Are There Levels of Hell?

One book that I remember reading in high school and enjoying was Dante’s Inferno. Actually I read the whole Divine Comedy . It details a fictitious trip through Hell, then Purgatory, and finally Heaven. Within the Inferno section of the poem was a description of Hell containing nine levels. On each sinners experienced eternal punishment that fit their crimes. At the very bottom was Satan chewing on the classic traitors of history.

Interesting book but not biblical. Yet Jesus says a few things that suggest that Hell is not a uniformly miserable experience. For instance, when sending out his disciples on their first mission trip, Jesus instructs his disciples to shake off of their feet the dust of cities that will not welcome them. He says of these cities:

I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town.

Matthew 10:15(NIV)

Descriptions of Hell are very few. Really the most detailed descriptions are of Sheol/Hades. Revelation refers to the “Lake of fire” as the final place of judgment that we call “Hell”. Jesus’ words above refer to the “day of Judgment”, so he is not talking about experiences in Sheol but rather post-judgment day. So how could they differ? Both would include being forsaken by God, for that is the penalty for sin.

In the next chapter Jesus says,

Woe to you Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No you will go down to (Hades) If the miracles there were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.

Matthew 11:21-24 (NIV)

It would seem that the opportunity to believe and be saved that should have been enhanced by seeing miracles performed, actually creates a more grievous punishment if the miracles are ignored, rationalized away, or attributed to Satan. It is the later that most likely happened in these places.

Jesus suggests that seeing miracles would have at least prompted a temporary repentance if not salvation in some of the classic places of sin. This is not true in some devoutly Jewish towns.

What makes their experience “more bearable”? This question remains unanswered. It is not necessarily that there are circles of more intense suffering or longer sentences (because they are all eternal). The suffering of Hell is primarily psychological. It is being forgotten and excluded by God. To have nothing but to remember that Jesus was right there proving himself with miracles no less and you did not believe has to be an agonizing thought.

Might there be other circumstances like these? Perhaps a person ignored the love and constant witness of family out of pride or rebellion. Maybe others were among the ranks of the clergy and rejected their faith for flimsy reasons. In the quotes above both Bethsaida and Capernaum were the home towns of original disciples (Andrew and Peter respectively). Ignoring a witness or being offended by it because it came from family might be a source of greater “intolerability”.

In Dante’s fiction the punishment was made to fit the crime. In the end, the crime of damned will end up being rejecting the sacrifice the Son of God made to forgive their many lesser sins. One level suffices for all. Only the knowledge that this was easily avoidable makes it worse.

The Fate of Angels

If you don’t know the Bible hardly at all, you might think that people become angels when they die. This errant idea is told to children when somebody dies. It is propagated by movies (i.e. It’s a Wonderful Life), songs, and even art (like the George Floyd mural seen on the news). It cuts against popular culture to say this but angels seem to be a species of their own, you can’t become an angel, angels are not described as having wings, angels and cherubim are not the same thing, and evil angels don’t share the same fate as evil people until Judgment Day.

We can say that some angels sinned:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into (hell) and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment…

2 Peter 2:4 (ESV)

I put parentheses around the word “hell”, because it is used too liberally as an English translation for many words in Hebrew and Greek in my opinion. At least ESV footnotes this translation. One would expect Hades was the translated word, but it is not. A new word shows up: Tartarus.

There are a number of words or phrases that are place names associated with existence after death or at least existence outside of life on Earth: Sheol, Hades, Heaven (ouranos), Gehenna, lake of fire, Tartarus, and the Abyss . It is confusing as to what are synonyms and what describes distinct places. Context and comparing translations are the only way to figure it out. We know the Hades and Sheol are the same from a Hebrew to Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint. Also you can tell that Hades and the “lake of fire” are distinct things from Revelation 20:14 where Hades is thrown into the lake of fire. Then they are not distinct anymore. What does Gehenna describe? I think context suggests that Gehenna is Jesus’ word for the lake of fire.

What do we mean by “Hell”. I mean that place of final judgment. That would then be English for Gehenna or lake of fire. If you mean the place of immediate judgment. Then use it for Sheol or Hades, but using it for all of the above covers up the fact that there are distinct places. Is Tartarus another synonym? It is only used once. Like Hades it is word borrowed from Greek mythology. Tartarus was an abyss used for suffering of the wicked and the prison for the Titans. Using the world “Tartarus” sounds like borrowing from another religion, just as the use of “Hades” does. I have another theory. That other cultures have similar ideas of what exists beyond our universe by the use of forbidden cultic practices that permitted communication with the dead.

