Hades and Purgatory
By Paul Robison

“Begin the project with the end in mind” was advice given in a best-seller that came out about 15 years ago.  So we examined our Bibles and discovered that THE end, the end of all history, will involve a final judgment where each of us must stand before Jesus and give an account of our lives, and that will be followed by two eternal destinies—hell, a terrible place prepared for the devil, his angels, and all the wicked and heaven, a joyful place prepared for righteous angels and all those who have been saved by putting on Christ in baptism (Gal. 3:27) and by living faithful lives (Revelation 2:10).  Three questions have arisen as a result of these lessons that we want to try an answer today: What is Hades?  What is purgatory?  What is “the great gulf” that Jesus mentioned?  Let’s look at each of these questions more closely this morning.

 Hades is thought to come from two Greek words: “a” = “not” and “idein” = “to see”.  Thus, Hades became the term used to denote the god and the world of the “not to see” or  unseen ones, that is, those who are dead.  In Greek mythology, the god over and the underworld itself were called Hades.  So the Jews used the term to refer to the abode or dwelling place of all departed spirits, both good and bad.  In Revelation 20:13-14 we read, “The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead, who were in them.  Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire.  This is the second death.  The departed spirits from all these places came back to life and then were judged.  This passage also teaches us that Hades is only a temporary dwelling place for the spirits of both the righteous and the wicked dead.  All go to Hades, but we'll soon discover that Hades has two parts.      

In the New Testament, especially in the King James Version, some confusion has occurred since the word “hell” was used to translate the word that would have been better translated “Hades”.  For example, look at Acts 2:30-31 where Peter made this comment on a prophecy of David: “God had sworn with an oath to him that of the fruit of his body, according to the flesh, He would raise up Christ to sit on this throne, he [that is David], foreseeing this, spoke concerning the resurrection of Christ, that His soul was not left in hell [but really this is better translated Hades], nor did His flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:30-31).  Jesus’ flesh was in the grave for three days while His spirit was in Hades, the dwelling place of the dead, and not in the place of eternal torment.  Remember what Jesus told the penitent thief on the cross: “Assuredly, I say to you, today, you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43 ).  Paradise literally means “pleasure garden”.  What Jesus meant was that the thief would be with Him in the division of Hades reserved for the righteous and not in heaven, the place of eternal reward.  So, is there a division of Hades reserved for the wicked?  Yes, there is.  Let’s look in 2 Peter 2:4 and 9: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell [actually the word here is really tartarus, which is the other division of Hades] and delivered them into chains of outer darkness, to be reserved for judgment … [now skip to verse 9], then the Lord knows now to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment.  If the word “hell” was left there, one would get the impression that eternal condemnation comes before the final judgment. But when “Hades” is used, it makes more sense because the wicked angels and the unjust are in a dwelling place of punishment for the unrighteous awaiting the final day of judgment to come, and then after that, there will come their everlasting condemnation.  Another preacher stated it this way: “All the departed spirits of our loved ones are in Hades.  If they were saved by an obedient faith in Jesus, they are in Paradise , Hades, awaiting the Day of Judgment to go to heaven to live forever with the Lord.  If they died without Christ, they are in Tartarus, Hades, awaiting the Day of Judgment to go to hell to live forever with Satan.”  None of this is to put down the King James Version; it is a very credible version.  Only on this point about Hades has it created some confusion.  So we have seen that Hades and Hell are two different realities.  Hades contains the spirits of all the dead with the righteous dwelling in paradise and with the wicked dwelling in tartarus.  Hades precedes the final day of judgment and then the two subsequent eternal destinies.  

