Forget the Titans – 03.It’s All Greek

Posted by on April 1, 2012 under Front Page Posts, Sermons

Greek Cosmology: The Three Storied Universe

Cosmology — It’s a Greek word that describes our view of the world.

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In the ancient Greek myths, the universe is made up of three important realms: the dome of the sky, the sea that surrounds earth, and the underworld, which is the realm of the dead.


According to the Greek creation myth, three brothers (sons of the Titan named Chronos) defeated their father and took over the world from the Titans and Monsters that ruled it.  They divvied up the spoils of their conquest and Zeus took the sky, Poseidon took the sea, and Hades took the underworld.


Wrath of the Titans

Is That Hades or Frank Zappa?

Poor Hades!  He’s often portrayed as an angry chap because he gets the worst end of the deal.  He’s the bad guy in Clash of Titans but gets a shot at redemption in Wrath of the Titans.

In the Percy Jackson movie, Hades resembles a Goth version of Frank Zappa.


Disney's Lord of the Underworld!

And who could ever forget the lovable Hades from Disney’s Hercules?  He’s slick and devious, but still charming.


The Greeks might not identify their Hades with any of these rogues.  In their cosmology, Hades is simply a manager of the realm of the dead.  He rules passively over the land of the death and is never interested in challenging others.  Instead he is part of a balance between life and death.  Zeus rules the sky and Hades is content to rule death – unless someone tries to cheat death or escape death.  Then he gets angry and we would not like him when he is angry.


"Helmet of Darkness - Can't see me, can you?"

For the Greeks, Hades is sort of a “Grim Reaper” personification of death.  His weapons even illustrate this.  Zeus has thunder, but Hades has the power of invisibility, he has a helmet of darkness, and this why one hardly ever sees death coming.


The underworld is given the name of its ruler, Hades.   That realm consisted of many “lands” and Hades ruled them all.  Greek “hell” is somewhat different than what we’ve commonly heard, especially if you have heard that hell is below and heaven is up high.  In fact, hell is really not the best term to use.  (We get that word from the Norse myths).  The Greek underworld is only a place for the dead, regardless of judgment or fate.  As the concept developed, different lands were invented.

  • Asphodel Meadows is a place for those who were both good and bad in life.  It is a bland neutral place
  • The Elysian Fields were a place for the good and noble.  That terms remains in our culture today.  It was still part of Hades’ dominion in Greek myth.
  • Tartarus was the place of punishment in Greek myth.  This is where retribution continued after death, although Greek myths typically favored retribution and misfortune in life.
  • There is an elaborate and metaphorical geography of the Greek underworld.  Five rivers run through it representing sorrow, weeping, fire or destruction, forgetfulness, and hate.


These Greek concepts influenced the culture of the second century before Christ.  Even the Jewish culture was influenced.  So much so that when Jewish scribes translated the Old Testament from Hebrew into Greek, they used the Greek word Hades to translate the Hebrew word Sheol.  In Hebrew, Sheol was simply the pit, or grave; it was a place for the dead.  Hades was a good translation, but along with the word Hades came the other conceptual real estate that Sheol did not originally have.


Among these was Tartarus.  The punishments in Tartarus were creative.  A fellow named Sisyphus, who wasn’t a great guy in life, found himself rolling a rock up a hill for all eternity only to have it roll back down – and sometimes it rolled over him.  Worse still was the fate of a chap named Tantalus.  He was confined in a prison in which the water would fill up to his chin, but if he tried to lean down and get a drink it would recede away from him.  There was also fruit hanging above his head but if he tried to grab it, the fruit lurched up and away from him.  This is where we get the verb “to tantalize.”


The terms Hades and Tartarus are both used in the New Testament.  Hades refers to death (that’s quite obvious in Revelation).  And a verb form of Tartarus is used in 2 Peter 2 to speak of the judgment of rebellious angels who are “cast down to hell.”


The Greek concepts of Hades influence the depiction of hell and death in second century B.C. books such as 1 Enoch, 4 Ezra, and the Testament of the Patriarchs.  These books are often a blend of Jewish ideas and Greek culture.  In the New Testament however, Jesus and the NT writers never elaborate on the geography of hell or the nature of the punishments in hell.  (That comes along centuries later when Dante combines Greek myth with Christian doctrine to write the Inferno – not the best combination theologically, by the way).


