The Contextual Studies Series
Where in Hell is the Devil?

  1996 Mark Kennicott


Introduction the devil??

Does the devil, Satan himself, really live in hell, as though it's some sort of country club, or base of operations for the kingdom of darkness?  Did Jesus really go to the gates of hell and demand the keys to death, hell and the grave from Satan who cowered deep within it's shadows?  These are serious questions, because the answers, if thought out in the light of scriptural truth, can have an enormous impact on how we preach about hell, how we interpret certain scriptures, and even how we think about spiritual warfare.

For me, these questions began to surface some time ago, inspired by a song that a visiting ministry sang at our church.  The title was, "Ain't no devil in hell gonna walk on the Jesus in me".  Although it was a good song, something in those words "devil in hell" didn't ring true to me, even though I'd heard preachers declare war on hell, preach about lies from the pits of hell, or use phrases like every devil in hell in sermons about warfare and the like.  It seems to be an accepted truth that hell represents the kingdom of darkness.  But does it?  What does the Scripture actually teach?

Communicating Biblically

Letting Scripture be our guide, we come to an embarrassing fact quite early in our study; nowhere in the Bible is Satan spoken of as living, or residing, in hell.  When we speak of "every devil in hell", we are at best speaking not of where Satan is but where he will be, and at worst we are being poor communicators of the gospel.  We must resist the temptation to preach sound-bite sermons in favor of conveying biblical truth in biblical fashion.  Personally I do not believe that most ministers who use these "devil in hell" phrases really believe that Satan lives in Hell, but certainly that is what is implied.  It may be that they are simply victims of tradition.  

I remember one of the first sermons I preached, "Shutting the mouth of the Lion", in which I told the story, as I had heard it preached years earlier, of how Jesus went to the gates of Hell after his crucifixion, demanded entrance, and snatched the keys from the crooked hand of Satan himself.  All in all, it conveyed a spiritual truth, but the story was not scripturally sound.  Since then I have committed myself to preaching the Word of God accurately, to the best of my ability, while avoiding unscriptural sensationalism for the sake of effect.

The Devil's Address

Scriptural references describing the abode of Satan are indeed few but adequate to reveal the truth.  Turning to Job 1:7 and again to Job 2:2, we find Satan coming to appear before God, and the LORD asks Satan a very pointed question, "Where have you come from?".  Satan's answer in both instances is, "From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it."  Peter makes a similar statement in I Peter 5:8, where he admonishes:

 "Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour".  

In Ephesians 2:2, Paul calls Satan the prince and power of the air, and in chapter six he speaks of our warfare with "principalities and powers, and the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places."  Do you see any consistency?  Satan, by testimony of these scriptures, is nomadic, with his presence and power (limited as it is) being revealed in the world, that is, the earth.  He is not, for example, called the prince of Hell, nor is he spoken of as ascending up from the depths to wreak havoc in the affairs of men.  These are images of the Greek god Hades (also known as Pluto), the  god of the Netherworld.  

No, Satan's abode is certainly the earth, and even there he is not it's master, for "the earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof, the world, and they that dwell therein" (Psalm 24:1).  No matter how lofty or exalted the devil wishes himself to be, he is bound to the earth, his power and influence not reaching beyond the heavenlies.  

When in scripture Satan is referred to as the god of this world, such as in II Corinthians 4:4, it is the world's system that is being spoken of.  Remember, regardless of how high Satan exalts himself as the "prince of the power of the air" (Ephesians 2:2), all of his power is still subject to the Holy One, who Reigns on High, for the heavens are His throne, and the earth is His footstool!  Hence, all the forces of Satan and the kingdom of darkness are under God's feet!  Amen! (Psalm 89:11, Isaiah 66:1)

The Gates of Hades

If we understand that Satan does not live in hell, then how do we understand the meaning of the all important declaration of our Lord Jesus Christ, as recorded in Matthew 16:18; "...upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."? What is it that will not prevail against the Church if it is not the kingdom of darkness?  Is the Lord speaking of spiritual warfare, or of something altogether different?  

To find the answer, let's begin by looking at the word Jesus used that is translated in verse 18 as hell in the KJV; it is the Greek word Hades (hah'-dace), corresponding to the Hebrew word Sheol (sheh-ole'), which means the grave.

