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  • Writer's pictureSteve McAtee

Biblical Vocabulary for Places of Punishment

Updated: Feb 9, 2021

Day 22 of the 24 Day Prophecy Study

Notes compiled by Steve McAtee and Marty Zide


The English word “Hell” is an umbrella term that is translated by several different words in the English Old and New Testament.

Hell is a place of conscious torment for the wicked dead. It’s a very general term that refers to all places of torment. Hell, although usually thought of as the eternal abode of the lost, seems best to be seen as the temporary holding place of the wicked until they are resurrected to meet the Lord Jesus at the Great White Throne Judgment.

It must be understood that no one volunteers to go to hell, even if people say, “ it’s ok, all my friends will be there.” People are sent there. Lost people are thrown into the Lake of Fire according to Rev. 20:14.

The Abyss (“Pit or Bottomless Pit”) (only for Satan and the fallen angels)

Abyss is often translated “pit” or “bottomless pit.” Currently, there are some fallen angels that are imprisoned in the abyss. It seems, however, that the vast majority of demons are still free-roaming, but, they do not like the possibility of being thrown into the abyss.

Luke 8:30 - 31 - And Jesus asked him (a demon-possessed man), What is your name? And he said, Legion; for many demons had entered him. They were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss. Although most demons are currently free to roam around the earth, some demons are currently in the abyss.

Some of the fallen angels who are currently in the abyss (Tartarus) are those who left their first estate and cohabited with women during the days of Noah prior to the flood. Most likely other demons have been added over the course of time.

Gen. 6:1-2 - Now it came about, when men began to multiply on the face of the land, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves, whomever they chose.

2 Pet. 4 - For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (Tartarus) and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.

Jude 6 - And angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode, He has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day.

Most likely other demons have been added to the abyss over the course of time. But, the original ones who were placed here who left their first estate, are in eternal bonds until they are judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire. Some of the demons in the abyss may be released during the tribulation period to reek havoc during that time.

Rev. 9:1-3 - Then the fifth angel sounded, and I saw a star from heaven which had fallen to the earth; and the key of the bottomless pit was given to him. He opened the bottomless pit, and smoke went up out of the pit, like the smoke of a great furnace; and the sun and the air were darkened by the smoke of the pit. Then out of the smoke came locusts upon the earth, and power was given them, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

The abyss is where Satan, along with the current free-roaming demons will eventually be cast. They will be thrown into the abyss after the second coming of Jesus to the earth, before the establishment of the millennium.

The abyss is the temporary holding place for fallen spirit beings. Ultimately they will be judged and thrown into the Lake of Fire.

Rev. 20:1-3 - Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time.

Sheol/Hades (most commonly referred to as hell) (only for the souls of humans)

We now enter into the Bible’s teaching on the intermediate state. There may not be as much information as we would like to have on this subject, and as a result, different teachings have arisen. One thing we know for sure since the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, all true believers upon death immediately enter into the presence of the Lord.

Sheol comes from the Hebrew language and Hades is from the Greek language. Both words speak of the place of departed human spirits. It seems that before the resurrection of the Lord Jesus the souls of all humans (saved and unsaved) went immediately to Sheol/Hades upon physical death. This is what most people would think of as “hell.”

The souls of the unsaved will remain in Sheol/Hades until they are resurrected to meet the Lord Jesus at the Great White Throne Judgment. After they are judged, they will be thrown into the Lake of Fire for all eternity. Sheol/Hades, or “hell” is the temporary holding place for human spirits until the final judgment.

Who are the inhabitants of Sheol/Hades ?

The Wicked

There are a number of references in Scripture that clearly states that the unsaved enter into Sheol/Hades at the time of their death.

Psa. 9:17 - The wicked will return to Sheol, Even all the nations who forget God.

Psa. 31:17 - Let me not be put to shame, O Lord, for I call upon You; Let the wicked be put to shame, let them be silent in Sheol.

Luke 16:22-23 - ...the rich man also died and was buried. “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment...

The Righteous

Jacob expected to go to Sheol when he died and be reunited with his son Joseph, whom he believed was dead. King Hezekiah anticipated entering into Sheol when he died.

Gen. 37:35 - ...And he (Jacob) said, Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son. So his father wept for him.

Isa. 38:9-10 - A writing of Hezekiah king of Judah after his illness and recovery: 10 I said, “In the middle of my life I am to enter the gates of Sheol...

Ps. 139:8 - If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.

Psa. 49:15 - But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, For He will receive me.

It seems that there has been a change in Sheol/Hades since the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus, but more on that later.

The Different Compartments of Sheol/Hades

Some believe the Bible teaches that Sheol/Hades was compartmentalized. Originally, there were two main compartments, one for the wicked, simply call Sheol/Hades and one for the righteous, called Abraham’s Bosom. Scripture speaks of different levels in various places. If that is the case I believe that there has been a change in Sheol/Hades since the resurrection and ascension of the Lord Jesus.

