A Special Study by Gareth L. Reese
HADES & THE INTERMEDIATE PLACE OF THE DEAD
The relationship of “Hades,” “Heaven,” “Hell,” and the “Intermediate Place of the Dead" is an issue that has been raised many times by Bible students. The refusal of the King James Version translators to distinguish between the Greek words gehenna, haidēs, and tartarus has led to much confused theology. This study is intended to help readers get a better understanding of this important topic.
I. DEFINITION OF TERMS
The “Intermediate Place of the Dead” speaks of the place (or state) where a person is between his death and the second coming of Christ. It is, of course, a “disembodied state,” since at death the person leaves his body, and the body is buried in a “grave.” Each person will receive a resurrection body when the Lord Jesus returns.
“Heaven” is the place where God dwells. In “Heaven,” with God in the midst, is where the redeemed will spend eternity future.
“Hell” is the final state of the wicked, their place of punishment after the judgment.
The American Standard Version (1901) helpfully distinguished between the different Greek words, using “Hell” to translate gehenna, “Hades” to translate haidēs, and “Hell” to translate tartarus, also adding a footnote that it might be translated “Tartarus” (2 Peter 2:4). Most translations subsequent to the ASV have largely maintained these distinctions.
II. PROPOSITIONThis study will show that “Hades” is (1) not the grave; (2) not Hell; (3) not Tartarus; (4) not Heaven; and (5) not merely the “state” of the dead.
“Hades” will be shown to be (1) a place in the unseen world distinct from Heaven and Hell; (2) having, before the ascension of Christ, two compartments – one of comfort, the other of misery; (3) to which, before Christ’s ascension, the souls of all who died (whether good or bad) were carried; (4) into which Christ, at His death, descended, delivering the souls of the righteous; (5) to which, since the ascension of Christ, the souls of the wicked, and the wicked only, have been consigned; (6) in which they are reserved in misery against the day of general judgment; (7) from which they are then to be brought for public judgment previously to their being cast into Hell.
III. HADES IS NOT THE GRAVE
A. Old Testament references showing that “Hades” is not the grave.
In Old Testament times, the Hebrews had a word for grave (kever), and in at least two instances “Hades” is clearly distinguished from the “grave.” In Genesis 37:35, the word for “Hades” first appears in the Bible, when Jacob declares, “I shall go down into Sheol to my son.” Yet in verse 33 we learn the Patriarch was under the impression that Joseph had not, and could not have, a grave, for he is there represented as exclaiming, “An evil beast devoured him.” Isaiah 14:15 declares that Lucifer (the Babylonian king) shall be “brought down to Hades,” while verse 19 represents him as being “cast out of his grave (kever).”
In the poetical books, “Hades” never occurs in one of two parallel clauses, answering to kever in the other, which shows again that “Hades” and “grave” are not synonymous in the Old Testament.
"Hades” is used synonymously with “nether (i.e., lower) parts of the earth,” and this, too, shows that “Hades” and the grave are not synonymous.
Given the foregoing, it seems reasonable to conclude that, in the Old Testament, the term “Hades” (Sheol) is not used to designate the literal grave.
B. New Testament references showing that “Hades” is not the grave.
In New Testament times, the Greek language had a word for grave (mnēma and mnēmeion), and there are instances in the New Testament that show that “Hades” is clearly distinguished from the grave.
For example, Peter manifestly spoke of both the body and the soul of our Lord, asserting that the body did not see corruption although placed in the grave, and that His soul was not abandoned in Hades (implying, of course, that His soul went to Hades). Unless we adopt the conclusion that the soul sleeps with the dead body in the tomb – a conclusion which is contradictory to the whole tenor of the Word of God – Hades must be a distinct place from the grave.
