A.D. – After Death

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Destination of Departed Souls – And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. (Revelation 20:1-3)

A variety of terms were used in the foregoing discussion which speaks of the afterlife and the destination of departed souls. Many terms are used interchangeably, yet they are not necessarily referring to the same thing. Following is a discussion of the main terms.

Sheol – Sheol is the most common word for the afterlife in the Bible, appearing 65 times in the Old Testament.(1) In ordinary usage it means ravine, chasm, underworld, or world of the dead. In the Old Testament, it is the place where the dead have their abode. Synonyms for Sheol are pit, death, and destruction (Abaddon). Some Bible scholars consider it to be the same as the bottomless pit (Abyss) that is presided over by Abaddon, the prince of the pit (Revelation 9:11).(2)

Sheol was viewed as being located below the surface of the earth (Ezekiel. 31:15, 17; Psalm 86:13). It was a place of dust (Job 17:16), darkness (Job 10:21), silence (Psalm 94:17) and forgetfulness (Psalm 88:12). Sometimes the distinctions of earthly life are pictured as continuing in Sheol (Isaiah 14:9; Ezekiel 32:27), but always it is a place of weakness and joylessness.(3)

The Old Testament often uses the word grave and Sheol interchangeably.(4) Some older translations have the term incorrectly translated as hell.(5) But this is surely a bad translation, since hell, or the lake of fire is no one’s dwelling place until the final judgment (Revelation 20:14). Two texts (Psalm. 89:48–49 and Ecclesiastes. 9:7–10) seem on the surface to teach that all persons will end up in Sheol. But the former passage really teaches that humanity under sinful judgment is destined for Sheol. The latter text is in the section of Ecclesiastes where Solomon is lamenting the absurdity of all life, but of course, that is not his final word (Ecclesiastes 12:14).

It is simply inconceivable that Sheol is the abode of the righteous dead for several reasons. The fact that in Sheol there is no praise of Yahweh (Psalms. 6:5; 115:17) indicates that it is not the abode of the righteous. It is a place of pain and distress (Psalm 116:3), of weakness (Isaiah 14:10), helplessness (Psalm 88:4), hopelessness (Isaiah 38:10), and destruction (Isaiah 38:17). The righteous have a different expectation.(6)

Hades – The Greek noun Hades is used 61 times in the Greek Old Testament (Septuagint) to translate the Hebrew term Sheol.(7) In Greek mythology, Hades (also named Pluto) was the god of the underworld, which was the abode of the dead. By extension, Hades came to refer to the realm of the dead itself. In addition to Sheol, the Septuagint translates other Hebrew words and phrases that refer to the pit, stillness, death, and deep darkness as Hades.

In the New Testament, Hades appears as both a place (Acts 2:31) and a being (Revelation 6:8). As a place, it is the abode of the dead (Acts 2:27, 31), identical with Sheol (since the references are quotes from the Septuagint). The concepts of Sheol, Hades, and hell all seem to overlap in the New Testament. But in a strict sense, Hades (like Sheol) refers simply to a place where the dead dwell, whereas Hell (Greek Gehenna) connotes a place of torment and punishment. Further, the dead enter Hades (or Sheol) immediately, while entrance to Hell is reserved for those who fare poorly in the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of time.(8)

On the other hand, Hades is also represented as a place of torment for the wicked. Jesus uses the term in this way in His condemnation of Capernaum in Matthew 11:23 (parallel Luke 10:15), and in the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:23, where the rich man is said to be “in torment in Hades.(9)

The Old Testament used the expression “to be gathered to one’s people (or fathers)” (see Genesis 25:8; 49:33; Judges 2:10; 2 Kings 22:20). All individuals—just or unjust—could be “gathered to their people.” Later, the rabbis divided the place of the dead (Sheol) into separate places for the righteous and the wicked. The portion for the wicked was often called Hades or torments, while the portion for the righteous was called Abraham’s bosom, or paradise.

Abraham’s Bosom – This is a term that Christ used to refer to a place for the spirits of the righteous dead (Luke 16:22, 23). He uses it in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man—the rich man goes to Hades (torments), and Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom (paradise). The imagery is taken from the ancient practice of reclining at table (see John 21:20).

It is not possible to exactly determine what Christ meant, as He uses this expression only in this “parable.” But see Figure 23.2 for three possibilities on two later references by Christ.

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The language Jesus used elsewhere (see John 14:2) to describe His Father’s house seems to confirm that Abraham’s bosom (paradise) is a different place than Heaven. Thus, Abraham’s bosom is likely the same as the paradise mentioned in Luke 23:43,(10) where Christ tells the thief on the cross that “today you will be with me in paradise.” Later, after He rose from the dead, when Jesus tells Mary Magdalene to “not hold onto me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father,” He is likely referring to Heaven. If so, then Abraham’s bosom, or paradise, really is a separate division of Sheol or Hades and is (was) only a temporary abode of the righteous dead.

