HELL—WHAT IS IT? POP SUNDAY Aug 23, 2014
To the saints at Neighborhood Church Misawa,
Grace, peace and love be multiplied unto you. Here is a post concerning some of my thoughts on hell, taken from the Assemblies of God’s Enrichment Journal last week: Assemblies of God Enrichment Journal Enjoy!
The focus of this article is on the biblical terms for the state, or place, of the unrighteous dead. In a subsequent article I will deal with the temporary and eternal states of the righteous dead with words like heaven, Abraham’s bosom, and paradise.
Sheol in the Old TestamentThe afterlife is mentioned sparingly in the Old Testament. It remains for the New Testament to bring more clearly into focus matters pertaining to the intermediate state (the period between one’s death and one’s resurrection) and the eternal state. Sheol occurs 66 times in the Old Testament and has a wide range of meanings. Jehovah’s Witnesses are wrong in assigning only one meaning (grave) to the word. They do this because of their denial of an intermediate state, maintaining that death means the death of the entire individual — body, soul, spirit. Even an amateur student of language knows that a given word may have several different but related meanings. The word Sheol has several meanings. It can mean grave and is often associated with factors common to graves — physical corruption, dust, worms, darkness (Job 17:13–16). Job 17:13-16 English Standard Version (ESV)13 If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness,14 if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’15 where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? 16 Will it go down to the bars of Sheol? Shall we descend together into the dust?”
It also has the meaning of death, as the parallelism in Psalm 89:48 bears out (see also Genesis 42:38). Sheol also conveys the idea of depth or the nether world and is sometimes contrasted with heaven (Psalm 139:8; Amos 9:2). The general Old Testament idea is that Sheol is not a place of torment but more a place of confinement separating the soul of the departed from the land of the living (Job 17:16). It is a gloomy underworld (Isaiah 7:11), a place of total or relative inactivity, and all the dead go there. Furthermore, it is impossible for one to return from Sheol (Proverbs 1:12; Psalm 6:5; Ecclesiastes 9:10). Is Sheol compartmentalized with a place of torment for the unrighteous and a place of comfort for the righteous? This idea did not emerge in Judaism until the intertestamental period and is found in some noncanonical literature such as 1 Enoch 22:3,4. That book depicts it as an intermediate place where all the souls of the dead are awaiting judgment (51:5). At best the Old Testament is unclear in some matters pertaining to the afterlife, but this does not mean it is completely silent. Daniel 12:2 does prophesy the resurrection of and appropriate rewards for both the righteous and the unrighteous dead. The word Sheol is consistently translated Hades in the Septuagint. We now turn to the New Testament usage of the word.
Hades in the New Testament
Originally the word Hades was the name of the god of the underworld in Greek mythology (his Roman counterpart was Pluto). The underworld was called “the house of Hades.” In later times the word signified the realm of the dead or the underworld. It occurs 10 times in the New Testament. As in the Old Testament, the depths of Hades are contrasted with the heights of heaven (compare Matthew 11:23 with Isaiah 7:11). At times, however, the New Testament usage of the word is imprecise. It is the abode of all the dead, and the place even Jesus went (Acts 2:27,31). Yet it is also the abode only of the ungodly dead (Revelation 20:13,14) in which the rich man is tormented in flames while the beggar Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:19–31). Hades has gates like a city; Jesus said that “the gates of Hades shall not overpower it [My church]” (Matthew 16:18).2 When faced with death Hezekiah said, “I am to enter the gates of Sheol” (Isaiah 38:10). Speaking to Job, the Lord said, “Have the gates of death been revealed to you? Or have you seen the gates of deep darkness?” (Job 38:17). Interpretations of Jesus’ statement vary, but the important idea is that Hades, which represents death, cannot prevail against the Church. This is grounded in the deliverance of Jesus from Hades (Acts 2:27,31) by His resurrection from the dead and is related to His statement that “I am … the living One, and I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades” (Revelation 1:17,18). The close affinity of Hades with death is seen in their both being personified. When the fourth seal is opened the rider of the pale green horse is Death, “and Hades was following with him” (Revelation 6:8). Later, Death and Hades give up the dead that are in them, after which they are both thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13,14). We have here a clear distinction between Hades and the lake of fire, which is synonymous with hell (Gehenna). Gehenna Gehenna is an adaptation of the Hebrew ge hinnom (valley of Hinnom). In the Old Testament it was the place of child sacrifices (2 Kings 16:3, 21:6) which Josiah destroyed (2 Kings 23:10). In Jeremiah 7:32 and 19:6,7 it is the place of God’s judgment. In apocryphal literature of intertestamental times it was spoken of as the place of punishment after the last judgment; the book of 1 Enoch has numbers of references to this. Sometimes it was equated with hell itself (2 Esdras 7:36; 2 Baruch 85:13). New Testament parallels are found in Matthew 23:15,33 and 25:41,46. Jesus referred to hell as “the furnace of fire” (Matthew 13:42,50) in which body and soul are judged (Mark 9:43,45,47,48; Matthew 10:28), but it was prepared originally for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). Ultimately, Satan, demons, the beast from the abyss, the false prophet, and death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire (Matthew 8:29; Revelation 19:20, 20:10,14,15). The fire of hell is unquenchable (Mark 9:48) and is to be avoided at all costs (Matthew 5:29,30, 18:9; Mark 9:43,45,47).
While the Scriptures do not speak with absolute precision on some of these matters, this much is clear: Hades receives only the soul (Acts 2:27,31); Gehenna receives both soul and body (Matthew 10:28; Luke 12:5). Hades is the abode of the ungodly dead while they await their final judgment; Gehenna is the place of final judgment