In the KJV, at 1 Corinthians 15:55, the KJV translators rendered the Greek word haidēs by “grave.” (In the best manuscripts, haidēs does not appear; instead, “death” is the subject of both clauses. See ASV, in loc.) It is true, however, that Hosea 13:14, of which 1 Corinthians 15:55 is a loose quote, has “Hades” (Sheol). Dr. Charles Hodge, who believes “grave” is a proper translation of haidēs, writes, “Here, where the special reference is to the bodies of men and to the delivery of them from the power of death, it is properly rendered ‘the grave.’ The apostle is not speaking of the delivery of souls of men from any intermediate state, but of the redemption of the body.” In reply to Hodge, we agree that it is indeed true that Paul’s special reference in the whole context is to the glorification of the body. But this does not forbid the idea that there should also be a reference to the soul. In the moment of the body’s glorification, and essential to that glorification, the soul is needed to reanimate the body. If indeed there be, or has been, no place of the soul’s imprisonment, of course there can be no reference to such a place. But if there is, or has been, such a place of the soul’s imprisonment, what is more natural than for Hosea 13:14, in view of the redemption of the body, which also involves the complete deliverance of the soul, to reference the deliverance of both body and soul?
It seems evident that the New Testament confirms the teaching of the Old as to the distinction between Hades and the literal grave.
IV. HADES IS NOT HELL
Hades cannot be synonymous with Hell, as is made clear from the fact that, before the ascension of Christ, it is represented as the dwelling place of all the dead (including the righteous dead). Such Godly men as Jacob (Genesis 37:35), Job (Job 17:13), David (Psalm 16:10), and Hezekiah (Isaiah 38:18) all expected to go to Hades. If these worthies went to Hades, so did all the rest of the righteous of the Old Testament age. In Genesis 49:33, we read of Jacob, one of the righteous of the Old Testament age, being "gathered to his people.” This language is not speaking of burial. Jacob was “gathered to his people” immediately upon his death, but he was not buried till long after (Genesis 50:13). If he went to Hades, and if “gathered to his people,” the people must have been in Hades also.
A further indication that Hades is not Hell is the fact that, in Revelation 20:14, Hades is spoken of as being cast into Hell (the lake of fire). It is not possible for Hades to be Hell, and be cast into Hell, too.
The everlasting destruction threatened in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is to be inflicted after the second coming of Christ (i.e., after the Judgment). The ungodly do not go to Hell until after that Judgment. Those who go to Hades before the Judgment cannot, therefore, be in Hell. Here is another indication that Hades and Hell are not synonymous.
V. HADES IS NOT TARTARUS
A. 2 Peter 2:4
“Hell” in 2 Peter 2:4 is a translation of the participle tararōsas, i.e., “cast down to Tartarus” (cp. ASV margin). The verse reads, “… God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (Grk., tartarōsas) and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” Fronmüller, in Lange’s Commentary, writes,
… Grotius rightly remarks that [tartarōsas] denotes in Classic Greek, ‘to cast down into Tartarus,’ not ‘to condemn to Tartarus’ ... It is [parallel to] abussos, while haidēs describes the abode of the dead in general, and gehenna denotes the final place of punishment, the lake of fire …Consequently, [Tartarus is] the preliminary place of confinement … of spirits, similar to what Sheol [i.e., haidēs] is for men.
Tartarus is rightly understood to be the place of detention of wicked angels (i.e., the Devil and his demons) until the Judgment.
B. The Abyss and Tartarus May Be Synonymous
From the way the word “abyss” is used, it appears that it is but another name for the preliminary place of confinement of the evil spirits. In Luke 8:31, where the legion of demons is cast out from the possessed man in the country of the Gadarenes, the evil spirits are represented as beseeching our Lord “that He would not command them to go out into the deep” (Grk., abusson, abyss). If the abyss is a preliminary place of confinement, their request is easily understandable.
In Revelation 9:1-3, when the angel opens the bottomless pit of the abyss, out come the Devil’s helpers (called locusts in this vision).
In Revelation 17:8, reference is made to a beast that ascends out of the abyss, and who is destined to go into perdition (Hell).
In Revelation 20:3, Satan is represented as being shut up in the abyss for 1,000 years; after his imprisonment he is loosed again for a little season, and then (verse 10) is cast into Hell.
These passages indicate that the abyss is a preliminary place of confinement of evil spirits, and therefore is synonymous with the “Tartarus” of Peter’s epistle.
