Hades and Hell

View from Santa Teresa
View from Santa Teresa

Dear John,

I always thought Hades and hell were the same thing, but in a recent sermon you said we all go to Hades – unless Jesus comes first. Can you explain?
Listening N. Backrow


Dear Listening,

“Hades” is just a Greek word that means “unseen.” It is not the same as hell (Gehenna, Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28, and elsewhere). The word Hades describes either the place or the state where we will wait for the end of the world when Jesus comes again. Of course our bodies return to the earth while we wait for the resurrection, but what happens to our souls in the meantime? We wait in the unseen world: Hades.

Does Hades describe a state or a place? Many Christians think the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man (Luke 6:19 ff.) refers to this unseen world, Hades. They point out that because the brothers of the Rich Man are still alive, the end of the world hasn’t come yet. That means the final judgment hasn’t happened either. Lazarus and the Rich Man are in the unseen waiting place, Hades, but they are in two very different parts. Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham while the Rich Man is in torment.

People who believe Hades is a location even have a name for both parts of this place. Jesus promised the penitent thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise,” (Luke 22:43). He didn’t say “Today you will be with me in heaven.” The final judgment hasn’t happened yet, so paradise must refer to the place where Lazarus is being comforted. It’s a good place! On the other hand, Peter talks about a place where the rebellious angels are waiting for judgment (2 Peter 2:4). Some English Bibles say this place is “hell,” but notice the footnotes. The Greek word isn’t the usual one for hell (Gehenna). It’s called Tartarus. Could this be the name for the place in Hades where the soul of the Rich Man is being punished?

On the other hand, some Christians believe Hades describes a state or a condition where the soul is apart from the body. The Apostle Paul told the Corinthians: “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed,” that is, our body, “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,” that is, our future resurrection body. Paul continues, “For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked,” (2 Corinthians 5:1-3). In other words, to be a soul apart from a body is similar to being naked. So where does a righteous soul wait for the Day of Judgment? According to the Revelation, perhaps under the altar in heaven (Revelation 6:9 ff.).

While I believe the Bible teaches unless Jesus comes first, we will all die, I don’t believe we have enough evidence to be certain if Hades is an unseen waiting place or an unseen state. But which would you choose? To wait in the beautiful Paradise of God or to wait with the martyrs in heaven? Either way, it sounds like we can’t loose!

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