I’m quite convinced that Dante’s conception of the different regions in the universe comes closer to the genuine revelation in the Bible than most Christians’ simplistic, dichotomistic understanding. From my observations, this faulty view of the different regions in the biblically-portrayed universe stems from three things (of which I don’t have adequate space in my post to thoroughly address): popular culture, superficial exegesis, and poor translation.
Pop-culture, specifically in movies and songs, backed by an unfortunate religious tradition, solidifies the idea of a heaven-hell dichotomy.
“Superficial exegesis” refers to the indolent study of scripture practiced by most Christians and the inadequate preaching from the pulpit centered on moral lessons rather than sound exposition of the Bible.
“Poor translation” is something I will have to dive into further, because the theology of translators and world-view that comes with it tends to govern their translation-philosophy, often times leading to a suppressed text. By no way do I accuse these translators of mal-intent. In fact, they do what they do solely for the purpose of helping the reader better understand and interact with the Bible, but they do so at the cost of a rich and complex biblical world-view replaced by a simplistic, traditional, Western mindset. I suppose I need to start making some points now…
That in the name of Jesus every knew should bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth
From this verse we can see that there are three primary regions in the biblical cosmos: heaven (where the angels are), earth (where men dwell), and under the earth (where the dead dwell). This falls in line with most people’s concept (maybe with the exception of the occupants…), but I’d like to explore several additional verses that give a more detailed picture of these regions.
Behold, heaven and the heaven of heavens belong to Jehovah your God, the earth and all that is in it.
I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago (whether in the body I do not know, or outside the body I do not know; God knows) such a one was caught away to the third heaven.
-2 Corinthians 12:2
This adds some color to the typical image in Christians’ minds. There are actually (at least) three heavens! A lot of people seem to believe that we (Christians) go to heaven when they die. I’ve already addressed this topic in an earlier post, but to those who still believe this I’d ask, “which one are you hoping to go to?”. The heavens, including the visible sky with the clouds, the space above with the stars, and the heaven of heavens with God enthroned, surrounded by the heavenly hosts (angels), are a mysterious and complicated region.
Christ our High Priest has become higher than the heavens (Heb. 7:26) and has already brought us to the heavens with Him (Eph. 2:6) spiritually speaking. The heavens are not necessarily a holy place, for they require purification just like the earth (Heb. 9:23-24). Satan dwells in the heavens with his fallen angels (Eph. 2:2; Job 1:6; Rev. 12:9). The heavens are not where anyone will dwell for eternity, for the ultimately will be rolled up, tossed away, passing away with a roar, burned with intense heat, and dissolved (Matt. 24:25; Heb. 1:11; 2 Pet. 3:10). I don’t think that heavenly mansion the Lord has been supposedly building for 2,000 years will be doing too great after that happens…
And I saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.
Your kingdom come; Your will be done, as in heaven, so also on earth.
God is an earth-centric God. Everything He does and all that He desires relates to the earth. He desires to establish His kingdom on the earth. He hopes to have an adequate home on earth (the Church) in which He may dwell. While we may desire to go up to heaven, God wants to come down to earth.
Presently, the ruler of this world, the prince of the air, the god of this age, Satan, has his kingdom established on the earth (Eph. 2:2; Matt. 4:8-9; 2 Cor. 4:4). But soon, the accuser will be cast down to the pit (to be discussed) and the kingdom of Christ will be established on earth in an open way for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:4-6).
Under the Earth
And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted and said, ‘Surely I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.’ Thus his father wept for him.
And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus in his bosom.
Undoubtedly, the sections “under the earth” are those most confused among Christians. This is where I will vent for a brief moment about Bible translators.
If you read Luke 16:23 in your Bible, the odds are that your’s will read “And in hell,” but that is erroneous. When anyone hears the word “hell,” they immediately think of the lake of fire. But that is a completely unbiblical concept. The lake of fire and those thrown into it don’t come into play chronologically until the Lord comes back (Rev. 19:20) and really not until after the millennial kingdom with the exception of the false prophet and the beast (20:10-15).
Hell, in the Bible, really should be translated “Hades”. “Hades”, being the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word “Sheol”, is the place where the dead go. That’s it. It’s not in and of itself a place of torment. While it is often used symbolically as a term of evil, that is only because the location of the dead works to form a proper symbol of fear for mortal men. Sheol/Hades is morally neutral in the fact that everyone goes there. The regions within the underworld are where the “Lazarus'” are divided from “the rich men”.
And besides all these things, between us and you a great chasm is fixed, so that those wanting to pass from here to you cannot, neither from there to us may any cross over.
So beneath the earth is Hades, but within Hades are two sides with a great chasm fixed between. Both are underground (v.30), but one is on a pleasant side referred to as Abraham’s bosom or paradise while the other is on a side of torment.
The chasm in between is also referred to as the gloomy pits of Tartarus in 2 Peter 2:4 (once again, your bible unfortunately most likely says “hell”). There are the angels imprisoned who left their principality at the time of Noah (Jude 6).
The Lord visited Hades after His death and burial, proclaiming to the imprisoned spirits of His victory over them and their leader (Matt. 12:40; 1 Pet. 3:19-20).
We, as believers, now have no fear of death, for our Lord has obtained the keys of death and of Hades (Rev. 1:18). We may hope in the One who is the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25). Our hope is in our eventual resurrection from the dead (or rapture) (1 Cor. 15:12-58; 1 Thes. 4:13-18).
Concluding Word and Why This Matters
I hope reading through this speaks for itself in regard to its importance. The biblical view of the cosmos is complicated and intricate. Our simplistic, traditional presentation of being on earth and then eventually going to heaven or hell is simply wrong. We shouldn’t rob the Bible of its glorious truth due to our desire to just know and not have to study or seek any more.
Besides all of this, we have to come to the point of realizing that place and location have nothing to do with the hope or concern of the Christian. Our hope and concern is in Christ and our desire to be filled to the uttermost with Him:
Christ in you, the hope of glory, Whom we announce, admonishing every man and teaching every man in all wisdom that we may present every man full-grown in Christ;