The closest thing Scripture says to there being different levels of heaven is found in 2 Corinthians 12:2, “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.” Some interpret this as indicating that there are three different levels of heaven divided into a level for “super-committed Christians” or Christians who have obtained a high level of spirituality, a level for “ordinary” Christians, and a level for Christians who did not serve God faithfully. This view has no basis in Scripture.
Paul is not saying that there are three heavens or even three levels of heaven. In many ancient cultures, people used the term “heaven” to describe three different “realms” – the sky, outer space, and then a spiritual heaven. Although the terms are not specifically biblical, these are commonly known as the terrestrial, telestial, and celestial heavens. Paul was saying that God took him to the “celestial” heavens, as in the realm in which God dwells. The concept of different levels of heaven may have come in part from Dante’s Divine Comedy in which he describes both heaven and hell has having nine different levels. The Divine Comedy, however, is a fictional work. The idea of different levels of heaven is foreign to Scripture.
Scripture does speak of different rewards in heaven, however. Jesus said regarding rewards, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done” (Revelation 22:12). Jesus said He is coming suddenly, and when He comes He will have with Him rewards to give to men on the basis of what they have done. Now this shows us that there is going to be a time of reward for believers. In 2 Timothy 4, we read the words of Paul as he closes out his ministry: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith. Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge shall give me at that day, and not to me only but unto them also that love His appearing.” When Jesus comes for His church it will be immediately followed by a time of rewards. We leave this world, we meet Jesus Christ in the air, we go to the Father’s house and there is a time of reward.
Only those works that survive God’s refining fire have eternal value and will be worthy of reward. Those valuable works are referred to as “gold, silver and precious stones” (1 Corinthians 3:12) and are those things that are built upon the foundation of faith in Christ. Those works that will not be rewarded are called “wood, hay, and stubble” in the same passage and denote not evil deeds, but shallow activities with no eternal value. Rewards will be distributed at the “judgment seat of Christ,” a place where believers’ lives will be evaluated for the purpose of rewards only. “Judgment” of believers never refers to punishment for sin. Jesus Christ was punished for our sin when He died on the cross, and God said about us, “I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Hebrews 8:12). What a glorious thought! The Christian need never fear punishment, but can look forward to crowns of reward that we can cast at the feet of our Savior.