What’s the Difference Between Hell and Hades?

Cath sent a question:

Hi David. Can you please explain hell and hades? Jews don’t believe in hell but hades.

The Bible uses three main words to describe where people go when they die

  • Sheol (a Hebrew word)
  • Hades (a Greek word)
  • Gehenna (a Greek word that comes from a Hebrew word)
  1. Sheol has the idea of the “place of the dead”; it has no direct reference to either torment or eternal happiness. The idea of Sheol is often accurately expressed as “the grave.”

Psalm 49:15

But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave,

For He shall receive me.

  1. Hades was a term used to describe the “world beyond” by ancient Greek speaking people. In the Bible, it has generally the same idea as Sheol.

Psalm 2:31

He, foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of the Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.

  1. Gehenna (Greek, from the Hebrew)

Mark 9:43

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, into the fire that shall never be quenched.

Hell is a Greek translation of the Hebrew “Valley of Hinnom.” This was a place outside Jerusalem’s walls that was desecrated by Molech worship and human sacrifice (2 Chronicles 28:1-3; Jeremiah 32:35), thus turned into the dump where rubbish and refuse were burned. The smoldering fires and festering worms made it a graphic and effective picture of the fate of the damned.

This place is also called the “lake of fire” in Revelation 20:13-15, prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41)

Important facts about Hell

  1. The Old Testament has little clear revelation about the afterlife.
  • There are confident statements about resurrection and life after death, like Job 19:25-26.
  • There are doubtful statements about life beyond this life, such as Ecclesiastes 3:19-20 and Psalm 6:4-5.

However, the New Testament gives much more specific revelation regarding the afterlife; these are things that have been revealed by Jesus Christ. This is why Jews and Christians often have different ideas about the afterlife.

2 Timothy 1:10

…but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel

  1. Sheol and Hades are not what we normally think of as “Hell”; they were, before the finished work of Jesus, the place where the dead awaited judgment or final justification (as illustrated by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31). According to what Jesus said in Luke 16, there was one area of Hades that was a place of torment, and another area of Hades that was a place of blessing, comfort, refreshment.
  • Jesus was in Hades after His death on the cross, but He did not remain there. According to Acts 2:25-32, Jesus could not remain there.
  • Jesus made no atonement in Hades; the price was already paid on the cross (John 19:30) when Jesus suffered in His physical body (Colossians 1:19-22). Jesus went to Hades as a victor not as a victim.
  • It seems that Jesus preached in Hades (1 Peter 3:18-19) and there is a sense in which Jesus set the captives in Hades free (Ephesians 4:8-9; Isaiah 61:1).
  • Jesus’ work and preaching offered salvation for those who in faith awaited it (Hebrews 11:39-40) and sealed the condemnation of the wicked and unbelieving.
  • In some sense, Jesus “shut down” the part of Hades of blessing, comfort, and refreshment. But the area of Hades reserved for torment is occupied until the final judgment, when those who are there will be sent to what we normally think of as “Hell” – Gehenna, the Lake of Fire.
  1. Gehenna is what we normally think of as “Hell,” the Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10-15; 21:6-8). Gehenna is also called:
  • The Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20)
  • Everlasting Fire (Matthew 25:41)
  • Everlasting Punishment (Matthew 25:46)
  • Outer Darkness (Matthew 8:12)

None of these even remotely describe a place where people can go and “party with their friends.”

What is David Guzik’s view on the End Times?

In this troubled world, my wife and I have been discussing the inevitable Rise of the Antichrist, the Rapture, and the final reckoning, when every knee will bow, every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. We’ve heard mixed interpretations of what the Bible says about this topic: that it will come from the former Roman Empire, that it will be a man who creates the illusion of peace, that the Rapture will occur pre-Tribulation, or will occur post-Tribulation, etc. What are your interpretations of what the Bible says about these matters of the End Times?

It would take me hours to answer that question fully. For a fuller sense on what I believe, check my YouTube library or enduringword.com concerning those Bible passages and topics. A good place to start is my video series, “God’s Plan for the Ages.” You’ll find a very complete explanation there, especially in the last four or five videos. For now, here is an incomplete but concise answer.

All Christians agree on this: Jesus Christ is coming again. There will be a second coming of Jesus Christ, and He will accomplish an ultimate rule and reign over all creation. Exactly how that’s going to work out has been disputed by different believers throughout the ages. I think I have done what I believe every believer needs to do. You need to open your Bible, listen to good Bible teachers and preachers whom you trust, work through the Scriptures yourself, and come to your own conclusions. But Christians have come to different conclusions about these things through the generations.

Here’s what I believe, based on my own study, research, and poring over the Scriptures. I believe that there will be a revived Roman Empire which rules over the earth in the very last days. I think the Scriptures make this clear. Now exactly what that revived Roman Empire will look like, and where it will come from, is a matter of debate, but I believe that there absolutely will be some kind of a revived Roman Empire on the earth.

In the very last days, I also believe that Jesus Christ will return for His church, before a final seven-year period which is commonly called the Tribulation or the Great Tribulation. The Bible describes a specific seven-year period in the very last days, the seven final years before the glorious return of Jesus Christ. I believe that before this period begins, Jesus will return to catch away His Church. That event of the catching away is commonly called the Rapture, based on the Latin translation of the Greek word that’s used in 1 Thessalonians to describe this catching away of the church. I believe the Rapture will happen before the Great Tribulation.

I also believe that there will be a terrible time of judgment which comes upon the Christ-rejecting world, and that there will be a final world ruler who takes prominence in the leadership of this revived Roman Empire. Again, I have many more in-depth teachings online about these topics, but those are the basic things I believe about the Second Coming.

There are brothers and sisters who have alternative views about how, and in what order, these things happen. I’ll be very straightforward: I think they’re wrong. I don’t have any apology for saying, “I think that the things I believe from the Bible about the End Times are correct.” If people believe differently, I think they’re mistaken. Why would I knowingly hold to beliefs that I think are wrong? I do think I believe what is right about these interpretations of the Bible.

However, I think I understand why my differing brothers and sisters believe the way they do. Usually, it’s because we give different priority to different concepts in the Scriptures. I’m comfortable with my priorities, and I suppose they’re comfortable with theirs. I don’t mind discussing or debating it, but I recognize that there will always be some difference of opinion on these issues among Christians.

I hope that every single Christian can unite on two truths regarding the return of Jesus Christ. I would fight for these two truths. I would say that if you don’t believe and teach these two truths about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, then you’re dangerous to the world and to the body of Christ.

Here are these two essential truths. Number one: Jesus Christ is coming again. Number two: we should watch and be ready for His return. I don’t care if you have every prophetic “t” crossed and “i” dotted, or if you’ve got your End Times theology down to the minute. If you’re not ready for the return of Jesus, by your abiding faith, by your life of obedience, by your seeking after Jesus, by your seeking to advance His kingdom, then your eschatology has something messed up about it.

Can a believer who practices homosexuality go to Heaven?

That’s a very good and valid question. The answer I’m going to tell you applies to any sin. I would give you the same answer for someone practicing immorality, whether heterosexual or homosexual. Now, there is some difference here. The Bible tells us that all homosexual activity or conduct which somebody would commit with their body, or even their heart, is actual sin. The Bible does tell us that there are expressions of heterosexual sexuality, which are honorable and good and approved of and blessed by God. The same is not true for homosexual activity.

So, the essence of your question is, “Can a person who practices sin, but believes in Jesus, go to Heaven?” All I can answer is this: ultimately, whether a person goes to Heaven or not is not up to you. It’s not up to me. It’s not up to any council of people. It’s up to Jesus Christ.

Jesus has told us these two things. Number one: those who practice certain sins will not inherit eternal life. Number two: one of the signs of new life in Jesus Christ is that we can’t remain comfortable in habitual sin.

The difficulty with this is in the details. How does one define habitual sin? We know it is possible for a person to be a believer, yet still sin. I hope we understand that. In fact, it is impossible for someone who is a believer to stop sinning completely. On this side of eternity, we won’t stop sinning until we are glorified and resurrected. Praise the Lord for that day.

We will still sin until that final day, but there’s a line somewhere. A sin can so dominate a person’s life, and become so much of a practice, that it defines their state and their standing before God. It illustrates the status of their soul and is an indicator that they do not have eternal life. I cannot say precisely where that line is.

We can agree on it at the extremes, where it’s seen more clearly, but there’s an area in the middle that isn’t very clear. Nevertheless, we know that God can perceive it precisely. God knows. And we must simply trust that God will decide these things according to His justice and righteousness.

What does it mean for Jesus to be forsaken? Did Jesus experience God’s wrath in His soul?

By your use of the term “forsaken,” I assume that you’re thinking of Jesus on the cross, when He said, “’Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani,’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” (Matthew 27:46). Now, of course, Jesus was quoting from Psalm 22, but He wasn’t just quoting a Bible verse. He was expressing the agony of His soul in that moment.

This is a paradox of the cross. There are two things which somehow seem as if they might be contradictory, but they’re not contradictory because they’re happening at the same time.

Number one: Jesus genuinely bore within Himself the punishment, the wrath, and the judgment that we deserved. He drank a cup of judgment that we should drink. He was crucified in our place. He was judged for our sins. The payment of our sins was put upon Him. We know that. Jesus endured the wrath of God the Father so that we would not have to endure that wrath. He paid the price. He was the substitute.

I saw a video recently where a guy was saying, “I just don’t know where it says in the Bible that Jesus received the wrath of God on our behalf.” Listen, you must be closing your eyes to not see it, because it’s there. One of the Scriptures that they dealt a glancing blow was concerning Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, when He spoke about the cup of judgment that He was about to drink. Make no mistake about it: the figure of the cup of God’s judgment in the Old Testament is very clear. It is the cup of His judgment, His wrath. Jesus drank the cup that we deserve to drink. He bore the wrath that we deserved to bear. That’s not the only aspect of what He accomplished on the cross, but it is an extremely significant aspect of it. As Jesus received the wrath of God the Father, as He was being judged for sins, in our place, I don’t have any doubt that He felt as if He was forsaken by God the Father, and cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” That’s one side; here’s the other side.

The moment Jesus did that, He was performing the most holy, glorious act of love that has ever been performed on this earth. Jesus was treated by God the Father as if He was a sinner, and not just a sinner, but every sinner, the ultimate sinner, and yet He was not a sinner. He was being treated as if He were, but He was not. I love how Paul puts it, “He who knew no sin (Jesus) became sin for us.”

He didn’t become a sinner. He became the embodiment of sin, and that was judged on the cross. That was the most holy act of sacrificial love the world has ever seen. And that’s why the Bible can say that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself.

So, we have this strange paradox of the cross. God the Father treated the Son as if He were the ultimate sin, the collection of sin universally among humanity, and judged that sin in Jesus Christ, God-made-man. At the same time, the Father and the Son were working together to accomplish the redemption of the world. Both of these things are true. It is the glorious paradox of the cross, and we’re grateful for it.

How did they eat the fish that Jesus multiplied?

How did they eat the fish that Jesus multiplied? What were the logistics? Did they eat it raw or cooked on the spot? What are some of the customs of the day that can help us imagine how it went?

At the dividing of the loaves and fishes, it was not fresh fish. This was not a sushi lunch that Jesus provided for the people at the feeding of the 5000, or the feeding of the 3000. This was a particular kind of fish that was prepared by smoking or pickling. They prepared it that way because it stored well. These were normally small fish, something like our modern sardines. People would pack some bread, and a few of these fish for daily lunch; some carbohydrates in the bread and some protein with the fish made a good little lunch. Those were the loaves and fishes that were divided.

Logistically, the disciples broke it up and distributed it. They came back to Jesus to get a new basket full of loaves and fish, and they went out and they distributed it to the crowd. Obviously would have taken some time, but people were happy to wait for it because they got a free meal out of it.

We don’t know exactly how the fish were broken up or multiplied in the hands of Jesus, but there was plenty for everybody, plus leftovers, and that was the kind of fish that they ate.

