Summary: What lies beyond death's door? The Bible describes three realms: Hades, Hell, and Heaven. The first of this three-part sermon series explores that first realm of the Afterlife - Hades.
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 5/17/15
On January 18, 1989, around 11:45 a.m., thirty-nine-year-old Larry Donald Piper’s Ford Escort collided head-on with a semi-truck. EMTs arrived shortly thereafter and pronounced him dead at the scene. Unconscious in the wrecked vehicle, Piper claims to have spent ninety minutes at the entrance to heaven, seeing deceased loved ones, hearing celestial music, and walking toward heaven’s gate. Before entering, however, God sent him back. Piper’s book, 90 Minutes in Heaven, which recounts his near-death experience, remained on the New York Times best-seller list for more than five years and has sold over six million copies.
Even more recently, in the 2010 New York Times best-selling book, Heaven is for Real, Todd Burpo relates the near-death experience of his then-three-year-old son, Colton. The book recounts Colton’s journey to heaven, where he personally met Jesus riding a rainbow-colored horse and sat in Jesus' lap when angels sang songs to him. Burpo’s book has since sold over 10 million copies and was adapted into a feature film, earning over $100 million at the box office.
Other near-death-experiences are recorded in books like 23 Minutes in Hell by Bill Weise (2006), The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven written by Kevin Malarkey (2010), and Proof of Heaven by Eben Alexander (2012). While I think the subjective experiences of near-deathers do little to prove their claims, the sales record of books such as these certainly proves one thing—our culture is curious, even obsessed, about the afterlife. We want to know what happens after death. What will we see? What will we feel? Does Jesus really have brown hair, blue eyes, and a rainbow colored horse!?
Rather than relying on the notoriously unreliable experiences of others, Christians ought to rely on Scripture. The Bible tells us, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him, but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God” (1 Corinthians 2:9-10 NIV).
Through the inspiration of God’s Spirit, the authors of Scripture reveal to us what we could never otherwise have known. Scattered throughout Scripture we find windows through which we can peer into the Afterlife. Specifically, the Bible identifies three different places—or realms—that lie beyond death’s door. Those realms are Hades, Hell, and Heaven. For the next three weeks we’re going to peer through the peepholes of Scripture to see what we can discern about each of those realms and what awaits us in the afterlife.
The first of those realms is Hades—the “waiting room” of departed souls.
Hades is a Greek word which means “unseen.” The Hebrew word for Hades was Sheol, which meant simply “beyond.” When the Old Testament was translated into Greek, Sheol was rendered Hades—giving us a total 75 references to Hades in both Testaments combined. Unfortunately, in the King James Version the word Hades was translated as Hell 31 times in the Old Testament and 10 times in the New Testament, which has led to a lot of confusion about the afterlife because Hades and Hell are two very different realms. Thankfully, most modern translations have corrected the sloppy translation of the King James and now render the word as either Hades or “the realm of the dead.” And that’s what Hades is—the realm of the dead.
I call it the “waiting room” because that’s we’ll do there—upon death, our disembodied spirits will journey immediately to this spiritual realm to await the Second Coming of Christ and the resurrection of our bodies. Of all the references to Hades throughout the Bible, none are more vivid than the one found in Luke 16.
During a confrontation with the Pharisees, “who dearly loved their money” (Luke 16:14), Jesus tells a terrifying tale of the Afterlife. Let me begging by reading this story in its entirety:
There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”
25 But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.”