Lowest Sheol

Deut. 32:22 - For a fire is kindled in My anger, And burns to the lowest part of Sheol, And consumes the earth with its yield, And sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.

Psa. 86:13 - For great is your love toward me; you have delivered me from the depths of the grave.

The Conditions of Those in Sheol/Hades

The wicked who are still there are in conscious torment. The righteous were at peace, but are now in the third heaven.

Scripture teaches that all who go to Sheol/Hades are able to recognize others, able to speak, remember, know things, hear things, experience pain, thirst, worry, bliss, peace, along with other abilities. It all depends on which side of Sheol/Hades one went to.

Luke 16:23-25 - 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.

Sheol/Hades is the place where the wicked are in torment, waiting for the time when they will be resurrected to face God’s judgment at the Great White Throne. The righteous, on the other hand, experienced peace and rest.

The Present Condition of Sheol/Hades

As a result of the resurrection and ascension of Christ, reorganization took place in the intermediate state. There was a removal of all the righteous from the upper part of Sheol/ Hades, and its gates were barred to the entrance by any saved soul thereafter. From this time on paradise is above where Christ is, and the spirits of all the saved go to be with Christ at the moment of death. Herman Hoyt

In this theory, Paradise was formerly the upper compartment of Sheol/Hades where Jesus, Lazarus (the poor man), the repentant thief on the cross, as well as all those who died before the crucifixion, went to at the time of death. Paradise was transferred from its’ former location to the third heaven.

2 Cor. 12:1-4 - I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a man was caught up to the third heaven. And I know how such a man —whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, God knows—was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which a man is not permitted to speak.

When an unsaved person dies, they still go immediately to Sheol/Hades waiting for their time to face judgment before the Great White Throne, ultimately to be thrown into the Lake of Fire. When a believer dies, their spirit goes directly to heaven to be with the Lord Jesus for all eternity.

Acts 7:59-60 - They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit! Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, Lord, do not hold this sin against them! Having said this, he fell asleep.

2 Cor. 5:8 - we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.

Phil. 1:23 - But I am hard pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.

Gehenna (most commonly referred to as the Lake of Fire) (for all the unsaved, as well as Satan & the demons)

Over the last thirty years or so, there has been a vigorous debate within the evangelical church over what happens to those who die who are not saved. Some have come to question the Bible’s teaching on eternal torment and have opted to believe in things that the Word of God does not teach.

False Views of Eternity For the Unsaved

Pluralism - All religions make it possible to be rightly related to God. Universalism - All will be saved through Jesus Christ, but there are several ways that this is accomplished. Annihilationism - All those who die in an unsaved state will ultimately come into a state of non-existence. They will not suffer for eternity in the Lake of Fire.

The Scriptures are very clear on this subject as we will see. They teach that if one dies without repenting of their sins they will spend eternity in the Lake of Fire.

Gehenna or the Lake of Fire is the place of eternal punishment for the unsaved. Sometimes Gehenna is translated by the English word “hell.”

Mark 9:43, 45, 47 - If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell.

Those in the Lake of Fire will have some kind of resurrection body suited for eternal torment which will not be able to be consumed.

Rev. 20:13 - 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. They will be resurrected to face the Lord Jesus at the Great White Throne Judgment. It is at this time that they will receive their body fitted for eternal torment.

The New Testament Use of the Word Gehenna

The word “Gehenna” is used 12 times in the New Testament. Only one time is it used by someone other than Jesus. To deny this teaching would put anything else that Jesus taught in suspect. Only James 3:6 uses the word Gehenna to describe the negative effects of a tongue that is out of control.

The Condition and Descriptions of Those Who Are In the Lake of Fire

accursed condemned the second death objects of God’s wrath perishing separated from God shame excluded from heaven outer darkness weeping gnashing of teeth torment unquenchable fire brimstone

Taken together, these characteristics and descriptions are most sobering. We should diligently witness to those who are still lost and be grateful if we are saved.

2 Pet. 2:17 - These (apostates) are springs without water and mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved.

Matt. 25:30 - Throw out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Rev. 14:9-11 - Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.

Degrees of Punishment for Those Who Are In the Lake of Fire

Although all sin is wrong, the Word of God does teach that some sins are worse than others. While the basis for entrance into the Lake of Fire is the rejection of the Lord Jesus as Savior, one’s deeds seem to play a role in the degree of punishment one receives.

John 19:11 - Jesus answered, You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin. Rev. 20:12 - 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.

If one’s deeds are going to play a major role in the Great White Throne Judgment, then degrees of punishment makes all the sense in the world. Not everyone’s deeds are the same, some are much worse than others. So there would need to be various degrees to take care of the differences.

Those who received more light of the truth of the Gospel will be held more accountable than those who received little light.

Matt. 11:20-23 - Then He began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles were done, because they did not repent. Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago... Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.

For those of us who have been graciously delivered from this, let us praise the Lord. For those who are still lost, heed the warning given by Paul in his second letter to the Thessalonians.

2 Thes. 1:6-10 - For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming 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, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.

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