Thursday, March 29, 2012

Hades, Hell, Gehenna, Paradise, Heaven, etc.

This morning I got a great e-mail question from a very bright teen-aged young man I met a few weeks ago...

Where did Jesus' soul go when he died (from Friday to Sunday morning)? The "Apostle's Creed" says he descended into hell. Does that mean literally or figuratively? But, Jesus told the thief on the cross that "Today you will be with me in Paradise." Since he was fully God and fully man, was the human part of him in hell (in our place) and the divine part of him always with the Father in Heaven? Yet, he said, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

(another thing I was wondering: when was hell created? after the fall of Lucifer and 1/3 of the angels? before the creation of man?)

What a great couple of questions! There's a lot that could be said here, but I'll try not to write a whole treatise...

The original word in the Apostle's Creed is the word "Hades" - which doesn't mean hell as you & I think of hell, actually. It basically means "the place of the dead." Before Christ's resurrection, the souls of all the dead were kept there by the Lord... waiting for the great day of judgment. The souls of those who repented of their sins & believed in God's promise of salvation through the Messiah were kept there, as well as the souls of those who remained in their sins. All were in Hades - though it looked very different for the one than for the other. For the one, it's a place of blessing & delight (no more suffering, no more sin - though still with some tension to be resolved because they're waiting for their bodies to be resurrected from the grave & redeemed & reunited to their souls.) For the other, it's a place of torment. And there's a great chasm in between (see Luke 16.22,23).

So, "Hades" (the place of the dead) was very different for one soul than another. When Jesus entered into the curse of death, he really & truly entered into it. His soul was separated from his body (the curse of death!). His soul went to Hades, and his body went into the grave. But his soul was not "abandoned" in Hades, as the Scripture says in Acts 2.31. Nor did his flesh in the grave see corruption.

The Greek word that was used for what we think of as hell - the final place of judgment for those who remain in their sin - is the word "Gehenna." Hades & Gehenna are two different places. The Apostles' Creed can be a bit confusing at this point. I think it's just a matter of how language has evolved over the centuries.

But what did Jesus do in Hades? The Scripture seems to indicate that he declared his victory over sin & death, and led the host of those whom he had just redeemed by his blood out of Hades & into Heaven - where they are now - still waiting for the redemption of their bodies, but now on the other side of the finished work of Christ. And he took the believing soul of that thief on the cross next to him with him into Paradise/Heaven. And he did it that very day, just as he promised.

1 Peter 3.18-22 is one of those texts that seems to have about a half-dozen possible interpretations, but take a look at it with what I've written above in mind, and see if it helps make sense of it.

But the souls of the redeemed now go straight to Heaven... where we wait for the New Heavens & the New Earth, which will be totally free from all aspects of the curse. All will be made new. Renewed bodies on a renewed earth - no sin, no suffering, no death. Revelation 21.

As to the creation of hell... the Scripture says it was prepared for the devil & his angels (Matthew 25.41). So, I would guess maybe it was created after the Fall in Genesis 3.

If you wanted to read a good book on these kinds of things, I would recommend "Body, Soul, & Life Everlasting" by John W. Cooper. But it's some fairly heavy theology. Randy Alcorn's books on Heaven may have much of the same information and be much easier to read... but I haven't read those.

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