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"Hell, Lake of Fire & the Bottomless Pit"

John Hoole February 9, 2003

The newspaper, USA Today, often features statistics on its front page. These are statistics which they believe are shaping our nation. In 1998, the paper presented interesting numbers on how people answered this question: "Is There a Hell?"

o 52 % of adults are certain there is a hell..

o 27 % think there might be.

The pollsters then asked people what they think hell will be like.

o 48 % believe it is a literal place where people suffer eternal torment.

o 46 % say it is an anguished state of existence rather than an actual place.

o 6 % say they don't know.

Many have concocted their own theories about hell. Comedian Woody Allen once said, "Hell is Manhattan at rush hour." While some make light of hell, the Bible gives us a terrifying glimpse of it, and it is no joking matter.

Many of us would agree with C. S. Lewis, when he wrote: "There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [hell], if it lay in my power…I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully: 'All will be saved.' "

Because of the heinous nature of hell, many have decided that it is impossible for a loving God to conceive such a place, much less send His wayward creatures there. For this reason, some have rejected the idea of an eternal hell. And this trend to reject the concept of hell does not reside solely among the skeptics. Many Bible "believers" have also fallen prey to this idea.

In a March 1991 issue of US News & World Report, an article titled "Revisiting the Abyss," had this quotation: "In many churches, one finds little talk these days about a literal, punitive hell as a real possibility after death." In the article, they quote Rev. Mary Kraus, pastor of the Dumbarton United Methodist Church in Washington D.C. "My congregation would be stunned to hear a sermon on hell." She says her parishioners are "upper middle class, well-educated critical thinkers who view God as compassionate and loving, not someone who's going to push them into eternal damnation." When I hear people use the phrase "well-educated" in this kind of context, it makes me think of 2 Timothy 3:7, which reads, "ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth."

On July 8, 1741, Jonathan Edwards preached his famous sermon, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God." Edwards was critically near-sighted. When preaching, he held his manuscript so close to his face, that the congregation was unable to see his expression as he spoke every word. The people, so moved by his words, gripped the backs of their pews, because they felt the ground below was about to open and swallow them into hell. One man rushed down the aisle crying, "Mr. Edwards, have mercy!" That was then; this is now. Hell is not taken very seriously today. Martin Marty, American church historian summarized the attitude of our day: "Hell disappeared, and no one noticed!"


Most often, we use the word "hell" to refer to the place of everlasting punishment for the ungodly. When used in this context, the Bible uses a number of different ways to describe this place.

o Outer Darkness (Matthew 8:12)

o Fiery Furnace (Matthew 13:42)

o A place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42)

o Eternal Fire (Matthew 25:41)

o Eternal Punishment (Matthew 25:46)

o Everlasting Destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

o The Abyss or Bottomless Pit (Revelation 9:1-2)

o Torment with fire and burning sulfur (Revelation 14:10-11)

o The Lake that burns with fire and sulfur (Revelation 21:8)

o The Second Death (Revelation 20:14)

If we use the word "hell" to depict the eternal destiny of the unsaved since the beginning of time, then how do we reconcile that thought with the words of Revelation 20:14?

Revelation 20:14 (KJV) reads:

14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

This verse, in the King James, says that hell is cast into the Lake of Fire. That should tell us that Hell and the Lake of Fire might not be the same. This is where a little Greek might come in handy. There are three Greek words that are sometimes translated "Hell" in the New Testament.


o Hades

o Tartarus

o Gehenna


The word that is used in Revelation 20:14 is Hades. While "Hades" is not the most common Greek word that is translated "hell," it is probably the most well-known of the three words. With regard to Revelation 20:14, the King James Version is the only version I reviewed which translates Hades as 'Hell." Most other Bible translation leave it as a Proper Name "Hades." (That includes: NIV, NAS, NASU, NKJV, RSV, Jerusalem Bible, ASV, Amplified, English Standard Version, Youngs Literal Translation, Darby Translation, Weymouth, Wesley New Testament.) Each of these translations have treated Hades as the proper name of a place, just like they would treat places like Jerusalem or Ararat.

Leaving it as "Hades," rather than translating it as "Hell" will help us understand the subject of eternal punishment. Hades is a place and should be called by it name - Hades. Hades is not the same as the Lake of Fire.

Now that we have made a distinction between Hades and the Lake of Fire, let's look at the various Greek words that are translated as "hell" in the New Testament. On several occasions, I have mentioned that the duration the ungodly spend in Hades is temporary. Those in Hades today will, at the second resurrection, be rejoined with their bodies, and stand before the Great White Throne Judgment. So, Hades is a temporary place of torment.

The word "Hades" is used ten times in the New Testament. As I said a moment ago, this is the place where the souls of lost people are presently confined. The story in Luke 16 about the rich man and Lazarus takes place in Hades.

