Sheol/Hades: A Further Look

Until the resurrection of Jesus Christ, all those who died, both believers and unbelievers, went to sheol/hades. That is, their bodies were interred or otherwise destroyed, but their souls descended into what I will from this point refer to simply as Hades.

This was not the final hell that Gehenna describes. That is reserved for the end of all things, when final judgment is made on all mankind; Satan, the Antichrist, the Beast, the False Prophet, and the angels who joined Satan in his rebellion against God will be finally and forever defeated and cast into the Lake of Fire.

Some matters of interest: Hades is a place of communication among the dead. Isaiah 14:4-20 describes the eventual death and descent into Hades of the King of Babylon, who had conquered many other great nations. When he arrives, he is met by the very kings he had defeated, and they mock him. These “great ones of the earth” say to the once-King of Babylon, “Art thou also become weak as we? Are thou become like unto us?” (Isa. 14:10). In verse 11, they go on to point out that he is now just as powerless, hopeless, and helpless as they are. All his power and wealth mean nothing in Hades. In fact, he is not even accorded an honorable burial: “But thou are cast out of the grave (queber) like an abominable (despised) branch…thou shalt not be joined with them in burial” (Is. 14:18-20.)

It was possible for people to be called out of Hades for a purpose. In I Sam. 28:15-19, God allows the prophet Samuel to visit King Saul. Samuel gives Saul the message that he and his sons would die in battle the very next day, and would join him in Sheol (Hades). And so it happened. Saul, seeing that he was losing, and his sons were dead, asked his aide to kill him rather than to allow him to be captured and tortured. The aide refused, so Saul “fell upon his own sword,” and died. And all of their souls were in Hades that very day.

Luke 16:19-31 gives us the story of a rather remarkable conversation between the Rich Man and Abraham. Their deaths were separated by 1800 years, yet they were speaking with one another. The soul goes on forever.

Psalm 16:10 is a Messianic prophesy fulfill after Jesus’ death and burial: “For Thou wilt not leave My soul in Hell (Sheol); neither will Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” In Peter’s message to the crowds at Pentecost, he quotes Psalm 16. You can compare Psalm 16:8-11 and Acts 2:25-28; he makes a direct application to Christ in Ps. 16:10 and Acts 2:31. There is no doubt that Jesus’ body would not rot in the grave; nor that His soul would be forever in Hades. He was the incorruptible One, the One who took captivity (believers in Hades) captive with Him to paradise.

Those who remained in Hades must have been stunned to see throngs of those who had occupied a place of blessing, sometimes referred to as Abraham’s bosom, leaving the abode of the dead–and leaving them still captive there. It would seem, then, that Hades was divided into at least two distinct places: The place for the unbelieving dead, and the place for those who did believe, Ps. 16:10–many of whom are mentioned in Hebrews 11, the biblical “Hall of Faith.” When Jesus rose from death, He opened the gates of heaven for all who believe in Him and have received salvation by grace through faith.

Ezek. 31:14,16,18; 32:18,24 contain prophecies of the great earthly kings of Assyria, Egypt, and more who are cast into Hades upon their deaths, to join all those who have gone before them but are now stripped of all their glory. They are said to be in the “nether parts of the earth,” or “the pit,” the very center of the earth where they await final judgment. There is no sympathy or warm welcome from those who already inhabit this place. They have nothing but mockery and taunting for these rulers who considered themselves invincible. It is clear that in Hades there is awareness of what is going on around them; there is recognition and communication.

One more clarification. It is clear that Paradise was once a part of Hades. Jesus told the thief on the next cross that he would be with Jesus that day in Paradise. We know from Eph. 4 that Jesus descended into Hades during the time between His death and resurrection, so we can assume that the thief was also there until Jesus freed them and took Paradise to His Father in heaven.

In II Cor. 12:3-4, the Apostle Paul speaks of being caught up into Paradise and there having an unspeakable experience; that is, he had no words to describe what he heard and saw. It is clear, again, that Paradise is now a part of heaven, and is no longer a part of Hades.

There is more. I believe it has been determined that Jesus preached on hell more than any other subject during His earthly ministry. It is not a place where He desires anyone to be, and in His mercy He pleaded with the people to turn to Him for the living water, the bread of life, the everlasting light and life that only He could offer.

People who say that God is an unforgiving, angry, punitive Being do not see His mercy all throughout both the Old Testament and the New. It is man who has depicted Him in such a negative way. He has warned, pleaded, begged and urged people to turn to Him, to turn away from idolatry and sin. He even offered His only begotten Son to be the perfect sacrifice for our sin.

Greater love hath no man than this, that a Man lay down His life for His friends. John 15:13. Jesus is the Friend of Sinners.

Hell, Sheol, Hades: Gehenna

As I’ve continued to read and study this topic, it is all coming back to me from 30 or more years ago–the first time I looked into it. I’ve decided to focus on Gehenna today because it is mentioned so infrequently, but carries great meaning.

