June 16, 2017



If the question is asked: Where do believers and unbelievers go when they die? A quick and somewhat trite response would be … “Believers go to heaven and non-believers to hell.” But as this paper will show, this would generally be very true but rather simplistic. Read on because there are intriguing details to be discovered.

Delving into Holy Scripture we quickly learn that ‘hereafter placement’ is a rather complicated subject. Nevertheless, piecing various passages together a complex but plausible explanation emerges.

In Luke 16 we learn of a certain rich man who died and went to a place of great and immediate torment. The NASB (New American Standard Bible) and other worthy translations call it HADES. Arriving there, he painfully cries out, “I am in agony in this flame” (v24). 

In the same story we also are told about a poor beggar who also died. Interestingly, he was taken by angels to a place called ABRAHAM’S BOSOM. The text does not say he went “up” but rather just names the place. 

And so, to review, there are two men who both die but go to different places. The one is a place of torment. The suffering rich man himself calls it just that..."torment." The other destination is a place of comfort, warmth and safety. Lazarus, the poor beggar, restfully enjoys this! Does not the word ‘bosom’ as in ABRAHAM’S BOSOM suggest just this? A mother’s bosom can surely be described in such a manner. In fact, Abraham in replying to the cries of the rich man informs him accordingly: “He (Lazarus) is being comforted.”  

And so, there are two destinations for these two disparate souls. But, let me ask a probing and curious question: Could the two places in fact be two compartments of the same place?

Ponder the story as it unfolds in sacred Scripture:

 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony” (Luke 16:19-25).

In the version I’ve used, the word HADES is a proper rendition. "In Hades" the rich man cried out. Other versions use the word "hell" but such a translation is a less than accurate rendering. Regarding this, consider this brief explanation: As we commonly think of the endless place of torment for unbelievers, the precise word in the Bible for "hell" is GEHENNA, not the term HADES used in our text. GEHENNA is the place gruesomely described as endless torment, fire and brimstone. Of it Paul, the Apostle, says: Jesus will come with His mighty angels and with fire “dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). This frightening description sets forth the final abode of all who reject the Gospel of Jesus Christ and who suffer, as a consequence, ‘eternal destruction.' Yes, hell is forever. THIS IS GEHENNA and the word is found in such passages as Matthew 5:22; Luke 12:5 and James 3:6. At the end of the Bible it is aptly but horrendously depicted as a “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14,15).

But in our text, Luke 16, a different word is used under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is the Greek word HADES. The rich man died and went to Hades. It seems that at least one compartment of this place is very much hell-like or Gehenna-like but not yet the actual GEHENNA. GEHENNA comes in view much later. All who have not received the gift of forgiveness and everlasting life in Jesus Christ will appear at Christ's Great White Throne Judgment Seat which will be at the conclusion of Christ's 1,000 Kingdom millennium on earth. There unbelievers will be consigned forever to GEHENNA. This truth is set forth in Revelation 20:11-19. In his prophetic vision John declares:

"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and  books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and HADES gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and HADES were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Clearly, a distinction is made between HADES and a LAKE OF FIRE. The latter is GEHENNA. 

But the rich man goes to HADES. It seems that one part of HADES is very much hell-like or Gehenna like. Remember he suffers excruciating pain. The poor man, Lazarus, on the other hand, is in a state of peace and painlessness. Question: Could it be that HADES is compartmentalized? There exists an awful experience for some but a delightful, heaven-like existence for others. Many responsible Bible students think so.

Therefore, HADES may well refer generally to the grave but, more specifically, to two intermediate places or compartments to which departed souls go. One is awful and the other pleasant, and these are the destinations to which the rich man and Lazarus go at their demises. In other words, Hades was very probably divided into two such compartments, one for the saved and one for the lost, and that between the two there was a great gulf fixed. How do we know about such a fixed gulf?

Responding to the rich man’s wails of desperation, Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.” (Underlining is mine.)

Let me ask, does not this open the possibility that before Calvary there existed two destinations for the departed, which nevertheless were in reasonably close proximity? And so, the rich man and Abraham engage in discourse back and forth.

The lost rich man desperately responds, “'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead’” (Luke 16:25-31). This response underscores the immense authority and power of Holy Scripture. The suffering soul is begging for a miracle. If only Lazarus could rise from the dead and go back to the brothers to share the Good News of Jesus. Surely they would believe. But Jesus makes it clear that nothing can supersede the power of the Word of God. It is "quick and powerful." Furthermore, "faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ" (Romans 10:17). In our times many, looking for the spectacular (and please serve it with much hype), underestimate God's ordained means whereby souls are saved. Paul's testimony was: "I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:2-5.

At death every person in the world (except Enoch and Elijah) went to one of the two places comprising Hades. And this, UNTIL the moment of Christ’s death. The believers went to the place of comfort in Hades and the unbelievers to the place of torment. But, during the time Jesus was in the grave SOMETHING VERY SIGNIFICANT HAPPENED! 