Many theologians believe that Jesus emptied the paradise part of hades after He rose from the dead and returned to the Father (John 20:17; Ephesian 4:8–10). We know that today paradise is in heaven, where Jesus reigns in glory (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:1–4). Also, there is no indication in Scripture that souls in Hades can communicate with souls in Heaven, as they were able to do with the souls in Abraham’s bosom.(11)

Hell – The Greek word Gehenna is used in several New Testament passages to designate the fiery place for punishment of sinners and is often translated “hell” or “the fires of hell” (Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; James 3:6). Gehenna is a transliteration from the Hebrew of the Old Testament, valley of Hinnom or the “valley of the son of Hinnom,” which was a ravine on the south side of Jerusalem (the same valley as Tophet, one of the possible sites for the battle of Armageddon.

This valley was the center of idol worship in which children were burned by fire as an offering to the heathen god Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). In the time of King Josiah, it had become a place of abomination, polluted by dead men’s bones, the filth of Jerusalem (2 Kings 23:10–14) and by the garbage dumped there. A fire burned continuously in this valley. It thus became a symbol of the unending fires of hell where the lost are consumed in torment, a symbol of the judgment to be imposed on the idolatrous and disobedient (Jeremiah 7:31–34; 32:35).(12)

The concept of Hell is different from Sheol (in the Hebrew Bible) and from Hades (in most Greek literature) in three ways:

Only the Wicked – Only the wicked enter Hell, whereas good (Abraham’s bosom – a different area separated by a great gulf) and bad alike occupy Sheol or Hades.

Not Until Final Judgment – The wicked are sent to Hell after the final judgment at the end of time, whereas people are believed to enter Sheol or Hades immediately upon death.

Eternal, Not Temporary – Hell involves eternal torment, whereas Sheol and Hades were characterized only by absence of life, not enhanced suffering. In the New Testament, however, some references to Hades appear to have been influenced by the concept of Hell, so that Hades also can be described as a place of torment reserved only for the wicked or those condemned in the judgment (Matthew 11:23; Luke 16:23).(13)

Another Greek word used to designate Hell is Tartarus, a classical word for the place of eternal punishment. Peter used the word Tartarus in 2 Peter 2:4 to describe the place (Abyss) where fallen angels were thrown: “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.(14)

Jesus describes Hell as an eternal fire where the devil and his angels are destined (Matthew 25:41).(15) Hell is also the final destiny of unbelievers and is variously described as a furnace of fire, eternal fire, eternal punishment (Matthew 13:42, 50; 25:41, 46); outer darkness, the place of weeping and torment (Matthew 8:12); eternal sin (Mark 3:29); the wrath of God (Romans 2:5); everlasting separation from the Lord, never to see the glory of his power (2 Thessalonians 1:9); the bottomless pit (Revelation 9:1, 11); continuous torment (Revelation 14:10, 11); the lake of fire, the second death (Revelation 21:8); a place prepared for the devil and his demons (Matthew 25:41).

The foregoing designations clearly show that the state of those in Hell is one of eternal duration. Other expressions that indicate that the final state of the wicked is eternal are: “burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12); “to the unquenchable fire … where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43, 48); there is sin which “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). When Scripture is understood properly, there is no hint anywhere of the termination of the terrible state of unbelievers in Hell. Their doom does not end. There is a solemn finality about their miserable condition. Significantly, the most descriptive and conclusive utterances about Hell come from the lips of Jesus. Why there is a Hell, and why it is eternal will be discussed in a later Chapter.

A summary of all the Scripture that speaks about Hell indicates that there is the loss and absence of all good, and the misery and torment of an evil conscience. The most terrifying aspect is the complete and deserved separation from God and from all that is pure, holy, and beautiful. In addition, there is the awareness of being under the wrath of God and of enduring the curse of a righteous sentence because of one’s sins that were consciously and voluntarily committed,(16) as well as the conscious and voluntary rejection of Jesus.

Lake of Fire – This place is mentioned only in Revelation (19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8), but its terrible nature is abundantly clear. It is described as a lake of fire or lake of burning Sulphur into which are cast:

The anti-Christ and his false prophet: after they are defeated by Christ.

Satan: after his last rebellion.

Death and Hades: forever conquered.

The Lost: all whose names are not found in the Book of Life.

