Where Is Sheol? Jesus & His Kingdom, III

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This is the third installment of my review on Mike Gantt’s Jesus and His Kingdom: The Biblical Case for Everyone Going to Heaven.

I’d like to note that thus far, I haven’t actually responded to universalism in this series, at all. Like any worthwhile writer, Mike has simply been laying the groundwork for his case–laying more bricks for our wall of understanding, as he eloquently put it–and I think he’s doing an excellent job. So, please don’t be let down if some or all of today’s post is hardly related to universalism. I assure you we’ll get there. I have faith that Mike will explain the “who-what-when-where-why” of his beliefs as the chapters proceed.

That said, the following jumped out as directly relevant to the recent discussions on NDE around here, and specifically, a comment from Christopher:

The third idea is that at death the spirit of the person leaves the body and departs to a place the Bible calls Sheol.

This partly answers Christopher’s question of how demonstrating disembodied consciousness can be considered strong evidence for various forms of theism, specifically Christianity and Judaism. Of course, the apparent problem for Christianity and Judaism is that the vast majority of NDE accounts report enlightening, loving encounters with a divine being, not the cold, dense, dark atmosphere of Sheol. Is this evidence Christianity and Judaism got it wrong? I don’t think it is. That’s a topic for the thread if anybody’s interested.

Mike gives us a battery of verses indicating the general direction of Sheol as “down” from the Earth. He notes that the “nether” in netherworld comes from neoþera, a word meaning down. As he explains later in the chapter, this lends understanding and a literal meaning to the phrase, raised from the dead. He illustrates how the Bible is internally consistent in this regard, and I wholeheartedly agree:

According to these Scriptures, and the many like them elsewhere in the New Testament, Jesus was to be “raised up.” Therefore, He was said to be “risen.” The event was called a “resurrection” from the dead. He had been “brought up from the dead.” Kind of consistent, huh?

Mike takes special care to highlight the fact that Sheol–though perhaps an unfamiliar word in an ancient book–actually denotes something that finds expression in many cultures from antiquity to today. It seems to me he’s trying to demystify the word. He uses this to illustrate that the Bible speaks a language with which we are all familiar.

Next, Mike turns to the story of Saul and the medium, and I don’t have much to say about it save for one question. Mike wrote,

Samuel does not like being disturbed.  (Now we know why all those grave markers say “R.I.P.”:  rest in peace.)  Notice also that he  blames the disturbance on Saul for “bringing me up.”

From that, I got the impression Mike thinks the medium actually brought Samuel up [Mike, can you clarify for me there?]

Next, Mike makes a comment that had previously eluded my attention, and that I suspect is the first real anchor for his argument that will follow:

Let me pause to emphasize the point that the Bible that Jesus read is consistently portraying everyone as going to Sheol. Not just the wicked, not just the rebellious Korah and his co-conspirators, not just the enemies of God, but the friends of God: Rachel, Jacob, Job, David, David’s innocent infant, Jonathan, Samuel. Throughout what we call the Old Testament, the portrayal is consistent and clear:  all human beings go down to Sheol at death.

This never occurred to me, and I suspect Mike might reason that the new promise is just a reversal of the old curse: whereas everyone went to Sheol before, everyone goes to heaven now, on account of Jesus’ provision. While I don’t endorse this position, I’m certainly not closed off to it, nor would I mock it or imply that Mike is some sort of heathen who can’t read his Bible right. Rather, I’m genuinely interested in hearing the rest of his case.

Although, I can’t help but wonder: why does Mike spend any time witnessing to people or trying to convince them of Jesus’ gospel at all?

All in all, I found the chapter edifying, and I’d like to end on what I think is a very forceful argument. Mike writes:

If we had found the Bible to be painting unclear and inconsistent pictures of what happens to the dead, we might be justified in rejecting its explanation. Since, however, it paints one clear and uncomplicated picture, and gives us hope about those who have died, why would we not embrace it quickly and gladly?


  1. From that, I got the impression Mike thinks the medium actually brought Samuel up [Mike, can you clarify for me there?]

    Yes, I take the passage at face value.

    Although, I can’t help but wonder: why does Mike spend any time witnessing to people or trying to convince them of Jesus’ gospel at all?

    As the rest of the book will make clear, and as my blogs amply illustrate, there is nothing in life more important to me than bearing witness to Jesus Christ and His good news. In fact, the summation of my message is “Repent, and follow Jesus Christ our Lord.” This is why I do not like the label “universalism” even though I believe everyone is going to heaven. Universalism often carries the connotation that living righteously does not matter, and nothing could be further from the truth.

