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Question:

"Did Jesus go to hell after He died (as some people claim)? Surely He didn't burn in hell, right?"

Answer:

In order to determine whether or not Jesus went to Hell, first we need to find out what "Hell" is. We'll do this by looking at several Hebrew and Greek words in the Bible.


Sheol

In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Sheol refers to the place where the departed spirits of the dead went. Here are some things that Bible scholars say about Sheol:
"hades or the world of the dead (as if a subterranian retreat), including its accessories and inmates: - grave, hell, pit." (Strong's Hebrew Dictionary, emphasis added)

"not the earth, for Joseph was supposed to be torn in pieces, but the unknown place-- the place of departed souls, where Jacob expected at death to meet his beloved son." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, verse 35, emphasis added)

"A grave is one particular cavity purposely digged for the interment of a dead person; "sheol" is a collective name for all the graves. He that is in the grave is in "sheol;" but he that is in "sheol" may not be in a grave, but in any pit, or in the sea. In short, it is the region of the dead; which is figuratively considered as a city or large habitation with gates and bars in which there are many chambers Pro_7:27.' "Sheol" is never full, but is always asking or craving more Pro_27:20; Heb_2:5. Here it means, not a place of punishment, but the region of the dead, where the ghosts of the departed are considered as residing together." (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Isaiah 14:9, emphasis added)
So in the Old Testament, Sheol was considered to be the place where the spirits of the dead went. Here are a few examples of the 63 passages which contain the Hebrew word Sheol:
"All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. "No," he said, "in mourning will I go down to the grave [Sheol] to my son." So his father wept for him." (Genesis 37:35)

"As a cloud vanishes and is gone, so he who goes down to the grave [Sheol] does not return." (Job 7:9)

"If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths [Sheol], you are there." (Psalms 139:8)

"The path of life leads upward for the wise to keep him from going down to the grave [Sheol]." (Proverbs 15:24)

"The grave [Sheol] below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you-- all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones-- all those who were kings over the nations." (Isaiah 14:9)

"From within the grave [Sheol] the mighty leaders will say of Egypt and her allies, 'They have come down and they lie with the uncircumcised, with those killed by the sword.'" (Ezekiel 32:21)

"Though they dig down to the depths of the grave [Sheol], from there my hand will take them. Though they climb up to the heavens, from there I will bring them down." (Amos 9:2)
Throughout the Old Testament, the Hebrew word Sheol is often translated in the NIV as "the grave," and it is sometimes translated as "Hell" in other versions of the Bible (such as the KJV). In the above passages, notice that people go "down" to Sheol (they never go "up" to Sheol). In a moment we'll examine some passages which give us an indication of where Sheol is located.


Hades

In the New Testament, the Greek equivalent of Sheol is Hades. Here are some things that Bible scholars say about Hades:
"the place (state) of departed souls: - grave, hell." (Strong's Greek Dictionary)

"Hades is technically the unseen world, the Hebrew Sheol, the land of the departed, that is death." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"The Greek word "Hades" means literally "a place devoid of light; a dark, obscure abode"; and in Greek writers was applied to the dark and obscure regions where disembodied spirits were supposed to dwell." (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Acts 2:27, emphasis added)

"Hades never denotes the physical grave nor is it the permanent region of the lost. It is the intermediate state between death and the ultimate hell, Gehenna" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.82, emphasis added)
So according to a number of Bible scholars, Hades is a temporary place of confinement where the spirits of the dead go, and it is equivalent to Sheol in the Old Testament. Here are all of the New Testament references to Hades (with one exception, which we'll get to in a moment):
"And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths [Hades]." (Matthew 11:23)

"And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." (Matthew 16:18)

"And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths [Hades]." (Luke 10:15)

"Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices; my body also will live in hope, because you will not abandon me to the grave [Hades], nor will you let your Holy One see decay." (Acts 2:26-27)

"Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave [Hades], nor did his body see decay." (Acts 2:31)

"When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: "Death has been swallowed up in victory." "Where, O death [Hades], is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"" (1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

"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 1:18)

"I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth." (Revelation 6:8)

"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 he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death." (Revelation 20:13-14)
In the above passages we can see that Hades is considered to be "down" in the New Testament, just like Sheol is considered to be "down" in the Old Testament. Notice that some of the passages in the book of Revelation (above) have "personified" both death and Hades (referring to them as if they were alive), and Revelation 20:13-14 (above) indicates that death and Hades will ultimately be conquered by being thrown into the Lake of Fire. We'll examine this "Lake of Fire" in a moment, but first let's look at the remaining New Testament passage which mentions Hades:
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell [Hades], where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'" (Luke 16:22-26)
In this story, Jesus described an unrighteous man being tormented in Hades, and this man looked "up" and saw Abraham far away. This passage seems to indicate that Hades consisted of two "compartments" (so to speak) before the cross. In one compartment the unrighteous are being held in torment until Judgment Day, and in another compartment the righteous were held in comfort (until the cross, as we'll see later). Between these two compartments there was some kind of "chasm" which made it impossible for people to travel from one compartment to the other, and this seems to imply that unrighteous people did not have a second chance to receive salvation after they died.