Hades is NOT Hell

Hades appears in the NT text a total of 11 times, and the KJV translators in all but one instance render the word as hell.  This unfortunately has led to a lot of misunderstanding and biblical misinterpretation.  The context shows in most cases (there are a couple exceptions) that it would be more appropriate to render hades as the grave than as hell.  

The most stark of examples is found in Revelation 20:14, where it appears as if hell (hades) is being cast into hell (the Lake of Fire).  Here it makes more sense to consider death and the grave being cast into Hell, i.e; the lake of fire, than to think of hell being cast into hell, which can be quite confusing.  The best example of hades as the grave is found in I Corinthians 15:55:

"O Death, where is thy sting; O Grave (Hades), where is thy victory?".  

The truth is, hades is not hell, but the grave. It is  a direct translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, which is rendered 30 of it's 63 occurrences as the grave in the Old Testament.  One such example is Psalm 49:14-15, where Sheol appears 3 times, each time translated as the grave:

"Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling.  But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me."

David in Psalm 139:8 declares, "If I make my bed in  hell (Sheol), behold, thou art there."  Such a statement is hard to comprehend if one considers that hell is supposed to be a place of eternal separation from God, so how can God be there?  Of course, He is not, for it is not hell that David is referring to, but the grave.  He is in effect saying, "If I die, and am placed in the grave, you are there Lord".  And as he testified in Psalm 49:15, "I will be redeemed from the power of the grave!"

The Fire of Gehenna

In reality, the Old Testament never uses the word sheol to name or describe Hell as we understand it.  In fact, there is no name given to it's concept until the New Testament, which is why certain sects of the Jews, such as the Sadducees, did not believe in Hell. Of course, the Hebrew Bible is replete with descriptions of Hell, and the final vengeance of God upon the wicked, examples to be found in passages such as Isaiah 34:8-9, Psalm 11:6, Isaiah 47:14, Malachi 4:1-3, Psalm 37:10,20, and others. It is also typified in the account of Sodom and Gomorrah's destruction in Genesis chapter 19.

The New Testament word for hell, the hell we preach about, of fire and destruction, of torment and eternal damnation, where the worm dieth not, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth, the word to describe all of that, and more, is the Hebrew word Gehenna (gheh'-en-nah).  This loan-word to the Greek language occurs 12 times in the New Testament text, and refers to the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned.  What the fire did not consume, the worms devoured, hence the words of Jesus of weeping and gnashing of teeth, where the worm dies not, cast a deep impression on the hearts and minds of his audience.  

We can read, in part, what Jesus had to say about Gehenna, in Matthew 18:9; "And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell (Gehenna) fire."  In Matthew 25:41 Jesus illustrates Gehenna as everlasting fire,  prepared for the devil and his angels, which the unrighteous will inherit as well as Satan.  The point should be clear, Satan is not there yet. When he is cast in, he will not be there to torment others who are there, but he himself will suffer the judgment of eternal fire and damnation.

The Gates of the Grave

When Jesus proclaimed to Peter and the rest of the disciples that the Gates of Hell would not prevail against the Church, he was conveying a truth much different than what is commonly understood today.  By his words "gates of hades", he is making a reference to Isaiah 38:10:

 "I said in the cutting off of my days, I shall go to the gates of the grave: I am deprived of the residue of my years."  

In Jesus' most remarkable statement to his disciples, he is making two resounding declarations.  First, Jesus is hinting of his destiny, of how he, as the Lamb of God, will be surrendered to the power of death and the grave for the Atonement of all mankind.  But Jesus is not just telling of his appointment with death, he is declaring his victory over the grave! He is saying, "I will not be contained or overcome by the power of the grave!"  

His disciples were undoubtedly called to remember his words, "destroy this temple (my body), and in three days I will raise it up!" (John 2:19-22) Also note that immediately following Christ's declaration, the scripture goes on to say in Matthew 16:21, "From that time Jesus began to show to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem...and be killed, and be raised the third day".

