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About Hell: The World of the Dead

Posted by undergroundchurch on November 2, 2009


Hell Defined

The term “hell” evokes images of a burning lake of fire, smoke and eternal torment, and while these are true, the use of the term distorts the complete biblical description of hell.  The term itself comes from Anglo-Saxon and German roots and simply meant “underworld”.  Unfortunately for the English reader, the term often hides the original Greek and Hebrew words used in the Bible, so it becomes easy for the reader to get a distorted understanding.   It is important to look at the Hebrew or Greek word being used and the context in which it is used to get a more clear understanding.

The Introduction of Death

The world of the dead actually changes at least three times in the Bible, and each change comes from a key event that occurs between man and God.

The first change occurs in the garden east in Eden.  God tells Adam that if he eats from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he will die.  Death is first introduced here.

God originally intended that man would never die.  Death was not part of God’s “perfect” original plan.  We introduced it into our own lives through disobedience to God.  But now that man could die, he had to have a destination.  God told Adam that he was created from dust and so dust would be where he would return (Genesis 3:19).

Though the body dies and its molecules are spread throughout the earth, the spirit lives on, and so would need an eternal home.  Heaven was the first thing God created (Genesis 1:1), but was there another place?  Is heaven the only place for the souls of the dead to dwell eternally?

Strangely enough, heaven is not an Old Testament teaching of man’s eternal home.  Only two people were possibly caught up to be with God in heaven, and for the record, neither one of them died – Enoch and Elijah. The rest had a destination, but it isn’t where you might think.

The Land of the Dead: Adam to Jesus

The Old Testament does not really talk about “hell” in the manner most of us understand.  It speaks of a place called Sheol a bi-level subterranean cavity where the dead would go.  Sheol’s unique layout allowed for both the righteous and the wicked a place to go once they died.  Most writers understood that sheol was their resting place after death, and they knew that God would not leave them there (c.f. Psalm 16:10, Psalm 49:15).  A deep portion or “pit” (c.f. Psalm 30:3) existed for the wicked while sheol in general was for the righteous.

God didn’t created sheol or hell after the fall of man; it must have been a part of the original creation and most likely was not intended for man’s eternal abode anymore than heaven was intended for man’s eternal abode since the earth itself was made for him. So, technically speaking, both heaven and hell (as you may understand it) up to the time of Jesus were pretty much void of humans, sheol on the other hand, contained every human that ever died.

However, It was Jesus himself that gave us the best understanding of this place called sheol in the Hebrew and Hades in the Greek.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ ” – Luke 16:19ff

Jesus describes the land of the dead as a place that consists of a peaceful side and a place of fire and torment with a huge chasm that separated them.   They could even see each other and even speak to each other across the chasm.

Sheol or Hades is finally described just before Jesus dies on the Cross.  However, the death of Jesus would bring about a second change in the man’s destination in the afterlife.

Land of the Dead: Jesus to the Second Coming

Up until the death of Jesus, people were saved through the sacrifice of bulls and goats, but this sacrifice was not enough to take care of the original seed of sin within man.  Only through the death of Jesus would the payment be possible for every person to actually live with God.  Hades would not be the same once Jesus died.  Paul tells us in Ephesians 4:8-10 that Jesus went down to the depths of the earth and led captivity out.  He took those that we with Abraham in the “paradise” side of hades to heaven because only through the blood of His death could there be a reconciliation to God.

Those on the torment side of hades remained there and are still there to this day.  When you die now, your temporary destination is either heaven or hades’ bad side and it all hinges on your relationship with God through Jesus Christ.

A final configuration of the world of the dead will take place in the near future and the Bible once again shows how it’s going to unfold.

Land of the Dead: At the End of Time

There are two other terms in the New Testament translated as “hell” besides hades – tartarous and ghenna.

Tartarous is the place where the angels that sinned are kept in chains (2 Peter 2:4, Jude 6).  This place only contains the wicked angels that fell with Satan and/or the ones that mated with human women prior to the flood (c.f. Genesis 6:2).  Either way, it is a very deep part of “hell” and only contains angels.

The second word is the one we understand as the true “hell”.  Ghenna, which is defined as the second death (Revelation 20:14)… the lake of fire, where the worm does not die and the torment is eternal.

Nobody occupies ghenna yet.  In fact, the first inhabitants will be the antichrist and the false prophet (Revelation 19:20) After this, Satan is bound and thrown into Tartarous with the rest of the sinning angels.

About a 1000 years after the antichrist and prophet are cast into ghenna, Satan is release from tartarous and tries to battle God where he is quickly caught and thrown into ghenna.  The remaining people are judged and all those in Hades are brought before God. Anyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life is thrown into ghenna.  Therefore, Hades is emptied of the remaining people and ghenna is filled. (Revelation 20)

The final phase is for God to destroy heaven and earth and rebuild them both.  He then empties heaven of its human inhabitants, places them in the New Jerusalem, which he prepared for them and places it earth along with the believers where they will live with God for eternity.

So in the end, all is as God originally intended.  God is with man on earth as he was with Adam in the Garden, Satan is defeated and sin is no more.

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