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.