Marchrhedawn: “Dear Berserk, what are your views on the afterlife, as understood by 1st Century Hebrews; and the most progressively revealed view of the Hebrew, Aramaic, & Greek Scriptures on it, overall?”
First, let me note the recent testimony of Dr. Raymond Moody (widely credited as the father of the modern focus on NDEs) about his adopted son’s preexistence. On “Coast to Coast” he shared his experience on a brutally hot day on Greek archaeological site. He and his wife were feeling woozy from dehydration; so their tour guide suggested they lie down on a grassy area near the site for a few minutes. As they lay there, they discussed the idea of adopting a child. Years later, their adopted son told them that, prior to birth, he saw them lying on a grsssy area, talking. To Moody this shocking comment further attests the preexistence of the soul.
Now let me point to 2 of the most important NT texts on Heaven:
(1) In 2 Corinthians 12 Paul reports his visionary trip to Paradise in the 3rd Heaven. Paul share’s the Pharisees’ belief in the 3rd Heaven as the locale of Paradise, an old Persian word that means “park” or “garden.” What Paul does not explicitly elaborate is the nature of the implied first 2 heavens. But these are described in contemporary Jewish literature in terms reminiscent of the later Catholic concept of Purgatory. Paul’s reference to those “saved yet so as by fire” in 1 Corinthians 3:15 probably refers to the 2nd Heaven, though in ancient rabbinic Judaism the phrase “saved, yet so as by fire” is applied to the upper regions of Gehenna. It is no doubt for this reason that Paradise is Jesus’ preferred initial locale for the redeemed (so Luke 23:42-43). Paul’s beief in a multiplicity of heavens raises the question of how many heavens there are, but the Bible does not address this question and Jewish beliefs on this vary, ranging from 3 to 5, 7, ej even 10 heavens.
(2) The KJV mistranslates Jesus’ statement, "In my Father’s house are many mansions (Greek: “mone”–John 14:2). “Mone” literally means “resting place” or “inn”–in other words, a place of temporary lodging during a continuing journey. Thus, the early Church Father Origen (c. 225 AD) gets it right when he interprets this saying as a reference to many temporary lodgings en route in a long journey to ever fuller union with God. There is much more that can be said about the challenges and work done in the Heavens, but the foregoing 2 points are important starting points.