What is Hell?


Sheol – Hades, 

Gehenna – Lake of Fire


What does the New Testament Scripture mean when it speaks of Hell? What is hell? If when you think of hell, you think of an eternal place of damnation, then you are thinking of Gehenna which is the Lake of Fire. However, if when you think of hell, you think of it as a place where there are already people in torment in flames, then you are thinking of Hades. These are definitely two different places. The confusion lies in our New Testament English translation where we have used the word, “hell,” to translate three different Greek words referring to three different places. The first Greek word is Hades, the second is Gehenna which is the Lake of Fire and the third is Tartarus which is where the fallen angels of Genesis six are held, the angels that left their habitation and procreated with human women. We’re only going to look at Hades and Gehenna which are places that human spirits go after death, but they are not the same place.


So, let’s have a look at Hades first. In the Old Testament the place of the dead is known as Sheol in the Hebrew. This is the place that all the spirits of the dead would go after death, whether they were righteous or unrighteous. In Greek mythology the place of the dead, the underworld is called Hades. In Scripture these are two names for the same place. When the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament, was translated, they translated the Hebrew word Sheol using the Greek word, Hades. So, Hades in the New Testament is equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol in the Old Testament.


We can get a better understanding from the account that Jesus gives of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31. This is not a parable since Jesus never uses proper names in parables. He always uses terms like, the sower, the farmer, the Samaritan, the merchant etc, but in this account Jesus gives the names Lazarus, Abraham and Moses, so this is not a parable but probably an actual account of Lazarus and the rich man. So, Jesus tells the story of a rich man feasting lavishly in his home, clothed in purple and fine linen demonstrating how wealthy he was and outside his gate was this beggar named Lazarus covered in sores and desiring to be fed off the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s tables, and dogs came and licked his sores.


Now Lazarus the beggar dies, and angels came and carried him to Abraham’s Bosom, the rich man also died and was buried. The text then says that in hell (Hades) the rich man looks up and sees Abraham afar off and Lazarus with him, and the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to dip his finger in water to cool his tongue as he is in torment in this flame. Now Abraham responds to the rich and says that there is a divide between us and no one can cross from here to there and neither can they cross from there to here. Now everyone that died before the ascension of Messiah into heaven, went down to Hades/Sheol, the believers to the righteous side called Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise and the unrighteous go into the unrighteous side where the rich man is suffering torment in flames. 

 It should be noted that both the rich man and Lazarus are in Hades or Sheol, in the Hebrew. There is a place for the unrighteous where the rich man is in torment in flames and there is a place for the righteous called Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise; this is a place of rest, peace and tranquillity for the righteous. When Jesus was on the cross, and He said to the thief next to Him, that today you will be with me in paradise, this is the place that Jesus was referring to, the righteous side of Hades or Sheol, Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise, but he was not referring to heaven.


Just for clarity, the rich man was not in the unrighteous side in torment in flames because he was rich, he was there because he did not put his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Now conversely, Lazarus was not in Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise because he was poor, He was there because he had put his faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.


It should be noted that at this point in the story, no one is in heaven with the exception of Enoch and Elijah which God took or translated into heaven. These two are the only exceptions, since all the righteous cannot enter heaven until Christ, the Lamb of God has shed his blood for the removal of sins, since animal blood sacrifices can only cover sins but not remove them. So after Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, when He ascended up into heaven, he took with him all those in Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise, so now the righteous are in heaven, Eph 4:8 which echoes Psa. 68:18. Now when a believer dies, the body goes into the ground but their spirit goes to heaven, however, when an unbeliever dies, the body goes into the ground but their spirit still goes down to the unrighteous side of Hades or Sheol where they will be in torment in flames alongside the rich man.

So, if we are thinking of hell as a place where there are already humans there, then you are thinking of Sheol or Hades, a temporary holding place for the dead. Temporary, as the righteous in Abraham’s Bosom were taken into heaven by Messiah when he ascended into heaven, but those on the unrighteous side where the rich man is in torment in flames remain there until after the thousand-year reign of King Jesus here on earth. Then they are resurrected, judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire – Gehenna.


So now let’s have a look at Gehenna-The Lake of Fire. This is the place Jesus spoke about often when we see Him preaching hell fire in the gospels, or when He says it is better to enter heaven without an eye or a limb then to have your whole body and go into hell (Gehenna), the Lake of Fire. This is the eternal place of damnation, created for Satan and his angels but will also be the final destination for unbelievers.


The Greek word Gehenna is a transliteration of the Hebrew word Ge-Hinnom, meaning the valley of Hinnom. This is a valley in South Jerusalem in which during a part of Israels history, child sacrifices were made to the god Moloch and later it was turned into a rubbish dump where dead animals and rubbish were burned and it seemed that rubbish was always burning, so an association was made between this place of burning rubbish and the eternal place of damnation. 


So, if you are thinking of hell as the eternal place of damnation then you are thinking of Gehenna, the Lake of Fire. Gehenna or the Lake of Fire have no inhabitants at this present moment. In fact, the first inhabitants of Gehenna or the Lake of Fire are the anti-Christ (the Beast) and the False Prophet according to Revelation 19:20. They are the only inhabitants in the Lake of Fire for a thousand years, the duration of the Millennial Kingdom. After the Millennial Kingdom then Satan will also be cast into Gehenna-Lake of Fire. Then the dead, the unbelievers will be resurrected and judged at the Great White Throne judgement and then they will be cast into Gehenna-The Lake of Fire as well for all eternity. This will be the first time that humans inhabit Gehenna, the Lake of Fire.


I hope that helps you understand Hell in the English translation which depending on the context could either refer to Sheol-Hades or Gehenna-the Lake of Fire.


God bless, shalom and let’s make Christianity biblical again.


The Bible

The Place of the Dead; MBS107. Ariel Ministries: www.ariel.org

Fresh Truth

Privacy Settings
We use cookies to enhance your experience while using our website. If you are using our Services via a browser you can restrict, block or remove cookies through your web browser settings. We also use content and scripts from third parties that may use tracking technologies. You can selectively provide your consent below to allow such third party embeds. For complete information about the cookies we use, data we collect and how we process them, please check our Privacy Policy
Consent to display content from Youtube
Consent to display content from Vimeo
Google Maps
Consent to display content from Google