Peter’s choice of the word “Tartarus” wasn’t adopting Greek mythology, but was using a commonly understood word to describe some place that was actually there. Further, using the context of the Bible, I think we can equate “Tartarus” here in 2 Peter with (abyssou) the abyss used in Revelation 9:2, 9:11, 11:7, 20:1, 20:2. This is different than how Job and Jonah used what could be translated as abyss. In those cases, it is more a concept of being in the “deep”.

So if we work with that theory, what is Tartarus? It would seem to be another realm of reality that is segregated from our universe, Heaven, and Hades/Sheol at the present time. It seems to be used as a prison for evil angels. Peter says that they are being kept there until the judgment (Judgment Day), for a final destination of Hell, with Satan and with people (Matt25:41). A further description of the angels in prison is given in Jude:

And the angels who did not stay within their authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day…

Jude 1:6

If there are disobedient angels in Tartarus, then what are demons? Revelations 12:9 does the most to equate demons with some segment of disobedient angels.

And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is call the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world–he was thrown down to the Earth, and his angels were thrown down with him.

Revelation 12:9

So some disobedient angels end up in Tartarus and some here. Incidentally, a common understanding of the sin referred to in 2 Peter is what is described in Genesis 6:2–sexually crossing over to humans.

Revelation gives the idea that there is some sort of breakout or that there could be (depending on how Revelation is to be understood.) Since Tartarus is a place, could not the whole contingent of Satan and his angels have been placed there?

Either this all seems too complex or mythological for you or it makes you wonder how we fit in a broader struggle between God and part of His creation, and what is possible in that struggle.

The ugliness of this world can and should be accepted as a human product, but I wonder how much is initiated and antagonized by forces beyond our recognition. Jesus and the New Testament writers speak of this broader scale war. Our information about it is very limited. Clearly the methods of conventional warfare cannot remove the spiritual enemy only the people who are co-opted by it. Spiritual warfare as described by Paul in Ephesians 6 and the extension of the Gospel to new people, seems to be our role.

Confusing Heaven and the New Earth

One thing that seems to escape many Christians, even clergy and theologians, is that Heaven and the New Earth are two separate places. The idea that there is just Heaven and Hell has been broadly taught for generations. We have even gone soft on these. “Heaven” is almost never capitalized. Does this mean that the editors of various hymnals and Bible translations consider “Heaven” to be a concept rather than a place with a name? And many Christians don’t believe in Hell.

If you are of the impression that there is only Heaven and Hell, where did you learn that? What Bible passages were used? Or was this just the general description given you as a child by adults who never studied the Scripture for this topic? Such an idea can become entrenched in our mind. We are certain that it must be in the Bible, but it is not.

A couple of linguistic things add to our confusion. First, the Greek word for “Heaven” is used to describe “the atmosphere” (first heaven), “the universe” (second heaven), and the dwelling place of God or what I would describe as “Heaven” (third heaven).

“Hell” an English word with a long history of where it came from, is often sloppily assigned to two Aramaic words, “Gehenna”, which was just transliterated into Greek (so it is a Greek word too), and “Sheol” which is translated into Greek as “Hades”. I think it is interesting that one word is just borrowed by Greek (like the word “hard drive” is rarely changed in other languages) and the other is assigned a word with a lot of meaning. “Hades” is also a place of the dead for the Greek people. From this I would conclude that “Gehenna” and “Sheol” are not synonyms. They are two place names, and the latter conceptually fits with the Greek idea of Hades. The result is the tendency to merge places that exist before Judgment Day with those that only exist after Judgment Day.

Heaven, as most of us would think of it, clearly exists now. It is the visible dwelling place of God, the Cherubim (also called Seraphim) and the angels. It will continue to exist after Judgment Day but will not be the visible dwelling place of God. The New Earth is something spoken of in both Old and New Testaments. It is not Heaven and only will exist after Judgment Day. It becomes the formal dwelling place of God with the arrival of the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21.

Sheol/Hades is a place for the damned (and until Jesus made atonement for sin, the Old Testament righteous) that exists today. What I would call “Hell”, Jesus calls “Gehenna”, and John calls the “Lake of Fire”; does exist until after Judgment Day. That it is something distinct from Sheol/Hades is established in Revelation 20:14 where Hades is thrown into the Lake of Fire. I guess at that point they become the same thing.

