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Are There Different Levels of Hell and Heaven?

Does the Bible teach that there are different levels of hell [1] and of heaven?  If so, to what degree does it mean regarding reward, positions, and suffering for those in hell?

Is Hell a Literal Place?

Yes, hell is a literal place and it is not a figment of our imagination.  The fact is that Jesus spoke three times more often about hell than He ever did about heaven.  Jesus vividly describes hell as:

  • A place of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:43, 48).
  • An actual place where both body and soul go (Matt 10:28).
  • A place of unending torment (Luke 16:23).
  • A place that is “salt with fire” (Mark 9:49).
  • A place of weeping and gnashing (or grinding) of teeth (Matt 24:51).
  • A place full of fire (Matt 5:22).
  • A lake of fire (Rev 20:14-15).
  • A place of eternal blackness and utter darkness (Jude 1:7. 23).

And a place where their worm never dies (Mark 9:48). Notice it is their worm…their own personal worm…not just “a” worm but “their worm” indicating that their own worm is specific to them.  This “worm” may be attributed to what they have done in their lifetime (Rev 20:12). For those who are cast into this place of horror, “he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev 14:10-11).

Does the Bible teach that there are different levels of hell and of heaven? [2]

Does the Bible teach that there are different levels of hell and of heaven?

Are there Different Levels of Hell?

Instead of seeing hell as consisting of different levels, we should ask, are there different levels of suffering?  The level of hell is not as important as to whether there will be different levels of suffering in hell.  Jesus said something regarding this and He was speaking in the context of His second coming and judging of the world when He said “the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating.  But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded” (Luke 12:48-48).  He is saying that the more a person knows about Christ and still refuses to do anything about it, the more they will be held accountable.  More so than the native in the Amazon who has never heard the name of Christ. To hear the gospel time and time again and not respond to it will be to regret it forever.  The more light a person has been given the more they will be held accountable.

Some teach that Purgatory is where a person has to suffer for their unforgiven sins and undergo purging before they can go to heaven. Like the painting Dante’s Inferno which shows different levels of hell, some believe that hell is made up of higher and lower levels and the lower the level, the greater degree of suffering.  While the Bible doesn’t address this specifically, we do know that some who are more evil in this life will have to suffer more for their sins.  Hitler will suffer more than the person who lived a pretty good life. The consequences of sin for the unsaved will be attributed to the degree to which they suffer.  Instead of thinking of it as different levels of hell, it is really different levels of suffering.  Revelation says that every person’s deeds are “recorded in the books” and everyone will be “judged according to their works” (Rev 20:12).  For Christians, whose names are in the Book of Life, they will not be judged at that time because their sins were settled at Calvary but for “anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life [they were] thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:15).

Is Heaven a Literal Place?

Yes, heaven [3] is a literal place because Jesus said before He went away that He’s going to “prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also” (John 14:3).  We can see that Jesus is actually going to a particular place and where is that?  He ascended into heaven after His resurrection to be seated at the right hand of the Father and so that place is heaven.  It is a real place where real worship occurs 24/7.  The holy angels proclaim day and night, “Holy, Holy, Holy is the Lord God Almighty, the earth is full of His glory” (Isaiah 6:3).  Jesus would not come back for believers to bring them to only a state of mind, or to go and float on a bunch of clouds.  By the way, heaven is any place where God is because God is what makes it heaven, heaven.

Are there Different Levels of Heaven?

The Bible describes heaven as coming out or descending out of the sky and coming down to earth.  This New Jerusalem will be a place where believers will have differing levels of authority and different positions.  This is based upon what we have done on this earth.  Even though believer’s sins were judged at the cross and we are not saved by works, our works after we are saved will determine what rank we will have in the Kingdom of Heaven.  In Luke 19 Jesus spoke a parable about His servants who have been entrusted with certain amounts of minas (or currency).  The minas could be seen as Jesus’ gifts to the Christians for them to use for the Kingdom.  These might be used to start a ministry, to feed the poor, to visit widows and orphans, to visit the sick and the shut-ins.  Jesus said that if you do these things for others, you are essentially doing them to Him (Matt 25:40).  So the person who has been given many abilities or gifts and this might be gifts of the Spirit, certain talents, or maybe even wealth, and they use them for the glory of God, that person will receive greater responsibility in the Kingdom of Heaven.  Jesus will say to those persons who doubled what they had been given, “Well done, good servant! Because you have been faithful in a very little, you shall have authority over ten cities” (Luke 19:17).  The fact is that they may be ruler of ten cities in the Kingdom of Heaven.  We do know that believers will be kings and priests in the coming Kingdom (Rev 13; 20:6).  Even those who have fewer talents, gifts, or skills will receive double to what they have, if that is they have used them for the glory of God s and they might “be over five cities” (Luke 19:19).  Maybe the New Jerusalem will have different levels strategically or in the physical manner since the New Jerusalem is hundreds of miles high, hundreds of miles wide, and hundreds of miles long.  There is little doubt though that those who do the most for God’s glory on earth will receive the greater positions of rule and power in heaven.

Conclusion

Jesus told the crowds who were gathered around Him that “do not fear those who kill the body, and after that can do nothing more.  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him” (Luke 12:4-5).  To those who feel that they have everything they need in this life, Jesus warns them that have much in this life that they may say to themselves, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’  But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God” (Luke 12:19-21)!  What Jesus was saying was that even if we have no needs in this life and all of our needs have been met, what good are they if you are cast down into hell.  You could die tonight and have no further chance to repent and trust in Christ [4].  If you make no decision or reject Him today, the wrath of God will be cast upon you some day and on a day when you do not expect it (John 3:36; Luke 12:20). Jesus warns all who will put off this decision that “You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour” (Luke 12:40).  Will He come before you are ready?  Decide today for tonight your very soul may be required of you and He will come at an unexpected hour to judge you and He will say bring “these enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them—bring them here and slaughter them in my presence” (Luke 19:27). God forbid that this happen to you.

More reading: Where is Heaven? Where is Hell? [5]

Resource – Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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