Many think that ‘Hell’ is the English translation of the Greek word ‘Hades’ or of the Hebrew word ‘Sheol’ but they are not aware of the fact that English translations of the Bible like the NIV and the KJV had used the word ‘Hell’ to mean both ‘Hades’ and ‘Gehanna’ (which infact is the actual Greek word adapted from the Hebrew word ‘geenna’ and is translated as ‘Hell’) whereas the NASB and the Amplified Bible left the word ‘Hades’ untranslated but instead translated the word ‘Gehanna’ as ‘Hell’. For instance, Luke 16:23 in the NIV reads: ‘And in *hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.’ *The foot note says the actual Greek word in the passage is ‘Hades’ and not ‘Gehanna’. When the NIV and KJV translated the word as ‘hell’, NASB and the Amplified Bible left it untranslated. (In fact the Malayalam Bible translators got it right because they made a distinction between the two and used two different words in the translation : ‘Paa-dha-lam’ for ‘Hades’ and ‘Na-ra-gam’ for ‘Gehanna’.) However, the translators of NIV did some justice by leaving the word ‘Hades’ untranslated throughout the book of Revelation whereas KJV translators did injustice to the truth with their choice of word. The Bible teaches that no one has gone bodily to Hades as it is the abode for unsaved departed souls, until the final judgement but thereafter, they will be cast bodily to the eternal fire, if they are eternally condemned. How then can they justify the use of the word ‘hell’ to mean both ‘Hades’ as well as the ‘lake of fire’, if these are two distinct places?
How are these two places distinct? John in his vision saw Jesus place his right hand on him and say: “Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and HADES.” ( Revelation 1:17-18) The Bible further reveals that HADES is not just the name of a place but also the name of the being who once exercised authority over Hades. ‘When the Lamb opened the fourth seal … I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death and HADES was following close behind him.’ (Revelation 6:7-8) The reason why death and Hades will have to give up their dead is because Jesus has wrested (forcibly pull something from a person’s grasp) control of the keys, meaning he has got the authority to bring up the captives of death, from Hades and judge them by their deeds. ‘Do not be amazed at this for a time is coming when all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come out – those who have done good will rise up to live and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.’ (John 5:28-29) ‘The sea gave up the dead that were in it and death and HADES gave up the dead that were in them and each person was judged according to what they had done … Then death and HADES were thrown into the lake of fire.’ (Revelation 21:13-14) Since death and HADES were thrown into the lake of fire, they together with the rest of the horsemen who came when the seals were broken, are therefore evil entities destined for hell. And since HADES cease to exist thereafter, it is therefore a temporary place whereas the ‘lake of fire’ or ‘hell’ is eternal. The phrase ‘lake of fire’ is a metaphor that describes hell better than the word itself ! The Greek word Gehenna or Gehinnom translated as ‘Hell’ is the name of a valley in Jerusalem called the valley of Hinnom, outside the city wall of Jerusalem, where the garbage from the city was burnt; where the fire never died and worms thrived. It was this picture that Jesus alluded to when he described hell: “their worm do not die and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:48/ Isaiah 66:24) Jesus further remarked that this ‘eternal fire was prepared for the devil and his angels.‘ (Matthew 25:41) Therefore, the first to go there will not be men, contrary to popular belief and claims by those who have supposedly seen visions of men already burning in hell. Nobody has been to hell yet and the first to go there will be the beast and the false prophet and those who have taken the mark of the beast. ‘The beast was captured and with him the false prophet who performed the miraculous signs on his behalf … The two were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulphur.’ (Revelation 19:20). “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he too … will be tormented with burning sulphur … And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever.’ (Revelation 14:9-11, Matthew 13:40-42). Then after the thousand year rule of Christ, when Satan is released from his prison, he together with those who joined with him in the final rebellion will be thrown into hell. ‘And the devil … was thrown into the lake of burning sulphur where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever.’ (Revelation 20:10) Thereafter at the judgement of the dead, those from Hades whose names were not found in the book of life were thrown into hell. ‘If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.’ (Revelation 20:15) ‘Paradise’ was prepared for departed souls who were saved while ‘Hades’ was prepared for departed souls who were not saved. ‘Hell‘, on the other hand, was prepared for the the devil and his angels but those who reject Christ will find themselves in hell, together with them. It would therefore be naive ( lacking wisdom and judgement) on our part to think that Hades and Hell are the same.
Did we get the whole thing wrong in English? Why else do we say in the Apostle’s creed: ‘He descended into Hell; the third day He rose again from the dead..’ ? Jesus never went to Hell but to Hades, to the depths of the earth, where men were in bondage. ‘Seeing what was ahead, David spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave ( again the actual Greek word is Hades ), nor did his body see decay.’ ( Acts 2:31) ‘What does he descended mean except that he also descended to the lower earthly regions?’ (Ephesians 4:9) That is where the rich man went when he died and was in torment but Lazarus the beggar went to paradise. The thief on the cross also went to paradise but Jesus descended to Hades, where he preached to the spirits in prison. ‘He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built …’ ( 1Peter 3:18-20) ‘For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body but live according to God in regard to the spirit.’ (1Peter 4:6) Peter uses the obscure reference to make a point about the ultimate good that came from the suffering Jesus endured. When he rose from the dead, he ascended, taking along with him the captives in paradise. Infact the thief had the shortest stay in Paradise! ‘When he ascended on high, he led the captives in his train and gave gifts to men.’ ( Ephesians 4:7) ‘ … so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by the fear of death. For surely it is not the angels he helps but Abraham’s descendants.’ (Hebrews 2:14-16)
There is an underworld beyond that of Hades where neither man nor Christ has been because it is the place where fallen angels who had done the forbidden, are languishing in prisons, awaiting Judgement : ‘And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home – these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for Judgement of the great Day.’ ( Jude v 6) ‘ … God did not spare angels when they sinned but “sent them to hell” ( again the actual Greek word is the verb ‘Tartaroō’ ταρταρόω, meaning “throw to Tartarus”), putting them into ‘gloomy dungeons’ ( some manuscripts say ‘chains of darkness’) to be held for Judgement …’ ( 2 Peter 2:4) Both Hades and Tartarus are therefore temporary places of imprisonment, until the final judgement when it will be emptied and thereafter will cease to exist, giving way to the new heaven and new earth. ‘Earth and sky fled from his presence and there was no place for them … Then I saw a new heaven and new earth for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away…’ (Revelation 20:11- 21:1)
So then the saying ‘hell on earth’ was never theological correct because hell is not here. Hell is eternal whereas this earth is temporary. Hell will exist even after this old earth passes away but will have existed even before the new earth was created. So where is it? We know not, but hell is for real! Once cast to Hell, there is no way out! But there is a way out of Hades, because Jesus holds the keys to death and HADES! Why should it surprise us if God ‘gleans’ ( to gather leftovers after the first fruits and main harvest) for souls among those who came from Hades, to save them from eternal damnation because he alone can fathom the horror of being condemned to hell for eternity. Many Christians might think that this teaching is heretical because God can’t be so merciful to those who heard the gospel and called on his name but were never born again or be so just to those who never heard the gospel but lived by their conscience. Yet these Christians wouldn’t mind sloganeering : “Plunder Hell; Populate Heaven!” ‘Judgement without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgement!’ (James 2:13) ‘Be merciful to those who doubt, snatch others from the fire and save them; to others show mercy mixed with fear …’ (Jude vs 22-23) The bottom line is : ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ (Joel 2:32) Saved from what? Ultimately from eternal damnation in hell BUT that is not their ticket to heaven. “I tell you the truth, no one can see / enter the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” (John 2:3,5) Amen