Hades is the name of the Greek god of the underworld. The name was used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament called the Septuagint (@ 300 B.C.) to translate the Hebrew word Sheol. The Septuagint was in wide use in Jesus and the Apostles’ time. The NT writers kept the name Hades when referring to the place of wicked departed spirits. Abraham’s Bosom was the nickname of the subterranean Paradise. Hades is a different place than the Lake of Fire.
The Lake of Fire (a name only found in Revelation ch. 19,20,21) is also known as “Gehenna” (found 12 times in NT, e.g., Luke 12:5), the “Outer Darkness” (only found in Matthew, ch. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), and “Outside” (Revelation 22:15), the Second Death (Rev.2:11;20:14) and “Hell” (the English word for Gehenna). Deuteronomy 32:22 also refers to the Lake of Fire, “For a fire is kindled in my anger, that burns to the lowest Sheol, devours the earth with its increase, and sets the foundations of the mountains on fire.” Notice the reference to the lowest sheol (Hell) indicating another above it (Hades). The Lake of Fire is situated below Hades, deeper in the earth, into which Hades will be thrown after the Great White Throne judgment as found in Revelation 20. “The fire in the foundations of the mountains” can be seen by us up here in the land of the living from lava ejected by volcanoes.
Gehenna is a word taken from “the valley of Hinnom” which is Jerusalem’s garbage dump. It always had fires burning here and there, producing constant smoke; and worms were also found in it. This made it a fitting symbol for Hell. “Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.” Mark 9:44. Since this dump was outside Jerusalem, Jesus also refers to Hell as “Outside” and “Outer darkness.” The Valley of Hinnom had another horrible use in Old Testament times and was known by another name, “Topheth. ” (See Isaiah 30:33) It was where infant first-born Jewish children were sacrificed in fire to Molech, a hideous local god. So, we can see how “Gehenna” would end up referring to “the Lake of Fire” into which, like a garbage dump, every evil creature in God’s creation will finally be thrown forever.
Death is God putting people under arrest for the crimes they have committed against Him.* He is in the role of arresting officer, jail warden, judge, and prison warden. Contrary to popular notions, the devil is not in charge of Hades, or Hell. He will be Hell’s chief prisoner. He’s not there yet. There is a time he and all demons will go there. They are fully aware of their upcoming judgment of eternal torment because in Jesus’ ministry, they begged Him that he would not torment them before the time. (Matt. 8:29)
We will now look at death as it affects most of humanity, those who are lost in their sins. Thank God Jesus came to seek and save the lost. Whenever anyone on earth is arrested for a crime, they are held in a jail until they are called by the court to face trial in front of a judge. After the person is tried and convicted, he is sent to prison** “to serve time.” Jails and prisons are similar to each other in some ways. They are both built to confine and punish perpetrators for crimes committed against legally-aggrieved parties. Both kinds of facilities are physically isolated from the community in order to secure prisoners away from its law-abiding citizens. It also takes from them the general freedoms enjoyed by society at large. Jails and prisons both have wardens and bars. Prisons can be more harsh with such things as solitary confinement, more uncomfortable conditions and its prisoners are there longer. Hades is similar to a jail and the Lake of Fire is like a prison. They both house sinners for punishment for crimes committed against the ultimate legally-aggrieved party, God: (Ps. 51:4a “Against you, and you only, have I sinned.”)
Isaiah 24:21-22 also refer to Hades as a prison: “It shall happen in that day that Yahweh will punish the army of the high ones on high, and the kings of the earth on the earth. They shall be gathered together, as prisoners are gathered in the pit, and shall be shut up in the prison; and after many days shall they be visited.” (Visited means God will bring them to the Great White throne for judgment.)
One difference we would have trouble imagining about Hades and Hell is that in earthly jails and prisons its inmates can sleep at night. Each day is broken up for 6 to 8 hours. But, in neither Hades or Hell though, can its prisoners find such relief: “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night” (Rev. 14:11a)
Judgment Day does not occur until after the resurrection. The righteous are judged in the first resurrection, the unrighteous at the end of the Millennium, the 1000 year-long day of the Lord. (Daniel 12:4; Luke 14:14; John 5:27-28; Rev. 20) A person must be in his body because he is judged for the deeds done in the body (2 Cor. 5:10). This raised body is new, and immortal. This is why the Lake of Fire does not destroy anyone in it.