So will we be in Heaven forever? With the resurrection of our bodies on Judgment Day, the New Earth will become both our permanent dwelling and the dwelling place of God (Rev. 21:1-4); but there are some clues that Heaven remains in the mix somehow. First there is this:

For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.

2 Corinthians 5:1

Does Paul mean “heavens” as the universe or as the current dwelling place of God? Is “heaven” wherever God dwells or a place of its own? I believe Paul is not speaking of the universe and that Heaven is a place, even after God dwells with man on the Earth. Another passage:

According to his (God’s) great mercy he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.

1 Peter 1:3-4 (NIV 1984)

We do go to Heaven when we die. God and probably the New Jerusalem are a part of Heaven that is eternal, but will move to the New Earth. Still, I think this is saying that part of our eternal inheritance is Heaven, the place. The New Earth and Heaven could be our home eternally. There is the movement of the New Jerusalem, which could be the sum total of Heaven, to the New Earth. This would create a parallel to the merging of Sheol and Gehenna described above, but symmetry is all that interpretation has going for it.

While I can see that some of the questions that can be raised about our eternity are unanswered, merging Heaven and the New Earth doesn’t honor the Scriptures, which clearly describes them as distinct. Either way, these things are ours by grace. God prepares for us a body or bodies and a sin and curse free place of existence where we are with Him.

An Expectation of Sheol

All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.

Genesis 37:35 (ESV)

The above quote comes from the story of Joseph. His brothers, in spite, had just sold Joseph into slavery and then reported him as dead to their father Jacob. Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob, and he is crushed by the news. He basically says that he will mourn until he dies, and then he will go where Joseph is–Sheol.

Sheol, the place of the dead, is where every Old Testament person expected to go. They are divided as to whether the experience will be a conscious or unconscious experience. None of them really look forward to it.

There is an expectation of bodily resurrection someday. This can be found in the oldest book in the Old Testament, Job, and it is briefly taught at the end of Daniel. Time will elapse between their death and the resurrection, however.

As mentioned in previous blog entries, translators have struggled with what to do with word, “Sheol”, and its Greek counterpart, “Hades”. Some translations have decided to make it “the pit”, “the grave” or even “Hell”. Usually it is marked with a footnote acknowledging that the word is “Sheol”. Basically, an admission that the translators were not sold themselves on the translation. For this reason Sheol is unknown to most Christians.

Is Sheol Hell? I capitalize both, because both are place names. And no, Sheol is not what I mean when I use the word “Hell” as a place name. “Hell”, for me, corresponds to the final place of forsakeness and suffering reserved for the damned. This corresponds with the word “Gehenna” or the description, “Lake of Fire” found in Revelation 20. Sheol/Hades is dumped into the Lake of Fire in Revelation 20:14. Clearly, it is a distinct place.

Does Jacob expect to suffer after death then? Not necessarily. Sheol is spoken of 63 times in the Old Testament. I am not certain how the people of the Old Testament acquired their knowledge of Sheol. It may have been from revelation from God, but not necessarily. Near Death Experiences and even the forbidden occultic arts could have given to society scraps of information about Sheol. It is allowed to remain in inspired works because it serves God’s purpose in telling the stories. At no place, is there a theological treatise on the nature of Sheol.

In general, Sheol is described as either unconsciousness or unawareness. It is always pictured as the wages of sin and bad. That makes it surprising that all, even the righteous, express an expectation to go there. Sheol is spoken of in poetic terms in Isaiah. It becomes a synonym for death, even though it retains the nature of a place name.

The Old Testament holds only a very modest hope for eternal life. The most detailed description of life after death applies to the New Earth described in Isaiah 65. This description itself is problematic as it describes existence more in terms of long, pleasant life rather than eternal life.

The lack of information about eternal life and the complete absence of an expectation to go to Heaven raises some interesting questions about the nature of revelation. If one sees the religion surrounding Yahweh (whether Jewish or Christian) as the product of humans, then you would explain the doctrine of eternal life as a development–something added later either because it was borrowed from somewhere else or imagined by somebody later. If, rather, you understand both Old and New Testaments as an ongoing dialogue between God and humanity, you understand that God can reveal information when He chooses to reveal information. Theological development is people having more information then they had before.

Sheol is “developed” by Jesus in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. No one would have better and more information about such a place than Jesus. In the story, Lazarus, a poor beggar, dies and is carried to Abraham’s side. The story does not immediately identify where Abraham is. From the Old Testament we should expect that this is Sheol. The rich man also dies and is take to Hades. Here the place is named. He is conscious. He is tormented by flames. Still, he is able to converse with Abraham. Lazarus, however, is being comforted. His place in Sheol is not a place of suffering.