Jesus is only concerned to teach us that death is real, and that sin and evil in this life can lead to dire consequences in the next life.  That is evident in the Sermon on the Mount, and in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, as well as another teaching we will consider.  Now, Jesus’ concern is not to get us worked up over the details and he doesn’t find it necessary to get into hellfire and brimstone details.  He seems to think it is enough to urge us to live right and so avoid that which is damnable.


Hell is deplorable not because it lies within the earth or because it is hot and fiery, but because it is associated with the consequences of evil.  Thus the reality of hell involves more than a realm of the dead.  There is “hell on earth” when the things of earth are unredeemed and the consequences of sin and evil stand in rebellion to God’s purposes.  All of this urges us to consider one more fact about hell, and for this we will take a look at Matthew 16:13-20.


“When Jesus came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?”

“Well,” they replied, “some say John the Baptist, some say Elijah, and others say Jeremiah or one of the other prophets.”

Then he asked them, “But who do you say I am?”

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

 Jesus replied, “You are blessed, Simon son of John, because my Father in heaven has revealed this to you. You did not learn this from any human being. Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means ‘rock’), and upon this rock I will build my church, and all the powers of hell will not conquer it. And I will give you the keys of the Kingdom of Heaven. Whatever you forbid on earth will be forbidden in heaven, and whatever you permit on earth will be permitted in heaven.”

Then he sternly warned the disciples not to tell anyone that he was the Messiah.


  1. Christ affirms Peter’s faith in him and his testimony that Christ is the Messiah, the son of God.  Even if he has some of the details wrong, Peter recognizes that Christ is a rescuer who will redeem creation.  Through this sort of faith and trust, and with the people who demonstrate it and live it out, Christ is going to build a church – not an empire or institution, but a people who embody a way of living that reflect God’s work.
  2. This church will stand in contradiction to the way of death.  The gates of Hades, representing the whole dominion of death and sin, will not be able to touch this confessing church.
  3. There is another image that Jesus brings into the teaching.  An image that is the opposite of a gate; that is a key.  Not just any key, but the key to the kingdom of heaven.  With this key, the church is empowered to bind and loose (or lock and unlock) and in doing so, they will be in synch with the authority of heaven.


It’s interesting that death and sin (Hades) is represented by a gate.  But heaven is represented by a key.  Gates are items that close and separate.  They shut people out and shut people in.  They create captives.  But a key has the power to open what is shut (this is seen a lot in Revelation).  A key can create freedom!


So what are the sum total of this teaching about the gates of Hades not prevailing and the church having the authority to set free?  We have heard the statement that “all hell is let loose on earth,” I believe that Jesus is suggesting that his church will not be overcome by Hades (death) because the church is able to unleash heaven on earth.  Now imagine what that means . . . “all heaven is let loose on earth.”  The doors are wide open!


This is very similar to the teaching in Hebrews 2:14-15 and 1 John 3:8 . . .

  • by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.
  • The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work


The biblical teaching about Hades and hell, that is death and evil, is not like the Greek myth.  There is no peaceful balance between.  God is not working out a deal with the enemy as if he is an equal or a brother.  God has dominion over life and death.  Christ, through the resurrection, has overcome death and now has dominion.  You can forget all about that Titan stuff.


Yes, the New Testament teaches that hell and death are seriously real, that hell is associated with the consequences of evil, and also that hell is not just something that matters after death; but the work of evil is also experienced in a world that is under the curse of sin and death.  This is the final word: death and hell cannot overcome the rule of Christ!


The power of Hades – that is the power of death – rules over our world, not the underworld.  When people are afraid of death they become selfish, angry, violent, and protective.  We will give up nearly anything for health and security, which we can only prolong yet can never control.  We ignore our mortality and this fear and worry about death makes us captive to sin.


"Don't Open That Door!"

Christ destroys the work of the enemy.  He breaks the stranglehold of death.  He sets us free and calls us to abundant life.


At different times in our lives we need to hear the message emphasized in different ways:

1.  Some of us need to know that we are slaves to death and our actions are storing up the power of hell and there will be consequences for those actions.  God will eradicate all evil from this universe, so we do not want to be invested in the work of evil.

2.  Some of us need to know that hell and Satan are never more powerful than God and Christ.  Some of us need to know that God is not our enemy and he is not seeking to cast people into hell.  It is not something that he delights in or strives for (John 3:16-17 – He is not willing that anyone should perish).


So keep these two truths in mind . . .

1. Evil is not to be underestimated . . .