About Jesus  - Steve Sweetman

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What Is Hell?

If asked, many of us would have a hard time answering the question, "what is hell"? You might think that the answer to this question is simple, but not necessarily.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word "sheol" is commonly translated as "hell" and "the grave" in the King James Bible. Sometimes it is translated as "pit". Not all translations translate "sheol" in this way. For example, the NIV translates "sheol" as "the grave", not as hell.

Therefore the concept of "sheol" (or hell) that is found in the Old Testament was a place one goes to at death. This place was understood to be a place deep within the earth, the farthest place from Heaven. This was a place where everyone ended up with few exceptions, Elijah being one.

The idea of punishment for sin in Old Testament times was seen in terms of being punished in this life, and therefore "sheol" was not a place for punishment, rather a place for departed souls. Yet in the New Testament this concept of "sheol" changed. "Sheol" became a place where evil or lost souls went, and also a place where demons and evil powers lived.

This brings us to the New Testament concept of hell. There are 2 main Greek words that are translated as "hell" in the New Testament, and they are, "hades", and "gehenna".

The Septuagint is the Old Testament that was translated from Hebrew into Greek Ė what Jesus, Paul and others read. It is interesting to note that the Hebrew word "sheol" is translated into Greek as "hades". Thus in the first century people understood "sheol" in terms of "hades".

As I have said, the Greek word "hades" is translated as hell in many English versions of the Bible, but when understood in context was more than a place where all dead people went. It was a place where the lost dead went and also a place where evil power lived.

The Greek word "gehenna", is the other word that is often translated as "hell". "Gehenna" was a real place just outside of Jerusalem. It was a garbage dump where garbage was burned, thus when people used this word, they pictured a "place of burning", thus a place of punishment. You now see that the New Testament shifts hell from being a place where all dead people go, to a place where the lost dead people go as a place of punishment.

In Eph. 4:10 Paul says that Jesus "descended into the lower parts of the earth". It is thought that at this moment in time Jesus released to good souls from "hades", or "hell" to be with Him in "paradise". Thus at this point it appears that the Old Testament concept of hell changed into the New Testament concept.

In Mat. 27:51 Ė 53 we read that when Jesus died the thick curtain in the temple was ripped in two from the top to the bottom. At the same time it is said that many holy souls rose from the dead. This could easily refer to what Paul spoke about in Eph. 4:10 where Jesus went to the lower parts and released the holy saints of old, most likely from hell.

In conclusion, what is hell? The Old Testament concept of hell was a place, far from Heaven, where all dead people went. Yet at the cross hellís definition changed. Jesus released the good saints from this place, leaving the lost souls with all other evil powers. Hell now is a place where unbelievers go after death.

You might ask, "is hell and the lake of fire the same thing"? It appears to me that hell and the lake of fire are 2 separate things. I say this because in Rev .20:14, "both death and hell were thrown into the lake of fire". If hell was thrown into the lake of fire, then hell and the lake of fire canít be the same thing. Whether the lake of fire is presently in existence, waiting for that day to come, or it is something that God will creates in the future, I am not certain at this moment.

In closing, unbelievers will go to hell at death, while believers will go to parades at death, as did one of the men who died with Jesus. At some future point, all those in hell, along with hell, will be thrown into the lake of fire, while the believers in paradise will find themselves in the New Jerusalem, or the new earth.

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