Many jump to the conclusion that Abraham and Lazarus must be in Heaven. That is where the righteous go. But Jesus blocks that conclusion in John 3:13 by telling us that no one has gone into Heaven, at least not yet. Abraham and Lazarus are in a separate parts of Sheol divided by a chasm from the rest, but not prohibiting some communication between the two parts.

Some church bodies have given names to the pleasant part of Sheol. The Catholic Church refers to it as the “Limbo of the Fathers.” Others just refer to it as Abraham’s Bosom. Most just ignore it.

Sheol as a destiny for the righteous awaited the atonement for sins that Jesus would complete. I expect “Abraham’s Bosom” to still exist as a place. But it is now an empty place. Our expectations are now happily turned to Heaven. That humans should occupy Heaven awaited not only atonement but the expulsion of Satan and his minions as described in Revelation 12.

While I don’t need independent confirmation of God’s revelation, it does exist. Near Death Experiences include both seeing Heaven and Sheol as briefly described by Jesus. The expectation of the resurrection of our bodies still stands as a future promise awaiting Judgment Day.

The Wages of Sin

You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil you shall not eat, for in the day that eat of it you shall surely die.

Genesis 2:16-17

For us death is the norm. All of us understand that we will one day die; and even if death seems surreal to us now, the day is coming when it will seem quite concrete. It is hard to imagine a world where there was no such thing as death. Death is an integral part of our world now.

Adam and Eve most likely didn’t understand what death was. At least they couldn’t grasp the scope and the gravity of what it meant. One transgression, the only one they could make, would not only be a mistake, it would change the world.

My personal theory is that touching the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil released a means of genetic change. Something like a virus. It infected and changed Adam and Eve and through heredity impacts us all. It also infected and changed, every living thing and made death a part of the “circle of life” which would have been an ongoing line not a circle. Through some other means it also impacted the non-living part of the environment. The world became an unbalanced and dangerous place that didn’t work the way it did at creation. Now it would be far less cooperative. These changes were the direct result of sin. Evil was known because now it was part of the system.

The well-known passage from Romans 6:23, “The wages of sin is death…” has many levels of meaning. The original sin and set of consequences got it all started. This passage is not said to us as if it were something we could really avoid. The story of Adam and Eve is recorded primarily so that we can understand why we, otherwise eternal creatures, live in a system that includes death. We are sinners by birth. The Sermon on the Mount was not given to lay down a list of achievable standards. It is primarily given to convince people that they are sinners. Jesus’ discourse with the “rich, young ruler” was not given to tell people they can save themselves by giving away their wealth to the poor. It was given to convince a man who thought he kept God’s law that he did not. He was a sinner.

The result is death. Genetically we are doomed to die, because genetically we are sinners. Further, as sinners we are doomed to experience ultimate death, spiritual death, exile from God; because that is the way God has made it. His Law requires death. No rebel will share in the good things that God has made for long.

If that were the end of the story, then God should have ended the story right after Adam and Eve’s transgression. Why let the rest of us be born into a hopeless situation? But Romans 6:23 says more, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Creation was allowed to continue on in its sinful condition because there would be hope of life restored.

The way the “wages of sin” have been paid out has varied over the ages. One aspect of consequences of rebellion has been the aging process. We start moving toward our ultimate physical death immediately. The pace wasn’t always the same. People born before Noah and then tailing off after Noah lived much longer lives. I don’t think this is mythical. Genetic modification done deliberately by God hasn’t the pace. Personally I am not complaining. To live 900+ years in a cursed world is unappealing. In fact, to live the full life expectancy of 120yrs, sounds like 30 years too much to me.

The spiritual aspect has differed too. Before Jesus had made eternal life with God a possibility, humans fell into two categories as they do now. Those who believed God and were claimed by Him and those who remained rebellious. Their fates after death were to be sent to a common place: Sheol (in Hebrew) Hades (in Greek). The only other hope expressed in the Old Testament referred to a resurrection connected to Judgment Day. There was no talk of humans in Heaven at that time. There had been no such promise expressed by God.

