In the last blog we saw how Hades is synonymous with the concept of Sheol. We saw that Christ has the keys of Hades, and the gates of Hades will not be able to resist the advance of Christ’s Church. We also saw that eventually Hades will give up all of its inhabitants and finally be eradicated. This ought to be more than enough to discredit it as a reference to hell, nevertheless, I like to be thorough. Therefore, with that in mind let us look at the remaining times that Hades is found in the New Testament. Remember, Hades occurs only 10 times in 6 different contexts. We have already looked at 4 of the times that Hades is mentioned, involving 2 different contexts. That leaves us with a count of 6 more times that it is mentioned in the New Testament, involving 4 more contexts.
It occurs once in Matthew (11:23) and once in Luke (10:15) in the context of Capernaum’s judgment.
“And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descendto Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.”
In these instances Jesus is denouncing several cities for not repenting at His preaching and the miraculous signs confirming His message. He names several Old Testament examples of cities that were judged due to their sin, and declares that they would have avoided their judgment of complete destruction if they had witnessed Jesus and His miracles – b/c they would have repented.
Now in these two cases, Hades is obviously referring to whole cities, not just people (although the sin of the city was perpetrated by its inhabitants). And similar to certain Sheol references in the Old Testament, the judgment for sin was a shortened life, which is considered being brought down to Hades (or Sheol). Not only that, but the Old Testament refers to entire cities going down to Sheol in judgment (Isaiah 5:14). So Jesus, who taught in Aramaic and probably used the word Sheol when He taught this, is using well known Sheol related imagery.
Therefore in these two cases Hades is not a place of endless suffering, but a picture of citywide ruin/destruction. And thus it does not accurately present the modern picture of hell.
The next instance I want to look at where Hades is mentioned is in Acts chapter 2 concerning Jesus’ resurrection from death (2:22-33). It is used twice in this passage. Peter having just been filled with the Spirit on the day of Pentecost is preaching to a crowd that was gathering. He tells them that,
“Jesus the Nazarene…you nailed to a cross…but God raised Him up again, putting an end to the agony of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power. For David says of Him…‘You will not abandon My soul to Hades, nor allow your Holy One to undergo decay.’ He (David) looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that ‘He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay’…This Jesus God raised up again, to which we are all witnesses.”
The first thing that we need to notice is that these are quotes from the Septuagint, which means that the word Hades is used in place of Sheol in these verses. Having seen previously that Sheol is a waiting place for the dead and that even the righteous end up there to wait in a sleep state until they are raised from the dead sometime in the future; it is not so shocking to see that even Christ went into Hades at His death. And furthermore, we must notice that He was not abandoned to Hades, He was freed from it. And His resurrection is a sign of ours! (Colossians 1:18)
So this presents two issues that are in noncompliance with our idea of hell. 1 – even Jesus went there and 2 – its possible to leave. Therefore Hades in this instance also does not conform to the modern idea of hell.
The next instance I want to look at is in the book of Revelation (6:8). In this context John is watching Jesus break 7 seals on a certain scroll. And each time a seal is broken some judgment is released into the earth. When the 4th seal is broken John says,
“I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.”
In this case, Hades and Death are pictures of…well…death. But here Hades is connected to physical death. 1/4th of the earth is slain by Death and Hades. It therefore once again cannot be associated with the doctrine of endless hell.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
So far we have looked at 9 of the 10 times that Hades is used in the New Testament. And of these 9, 6 present the idea that there is escape from Hades, and 3 are referring to physical, earthly destruction of some kind. That leaves only 1 instance left to look at and it is probably the most well known. It is found in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus recorded in Luke 16:19-31. A parable I am sure we are all familiar with. If you are not familiar with it, I would recommend you read it before proceeding any further. In this 1 single instance Hades does (at first) seem to present a picture that is comparable to the modern idea of hell. However, there are a few discrepancies that I want you to notice.
Firstly, it is a parable; and because it is a parable we should note that it possibly has a hidden message (Matthew 13:3,10-17; Mark 4:33,34). It therefore is possibly used as a poetic analogy, rather than actual fact. But for the sake of honesty I have to admit that it is just as viable a possibility that it uses real facts rather than presenting a poetic picture.
Secondly a good researcher can make a solid case that Jesus was using imagery drawn from false doctrines that the Pharisees held, in order to prove a point to them. In other words, He uses their own false ideas to rebuke them – which is certainly a sign of genius. However, at this point in time I cannot prove that theory, but it also cannot be disproven.
However, if it IS indeed presenting an actual picture of the afterlife, there is the problem of being able to see, hear and empathize with those in Hades. This could be quite a weight to bear for all eternity. And, if you recall from my introduction to this series, this was the great burden that started me on my journey to discovering Universal Reconciliation. To be eternally aware of the endless suffering of those we love, will be quite unbearable.
Thirdly, no matter what position you take concerning this parable, in the end it is a non issue, for 2 reasons: – 1) b/c as we saw in the last series aion and aionios do rarely, if ever, mean “endless” (not to mention that these words are not even used in this parable); and 2) b/c as we have also seen previously, Hades will give up its dead and be cast into the Lake of Fire. Hades thus is not the final state of the lost.
Lastly, I firmly believe that the point is not to teach us about Hades, but that those who live in self absorbed luxury would not receive the truth of Jesus’ gospel message even if Someone (Jesus) were to rise from the dead.
It is a well-known fact that the Pharisees all lived in such luxury, in fact, the whole context in which Jesus delivers this parable is one addressing the Pharisee’s love of money. Jesus had just previously spoken another parable on using money for the kingdom, instead of for selfish gain. Jesus then sums it up saying, “You cannot serve both God and money.” Following this statement Luke records that,
“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing [Jesus].” (Luke 16:1-14)
And so Jesus proceeds into this parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. The context is impossible to get around, it is about how the love of money will ruin your ability to receive the truth of the Gospel. I need not point out how there are many today in the position the Pharisees were in, who are guilty of putting the love of money before the love of the truth.
History confirms that the Pharisees remained opposed to Jesus’ message even after He rose from the dead. They even knew about it and tried to cover it up! (Matthew 28:11-15) They truly cared more about their position and wealth than God’s will. Their rejection of His message ultimately sealed their judgment and the result was that 40 years later Jerusalem was destroyed as Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom and Gomorrah were. Which coincidentally connects this Hades reference to Jesus’ previous mention of it concerning Capernaum.
I might not have a full proof case to show that the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus does not portray Hades as an accurate representation of hell, but there is enough reasonable doubt to cast serious suspicion on it being an accurate description of the afterlife. Not to mention that it is clear from Scripture that Hades will empty out its dead at some point in the future.
Therefore, having seen that Hades is synonymous with the Old Testament concept of Sheol; and having honestly approached the concept of Hades as a possible reference to the doctrine of hell, with only 1 instance out of 10 even slightly inferring a real connection; we ought to have no issue with disregarding this word/concept as Biblical support of such a doctrine.
That leaves us with only 4 more words/concepts left to truly teach the concept of hell; Tartarus, Gehenna, the Outer Darkness and the Furnace of Fire. In the next blog we will focus on the word Tartarus and see just exactly what it is referring to. For it is only used 1 time in the entire Bible, and that instance is an odd one to say the least.