God resurrects the bodies of the sinners at the close of the Millennium (see Rev. 20). They join their departed spirits that the grave, Death, Hades and the sea give up. They are brought to stand before the Great White Throne to face God, the Judge. Books are opened out of which they are judged (Revelation 20:12). Those would be the law books (the Law of Moses for the Jew and the local societal books of those who are non-Jews. See Romans 2:11), and the books in which are the record of their works. The other book opened is the Book of Life. This last one is the official one. If a name is not recorded in it, that person is cast into the Lake of Fire, the prison that the condemned are sent “to serve eternity.”
Everything bad ends up in the Lake of Fire: Death and Hades, Satan, demons, the beast [Antichrist] and the false prophet, and all the dead who were not found in the book of life. Finally, the earth, like heaven today, will no longer have any resident who is wicked. The moral state of humanity picks up where Adam and Eve left off before they sinned, in a world restored to a Paradise state, “wherein only righteousness dwells.” (2 Peter 3:13)
All human and angelic sinners are segregated in the eternal prison below the surface of the earth where they cannot infect mankind anymore. However the inhabitants of earth, those over whom Christ and His Church will rule, will be required to look upon these prisoners as an eternal warning not to offend God. “And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord. 24“And they shall go forth and look upon the carcases of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” Isaiah 66:23-24.
In such an earth, the request in the Our Father will finally be fulfilled “Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven.” It is to such an earth that the New Jerusalem can descend out of heaven where God and the Lamb (Jesus) will be pleased to dwell at rest with man forever.
As said above, when people die, their departed spirits go to a holding place to await judgment until they are physically raised from the dead. The righteous go to Paradise, and the unrighteous go to Hades. We are informed of this by the account of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke chapter 16. We will look at the details in verses 22 – 26 of the story as they pertain to our current topic, “The beggar died, and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. 23In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom. 24He cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25“But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in the same way, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. 26Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that no one may cross over from there to us.’
First though, it is important to know that this passage is not a parable (although perhaps it can be used as one) but it is an account of men who actually lived. Jesus tells us of their lives both on earth and after they die. The reason why we know this is not a parable is no parable ever names names, especially of real people: Lazarus the beggar is named (although we don’t know from elsewhere), and Abraham whom we definitely know from Genesis. He is the great Patriarch who lived and died nearly two thousand years prior to Jesus’ earthly days. Not only are they named, but Abraham is quoted, at some length, from beyond the grave. If this were a fictitious story, Jesus would not have put new words in Abraham’s mouth he never actually said after death. Nor would Jesus have him conversing with a made-up rich man about other presumably fictitious people (Lazarus and the 5 brothers). Doing so would make Jesus a false witness concerning Abraham, which is impossible.
When Lazarus died, his body was buried but his spirit was carried by angels to Paradise. There was no mention of his judgment at that time but rather that he was being comforted. When the rich man died, his spirit was placed in Hades. Although he was in torment from the flames there is no mention he had yet gone to his judgment either. He is being held in Hades until then along with all others.
Abel was the first person we know of who died. Because Seth was born when Adam was 130 years old to replace Abel, Abel was under 130 years old when he was murdered by Cain. He was also the youngest person to die we have record of in Genesis chapter 5. He would also be the first person to go to Sheol, not into the Hades area, but to the underworld Paradise prepared for the righteous dead.
At that time, if he was indeed the first human ever to die, Hades would have been empty of human beings. But as people began to die over the hundreds of years that followed, Abel would have seen Hades, across the great chasm, slowly being populated by the departed spirits of sinners.