As you look for how Sheol fits into the execution of “the wages of sin is death”, it would seem that it was only a partial execution of the Law, especially for the faithful. Though rid of their genetically sinful bodies, the faithful were neither transported into the visible presence of God nor completely banished from God. The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) gives the most comprehensive description of what Hades was like. In it, Lazarus is comforted in the “bosom of Abraham”, while the rich man suffers in hellish conditions. The two can communicate but are clearly segregated due to the judgment of their lives that already occurred. The sins of Lazarus, Abraham and other faithful have not yet been paid for by Jesus, neither has a full execution of death. The rich man is suffering a fuller sentence, but has yet to receive full abandonment by God. The experience of the sentence for sin would be radically changed by Jesus’ victory on the cross and then later by Judgment Day.

The wages of sins would fully by paid. It is just of matter of who pays them. For those who believe the judgment of God, that they are sinful, and the promise of God, that their sin can be forgiven, Jesus pays the price. Jesus is forsaken which fulfills the Law. For the rest, Judgment Day brings the final piece. They are put outside of any aspect of God’s presence. This is the ultimate sentence of death. To arrive at this point it takes more than to be born sinful, it takes rejecting God’s own effort to remove the sentence.

The Way That We Are Made

What makes a human being special, if anything? A Materialist would say that nothing is special. We are just a biological robot doing what chemistry is forcing us to do with no specific purpose. Materialism is a very disparaging philosophy that doesn’t fit our experience. I don’t believe it at all. I experience myself making choices, contemplating my existence, living with purpose; and even though I have not died and returned from the dead yet, I have a sense that I am not limited to my physical lifespan. That may lack scientific vigor, but the atheistic claims of a Materialist do as well, and are clearly rubbish.

Human beings are more than interesting chemistry. Complex chemistry is a part of our being, but not the whole of it. Most people have thought so. The dissenters have a clear bias–they don’t want God to exist.

The Bible says something different about humans. It says we were created in the “image of God”. What does that mean? I don’t think it is the common meaning of the term “image”. The Bible declares several times that God is a spirit or is spirit. While the meaning of “spirit” is also vague, I would gather from usage that it means that God is not set in his appearance by a defined physical form. Part of being created in the “image of God” is having a part of our being not connected to a defined physical form.

Our bodies are a “defined physical form” the way I am using the phrase. The Bible speaks of humans as also having a “spirit”. Our spirit may be what we experience as consciousness. But our spirit is not the whole of us. We are body, and possibly bodies, and spirit. Our spirit can be liberated from connection to our body. That is what death is. Our spirit can interact with our body. That is why we can control it and that is what is observed when mapping brain activity.

We know that our earthly body can die and decay. Our spirit cannot, which is another aspect of being made in the image of God. We are eternal. While I do not believe in reincarnation, I understand the Bible to say that we can have a heavenly body (1 Corinthians 15:40, 2 Corinthians 5:1). In that case, our spirit is interacting with a body made for the physical dimensions of Heaven. I also know from the Bible that we will have a “resurrected” body. In this case, our spirit is interacting with a recreated, indestructible body built for the physical dimensions of this universe. Being eternal, we will never lapse into non-existence.

Being created in the image of God means, among still other things, that we have an eternal, non-material part that can interact with material bodies that can exist within their respective physical realms. This is theorizing that Heaven is a parallel universe to this universe rather than a remote part of it. The same can be said for Hell. How we will spend eternity depends on our relationship with God.

Humans were not created by God to be in an antagonistic or forsaken relationship to Him. We were created for Him, to be with Him. But that relationship was broken a long time ago. When we come into being at our conception, we do not arrive with a good relationship and with an unblemished image of God. God creates us, but in the sense that He created the biological system of reproduction that makes us. We do not start from scratch. As such, we inherit physically a nature that is antagonistic to God and under God’s judgment. (Romans 7, Psalm 51:5 et al). The only fix for us is Jesus. Jesus’ actions created the opportunity to repair our relationship with God. God seeks us out to connect us to Jesus; and, if successful, to restore us to what we were originally intended to be.

Would we know this without being told about it by God? I doubt it. We would only experience a vague sense of something amiss. We would see a troubled and often ugly world made painful by human actions. We would walk blindly into our own deaths, perhaps expecting the end of our existence. Finding instead a far worse continued existence.

Created in the image of God is what we are for better or worse. Thank God, He did not abandon us to a hopeless fate.

What Is Eternal Life?

I want to tell you of an encounter I had on Golgotha, the place where Jesus was crucified. I am not speaking metaphorically here. I was in Jerusalem a couple of years ago. We were visiting the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. This is a church in the old city of Jerusalem, where the traditional site of Jesus’ crucifixion and of Jesus’ burial lie within one building. Many people, including me, don’t appreciate that Golgotha and the rich man’s tomb were so close together; but John’s gospel records that the place of crucifixion was in a garden. It was an ugly act placed in a beautiful place near the gate of the city. I expect it was to show Roman dominance.

