And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:23)
No one wants to hear about hell, but someone needs to talk about it. Why not me? I do not write this blog to be popular or become famous. If anything, dealing with topics such as this may win my place in infamy. That is okay; I will take my chances.
Most people largely ignore hell. They ask, “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?” Indeed, God sends no one to hell. “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9, emphasis mine). In fact, when God unleashes the full force of His wrath upon the world during the seven-year Tribulation, He provides 144,000 witnesses to preach the Gospel to all nations. He brings two Old Testament prophets from the dead to preach repentance and perform miracles in Jerusalem. If that is not enough, God sends an angel to proclaim the Gospel to all of the world. God does not want to send anyone to hell. He gives mankind every opportunity to avoid that place. (That is the main purpose of this blog.) However, it is up to every individual to make that choice for themselves. God does not force His affection on anyone.
If hell is not real, why would God go to such extremes – like taking on human form to die on a cross for our sins – to keep us out of that place? The Bible speaks more about hell than it speaks about heaven. Yet, some scoffers foolishly mock claiming that they look forward to going to hell so that they can party with all of their friends. Little do they know that they will suffer hell alone. (More on that later.) Still others, while accepting the fact of hell, reject the eternal nature of hell. Obviously, they have misinterpreted the multiple times that Jesus referred to hell as a place of “everlasting fire.” While some may acknowledge that hell is eternal, they believe a sentence to hell is not. They believe that those that go to hell will only spend enough time there to pay for their sins and then cease to exist. However, that amounts to a lot of wishful thinking with no basis in Scripture.
In the Old Testament, “hell” often translates the Hebrew word she’ôl, which is the abode of the dead. Sometimes it is translated as “the grave” or “the pit,” and it is a place of no return. It is not clear to me, but it seems that she’ôl refers to “life after death,” and it could be either bad or good. King David expressed this idea at the death of his son by Bathsheba. When the child was sick, David fasted and prayed unto God for the child’s life, but when the child died, he washed, dressed in his kingly apparel, and ended his fast. When asked about this seemingly odd behavior, David said, “But now he [the child] is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23, emphasis mine). David understood that there was life after death, and his anticipation of that event was not cause for dread; rather, David looked forward to that day.
She’ôl also has a not-so-pleasant side to it. In describing Israel’s reward for idolatry, Moses records God’s plan. “And he [God] said, I will hide my face from them [Israel], I will see what their end shall be: for they are a very froward generation, children in whom is no faith. They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell, and shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. I will heap mischiefs upon them; I will spend mine arrows upon them” (Deuteronomy 32:20-23, emphasis mine). While the language may be figurative (I take it literally), it describes the extent of God’s wrath against sin, and it is not pretty.
We see, then, that she’ôl, the abode of the dead, has both a good and a bad side. Jesus confirmed this idea when He recounted the death of a rich man and Lazarus. Some assume that this was one of Jesus’ parables, but a close inspection reveals that Jesus relayed this as an actual account. Lazarus died as did the unnamed rich man, but they ended up in two different locations. Lazarus died “and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried” (Luke 16:22). Albert Barnes points out that “Burial was thought to be an honor, and funerals were, as they are now, often expensive, splendid, and ostentatious. This is said of the rich man to show that he had “every” earthly honor, and all that the world calls happy and desirable.”
That the rich man was buried also expresses the finality of, at least, his earthly life. However, that was not his end. “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23, emphasis mine). “Hell” here translates the Greek word hadēs which is equivalent to the Hebrew she’ôl. Two regions of the abode of the dead are expressed here: “Abraham’s bosom” and “torments.”
“Torments” is what we normally understand as “hell.” Notice that the rich man possessed consciousness. He could see Abraham and Lazarus “afar off.” However, Lazarus seems to be unaware of the rich man’s suffering. It appears that part of the torture of those in hell is seeing those who are enjoying heaven. At the same time, those in heaven remain unaware of those suffering in hell. Heaven would not be so heavenly knowing the fate of friends and loved ones suffering in hell.
Jesus described the rich man’s end as a place of fire. “And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24, emphasis mine). Some deny the fire of hell, but Jesus never did. Notice that the rich man retains his selfish nature in hell. He dares to ask Abraham to send Lazarus to relieve him of some of his suffering. Later, he asks that Lazarus be sent to preach to his five brothers (vv. 27-28). He does not care about the rest of the lost, only his brothers. Sinners in hell do not change their sinful ways.
Finally, Jesus does not mention others suffering along with the rich man. He appears to be alone and isolated. So much for those who think they will party in hell with their friends. When one rejects God’s free offer of salvation, that one alone bears the responsibility for that choice. It is important to point out that nothing in this account describes the rich man as a particularly wicked or sinful person. Nor does it portray Lazarus as a particularly upright man. However, by implication, the rich man took no thought about God, while Lazarus depended on no one else but God. The rich man counted on his riches and thereby rejected God – not overtly – he probably attended synagogue regularly – but in his attitude of self-sufficiency.
Hell is a real place and the final destination of many. Jesus said, “Enter ye in at the strait [i.e., “narrow”] gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14, emphasis mine). Sadly, Jesus makes it clear that the majority of people will end up in hell.
Many believe that at “judgement day” their good deeds will outweigh the bad and they will gain access into heaven by their good works. They correctly conclude that their deeds will be judged, but the standard to which they will be evaluated is the perfect, sinless life of Jesus Christ, and all will fall short of that standard. Everyone’s life is recorded in the annals of heaven and everyone will give an account. John the Revelator writes, “And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works … And death and hell [hadēs] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12, 14-15, emphasis mine). “The lake of fire” is the place we understand as “hell,” and it is eternal.
The question remains. Which way do you choose, the broad way or the narrow way? Do you want to follow the majority on the way to hell or choose the narrow way that leads to eternal life? The choice is yours and yours alone. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6, emphasis mine). Does that seem narrow? It is! If you are on the broad way with the majority, you can get off of that road to destruction. Please read my page on “Securing Eternal Life.”
 Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible (Published in 1847-85; public domain.)