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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: What Is Hades?

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Don Stewart
As the Hebrew word "Sheol" spoke of the state, condition, or place of the dead in the Old Testament, the same is true in the New Testament with the Greek word "Hades."


The word Hades has a number of different meanings in the New Testament.

1. The Grave - The Place Of Bodily Decay

2. The Place Of The Punishment For The Wicked

3. Possibly As A General Term For The Unseen Realm Of The Dead

Hades is always connected with death, never with life. The context will determine its meaning. It does not refer specifically, or exclusively, to the place of punishment. Like Sheol, it is an intermediate place - it never refers to the place of final punishment.

More Fully Revealed By Christ

It was not until the time of Christ that conditions in the afterlife were more fully revealed. The Bible says.

But it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).

The New Testament says the following about Hades.

1. The Grave - The Place Of Bodily Decay

Hades is the place of bodily decay. Peter said the following about the death of Jesus.

"Fellow Israelites, I may say to you confidently of our ancestor David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Since he was a prophet, he knew that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would put one of his descendants on his throne. Foreseeing this, David spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah, saying, 'He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh experience corruption' (Acts 2:29-31).

The grave would have no victory over the Messiah.

2. Place Of Punishment For Wicked

Hades is a place of temporary punishment of the unrighteous dead. Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

In Hades, where he [the rich man] was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.' But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us' (Luke 16:23-26).

Jesus also said.

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? No, you will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty deeds done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day (Matthew 11:23).

3. Place For Righteous Dead?

There is some question as to whether Lazarus and Abraham were in Hades or in heaven. If they were in Hades, they were in a place that was separated from the unrighteous dead.

Hades Opposes Christ's Church

Hades is sometimes used of the powers of death. Jesus said that the forces of Hades would not stop the spread of His gospel.

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it (Matthew 16:18).

In this context, Hades speaks of the realm of the dead -or the grave.

Distinguished From Death

In the Book of Revelation, Hades is distinguished from death.

There was a pale green horse! Its rider's name was Death, and Hades followed with him; they were given authority over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, famine, and pestilence, and by the wild animals of the earth (Revelation 6:8).

Hades Will Be Destroyed

Hades is not a permanent place. It will cease to exist at some future time.

The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them . . . Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13,14).

Because Hades will someday be destroyed, it is not to be seen as the ultimate abode of the unbelieving dead.

Jesus Has The Key

Jesus Himself has the keys to death and Hades.

I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. . . And I have the keys of Hades and Death (Revelation 1:18).

He has conquered death and the grave.

Only Unbelieving Dead

Hades is now a place for the unbelieving dead. The righteous go to be with the Lord when they die, Paul wrote.

Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8).


Hades, like its Old Testament counterpart Sheol, refers to a number of different things. Sometimes it refers to the grave, the place where the dead reside. It also refers to the place where the wicked suffer after death. It may also be a general term for the unseen realm of the dead, but this is not clear. It is never used of final destination of anyone, righteous or unrighteous. Hades will someday end when it is thrown into the lake of fire.
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