Hell, part 1

The subject of hell isn't a pleasant one. No one likes to think about an eternal place of torment where no one can escape. Yet, we learn more about this place of torment from the teachings of Jesus than from any other source. In this study we will look at some different words used in the Bible for hell, and show how you don't have to go there.

Old Testament Word for "Hell"

Different words for hell are used in the Hebrew (Old Testament) and Greek (New Testament).
Sheol--This Hebrew word in the Old Testament refers to the place where all souls went, both godly and ungodly, at their deaths. When someone died during the Old Testament days, his body went to the grave to await resurrection, while his soul departed to Sheol.

Jehovah's Witnesses teach that Sheol or hell should actually be translated "the grave." In some places the word is translated "the grave" and in other places it is translated "hell," which is not the grave. Context determines which way it is best translated. A different Hebrew word, qeber, is used when the grave is specifically referred to. This does away with the theory that Sheol can only refer to the grave and not hell.

Two Compartments of Sheol (hell)

There were two compartments in Sheol prior to the resurrection of Jesus. The paradise side of Sheol was the place for the righteous, while the torment side was the afterlife place for the wicked. When righteous people died during the Old Testament times, they couldn't go directly to heaven because Jesus had not yet come to die for their sins. (We will discuss Luke 16:19-31 in the next lesson: Hell, part 2).

Jesus said no one could go to the Father except through Him (John 14:6). He also said no one had seen God at any time (John 1:18) and no one had ascended into heaven (John 3:13), indicating no person was in heaven at that time. Jesus had seen the Father, of course, because He was with the Father in heaven before He came to earth 2,000 years ago (John 6:46, 1:1, 3:16, 6:32-38). When a righteous person died in the Old Testament, he went to the paradise compartment of Sheol to await the resurrection of Jesus to set him free.

Jesus told the thief on the cross, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with me in Paradise." (Luke 23:43). The Jehovah's Witnesses try to change the Bible by moving the comma to make it read, "Truly I say to you today, you shall be with me in Paradise." It should be noted the phrase "Truly (Verily) I say unto you" is recorded over 70 times in the gospels, and not once "Truly I say unto you today." If you move the comma in Luke 23:43, you will have to move the comma in all the other references as well. Which makes more sense? "Johnny, I am telling you the truth today, I am taking you to the zoo" or "Johnny, I am telling you the truth, today I am taking you to the zoo." Johnny needs to know what day he is going to the zoo, not what day you are talking to him! The meaning is without question: Jesus said he would be with him in paradise that day.

Ephesians 4:8-10 informs us before Jesus ascended into heaven, He first descended (into hell) to lead a host of captives (in paradise) out of captivity. This fulfilled the prophecy of Psalm 68:18. Jesus said He would be dead for 3 days and 3 nights just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale 3 days and 3 nights (Matt 12:40). We believe Jonah died while inside the belly of the whale, because he cried out from Sheol for God to rescue him (Jonah 2:2). In the same way, the body of Jesus went to the grave, while His soul went to Sheol. Psalm 16:10 is quoted in Acts 2:27 concerning the resurrection of Jesus, "Because Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol (Greek--hades), nor allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay" (the body in the grave). Also see Acts 2:31.

New Testament Words for "Hell"

Hades--This New Testament Greek word is equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol. When the New Testament was written, a change had taken place in Sheol. After Jesus descended into hell, he led a host of captives (the righteous on the paradise side) out of the captivity of Sheol. When Jesus ascended, He took the righteous Old Testament saints with Him to heaven. Whenever a Christian dies today, he or she will go straight to heaven at death because Jesus has already died on the cross for their sins. Paradise is now in heaven (2 Cor 12:2-4). Because of this change in Sheol, the word hades (hell) now always refers to the place of torment for the wicked.
Tartarus--This Greek word is only used in 2 Peter 2:4, but is also referred to in 1 Pet 3:19 and Jude 6. This is the place of torment for fallen angels (demons) now in prison. There are two classes of fallen angels: those bound and under punishment now in hell and those loosed on earth awaiting judgment. Why some are currently bound in Tartarus we are not for certain, except for the fact that they sinned (2 Pet 2:4) and didn't keep their first estate (Jude 6).

Abyss--This Greek word means "the bottomless pit" and refers to the place of torment for demon spirits. In Matt 8:29, the demon begged Jesus to not torment him before the appointed time of judgment. Luke 8:31 calls this place of torment for demons the abyss.

Gehenna--This Greek word refers to the place eternal punishment for all the wicked, which is called the lake of fire. There are some differences between Hades and Gehenna. While both are places of fire and torment, no one is in the lake of fire at present time. The wicked dead people's souls are currently in hades (hell) waiting for the resurrection of their bodies. At that time, they will all be cast into gehenna (the lake of fire), the permanent place of torment for the body and soul. Hell (hades) is cast into the lake of fire after the wicked receive their wicked resurrection bodies (Rev 20:14).

Differences between Hades and Gehenna
Hades Gehenna
Place for the soul, while waiting for the resurrection of the body. (Acts 2:27, Ps. 16:10, 86:13, 89:48, Prov. 23:14, Luke 16:19-31) Place for the body and soul after the resurrection. (Matt. 5:29-30, 10:28, Rev. 20:10-15)
Current temporary place for the wicked while waiting for the resurrection. (Rev. 20:13-15) Future eternal place for the wicked after the resurrection of the body. (Rev. 20:10-15)
Souls experience equal torment (this is an assumption only) People will experience degrees of torment, according to what they have done. (Matt. 10:15, 11:22, 12:41, Luke 12:47-48, Rev. 20:13)

*Note--The transfer of people from hades to gehenna at the great white throne judgment does not mean the people in hell will be given a second chance to accept Christ.

Why Hell Was Created

Matthew 25:41 tells us hell was originally created for the devil and his angels as a place of punishment from them. Matthew 25:31-46 says people will also go to this horrible place. Because God is holy and righteous, He must judge sin. But God is also loving and gracious, and provided a way of salvation through Jesus Christ so that no one has to go to hell. God is not willing that any should perish in hell, but wants everyone to repent ( 2 Peter 3:9). Jesus Christ took the punishment for your sins on the cross and by accepting Him as your Lord, He will give you eternal life. If you reject Jesus, you must pay for your own sins forever in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:15).

If you would like to accept Jesus as your Lord, you can read more about this decision by clicking here.

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