Sometimes people say that Luke 16:22-26 (above) is a parable, not an actual event. Because of this, they argue that we can't take this passage literally, which means that we can't learn anything about Hades from this passage. But if you look closely at all of Jesus' parables, you'll find that they always contain real places and realistic people and realistic events. For example, in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-35), notice that the robbers and the robbery victim and the priest and the Levite and the Samaritan are all realistic people, and the setting is a real place on a real road somewhere between the real cities of Jerusalem and Jericho. There are no fantasy creatures such as unicorns, mermaids, talking animals, fairies, leprechauns, enchanted ice queens, etc., anywhere in Jesus' parables, and His parables never take place in mythical, imaginary settings such as Atlantis or Metropolis or the Hundred Acre Wood or Who-ville, and so on. Jesus always used real-life objects and characters and settings and events in His parables. Therefore, if Luke 16:22-26 (above) is a parable then we have every reason to believe that it takes place in a real-life setting, because Jesus never invented any fantasy settings for any of His parables or stories. To see for yourself, here are all of Jesus' parables, according to The Bible Knowledge Commentary (Walvoord and Zuck, Dallas Theological Seminary, p.35): Matthew 7:24-27, 9:16-17, 13:5-8, 24-30, 31-32, 33, 44, 45-46, 47-50, 18:12-14, 23-35, 20:1-16, 21:28-32, 33-46, 22:1-14, 24:45-51, 25:1-13, 14-30, Mark 4:26-29, 13:34-37, Luke 7:31-35, 41-43, 10:25-37, 11:5-8, 12:16-21, 13:6-9, 14:15-24, 28-33, 15:8-10, 11-32, 16:1-9, 17:7-10, 18:1-8, 9-14, 19:11-27.

Notice that the NIV has translated the Greek word Hades as "hell" in Luke 16:22-26 (above). This might cause us to assume that Hades is "Hell," but we're going to see that this is not necessarily an accurate assumption.


Where Is Hades?

Throughout the entire Bible, Hades (i.e. Sheol) is always considered to be "down," as we have seen in some of the passages above. Hades and Sheol are never referred to as being "up." Here are some examples from the Old Testament:

  • Notice that Sheol is "below":
    "For a fire has been kindled by my wrath, one that burns to the realm of death [Sheol] below. It will devour the earth and its harvests and set afire the foundations of the mountains." (Deuteronomy 32:22)
    This says that Sheol is "below," possibly where "the foundations of the mountains" are located (depending on how literally we should take that expression).
  • Sheol is sometimes referred to as being "in the depths":
    "But little do they know that the dead are there, that her guests are in the depths of the grave [Sheol]." (Proverbs 9:18)
  • When King Saul commanded the witch of Endor to bring up the departed spirit of the prophet Samuel, notice that Samuel's spirit came "up" from the ground:
    "Saul then said to his attendants, "Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her." "There is one in Endor," they said. So Saul disguised himself, putting on other clothes, and at night he and two men went to the woman. "Consult a spirit for me," he said, "and bring up for me the one I name." But the woman said to him, "Surely you know what Saul has done. He has cut off the mediums and spiritists from the land. Why have you set a trap for my life to bring about my death?" Saul swore to her by the LORD, "As surely as the LORD lives, you will not be punished for this." Then the woman asked, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" "Bring up Samuel," he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!" The king said to her, "Don't be afraid. What do you see?" The woman said, "I see a spirit coming up out of the ground." "What does he look like?" he asked. "An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" "I am in great distress," Saul said. "The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do."" (1 Samuel 28:7-15)
    So the spirit of the prophet Samuel came "up" from the ground. Some people might question whether this was the dead prophet Samuel or whether it was a trick by the witch of Endor (possibly using an accomplice). Since this "apparition" accurately prophesied the timing and manner of Saul's death, as well as the deaths of Saul's sons, as well as the Israelite army's defeat by the Philistines (1 Samuel 28:19), it is likely that this was actually the spirit of the prophet Samuel. If so, then Samuel came "up" from beneath the ground, and Barnes points out in his commentary that:
    "Hell, or the place of the departed (compare 1Sa_28:19; 2Sa_12:23) is represented as under the earth" (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, 1 Samuel 28:13, emphasis added)
    By the way, notice that this passage does not say that the witch of Endor did anything to bring Samuel up. In fact, she was shocked and terrified when Samuel suddenly appeared. Therefore, it is more likely that it was God who caused Samuel to appear, just as He did with Moses and Elijah in Matthew 17:1-8.
  • The prophet Isaiah said that people descended into Sheol:
    "Therefore the grave [Sheol] enlarges its appetite and opens its mouth without limit; into it will descend their nobles and masses with all their brawlers and revelers." (Isaiah 5:14)
    This describes people "descending" into Sheol when they died. According to Barnes:
    "[Sheol] was represented by the Hebrews as "low down, or deep" in the earth - contrasted with the height of heaven; Deu_32:22; Job_11:8; Psa_139:7-8. It was a place where thick darkness reigns; Job_10:21-22 : 'The land of darkness and the shadow of death; a land of darkness, as darkness itself.' It is described as having "valleys, or depths," Pro_9:18." (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Isaiah 5:14, emphasis added)
  • The prophet Isaiah said that Sheol is below and down:
    "The grave [Sheol] below is all astir to meet you at your coming; it rouses the spirits of the departed to greet you-- all those who were leaders in the world; it makes them rise from their thrones-- all those who were kings over the nations. They will all respond, they will say to you, "You also have become weak, as we are; you have become like us." All your pomp has been brought down to the grave [Sheol], along with the noise of your harps; maggots are spread out beneath you and worms cover you." (Isaiah 14:9-11)
    According to Barnes:
    "The word [Sheol] denotes, says Taylor ("Heb. Con."), 'The underground parts of the earth, otherwise called the nether, or lower parts of the earth; the earth beneath in opposition to the earth above, where people and other animals live. In "sheol" are the foundations of the mountains Deu_32:22. In "sheol "men penetrate by digging into the earth Amo_9:2. Into "sheol" the roots of trees do strike down Eze_31:16. ... "Sheol" was always represented as being "in" or "under" the ground, and the grave was the avenue or door that led to it" (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Isaiah 14:9, emphasis added)
    Gill says in his commentary that this passage refers to:
    "those that are under the earth, in the grave, or in hell" (Gill's Exposition of the Bible, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Isaiah 14:9)
  • The prophet Ezekiel also described Sheol as being "down" and "in the depths of the earth":
    "I made the nations tremble at the sound of its fall when I brought it down to the grave [Sheol] with those who go down to the pit. Then all the trees of Eden, the choicest and best of Lebanon, all the trees that were well-watered, were consoled in the earth below [or "in the depths of the earth," according to Strong's]." (Ezekiel 31:16)
From all of the evidence throughout the Old Testament, it seems that Sheol was considered to be a place of departed spirits which was located under the earth.

