Death Discussions Part 8: The Hot Topic of Hell
Hell. Few Bible topics generate such emotion and controversy. Liberals reject the idea, yet Jesus Christ plainly taught a real Hell when He solemnly warned that the lost will be cast “into a furnace of fire” where “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (see Matthew 13:42). Thus liberals are wrong in denying Hell’s existence. On the other hand, I’m convinced that many conservative Bible-believing Christians often misunderstand the subject as well. This goal of this series is to continue separating fantasy from reality.
In Part 7 we saw that there are three different Greek words translated “Hell” in our English New Testaments: “Tartarus,” “Gehenna,” and “Hades.” “Tartarus” is used once, in 2 Peter 2:4, and means “a place of darkness or restraint.” “Tartarus” is where Satan and his demons reside now. It isn’t a place of punishment or flames. That comes later. Satan and his hosts will reap their reward in due time.
“Gehenna” is used many times in the New Testament, such as in Matthew 5:22, 29, and 30, and refers to a place of fire, brimstone, and punishment. In Part 7 we discovered that Jesus Christ clearly pinpointed the time of this fire as being at “the end of this world” (Matthew 13:40) and that Peter identified the place of this fire as being “the heavens and the earth which are now” (2 Peter 3:7). On Earth’s last day, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up” (2 Peter 3:10). In other words, earth itself is destined for flames. Then God will create “new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells” (2 Peter 3:13; see also Revelation 21:1). We shall discuss the duration of this fire in the next article.
Now for “Hades.” This Greek word is also translated “Hell” in many English Bibles, such as the King James Version. In Revelation 6:8, the King James Version refers to “Death, and Hell [Hades].” It does this same in Revelation 20:14. Yet some English Bibles leave the word “Hades” itself, such as the New International Version, which translates Revelation 6:8 and 20:14 as “Death, and Hades.” Now here’s a key point: in Revelation 20:14 “Hades” (“Hell”) is eventually “cast into the lake of fire.” Thus “Hades” itself is not a fiery place, but is cast into “the lake of fire.”
Here is Revelation 20:14 in both the KJV and NIV:
And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14, King James Version, italics added)
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14, New International Version, italics added)
In my personal King James Version, which I often preach from, there is a marginal reference beside the word “Hell” (Hades) listed in Revelation 20:13 and 14. It says “Hell” literally means “the grave.” Thus Revelation 20:14 could properly be translated, “death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire.” This makes sense.
To make it simple, “Hades” literally means “the grave.” This is easy to prove from 1 Corinthians 15:55, which in the King James Version states,
O death, where is thy sting? O grave , where is thy victory? (1 Corinthians 15:55, KJV, italics added)
If you look in any Strong’s Concordance, you’ll discover that the original Greek word here translated “grave” is “Hades.” By looking at the context, it’s obvious that “Hades” means “the grave” because it is God’s saints who rise out of “Hades” when Jesus Christ returns. See for yourself:
Behold, I shew you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up on victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave [Hades] where is your victory? (1 Corinthians 15:51-55, King James Version, italics added)
“O grave [Hades] where is your victory?” the redeemed triumphantly shout. Thus “Hades” here cannot mean a place of burning, for who can imagine God’s people writhing in flames as they await the resurrection? Impossible!
Additional proof that “Hades” means “the grave” is the fact that “Hades” was the place Jesus Christ’s body rested in immediately after His death. In Acts 2:31, the King James Version declares,
His [Christ’s] soul was not left in hell [Hades] neither [did] his flesh see corruption (Acts 2:31, KJV, italics added).
The New International Version translates Acts 2:31 as,
He was not abandoned to the grave , nor did his body see decay (Acts 2:31, NIV, italics added)
Thus Christ’s “body” (NIV) or “flesh” (KJV) was not allowed to see “corruption” (KJV) or “decay” (NIV) because it remained in the grave only a short time before He rose. This should be plain to any unprejudiced mind.
To summarize the meaning of the three Greek words translated “Hell” in our English Bibles:
- “Tartarus” means “a place of darkness or restraint” (2 Peter 2:4). Satan abides there now.
- “Hades” means “the grave” (Acts 2:31; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 20:14). Jesus Christ’s body rested there, and His saints rest there now awaiting the resurrection.
- “Gehenna” means a place of fire, brimstone, and punishment (see Matthew 5:22, 29, 30, described in Matthew 13:40-42, 2 Peter 3:7, 10-12). These flames are yet future, at the end of the world.
In its description of this final fire, and the doom of the lost, the Bible’s last book solemnly declares,
Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
Will “the lake of fire” burn forever? Or will its unfortunate inhabitants – including Satan and his demons – finally burn up, and thus cease to exist? What does the Bible really say?
You will find out in Part 9 of The Hot Topic of Hell.
To be continued…
*Steve Wohlberg’s series, Deadly Delusions about Death and Hell, available on DVD, explores this topic more fully: