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"Hell - An Introduction"

John Hoole April 20, 2003

In our on-going series of lessons on what the Bible says about the Last Days, today we tackle a subject many people would simply like to ignore. We cannot ignore it, however, because the Bible has much to say about it. I am talking about the subject of "HELL."

A survey in America, not too long ago, published these results:

o 75% believe in heaven
o 25% believe in hell.

That is a huge reduction from just 25 years ago, when 70% said they believed in hell. Of course, whether or not something is true does not depend on what we prefer. And not only do we believe in heaven rather than hell, most of us in America seem confident that we are going to heaven rather than hell.

From the earliest times there was a firm belief that after death human beings continue to exist. In all ancient societies, there was the assumption that the dead are still there, somewhere. This conviction was not limited to the people of Israel, around whose history the Old Testament is woven.

The Egyptians, for instance, spoke of the soul going to Amenti. The Babylonians believe it went to Arullu. The Ethiopians referred to the soul's destination as Si'ol. Notice the similarity that word has with Sheol. That should not surprise us, since we have, in an earlier lesson, tied the Hebrew and the Ethiopians cultures together following Solomon's relationship with the Queen of Sheba.

The details of each of these cultures were no doubt very different from the Bible's teaching, but it seems that there never was a time when man did not believe in a conscious afterlife of some kind or another.

When one begins to discuss the subject of Hell, many questions surface.

1. Is it real?
2. Will it last forever?
3. Who will go there?
4. Will people get a second chance after they die?

Today, I want to begin our lesson by going back to a lesson we had over a year ago entitled, What Happens When You Die?" During that lesson, I showed you a diagram that helps explain what happens to a person after they die. And, by the way, although there are some that would like us to believe that when we die, we cease to exist anywhere at all that is not what the Bible says.

There are four original words which are translated "hell" in the King James Bible. One is Hebrew. The other three are Greek. The diagram you are about to see will speak to us about two of these words. They are the most common or well-known words that we know.

Let's look at a diagram I have created to help us understand the time between when a person dies and their resurrection. Some of the things on this chart depicts some of the events we have already discussed today. Let me review those and continue through the chart.

First, let me say that I have put the "cross" on the chart to indicate, that this chart depicts how things are since the resurrection of Christ. Prior to His resurrection, Hades, (or Sheol in the Old Testament), had two compartments. Before Christ's own resurrection, all spirits, godly or ungodly, went to Sheol (Hades). The second place was not a place of torment, but was called "paradise." These are both mentioned in Luke 16.

Let's begin with the line called "LIFE". The first thing we need to know about death is that it is not a random event. The Bible says, "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment." (Heb. 9:27). Unless Christ returns during your lifetime, this is one appointment you will keep. Death is a 100% certainty for all of us - except those taken in the Rapture. The only uncertainty from our standpoint is when it is going to happen. This adds to some people's anxiety about death. People tend to have greater fear of the unknown.

And, by the way, anyone who does not know Jesus Christ as their Savior, ought to be uncomfortable about facing death.


1. Only the body dies

1 Peter 3:4 says the hidden man is incorruptible. The "hidden man" is that part we cannot see - your spirit and soul. They are incorruptible - that is, they will not die. That only leaves the body. Only the body dies.

Daniel 12:2 speaks of dying as "going back to dust." Only the body came from dust (Gen. 2:7). The soul, on the other hand, came from the breath of God. (same verse)

The body of all people, whether saved or unsaved, go to the grave. That grave can be in a formal cemetery, or out in the open desert, where vultures can pick at the bones, or at the bottom of the sea, surrounded by water and sand.

2. The Spirit and the Soul continue to live

Unlike the body, the spirits of the saved and unsaved do not take the same road. According to Luke 16:23, the spiritual part of an unsaved person goes to a place of torment. But the spirits of those washed in the blood of Jesus, go immediately to heaven (2 Cor 5:8). "To be absent from the body (i.e., the body has died) is to be present with the Lord."

Before continuing, what we have seen thus far tells us that death is not the end of it all. According to the Bible, a person does not cease to exist following the death of the body.

Eventually, the Rapture is going to happen. We do not know the day or the hour when it will happen, but Jesus tell us that our Heavenly Father does. And Jesus promised, in John 14:1-3, that when that moment comes, He will personally come to take us home with Him.

When the Rapture occurs, we are told in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-17:

1. The bodies of the saved person will be resurrected first and are reunited with their spirit.

2. Then the believers still living will be "caught up with them in the air" to meet Jesus.

Thereafter, these will forever be with our Lord.

This leaves us three areas for which to account.

1. Living people who are unbelievers at the time of the Rapture

2. The bodies of all unbelievers who have died.

3. The spirits of unbelievers, whose bodies have died.

All of these await the Great White Throne Judgment.

If any unbeliever dies after the rapture, they will follow the same process as already depicted. Their bodies go to the grave. Their spirits go to the waiting place of torment.

According to Revelation 20, all of these will eventually be resurrected. This is called the second resurrection. And subsequent to their appointment with the Great White Throne Judgment, their destiny is the Lake of Fire.

