So far we have looked at the word Sheol in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament as a word that might possibly teach/support the doctrine of Hell. We saw very clearly how this cannot be the case. It is definitely related to some kind of after life existence, but has far too many differences with our concept of hell to be considered an accurate representative. Which as we saw was why our bibles do not use the word ‘hell’ to translate Sheol – it is too different.
The next word that is a contender for teaching the doctrine of hell in Scripture is the Greek word Hades which is found 10 times in the New Testament.
The term Hades finds its origin in Greek Mythology. In this mythology, 3 siblings (Zeus, Poseidon and Hades) overthrew their tyrannical father and divided up the world amongst the three of them. Zeus got to rule over the sky, Poseidon got to rule over the ocean and Hades got to rule over the underworld. Hades literally means “unseen one” and as such the underworld was fit for him. The underworld eventually came to be associated so much with Hades that it received his name.
Hades is very simply, the place of the dead. It is where the dead go when their earthly life is over. When the Bible uses the word Hades, it is not endorsing Greek Mythology as truth, rather it is borrowing a well known concept that fits with Biblical truth. Hades, being very simply the place of the dead, was and is almost entirely synonymous with Sheol.
Hades and Sheol are synonymous
We saw in the last blog that Sheol was the place of the dead. There is no activity nor consciousness there. Rather its inhabitants are in a dream like state of sleep awaiting the resurrection. Hades (aside from the resurrection aspect not being part of mythology) is basically the same concept as Sheol.
Not only is this easily recognized by a simple comparison, but we also have the support of the Septuagint. (We looked at the Septuagint earlier in the last series on the words aion and aionios. The Septuagint being the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament.) The Septuagint uses the word Hades to translate the word Sheol. So if Hades was used to translate Sheol, then we can be fully assured that the two concepts are synonymous. In fact, the New Testament quotes a verse from the Old Testament that used the word Sheol, and in the New Testament it uses the word Hades. So we have direct Biblical support for connecting these two concepts.
Jesus Taught in Aramaic
Another interesting detail that is noteworthy is the fact that although the New Testament was written in Greek, Jesus most spoke and taught in Aramaic, which is a language very closely related to Hebrew – and out of the 10 times that Hades is mentioned in the New Testament, 6 of those times it is mentioned by Jesus in the Gospels. B/c Jesus spoke in Aramaic He wouldn’t have used the word Hades, but rather Sheol. The only problem with this is the fact that the inspired Word is given to us in Greek, so we are left with no choice but to address Hades. However – it is helpful to understand the background of it in order to better understand the context and concept of what Jesus was teaching. The fact that Hades and Sheol are so closely related would imply that Jesus was referring to the Old Testament concept of Sheol. Therefore when the Gospel’s use the word Hades it is describing Sheol.
Hades is a Transliteration
On top of this is the fact that Hades (like Sheol) is a transliteration rather than a translation. Just as we noticed about Sheol, Hades is a concept that we do not have a word for in English – thus our Bibles transliterate it, rather than translate it. This means that ‘hell’ is not an accurate picture of Hades.
But even if all that we have just noticed about Hades didn’t exist, we would still be able to decipher its true character simply from how it is used in the New Testament. Most people assume that Hades is referring to endless hell, but we ought not to presume truth, rather we ought to be like the Bereans and search it out. If we do this with Hades we will hopefully see the truth more clearly.
So to begin, let us take a look at where and how the word Hades is used in the New Testament.
The Keys of Hades
The 1st thing that I want to bring to your attention is the instance in the book of Revelation when John sees Jesus in all His glory. John is so overwhelmed that he falls down as a dead man. Jesus then encourages John not to be afraid, telling him,
“I am the first and the last, and the living One; and I was dead and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and Hades.” (Revelation 1:17,18)
The context is all about overcoming death. Jesus is encouraging John (and us) that He can unlock “the gates of Hades” so that the dead who are confined there can escape! Even as He did. There is a way out and Jesus has the key to do so. What these keys are exactly is a subject that we must skip for now.
The Gates of Hades Overrun
During His earthly life Jesus made another similar statement about the gates of Hades . On a certain occasion Jesus began to ask His disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” His disciples give different answers, “some say John the Baptist, and others Elijah, but still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Jesus then zeroes in on His disciples, “but who do you say that I am?” And Peter answers, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus then praises Peter saying,
“Blessed are you [Peter] b/c flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. I also say to you that you are Peter and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” (Matthew 16:13-18)
The “rock” that Jesus builds His church upon is the declaration of Peter that “Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” It is a solid foundation b/c it is not something a human can fathom, it is a revelation from God the Father who is in heaven. It is upon this rock/revelation that the Church is built and it is upon this rock that the Church will conquer Hades. The imagery here is often mistaken to be that Hades is attacking the Church, but that is incorrect, the force of the words in Greek here show that opposite is true; the Church is storming the gates of Hades! And these gates will not be able to stand against her attack. The Church is going to invade the realm of Hades and Hades’ defensive campaign will not succeed!
This certainly aligns with what it says about Christ that He
“…went and preached to the spirits held captive in prison,” (1 Peter 3:19)
“He descended into the lower parts of the earth…and when He ascended on High He led forth in victory a host of captives.” (Ephesians 4:8-10)
The keys that Jesus has in Revelation are the keys to this gate. The Church has these keys because they are one with Christ and co-heirs with Him. They are blessed with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, which includes His keys (Galatians 3:28; Romans 12:5, 8:17; Ephesians 1:3). This means that the Church can and will break through into Hades and rescue those who are trapped there! Praise God!
What is even more fascinating to ponder is whether the keys of Hades at the beginning of Revelation might possibly be involved in the process by which Hades gives up her dead at the end of Revelation?
Hades is Emptied
This is the second thing that I want us to notice – Hades will give up its dead. At the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the book of Revelation it states that,
“the sea gave up the dead which were in it and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them…then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:13,14).
Hades and Death will give up all the inhabitants that they held! This will fulfill the Scripture that says,
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting.” (1 Corinthians 15:54,55)
This means that Hades cannot be a realistic description (picture, portrayal) of what we have come to understand as hell. This should give us incentive to take another look at all the other instances that Hades is mentioned in the Bible, but this time with new eyes. The focus of the next blog will be looking at the contexts and implications of each instance that the word Hades is found.