In the New Testament we see exactly the same idea:

  • We are told that there are spirits of departed people under the earth:
    "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth" (Philippians 2:10)
    Here are some things that Bible commentators have written about this passage:
    "And things under the earth - Beings under the earth. The whole universe shall confess that he is Lord. This embraces, doubtless, those who have departed from this life, and perhaps includes also fallen angels." (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Philippians 2:10, emphasis added).

    "Under the earth (katachthonion). Homeric adjective for departed souls, subterranean, simply the dead." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link, emphasis added)
  • Once again we see the idea in the New Testament that there are spirits of departed people under the earth:
    "But no one in heaven or on earth or under the earth could open the scroll or even look inside it." (Revelation 5:3)
    Based on this verse, a number of Bible commentators have pointed out that Hades is under the earth:
    "Under the earth - In Hades." (Vincent's Word Studies, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Revelation 5:3, emphasis added)

    "under the earth --namely, in Hades." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, verse 3, emphasis added)

    "Neither under the earth - These divisions compose, in common language, the universe: what is in heaven above; what is on the earth; and whatever there is under the earth - the abodes of the dead." (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Revelation 5:3, emphasis added).
  • Once again we see the idea in the New Testament that there are spirits of departed people under the earth:
    "Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: "To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!"" (Revelation 5:13)
    Again, Bible scholars sometimes point out that "under the earth" refers to Hades:
    "under the earth -- the departed spirits in Hades." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, verse 13, emphasis added)

So the Bible tells us that Hades (Sheol) is somehow under (or inside) the earth.


Tartarus

Another Greek word which is sometimes translated into English as "Hell" is Tartarus. Here's what a prominent Greek dictionary says about Tartarus:
"the subterranean abyss of Greek mythology where demigods were punished. It is mentioned in the pseudepigraphical book of Enoch as the place where fallen angels are confined. It is found only in its verbal form in 2 Pet. 2:4 meaning to cast into or consign to Tartarus. It is part of the realm of death designated in Scripture as Sheol (7585, OT) in the OT and Hades (86) in the NT. These angels are being held in this netherworld dungeon until the day of final judgment." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.1367, emphasis added)
Once again we see that Sheol and Hades both refer to the same "realm of death," and we see that Tartarus is considered to be a "dungeon" within Hades (according to the Greek dictionary quoted above) in which certain fallen angels are confined until Judgment Day. This is the only passage in the Bible which mentions Tartarus:
"For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell [Tartarus], putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment" (2 Peter 2:4)
Here we see the NIV using the English word "Hell" again. However, this time the actual Greek word is Tartarus, which is perhaps another compartment within Hades.


Gehenna

Another Greek word which is often translated as "Hell" is Gehenna. Here are some things that Bible scholars say about Gehenna:
"The word Gehenna, rendered hell, occurs outside of the Gospels only at Jam_3:6. It is the Greek representative of the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom, or Valley of Hinnom, a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem, where, after the introduction of the worship of the fire-gods by Ahaz, the idolatrous Jews sacrificed their children to Molech. Josiah formally desecrated it, "that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech" (2Ki_23:10). After this it became the common refuse-place of the city, into which the bodies of criminals, carcasses of animals, and all sorts of filth were cast. From its depth and narrowness, and its fire and ascending smoke, it became the symbol of the place of the future punishment of the wicked." (Vincent's Word Studies, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Matthew 5:22, emphasis added)

"Gehenna is the Valley of Hinnom where the fire burned continually. Here idolatrous Jews once offered their children to Molech (2 Kings 23:10). Jesus finds one cause of murder to be abusive language. Gehenna "should be carefully distinguished from Hades (aidhβ) which is never used for the place of punishment, but for the place of departed spirits, without reference to their moral condition" (Vincent). " (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"Hell, the place or state of the lost and condemned ... In the NT Gehenna is presented always as the final place of punishment into which the wicked are cast after the last judgment. It is a place of torment both for body and soul" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.360-361, emphasis added)
So a number of scholars describe Gehenna as the permanent place where unrighteous people will be punished forever, which is different from the temporary place of confinement called Hades. Here is every New Testament passage which uses the Greek word Gehenna:
"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell [Gehenna]." (Matthew 5:22)

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell [Gehenna]. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell [Gehenna]." (Matthew 5:29-30)

"Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]." (Matthew 10:28)

"And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell [Gehenna]." (Matthew 18:9)

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell [Gehenna] as you are." (Matthew 23:15)

"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell [Gehenna]?" (Matthew 23:33)

"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell [Gehenna], where the fire never goes out." (Mark 9:43)

"And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell [Gehenna]." (Mark 9:45)

"And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell [Gehenna]" (Mark 9:47)

"But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell [Gehenna]. Yes, I tell you, fear him." (Luke 12:5)

"The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell [Gehenna]." (James 3:6)
In the above passages, notice that the NIV always translates the Greek word Gehenna as "Hell." So what we have seen is that the NIV refers to Hades (i.e. the temporary dwelling of human spirits) as "Hell," and the NIV refers to Tartarus (i.e. the temporary prison for certain fallen angels) as "Hell," and the NIV refers to Gehenna (i.e. the permanent place of punishment) as "Hell." The NIV and other versions of the Bible are not very clear about "Hell," so we need to dig deeper in order to understand what "Hell" is before we can determine whether or not Jesus went to "Hell" after He died.


