During the last few posts, I’ve talked about Jesus’ use of the word “Ghenna.” I now want to turn to the way Jesus and the author of the Revelation use another word – “Hades.”
Hades, of course, is a term that is derived from Greek mythology. It describes both the realm of the dead, as well as the person who was recognized as being the god of the dead. Hades the god is also, of course an important Disney villan, which is important to know when you live in a house with lots of young girls.
I don’t want to over-generalize about Hades. After all, it represents a mythology that has existed for hundreds of years, and it has evolved over time. However, generally speaking, Hades was not considered to be a place of punishment. Rather, it was a place that could be characterized as the abode of the dead.
I can readily see how such mythological place would be useful to Jesus in his teachings. Jesus came to earth to talk about newness. A new world. A new birth. New life. God’s new world was on its way, with its ultimate promise of resurrection from the dead – life without death for those who are willing to participate in God’s kingdom.
Like Ghenna, then, Hades is a place for those who are outside. They are those who don’t participate in the Kingdom and therefore find themselves consigned to the realm of the dead.
So when does Jesus use the word Hades? The best example by far is in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16. Here, Jesus tells a story about a rich man who consistently ignored a beggar during his lifetime. Upon his death, the rich man was consigned to Hades (where, incidentally, he did suffer). Interestingly enough, the concept of resurrection figures prominently in this story. Lazarus pleads that he be allowed to leave the realm of Hades to warn his family of the torment that is ahead for those who ignore the plight of the poor, but he is told that his family would not even respond to one who rises from the dead.
In the imagery-rich context of the Revelation, Hades also plays a special role. It always appears with its unholy twin, death. The two of them appear to be fearsome and even unbeatable at times. But we are assured that Jesus can unlock Hades itself (1:18), and in the end Hades and death are destroyed. (20:14).
Up next: God and punishment (eternal or otherwise)