Is it wrong to declare God’s promises for myself daily as I give Him thanks? How is that different than the Word of Faith movement?

Yes, we should understand the word of God and claim it for ourselves, which means believing the promises of God. But we need to understand this: not every promise of God is made unto us. There are certain promises of God that were made to other people groups specifically, and not to God’s people in general. God does not make the general promise to all His children that the walls of a city will fall down, if you march around it seven times over seven days, and on seventh day march around it seven times and then blow trumpets. That was a specific promise that He made to specific people for a specific purpose.

It is possible for us to take a promise out of context. I believe that there are times and places where the Holy Spirit will highlight a promise that was made to somebody else, and will say, “This is for you.” But if we take a promise made for somebody else without permission from the Holy Spirit, that’s an unrightful way of taking the promises. But if a promise is made to you, you may claim it.

There are other promises that are not universal, which apply to general principles, but are not absolute. For example, there are promises of deliverance given in the Scriptures, but it doesn’t mean you’ll be delivered from every problem. You can bring that promise before God and ask Him to fulfill it. Maybe God will deliver us by ultimately delivering us from hell and allowing us to go to heaven. That’s a deliverance too.

If a promise is properly applied, we may take that promise, and we may stand upon it. The problem with the Word of Faith movement is that they take promises, and they apply them beyond what God ever intended. God never promised that every believer would be rich. Someone who implies that He did, such as in the Word of Faith or the prosperity gospel, is taking a promise of God outside of its intended audience and recipient.

Could it be a bad idea to sing songs like “God Bless America” in church?

Could singing songs like “God Bless America” in church be a bad idea? Could it possibly be displeasing to God to sing about America during worship, or to call it “Home Sweet Home,” when Heaven is our home?

Yes, it could be a bad idea. A lot of it depends on the state of heart, and the attitude of those in leadership and in the congregation. The Bible says that God has divided humanity into nations, and that this is part of His plan for humanity. I bring that up because I think an aspect of biblical truth, found in the book of Acts and other places, is that God wants us to be good, patriotic citizens of whatever nation we are in. Of course, our ultimate allegiance and ultimate patriotism is to the kingdom of God. That never changes. But no matter where we live, we should seek to be good citizens and residents of wherever it is that God has placed us. We should look to do good for the place where we are. One aspect of that is patriotism.

Appreciating the good things of the country where God has placed you is not being blind. Now, we’re not talking about turning a blind eye to the things that are unrighteous or need to be changed. But if your eye is only on the things that are not right, or need to be changed, or unrighteous about wherever you live, you’re going to get a very skewed perspective.

I believe that the Christian who lives in Germany should be proud to be a German Christian and should be a patriotic German. I believe the Christian that lives in a Columbia should be proud to be a Colombian Christian, and should a pray for God’s blessing, and be a patriotic Colombian, and so on for any nation.

I don’t think there’s anything automatically wrong about patriotic expressions at a church service. But is it possible for those patriotic expressions to become idolatry? Absolutely. It’s possible, and it must be guarded against and warned against.

So, could singing songs like “God Bless America” in church be a bad idea? Yes, it could. But there are other ways in which patriotic expressions in church can be fine if they are presented in the right context, and with the right heart. I don’t believe God regards proper patriotism as a sin. But of course, there is a kind of patriotism that becomes idolatry and that is always sin.

If believers are dead to the law, should we not really concentrate on the Old Testament?

We are dead to the law. But the Old Testament contains much more than the commandments that God gave under the Old Covenant. Even those commandments themselves are valuable for us today. It’s not that we shouldn’t read the Old Testament. We just need to understand the Old Testament in terms of its fulfillment in the person and work of Jesus Christ, by what is revealed to us in the New Testament. Jesus’ finished work needs to be that the lens by which we understand the Old Testament. But as Paul says, the Hebrew Scriptures — the Old Testament — are good, holy, just, and helpful. They’re wonderful for us. We should be receiving and excited about the Old Testament. I love reading from and teaching from the Old Testament. It’s a beautiful, powerful thing that I enjoy doing. It’s true; we are dead to the law. We are not under the law, but that doesn’t mean that we ignore or pay little attention to the Old Testament.

