The Three-Tiered Cosmology
The scriptures present a three tiers of within the cosmos. The Heavens, the Earth, and the Sheol. These three tiers are reflected throughout the Bible including in the 4th Commandment given at Mount Sinai.
The Heavens are the highest place. Technically this would be described as "above the clouds" or everything beyond the waters above. It is conceptually "where the Most High resides".
However, the spiritual realm does not actually coincide with our material world. As such, to truly be in the Heavens would be to have stepped out of the world that we experience into another realm. There are stories of people having been caught up to the Heavens, but they do not usually know whether it was in the body or out of the body as the realm they were visiting is not one of physical bodies.
The scriptures reference three heavens. The air immediately around the Earth (the atmosphere) being the first heaven. Everything outside the atmosphere (sun, moon, stars) being the second heaven. God's presence being the third heaven. In the three-tiered cosmology, "the heavens" would be referring to the second and third heaven.
The Most High’s throne and presence are depicted in a variety of locations. Primarily, these locations are described as temples, mountains, gardens, and the sky. In the biblical writings you can find the Most High dwelling and holding council in all of these places. It is also why believers in the Son of Man after his resurrection are told that their body is a temple as it has become a dwelling place for God’s Spirit. Much of the loyal elohims' direction comes from God’s throne in the Heavens with the witness, support, and cooperation of the Most High's divine council.
The earth is the Most High’s creation where he made many creatures including humanity. He placed a garden in Eden where his presence would dwell. He commanded humankind to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it”. His divine council was also welcome in the garden and he intended to include humankind along with his council in his governing of the earth. That plan would come to take a very long and involved detour.
The ancient conception of the underworld varies somewhat. In general Sheol, or the grave or pit, is the place where all dead go. Satan is given dominion over this realm as a consequence of his rebellion. In later conceptions there are believed to be multiple compartments within this underworld:
- Paradise, or Abraham's bosom is the abode of the righteous dead before Christ’s resurrection.
- Hades is the abode of the unrighteous dead and is also the dominion of Satan.
- The Abyss is the bottomless pit that separates Paradise from Hades. The Abyss is also a prison for nine-tenths of the unclean spirits.
- Tartarus is a prison to many rebellious elohim from the time before the flood.
The Lake of Fire
Gehenna, the lake of fire, is often associated with the underworld, but is not a part of Sheol. It is not a part of the most ancient cosmologies, but comes into view during the intertestamental period and is referenced frequently by the Son of Man. He says it was created as a punishment for the Serpent and those elohim who ally with him. It is the eventual destination of all whose hearts are in rebellion to the Most High, elohim and human alike.