What is purgatory?  First of all, this is not a term or a concept that is ever found in the Bible.  Did you catch that?  It is not a concept that is ever found in the Bible.  It is a doctrine of a certain religious group that developed over many centuries.  This will take some explanation, so please listen carefully (and please bear with us if you’re not a history buff).  In about 180 A.D., sins began to be classified into greater and lesser categories from a human standpoint, and human works such as weeping, fasting, alms-giving, celibacy, etc. would then supposedly bring satisfaction to God and forgiveness for the lesser sins.  Then around 250 A.D., it was taught that such human works like those just mentioned could also bring about the restoration of grace from God that had been lost.  In other words, a person could now do certain works and earn God's grace.  That’s paradoxical isn’t is?  If God’s grace is unmerited favor, how can we ever earn it?  Then, in addition to the good works that a person must perform, it was taught that an additional step was needed in the 700s: a person must orally confess their sins to an ordained priest in order to have God’s forgiveness.  About 300 later, certain good works were categorized with certain sins so a priest could tell a person to do those specific good works in order to earn grace.   About 300 later in the 1300s, another concept called supererogation was developed: this idea was that as people did their good works, not only did it help themselves, but they also earned extra merits which could be applied to others as well.  Those extra merits were actually stored up in a heavenly treasury from which clergymen could draw and apply them to another individual.  This treasury of extra merits could either be tapped into by doing more good works or by paying a certain sum of money to substitute for the good works.  Now the next step in the process was to teach that since people could not atone completely for all their sins in this life, they would die in a condition where those sins that remained would need more merits so that they could become perfectly forgiven.  The sufferings of purgatory would be required to purge the soul from its last remnants of sin to thereby enable a person to be sinless so she or he could enter into heaven.  Of course, the treasury of extra merits could be tapped into through the good works or payments for indulgences by the living Christians to help those dead Christians in purgatory to obtain heaven more quickly.  The official catechism of this religion reads: “All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.  The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, ... The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence [which took place in 1439] and Trent [which took place in 1563].... The Church also commends almsgiving, indulgences, and works of penance undertaken on behalf of the dead (Ratzinger, Ed.).”  This false doctrine of purgatory has prompted people all over the world to pay billions (maybe even trillions) of dollars with the belief that they are helping their dead friends to gain heaven!  How sad that these people have been so deceived by “the traditions of men” which are not found at all in the Bible: there is no classification of sins; there is no way a person can do good works to earn God's grace; there is no mention of confession to priests; there is no treasury of merits that can be transferred to anyone else; there is no teaching about a future suffering for purification of sin in order for a person to become sinless so that they can enter into heaven!  In contrast to this horrid scheme, the Bible teaches that all types of sin separate people from God (Isaiah 59:2 In God sight, sin is sin), that even when we do all kinds of good works, we are still unprofitable servants (Luke 17:10), that confession should be done before other church members (James 5:16; Matthew 18:17), that each person will be judged based on their own works done in this lifetime (2 Corinthians 5:10), and that the dead go to Hades, where there is no third division called purgatory (as we saw earlier)!  Colossians 2:8 warns us that we can be cheated in our faith if we give heed to “the traditions of men,” and this is exactly what the doctrine of purgatory is.  It is a tradition of men developed over the centuries based on many falsehoods!  This false doctrine perfectly illustrates again how the pure waters about forgiveness found in God’s Word have become polluted again and again when uninspired men tried to develop their own system of forgiveness!  No, friend, nobody who is living can do anything to help those who have already died to get to heaven more quickly!  

What is “the great gulf” mentioned by Jesus?  This expression is found in Luke 16.  If you’ll turn to that chapter, you’ll note in verse 14 that the Pharisees heard some comments that Jesus had made and began to ridicule Him.  Jesus then responds to them and tells a parable that smacks at their love for wealth and at their unwillingness to see Him as God’s Messenger.  This was our morning’s reading.  Although it is a parable, it well illustrates Hades.  We saw that Lazarus, a poor man while alive, ended up in paradise (here called Abraham’s bosom in verse 22) and a rich man while alive ended up in tartarus (called torments of Hades in verse 23).  Who did the rich man represent in this parable?  Of course, it was the Pharisees who loved wealth.  Now notice that in the parable, Jesus has Abraham making a comment to the rich man in verse 25: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.  And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed (there’s our expression), so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”  One commentator says about this verse: “This is no doubt a pictorial detail, but it means that in the afterlife there is no passing from one state to another (the Greek [language] implies that this is the purpose and not simply the result of the great chasm)” (Morris).  Another commentator said this: “This passage graphically emphasizes the irrevocability of judgment, the tragedy of misusing life’s opportunities, and the folly of accepting a material value system at the expense of the spiritual” [just like the Pharisees were doing] (Ash).  And here is another final comment: “The great teaching in view here is that death seals the soul’s destiny.  There will be no crossing from one side to another after death has closed life’s day of opportunity.  Such theologies as those related to the doctrine of purgatory are destroyed by the Savior’s words in this verse” (Coffman).  In Hades, nobody can go from one division over to the other, and there is no middle ground!  

We’ve tried to answer three questions.  Here are three final thoughts.  First of all, let’s do our good works for the Lord in this life before we reach the grave.  We’re not doing those good works to earn God’s favor; no, we’re doing them to show God how thankful we are that He has blessed our lives so abundantly!  Second, let’s realize that our eternal destiny will already be decided upon at the time of our death.  Where we will go in Hades will depend upon how we have lived our lives before we die.  Lastly, let’s remember that the Scripture never teach that someone else can earn any merit for us after we die.  Judgment will be based on our deeds in this life, and nothing in the future can undo what we have done.  The old hymn got it right: “Each day I’ll do a golden deed by helping those who are in need.  My life on earth is but a span, and so I’ll do the best I can.  The only life that will endure is one that’s kind and good and pure.  And so for God I’ll take my stand.  Each day I’ll lend a helping hand.  Life’s evening sun is sinking low; a few more days and I must go to meet the deeds that I have done, where there will be no setting sun.”     

                                                                                                        Last updated on 3.5.08