A friend suggested this morning that perhaps we Christians have our view of heaven and hell all wrong. He said that most Christians confidently assert that they are going to heaven and the rest of the world (sadly) are on their way to hell. We’re not talking about the lunatic fringe here; this is good biblical theology (as far as it goes). After all, Jesus died to reconcile us with God; if we receive that gift, heaven awaits; if we reject it, hell it is.
But, said my friend, Jesus seems to have modelled something different. Jesus seems rather to have said, “I’m going to hell so that you can go to heaven.”
Consider the well-known passage from Philippians chapter 2:
4 And look out for one another’s interests, not just for your own.5 The attitude you should have is the one that Christ Jesus had:
6 He always had the nature of God,
but he did not think that by force he should try to remain equal with God.
7 Instead of this, of his own free will he gave up all he had,
and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being
and appeared in human likeness.
8 He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death—
his death on the cross.
9 For this reason God raised him to the highest place above
and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.
Two thoughts, new to me, come to mind. The first is that Paul tells us to look out for one another’s interests. How far should I go to look after my neighbours interests? To death? To hell? I’m just asking questions here. I’m as frightened as you are of the answer!
The second is in verses 7 – 9:
“He gave up all he had, and took the nature of a servant.
He became like a human being…. He was humble and walked the path of obedience all the way to death….
For this reason God raised him to the highest place above
and gave him the name that is greater than any other name.”
It appears that Jesus being raised “to the highest place” was not guaranteed. He took the risk of human mediocrity and the greater risk of separation from God. Because he took the role of a servant; Because he was humble in his obedience; Because he took the road of death, he was raised “to the highest place.” Had he not done those things, it appears, such a raising up would not have happened.
We often underestimate the reality of Christ’s humanity. Because Jesus knew that he would “be raised [to life] again on the third day” (Matthew 17:23) we assume that it was easy for him, guaranteed. The very real death and the hell that our sins caused is beyond our comprehension. Was the resurrection promised only on condition that he remained obedient? Was there a “what if…” in Jesus’ mind during that weekend of hell?
Jesus went to hell so that I could go to heaven. How does that inform my worship, and how does it affect my life in the world?