The Lake of Fire

In the book of Revelation, Gehenna is referred to as "the Lake of Fire." Here are some things that Bible scholars say about the Lake of Fire:
"These both were cast . . . into a lake-- Greek, ". . . the lake of fire," Gehenna. Satan is subsequently cast into it, at the close of the outbreak which succeeds the millennium (Rev_20:10). Then Death and Hell, as well those not found at the general judgment "written in the book of life"; this constitutes "the second death."" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, verse 20, emphasis added)

"In this short sentence the doom is told of all who are out of Christ, for they too follow the devil and the two beasts into the lake of fire (the counterpart of the Gehenna of fire, Matthew 5:22). There is no room here for soul sleeping, for an intermediate state, for a second chance, or for annihilation of the wicked." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link, emphasis added)
So the Lake of Fire is the same thing as Gehenna, according to a number of Bible scholars. Here are all of the passages in the New Testament which mention the Lake of Fire:
"But the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who had performed the miraculous signs on his behalf. With these signs he had deluded those who had received the mark of the beast and worshiped his image. The two of them were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur." (Revelation 19:20)

"And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." (Revelation 20:10)

"Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:14-15)

"But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars--their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."" (Revelation 21:8)
The above passages tell us that the Lake of Fire is the permanent place where all of the unrighteous people throughout history will be punished in agony forever. If you're not sure that people will suffer eternal conscious torment in the Lake of Fire, I invite you to examine some reasons in my article called Will Sinners Burn in Hell Forever?.

So far we have seen that there is a temporary prison in which the spirits of unrighteous people are being held until Judgment Day (called Sheol in the Old Testament and Hades in the New Testament), and there is a permanent place of torment into which all unrighteous people and fallen angels will be cast on Judgment Day (called Gehenna and the Lake of Fire). We have seen that the NIV refers to both of these places as "Hell," but notice that some day Hades will be thrown into Gehenna (Revelation 20:14-15, above). This tells us that Hades and Gehenna are not the same place and should not both be called "Hell."

Consider that "Hell" is an English word, so the original texts of the Bible did not use this word (because the Bible was written mostly in Hebrew and Greek). Therefore, there is no Scriptural definition of what the English word "Hell" means, since the word "Hell" did not exist in Bible times. In fact, English dictionaries are not much help in understanding what "Hell" is, as these quotes demonstrate:
"1. Bible the place where the spirits of the dead are: identified with Sheol and Hades 2. [often H-] a) Christianity the place where devils live and to which variously sinners and unbelievers are doomed to eternal punishment after death" (Webster's New World Dictionary, emphasis added)

"1. the place or state of punishment of the wicked after death; the abode of evil and condemned spirits; Gehenna or Tartarus. ...
5. the abode of the dead; Sheol or Hades." (Dictionary.com Unabridged (v 1.1), based on the Random House Unabridged Dictionary Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"1. a. often Hell The abode of condemned souls and devils in some religions; the place of eternal punishment for the wicked after death, presided over by Satan. ...
2. The abode of the dead, identified with the Hebrew Sheol and the Greek Hades; the underworld." (The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"3. (Christianity) the abode of Satan and the forces of evil; where sinners suffer eternal punishment; "Hurl'd headlong...To bottomless perdition, there to dwell"- John Milton; "a demon from the depths of the pit"; "Hell is paved with good intentions"-Dr. Johnson [ant: heaven]
4. (religion) the world of the dead; "No one goes to Hades with all his immense wealth"-Theognis" (WordNet® 3.0, © 2006 by Princeton University Offsite Link, emphasis added)
According to these dictionaries, the definition of "Hell" includes Sheol, Hades, and Gehenna (i.e. the eternal Lake of Fire). But as we have seen, these definitions are erroneous because Hades and Gehenna are not the same (remember, Hades will be thrown into Gehenna).

To help us figure out what "Hell" is, notice that people tend to think of Heaven as being "the permanent good place," and people tend to think of Hell as being "the permanent bad place." To put it another way, there is no place better than Heaven, and there is no place worse than Hell. Since Gehenna (the Lake of Fire) is the permanent place where all unrighteous people will burn in agony for all eternity (as we saw above), this means that Gehenna is a worse place than Hades because Hades is only a temporary prison. Therefore, Gehenna best fits the description of being "the permanent bad place," and so Gehenna best fits the concept of "Hell."

There is a popular belief (described in some of the dictionary definitions above) that the devil lives in Hell and that he is the ruler of Hell. However, the truth is that he has never been there (as we can see in Revelation 20:10, above, which is a prophetic passage that has not happened yet). No-one is in the Lake of Fire at the moment, and no-one has ever been there. When the devil is finally thrown into the Lake of Fire, it will be for his eternal punishment in agony (Revelation 20:10, above).


Paradise

Now that we have a better understanding of what the Bible says about Hades and the Lake of Fire, I think we can agree that Jesus did not go to the Lake of Fire to be tormented forever. But did Jesus go to Hades after He died?

Before we try to answer this question, there is one more place that we need to know about. This place is called "Paradise," and here are some things that Bible scholars say about it:
"In paradise - The place where the souls of the righteous remain from death till the resurrection." (Wesley's Explanatory Notes Offsite Link, verse 43, emphasis added)

"In the Jewish theology, the department of Hades where the blessed souls await the resurrection; and therefore equivalent to Abraham's bosom (Luk_16:22, Luk_16:23)." (Vincent's Word Studies, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, Luke 23:43, emphasis added)

"In later Jewish usage and in the NT, paradeisos is used for the abode of the blessed after death. Paradise, before Christ's resurrection, has been thought to be the region of the blessed in Hades although it was not specifically called by that name (Luke 16:23)." (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.1102, emphasis added)
So according to a number of Bible scholars, Paradise was the section of Hades where Abraham and the other righteous people went after they died. Here are all of the passages in the New Testament which mention Paradise:
"One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: "Aren't you the Christ? Save yourself and us!" But the other criminal rebuked him. "Don't you fear God," he said, "since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."" (Luke 23:39-43)

"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell." (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)

"He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God." (Revelation 2:7)
Vincent's Word Studies (quoted above) says that Paradise is equivalent to "Abraham's bosom," which is mentioned in the following passage:
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side [or "Abraham's bosom" as in some translations]. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell [Hades], where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'" (Luke 16:22-26)
So wherever the spirits of Abraham and the other righteous people were, that's what was called "Paradise."