While Jesus’ body lay motionless in the grave, His soul (the person Jesus) was very active. This is borne out when Peter preached Jesus at Pentecost (Acts 2). In looking back at Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter said that when He died His soul went to Hades but in doing so was in no way threatened or in danger. He said that God the Father would not “abandon” Jesus’ soul to Hades. This does not mean He would not visit there, but that He would not be permanently consigned or helplessly trapped in Hades. Nor was His body (still in the tomb) going to be subject to corruption. Peter quoted an Old Testament passage to affirm these statements. And while the passage refers to King David it more deeply and prophetically is about Jesus, and this according to the law of double reference. Thus, Peter quoted it when sharing where Jesus went while His body lay in the tomb:

 Jesus is talking and says: “Therefore my heart is glad and my glory rejoices; My flesh also will dwell securely. For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. You will make known to me the path of life. In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever” (Psalm 16:9-11; cf. Acts 2:25-31).

While dead in body, Jesus went to SHEOL! (SHEOL is the Old Testament Hebrew. HADES is the Greek rendering for the same place in the New Testament.) Upon arrival He probably visited both compartments. According to the Apostle Peter he went to the dark compartment of Hades: “For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison” (1 Peter 3:18-19). The context for this Scripture informs us that His soul (‘in the spirit’) specifically addressed the rebellious of Noah’s time. He may have called this particular group out while at the same time all heard His voice. And so, every soul in bad-HADES heard the message of His atoning work for sinners. HE IS THE VICTOR! (If only they had believed and listened to Noah and the numerous Prophets God sent through the ages). 

But then, (and all this while His body lay in the grave), He went to the good side of Hades where Lazarus and all believers resided before Christ’s death. Then, HE DID SOMETHING EVERLASTINGLY SPECTACULAR! 

He led these believing souls out of HADES and upwards to Paradise, or heaven. He would include in this upward miracle the thief that believed on the cross, according to His promise, along with all believers from the ages before the Cross. 

Listen to the Apostle Paul: “When HE ascended on high, HE led captive a host of captives, and HE gave gifts to men. (Now this expression, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, so that He might fill all things)” (Ephesians 4:8-10).
Can we not surmise that after preaching in bad-Hades (“He descended into the lower parts of the earth”), Jesus went to good-Hades, gathered up the saints (the “captivity” – occupying good-Hades throughout Old Testament times) and ascended with them to Paradise (heaven). Since then, all who die in Christ, go to this same place, heaven. Jesus said that He wanted us to be where He is. That means “up,” not down, because in Acts 1 where Jesus’ personal rapture is vividly described, He is seen ascending into heaven, the disciples being in utter awe. “He was lifted up while they were looking on, and a cloud received Him out of their sight” (Acts 1:9).

When Peter confessed Jesus to be “the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus said to him, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven” (Matthew 16:18-19). Notice the verb tense: “shall have been bound in heaven.” Whatever is bound in earth through the preaching of the Gospel, “shall have been bound in heaven.” The power of the “keys” given Peter originates in heaven. These are the Gospel keys. Salvation is of the Lord. It is only logical that those saved by grace through faith in Christ Jesus go to heaven, from whence came the gift Jesus. Again, remember, Jesus declared, “If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3). That place is heaven. Hades was just a place for departed believers until Jesus went there and took them to heaven. What a grand moment that must have been!

In the Ephesians 4 passage, which tells us about Jesus descending into Hades to lead captivity captive, it also says He gave gifts to men. What are these gifts? These are the persons and means by which the Church grows and becomes Christ-honoring. In light of the work of Christ in taking believing sinners to heaven, a great practical appeal is made. We do well to heed it! We are saved not just to go to heaven when we die, but to live for the glory of God until we do. Here are the gifts given: “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-15).

This tells us that, until Christ comes and takes us to heaven, we are to avail ourselves of these gifts in order that we might be equipped for service, built up, unified, growing in the knowledge of Christ, and maturing “to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ.” In other words, until that glorious upward trip to heaven, we have much to do for Jesus’ sake! Jesus said, “Occupy until I come.”

But, I must ask myself the question, am I ready for the hereafter? At death will I go “up” or “down?” All who know Jesus Christ as personal Savior and Lord will go up. He has said “I will receive you unto Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” He also announces this: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26). This is the Gospel appeal. He paid for sinners’ sins on the cross. He took our place that we might be freed from the guilt and penalty of sin. The sinner must believe this, receiving Jesus as personal Lord and Savior.

“The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:8-10).

A dear friend of mine often witnessed to his unsaved dad about life in Christ. His father refused the message and, in fact, told his son that, while he loved him, he didn’t want to hear about salvation in Jesus Christ anymore. Further hope and conversation for his father's conversion were stifled At the same time, the father was a fastidious man. He had an earthquake preparedness kit meticulously filled. But he refused Jesus. He was ready for an earthquake but not for heaven.

So, a vital question for all to consider is: When death claims you, will you go up or down? An old Southern doctor had his office over a drugstore. In front of the drugstore was a sign reading, “DR. RILEY IS UPSTAIRS.” When the old doctor died, after a long life of day and night service for his neighbors, he left no money, not even for his own burial. When they examined his books, they found written over account after account, “Paid off.” When he was buried his friends wanted to put up some memorial or stone on his grave. They had no money for an expensive stone or marker, so they set up over his grave the sign in front of the drugstore. That was his beautiful epitaph: DR. RILEY IS UPSTAIRS.

Will I go up or down when my life on earth ends? The Gospel of Jesus Christ says it will one place or the other. 

-       Dick D. Christen