A Question I Was Asked:

How Can People Come Out of 'Hell' (Greek: hades) in Revelation 20:13?”


Here is the actual question:


Greetings! I was doing some reading in Revelation and came a cross a sticky text. Revelation 20:13. It says that 'the sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done.' It is commonly taught that those that are not "saved" go to Hell when they die. If this is so, why do we see some coming from Hell (or Hades) and some coming from the Sea? If they were not alternate locations it seems as though the author would have had no reason to have listed them. Anyhow, any help on this would be most appreciated!”


My Reply:

This is partly a translational problem! To quote part of my article The Utter Folly of Arguing Over Hell,


'Newer Bible versions have recognised that the KJV certainly erred in its use of the word 'Hell'. But the NKJV decided to only go part of the way in correcting the use of the word Hell; It reduced the use of 'Hell' from the KJV's 54 times to 32 times, but seemed to lack the necessary boldness to really take on the translational problem. But other Bible versions have been bolder: the NIV has reduced the use of 'Hell' to only 14 times (all in the New Testament) and this appears to be about right. The ASV and NASB have both reduced 'Hell' to 13 uses, and the RSV and NRSV reduced it to 12. John Wesley did not use it at all in his New Testament translation, neither did the prodigious scholar Young in Young's Literal Translation (1891).'

Okay. Of the four original divinely-inspired textual words which the KJV version has translated as 'Hell' - 'Sheol' (Hebrew) 'Hades' (Greek) 'Tartaroo' (Greek) and 'Gehenna' (Greek) - only 'Gehenna' truly has the meaning of Hell as most Christians would use the word. Both the Hebrew 'Sheol' and the Greek 'Hades' really refer to the grave or to the final completion of this physical life which death represents. The KJV mistranslates both of these words as 'hell' (I say 'mistranslates' but, in fairness, they undoubtedly held a much broader view of Hell than we do today; today we do not think it reasonable to translate 'death' or 'the grave' as 'Hell'). It should be pointed out, however, that punishment for the unrighteous does appear to commence in 'hades' (Lazarus and the Rich Man), yet nobody remains in hades. Unbelievers go forward from there to the Final Judgment.
The text which you question in Revelation 20:13 refers to The Great Judgment in which all will stand before God, whether they died in the grave, at sea or anywhere else – this is not referring to bringing people back from 'Gehenna' ('Hell'). The Bible appears to show that people cannot be brought back from Hell (or, 'The Lake of Fire').

Another point is, while we often think of Hell as an immediate reality after death for the evil and ungodly, we must remember that every single soul must stand before God in the Great Judgment, so notwithstanding the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (which appears to suggest that Hell is an immediate reality following death) we must realize that established Christian doctrine must be built on all relevant Scriptures. It may well may be that those who have done much evil will go to a hades of greater gloominess, darkness and fear (remembering that the souls of the righteous appear to go straight to Heaven to be comforted in any case), perhaps this is why the KJV translators thought 'Hell' a reasonable rendition of 'hades'. But the point is, these people (the evil) will still have to stand before the Throne of Judgment (where final sentence of Eternal Life or the Second Death will be pronounced) and the sitting of this Court of Heaven lies yet in the future.

So, to sum this up, both 'sheol' (Heb) and 'hades' (Gk) loosely refer to the grave in the Bible. Hades is admittedly a little different since there is a New Testament suggestion (Lazarus and the Rich Man, for instance), that punishment for unbelievers starts in hades, which, of course. believers are spared. Those in hades eventually go forward to the Final Judgment. So nobody remains in 'hades' forever, but 'hades' does not refer to the place of final punishment for the incorrigibly wicked – that place is 'gehenna' (a word which occurs just 11 times in the Scriptures) and the place where rubbish or trash was burned - just outside Jerusalem – is a biblical type of this (after their return from the Babylonian exile, the Jews turned part of the Hinnom Valley into the city dump where garbage and anything deemed unclean - including the bodies of executed criminals - were incinerated – a continual fire was kept burning for this purpose).
I hope this clarifies the meaning of 'hades' for you.
Robin A. Brace, 2005.


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