In Luke 23:39-43 (above), notice that while Jesus hung on the cross He said to one of the thieves on a cross next to Him, "today you will be with me in paradise." Jesus' death and resurrection had not happened yet, and the Church had not yet been born, so the repentant thief did not become a Christian. Rather, he became an Old Testament saint by his faith. Therefore, after his death the repentant thief went to be with Abraham in Hades, and that place is what Jesus called "Paradise." In fact, Jesus went to Paradise as well, because Jesus told the thief, "today you will be with me in paradise."

Some people correctly point out that there were no punctuation marks in the original Greek texts, and then they argue that Jesus' words were actually, "I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise." They dispute the placement of the comma before the word "today" on the grounds that there were no commas in the original Greek texts, and they argue that the comma should really be placed after the word "today" (which fits better with their doctrines concerning heaven). But notice that if there is no evidence that the comma should be placed before the word "today" (according to the argument that some people make) then the same lack of evidence means that there is no proof that a comma should be placed after the word "today" (as those people want to do). As it turns out, though, we do have evidence that a comma should be placed before the word "today." In the NIV translation, Jesus is recorded as saying, "I tell you the truth," 78 times in the Gospels (here are the references: Matthew 5:18, 26, 6:2, 5, 16, 8:10, 10:15, 23, 42, 11:11, 13:17, 16:28, 17:20, 18:3, 13, 18, 19:23, 28, 21:21, 31, 23:36, 24:2, 34, 47, 25:12, 40, 45, 26:13, 21, 34, Mark 3:28, 8:12, 9:1, 41, 10:15, 29, 11:23, 12:43, 13:30, 14:9, 18, 25, 30, Luke 4:24, 9:27, 12:37, 44, 18:17, 29, 21:3, 32, 23:43, John 1:51, 3:3, 5, 11, 5:19, 24, 25, 6:26, 32, 47, 53, 8:34, 51, 58, 10:1, 7, 12:24, 13:16, 20, 21, 38, 14:12, 16:7, 20, 23, 21:18). When we look at every one of these references other than Luke 23:43 (above), we can easily see that there is not a single example where Jesus said, "I tell you the truth today." That was not an expression which Jesus used. Instead, Jesus frequently used the expression "I tell you the truth" before He explained something. Based on Jesus' consistent use of that expression, the weight of evidence supports the view that Jesus told the repentant thief, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." This indicates that both Jesus and the repentant thief went to "Paradise" on the day that they died.

So the weight of evidence supports the view that Jesus went to Paradise on the day that He died, which is where Abraham and the other Old Testament saints were. Since Paradise was a compartment within Hades, this means that Jesus went to Hades after He died. This also appears to be confirmed in Acts 2:31:
"having foreseen, he did speak concerning the rising again of the Christ, that his soul was not left to hades, nor did his flesh see corruption." (Act 2:31, Young's Literal Translation)
This passage seems to confirm that Jesus went to Hades after He died, but that He didn't remain in Hades.


What Happened to Paradise?

As we have seen, the evidence seems to indicate that Hades contained one compartment for the unrighteous and another compartment called Paradise for the righteous (and possibly another compartment called Tartarus for certain fallen angels). Now let's take a look at what a prominent New Testament Greek dictionary says about Hades:
"In Acts 2:27, 31, the word Hades occurs in a quotation from Ps. 16:10 in an application of OT faith in the advent of Christ, His death, and His resurrection. Therefore, it has again the meaning of the world of the departed into which Christ passed like other men, but only to transform its nature from a place accommodating both believers and unbelievers to one for unbelievers only" (The Complete Word Study Dictionary of the New Testament, Spiros Zodhiates, p.81, emphasis added)
The above quote expresses the view that after Jesus died He went down to Hades, and then He took the Paradise compartment of Hades (and all of the righteous people in that compartment) up into Heaven. This would mean that Paradise is now in Heaven, and that righteous people go immediately to Heaven after we die rather than going down to Hades first. For example, notice what the apostle Paul said about Paradise:
"I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know--God knows. And I know that this man--whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows--was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that man is not permitted to tell." (2 Corinthians 12:2-4)
Bible scholars tend to believe that it was Paul himself who went up into the third Heaven, and they say that the ancient Jews referred to the atmosphere as the "first Heaven," and the area of the stars as the "second Heaven," and the "third Heaven" was considered to be where God's throne is:
"To the third heaven - The Jews sometimes speak of seven heavens, and Muhammed has borrowed this idea from the Jews. But the Bible speaks of but three heavens, and among the Jews in the apostolic ages also the heavens were divided into three:
(1) The aerial, including the clouds and the atmosphere, the heavens above us, until we come to the stars.
(2) the starry heavens, the heavens in which the sun, moon, and stars appear to be situated.
(3) the heavens beyond the stars. That heaven was supposed to be the residence of God, of angels, and of holy spirits. It was this upper heaven, the dwelling-place of God, to which Paul was taken, and whose wonders he was permitted to behold - this region where God dwelt; where Christ was seated at the right hand of the Father, and where the spirits of the just were assembled." (Barnes, from http://www.e-sword.net/commentaries.html Offsite Link, 2 Corinthians 12:2, emphasis added)

"Paul was permitted not only to "hear" the things of Paradise, but to see also in some degree the things of the third heaven (compare "visions," 2 Corinthians 12:1). ... The first heaven is that of the clouds, the air; the second, that of the stars, the sky; the third is spiritual (Ephesians 4:10)." (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, verse 2, emphasis added)

"Even to the third heaven (ewβ tritou ouranou). It is unlikely that Paul alludes to the idea of seven heavens held by some Jews (Test. of the Twelve Pat._, Levi ii. iii.). He seems to mean the highest heaven where God is (Plummer)." (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link)

"It is plain from 12:6,7, that he [Paul] means himself, though in modesty he speaks as of a third person. ... The third heaven - Where God is; far above the aerial and the starry heaven. Some suppose it was here the apostle was let into the mystery of the future state of the church; and received his orders to turn from the Jews and go to the gentiles." (Wesley's Explanatory Notes Offsite Link, verse 2)
So the apostle Paul was caught up to Paradise, which he said is in the "third Heaven" where God is. In addition, Paul said that when he died he would immediately be with Christ (i.e. in Heaven):
"If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." (Philippians 1:22-24)
Since Paul said that he would be with Christ right after he died, this tells us that he would go to Heaven rather than going to Hades. Again, righteous people no longer go to the Paradise section of Hades after death, but rather we immediately go to Heaven (where Paradise is now).


