Where Is He?

The funeral was over. Everyone was walking back to the cars. I had done a good job. Dad would have been proud. Now it was my turn to say “good-bye.” I reached out and touched his coffin and wept uncontrollably.

Dad was a good man, and I was going to miss him. He loved my mom as few men ever loved their wives. He worked hard and often muddled his way through fatherhood, but we knew he loved us. Where was he now?

The world of departed souls is called hades, a Greek word that simply means “unseen.” It is equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol in the Old Testament. In the earliest days of the church, Christians believed hades referred to a transitory abode of the departed.

However, in the Roman Catholic Church, from the days of Gregory I, hades was transformed into purgatory, a place of torment where sins were purged until the soul was pure enough to enter heaven. However, Jesus never mentioned purgatory. The apostles hadn’t heard of such a thing. It has no place in the Bible and thus has no place in the teachings of the church. It’s a Catholic thing, not a Christian belief.

On the other hand, in reaction, Protestants went too far. In their minds, they linked the Catholic doctrine of purgatory with the Greek word hades that is found ten times in the New Testament. To make sure no one used the word hades to support belief in purgatory, they translated both hades and the normal Greek word for hell, gehenna (found 12 times in the New Testament), as “hell.” Compare these three English translations of Acts 2:31 where Peter is commenting on Psalm 116:

According to the King James translation, Jesus was in hell!

KJV [David] seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.

The new translation, the English Standard Version, doesn’t translate the Greek word at all.

ESV [David] foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

However, the New International Version gets at the sense of the Greek word hades:

NIV Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay.

In other words, the Bible teaches there is a great day coming: the Judgment Day. Between life and the judgment is hades, the grave – not hell or purgatory.

So what is hades like? The New Testament gives us several metaphors, but the most common comfort is, for Christians, death is like sleep.[1] Listen to Paul’s description of the great day:

The Coming of the Lord

Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage each other with these words (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).

My uncle came back from the car, put his arm around my shoulder to comfort me, and said, “Your father was a Christian John, and so are you.” Rest well, Dad. I’ll see you again on that Great Day.

  [1] The doctrine of “soul-sleeping” (technically called psychopannychism)is different altogether. People who believe in soul-sleeping believe the body and the soul are destroyed in death. They think at the resurrection God re-creates the souls of the righteous!

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