Hades and Heaven – Dr. James Emery White Christian Blog
Do you want to see real confusion etched on a Christian face? Tell them that Hades is not the same as Hell and Heaven is not the same as Heaven. Then, just for fun, tell them that when people die they go to Hades or Heaven depending on their relationship with God, but Heaven and Hell (Lake of Fire) don’t come into play. only after the Great Judgment. That the “holding tanks”, if you will, for the actual dead are Hades and Heaven (or the collective Sheol in the Old Testament).
Maybe I just bothered you too.
But it’s true. When it comes to Hell and the Bible, people often confuse Hades with Hell, but they are actually two different places. Before the end times and the Great Judgment, Hades is where those out of relationship with God go when they die. It is a place of suffering and separation from God, but it is not Hell. This is where people go awaiting the final judgment that will come at the end of time for all.
There isn’t some sort of “soul sleep” in the scriptures, and people aren’t destined for Heaven or Hell/Lake of Fire before the Great Judgment, so we’re told they first go to Heaven or Hades after death.
Consider the story Jesus told about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus:
There was a rich man who wore purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his door lay a beggar named Lazarus, covered in sores and eager to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came to lick his wounds.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham in the distance, with Lazarus by his side. So he cried out to him, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in the water and cool my tongue, for I am dying in this fire.
But Abraham replied, “My son, remember that while you were alive you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is here comforted and you are in agony. And on top of all this, between us and you, a great chasm has been dug, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor anyone can go from there to us. (Luke 16:19-26, TNIV)
So, there you have an image of Hades. And where did we go to be next to Abraham? Only where Abraham was.
Jesus was crucified between two criminals. We turned to Jesus, even in his last moment, in faith. The other no. To the one who did it, Jesus said these words: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43, NIV).
As mentioned, in the Old Testament the word Sheol – meaning the place of the dead – was used to encompass both, and that it would be either Heaven or Hades depending on your life choices.
But Heaven itself, as well as Hell, comes later when the places of the dead are emptied and the Great Judgment takes place on all who have lived.
As Jesus taught:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the peoples from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats… Then they [the goats] will go to eternal punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] to eternal life. (Matthew 25:31-32,46, NIV)
It is not that the teaching is disturbing as much as it is confusing or new. We are talking about people going to heaven or hell and people who die in Christ are in heaven. It’s true. But from here to the events that will occur at the end of time – notably the Great Judgment – the dead go to a place that reflects their choice, but precedes the final judgment that will declare their final resting place.
Only for some, unfortunately, it will not involve rest.
If it wasn’t a blog, but rather a tweet, I’d add a hashtag here:
James Emery White
About the Author
James Emery White is the founder and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, and the assistant professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book After “I believe” is now available on Amazon or at your favorite bookstore. To take advantage of a free Church & Culture blog subscription, visit churchandculture.org, where you can view past blogs in our archive, read the latest church and culture news from around the world, and listen to the Church & Culture podcast. . Follow Dr. White on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at @JamesEmeryWhite.