When the flood occurred 1656 years after Adam was created, in those 40 days, Abel would have seen perhaps hundreds of thousands or millions of people entering very suddenly into Hades because only eight people remained back up in the land of the living floating in an ark. It would be about another 500 years before Abraham came to Paradise, after whom it would be named as “Abraham’s Bosom.”
Just as the rich man called out for some water for relief from the flames (Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue! For I am in anguish in this flame), Abraham seems to indicate that that had been going on in the underworld when he said, “. . . there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that no one may cross over from there to us.” This is certainly very likely since all these departed spirits would have been suffering in flames, just as the rich man was awaiting in dread Judgment Day when all their sins are exposed and they receive a just sentence for them.
Water is the one thing that anyone would beg for in such a place. So it appears that the righteous in Paradise, whoever they may have been and likely relatively low in number, would’ve been constantly requested for water by those in Hades. Eventually, Abel would’ve seen his brother Cain who had murdered him enter Hades. Did Cain beg water of Abel as the rich man did of Lazarus? One might suppose he did. All murderers will meet their victims in the afterlife. For example, every aborted baby will meet their mother, and doctor, and anyone else who had anything to do with it along with the civil authorities who legalized their murders.
Everything will be revealed, according to Jesus’s words, “there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, nothing secret that will not be made known.” What a woeful day the day of judgment will be for so many, perhaps, billions of people who have committed sins that they thought would never be known by anyone else. Thank God, that through the Gospel, he forgives all who turn to God from their sins and put their faith in Jesus. Through Him they receive redemption and forgiveness of sins (Col. 1:14). Those sins will not be revealed on the day of judgment because they’re judged here in this life before that Day.
But Abraham also testified that the great chasm*** between them prevented anyone from trying to help them or anyone over in Hades coming over into Paradise. It also seems it would have been distressful for those in Paradise to be begged for water over the centuries. But also, after death, things certainly would seem clearer about why people are in Hades as opposed to being in Paradise. We, in our limited understanding, having never been on the other side of the veil, might have a lot more questions and doubts concerning such extreme conditions in the afterlife. Yet the Scriptures tell us why we are limited in our understanding in 1 Cor. 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I will know fully, even as I was also fully known.” But it is God who has arranged things in the afterlife. The departed righteous certainly accept that this is the way it is. So should we here on earth “trust the Lord and not lean on our own understanding” just as they do.
The other great indicator that Paradise was under the earth along with Hades, is in the account of Samuel being summoned up by the witch of Endor at the request of King Saul. Here’s what we read in 1 Samuel 28, ” Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me, to bring me up?” We also learn by this that people in Paradise are at rest, having finished their labors on earth. Samuel apparently did not like being disturbed to address a problem that King Saul was having that was his business alone to manage between himself and God. It is the same for us. We are to “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” without the aid of the saints who have gone before us to Paradise, who have finished their labors and have gone to their rest. Being out of reach, there is no way for us to disturb them as Samuel was by the King’s witch. That’s because Jesus took everyone from there to heaven. They could no longer be disturbed by those in Hades begging for water or by anyone summoning them back up here to the weary world they’ve left for good.
So Abel would have remained in “Abraham’s bosom” for about 4000 years until Jesus “ascended on high, and led captivity captive” (Ephesians 4:8), he being among the throng of the righteous dead rising with Jesus who were once the “captivity” in the subterranean Paradise. It was not until Jesus entered heaven after becoming a man, then dying and rising that anyone else could enter after their death. He had to be the first man having died to do so.****
We know that they are they are now in Heaven from Hebrews 12:22-23 “But you have come to Mount Zion, and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable multitudes of angels, 23 to the general assembly and assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect.” [my underline]. This passage tells us that when a Christian dies today they are carried by angels up into the third heaven’s Paradise, not into the subterranean one. To that one, no one goes to anymore. It suggests to us that none of the unrighteous dead can look across the great chasm anymore to find someone to request water from in Paradise. A horribly sad state unrepentant sin brings us to.
