Rev. 6:7 – When He opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come!” 8And I looked, and there was a pale green horse. The horseman on it was named Death, and Hades was following after him. Authority was iven to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague, and by the wild animals of the earth” (HCSB).
And Hades was following after him
In close pursuit of Death is Hades. The two are, in fact, inseparable. Hades is the Greek term meaning “the place of the unseen.” It corresponds to the Hebrew word Sheol, or the abode of the dead, and is the typical term used by the Jewish translators of the Septuagint (the Greek Old Testament) in the third and second centuries B.C. Put simply, all people die and go to Hades because all pass from the visible world to the invisible one.
Initially, the Greeks envisioned Hades as a place where good and evil people alike exist as shadowy beings after death. (In Greek mythology, Hades also is the god of the underworld.) In time, the Greeks and Romans came to think of Hades as a place of reward and punishment. This matches well with the Jewish concept of the afterlife because the Old Testament term Sheol and the Greek word Hades can signify the physical grave or death. In Gen. 37:35, for example, when Jacob sees that Joseph’s coat is covered in blood and that his young son evidently has died, he tears his clothes, puts on sackcloth and refuses to be comforted. “I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning,” he says. In Prov. 5:5 and 7:27, Solomon warns his son that a seductive woman’s feet go down to death and her steps head straight for Sheol; in addition, her house is the road to Sheol, descending to the chambers of death. In Job 10:21-22, Job describes his fate as going into the land of darkness and gloom, never to return … a land of blackness like the deepest darkness, gloomy and chaotic, where even the light is like the darkness. Later, the Jews express the belief that Hades is a place of reward and punishment.
Hades in the New Testament
By the beginning of the New Testament era, Hades has three meanings, according to The Holman Treasury of Key Bible Words: (1) death, (2) the place of all the dead, and (3) the place of the wicked dead only. “Context determines which meaning an author intends in a given passage” (p. 297). For example:
- In Matthew 11:23 and Luke 10:15, Jesus speaks of Capernaum descending to Hades because of the people’s unbelief in spite of His convincing miracles. Jesus seems to mean simply that the city will be destroyed, so Hades in this context means death.
- In Acts 2:27, Hades is the abode of the dead. Peter, preaching on the Day of Pentecost, quotes Ps. 16:10, in which David declares, “You will not leave my soul in Hades, or allow Your Holy One [Jesus] to see decay.”
- In Rev. 20:13–14, Hades refers to the place of the dead, because it is emptied of all who are in it at the end of the world. Some would argue that this reference to Hades involves unbelievers only because the righteous dead already have been resurrected and judged at the judgment seat of Christ. In any case, there is a fitting end to Death and Hades. Both are thrown into the lake of fire – Gehenna or Hell – as are those whose names are not written in the book of life (Rev. 20:14-15).
- In Jesus’ parable of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), He uses the word Hades to refer to the place of the wicked dead. There, the rich man is tormented in flames while poor but righteous Lazarus is comforted at Abraham’s side. Some would contend that both Lazarus and the rich man are in Hades, existing in the intermediate state between death and resurrection. According to this view, Hades is divided into two parts separated by a wide chasm: torment, for unbelievers, and Abraham’s bosom / side for believers who, following Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, are taken to heaven, where the souls of New Testament saints are transported instantly at death.
One other note should be made. It’s unfortunate that the King James Version often translates three different Greek words as “hell,” thus creating confusion. The three words are:
- Hades – the abode of the dead, or the abode of the wicked dead.
- Gehenna – best translated Hell or the lake of fire. This word is derived from the Hebrew place-name gehinnom meaning Valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem. It is a place of child sacrifice in Old Testament times (2 Chron. 33:6; Jer. 32:35) and the Jews later use it as a place to dump refuse, dead animals and executed criminals. Fires burn there continuously to deal with the stench and disease. The Jews transfer this imagery to their concept of a place of eternal punishment. Jesus uses gehenna numerous times to describe the eternal state of the unbeliever (for example Matt. 5:22, 29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15).
- Tartarus – a Greek name for a place of divine punishment lower than Hades. Peter uses the term in 2 Peter 2:4 to describe a place where some angels (demons) are “kept in chains of darkness until judgment.”
Death and Hades riding together
Perhaps the most important point to keep in mind here is that Death and Hades ride closely together. Both are consequences of the Fall. All people die physically and spiritually as a result of sin – “For the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) – and Hades waits with his gaping mouth to receive the souls of the departed until they are finally resurrected and judged. The writer of Hebrews puts it well: “[I]t is appointed for people to die once – and after this, judgment” (Heb. 9:27). It is equally important to know that Death and Hades ultimately are cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14). Christ’s finished work on the cross defeats sin and death, and the wrath He bore in our place removes the curse of eternal separation from God. Yes, death breathes down our necks and finally overtakes us, and Hades remains for now as the abode of unbelievers. But these are temporary beasts already defeated by the blood of the slaughtered Lamb. Christ holds the keys of death and Hades (Rev. 1:18), and one day both will be cast into hell (Rev. 20:14).
Next: Authority was given to them (Rev. 6:7-8)