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The Blue Letter Bible

Don Stewart :: Was the Unseen World Divided into Two Compartments?

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Don Stewart
From the story that Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus, some have seen a division that existed in Hades. They believe Hades was divided into two compartments - the abode of the righteous and the abode of the unrighteous.

Two Compartments?

This theory is as follows: Hades was made up of two compartments - an upper and a lower. The upper level was called Abraham's bosom, while the lower level is the place of torments. The righteous were in the upper level, while the unrighteous exist in the lower. This makes it possible for the ones in the lower level to look up at the ones in the upper. This division existed only before the resurrection and ascension of Christ.

Sheol And Hades The Same

This view identifies Sheol with Hades. According to the Old Testament, both the righteous and unrighteous went to Sheol. Consequently, it is argued, there must have been two compartments of the unseen realm of the dead - one for the righteous and the other for the unrighteous.

Before Christ

Before Jesus Christ came and died for the sins of the world, there was no admittance to heaven for believers. Their sins were not taken away, but merely atoned for, or covered up until He came.

Barrier Removed

The barrier between God and humanity was removed by Christ's sacrifice of Himself on the cross. The Bible says.

For then He would have had to suffer again and again since the foundation of the world. But as it is, He has appeared once for all at the end of the age to remove sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Hebrews 9:26).

Once Christ came and died, the way was clear for believers to enter heaven.

After Christ

Upon His ascension, Jesus emptied the righteous people out of Hades, and brought them into the presence of God the Father. Paul wrote.

This is why it says: "When He ascended on high, He led captives in His train and gave gifts to humanity." (What does "He ascended" mean except that He also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) (Ephesians 4:8-10).

Since the resurrection, the righteous dead are in the presence of the Lord, while the unrighteous dead remain in the place of torments in Hades.

A Reference To These Events?

There are some that see a statement of Jesus in the Book of Revelation as referring to bringing the righteous dead to heaven.

I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18).

They believe Christ unlocked the part of Hades that contained the righteous dead and then brought them to heaven.

Paradise Is Up Not Down

Paradise is now equated to God's presence in the third heaven. Paul wrote of his experience.

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know - God knows. And I know that this man - whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows - was caught up to paradise. He heard inexpressible things, things that people are not permitted to tell (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

When Paul went into the presence of the Lord, he went up, not down. Therefore, this is evidence that Jesus moved people from Hades, which is referred to as being down, to heaven which is always spoken of as being upward.

Not All Agree

Not all Bible students agree with this. They believe that Ephesians 4:8 does not refer to Christ leading the captives from Sheol or Hades into heaven. They see it as referring to Christ's coming to the earth when He became a man. It has no reference to Him going into Hades, or the lower part of the earth.

Sheol Has Many Meanings

In addition, the word Sheol has many meanings. It can refer to the state of being dead, or the grave - it does not necessarily refer to an actual place. In this sense of the term, all humans go there. Hence there is no need to see it as an actual physical place where all the dead went. It is merely symbolic of death.

Abraham's Bosom Not Hades

This perspective would see Abraham's bosom as a separate place from Hades. Jesus taught that Abraham's bosom was far away from Hades, not in it. Abraham's bosom is a figurative way of describing paradise, or the presence of God. Jesus told the robber that was crucified next to Him that they would both be immediately in paradise-not some compartment in Hades.

Immediately To Heaven

The Old Testament saints, according to this view, went immediately to heaven to wait for their bodily resurrection. They will receive their new bodies when Christ returns a second time.

Intermediate State Wonderful For Believers

Both sides agree that the intermediate state is a wonderful place for the believer. They are in a place of peace and rest waiting for further promised events to unfold.

Unbelievers Still Wait

All agree that unbelievers will wait in Hades until the final judgment. At that time, death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire. The Bible says.

And the sea gave up the dead that were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and all were judged according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire (Revelation 20:13).


The two compartment theory teaches that Sheol or Hades was occupied by both believers and unbelievers before the coming of Christ. The righteous and the unrighteous were in two different divisions, or compartments, in the unseen realm. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He emptied out the righteous part of the unseen world and brought believers into the presence of God the Father in heaven. Others, however, do not believe Hades was divided into two compartments. The righteous dead, they contend, went immediately to heaven, while the unrighteous dead went to Hades. Even if there were two compartments in Hades before Christ's coming, they do not exist today. The unbelieving dead still go to Hades awaiting final judgment while believers go to heaven awaiting the resurrection of the dead.
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