A Question I Was Asked:
"Can You Tell Me a Bit More About 'Hades'?"

The Question:

"You have increased my understanding about hades, about gehenna and about hell a whole lot through your articles, especially through The Utter Folly of Arguing Over Hell. But can you say a bit more about that word 'hades' in particular. From what you say it is almost the equivalent of the Hebrew 'sheol' which refers to the grave and to death, but hades is just a little broader.

Can I just say that I am so grateful to your ministry..."

My Reply:

Thank you for your warm comments. Yes, hades is almost the Greek equivalent of sheol but not quite. If we take all the New Testament Scriptures which use 'hades,' there are probably three meanings:

1. Death and the power of death.

2. The place and state of the dead in a more general way when the text doesn't wish to draw distinctions between the dead.

3. The place where the wicked/unrighteous commence their punishment for wrongdoing during this physical life. This is the weaker of these three threads of meaning and is largely based on the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 16) which does use the word 'hades' in which the rich man is in torment. While it could be dangerous to draw too much from a parable, it is hard to believe that Jesus would have used 'hades' in this way if the wicked do not commmence their punishment in hades. Of course, all of these people will eventually go forward from there to the Final Judgment. It is only then that final sentence is pronounced and 'gehenna' (the second death) awaits the incorrigibly evil.

The Bible really does not dwell too much on this third thread of meaning. As Peter H. Davids points out,

"Dante's picture in 'The Inferno' draws on later speculation and Graeco-Roman conceptions of the Hades more than on the Bible..."
(See Peter H. David's comments in 'Hades,' Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible, Vol 2, p 913. 1997).

Those who have been God's people during this life need not fear hades because - for us - death is now conquered and nothing can now separate us from Christ. At death, we go to heaven to be lovingly comforted in the presence of Christ, our deceased fellow-believers, previously saved family ancestors and the holy angels! See Luke 16:19-23; Luke 23:43; Acts 7:56; 2 Corinthians 5:1-8; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4; Philippians 1:20-26; Revelation 6:9-11 and Revelation 20:4-6. (By the way, Paul plainly does not refer to the resurrection in Philippians 1: 20-26 because he speaks of being separated from his body in order to be with Christ - verse 24. In the resurrection we again have bodies. In 2 Corinthians 5:8 too Paul refers to a state of being '..absent from the body and to be present with the Lord,' so the claim of some that these verses simply refer to the resurrection is defeated).

Regarding hades, every soul is recovered from there to be sent on to the Final Judgment - see Revelation 20:11-13.

Most of Protestant theology has tended to assume that those who leave hades to go forward to the Final Judgment are necessarily bound for hell but, interestingly, not a single Scripture can be summoned to support this view. We know that there will be degrees of punishment (Matthew 11:24; Luke 12:47-48) and, again, an assumption is made that all of this will occur in hell, but we are bound to ask whether it can ever be 'more tolerable' for some than for others in hell itself? Also, one may wonder about the judging of Revelation 20:12-13 which sounds eminently fair and not purely condemnatory. Some of these problems are why a few Protestants, including the great C.S. Lewis, have preferred to keep an open mind on the Catholic teaching of purgatory (that is, some punishment after death in hades in order to train and prepare less worthy souls for eventual inclusion in heaven). Protestantism, however, has usually drawn a very sharp line and distinction between those saved by the grace of Christ and the rest of humanity who are full inheritors of the guilt of Adam and who fully deserve hell. Protestantism has also sharply focused on Hebrews 9:27 which appears to rule out post-mortem evangelism.

Ultimately those not found in the Book of Life will be condemned to gehenna, or, the Lake of Fire. At that time even physical death and hades itself are despatched to the Lake of Fire (verse 14) showing the final end of the whole concept of the physical death of human beings.
Robin A. Brace, 2006.