One more thing about Hades. We know, from Acts 2, that Christ went into Hades when He died. In Acts 2, we find Luke quoting from Psalm 16:8-11. And in Acts 2:31 (NKJV), it says the psalmist "spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption."

And because of that, we have recorded, in Revelation 1:18,

"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"

So Hades is the temporary residence of the unsaved dead.


The next Greek word translated "hell" is the word Tartaros (Tar-tar-OS).


This word is found only once - 2 Peter 2:4 (NKJV)

4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell (Tartarus) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;

Tartarus is a place of confinement for a special group of fallen angels. They are unable to roam this planet or anywhere else. They did something so heinous, they are not allowed any freedom of movement like the devil and his demons.

Jude 6 (NKJV) refers to the same fallen angels, without giving a name to where they are.

6 And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day;

We will come back to this group of angels later. There are other passages that deal with them. Tartarus is a place of confinement for a certain group of fallen angels. Now let's look at the third Greek word translated "hell."



We might think that because we are more familiar with the word "Hades," that it is the most common word which is translated "hell." Actually, Gehenna is the most used word. Gehenna is used 12 times in the New Testament.

The use of this word can be traced back to a garbage dump, located on the southern edge of Jerusalem. The dump was located in the "Valley of Hinnom." This dump was also the place where wicked King Manasseh offered Jewish children to the heathen god Molech (2 Chronicles 33:1-6).

During New Testament times, a fire burned the rubbish continually in this valley. The flames never went out. In not only was a place where refuse and garbage was dumped, it was also the place of disposal for dead animals and the bodies of criminals. Look at the words of Jesus.

Mark 9:42-44 NKJV

42 But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.
43 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 --
44 Where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched

Notice that Gehenna is referred to as a place where the fire is never quenched (vss. 43 & 44). The burning fire was not only continuous, but its flames will never end. That makes it different than Hades, which is temporary, and will itself be destroyed. Because of its unending fire, most believe Gehenna is synonymous with the Lake of Fire, which is mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

Out of the twelve times the word "Gehenna" is used in the New Testament, all but one is found in the words of Jesus. In Matthew 5:22, Christ says that a person who says to another person "You fool", is in danger of "hell fire" (Gehenna).

In Matthew 23:33 (NIV), Jesus is speaking to the Jewish religious leaders.

33 You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell (Gehenna)?

In Matthew 10:28 (NIV), Christ says:

28 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).

From these verses we learn that Hell (Gehenna) is:

o fiery (Matthew 5:22)

o eternal (Mark 9:43)

o a person has both soul and body there (Matthew 10:28)

There are two other phrases or words used to describe the abode of the wicked dead. We have already alluded to one of them.

Lake of Fire

As we stated a moment ago, Gehenna is a reference to the Lake of Fire. The phrase "lake of fire" is spoken only 5 times, all of them are in the Book of Revelation. The first use of it is in Revelation 19:20, which speaks of the Antichrist and the False Prophet being sent there. The second time is in Revelation 20:10, where Satan is cast into the Lake. From these and the other three passages, we learn the following about the Lake of Fire.

o It burns with brimstone - or burning sulfur. Three of the 5 times the Lake of Fire is mentioned, it adds the phrase, "burning with fire and brimstone (sulfur)."

o It is a place of torment "day and night" forever (Rev. 20:10)

o Going there is the "second death." (Rev. 20:14)

o Anyone whose name is not in the Book of Life will go there. (Rev. 20:15)

There are other New Testament passages that refer to the Lake of Fire (or Gehenna) while using different Greek words.

Matthew 25:41(NIV) is one of them.

41 Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.

Five verses later, Christ refers to this place of eternal fire as being a place of "eternal punishment." These verses (Matthew 25:41-46) corroborate two things we already have discussed about the Lake of Fire, and adds one new piece of information.

We earlier noted what this passage reaffirms:

o The fire is eternal

o The punishment is also eternal

The new thing we are told here is that the Lake of Fire was originally created to be the eternal abode of the devil and his fallen angels.

The Abyss - Bottomless Pit

There is one more location that has reference to judgment. In some Passages, it is called the "abyss". In others, it is referred to as the "pit" or "bottomless pit."



The Greek word here is "abussos" from which we get the word Abyss. This word occurs 9 times in the New Testament.

o 7 times in the Book of Revelation - all translated Bottomless Pit (KJV).

o 2 times it is translated the "Deep." (Luke 8:31, Romans 10:7)

In Luke 8:31, we find the story of Jesus and his disciples crossing the Sea of Galilee. In the boat, a storm arises, but Jesus is asleep. The disciples wake him, He causes the winds and waves to cease. When they step out of the boat on the other shore, Jesus is confronted by the Gadarene man who had a legion of devils.

Luke 8:30-31 KJV

30 And Jesus asked him, saying, What is thy name? And he said, Legion: because many devils were entered into him. 31 And they (demons) besought him (Jesus) that he would not command them to go out into the deep (Abussos).

