Listen:  

Audio clip: Adobe Flash Player (version 9 or above) is required to play this audio clip. Download the latest version here. You also need to have JavaScript enabled in your browser.

This is a pretty controversial question, but we will try to answer your question from the Word of God.  In the New Testament of the King James Version of the Bible, there are two words that are normally translated as hell, but they are not the same thing at all, which can cause some confusion to the person who has no access to a Greek dictionary or a Strong’s concordance.  I will limit my remarks to the New Testament, although there is much value in searching out the Old Testament for corresponding truths and words.

To begin, let’s read Matthew 5:22 which says, “But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.”  The word for hell here is the Greek word ‘Gehenna’.  This actually refers to a place outside the wall of the city of Jerusalem where garbage was burned.  It is said that this fire was never extinguished due to the continuing dumping of garbage there.  The Lord used this word to describe a place of inexhaustible flames for those who refuse Him as their savior.  When the Lord used this word, Gehenna, all the people could relate to His use of the word because they were all aware of this continuing fire on the outside of the city.  The Lord spoke of the unquenchable fire of hell in Mark 9:43 where He said, “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched.”  The Lord spoke of the impending judgment for those that refuse His free offer of salvation in Matthew 23:33, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”  In Mark 9: 44, 46, and 48, the Lord three times describes hell as a place, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”  The word, Gehenna’ is used twelve times in the New Testament to describe hell.

In the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, we find another word translated as hell.  Luke 16:23-24 says of the rich man, “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”  The word translated hell here is ‘Hades’, not ‘Gehenna’.  The Lord again uses this word when speaking to Peter in Matthew 16:18, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”  What is the difference between Gehenna and Hades?  Gehenna refers to an actual place of eternal punishment, and Hades refers to the condition of all those who have died.  While death refers to the state of the body without the soul and spirit, Hades refers to the state of the soul and spirit without the body.  While the rich man in Luke 16 was undeniably in torment and in flames, Hades refers to his condition and not his location.  Using the word ‘Hades, it was said of the Lord Jesus in Acts 2:27, “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.”  We know the Lord did not go into hell after His death, He went to be with His Father as we read in Luke 23:46, “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost.”  Yet, we do find know that His soul and spirit were separated from His body at death, thus Christ was in Hades for a brief time.  For more on this topic, go to our website: www.answersfromthebook.net and type “Does Scripture Teach That Jesus Descended into Hell After His Death?” into the search box.

Hell is the final judgment where all who reject the Lord Jesus Christ will eventually be sent.  The first two people who will be cast into hell are the beast and the false prophet as we read in Revelation 19:20, “And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.”  After that, we read of the devil in Revelation 20:10, “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”  Finally we read of the unsaved in Revelation 20:12-15, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.  And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.”  The word for hell here is ‘Hades’.  So, death, which is the body without the soul and spirit, and Hades, which is the soul and spirit without the body, are rejoined and cast into the lake of fire to be tormented in eternal fire forever.  This is when the lost are cast into Hell.

So, where are those who died without Christ while they await final judgment?  The Bible doesn’t specifically tell us the answer to this question, so we can’t say for sure.  We do know, that they are already being tormented, even as the rich man was in Luke 16.  It would appear that one’s experience in Hades anticipates one’s portion in eternity.  Those who die without faith in Christ experience torment and intense thirst in Hades, while those like the repentant thief who die in Christ experience paradise in Hades, just as Christ did before His resurrection. We read of some of the fallen angels in 2 Peter 2:4 which says, “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.”  The Greek word for hell here is an even different word.  The word is ‘Tartaros’ which means an abyss, or a deep, deep hole.  Perhaps the unsaved are sent here as they also await final judgment.  But, as I said before, the Bible doesn’t say, so we can’t really know.  (84.1)