When you enter at the ground level through the main door, the top of Golgotha (the place of the skull) is just up about the equivalent of two normal floors of a building to your right. The tomb is around a corner to your left. Our group went up to the Chapel on top of Golgotha first. The chapel is a somewhat sad story of in-fighting among the groups that control the church. There are three altars. The far right altar is Roman Catholic, the middle Orthodox, the left Arminian. We were in the middle and a group (presumably Catholic) was in the right portion of the chapel. I couldn’t help but overhear the presentation being made by the priest, who sounded American. To my shock he said, “I don’t know what eternal life is, but I think it has something to do with this Earth; we live on in the memories of people.”

I almost had a stroke. Here we are on the likely place where Jesus died and a member of the clergy suggests that eternal life is being remembered. In reflection on the statement made by the priest, I guess I assumed that everyone is clear about the nature of eternal life; and, clearly, I assumed too much. When we let worldly doubts, fears, and academic criticism get into our heads, we can believe that real existence beyond our deaths is impossible. The Jews also had a group, the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection of the body. When this becomes your worldview, references to eternal life are nothing more than wishful thinking or, as the priest said, memories.

My question is, “What would Jesus’ dying on a cross 2000 years ago have anything to do with whether people remember me or not?” The answer is, “It doesn’t.” On that rock on which we stood Jesus literally suffered being forsaken by His Father. That selfless act enabled a promise of God to work. God extends to humans the opportunity to be connected to Jesus. When connected through baptism in the name of Jesus (not some other ridiculous formula), the forsakeness of Jesus becomes the fulfillment of what God’s law requires of us. Because we have not kept God’s Law, we are required to be damned (forsaken). Jesus takes that sentence for us. Having been made right with God, we can live with God in the joy and glory of Heaven (a real place and thus capitalized) and also in the New Earth (also real and as a proper noun capitalized). If you can’t tell, the failure of many books and bible translations to capitalize both Heaven and Earth when referring to the place is a pet peeve of mine.

It is also important to note here that eternal life does not just mean existence. After your death you will exist regardless of your standing with God. That is how you are made. You will actually exist, not just in memory. It is just that if you exist as a being forsaken by God, the experience will be so hopeless and horrifying that calling such an existence “life” is a gross disservice to the word. The Bible is not even thrilled with called our current existence “life”. Existence in Heaven and the New Earth is real life. Once there you will not care if people remember you. You will be having too much fun. Life after death is not some version of the Disney movie, “Coco”. Maybe that is where the priest learned his theology.

So take heart. Jesus has opened the door to life. This is not some vague concept. It is more concrete that you are now.

Angels and the Afterlife

Let me say one thing before we get to more important matters. We don’t become Angels when we die. Maybe more shocking to you, there is no reference to Angels having wings (those are Cherubim/Seraphim which is something different), no reference to female Angels, nor any reference to baby angels.

These beliefs flow into the void of information about Angels, and are frequently expressed by those who have only a casual acquaintance with the Bible. They have seen a Bible. Never really read it. It is also the product of medieval and Renaissance art.

Angels are a species of their own. There is no detailed description of what they look like, but the lack of description lends to the understanding that they are human-like, maybe even enough to pass for a human. In Acts, Stephen’s face is described as being “like the face of an angel.”, but there is no explanation of what that means. Hebrews suggests that we may “entertain” Angels unaware of their identity. It is implied that they look like humans.

The name angelus means messenger. Being a messenger from God is the main function we see Angels fulfilling. The species may not be called “Angels”, that is the moniker we have placed on them for lack of other terms. People, especially pastors, can be called angelus in the Bible.

One observed ability that Angels seem to have is the ability to be in Heaven or on Earth. I think this is a bigger idea than simply being able to travel. My assumption is that Heaven is a different time-space plane. One would not necessarily have a physical presence in another time-space plane unless you were made for it. In the case of humans, we acquire a heavenly body once we are in Heaven. We might not have one now.

Since Angels are creatures that properly reside in Heaven, they will be a part of our afterlife while we are in Heaven and possibly in the New Earth as well. What will our relationship be like? Other than to say good, it is hard to say the types of interactions we will have with Angels.