To summarize so far, Jesus went to down Hades after He died, and then at some point He took the Paradise section of Hades up into Heaven with Him. With that in mind, take a look at Ephesians 4:8-10:
"wherefore, he saith, 'Having gone up on high he led captive captivity, and gave gifts to men,' -- and that, he went up, what is it except that he also went down first to the lower parts of the earth? he who went down is the same also who went up far above all the Heavens, that He may fill all things" (Ephesians 4:8-10, Young's Literal Translation)
This confusing passage brings up a number of questions. For example, where are "the lower parts of the earth" that Jesus went down to? The NIV has a footnote for this verse which says that "the lower, earthly regions" (i.e. "the lower parts of the earth") can also be translated as "the depths of the earth." In Psalms 63:9, "the depths of the earth" appears to refer to Hades, so it seems possible that the above passage is referring to Jesus going down to Hades after He died.

The above passage also says, "Having gone up on high he led captive captivity," and the expression, "Having gone up on high," refers to Jesus' ascension into heaven 40 days after His resurrection, according to Bible scholars. Concerning the phrase, "he led captive captivity," there seem to be two main interpretations. One interpretation is that it refers to captive enemies, meaning such things as the devil, demons, death, sin, and so on (see for example Wesley's Explanatory Notes Offsite Link, verse 8, and Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown's commentary Offsite Link, verse 8). However, notice that the devil, demons, death, sin, etc., are all still operating freely in the world, which means that they are not in captivity anywhere. Also, notice that the phrase, "he led captive captivity," is redundant unless it means that something was already in captivity, and that Jesus led it "captive" when He ascended into Heaven. Since the devil, demons, death, sin, etc., were not held captive anywhere at the time of the Ascension (and they still are not held captive anywhere today), it is unlikely that those are the "captives" in that passage.

Now, here is another possible interpretation of that passage, which fits perfectly with all of the evidence that we have examined. If you recall, we saw that the spirits of all of the righteous people throughout history were confined to the Paradise section of Hades, and we saw that they couldn't go anywhere (they were held captive there). We also saw that the repentant thief went down to Paradise after he died, which was still in Hades at that time. In addition, we saw that the Paradise section of Hades is now in Heaven, which means that at some point it was moved from Hades to Heaven. Finally, we saw that Jesus went down to the Paradise section of Hades after He died on the cross, and now we are examining a passage which says that Jesus led some captives with Him when He ascended up to Heaven. So the question is, who or what was being held captive in Hades until the cross, but is now in Heaven? The only things which fit this description are the righteous people who were confined to the Paradise section of Hades. So when Ephesians 4:8-10 (above) says, "Having gone up on high he led captive captivity," it most likely means that Jesus took Paradise (and all of the righteous spirits in Paradise) up into Heaven at the Ascension, as we have already seen. That's why when Paul was "caught up to Paradise" (2 Corinthians 12:2-4, above), he said that he was taken up to the "third Heaven." Paradise is no longer in Hades, it is now in Heaven, and therefore Paul said that when he died he would immediately be with Jesus in Heaven (Philippians 1:22-24, above).


What Did Jesus Do While He Was in Hades?

Many people believe that 1 Peter 3:18-20 tells us that Jesus preached to some departed spirits while He was in Hades:
"For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. 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." (1 Peter 3:18-20)
People sometimes interpret this passage to mean that when Jesus went down to Hades, He preached to some spirits there. However, this interpretation has a number of problems:

  1. First let's ask ourselves which spirits did Jesus preach to? Was it the spirits of the unrighteous people in Hades? Was it the spirits of the righteous people in the Paradise section of Hades? Was it the fallen angels in Tartarus? To answer these questions, notice that Jesus preached specifically to those who were disobedient in the time of Noah. But why did He only preach to them, and how did He preach only to those people from Noah's time without preaching to anyone else in Hades?
  2. Now let's ask ourselves what Jesus preached to the people from Noah's time? Did He preach the Gospel to them? Was Jesus offering them salvation in Hades? If so, then why did He only offer salvation to the people who were disobedient in Noah's time, and why didn't He also offer salvation to the other unrighteous people in Hades? Recall that no-one was able to cross over from the "agony" compartment of Hades to the Paradise compartment of Hades (Luke 16:22-26), which seems to mean that it would have been impossible for someone from Noah's time to receive salvation and cross over from the "agony" section of Hades to the Paradise section.
  3. If Jesus was not preaching the Gospel in Hades, then did Jesus "preach" in the sense of proclaiming His victory? If so, then why did He only proclaim His victory to the spirits from Noah's time?
  4. In the passage which we are studying (1 Peter 3:18-20, above), notice that it says that Jesus was made alive by the Spirit, through whom He preached. Why does this passage specifically say that Jesus preached a message "through the Spirit"? If Jesus was right there in Hades then why didn't He preach this message Himself?
As we can see, if we interpret 1 Peter 3:18-20 (above) as meaning that Jesus "preached" something while He was in Hades, this interpretation brings up a number of problems and questions. However, there is another way to interpret 1 Peter 3:18-20 (above) which does not bring up those problems and questions. First, let me offer an illustration. My Granddad was a Presbyterian minister in North Carolina for many years, and there was a graveyard on the grounds of his church. Undoubtedly some people in his congregation were buried there over the years. So if I visit the church where my Granddad used to preach, I could point to the graveyard and say that my Granddad preached to many of the dead people who are buried there. Obviously I don't mean that those people were dead when my Granddad preached to them, but instead I mean that he preached to them while they were alive and that now they are in these graves. With that illustration in mind, let's look at 1 Peter 3:18-20 again in a literal translation of the Bible:
"because also Christ once for sin did suffer--righteous for unrighteous--that he might lead us to God, having been put to death indeed, in the flesh, and having been made alive in the spirit, in which also to the spirits in prison having gone he did preach, who sometime disbelieved, when once the long-suffering of God did wait, in days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:18-20, Young's Literal Translation)
Based on the sentence construction in the Greek (according to various Bible scholars such as the ones quoted below) it is valid to interpret this passage as meaning that Jesus preached through the Spirit to the unbelievers in Noah's time (while they were still alive), and that they were dead and confined to Hades when Peter wrote the above passage. In other words, this is not something that Jesus did when He went down to Hades after He died on the cross, but instead this was a message proclaimed by the Holy Spirit through Noah while those people were still alive. Here are some things that Bible scholars say about 1 Peter 3:18-20:
"Wohlenberg holds that Peter means that Christ in his preexistent state preached to those who rejected the preaching of Noah who are now in prison. Augustine held that Christ was in Noah when he preached. ... The language is plain enough except that it does not make it clear whether Jesus did the preaching to spirits in prison at the time or to people whose spirits are now in prison" (Robertson's Word Pictures of the New Testament Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"By which Spirit he preached - Through the ministry of Noah. To the spirits in prison - The unholy men before the flood, who were then reserved by the justice of God, as in a prison, till he executed the sentence upon them all; and are now also reserved to the judgment of the great day." (Wesley's Explanatory Notes Offsite Link, verse 19, emphasis added)

