Saturday, August 10, 2013
Sheol, Hades, and Hell
New Testament prophecy clearly reveals a judgment day at the end of time when unbelievers will be judged according to their deeds and the righteous, justified by faith, will inherit the kingdom of heaven. All men, good or evil, will be reunited with their bodies in preparation for the final judgment. But where is the temporary location of the souls of the departed? Theologians offer numerous opinions based on Scripture and tradition.
Sheol is a Hebrew word, used in the English translation of the Old Testament, which means the abode or dwelling of the dead. Hades is a Greek word, used in the English translation of the New Testament, which means the resting place of the dead. It’s fair to say the two words are synonymous.
Hell can be defined as the location of the spirits of the dead. Hence, in that context, it is identified with Sheol and Hades. However, most Christians regard Hell as the “lake of fire” where unbelievers will be eternally tormented after the Day of Judgment. It is described as the “second death” in the Book of Revelation.
Therefore Sheol, Hades, and Hell (in the first sense) refer to the abode of the dead which includes not just the wicked but also the righteous.
The parable of Abraham and Lazarus renders an interesting description of life after death. Abraham’s bosom is a metaphor for a place which is called Paradise in the New Testament and Limbo in tradition. It is depicted as the abode of the righteous dead of the Old Testament. Some theologians believe that the souls of the righteous, from Old Testament times, remained in Paradise until Christ’s ascension into heaven when they were admitted into God’s heavenly kingdom.
During Christ’s crucifixion, He promised the repentant thief, crucified by His side, that he would be with Him, on that very day, in Paradise. The place called Paradise couldn't be a reference to heaven because Christ's Ascension didn't occur until forty days after His Resurrection from the tomb. According to the Apostles' Creed, Christ “descended into hell” after His crucifixion and death. For many years, that same line in the Apostles' Creed read, "descended to the dead." Hence, Paradise and Hell, in these contexts, refer to the temporary location of the spirits of the dead.
Therefore, it is opined that the place, variously referred to as Sheol, Hades, and Hell, was divided into two abodes, one a holding cell for the wicked and the other a place of comfort for the righteous including Lazarus and the repentant thief.