Currently, the Bible suggests that they assist us now behind the scenes. The book of Daniel speaks of Angels assigned to whole nations. In the case of Israel it is Michael. Michael might be a type of super-angel, however. In Matthew 18:10, Jesus speaks of the Angels assigned to little children, and suggests that they have favored access to God. In Acts 12:15, a servant girl mistakes Peter (who was supposed to be in prison) with his Angel. Together these passages may suggest that many or all of us have a “guardian Angel”.

In the Bible, Angels demonstrate the ability to break into prisons and blind guards to what is happening, to physically fight or block someone’s way, and to gather God’s people from around the planet. Hebrews describe humans as being “a little lower than the angels”, which I would take to mean that we have similar but inferior abilities for now.

A possible reference to Angels is found in Genesis 6:2:

the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose.

Genesis 6:2

Whoever the “sons of God” were, it would seems that this move was displeasing to God as it is at this point that God dials back the length of human life from potentially 900+ years to 120. It may suggest enough similarity to interbreed.

This passage and Jesus’ words in Matthew 22 bring into question the sexual nature of Angels and our own future sexuality. Jesus said,

At the resurrection people will neither marry or be given in marriage; they will be like the Angels in Heaven.

Matthew 22:30

Jesus never says what the Angels are like. We can infer that they do not marry, but this doesn’t say that they or humans after the resurrection will be asexual.

Like humans, Angels had their falling out with Satan. Revelation 12 suggest that around one third fell away, and now we equate them with demons. If fallen Angels are not demons, then we have no means to account for what a demon actually is. These Angels will share the fate of the damned.

God’s plan of salvation through Jesus’ death and resurrection definitely benefits humans, its also “redeems” creation so that there is a new Earth with a new nature on it. Does it impact Angels? Colossians 1 might refer to this:

For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him (Jesus), and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on Earth or things in Heaven, by making peace though his blood, shed on the cross.

Colossians 1:19-20

What that means for Angels is not clear. “All things” and “in Heaven” suggest that it means something. Any guess as to what is merely speculative.

From what we are told, we can expect to interact with, worship along side of , and enjoy an eternal relationship with Angels. The possibilities of what that will be like are as intriguing as what it will be like to interact with other humans who no longer are under the influence of sinful nature.

Satan and the Afterlife

He is often shown in comedic form: a being with horns and a pitchfork and possibly a sense of humor ruling over Hell. But Satan is no joke. He can also be understood as a serious character ruling over the underworld. But there is nothing Biblical to connect Satan, or any demon for that matter, with Sheol; and Hell is described as a future placed prepared for the “Devil and his angels” not so that they can rule, but so they can experience being forsaken by God like all the damned.

I expect that most people dismiss Satan as pure fiction–a personification of evil. The Bible doesn’t waste too much space speaking of Satan, but he is definitely in there from the oldest book (Job) to the latest (Revelation). People tend to not believe in what they don’t want to be true. Anyway, Satan is a factor in any discussion of the afterlife, because without him there would be no such thing. There would only be life. The evil found in Satan becomes the source of all evil and the reason for death and segregation of those who belong to God from those who don’t.

So what is he? He is not the evil equivalent of God. Take a look at Ezekiel 28. It starts as a rebuke of the ruler of Tyre who thinks he is a god. Such megalomania was not unusual amongst ancient rulers, but around verse 12 it gets weird. Ezekiel is to “take up a lament” concerning the King of Tyre, and this lament no longer makes sense for a human:

You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you…on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.


Ezekiel 28:12-15

This reads like a backstory for Satan. It may be associated with the ruler of Tyre because of either the influence or because of a direct possession of the ruler Tyre. If this is Satan it tells us several things. He was created, beautiful, blameless at one time. He is a “living one” or cherubim, which are described earlier in Ezekiel, Isaiah 6 and Revelation 4. Their descriptions may not be about what they look like, as all of these accounts are visions and not observations. Their descriptions may be of their capabilities. In this case the ability to shift in form and to see into multiple situations at once. We can also infer a truly free will, uncontrolled by God. This free will becomes the source of pride, rebellion and wickedness.

Satan’s rebellion becomes the cause for his expulsion from the “mount of God” but not immediately. Ezekiel speaks prophetically and not historically at this point. Satan is seen in the presence of the God and vigorously accusing humans if not angels all the way to the time of Christ.

Revelation 12 takes up the next part of Satan’s story.

Now war arose in heaven, Michael and his angels fighting against the dragon. And the dragon and his angels fought back, but he was defeated, and there was no longer any place for them in Heaven. And the great dragon was thrown down, that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world—he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him. 10 And I heard a loud voice in Heaven, saying, “Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our brothers has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. 11 And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death. 12 Therefore, rejoice, O heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to you, O earth and sea, for the devil has come down to you in great wrath, because he knows that his time is short!”

