I've received quite a few surprises lately, and they haven't all been good. Last night, though, I received a call I almost didn't answer because I thought it was a telemarketer. When I saw a call back from the number, I finally answered and received the happiest news I've had in a while.
It was the Category Coordinator calling to inform me that my novel is a finalist in the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) First Impressions Competition. I've worked hard on the novel, but I entered on the spur of the moment and promptly forgot about it. It was a surprise to remember I'd entered, and even more of a surprise to find my novel is a finalist. (I'm seriously thrilled.)
This morning, I had another surprise. I've read 2 Corinthians before, but I'd forgotten about Paul going to third heaven. My first thought was, "there's only one heaven," but I decided to keep an open mind and check it out a little further.
As it turns out, there are three heavens. I don't know if there are more, or not, but for now, I'm holding to three. I won't list all the Scripture I've searched and the commentaries I've read, but please trust that I've checked this out.
The multiple heavens description is based on the understanding of the ancients, who saw the sky/air/atmosphere/etc as non-contiguous, heavenly layers. First heaven, then, is where the clouds are and the birds fly. Second heaven is where the stars are located. Third heaven is where God resides.
Hebrews 4:14 tells us Jesus has "passed through the heavens." I have long wondered about the term "passed" used instead of "died," so this was another surprise. When Christians have "passed," they have "passed through the heavens" to their eternal destination.
Ephesians 4:10 says Jesus "ascended far above all the heavens." I don't know where that lofty place is located, or if there are multiple stories/levels in third heaven, but I do know His people will be with Him wherever He is. (Based on John 14)
Paul wrote that, in third heaven (where God is) he heard "inexpressible words" and experienced "surpassing greatness of revelations." (Col 2:4,7) When we get to third heaven, then, we'll all be surprised, and in the best way of all. It's better than we think, and the streets of gold and pearly gates will not be the best parts, the presence of God will be.
One day, we will all "pass" to our next destination, either heaven or hell. According to Paul, heaven is much more wonderful than we can imagine. Hell is almost certainly worse than we can imagine, too. We'll be surprised, either way.
The thing that should not surprise us is the destination to which we arrive. That's determined here on earth. Do we follow Jesus (not just claim to follow) here? Then we'll be with Him in eternity. Do we reject Jesus here? We'll spend eternity away from Him.
What kind of surprise will greet us in eternity? We choose whether our eternal surprise will be wonderful or horrible based on our response to Christ. Let's choose well.
"And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him." Hebrews 9:27-28 nasb
If you're looking for an advent devotional, check out my book The Road to Bethlehem: An Advent Prayer and Devotional Guide, available on Amazon.
In case you missed the last blog post, here's the link: Why Sutherland Springs Still Needs Our Prayers