It is called the second death (born once die twice, born twice die once), for it is the ultimate separation from God beyond the resurrection and final judgment. The lake of fire is probably the same place that Jesus calls Gehenna (Matthew 10:28; Mark 9:43; Luke 12:5), the outer darkness (Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), and the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41; Isaiah 66:24). Whatever the image or name, they all point to a place of eternal torment and separation from God where the unrepentant will suffer forever.(17) From this description it is evident that Hell and the Lake of Fire are synonymous.

The Abyss – The word abyss is derived from a Greek word meaning something which is bottomless. It is often used to refer to a place of despair in which demons are imprisoned (Luke 8:31; Revelation 9:1-11).(18) It is also used to refer to the dark abode of the dead (Romans 10:7). Abaddon rules the abyss (Revelation 9:11), from which will come the beast from the sea (Revelation 11:7). Satan will be bound there during the millennium (Revelation 20:1–3).(19) As noted above, it is not the “lake of fire and brimstone” into which Satan and all the unsaved will ultimately be cast (Revelation 19:20; 20:10)(20) for all eternity.

Abaddon means place of destruction, a Hebrew word that occurs six times in the Old Testament. It was generally used as a reference for the place of the dead (Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; Psalm 88:11; Proverbs 15:11; 27:20). It sometimes serves as a synonym for Sheol and is variously translated Hell, death, the grave, or destruction. The same Hebrew word occurs once in the New Testament in its Greek equivalent, Apollyon (Revelation 9:11), where the idea of destruction is personified as the angel of the bottomless pit, so the word is translated destroyer. Abaddon (Apollyon) was the angel reigning over the realm of the dead, who appeared after the fifth trumpet in John’s vision (Revelation 9:1).(21)

Despite some confusion in the use of the term, the Abyss or bottomless pit is not Hades or Hell. Rather, it is a prison somewhere in the underworld, where demons are confined by God. One can read Luke 8:26–36 to see how the demons dreaded being sent into the pit. In Revelation 1:18 we read that Christ holds all the keys and Satan must get his authority from Christ.(22)

As the foregoing discussion makes clear (or maybe not so clear), there are differing interpretations on some of these terms. Figures 23.3, 23.4 and 23.5, might be of some help in visualizing one, but not the only, interpretation.

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Putting it all together (the saved and unsaved) it might look something like Figure 23.5.

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Up Next – The Millennium.

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References

  1. Neal, D. A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Sheol. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  2. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1948). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  3. Innes, D. K. (1996). Sheol. In D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard, J. I. Packer, & D. J. Wiseman (Eds.), New Bible dictionary (3rd ed., p. 1092). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  4. Neal, D. A. (2012, 2013, 2014). Sheol. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  5. Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.
  6. Brand, C. (2003). Sheol. In C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, E. R. Clendenen, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 1483). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  7. Clendenen, E. R. (2003). Hades. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 699). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  8. Collins, A. Y., & Powell, M. A. (2011). Hades. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition., p. 354). New York: HarperCollins.
  9. Clendenen, E. R. (2003). Hades. In C. Brand, C. Draper, A. England, S. Bond, & T. C. Butler (Eds.), Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 699). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  10. Major Contributors and Editors. (2012, 2013, 2014, 2015). Abraham’s Bosom. In J. D. Barry, D. Bomar, D. R. Brown, R. Klippenstein, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair Wolcott, … W. Widder (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  11. Wiersbe, W. W. (1996). The Bible exposition commentary (Vol. 1, p. 241). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.
  12. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 954). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  13. Lemke, W. E., & Powell, M. A. (2011). hell. In M. A. Powell (Ed.), The HarperCollins Bible Dictionary (Revised and Updated) (Third Edition., p. 373). New York: HarperCollins.
  14. Carpenter, E. E., & Comfort, P. W. (2000). In Holman treasury of key Bible words: 200 Greek and 200 Hebrew words defined and explained (p. 303). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.
  15. Seal, D. (2012, 2013, 2014). Hell. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  16. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (pp. 952–953). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  17. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 1299). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  18. Manser, M. H. (2009). Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser.
  19. Brand, C., Draper, C., England, A., Bond, S., Clendenen, E. R., & Butler, T. C. (Eds.). (2003). Abyss. In Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (p. 15). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.
  20. Major Contributors and Editors. (2012, 2013, 2014). Abyss. In J. D. Barry, L. Wentz, D. Mangum, C. Sinclair-Wolcott, R. Klippenstein, D. Bomar, … D. R. Brown (Eds.), The Lexham Bible Dictionary. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.
  21. Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. (1988). In Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (p. 4). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House.
  22. Wiersbe, W. W. (1992). Wiersbe’s expository outlines on the New Testament (pp. 821–822). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

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