Is there historical evidence of the dead coming out of their tombs (Matthew 27:53)?

Matthew 27:53- “And coming out of the tombs after His resurrection, they went into the holy city and appeared to many.”

This is one of the more problematic questions we find in the New Testament. This is a strange verse describing something that is nowhere else described in the New Testament. I’ll tell you my inclination. When I look at the Bible, and see the record in the Gospels, I look at them from beginning to end and say, “Wow, this is powerful; this rings true; this is historically consistent; this is an accurate record.” I say that in general about the record of the Gospels and the entire New Testament.

Some people come to this verse and say, “It never happened. Matthew is just passing on a legend. He’s just making something up. Nobody knows. It’s just not true. Leave it alone.” There are no doubt people who say that. But that’s not my tendency.

Based on the enormous reliability of the New Testament record, when I find something highly unusual or difficult to explain, my tendency is to consider it like this. We see it says that something happened which matched this description. What it was, or how it happened, I really don’t know. I can’t explain a lot about it. But based on the reliability of these accounts in every other instance, we can believe it.

It has been said that we need to interpret the unclear or difficult passages of the Bible in the light of the clear or more easily understood passages of the Bible. I think that is a good rule to go by.

I believe this: Something happened which corresponded exactly to what Matthew wrote. People were genuinely resuscitated. Let’s make a distinction here: there’s a difference between resuscitation and resurrection. I don’t believe that any of these people were resurrected. But they were resuscitated. They rose but would in some way die again. Maybe they died again and went back to their tomb very quickly. We just don’t know; we’re not given more detail on this. But I would take those passages and judge them by the passages which are more easily understood.

If Jesus was the only sinless individual, then what about Mary?

The Roman Catholic Church teaches that Mary was sinless in some regard, or at least had a sinless conception. They call it the Immaculate Conception, which is different than the virgin birth.

We know that isn’t true. In Mary’s song in Luke 1:46-55, known as the Magnificat, she describes a need for a Savior. Mary recognized that she needed a Savior. And because she needed a Savior, we know that she was a sinner. Since Mary was, in fact, a sinner, the idea that she had a miraculous conception is merely a tradition of man. It’s not a teaching of the Word of God. We cannot say that Mary was a sinless individual, but certainly Jesus was and, by the way, so were Adam and Eve before the fall.

In Mary’s song, she proclaims Jesus as her Savior, God as her Savior. In order to need a Savior, you have to be a sinner.

Please explain 2 Kings 2:1 – what does the word “heaven” mean in the original language?

2 Kings 2:1- And it came to pass, when the Lord was about to take up Elijah into heaven by a whirlwind, that Elijah went with Elijah from Gilgal.

I wonder if you’re tying this back to the original question I answered today. I said earlier that no one was in heaven, but all were in Hades before the finished work of Jesus. I think it’s important to understand that the Bible uses the term heaven to describe three different aspects. This is true in Hebrew, as well as in Greek; it’s true in some other language as well. They use the same word to refer to three things: the blue sky of the day, the starry sky of the night, and finally, the heaven where God dwells.

Now, certainly, Elijah was carried up into the day sky until he could be seen no more. When it says that he was carried up in heaven, it’s the same word that would be used all three terms: the heaven where God dwells, the heaven that’s the night sky, and the heaven that is the blue sky or the day sky. The same word is used to describe each one of those things. In English, we use different words to distinguish when we would refer to the atmosphere or the night sky, but we would reserve the term Heaven, for the place where God dwells. The biblical languages do not do that.

It is not necessary to say that Elijah disappeared into the place where God dwells. I’m not going to say absolutely that he didn’t. If you remember, when I mentioned this earlier, I said that they all went to Hades, perhaps with rare exceptions. There may have been rare exceptions, such as Elijah. But it’s not necessary from 2 Kings 2:1, because it could simply be describing how he disappeared into the blue sky or the atmosphere.