Good morning. Today’s message is the fifth in our series “Heaven and Hell”. This will be the last sermon on Hell. Before we get started, let’s briefly review what we’ve learned so far…
What is Hell Like? It is a place of unquenchable fire, of outer darkness, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, and their worm never dies…
What is the duration and purpose of Hell? It is a place of eternal conscious punishment reserved for the enemies of God…
Where is Hell? The exact location of Hell is unknown but the most prominent theory is that it is below the ground at the earth’s center…
Who all will be in Hell? Hell will be populated by the Devil, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, all fallen angels (demons), and all unsaved people…
Are there degrees of punishment for those in Hell? The Bible is not definitive on this issue, but it does contain hints that suggest this possibility…
The topic today deals with the four different proper names that are translated as Hell in the Scriptures - one in the Old Testament and three in the New. Do these names refer to separate places or all they all names for the exact same place? How are we to understand the nature of Hell in light of its changing and varied titles or descriptions?
So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him. - Genesis 37:34-35
“Oh that You would hide me in Sheol, That You would conceal me until Your wrath returns to You, That You would set a limit for me and remember me! - Job 14:13
The wicked will return to Sheol, Even all the nations who forget God. - Psalm 9:17
Sheol is the Hebrew word that is used throughout the Old Testament to describe the abode of the dead. On a few occasions the word is translated in our English bibles as “hell” but most often it is translated more generally as “the grave”. Jacob, Job, and several other patriarchs who were faithful followers of God spoke of going to Sheol following their death. At the same time, King David declared that the wicked would be condemned to Sheol as well. In light of this, defining Sheol as “the grave” seems more appropriate in that both the righteous and the unrighteous are present there.
I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. - Matthew 16:18
...the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, - Luke 16:22b-23a
Hades is the Greek word used in the New Testament in place of the older Hebrew term Sheol. The fact that these words are substituted for one another reveals their close relationship. Unlike the more inclusive term Sheol, the word Hades is always translated as Hell and applies exclusively to those who die apart from Christ. Therefore, the meaning of Hades is not as broad or expansive as that of Sheol. By reconciling the usage of these two words, it is reasonable to conclude that Hades is a part of Sheol. Since Sheol includes both the righteous and unrighteous, it appears that Hades is that portion of Sheol that contains only the unrighteous.
I believe that this arrangement is described clearly by Jesus in His story about the rich man and Lazarus. In this passage, the Lord tells about two men who died - one who was saved and the other who was lost. Both of these deceased men went to Sheol, or the grave. However, the wicked man was sent to Hades or Hell where he suffered in torment, while the redeemed man went to Abraham’s Bosom where he was comforted (more on this later in the series). These two men, while both in Sheol, were separated by an expansive gulf that divided the two sides.
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment; - 2 Peter 2:4
And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day, - Jude 1:6
Tartarus is another Greek word that is translated as Hell. It is used only once in the Bible in Peter’s second letter and it refers specifically to sinful or fallen angels. Tartarus is a hell that is reserved exclusively for angels that have rebelled against God, and thus it is not populated by humans. Not all fallen angels are currently confined in Tartarus - there are an untold number of demons that daily victimize and badger people on earth. But it appears that some fallen angels have already been consigned to Tartarus. Some Bible scholars propose that those sinful angels who engaged in physical relationships with human women as mentioned in Genesis 6:1-4 were the ones cast into Tartarus. It has been further theorized that Taratus is a distinct area or the lowest pit of Hades.
But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘[You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. - Matthew 5:22
But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him! - Luke 12:5
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. - Revelation 20:14-15
Gehenna is yet another Greek word, most often spoken by Jesus in the gospels, that is translated as Hell. It is derived from “The Valley of Hinnom” which was located just outside of Jerusalem where some of Israel’s ancient kings practiced child sacrifice. Due to its notorious past, this place was considered cursed and was renamed by God “The Valley of Slaughter”. By the time of Jesus, this valley was used as a garbage pit where refuse, waste, and even the unwanted dead were cast in order to be incinerated. Fire burned there continually in order consume the debris. Jesus often used the word gehenna as a apt name for Hell due to the obvious similarity.
The word Gehenna is frequently used with adjectives describing fire or flames. As such, many Bible students believe that Gehenna is the proper name of “the lake of fire” which is mentioned in the book of Revelation. The fires of Gehenna seem to be a good match with the lake of burning sulphur and brimstone found in the closing chapters of the Bible. Based upon my own personal study, I am prone to agree with this identification.
In the end, I offer a final analysis as shown on this downloadable diagram. This viewpoint is a widely accepted explanation that neatly reconciles all three of the proper names for Hell - Hades, Tartarus, and Gehenna. This process is specific and limited to only the unsaved - those who die without a saving knowledge of God. There is some variation of this process for the righteous, which we will discuss later in this series when we talk about Heaven...
Following their physical death, the lost are cast into Sheol (the grave) immediately and are confined in that part of Sheol called Hades which is reserved solely for the unrighteous. Therefore, Hades is the present Hell and is currently being populated.
Tartarus is Hell (or a part of Hell) that was exclusively dedicated for a certain group of fallen angels that committed grave sin and were imprisoned by God some time ago. Thus, it is currently populated but is not being added to.
After the coming millennial reign of Christ at the Great White Throne Judgement, God will throw all of those who are held in Hades (along with the Devil, his demons, and probably all of Tartarus) into the lake of fire which is Gehenna. Hence, Gehenna is the future and eternal Hell which is currently empty but will soon be occupied.
Congratulations! We have made it through the first half of this sermon series. Starting next Sunday we will turn our attention to Heaven and spend the next several weeks discovering what the Bible says about it. Until then, may the Lord bless you!