C. Tartarus is Not the Same as Hell
In the Old Testament there is occasionally and dimly set forth the existence of a place of darkness and woe (other than Hades) – called in Hebrew abaddon, and translated “Destruction” or “Abaddon.” Job 26:6 says, “Sheol (Hades) is naked before God, and Abaddon hath no covering.” Job 28:22 reads, “Destruction (abaddon) and death say, ‘We have heard a rumor thereof with our ears.’” Job 31:12 speaks of “a fire that consumes unto destruction (abaddon).” Psalm 88:11 also speaks of abaddon in these words, “Shall lovingkindness be declared in the grave? Or thy faithfulness in Destruction (abaddon)?” Proverbs 15:11 declares that “Sheol and Abaddon are before Jehovah ....”
The book of Revelation shows that Abaddon (Grk., apōleia, destruction) is but another name for Hell, and that the “abyss” and “Abaddon” are different places.
- In Revelation 17:8, reference is made to a beast that ascends out of the abyss and who is destined to go into perdition (apōleia). In Revelation 19:20, this beast is represented as being cast into the lake of fire, and manifestly this lake of fire (Hell) into which the beast is cast is the apōleia into which he was destined to go.
- In Revelation 20:3, Satan is represented as being shut up in the abyss for 1,000 years. After his imprisonment, he is loosed again for a little season, and then is cast into “the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and false prophet are” (verse 10). Then follows the account of the general judgment (verses 11-13), after which “death and hades” (i.e., those detained in them) were to be cast into the same lake of fire (verses 14-15). It seems this “lake of fire” (Abaddon or destruction, apōleia) is Hell, regarded as the place of final and everlasting punishment of devils and wicked men.
In view of the use of abaddon in the Old Testament and apōleia in the book of Revelation, may there not be some reference to the place of final punishment when Jesus says (Matthew 7:13), “Broad is the way that leadeth to destruction (apōleian)”?
Other verses where apōleia speaks of the place of final punishment are Romans 9:22; Philippians 3:19; Hebrews 10:39; 1 Timothy 6:9; 2 Peter 2:1,3 and 3:7.
Since Tartarus (viz., abyss) and Abaddon (i.e., destruction, the place of final punishment) are different places, the conclusion seems inevitable that Tartarus (viz., abyss) is not the same as Hell. Therefore, we should follow the marginal reading at 2 Peter 2:4 and rightly conclude that Tartarus is the preliminary place of confinement of evil spirits.
D. Hades is Not Synonymous with Tartarus
Hades cannot be synonymous with Tartarus. While men go to Hades, there is no evidence that men go to Tartarus.
- In points III and IV above, it has been documented that in Scripture men are represented as going to Hades.
- That men evidently do not go to Tartarus is established by the context the only time tartarōsas appears in the New Testament. In 2 Peter 2:4, the apostle is proceeding to prove that wicked men and false teachers shall be punished, and he does so using three examples: the angels that sinned, the wicked world at the time of the flood, and Sodom and Gomorrah. In the case of the angels that sinned, neither their former rank, their dignity, nor their holiness saved them from being thrust into Tartarus. If God punished the angels so severely, then false teachers could not hope to escape. Likewise, when God cut off the wicked race in the time of Noah, He showed the world that He punishes the guilty. And by saving of Lot out of the midst of Sodom and Gomorrah, we see that God makes a distinction between the righteous and the wicked; while the wicked will be destroyed, the righteous will be saved. In verse 9, Peter then draws his conclusion: “The Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptation, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment unto the day of judgment.” When commentators attempt to make Peter say that God is “confining wicked men in Tartarus” (as well as confining wicked angels there), they are missing the point of Peter’s argument. In chapter 2, Peter is affirming that God knows how to punish the wicked, but Peter says nothing about where wicked men are to be confined to await judgment.
We have thus shown that Hades is probably not synonymous with Tartarus.
