There is a belief that there are three different “heavens” and four different “hells”; or four levels of hell. Let’s look at this a moment.

Before we look at the “three heavens” and “four hells” let understand some context. What do I mean by CONTEXT? If you took the Russian president and sat him in the White House of the USA, would we listen to his direction? No. Why not; he’s a president? Yes, but he’s the president of Russia and not the USA. To put the president of Russia in the US White House is to pull that president from his “context”. This same thing applies to the Bible.

The writings in the Bible were not written to the twenty-first century American church. Each book, or letter, of the Bible, was written to a specific people of a specific culture by a specific author for a specific purpose speaking a specific language. While it was written to THEM God preserved it for US. Yet, we must be careful not to take it contents from its original context. This means that we need to see what it was saying to them before we determine what it means to us. This is important because the Bible can never mean what it never meant, and a word in the Bible can never mean what it never meant. So, let’s see what is being said to THEM and then we will determine what it means to us.

Two heavens is an ancient belief in many different cultures during Biblical times. The Jew’s, however, knew of another Heaven where God dwells. Let’s look at these three heavens.

In the beginning God created the HEAVENS (plural) and the earth
(Genesis 1:1 NKJV)

The creation of “heavens” here is not His dwelling place. God was not floating around in nothingness and one day decide to make a home and worlds. Verse one is like a newspaper headline or summary of what is coming after.

20 Then God said, “Let the waters abound with an abundance of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the face of the firmament of the heavens.
(Genesis 1:20 NKJV)

The reason that the Jews recognized a day starting at nightfall was because of the creation. God said, “and evening and morning were… day”. For the same reason, the Jews established two heavens. God created a firmament (Gen 1:6) and he created the Earths atmosphere; which is the face of the firmament (Gen 1:20). The first heaven was our atmosphere where the birds fly.

19 Our pursuers were swifter
Than the eagles of the heavens
(Lamentations 4:19 NKJV)

23 Yet He had commanded the clouds above,
And opened the doors of heaven
(Psalms 78:23 NKJV)

17 lest the Lord's anger be aroused against you, and He shut up the heavens so that there be no rain
(Deuteronomy 11:17 NKJV)

12 The Lord will open to you His good treasure, the heavens, to give the rain to your land in its season
(Deuteronomy 28:12 NKJV)

Then God said, “Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters.” 7 Thus God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. 8 And GOD CALLED THE FIRMAMENT HEAVEN. So the evening and the morning were the second day
(Genesis 1:6-8 NKJV)

Then we see the firmament itself. The firmament is where the sun, moon, and stars are (Gen 1:14-18). This firmament was called the second heaven; and we see supporting Scriptures of this “second heaven”.

22 It is He who sits above the circle of the earth,
And its inhabitants are like grasshoppers,
Who stretches out the heavens like a curtain
(Isaiah 40:22 NKJV)

2 They shall spread them before the sun and the moon and all the host of heaven
(Jeremiah 8:2 NKJV)

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven
(2 Corinthians 12:2 NKJV)

The LETTERS are not theological treatises. Paul did not know that this letter would be read by anyone other than the churches in that time. The letters discussed, corrected, and answered events, issues, and the questions of THAT church which he wrote to and was not setting a theology for us. Here, Paul was talking to Gentiles. Most Gentiles knew of two heavens as this was seen also in their pagan mythology. All Paul was doing here is this…. “there are two heavens that you know of but this man went to a Heaven you can’t see, a third Heaven that is beyond what we know.”

In conclusion, the “three heavens” is not some theological teaching but rather a cultural understanding based on nature and religion.

In the Old Testament “Hell” is translated from the Hebrew word Sheol. Sheol merely means grave. There were no teachings of hell in the Old Testament times. When a person died, they merely went to Sheol; the grave.

Once you turn the page to the Gospels the teaching of hell changed. Messiah Yeshua talked of hell more than He talked of heaven. Let’s look at the words used in the New Testament.

Hades is probably one of the most well-known words for “hell”; but the problem is, it does not mean hell. Hades is a pagan god.

Hades and his two brothers (Zeus and Poseidon) defeated their father's generation of gods, the Titans, and claimed rulership over the cosmos. Hades received the underworld, Zeus the air, and Poseidon the sea, with the solid earth. Hades was often portrayed with his three-headed guard dog Cerberus.

The underworld that Hades received was named after him… hades. The realm of Hades is said to be a misty and gloomy abode of the dead.

Yeshua referred to hades as a metaphor to describe the grave or hell. Hades was not actually a name for hell in the first century. The reason Yeshua used the reference to hades is that there are no teachings of hell in the Old Testament Scripture; the Scripture they would have known. Yet, the Israelites would have known about the hades of Rome since the mythology started with Greece and continued to Rome; two empires who ruled them and whose religious practices were not only known but often adopted by the children of Israel.

Another word used by Christ was Gehenna. Gehenna is often translated to “hell” as well but it actually was a garbage dump for Jerusalem.

During the reign of Ahaz, Israel participated in the worship of the false god Molech. In his attempt to please Molech, Ahaz actually engaged in human sacrifice, sacrificing his own son to the fiery god (2 Chron. 28:1-4). Archaeologists have learned that Molech was represented by a golden calf, being the religion of Canaan.

The idol had the head of a bull, with outstretched arms. A fire burned in his hollow stomach and a child was sacrificed on the arms.

This practice was stopped during the reforms of Josiah (2 Kings 23:10), then the valley became a dumping ground for the city of Jerusalem. During the time of Yeshua, it was used to burn garbage.

Hence, Messiah Yeshua used the word gehenna as a metaphor to describe a place of punishment as a place of filth and stench, a place of smoke and pain, a place of fire and death. It’s as if He is saying, “There is a hell that you know very little about, but it’s like Gehenna.”

NOTE: While Hades and Gehenna were used as metaphors, this is not meaning that hell is a metaphor. Yeshua describes hell in detail and it certainly does not sound like a winter retreat.

The term Lake of Fire was only used in the book of Revelation.

Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death
(Revelation 20:14 NKJV)

It’s quite possible that John drew off of Yeshua’s teaching of Gehenna to use this term. Or, God Himself may have used the term as the actual place. When we understand the context of Hades, we then understand what this is saying. Death and hades are cast into the lake of fire which represents an end of death and the GRAVE. Never will they have a part in the new earth. They are a mortal phenomena that belong only to this world. Death is the final enemy to be destroyed. (1 Corinthians 15:26, 53-55)

For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. 26 The last enemy that will be destroyed is death
(1 Corinthians 15:25-26 NKJV)

So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O Death, where is your sting?
O Hades, where is your victory
(1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NKJV)

In conclusion, there are not four hells or four levels to hell. We must look at the four words used in its original language, and original context, and see what exactly is being said. When we ask the questions we find out that one word simply means the grave and two words are definite metaphors to give the listener of the day a visual picture of what hell looks like. Then we have the Lake of Fire which could be a play off the metaphor of Gehenna or merely be a description of the place called hell.