Revelation 12:7-12

Do we have any proof of this, outside of it being in the Bible? This could easily be just an ancient, irrelevant myth. I would offer a couple things. First, Satan appears to have had access to Earth before Christ and negative influence. So I wouldn’t expect human life to be necessarily worse at this point. But I do notice that as Christianity moved across the planet, initially it seemed to improve conditions; but within a generation or so there would be a negative snap back and corruption within the church itself. You can explain this from a sociological point of view, but I wonder if this has deeper roots. Also, while there was always anti-Semitism, it did not stand out as any worse than the fate of any other people group. Since then the Jews seem to lead to the way in the most hated department. The rest of Revelation 12 says this:

13 And when the dragon saw that he had been thrown down to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. 14 But the woman was given the two wings of the great eagle so that she might fly from the serpent into the wilderness, to the place where she is to be nourished for a time, and times, and half a time. 15 The serpent poured water like a river out of his mouth after the woman, to sweep her away with a flood. 16 But the earth came to the help of the woman, and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed the river that the dragon had poured from his mouth. 17 Then the dragon became furious with the woman and went off to make war on the rest of her offspring, on those who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus.

Revelation 12:13-17

The woman mentioned here is clearly the Jewish nation. Verses 15-16 sound eerily like WWII.

There is more to be said about Satan and the afterlife. I will take that up in my next blog entry.

Why Must We Die?

Considering that death comes for everyone, it may seem like a ridiculous question to ask why we have to die. The question, however, comes up when we are facing the death of either ourselves or someone we love. As it turns out, it isn’t a ridiculous question at all.

Scientifically, we could site the fact that our bodies seem to be programmed to age and die. Our cells can only divide a limited number of times. This sets the outer limit on how long we can physically live. Usually before we hit our full potential lifespan (120 years), death caused by damage or illness takes us. The oldest among us do top out at 120.

The Bible has an interesting explanation that fits nicely with observed facts. When Moses wrote down the first five books of the Bible, He relayed God’s feelings about the lifespan of humans:

Then the Lord said, ” My Spirit will not contend with man forever, for he is flesh: his days shall be 120 years.”

Genesis 6:3

Prior to this the Bible records some amazing lifespans, with Methuselah holding the record at 969 years. I’m sure most people consider these lifespans to be fictitious, but why? If our DNA were different, so that it could replicate more often, why couldn’t we live for 969 years? It seems that God dialed us back because we were getting on His nerves.

It is interesting to note that after this passage, people didn’t just hit the wall at 120. It takes several generations to arrive at this limit.

For that matter, why should we die at all? Indeed, God can make an indestructible body. Adam and Eve were not engineered to die. Their rebellion seems to have genetically modified them. Death was just one of the negative outcomes. People scoff at the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil story in Genesis 3. It smells of myth to them. Is it? What if the Tree was real and “knowing Good and Evil” was a euphemism for being modified from God’s original design. Evil isn’t just a human social construct, it is the sum of deviations from God’s plans and His ways. Those deviations included genetic modification and failure, inherent tendency to God forbidden behaviors, and physical death.

We die because we are sinners. We are sinners because it is encoded in our DNA. It is encoded in our DNA because our truly, free-will capable ancestors decided that God wasn’t good or trustworthy. Now there is no way around death, only through it.

More frightening than having to die is the fact that humans were made to be eternal beings and remain so even with built-in physical death. Spiritual death is different than physical death. In physical death our bodies break down and eventually cannot sustain functioning. Decay soon follows. Our consciousness is not a part of body after physical death. The Bible warns of post-mortem judgment, first in Sheol, the after a resurrection in Gehenna (or what we call Hell). These two places share common conditions: fire, despair, suffering. Hell holds a unique condition: forsakenness. Only here does God completely abandon you.

All but physical death is avoidable. Jesus Christ died and was forsaken in our place. A connection to Jesus, makes Jesus’ sinlessness ours and Jesus’ forsakenness ours as well. It is a promise of God’s delivered through baptism.

Physical death remains a requirement since physical death is a part of our physical bodies. We need to shed this. Death is both a terrible thing because it is the product of sin and produces an “unnatural” separation of body and soul, and it is a sought after relief if we are connected to Jesus.

Fear it, fight it, live in denial that it exists. Death still comes for all.