Much thought is given by believers as to what happens to their soul when they die. Does the soul go directly to heaven, or does it go to an intermediate place called “Hades” (hell in the KJV)? The answer one might receive to this question would depend on who he asked! Some would answer, “Yes, the soul goes directly to heaven.” Others would respond, “No, it goes to a place called “Hades.” Is there a definite answer to the question or is it in the realm of a mystery God will unfold at some later time? We believe it belongs in the realm of “things revealed” and “the things that are revealed belong unto us and to our children forever” (Dt. 29:29).
Both “heaven” and “Hades” are items the Bible affirms as existing places. Jesus spoke both of heaven and Hades as real places. Sometimes Jesus used the word “heaven,” but sometimes He alluded to it in other terms. In John 14:1-3 He referred to heaven as “my Father’s house.” What did He say about both heaven and Hades?
First, Jesus said during His personal ministry that until that time no one has ascended into heaven: “And no one hath ascended into heaven, but he that descended out of heaven, even the Son of man, who is in heaven” (Jn. 3:13). So, from the world’s creation to the time when Jesus walked on the earth, souls of righteous men DID NOT go to heaven. Jesus was equally clear where souls DID GO when death occurred: Hades. In the account of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16), Jesus pointed out that both were in the same realm, though separated by a great gulf (Lk. 16:26). The rich man lifted up his eyes in Hades and saw Lazarus afar off in Abraham’s bosom.
The Holy Spirit identifies “Sheol” in the Old Testament with “Hades” in the New Testament. In Psalm 16:8-10 David wrote, “I have set the Lord always before me: because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved. Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoiceth: my flesh also shall dwell in Safety, for thou wilt not leave my soul in Sheol: neither wilt thou suffer thy holy one to see corruption.” It was to this passage Peter turned when he proved his affirmation “whom (Jesus) God raised up, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible that he should be holden of it” (Acts 2:24). In Peter’s quotation of David, the word “Sheol” is not found. In its stead is the word “Hades.”
A number of observations need to be made regarding this passage and Peter’s use of it.
Peter affirms that David was not prophesying about himself. He was speaking of his offspring, the Messiah, who was to come. Peter contrasts the fact that David said God would not allow His holy one to see corruption, yet David’s tomb had held his earthly remains for 1,000 years — even until the time when Peter spoke! Notice Peter’s words: “Brethren, I may speak unto you freely of the patriarch David, that he both died and was buried; and his tomb is with us this day. Being therefore a prophet and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his loins he would set one upon his throne; he foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus did God raise up, whereof we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:29-31).
From the reference that Peter makes to Psalm 16, he identified the “Sheol” of the Old Testament with the “Hades” of the New. Sheol is the Hebrew word; Hades the Greek, and both refer to one place — the place where spirits go at death to await a reunion with an incorruptible body.
Jesus went to Hades. God would not leave His soul there, but it had to be there at one point, or else it could not be left there. Although Jesus did go to Hades, He called it Paradise. He promised the thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43). Jesus “went to Paradise.” His soul was not left in “Hades.” Peter refers to the same place. Likewise, “Paradise” and “Abraham’s bosom” are the same.
So far, in our study of the word we have learned that Hades and heaven are real entities. But until the time of Jesus’ personal ministry, no one had gone to heaven. Both the righteous and unrighteous had gone to Hades, although to different places.
NEXT: Did Jesus empty “Hades” of the righteous after His resurrection and they are now in heaven with Him?