Let’s understand what the Bible teaches about where our souls go for most of existence. Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has put the concept of eternity into the hearts of all people. “He has built in us a restless yearning for the kind of perfect world that can only be found in his perfect rule.”
Most of us today think of the afterlife as being Heaven or Hell. That is correct. For someone who says, our souls are “obliterated,” guess again. Reincarnation? Becoming a woodpecker in the next life? Guess again.
The Bible mentions Heaven and Paradise. Are they the same thing?
Let’s get these terms straightened out; first we will start with Sheol, Hades, and Hell.
The King James version of the Bible translates all of the terms; Sheol, Hades, Gehenna the same-“hell.” This leads readers to assume they refer to the same place, which is false. The New American Standard Bible differentiates the temporary places “Sheol” or “Hades” from the permanent residence “hell.”
Sheol– 39 books in the Old Testament call the world of the dead as “Sheol” 65 times. Some of these references include Genesis 44:29, Proverbs 9:18, and Psalm 9:17, 86:13, 89:48. “Sheol” is a Hebrew word and means “the grave” or “death.” Psalms 49:15 says, “God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol.” This implies someday, righteous believers will be released from Sheol. It was the place of all those who have departed this life, both unbelievers and believers prior to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It appears to be temporary dwelling place.
Hades– is a Greek word for this world of the dead and appears in the New Testament 42 times. Sheol and Hades refer to the same place. The most inclusive description of Sheol-Hades comes from Jesus Himself in Luke 16:19-31.
Sheol-Hades– Luke 16:19-31 teaches that there are three sections in Sheol/Hades. They are: a) Abraham’s Bosom, b) the Fixed Gulf, and c) the Place of Torment. Abraham’s Bosom is a place of comfort and is known as Paradise. Abraham says to Lazarus in Luke 16:25, “Now is he comforted.” This is the place where righteous, believing souls in the Old Testament went to right after death. This is a place of fellowship, as Lazarus’ companion is Abraham. This points to possibilities of fellowship with all the other saints who have gone on before us. The Fixed Gulf is impassable. People may look over it but not cross it to the other side (16:26). This chasm separates unbelievers from believers. The rich man called Hades a place of torment, the place he went to after he was buried (16:22-23). The rich man is able to see across the Fixed Gulf at Lazarus in his comfort.
Escaping from Sheol-Hades– after the resurrection of Jesus, church age believers don’t need to go to Sheol-Hades. 2 Corinthians 2:5 says that “when we are absent from the body, we are present with Lord.” The Lord Jesus is in heaven at the “right hand of God” (Acts 7:55) and we will join Him there with other Old and New Testament saints. When Jesus was on the cross being crucified, he told the thief who cried out for salvation, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). After he was crucified, Jesus went to the Paradise section in Sheol-Hades, and He was there for three days. Ephesians 4:8-10 says that Paradise is no longer located in Hades, but was taken by Jesus up into heaven. The Paradise section of Hades is now empty, and Jesus snatched the keys of Hades from the hand of Satan (Revelation 1:18).
Why is the Place of Comfort (Paradise) in Sheol/Hades and not heaven in the first place? This is probably related to the fact that the sins of people who lived before the coming of Jesus Christ were not completely atoned for with animal blood (Hebrews 9:9-10). When Jesus died on the cross, He said “It is finished,” meaning that the complete atonement for our sins was done (John 19:30). Immediately after dying, Jesus descended into Sheol/Hades to release all previous Old Testament believers who had been captive there, and brought them to heaven with Him. There is no Sheol or Hades now. Only Heaven (referred to as Paradise), or hell (Gehenna).
When people say that don’t believe in hell, so that don’t need to be “saved,” they are gravely mistaken. In a recent Gallop poll, 53% of Americans said they believe in hell, but 47% of Americans don’t believe in hell. This percent goes down dramatically when the people are highly educated or wealthy. In Sweden, only 17% believe in hell; France-22%, Netherlands- 28%, Great Britain-23%. Incredible. There are 19 references in Matthew, Luke, and John in which Jesus teaches about hell. He refers to hell much more than anybody else does in the Bible. If Jesus spoke of its existence, don’t you think we should take heed?
There is no Purgatory– This concept is not found in the standard Bible that I can find. Purgatory supposedly is a place where men and women go to do penance or suffer for the sins they have committed in order to make them better so they can get into heaven. This appears to be a false teaching as there is nowhere in the Bible that teaches that those in the Place of Torment can bridge over to enter Paradise. Isaiah 38:18 says, “For Sheol can’t praise you, death cannot sing your praise: those that go down into the pit can’t hope for Your faithfulness.”
How to get to Paradise (Heaven)– We are all sinners! The people that go to Hades die in their sins, while those that live in Paradise have been forgiven of their sins during their lifetime and have become “born again believers.” Jesus gave us clear directions in John 14:6 saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” It is only through faith in Jesus and His finished work on the cross can we gain access to heaven, where Paradise is now located. Otherwise, all men and women deserve to go to hell (Romans 3:23, 6:23). But they choose it themselves. We must call on the name of the Lord and be saved as it says in Romans 10:13.
Gehenna– this is a New Testament Hebrew word for hell, which is a permanent, eternal place for dead, unrighteous unbelievers. Jesus used this word 11 times, mostly in the Gospel of Matthew, and James used it in James 3:6. Gehenna refers to the Valley of Hinnom, which was the constantly smoldering, city refuse dump outside Jerusalem. This is a place where fire is never quenched in Mark 9:48; it is also called the Lake of Fire in Revelation 20:14. Not a place to look forward to, if you ask this writer!
Hopefully this blog helped to straighten out some puzzling questions about the “afterlife.”