Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Gehenna, Hades and Hell


Lately I've been thinking about hell. There are two different Greek words translated as “hell” in the New Testament: gehenna and hades. Gehenna is used a dozen times in the New Testament and, with the exception of James 3:6, is found only in the Synoptic Gospels (i.e., Matthew, Mark and Luke), on the lips of the Lord Jesus. It is the term that is associated with fire. For example, in Mark 9:43-44, we read this brief description (which is similarly repeated two more times in verses 45-48):
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell [gehenna], into the fire that shall never be quenched — where “Their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:43-44)
Gehenna is also the term associated with destruction. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [gehenna].” Notice that it is not just the body that is destroyed in gehenna, but the soul as well. This is the destruction of the entire being.

At the end of the book of Isaiah, we read an interesting description of what happens at the end. It is about what happens when God’s glory has been declared to all the nations and He makes the new heavens and the new earth (Isaiah 66:22).
“All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord. “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:23-24)
This portrays what will happen to the wicked dead. They are corpses. There is no life in them at all. Notice, “their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched,” the same description we read about gehenna in Mark 9. The fire cannot be quenched and the worm does not die. In other words, nothing can stop them from consuming the wicked dead completely. This is total destruction.

When Jesus uses the word gehenna, He is not talking about a literal burning, with a literal worm or a literal fire, but it conveys to us the destruction that awaits those who do evil and do not repent. They are consumed by the “fire.” That is gehenna — fire and destruction.

The other word translated as “hell” is the word hades. It is found 11 times in the New Testament. It is also found in the LXX (the Septuagint, the ancient Greek version of the Old Testament), over 60 times, where it translates sheol, the Hebrew word for “hell” and “the grave.” It speaks of the place of the dead.

That is how it is used in the New Testament. For example, when Jesus said, “And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.” It is not speaking of hell-fire and final destruction but of the grave. Not even death itself can stop the church, because there is coming a resurrection of the righteous — Jesus Himself is the “firstborn from the dead” (Colossians 1:18). Speaking of Jesus’ resurrection and how it guarantees the resurrection of all who belong to Him, Paul exclaims, “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”

At Pentecost, when Peter stood to preach, he declared the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Quoting from Psalm 16, he said, “For You will not leave my soul in Hades, nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption [decay]” (Acts 2:27). Then Peter speaks of the “prophet” (David) who wrote that, “He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:31).

There is also this very interesting passage near the end of the book of Revelation.
The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:13-15)
This is the end of chapter 20. The very next thing we read, in Revelation 20:1, is this: “Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away.” This is very much like what we read at the end of Isaiah. God makes the new heavens and the new earth, and then we read of the destruction of the wicked — by fire.

In the end, death and hades will be thrown into the “lake of fire.” Remember that fire is associated with gehenna, not with hades. It appears, then, that this “lake of fire” corresponds to gehenna. Hades, the place of the dead, will be thrown into what we might call gehenna, where both body and soul are destroyed. As Isaiah 66:23-24 portrays for us the total destruction of the wicked, I believe that in the same way, Revelation 20:13-15 portrays for us the total destruction of death and hades as well. “O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”