Hades/Sheol (also distinguished from Kever/Mneema/Grave)

HADES is a Greek word that described the place of departed souls before the judgments in AD 70.  It corresponded to the Hebrew word “Sheol” in the Old Testament and consisted of two parts.  Before Christ’s atonement in AD 30, when the Old Testament people died, they went to HADES/SHEOL.

To assist us, let’s do a brief word study on the word grave and Pit in the Bible, as our English language translations can definitely make things convoluted if we are not careful:

When the OT Hebrew writers wanted to speak of the “grave” where the physical body was put after death, they used the word = Kever (Hebrew spelling for noun form of the word)

When they wanted to speak of where the disembodied “soul” which separated from the physical body at death went, they used the Hebrew word = Sheol

The OT Bible writers do not use the word Sheol and Kever as synonyms, but are clear in their separate and distinctive uses of each word.  Kever is used when speaking of the body, but Sheol is used when speaking of the soul.

  • Gen. 37:35, Jacob says, “‘…For I shall go down into Sheol to my son in mourning’…”
    • Key observation: Jacob believes Joseph was killed, yet clearly refers to him as still being an individual entity, and he clearly believed that he was conscious, and that he would be re-united with him when he left this earthly life.
  • 1 Sam. 28:11-15, 19-20, “bring up Samuel…When the woman saw Samuel…a spirit ascending out of the earth…Saul perceived it was Samuel…Samuel said to Saul, ‘why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?’…Samuel said…tomorrow you and your sons will be with me…immediately Saul fell full length on the ground, and was dreadfully afraid because of the words of Samuel…”
    • Key observation: Samuel was promising Saul that tomorrow he and his sons would physically die in battle, and then their conscious individual disembodied souls would descend into Sheol.
  • Isa. 14:9-10, 19, “Sheol from beneath is excited about you, to meet you at your coming; It stirs up the dead for you…They all shall speak and say to you…”  Vs. 19, “But you are cast out of your grave (Hebrew: Kever) like an abominable branch…thrust through with a sword, who go down to the stones of the pit (Hebrew: Sheol)…”
    • Key observation: Both Kever and Sheol are used in the same verse showing the clear distinction between the physical body which gets put in the ground/grave, and the individual disembodied conscious soul which goes down into an unseen underworld.

The Septuagint, which is a Greek translation of the Hebrew scriptures (OT), never translates the Hebrew word Sheol as the Greek word for grave “Mneema,” but always as Hades, which meant underworld, or the unseen world.  The Greek NT likewise, uses the word Hades when referring to the place of the disembodied souls in the unseen underworld after physical death.

  • Let’s turn to the NT and read Luke 16:20-31, the Lord speaking of the poor beggar Lazarus says, “…the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.  The rich man also died and was buried.  And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom…between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us…”
    • Key observations:
      • This passage provides a clear description of the separated chambers in Hades/Sheol before the resurrection.  One chamber being for the believers awaiting their Savior and their resurrection out from there to receive their new immortal bodies and eternal life in heaven, and one chamber for those unbelievers awaiting the resurrection for their final judgment and condemnation to eternal death. (Matt. 25:34, 41, 46) 
      • A couple of other verses which clearly indicate the individual disembodied conscious soul upon physical death goes down into an unseen underworld:
        • Job 26:5-6, “The dead tremble (The Hebrew word means to twist and writhe with pain), those under the waters and those inhabiting them.  Sheol is naked before Him, and destruction has no covering.”
        • Psalm 116:3, “Compassed me have cords of death, And straits of Sheol have found me, Distress and sorrow I find.” (YLT)
  • Luke 23:43, speaking to the thief beside Him on the cross, “And Jesus said to him, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.’”
    • Key observations:
      •  This passage clearly confirms the individual disembodied conscious soul after physical death, as Jesus’ physical body was laid in a tomb for three days upon His death (Luke. 23:52-55), and yet He promised to the thief on the cross that “today” he would be with Him in Paradise (Abraham’s Bosom: the good side/compartment of Hades/Sheol). 
      • Luke 23:43, in agreement with Luke 16:20-31 we just looked at previously, as well as other scriptures, confirms for us where they went.  Along with the spirit of the thief who was beside Him on the cross, who went with Him that day, Jesus’ disembodied Spirit “descended into the ‘lower parts of the earth’” (Hades/Sheol)(Eph. 4:8-10), where the Bible says that Jesus “preached to the spirits in prison, who were formerly disobedient…” (1 Pet. 3:18-20), as well as preached the gospel to those who were in Abraham’s Bosom/Paradise (1 Pet. 4:6).
      • Also, we read in Acts 2:31, “…concerning the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption.”  This verse shows a clear distinction between Christ’s body which was laid in the tomb, and His soul which went to Hades/Sheol.  Hades, where we just read in 1 Peter He preached to those in prison, as well as to those who were in Abraham’s Bosom.  (In like manner as He did with two of His disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:25-27).

As mentioned above, the O.T. souls of the faithful believers went to the “paradise” part of HADES/SHEOL, labeled “Abraham’s Bosom” by Christ in His parable (Luke 16:19-31).  The O.T. non-believer souls went to the “torment” part of HADES/SHEOL. There was a great gulf between them that no one could cross.

At the Ascension of Christ in AD 30, He brought “paradise” up with Him to the outer courts of heaven (Eph. 4:8-10).  Christ completed His atonement work in the heavenly Holy of Holies and gave the Holy Spirit to indwell His living saints on earth (Acts 1:8-9).

The souls of the deceased saints waited in “paradise” in the outer courts of heaven in a disembodied state, which did not include flesh and blood, but was some kind of bodily form that is not fully described in Scripture.  Those souls of the deceased saints waited there during the transition period until Christ’s second coming Parousia when they returned with Him in AD 66.  Jesus Christ has the keys of HADES/SHEOL and of Death.  He judges all people and determines their eternal destiny.  Apostle John mentioned this:

17And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid; I AM THE FIRST AND THE LAST.  18I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I HAVE THE KEYS OF HADES AND OF DEATH.’” (Rev. 1:17-18).

At the Great White Throne judgment, Christ opened the books and righteously judged each of the non-believer based upon their works.  None of them had their names written in the Book of Life.  They were sentenced to condemnation in their “part” of the Lake of Fire.  Christ also cast Death and HADES into the Lake of Fire at that final judgment in AD 70.

11Then I saw a GREAT WHITE THRONE and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.  And there was found no place for them.  12And I saw the dead’ small and great, STANDING BEFORE GOD, AND BOOKS WERE OPENED.  And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.  AND THE DEAD WERE JUDGED ACCORDING TO THEIR WORKS, BY THE THINGS WHICH WERE WRITTEN IN THE BOOKS.  13The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and DEATH AND HADES delivered up the dead who were in them.  And THEY WERE JUDGED, EACH ONE ACCORDING TO HIS WORKS.  14THEN DEATH AND HADES WERE CAST INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE. This is the second death.  15AND ANYONE NOT FOUND WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF LIFE WAS CAST INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE” (Rev. 20:11-15).

[For a more in-depth study see eschatology “Study Series 3 What Happened in the Garden”]