To begin, however, I want to point out that sheol is the Hebrew word most often used for hell; and hades is the Greek equivalent in the New Testament. In other words, sheol and hades are the same place.

Extensive reading and research of the etymology of the two words have convinced me that sheol and hades are indeed the same. Before Jesus was crucified and rose from the grave, all people who died went to sheol/hades. It would seem that this place was divided, perhaps into more than two areas. One area is referred to as Abrahams’ Bosom, a place of rest and blessing for people of faith who are awaiting judgment and what Jesus referred to as paradise when He spoke to the thief on the cross beside Him.

The other side of hades/sheol was for those who denied God, and are waiting for the final judgment and their exile to the final place of torment, which will already be occupied by the Antichrist, and the Beast and False Prophet, and also will be the final abode of Satan when hell and death are cast forever into the Lake of Fire.

That Lake of Fire is the place that is referred to as Gehenna by Jesus Himself, and by others in the New Testament. References include Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; and James 3:6. The Lake of Fire also appears in Revelation 19:20, Revelation 20:10,14,15, and Revelation 21:8.

The name Gehenna derives from the Valley of Hinnom on the south and southwestern side of Jerusalem. It was at times associated with the sacrifice by fire of human babies and children, although there is some controversy among scholars about that. In any case, it has been used as a dumping place for garbage, sometimes including corpses both human and animal, and a continual burning of such refuse. It is no longer used in that manner.

Hinnom Valley.JPG

I want to look further into hades/sheol, but that will be my post for Thursday.

A Study on Hell, Sheol, and Hades

This topic came up in our adult Bible study a couple of Sundays ago. I did this study many years ago, but have forgotten some details, so I decided to step away from my next book study here and look into this topic again.

There are many similar studies online to which I could refer you, but I don’t want to just regurgitate what someone else has written. I will understand and retain it better if I do the research.

I took a look at some artistic renderings of what hell may look like. They were certainly imaginative, grotesque, and forbidding. I don’t think any of them really portray what hell is like, since we don’t really know. There are descriptions of hell in the Bible, and to me one of the most horrible is that people will be utterly, eternally cut off from God because in life they denied Him. It is unbelief that condemns a person to hell. Contrary to the pictures I looked at, there will be no fellowship from which to derive comfort. Hell is a lonely place. No parties there.

The three words–hell, sheol, hades (along with gehenna and tartarus) are all translated as hell in both the Old and New Testaments. It is helpful to have access to Strong’s numbers in such a case, because the numbers give us the specific original words and the shades of meaning. I have grown to depend heavily on, which uses Strong’s numbers in the interlinear translation of words. I also have the book Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible, a gift from my husband several years ago, and I highly recommend it. For a wordy like me, it’s a fabulous tool for understanding the literal meanings of every word in the Bible. And yes, I used to read the dictionary just for fun. I was a nerd, and proud of it 🙂 I just figured that if Mr. Webster could write it, I could read it!

Anyway, please excuse the rabbit trail.

In the Old Testament, the word hell comes from the Hebrew for sheol 65 times. It is the place designated in the Old Testament for the dead who rejected God, a place of no return. The last reference, in Habbakuk 2:5, says this: “Yea also, because he transgresseth by wine, he is a proud man, neither keepeth at home, who enlargeth his desire as hell, H7585 and is as death, and cannot be satisfied, but gathereth unto him all nations, and heapeth unto him all people.”

We learn here that hell continues to grow as more and more people enter there; that it cannot be satisfied, and makes no distinction among nations and peoples. The number H7585 indicates the Hebrew word for hell, which in this case is sheol.

As I read through all 65 verses, sheol is described vividly. It is the grave, a pit(in the story of Achan, in which he and his entire family were swallowed alive by the earth and fell down into the pit, and the earth closed up behind them in Numbers 16); a place of fire, a place of sorrow, of darkness, a place that has bars. like a jail; a place of drought and heat, of nakedness where there is no covering; there is no remembrance of God, a place of corruption and sorrow, a place of shame and silence, where there is no beauty. It is the lowest of all places, full of sorrow and pain. It is the chamber of death, a place of destruction; a place where there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom. a place where worms are spread under the dead, and where worms cover him.

And that is just the beginning of the misery of sheol. It is the place from which no one returns, ever. There is no relief or release from this, the lowest pit of hell.

Sheol can be described as a deep pit, the lowest hell, where people who have rejected God are tormented by fire, darkness, fear, loneliness, the gnashing of teeth of beasts, and the poison of serpents. A dreadful place, indeed, and inhabited by those who knowingly, deliberately, rejected the existence of God. They are condemned not by a hateful, angry God but by their own choice to reject Him.

Tomorrow we’ll focus on hades. And please keep in mind that there is salvation from hell in all its aspects that is available to all mankind before death. Hell is what man chooses through his decision to reject God.