On this diagram, you see two words that are translated "hell" in the Bible. They are the Greek word, Hades, and its Hebrew equivalent, Sheol. What I want you to take from this diagram, is that Hades and Sheol are only temporary places for the unsaved dead. I want you to catch that, because when we talk about Hell, we are usually speaking of the place that the ungodly will spend all eternity?

Most translation of the Bible other than the King James do not translate Hades or Sheol as "hell." They usually leave those word untranslated, leaving them as a proper name, Hades or Sheol. For instance, look at Revelation 20:14 in the King James.

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, as it is used here, and the Lake of Fire are not be the same. Every other translation I have leaves Hades un-translated. In these translations, it is easier to keep a distinction between the temporary place of the ungodly - Hades, and the Lake of Fire, which is the eternal residence of the ungodly.

Earlier, I mentioned there were 3 Greek and one Hebrew words translated "Hell" in the King James. We have already discussed the Greek word Hades, and its Hebrew equivalent, Sheol. Again, Hades currently is a temporary residence of the wicked dead. Those who go there will eventually be reunited with their resurrected bodies.


Another Greek word which is translated "hell", is 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;

Again, like Hades and Sheol, Tartarus is only an intermediate temporary place, where its occupants are kept until their great day of judgment. If these places are referring only to a temporary place for those who reject Christ, where do we get the idea that hell is eternal (without end)? That bring us to the last Greek word which is translated hell.


We might think that because we are more familiar with the word "Hades," that it is the most common New Testament word which is translated "hell." Gehenna, however, is used in the original text more than Hades and Tartarus combined.


With the word Gehenna, we have a very clear picture of its origin and meaning in Jewish history. About 750 B.C., King Ahaz was ruler of Judah. He was an idolater and adopted some of the most revolting heathen practices of his day. Among the worst was the offering of human sacrifices. He even had one of his own sons burned to death. These atrocities were carried out in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, a place just south-west of Jerusalem. Today that area is sometimes called Wadi-al-Rababi.

Ahaz paid dearly for his sin. His political alliance became unstuck, and in one battle alone he lost 120,000 men. His place was taken by the godly king Hezekiah, but he was succeeded in turn by his son Manasseh, who undid all the good his father had done. He built altars to heath idols, and reinstituted human sacrifices. He also burned his own son to death, again in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom. He also burned other children to the god Molech (2 Chronicles 33:1-6) Manasseh was followed by his equally corrupt son Amon, who lasted only two year before being assassinated.

Amon's eight-year-old son, Josiah, took his place, and by the time he was sixteen he had begun a program of vigorous reformation. Josiah singled out the Valley of Ben Hinnom for particular attention. From being a place of idol worship, he turned it into a public rubbish dump. This is where the inhabitants of Jerusalem would bring their waste. Later, the bodies of animals and even the corpses of criminals were flung there, and left to rot or to be consumed by the fire that was kept constantly burning.

We can now start to see how this otherwise unimportant piece of land fits into the picture. The Hebrew place-name was originally Ge (ben) hinnom, which means "the valley of the sons of Hinnom. The shortened form of the name was Ge-hinnom, from which the Greek translation became Gehenna.

During New Testament times, a fire burned the rubbish continually in this valley. The flames never went out. The English word for Gehenna, with all it imagery of shame, disgrace, sin, guilt, judgment, and punishment is "HELL". Actually, Gehenna is the most used word.

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.

Over the years, I have had people say to me that they don't accept the harsh God of the Old Testament. They say, "My idea of Christianity is the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount." Such statements show they have not really taken a close look of the Sermon on the Mount for it provides no escape whatever from the thought of an eternal hell.

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 5:29, (NIV) we are told:

It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Gehenna).

Later in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:13, Jesus doesn't use the word Gehenna, but taught of the need to turn from "the road that leads to destruction."

A moment ago I mentioned that the most common Greek word translated hell is the word Gehenna. It may come as a surprise to those who believe Jesus taught only love that all but one of the uses of Gehenna come from the lips of Jesus. It has been calculated that of the 1,870 verses which record the words of Jesus, some 13% of them are about judgment and hell. Jesus spoke more on these two subjects than about any other. Angels came in second. Love was third.

Also, of the about 40 parables spoken by Jesus, more than half of them related to God's eternal judgment of sinners. The strongest Greek word for Hell is Gehenna. And, again, of its uses, all but one were spoken by Jesus himself.

Let's look at a few more passages where Gehenna is used.

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, and those we read earlier, 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)

It is impossible to read the New Testament in general and the words of Christ in particular, without facing the fact that hell is not a figment of religious imagination. It is terrifyingly real. But the words of Jesus also adds that nobody needs to go there.

Because of its unending fire, most believe Gehenna is synonymous with the Lake of Fire, which is mentioned in the Book of Revelation.

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 verse (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.

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. Gehenna and the Lake of Fire are a reference to the same thing.

They both have eternal fire as one of its characteristics.

5. The abyss today has many fallen angels incarcerated there.

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