So is Hades properly understood to be Catholic Purgatory? There are many views in Christendom about the afterlife. Catholic Christians believe in the existence of Purgatory, while Protestants would consider the Catholics to be in error on this point. Catholic doctrine holds to a temporary place of punishment and purification in the after-life for the redeemed. According to Catholic doctrine, all people spend more or less time in Purgatory depending upon the good and bad things they did in this life. For the Catholics, the after-life is a multi-step process until they arrive in Heaven. Protestants, however, emphasize that the afterlife is a single step with one fork in the road and two destinations: eternal Heaven or eternal Hell. Protestants reference Hebrews 9:26-28 (WEB) to prove this point,
26) or else he must have suffered often since the foundation of the world. But now once at the end of the ages, he has been revealed to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27) Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment, 28) so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, without sin, to those who are eagerly waiting for him for salvation.
This verse says that people die and face judgment once at the end of their life. This was the teaching I grew up with and feel naturally comfortable with. However, from our study this far I have shown that Hebrews 9:27, while certainly true, does not explain the whole story. At a minimum we see from Revelation 20:13-14 that Hades is in fact a temporary place of punishment. One day Hades will be emptied of all people and then Hades itself will be thrown into the Lake of Fire empty of all people. The Great White Throne Judgment punctuates this present world and marks the commencement of eternity.
I am not suggesting that the Biblical doctrine of Hell, that is Hades, is like Purgatory or even similar to it. The Catholic Church has taught that one could work or pay one's way out of Purgatory with good deeds and penance. More can be learned about views on Purgatory here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Purgatory. However, the Bible does not teach that unbelievers will somehow escape punishment for their rejection of Christ. Certain punishment in Hades is the destiny of all unbelieving men. No one should think that they can conquer Hades, work their way out of Hades, or escape from Hades through any means whatsoever... except by the grace of God. Recently a person was pictured in front of the U.S. Supreme Court during the gay marriage debate with a shirt proclaiming, "Hell will be fun." Luke 16:19-31 makes it clear that the torments of Hades will bring even the hardest heart to immediate regret. There will be no man-made escape for those punished in Hades. The only escape is the grace of God alone.
In a nutshell, Protestants (and Catholics) could benefit by expanding their understanding of afterlife events through more careful Bible study. Is your faith built on the truth of the Bible or the traditions of men?