew way of saying “the very highest heaven.” Remember the “Holy of Holies”?
So God created two heavens in Genesis 1 – the atmosphere and outer space. The “third heaven” that Paul speaks of would be that highest (uncreated?) heaven where God Himself dwells.
Hebrew 4:14 tells us that Jesus “has passed through the heavens.” When He ascended, He passed through the two created heavens and is now with the Father in the “third heaven,” where He is “exalted above the heavens” (Hebrews 7:26).
So Paul was caught up to the dwelling place of God.
Paradise is a Greek word which originally came from the Persians. It was the word used of a walled garden or park. It is used in the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) to translate the Hebrew word for “garden” (Genesis 2:8). ‘The LORD planted a garden (paradeisos) in Eden.”
As Paul uses the word in 2 Corinthians 12:4, it’s apparently synonymous with “the third heaven” in verse 2. In Revelation 2:7, it seems to have the same meaning, “the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God,” although later, in Revelation the tree of life is located in the New Jerusalem.
So if Jesus had not ascended to His Father on the third day, how could He promise the repentant thief that he’d be with Him “today,” the day of His death (Luke 23:43)?
I’ve consulted a number of commentaries and I can’t find anyone who deals with this question. So here goes my take, though I can’t be dogmatic. By the way, most of these thoughts are not original with me.
In Genesis 3:22-24, Adam and Eve were expelled from Paradise, the garden of Eden. Paradise was apparently removed from the earth, possibly at the flood.
If it was removed to heaven, it would have apparently been sitting nearly empty for thousands of years. The Old Testament seems clear that all who died during the Old Testament period went to a place called Sheol (Greek: Hades), whether they were righteous or wicked. It was believed that Sheol or Hades had two compartments, one where the wicked were in torment and the other called Abraham’s Bosom, where the righteous were. See the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. Perhaps this was Paradise.
After Jesus died on the cross, He descended into Hades – Abraham’s Bosom and set free the souls of the righteous dead. This idea is based on passages such as Ephesians 4:8-10 and 1 Peter 3:18-19a. If this interpretation is correct, then Jesus’ promise to the thief was referring to this visit to Abraham’s bosom.
The chronology would then be:
-- Jesus died
-- He went immediately to Hades (Acts 2:31?). There He did two things:
-- proclaimed His victory to the lost (1 Peter 3:19) and
-- released the saved from Abraham’s bosom and moved Paradise to Heaven.
-- He rose
-- He appeared to various people over a 40-day period (Acts 1:3)
-- He ascended to His Father (Acts 1:9; 2:33; Ephesians 1:20-22; Hebrews 8:1)
Like I said, I can’t be dogmatic about this.