The Day of judgment will also be a time of accusations of people against others. “The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here. 42 The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here.” (Matthew 12:41 – 42)
The Day of Judgment will also show, shockingly, that notoriously wicked sinners will have it easier than more modern people who have the Gospel and rejected it. “Whoever doesn’t receive you, nor hear your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust from your feet. 15 Most certainly I tell you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for that city.” Matt. 10:14-15 And, “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works had been done in Tyre and Sidon which were done in you, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. 22 But I tell you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. 23 You, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, you will go down to Hades. For if the mighty works had been done in Sodom which were done in you, it would have remained until today. 24 But I tell you that it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom, on the day of judgment, than for you.” (Matt. 11:21 – 24)
Some will attempt to enter only on the strength of their outward ministry but will be rejected if they were actively sinning without repentance during their lives: “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven; but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 Many will tell me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name, in your name cast out demons, and in your name do many mighty works?’ 23 Then I will tell them, ‘I never knew you. Depart from me, you who work iniquity.’ (Matthew 7:21-23). Christians are warned by the Apostle of the same for themselves in Galatians 5:19-21 Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, jealousies, outbursts of anger, rivalries, divisions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, [my underline] that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom.
What a terrible thing sin is that it results in such conditions for eternity. We must be quick to acknowledge our sins and repent of them and continue to follow Jesus in the narrow path of eternal life. Those along that path have no fellowship with evil (See 2 Cor. 6:14-15) . The whole mission of Jesus was stated by the angel to Joseph in the dream when he said, “You shall call his name Jesus for he shall save his people from their sins.” This is something that we will never tire of thanking Jesus of for eternity. We also need to do that now. When we are depressed and beaten down by life, we can always thank God for salvation from our sins that came to us by his mercy and grace.
Let us also remember that this is the worst we will ever see of life and it won’t last that long; but this is the best sinners will ever see of life, and it also won’t last that long for them either. Jesus wants his Gospel message out to the world. He said when that is done then the end will come. Amen. Send forth laborers into your harvest Lord!
* Children, who have not sinned, can also die too. That’s because they are born of mortal parents who received death from Adam and must pass it along to them. Immortality was only
true of Adam and Eve until they sinned and lost access to the tree of life (Genesis 3:22). All Adam’s descendants are susceptible to death as soon as they are conceived. Where children go at death is not told to us.
** Prisons today are called “correctional institutions” or “penitentiaries.” Notice the emphasis in those terms on correction or repentance instead of only on confinement and punishment. That was a fairly new concept that led to a movement to improve these facilities. It began in Europe in the 1500s from efforts by those in the Enightenment and the Church to make prisons more humane and use them to reform offenders so they could eventually be released back into society as productive model citizens. The idea found its way here to America. Even though multitudes will weep in regret, Hades and Hell are not reformatories to rehabilitate those confined there so as to send them back eventually into the land of the living in the universal kingdom of God.
*** The great chasm referred to by Abraham is likely the bottomless pit or Abyss, that continues down to the Lake of Fire. It is bottomless, I believe, like a chimney is bottomless. That is, at the bottom there is nothing but an opening looking down to a fireplace and which extends upward through the roof. We read in Revelation 9 that an angel comes down to unlock the Abyss, out of which then comes a great amount of smoke just released by opening this cover. This shows the Abyss is just like a chimney on a colossal scale open at the bottom to the Lake of Fire then coming up to the surface of the earth passing by Hades. It is currently capped to keep its smoke contained. Volcanoes are a good example of this – smoke held under great pressure until the mountaintop gives way. In this great “chimney” Satan will be bound a thousand years living in trapped smoke all that time till he’s let out to deceive whatever potential sinners may be living as subjects of the Kingdom at that time. After that time, he will be thrown into Gehenna, the Lake of Fire, “to serve eternity” with all other condemned creatures. See Revelation 20 for more details.
**** According to Genesis 5 and 2 Kings 2, Enoch and Elijah were taken to Heaven’s Mt Zion long before Jesus did after being here. However, they had not died in their earthly days. That is the difference between Jesus and them. Jesus is a resurrected Man who died and entered Heaven afterward; Enpch and Elijah have are still alive in their original earthy bodies.