"As "He CAME and preached peace" by His Spirit in the apostles and ministers after His death and ascension: so before His incarnation He preached in Spirit through Noah to the antediluvians [i.e. to the people who lived before the Flood]" (Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown Commentary Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"The plain and easy sense of the words is, that Christ, by his Spirit, by which he was quickened, went in the ministry of Noah, the preacher of righteousness, and preached both by words and deeds, by the personal ministry of Noah, and by the building of the ark, to that generation who was then in being; and who being disobedient, and continuing so, a flood was brought upon them which destroyed them all; and whose spirits, or separate souls, were then in the prison of hell" (Gill's Exposition of the Bible Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"As to the old world, Christ sent his Spirit; gave warning by Noah. But though the patience of God waits long, it will cease at last. And the spirits of disobedient sinners, as soon as they are out of their bodies, are committed to the prison of hell, where those that despised Noah's warning now are, and from whence there is no redemption." (Matthew Henry's Concise Commentary Offsite Link, emphasis added)

"for Christ is he who in those days (when God through his patience appointed a time of repentance to the world) was present, not in corporal presence, but by his divine power, preaching repentance, even by the mouth of Noah himself who then prepared the ark, to those disobedient spirits who are now in prison, waiting for the full recompence of their rebellion" (Geneva Study Bible Offsite Link, emphasis added)
So a number of Bible scholars believe that Jesus preached by the Holy Spirit through Noah to the people of Noah's time while they were still alive. This would mean that 1 Peter 3:18-20 (above) does not say that Jesus "preached" to anyone after He went down to Hades. Perhaps He did preach or proclaim His victory after He arrived in Hades, but that does not appear to be what 1 Peter 3:18-20 (above) is talking about.


Elijah

We have seen that the righteous people who died before the cross all went "down" to the Paradise compartment in Hades. But how do we explain what happened to Elijah?
"As they [Elijah and Elisha] were walking along and talking together, suddenly a chariot of fire and horses of fire appeared and separated the two of them, and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind." (2 Kings 2:11)
This verse says that Elijah went up to "Heaven" in a whirlwind. Since Elijah was a righteous man who lived during Old Testament times, shouldn't he have gone down to the Paradise compartment of Hades, as we have seen throughout this article?

When we read 2 Kings 2:11 (above) we might assume that Elijah went directly up to the "third Heaven" (where God lives), but if we interpret it that way then we run into some problems with other passages of Scripture. For example, notice that the apostle Paul said that we will all be "changed" ("translated") from mortality to immortality when Jesus returns at the Rapture to take us up into Heaven (because flesh and blood cannot enter into Heaven):
"I declare to you, brothers, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed--in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality." (1 Corinthians 15:50-53)

"But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body." (Philippians 3:20-21)
These passages say that our mortal bodies will be "glorified" or "changed" or "translated" when Jesus returns for us at the Rapture (for more on the Rapture, I invite you to see my series called The Rapture of the Church). Since flesh and blood cannot enter Heaven, then how could Elijah have physically gone into Heaven in that whirlwind? The only way to explain it would be to say that he was "translated" and given his glorified, immortal body. However, this explanation brings up more problems. For example, how was it possible for Elijah to become glorified and immortal before Jesus' death and resurrection? After all, the only reason why humans are able to gain entrance into Heaven is because Jesus made this possible, yet Elijah was carried up to "Heaven" long before Jesus was born. On the surface, this appears to be an inconsistency in the Bible.

Another problem is that Jesus specifically said that no-one has ever gone into Heaven:
"No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven--the Son of Man." (John 3:13)
Jesus said that no-one other than Himself had ever gone into Heaven, so why does 2 Kings 2:11 (above) say that Elijah went up to "Heaven" long before Jesus was born? This seems like another inconsistency in the Bible.

Sometimes people say that Jesus meant that no-one had ever ascended into heaven and then returned to talk about it. However, this is just an assumption on their part because Jesus did not say that no-one had ascended and returned. Instead, Jesus specifically said that no-one had ever gone into Heaven. In fact, Jesus also said:
"No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known." (John 1:18)

"No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father." (John 6:46)
Consider that God the Father lives in Heaven (the "third Heaven"), so if no-one had ever seen the Father then this would imply that no-one had ever gone into the "third Heaven" (because if we believe otherwise then we would have to prove that a person could go into the "third Heaven" and not see God). Since Jesus said that no-one had ever gone into Heaven, and He said that no-one had ever seen God, it seems that Elijah could not have been taken up into the "third Heaven" where God lives.