VI. HADES IS NOT HEAVEN
This is evident from the following:
- God, angels, and Christ (save during the time between His death and resurrection) never are represented as abiding in Hades. Therefore, Hades and Heaven are not the same, for God is often represented as abiding in Heaven.
- Hades is distinguished from Heaven. It is placed in antithesis to Heaven in multiple passages (e.g., Job 11:8; Psalm 130:8; Amos 9:2). The approach to Hades is a descent (Numbers 16:33), whereas the approach to Heaven is an ascent (Acts 1:11).
- Hades is always spoken of as a place to be delivered from (Psalm 49:15-16, 16:10; Hosea 13:14).
The New Testament teaching accords with the Old Testament teaching. When our Lord referred to the condition of Lazarus, He did not speak of Lazarus as enjoying the fulness of His Father’s house, but as being “comforted” (Luke 16:25), a term never used in reference to the joys of Heaven. When Paul spoke of the condition of the Old Testament saints previous to the ascension of Christ, he highlights the incompleteness of their blessedness (Hebrews 11:39-40).
The key argument, however, that Hades is not Heaven is found in the fact of the deliverance of the righteous from Hades at the resurrection and ascension of Christ (see point VIII below).
VII. HADES IS NOT MERELY THE “STATE” OF DEATH
The opinion that Hades is merely a state or condition, and not an actual place, is widely held in theological circles. The primary basis for this opinion is the difficulty of harmonizing those Old Testament texts which speak of the righteous going to Hades with those New Testament texts which, on the one hand, declare that the righteous are taken to Heaven and those, on the other hand, which declare that Hades will be cast into the lake of fire. (Point VIII gives a better way to harmonize these texts rather than saying that Hades is only a “state.”)
Every Scripture we have discussed that speaks of Hades treats it as a place, not merely as a state or condition. Certainly, the state or condition of things in Hades is different than the state or condition of things we are accustomed to here in this life on earth. But Hades is not just the “state” of death; it is a place.
VIII. HADES IS A PLACE IN THE UNSEEN WORLD DISTINCT FROM HEAVEN AND HELL
A. Before Christ's Post-Resurrection Ascension
Previous to the death of Jesus, there are several allusions to what is called the “intermediate place of the dead.” At death, good and bad alike went to Hades.
- That the wicked went into Hades is shown by the fact that the rich man after death was in Hades, being in torment (Luke 16:23).
- That the righteous were also in Hades prior to Christ’s ascension is shown by the previously cited Old Testament passages which speak of the righteous going to Hades at their death.
Jesus’ conversation with the penitent thief is crucial to our understanding of this topic of Hades and the intermediate place of the dead. While on the cross, Jesus said to the penitent thief, “Today you shall be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). Yet Acts 2:27-32 indicates Christ was in Hades while His body was in the grave. We also know that Christ did not go to the Father (in Heaven) while His body was in the grave because on the day of His resurrection He said to Mary, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father” (John 20:17). If Jesus went to Paradise as He told the thief He would, yet was also in Hades as Peter says He was, it would seem that before the ascension Paradise was a compartment of Hades.
Previous to the post-resurrection ascension of Christ (John 20:17), Hades had two compartments – one of comfort, the other of misery – to which the souls of all who died, righteous and wicked alike, were carried.
B. Christ's Descent into Hades
Ephesians 4:8-9 indicates that Christ, between His death and resurrection, delivered from Hades a captivity detained therein. The verses read, “Therefore it says, ‘WHEN HE ASCENDED ON HIGH, HE LED CAPTIVE A HOST OF CAPTIVES, AND HE GAVE GIFTS TO MEN.’ (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth?)”
- None deny that the place to which the Lord “ascended on high,” leading “captivity captive,” was Heaven. This ascension took place on the day of the resurrection. (Compare John 20:17, where Jesus said, “Stop clinging to Me, for I have not yet ascended to My Father” and Matthew 28:9, where the women “came up and took hold of His feet.” These verses suggest Jesus ascended to the Father and returned in the time between the appearance to Mary Magdalene and the appearance to the women who were on their way back to Bethany).
