Many believe that heaven and hell are the locations where “souls” of people go after they die. In an earlier post, What do the Christadelphians believe about the soul?, we have explained that Christadelphians believe the Bible does not teach that the soul is separate from the body but that death is the end of life, both the body and the soul, apart from the hope of resurrection.
Since there is no need for a place to collect “immortal souls”, what does the Bible have to say about heaven and hell?
The Hebrew word for heaven is “šāmayim”. It was created by God and in the Bible often refers to the sky where the birds fly, or the clouds form, and where the sun, moon and stars are. The word is also used to speak of the dwelling place of God, and as belonging to Him only, although it is also said that the heavens cannot contain Him. Obviously although man has explored the heavens with spaceship and telescope, no one can identify where exactly God dwells because He is spirit and is everywhere. “Whither shall I go from thy spirit? or whither shall I flee from thy presence? If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there. If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea; even there shall thy hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.” (Psalm 139:7-10 KJV).
In the gospel of Matthew, there are many references to the “kingdom of heaven”. This is equivalent to the “kingdom of God” which is the term used in the rest of the New Testament. Christadelphians believe that this is referring to the rule of God over the earth which Daniel speaks of: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever.” (Daniel 2:44 KJV) and Jesus tells us to pray for: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.” Matthew 6:10 KJV
The term “hell” was used in older versions of the Bible (such as the King James Version) to translate the Hebrew word šᵊ’ôl in the Old Testament, but was also just as often translated “the grave”.This word simply refers to the place of the dead. Later translations of the Bible such as the NIV translate it consistently as “the grave”, or simply transliterate it as “sheol” such as in the ESV.
Many believe the idea of hell being a place of torment is taught in the New Testament. The Greek word geenna is translated hell and is often connected with fire. This word is actually of Hebrew origin and refers to the Valley of Hinnom, a place which was used for the fiery sacrifice of children to idols in Israel’s history (Jeremiah 7:31). Fire is used many times in the Bible as a symbol of judgment, not as endless torture, but to completely consume what is being judged. For example, “Therefore have I poured out mine indignation upon them; I have consumed them with the fire of my wrath: their own way have I recompensed upon their heads, saith the Lord GOD. (Ezekiel 22:31 KJV). Another Greek word hadēs, translated hell in older versions of the Bible, is similar to the Hebrew word sheol and refers to the place of the dead.
Christadelphians believe that the grave is a place of unconsciousness for everyone. We look forward to the resurrection of the body when “many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2 KJV). The kingdom of heaven is a renewed earth, and eternal life a gift given to those who have chosen the ways of God. When the earth has truly become the kingdom of God, then death and the grave will also be a thing of the past.
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ’s at his coming. Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.