This is the common transliteration into English of the corresponding Greek word haiʹdes. It perhaps means “the unseen place.” In all, the word “Hades” occurs ten times in the earliest manuscripts of the Christian Greek Scriptures.
The King James Version translates haiʹdes as “hell” in these texts, but the Revised Standard Version renders it “Hades,” with the exception of Matthew 16:18, where “powers of death” is used, though the footnote reads “gates of Hades.” “Hades” rather than “hell” is used in many modern translations.
The Greek Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Scriptures (from Genesis to Malachi) uses the word “Hades” 73 times, employing it 60 times to translate the Hebrew word sheʼohlʹ, commonly rendered “Sheol.” Luke, the divinely inspired writer of Acts, definitely showed Hades to be the Greek equivalent of Sheol when he translated Peter’s quotation from Psalm 16:10. (Ac 2:27) Inversely, nine modern Hebrew translations of the Christian Greek Scriptures use the word “Sheol” to translate Hades at Revelation 20:13, 14; and the Syriac translation uses the related word Shiul.
In all but two cases in which the word Hades is used in the Christian Greek Scriptures it is related to death, either in the verse itself or in the immediate context; the two other instances are discussed in the following paragraph. Hades does not refer to a single grave (Gr., taʹphos), or to a single tomb (Gr., mneʹma), or to a single memorial tomb (Gr., mne·meiʹon), but to the common grave of mankind, where the dead and buried ones are unseen. It thus signifies the same as the corresponding word “Sheol,” and an examination of its use in all its ten occurrences bears out this fact.
In its first occurrence, at Matthew 11:23, Jesus Christ, in chiding Capernaum for its disbelief, uses Hades to represent the depth of debasement to which Capernaum would come down, in contrast with the height of heaven to which she had been exalted by reason of Jesus’ ministry there. A corresponding text is found at Luke 10:15. Note the similar way in which Sheol is used at Job 11:7, 8.
Jesus and Congregation Delivered. Concerning the Christian congregation, Jesus said, at Matthew 16:18, that “the gates of Hades [“powers of death,” RS] will not overpower it.” Similarly, King Hezekiah, when on the verge of death, said: “In the midst of my days I will go into the gates of Sheol.” (Isa 38:10) It, therefore, becomes apparent that Jesus’ promise of victory over Hades means that its “gates” will open to release the dead by means of a resurrection, even as was the case with Christ Jesus himself.
Since Hades refers to the common grave of mankind, a place rather than a condition, Jesus entered within “the gates of Hades” when buried by Joseph of Arimathea. On Pentecost of 33 C.E., Peter said of Christ: “Neither was he forsaken in Hades nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God resurrected, of which fact we are all witnesses.” (Ac 2:25-27, 29-32; Ps 16:10) Whereas “the gates of Hades” (Mt 16:18) were still holding David within their domain in Peter’s day (Ac 2:29), they had swung open for Christ Jesus when his Father resurrected him out of Hades. Thereafter, through the power of the resurrection given him (Joh 5:21-30), Jesus is the Holder of “the keys of death and of Hades.”
Manifestly, the Bible Hades is not the imagined place that the ancient non-Christian Greeks described in their mythologies as a “dark, sunless region within the earth,” for there was no resurrection from such mythological underworld.
Illustrative Use. At Revelation 6:8 Hades is figuratively pictured as closely following after the rider of the pale horse, personalized Death, to receive the victims of the death-dealing agencies of war, famine, plagues, and wild beasts.
The sea (which at times serves as a watery grave for some) is mentioned in addition to Hades (the common earthen grave), for the purpose of stressing the inclusiveness of all such dead ones when Revelation 20:13, 14 says that the sea, death, and Hades are to give up or be emptied of the dead in them. Thereafter, death and Hades (but not the sea) are cast into “the lake of fire,” “the second death.” They thereby figuratively ‘die out’ of existence, and this signifies the end of Hades (Sheol), the common grave of mankind, as well as of death inherited through Adam.
The remaining text in which Hades is used is found at Luke 16:22-26 in the account of “the rich man” and “Lazarus.” The language throughout the account is plainly parabolic and cannot be construed literally in view of all the preceding texts. Note, however, that “the rich man” of the parable is spoken of as being “buried” in Hades, giving further evidence that Hades means the common grave of mankind.