  2. Michael


    But Mike, the problem is that when anyone hears of your view that everyone is ultimately going to heaven and you then tell them the Gospel, I can almost guarantee that this is going through their head, “Why would I want to have my life restricted by having to follow God’s commands if I can rule over my life for this earthly time, enjoy all the pleasures that this world has to offer and then when I die I’ll have eternity to spend enjoying spiritual pleasures. Since I will have an infinite amount of time with heavenly things I may as well live as hedonistic a life as possible whilst here on this earth. Therefore, drink, sex, drugs, money, food etc to the extreme, and anyway if I die young I’ve got an eternity of bliss to look forward to!”
    You said that “living righteously does not matter” but “nothing more could be further from the truth.”
    But could you spell out for me exactly why it matters, on eternity’s scale? Surely the end result is going to be the same, you and I both in heaven, so what difference should it make whether I, for example, fornicate now or not?

  3. Matt


    I’ve heard that kind of objection even without universalism. People, probably the same kind of people you’re talking about, say, “Well I’ll just repent when it’s more convenient.” Most of the big sins young people like that draw them away from the church (like drugs and fornication) are things you’re not going to be able to do after you start a family anyway. So they get their kicks in and then expect church workers like me to train their kids not to do what they did when they were young (I deal with stuff like this all the time). I think even if they don’t articulate it many people who went back to church later in life were thinking this. Church attendance increases demographically with age and I think that’s more due to signaling responsibility or being a member of a social club (or possibly even love of Jesus!), not necessarily fear of condemnation.

    I guess with universalism they do not feel the incentive to return after the party’s over, but you’d be surprised how many people in church are not there because they are afraid of hell.

  4. Michael,

    Matt is right that the argument you make is one that can be made just as easily against evangelicalism as it can be against universalism.

    While both evangelicalism and universalism have adequate responses to the argument, they both fall short in the implicit but false assumption that all heavenly outcomes are identical. or practically identical.

    By contrast, the Bible paints a picture of significant variations in heavenly experiences for individuals based on the moral quality of their respective lives on earth. The choices you make on earth greatly impact your heavenly experiences.

    There are many more things I could say about why morality matters even though everyone is going to heaven (in fact, even because everyone is going to heaven), but at the most fundamental level I would ask any person this: If you really believe that you are going to heaven when you die, do you really want to be ashamed there of what you did here? Only a person who has never thoroughly thought through this question can think that everyone going to heaven invites licentiousness. Rather, it invites the fear of God.

    In the end, however, it’s not even about heaven – it’s about knowing God as well as we possibly can, which is the greatest delight of all.

  5. cl



    You’ve answered my question about “why even bother” if everyone’s going to heaven. BTW, I changed the title of the series along with each post to “Jesus & His Kingdom,” instead of “Responding to Universalism,” to respect your distaste for that label.

    I asked if you thought the medium “really” brought up Samuel because elsewhere, the Bible seems to indicate a “once in Sheol, in Sheol until the Resurrection” position. Do you think that modern occultists are actually bringing up the spirits of the deceased? What do you think about the idea of some deceptive spirit mimicking the deceased? A combination of both, perhaps?

  6. cl,

    Thanks for your sensitivity to the word “universalism.” When defined in its narrowest sense (i.e. everyone is going to heaven) I don’t mind it. Since, however, it is most often used in wider senses and with connotations inconsistent with my views, I appreciate not having to defend it. Thanks.

    In biblical terms the medium-Samuel experience was indeed unique. On the other hand, there are instances in both the Old and New Testaments of people being raised from Sheol who eventually died again (Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter being notable among them). Thus there are biblical exceptions to the “once in Sheol, in Sheol until the Resurrection” rule. Such resurrections might be more precisely described as “resuscitations” to distinguish them from the kind of resurrection Jesus received (which, of course, was such that He would never die again). I deal with all this in the book and also describe how and when the dilemma of all humans going to Sheol was resolved through Jesus Christ.

    As for modern occultists I have never studied them so i can’t explain them. I think deceptive spirits sound like a reasonable place to start, however, because there’s one thing for sure: they are not raising anyone from the dead because when the resurrection occurred, Sheol was destroyed, and the new heavens and new earth that now exist have no netherworld. Thus there are no longer any dead below to raise. At death, everyone is raised from earth diectly to heaven. Again, I cover all this in the remaining chapters of the book (excepting the occultists, for reasons now obvious).

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