Heaven and the Underworld

Often in the English translations of the Bible certain Greek words such as “hades”, “gehenna” and “tartarus” all get translated as “hell.”

Here is a quick discussion of some places mentioned in the Bible.

On the cross Jesus told the thief, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” According to Jesus’ teaching and the contemporary understanding of the concept, the righteous people died and went to paradise, or Abraham’s side. All the believers in the Old Testament times went to the underworld which is in the heart of the earth.

The Old Testament writers talked of descending to Sheol (a Hebrew word) at their death. The Greek word for Sheol is Hades. Jesus describes two compartments of Hades in Luke 16:22-28. The poor man went to Paradise in Hades, while the rich man went to a place of torment in Hades. Often Hades is called Hell, but there is a problem with identifying Hades as Hell for in Revelation 20:14 Hades is thrown into the Lake of Fire. The word for Lake of Fire is “gehenna” which is correctly understood as “Hell” or the place of eternal damnation.

Two other words are Abyss and Tartarus. The Abyss appears to be a place that demons are sent and locked up. Demons begged Jesus not to send them here in Luke 8:31. Satan will be sent here during the one thousand year millennium.

Peter refers to Tartarus as a place where rebellious angels are locked up in 2 Peter 2:4. In writings outside of scripture Tartarus is also a place for fallen angels. Tartarus was a part of the murky Abyss beneath Hades.

In the Old Testament all men went to Sheol/Hades when they died. The believers went to paradise in Hades; non-believers to the place of torment in Hades. After Jesus’ resurrection paradise was taken into heaven along with all who were part of it (Rv. 2:7; Ep. 4:7-10). Today believers in Jesus Christ go immediately into the presence of God in Heaven. At the Great White Throne Judgment of Rev. 20 the place of torment in Hades is thrown into Hell (“gehenna”) forever.