- In point IIIA, it was noted that the “lower parts of the earth” and “Hades” are synonymous terms. It was evidently while He was in Hades that Peter records that Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison” (1 Peter 3:19).
- The “captivity” which our Lord delivered from Hades and took with Him to Heaven consisted of the righteous dead. Based on Scriptural usage elsewhere, it seems that the phrase “led captivity captive” has reference to the deliverance of captured friends. Compare Judges 4:16 with Judges 5:12. The first declares that Barak took no prisoners; he annihilated the enemy. So the captivity that Barak led (5:12) must have been Israelites that he had delivered from the enemy – Israelites who had, previous to their deliverance, been captured by the enemy. See also Psalm 68:18.
This, then, is the Scripturally suggested interpretation of Ephesians 4:8, 9 – after His death, Christ descended into Hades, and then ascended into Heaven, leading a multitude of the souls of the righteous whom He had delivered (i.e., captured) from captivity.
Since the souls of the righteous were delivered from Hades by Christ after His death, it stands that Hades no longer has two compartments.
C. Since Christ's Ascension
Since the ascension of Christ, the souls of the wicked, and the wicked only, have been consigned to Hades. In fact, every time the word Hades is used in the New Testament following the ascension of Christ, it speaks only of the wicked. See passages such as Revelation 20:14 where Hades (and those detained therein) are cast into Hell.
That Hades now has only one compartment (that of misery) is also shown by the fact that since the ascension of Christ, the righteous, at death, go to be with the Lord.
- Numerous Scriptures show that Christ is presently in Heaven, at the right hand of the Father.
- Numerous Scriptures also show that, now that Christ has ascended, when the righteous die they go to be with Christ. 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, “To be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” Philippians 1:23 has “To depart and be with Christ.” 2 Corinthians 12:1-4 talks about “caught up to the third heaven ... caught up into Paradise.” Revelation 6:9 shows that, before the judgment (verse 16), souls are under the altar. The souls under the altar are martyred saints, and are in Heaven while righteous men are still on the earth. 1 Thessalonians 4:14 implies that the righteous dead are with Christ, for when Christ returns He will bring the souls of the righteous dead with Him, so that they may receive their resurrection bodies.
Hades no longer has two compartments, for the righteous have been delivered from it. Paradise was the abode of the righteous in Hades until the ascension of Christ., but at the ascension it was moved to Heaven. Hades has only one compartment now. Thus, since the ascension of Christ, only the souls of the wicked have been consigned to Hades.
The Scriptures indicate that Hades (after the ascension) is a place of misery, from which the wicked are to be brought for public judgment previous to their being cast into Hell (Revelation 20:13-14, etc.).
Hades is a place in the unseen world, distinct from Heaven and Hell. Before the ascension of Christ, Hades had two compartments – one of comfort, the other of misery — to which the souls of all who died were carried. At His death, Christ descended to Hades, delivering the souls of the righteous. Since the ascension of Christ, the souls of the wicked, and the wicked only, have been consigned to Hades, in which they are reserved in misery against the day of general judgment. At the final judgment, the wicked will be brought forth from Hades for public judgment previous to their being cast into Hell.
Since the ascension of Christ, the righteous at death go to be with the Lord in Heaven, but do not enjoy all the bliss they shall have after the Lord returns, for until His return, they are disembodied spirits. Once Christ has returned, and the righteous have received their resurrection bodies, then they will, upon their return to Heaven, be able to enjoy Heaven to its fullest.
Some object to the conclusion that the righteous dead now go to be with Christ in Heaven, and that the wicked are in Hades (ultimately to be cast into Hell), since this seems, in their thinking, to do away with any need for a final judgment. However, the Bible never did teach that the purpose of the final judgment was to determine where eternity would be spent. Luke 16:19ff indicates that a person knows his eternal destiny the moment he dies! The final judgment then is “the final vindication of God for the rewards and penalties already in part bestowed.” That is, the purpose of the final judgment is to determine why one is to spend eternity where he does, and to show that God is absolutely just in His dealings with each individual.
This chart is intended to help visualize what has been set forth in this Special Study.