Let's also look at the wording in the NIV.

Luke 8:30-31 NIV

30 Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "Legion," he replied, because many demons had gone into him.
31 And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss


I think it is safe to say that they knew something about the abyss that the people around Jesus that day did not know. They either knew of the suffering they would experience in the abyss or maybe they thought that once they were sent there, they could never get out.

Earlier, I mentioned the Greek word Tartarus. I mentioned at that time that this word is used only once in the New Testament. Let's read it again.

2 Peter 2:4 NAS

4 For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (Tartarus) and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment;

Could it be that the demons possessing the Gadarene man were referring to this place when asking not to be sent to the abyss? I think it is quite probable.

It appears that the abyss is a kind of spiritual penitentiary, a prison which evil angels dread. And this is exactly the scene we find in Revelation 9. But in this Passage, their place of incarceration is called the abyss or Bottomless Pit. In all likelihood, the place called Tartarus, in 2 Peter 2:4, and the Abyss (Bottomless pit) are the same place.

We also know that after the Battle of Armageddon, Satan himself will be incarcerated there for 1,000 years. From the Scriptures where the Greek word Abussos occurs, I think we can learn a number of things about this Abyss.

1. We have already seen that demons do not want to go there (Luke 8:31).

2. Jesus was there temporarily, sometime between his death and resurrection (Romans 10:7).

3. It is said to be "down" (Romans 10:7).

4. It is locked with a key which an angel has (Revelation 9:1).

5. It has so much smoke in it that when its doors are opened, the smoke covers the earth and darkens the sun (Revelation 9:2). That should tell us two things:

o Where there's smoke, there's fire present.

o Its location is either in the earth or near the earth, because its smoke, when opened, covers the earth.

o Coupled with point #3, above, it seems to indicate it is in the earth.

6. Many demons are incarcerated there right now, but they will be let out for 5 months (Revelation 9:5).

7. The pit has a king (Revelation 9:11). In the same verse, his name is given in both Hebrew and Greek.

Greek: Apollyon

Hebrew: Abaddon

Both words mean "destroyer."

8 beast out of this pit will rise and kill the 2 witnesses (Revelation 11:7).

9. Satan will be chained and thrown into the pit for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:1-3)

Most theologians that are willing to discuss the location of the Bottomless Pit, identify it as a section of Hades. As a rule, they generally believe it is a lower part of Hades. We do know that both of these places - the Abyss and Hades - are only temporary homes for the ungodly people and/or demons who are resident there. According to 2 Peter 2:4, the angels that have been chained in the Abyss for thousands of years, will be released from there to be judged by God. According to this passage, their presence in the abyss is to reserve (hold) them awaiting their judgment. We also know that Satan will be incarcerated in the Bottomless Pit only temporarily, while, according to Revelation 20:10, his eternal abode will be the Lake of Fire.


From earlier lessons, you may remember that the equivalent Hebrew word for the Greek word "Hades" is Sheol. In the Old Testament, where the abyss is mentioned more than the New Testament, we find that Sheol and the Abyss are often linked together. This potentially adds weight to the idea that the Abyss is a part of Hades/Sheol. For instance, Ezekiel 31:16 (NAS) says:

16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall when I made it go down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit;…..

There is one more thing that may corroborate the link between Hades/Sheol and the Abyss. Earlier, I mentioned that the angels that have been held in the Abyss for thousands of years, have a KING over them, who is also resident there. We noted that his name was given in Revelation 9:11 in both Hebrew and Greek. Greek: Apollyon; Hebrew: Abaddon.

There are two Passages in the Old Testament, where Abaddon is mentioned. Both of them arise in conjunction with Sheol which further corroborates the link between the Abyss and Hades/Sheol.

One place is in Proverbs 15:11 (RSV).

11 Sheol and Abaddon lie open before the LORD, how much more the hearts of men!

Job 26:6 (NAS) is very similar.

6 Naked is Sheol before Him and Abaddon has no covering.

Let's summarize what we have learned this morning.

1. There are three Greek words that are translated "hell" in the King James. Hades (Sheol), Gehenna, Tartarus

2. Hades and its Hebrew equivalent, Sheol, are not the same as the Lake of Fire. At the White Throne Judgment, Hades is cast, along with death, into the Lake of Fire.

3. Hades should be treated at a Proper Name for a place.

4. Tartarus and the Bottomless Pit (Abyss) are probably the same place.

5. The Abyss is most likely a part of Hades today. Hades, Tartarus, and the Abyss are temporary abodes of the wicked - whether demons or humans.

6. Gehenna and the Lake of Fire are a reference to the same thing. They both have eternal fire as one of its characteristics.

7. The abyss today has many fallen angels.

8. These fallen angels - demons - have a king of the abyss over them. His name is Apollyon/Abaddon.

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