As it turns out, there is another explanation of 2 Kings 2:11 (above) which resolves these apparent contradictions, and which fits with the rest of the evidence in the Bible concerning Paradise and Hades. Recall that Bible scholars say that the ancient Jews considered the "first Heaven" to be the sky, and they considered the "second Heaven" to be where the stars are, and the "third Heaven" was considered to be where God's throne is. Since the word "Heaven" has different meanings, it is possible that Elijah was carried by the whirlwind up into the "first Heaven" (the sky). Notice that the prophets from Jericho who witnessed the whirlwind sent 50 men to search for Elijah (2 Kings 2:15-17). They didn't find Elijah's body, but it is interesting that they did not assume that Elijah had been taken up into the "third Heaven." Instead, they said that, "Perhaps the Spirit of the Lord has picked him up and set him down on some mountain or in some valley" (2 Kings 2:16). So even the prophets who witnessed this event did not assume that Elijah had been taken up into the "third Heaven," but instead they thought that his body might have been taken somewhere else. Based on all of the evidence, perhaps Elijah was lifted up into the "first Heaven" (the sky) by the whirlwind, and then Elijah's spirit was taken to Paradise in Hades. This explanation harmonizes very well with all of the information that the Bible gives us concerning Paradise and Hades and Heaven.


Enoch

In addition to Elijah, we also need to examine what happened to Enoch:
"Altogether, Enoch lived 365 years. Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away." (Genesis 5:23-24)

"By faith Enoch was taken from this life, so that he did not experience death; he could not be found, because God had taken him away. For before he was taken, he was commended as one who pleased God." (Hebrews 11:5)
There are many ways that people experience death (drowning, heart attack, cancer, old age, etc.), but Elijah and Enoch did not experience death because God took them away. The Bible doesn't tell us where Enoch went, but if we say that Enoch was glorified and then taken up into the "third Heaven" (before the cross) then we run into the same problems that we saw concerning Elijah. Perhaps the same explanation for Elijah's being "taken away" works for Enoch as well.

When we look at Hebrews 11:5 in a more literal translation of the Bible, it appears that Enoch was "translated":
"By faith Enoch was translated [metatithemi] --not to see death, and was not found, because God did translate [metatithemi] him; for before his translation [metatithemi] he had been testified to--that he had pleased God well" (Hebrews 11:5, Young's Literal Translation)
The Greek word for "translate" in this verse (metatithemi) means:
"to transfer, that is, (literally) transport, (by implication) exchange, (reflexively) change sides, or (figuratively) pervert: - carry over, change, remove, translate, turn." (Strong's Greek Dictionary)
Christians tend to use the word "translate" when we talk about our physical bodies being "glorified" and "changed" from mortality to immortality in order for us to enter the "third Heaven" at the Rapture. Perhaps a similar meaning is intended in Hebrews 11:5 (above), which would imply that Enoch was "translated" and taken up into the "third Heaven" where God lives. But remember that Jesus said that no-one had ever gone into Heaven, and that no-one had seen the Father, which means that Enoch could not have gone into the "third Heaven" before the cross. So here's a possible explanation. If Enoch was "transferred" to Paradise in Hades, or if he was "transported" to Paradise in Hades, or if he was "carried over" to Paradise in Hades, or if he was "removed" to Paradise in Hades, then this information can be conveyed using the same Greek word metatithemi which is used in Hebrews 11:5 (above), according to Strong's Greek Dictionary (above). Therefore, it is easily possible that Enoch was "carried away" or "removed" to Paradise in Hades rather than being translated and taken up into the "third Heaven." This explanation is supported by the fact that the same Greek word metatithemi is used four more times in the New Testament, and it never has the meaning of being "translated" from mortality to immortality:
"Their bodies were brought back [metatithemi] to Shechem and placed in the tomb that Abraham had bought from the sons of Hamor at Shechem for a certain sum of money." (Acts 7:16)

"I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting [metatithemi] the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel--" (Galatians 1:6)

"For when there is a change [metatithemi] of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law." (Hebrews 7:12)

"For certain men whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are godless men, who change [metatithemi] the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord." (Jude 1:4)
These are the only places where metatithemi is used in the New Testament other than in Hebrews 11:5 (above), and we can see that it is never used in the sense of someone being glorified and taken up into Heaven. So the explanation that Enoch was "transferred" to Paradise best fits all of the information that the Bible gives us about Paradise and Hades and Heaven.


Conclusion

We saw that the Hebrew word Sheol is equivalent to the Greek word Hades, and they refer to a temporary "prison" where the spirits of all of the unrighteous people throughout history will remain until Judgment Day.

We saw that the Greek word Tartarus refers to a "dungeon" (possibly within Hades) in which certain fallen angels are being held until Judgment Day.

We saw that the Greek word Gehenna is equivalent to the Lake of Fire, and this is the place where all of the unrighteous people throughout history will be tormented forever (along with the devil and his demons). This is probably the place that most people associate with the English word "Hell."

We saw that "Paradise" was a compartment within Hades in which the spirits of all of the righteous people were held during Old Testament times.

Finally, we saw that Jesus went down to Hades after He died, and then He took the Paradise compartment up into Heaven. So Paradise and all of the Old Testament saints are now in Heaven, and we Christians will go straight to Heaven after we die (rather than going down to Hades first).


I hope this has been helpful, and may the Lord abundantly bless you as you study His Word!
 
 
 
  Modification History  
 
 

  • 09/28/2007 - Modified every section to try to make things a little clearer. Added a comment that Jesus' parables always used real-life characters and objects and events and settings. Split the section called "Elijah and Enoch" into two separate sections.
  • 10/13/2003 - Added some comments about Luke 23:39-43, in which Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Some people believe that it should really be, "I tell you the truth today, you will be with me in paradise," but the evidence does not support that view.
  • 11/27/2002 - Added a section called "Elijah and Enoch."
  • 09/24/2002 - New article.