In the main, two words, 'Sheol' in the Old Testament, and 'Hadës' in the New Testament are variously translated as 'the grave', 'the pit' and 'Hell' in the King James Version of the Bible. Other Bible translations insert the words 'Sheol' and 'Hadës' directly into the text with no attempt at translation. In the following passages I have inserted the original word, and other notes, in square brackets.
Sheol and Hadës
It can be considered that the Old Testament 'Sheol' is equivalent to the New Testament 'Hadës' up to the time of Christ's ascension.
Sheol was a place of silence and suspended activity:
...in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave [Sheol] who shall give thee thanks. (Psalm 6:5)
...the grave [Sheol] cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. (Isaiah 38:18)
But there is prophecy of change from this state of mere survival to a better state:
I will ransom them from the power of the grave [Sheol]; I will redeem them from death... (Hosea 13:14)
Sheol was the abode of both the righteous dead and the unrighteous dead at this time. However we are told that the righteous will be redeemed from the power of the grave while the unrighteous will be cut off from God's presence:
...the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction... they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath (Job 21:30)
He [God] is swift as the waters; their [the wicked's] portion is cursed in the earth: he beholdeth not the way of the vineyards. Drought and heat consume the snow waters: so doth the grave [Sheol] those which have sinned. (Job 24:1819)
Like sheep they [that trust in riches] are laid in the grave [Sheol]; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave [Sheol] from their dwelling. But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave [Sheol]: for he shall receive me. (Psalm 49:1415)
I made the nations to shake at the sound of his [the Assyrian nation's] fall, when I cast him down to hell [Sheol] with them that descend into the pit: and all the trees of Eden [i.e. the righteous] , the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, shall be comforted in the nether parts of the earth. (Ezekiel 31:1616)
In the New Testament, the righteous and unrighteous both went to Hadës at death. Let us look at Christ's teaching on this subject:
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell [Hadës] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot: neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence... (Luke 16:1926)
Luke 16:2324 shows that the unrighteous in Hadës are conscious, have full use of their faculties, and are in torment. Christ says here that Hadës (which at this time, i.e. before Christ's ascension, was still equivalent to Sheol) was divided into two parts:
One part was Paradisein Luke 23:43 Jesus promised the penitent thief who was crucified with Him, ...today shalt thou be with me in paradise, meaning the righteous part of Hadës, which is sometimes called by the Jews 'Abraham's bosom', which is why Jesus used this term in Luke 16:22.
The other part of Hadës was called 'Gehenna' and is described by Jesus in Matthew 23:33 as a place of torment, Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell [Gehenna]?'
All this that we've looked at so far is the past situation. The turning point from the past to the present situation was the ascension of Christ:
1Ephesians 4:810 ...When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
In the original quote from Psalm 68:18, the word captive is 'shabah' which means 'to take away captive'. Consequently, it could be rendered thus:
When he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives, and gave gifts to men. (Ephesians 4:8).
Ephesians 4:9, he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth means that when Christ died, He went to the (pre-ascension) part of Hadës that was called Paradise, or Abraham's bosom, ...today shalt thou be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43).
Ephesians 4:8, ... When he ascended on high, he led captive a host of captives... means that when Christ ascended, He led the souls of the righteous from Paradise in Hadës, to Heaven.
Now, after Christ's ascension, when the righteous die they no longer go to Paradise in Hadës, but to be with their resurrected Lord in Heaven itself. Now, after Christ's ascension, Hadës is no longer equivalent to Sheol; Hadës is equivalent to Gehenna, the place of torment for the souls of the unrighteous,Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell [Gehenna]? (Matthew 23:33).
Before Christ's ascension, Paradise meant the righteous part of Hadës/Sheol. 2Now, after Christ's ascension, 3Paradise means Heaven itself. There is another Paradise to come. This will be the heavenly city, New Jerusalem on the new earth which will be created when this current earth has been destroyed:
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven... (Revelation 21:12)
In the midst of the street of it, and on either side of the river, was there the tree of life... (Revelation 22:2)
...To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7).
So Paradise is wherever the soul of the believer is, in the presence of God:
Gehenna means 'Valley of Hinnom', or 4'the valley of the sons of Hinnom'; it is a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem, where the idolatrous Jews offered their children in sacrifice to Molech. Afterward it became the common place for all the refuse of the city. Dead bodies of animals, criminals and all kinds of filth, were cast in and consumed by an everlasting fire. It inevitably became known as the place of everlasting destruction.
What is it like in Gehenna?
The rich man said I am tormented in this flame (Luke 16:24).
Christ spoke of the unrighteous going ...into hell [Gehenna], into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not...' (Mark 9:4344).
It could well be that the fire and torment is due to the 5unrighteous soul having no body: When the body dies, the soul lives on. The soul is the part that contains the appetites, desires and emotions. When the soul leaves the body at death, it takes these with it. When the Christian dies and goes to Heaven, the sinful parts of the soul are 6burned up or taken away, because a holy 7God cannot have sin in His presence. But when the unrighteous die, their soul lives on complete with all its former appetites, desires and emotions. Those who gave themselves up to lusts on earth will burn because they have no body with which to fulfil those lusts! The rich man who fared sumptuously every day (Luke 16:19) evidently had in his soul the sensation of thirst, but he had no way of fulfilling his soul's desire because he had no body. Here, surely, is the torment: Appetites and desires growing more and more intense and no way of satisfying them! Truly ...a worm [that] dieth not... (Mark 9:4344).
Perhaps I oversimplify, but here we see the justice of God in punishing the unbelieving soul. Those who led an otherwise 'good' life not burning so severely as the 'very wicked' unbeliever. Again, in simple terms, the punishment fits the crime.
1 Ephesians 4:8 is a quote from Psalm 68:18. Return to text
2 e.g. 2 Corinthians 12:24. Paul describes how he was caught up to the third heaven (2 Cor 12:2); he also describes this place as paradise (2 Cor 12:4). It is possible that this experience was a result of his being stoned and left for dead (Acts 14:1920). The Bible uses the word 'heaven' in three senses:
3 Until the Rapture, Heaven/Paradise is still a place of suspended activity; they are asleep in Jesus (1 Thessalonians 4:14). It is at the Rapture that they are changed to be like Him and become active. Return to text
4 e.g. 2 Chr 28:3; 33:6; Jer 7:31; 19:26. Return to text
5 1 Corinthians chapter 15: the Christian soul is given a new body at Christ's return. Return to text
6 1 Corinthians 3:1015. Return to text
Matthew 27:46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?
2 Corinthians 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. Return to text
© Paul Rose 2004 <http://www.twoedgedswordpublications.co.uk/Articles/Where_do_we_go_when_we_die.htm>