Compiled from the writings of Jack Kelley @ gracethrufaith.com
What do you know about hell?
What do you know from Scripture about hell?
If you accept Jesus as your Savior then you are saved – and you will go to Heaven to be with Him for eternity – and if you reject Him you will spend eternity in Hell.
Most preachers today say that if you are not saved, you will be separated from God forever (which is true, but it’s not the complete truth). The majority of people will say to that, “So what? I am separated from Him now and it is no big deal.”
Other pastors say you will suffer eternal death – and again people will say, “So what? A little pain and then oblivion.”
Is that all that happens in hell?
Many in the liberal church, in cults, the New Age, and in the Eastern religions speak of another chance to reconcile with God following physical death. Some even claim we’ll be reincarnated in a series of lives through which we can work our way toward perfection, eventually earning our place with God or even becoming a god. The Bible speaks of no such things, teaching instead that “man is destined to die once and after that to face judgment” (Hebrews 9:27).
The current trend of trying to diminish the consequences of refusing the pardon Jesus paid for with His life cannot be supported by Scripture, and has the unintended consequence of persuading non-believers that rejecting God is not as catastrophic as they might have thought.
Job, David, Isaiah, Daniel and others wrote about the life that comes after death as a reward for righteousness. Daniel was the first to clarify that the unrighteous will also rise from the grave, and it’s from his explanation (Daniel 12:2) that we’ve come to understand that everyone who is ever born lives forever. (Bodies are killed or wear out and expire but spirits, the repositories of life, are eternal.)
An angel explained to Daniel that while all who have died rise from the grave, for some the resurrection brings everlasting reward and for others it brings everlasting shame and contempt.
This is clarified in Revelation 20:11-15 where we’re told that the unsaved dead will return from the grave for the purpose of being judged for their behavior while living. This is where we learn about about the second death, actually a conscious state of eternal and solitary separation from God accompanied by never ending torment, as the outcome of this judgment.
Before the cross, those who had died in faith of a coming Redeemer, as the Scriptures taught them, went to a temporary place of comfort to rest until, in the fullness of time, the Redeemer’s shed blood finally erased the penalty for their sins. This is the place called Abraham’s bosom in the passage below, Luke 16:19-31.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is found only in the gospel according to Luke and is the clearest picture anywhere in Scripture of the afterlife. As such it is essential reading for anyone attempting to counter the plethora of books and films (by believers and non-believers alike) who claim to have visited heaven or hell and been sent back. It’s also an argument against the Eastern notion of reincarnation.
A rich man lived in the lap of luxury, while a beggar (Lazarus) languished outside his gate hoping for scraps from his table. In due time they both died. Angels carried Lazarus to “Abraham’s side (bosom)” a popular Jewish term in that day for the abode of the dead. The part reserved for believers was also called Paradise. Jesus promised one of the men being crucified with Him that they would meet there before the end of the day (Luke 23:43). The Hebrew name for this place is Sheol, while the Greeks called it Hades from which the English word Hell is derived.
The rich man also went there upon dying, but while Lazarus was being comforted, the rich man was in constant torment. This tells us he was not a believer. Asking Abraham for relief, he was informed that while they were within sight and speaking distance of each other, they were actually in two different areas and there was no way to cross from one to the other. (Luke 16:19-26)
The rich man then asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers, still alive, to make sure they came to the place where Lazarus was instead of where he was, but Abraham refused, saying, “They have Moses and the Prophets (the Old Testament), let them listen to them.” “No”, said the rich man, “But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Abraham responded, “If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:27-31)
The spiritual condition of these two men is not revealed in so many words. But by their destinations we can tell what it was. Upon his death, angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s side. This term was the Jewish expression for a place of comfort in Sheol, the abode of the dead that was also called Paradise. It is the place Jesus said He was going to in Luke 23:43. It was where all believers from the time before the cross went until the resurrection took them to heaven. In the early church, some believed that Paradise was the actual Garden of Eden and was neither in Heaven nor on Earth. Being taken there indicates Lazarus had died believing in a coming Redeemer who would pay the penalty for his sins and qualify him for the resurrection to eternal life.