Secondly, and mainly, Jesus is masterfully proclaiming that his Church, built upon the Rock of Redemption and Revelation, will itself be victorious over the power of the grave!  The old song is true, "Ain't no grave...gonna hold my body down!"  Jesus came to give us Life, and that more abundantly, and it is through Him that we, who have earned the wages of sin, namely Death, can inherit Eternal Life.  Just as the grave could not hold our Savior, we too, if we have been born of him,  partaking of his life, will not be held of Death's power, as it is written:

"In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ." I Corinthians 15:52-57 (See also I Thessalonians 4:14-18)

Because this Church is built on the Rock of Christ Jesus, the Risen Savior, who conquered Death and overcame the Grave;  we, who have believed and obeyed his Word, have passed from Death unto Life, Amen!! (John 5:24)

Binding and Loosing

So what of Satan?  Is there room for him in the interpretation of this scripture?  After all, doesn't Jesus also say that he will give to Peter the keys of the Kingdom, that whatsoever he would bind or loose on earth would be likewise bound or loosed in heaven?  Doesn't this somehow refer to spiritual warfare, and how we have power to bind Satan, and loose miracles and the like?  

Before I answer, let me make one thing very clear.  I do believe in spiritual warfare.  True, I believe too much emphasis is placed on the devil. I favor exalting God in praise, and letting the LORD fight my battles rather than running around trying to give the devil a black-eye.  I am convinced that all that needs to be said to our adversary is, "The Lord rebuke thee", while focusing our attention less on the devil and more on the Deliverer. I  believe we have authority over satanic power and influence, so that no weapon formed against us shall prosper.  I believe we have this authority as given to us by Jesus himself when he said, 

"Behold, I give unto you power [authority] to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy: and nothing shall by any means hurt you."  Luke 10:19

I'm also convinced that we need to go beyond those words and affirm what follows, in both word and practice: "Notwithstanding in this rejoice not, that the spirits are subject unto you; but rather rejoice, because your names are written in heaven." 

That said, let's consider this issue of binding and loosing.  The fact is, binding and loosing are rabbinic terms which mean to forbid and to permit.  What Jesus was doing was transferring to Peter and the other disciples his authority to make binding decisions on the community of faith.  That is to say, the apostles could bind (or forbid), or they could loose (or allow), the saints based on their interpretation of the Bible and the words of Jesus, and their decisions would be "backed" by heaven, i.e, God.  Jesus was establishing Apostolic Authority.

Standing at the Gate

While the meaning of hades as Jesus used it in Matthew 16:18 does not directly refer to the devil or his kingdom, there is  a striking connection to him in this scripture after all. Jesus spoke not only of the grave, but he said the gates of the grave. What is significant about the gates of any city in the world that Jesus lived in was that it was in the gates that the elders and judges sat, to solve disputes and render judgments in social affairs.  

Remember, Satan is the accuser of the brethren. His desire; to see us defeated and destroyed!  Until Jesus' death and resurrection, it was Satan that had the power of death (Hebrews 2:14). But now the church, being loosed from the power of death and the grave, are likewise loosed from the power of Satan!  He has no dominion over the Church,  therefore his opposing counsel at the gate cannot stand.  As a prosecuting attorney, Satan has lost the closing argument!

In the Hebrew language, every letter has an assigned numeric value.  The name Satan, which means adversary, has a combined numeric value of 364.  The sages taught this to mean that 364 days of the year Satan has power to oppose the children of God, but on one day, and one day only, Satan has no power to oppose.  What day do you suppose that the sages were referring to?  

The Day of Atonement!  

The book of Hebrews  declares that Jesus partook of death, by his blood becoming the sacrifice for our Atonement once and for all, that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil! (See Hebrews 2:14 and all of chapter 10). No longer does Satan have  power to oppose those who have been redeemed, his power has been stripped, his principalities spoiled.  Hallelujah!


It is because Jesus died that we have peace with God, and it is because Jesus lives that we have the hope of glory.  Therefore let us rejoice, and hold fast to the words of our Savior till he comes: 

"I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold,  I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of the grave and of death." Revelation 1:18

Also written by Mark Kennicott:

An Honest Look at Matthew 28:19

The Seven Spiritual Laws

The Gospel According to Matthew

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