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THE USE OF THE WORD “HADES” IN THE NEW TESTAMENT
Victor M. Eskew
In the King James version, the word “hell” is found 23 times. There are three Greek words that are translated “hell.” The word “gehenna” is used 12 times. The word is “hades” is found 10 times. The third word, “tartaros,” is found only once. In this article, we want to look at all the places where the word “hades” is translated “hell.”
Before we look at the places where the word it used, we need to define the word “hades.” Strong defines the word as “unseen.” He continues to tell us hades is “the place (state) of departed souls.” Thayer reveals that “Hades” was the name of the god of the “lower region.” Thus, the word came refer to “the grave, death, hell.” Vine challenges Strong’s definition of “unseen.” He says the word most likely comes from a work that means “all-receiving.” He also asserts the word refers to “the region of departed spirits of the lost.” As we look at the various places the word “hades” is used in the New Testament, the definition will become clearer to us.
The first time the word “hades” is used is in Matthew 11:23. Jesus is upbraiding the cities that saw His mighty works, but refused to repent. One of those cities was Capernaum. Jesus said Capernaum would be brought down to hell (hades). “And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained unto this day.” Capernaum would ultimately be destroyed. Its inhabitants would die and be buried in graves. The souls of these individuals would be taken into the unseen realm of the dead to await final judgment.
The second time the word “hades” is used is in a very familiar text to us, Matthew 16:18. Upon Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God, Jesus responded, saying: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Jesus knew He would ultimately die on the cross. His body would be placed in the tomb of Joseph (Luke 23:53). His soul, however, entered into the unseen realm of the dead known as Paradise (Luke 23:43). The grave and the unseen realm of the dead would not always hold Jesus. He would be raised on the third day. This event would be the final proof of Jesus’ deity. Too, it would ensure the church would be established on the day of Pentecost. The gates of hell would not bring the demise of the church Jesus came to build.
The third time we read about “hades” is in Luke 10:15. This is simply Luke’s version of what we discussed regarding Matthew 11:23 above.
The fourth time “hades” is found in the Bible is in Luke 16:23. Jesus was teaching about two men who died. One was a beggar named Lazarus. The other was an unnamed rich man. Lazars was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22a). “…the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22b-23). Here, we learn that “hades” is more than just the grave. Lazarus was buried, but it was in “hades” that he lifted up his eyes being in torments. From this verse we learn that hades definitely involves the place to which the spirits of lost men go upon death.
In Peter’s sermon on the day of Pentecost, we find the fifth and sixth times the word “hades” is used in the New Testament. When Peter spoke of the resurrection of Jesus, he quoted some of the words of David found in Psalm 16: “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:27). Peter assured his readers that David was not speaking of himself. His body was still in the grave. Instead, David was predicting the resurrection of Jesus, the Messiah, from the grave. “He, seeing this before, spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption” (Acts 2:31). When Jesus died, His body was put in the tomb and His soul entered into Paradise, one compartment of the unseen realm of the dead. His soul, however, was not left in this place. It was reunited with His body before His body faced the corruption of death.
The last four uses of the word “hades” are in the Revelation. When John saw the vision of the Son of man in chapter one of Revelation, he fell at His feet. Jesus put His right hand on John, and said: “Fear not; I am the first and the last: I am he that liveth, and was dead; behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death” (Rev. 1:17b-18). Keys are used for opening things. The one who holds the keys holds the authority to open. Jesus has the ability to open both death and hell, that is, hades, the unseen realm of the dead. He will do this when He returns and resurrects all from the graves.
In Revelation 6:8, John sees the revelation of the fourth seal of the book the Lamb of God after it was opened. “And I looked, and behold a pale horse: and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed him…” John was preparing the churches for the struggles and persecution that was about to come. The result of these struggles for some would be death. Notice that hades follows death. An individual dies and his spirit enters into the hadean realm. If he is good, he enters into Paradise. If he is evil, he enters the realm of torments.
The final two places that mention “hades” involves the judgment scene set forth in Revelation 20:11-15. All of the dead will stand before God. In order for this to happen, death and hell have to give up the dead that are in them. John saw this happen in Revelation 20:13. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” Once the realm of hades has served its purpose, it will be disposed of. “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Rev. 20:14). After death and hades are gone, heaven and Gehenna-hell will be the only two places wherein man will abide.
Let’s sum up quickly what we have learned in this study. Hades is closely associated with death and the grave. When men die, their body goes into the grave and their spirit goes into the unseen realm of the dead. This place has two compartments: Paradise and torments. Men will reside in one of these places until the Lord, who has the keys of death and hades comes to resurrect the dead. After this happens, death and hades will be cast into the lake of fire. Even Jesus entered into the hadean realm. This realm did not hold Him. He came forth the third day victorious. Just a few days after His resurrection, He established His church, place where the redeemed are found until the Lord comes again (Acts 20:28; Eph. 5:23).