When the rich man died he was taken to hell. The Greek word for hell is Hades. It is equivalent to the Hebrew word Sheol, which is the abode of the dead. That means it’s the same place where Lazarus went, but while Lazarus enjoyed a place of comfort, the rich man’s lot was agony in the fire. This tells us he was not a believer. He could see Lazarus but he couldn’t join him. The time for choosing his eternal destiny ended at his death just like it does for us. Hebrews 9:27 tells us man is destined to die but once, and after that to face judgment. Somewhere along the way Hades, or hell as we call it, came to be known as the place where unbelievers spend eternity in suffering and torment.
Paradise was only a temporary place for believers, who could not enter heaven until the blood of Jesus was sprinkled on the altar there (Hebrews 9:11-12). Since then, all believers who die go directly to Heaven (Phil. 1:21-23, 2 Cor. 5:6-8).
When Jesus went to Sheol after His death on the cross, He commended them for their faith (1 Peter 4:6) and took them to Heaven (Matthew 27:52-53, Ephesians 4:8). His crucifixion had removed the final obstacle to their entry into God’s presence. All who have died in faith since the cross go straight into the Lord’s presence (2 Cor. 5:7-8) where they await reunion with their resurrection bodies (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
As we saw in Luke 23:43, He said He was going to Paradise immediately after He died and He was taking one of the men dying next to Him along. And in 1 Peter 3:18-20, we’re told that by the power of the Holy Spirit He preached to the disobedient spirits imprisoned there, so He must have visited the other side of Hades as well. But it was not for the purpose of suffering. It was for the purpose of reminding them that their punishment was just and well deserved.
The unsaved dead will continue to languish with the rich man until the end of the Millennium when, at the Great White Throne Judgment, Hades will give up the dead that are in it and each person will face their final judgment before being cast into the Lake of Fire, in utter separation and darkness (Rev. 20:15) and tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20:10).
Also, in Mark 9:43-48 Jesus made reference to the fire that is never quenched where the worm never dies. This clearly shows that hell is not just a place of isolation. Nor is it a matter of being destroyed and that’s the end of it. It is a place of torment, and it lasts forever.
Be skeptical of the popular stories about people who claim to have been to heaven or hell and have been allowed to return and tell us about what it’s like. If God refused to let Lazarus come back to warn the rich man’s five brothers, why would He let all kinds of people come back to warn people now?
And there’s the whole point of the story. Three points actually:
1) The only place to secure your eternal destiny is here on earth before you die (Hebrews 9:27). The rich man never asked for a second chance for himself, only that his brothers be warned while they were still living so they could avoid sharing his fate. There’s no way he would have turned down an opportunity to join Abraham and Lazarus if one existed for him. Abraham made it clear that it was impossible to cross from either area to the other.
2) The Bible contains all the facts you need to make an informed decision about eternity and is the Lord’s chosen method for bringing His children to Salvation.
3) When folks aren’t convinced by Scripture, even someone coming back from the dead will fail to persuade them, a fact the Lord Himself proved all too convincingly a short time later.
What a great trick of our enemy, persuading supposedly learned theologians to teach their biblically ignorant followers to ignore the clear admonitions of Scripture and seek an alternate way, only to discover after it’s too late that they were misled.
Here’s the simple, small and narrow truth:
God, Who created us, requires us to live by His law. Sin is the violation of God’s law and the penalty is death. Because you can’t avoid sinning you can’t avoid the penalty, but because He loves you so much Jesus offered to die in your place. God agreed to this and has issued you a full pardon. You need only believe He did this for you to be forgiven of all your sins, past present and future and receive your pardon. When you do your eternal destiny changes from torment to paradise, from separation to union, from death to life. But remember, you only have this life in which to do this, and you have no way of knowing how soon your life will end.