Death and Sheol/Hades are linked together at least thirty-three times in the Scriptures. In these, we see a general distinction between the "outward man," which is the body and the "inward man," which is the soul (cf. II Cor. 4:16). In this sense, death, or the grave, claims the physical part of man, the body, while Sheol/Hades claims the separated, spiritual part of man, the soul. This is exactly the meaning of Psalm 16:10: "For Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hell (Sheol); neither will Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption." In his Pentecostal address, Peter left no room for doubt that this was a prophetic pronouncement concerning the time between the Lord Jesus Christ's death on the Cross and His resurrection. First, he quoted Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28) and then made direct application of verse 10 to Christ (Acts 2:31). Not only was the Lord Jesus' soul not left in Sheol/Hades, but neither was His body left to rot in the grave. That Peter used Hades, the place of Sheol, in this quotation shows that they are identical in meaning.
Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ is exceptional because He had the power not only to lay down His life on our behalf, but also to take it up again (Jn. 10:17,18). This is not so of any other man, as the Psalmist points out when he asks, rhetorically, "What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave (Sheol)?" (Ps. 89:48). Because of the curse of sin, all of mankind faces the reality of physical death. None can evade it by their own power, nor can any man or woman escape from Sheol/Hades on their own. We know that since the Cross the souls of those who die "in Christ" do not go to Sheol/Hades, but to heaven. However, this is through the merit of Jesus Christ and His power, not their own. For those "in Christ," death has no sting and Sheol/Hades has no victory because their body and soul will be united in a resurrection unto life (see I Cor. 15:19,20,51-57). This is as certain as the fact of Jesus Christ's resurrection. This is not so for those who die without Christ for they face a resurrection unto judgment, which is referred to as the "second death" (Rev. 20:13,14; 21:8).
Psalm 89:48 speaks of the time when the soul is separated from the body. The body is given over to death where it will decay, while the soul is assigned to Sheol/Hades to await the final judgment. It is clear that the body and soul of the lost will be reunited at the time of the Great White Throne Judgment of the unsaved dead, when "death and Hades" will deliver up the dead that are in them. That is, their bodies will be raised from the grave, or death, and reunited with the soul, which will come out of Sheol/Hades to be judged by Jesus Christ at the Great White Throne (see Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Jn. 5:28,29).
When the Lord Jesus said that "as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth" (Mat. 12:40), He was saying that He would spend the time between His death and resurrection in Sheol/Hades. We know from Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:25-32 that the Lord's soul, which was made an offering for sin (Isa. 53:10), was in Sheol/Hades, and we know from Matthew 12:40 that He was in the heart of the earth, which is where we believe that Sheol/Hades is located.
When we speak of the heart of something, we are not referring to that which is superficial or only skin-deep. Symbolically, the heart signifies the innermost character, feelings, or inclinations of a man. The heart is also used when referring to the center, or core, of something. For example; it is sometimes said, "the heart of a watermelon is the best part," meaning that the center part of the watermelon tastes better than the part closer to the rind. If we say that we have a "heart-felt desire" for a particular area of ministry, we would be speaking of a yearning to do the Lord's work that comes from our innermost being as opposed to a superficial desire based on the emotions of the moment. When used figuratively in the Scriptures, the word "heart" is used in a similar fashion, thus the heart of the earth gives reference to something much deeper than a simple place of burial for a man's body barely under the surface of the earth. That it is said that before His ascension the Lord Jesus first descended "into the lower parts of the earth" (Eph. 4:9) affirms this. In a Psalm of thanksgiving for being delivered from death, David makes reference to this by distinguishing between Sheol/Hades (rendered grave in the KJV) and Queber (rendered pit in this passage) (Ps. 30:1-3).
In Ezekiel we find prophecies against the kings of Assyria (Ezek. 31) and Egypt (Ezek. 32) that indicate that Sheol/Hades is in the center of the earth. In these two chapters it speaks of the fall of these mighty kings, who in death ended up in the underworld with those who have gone before them. We do not have the space here to give extensive commentary on these two chapters. But we do want to point out that in regard to both kings it is said that in death they would go "to the nether parts of the earth...with them that go down into the pit" (see Ezek. 31:14,16,18; 32:18,24), the "nether parts" being the lower regions of the earth. We should take note that in chapter thirty-one it is being pointed out to Pharaoh that just as the king of Assyria, who was greater than he was, had died and gone into the underworld, so would he.
In chapter thirty-two we find a prophecy, given in the form of a lamentation, foretelling Pharaoh's defeat by the king of Babylon (Ezek. 32:1-16). This is followed by a lamentation over the multitude of Egyptians who would be slain by the Babylonians (Ezek. 31:17-31). We have pictured for us those of the nations who preceded them, welcoming Pharaoh and his host as they arrived in Sheol/Hades by taunting them. They point out that the Egyptians had thought themselves to be invincible because of their strength and fame among the nations. But now they were just like the great nations who had gone before them, their individual souls being confined to Sheol/Hades while their bodies decay in the grave.
"The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell (Sheol)..." (Ezek. 32:21). The "strong among the mighty" spoken of here refers to the men who had been the kings and leaders of the different nations that are mentioned in this passage: Asshor, or Assyria (v. 22), Elam (v. 24), Meshech and Tubal (v. 26), Edom, her kings and her princes (v. 29), the princes of the north and the Zidonians (v. 30). This passage shows that while those of each group mentioned are in their respective burial places, their quebers, they are at the same time all together in "the pit," which is an expression that is sometimes used for Sheol/Hades (vv. 18,25,29). These are similar examples as that found in Isaiah 14, which we have previously looked at.
While we have not exhausted the subject by looking at every passage that Sheol is found in, it is clear from these examples that Sheol is not simply the grave but is located at the center of the earth and is the abode of the souls of the unrighteous dead who are awaiting their resurrection unto condemnation. It is equally clear that those in Sheol/Hades are not in an unconscious state of existence but are quite aware of what is going on around them. There is memory, recognition, and communication there.
The Apostle Peter used the word Tartarus in reference to "the angels that sinned" that God delivered to Sheol/Hades to await judgment (II Pet. 2:4). This word, which is translated "hell" in the KJV, was used in Greek mythology to refer to the place of punishment for the most wicked. It is not clear if Peter was using this word in reference to Sheol/Hades in a general way or if he was referring to a specific compartment of Sheol/Hades where a certain class of fallen angels are confined awaiting final judgment. Either way, this passage teaches that there is a place of confinement in which a particular group of beings are being held until the time of their judgment. This is consistent with the overall Biblical teaching about the existence and purpose of Sheol/Hades.
“If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.” - Spurgeon