When hell is not Hell

A few weeks ago on a Bible Study Forum (http://www.preachersfiles.com/forum) we received a question about hell. Basically the question was how can the lake of fire described in the book of Revelation be hell if hell is going to be cast into the lake of fire? It’s true that in Revelation 20:14 (KJV) we read “And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” The person who was asking the question was suggesting that there really isn’t such a place as hell because this verse says that “hell” was going to be destroyed. What would someone say to that?
One must understand that the King James translators didn’t draw a distinction between two Greek words. These words we know today as “Hades” and “Gehenna.” The word Gehenna has a historical reference to a valley on the southwest side of Jerusalem where human sacrifices once occurred. After the Babylonian captivity, the place was deemed unclean and turned, more or less, into a “city dump.” Fires burned there day and night, consuming the waste and the place became metaphoric for the eternal destruction of the wicked.
Rabbinical tradition used this history and the word “Gehenna” to refer to an afterlife of punishment and torment. The Babylonian Talmud refers to the fires of Gehenna as being different from fire created by men. “The fire which we use was created at the close of Sabbath, while the fire of Gehenna was created at twilight on the eve of Sabbath” (Chapter IV, pg. 93, http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t03/psc08.htm). The Talmud also records that wicked men would suffer punishment in Gehenna. “If one is meritorious and righteous, he receives his own portion and also the portion of his neighbor in the Garden of Eden. If he has incurred guilt, he receives his own portion and also the portion of his neighbor in Gehenna.” (Chapter II, pg. 33, http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/t03/hgg03.htm). This is important to understand, because it is in this sense that Jesus speaks about hell (Gehenna) in the New Testament, namely, as place for the wicked (Matthew 5:22, 10:28, 23:33, Luke 12:5).
On the other hand, the word “Hades” is not necessarily used to describe the place of the wicked, but merely the realm of the dead. This is the place that describes where the rich man and Lazarus went after death (Luke 16:23). This word is also used to describe where Jesus went after death in Acts 2:27, 31. We know that Jesus went to paradise (Luke 22:42) and that the rich man was in “torments” (Luke 16:23) yet both of them were in “Hades.” How could this be? It is simply the case that Hades refers to a general place where the spirits of the dead go, not heaven, and not hell either.
So what was it that was cast into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:14? The word in the Greek New Testament is “Hades” not “Gehenna.” Hence, it is perfectly reasonable to understand that “Hades” being the place of those who are dead, is no longer necessary after the judgment as the souls of all men have been resurrected to die no more (John 5:29). So, the place of the dead, “Hades” will be destroyed in that day, along with death itself. However, the place of eternal punishment for the wicked, “Gehenna” is the lake of fire as we see from Revelation 21:8.

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Kevin Cauley

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