Sunday, February 19, 2006

Luke 16:19-31 - Hell: That Theological Place of Permanent Punishment

The Rich Man Being Led to Hell, David Teniers the Younger, 1647. National Gallery, London.
Hell is one of those subjects that makes people uncomfortable. We hear stories of hell being a place of fire, demons, and endless torment. Throughout history many authors have written about it, Dante's Inferno for example. Western culture is very familiar with the concept. Even Hollywood has made it the subject of many movies. 

Lazarus and the Rich Man, Das Plenarium oder Ewangely buoch, 1516. Pitts Theological Library Digital Image Archive.
Whatever the context, whatever the belief, hell is definitely taught in the Bible. But even the doctrine of hell is not without its controversy. Some say it is only the grave with no consciousness. Others say it is a place of correction and punishment that is not eternal. Others say it is an endless agonizing punishment in fire. Whichever it is, hell is the total absence of the favor of God.

Read Luke 16:19-31 Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Textual Notes
Here is a parable about a rich man and Lazarus, a poor man with elements of symbolism about their ends after death. Morals of story: (1) Those who value riches more than God will be rejected (12:31-21) and (2) God demands a heart of love and justice for poor and lowly (14:12-14). Love the Lord your God and love your neighbor as yourself. (3) There will be ultimate justice in the afterlife (16:27-31). We want to focus on that third moral today.

Rich man fits description of Pharisee or Sadducee. Purple the color of royalty. Fine linen refers to undergarments – best underwear money could buy.

Lazarus – only person named in a parable (Grk for Eleazar, “God is his help”). Hungry, dogs were detestable animals scavenging off his sores.

Abraham’s side – image derived from reclining at meal on couches. Lazarus finally got to enjoy that meal that he had longed for (v. 21) so long. Cf. John 13:23. Lazarus is next to the host, the place of most honor.

Hell – Hades. Pre-resurrection abode for dead.

Great chasm – v. 26 indicates Sheol had two sides for righteous and wicked with a great gulf between.


1. Sinners will occupy hell. God created each person for a loving, intimate relationship with Him. We have all sinned (Rom 3:23), and therefore condemnation falls on all of us (John 3:18) – unless we have faith in Jesus (Romans 8:1). Such sinners under condemnation could be nice, religious people (Matt 23:33) to those failing to help the poor (Mt 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31) to the vile and murderous (Rev 21:8).

2. There is a finality of death in regard to human destiny (Luke 16:25).
The state of a person after death is irrevocably settled during his/her lifetime (vv. 27-28). (Matt 25:31-46; 2 Cor 5:10; Rev 20:12) Not a single suggestion in the Scripture that this can be reversed. No reincarnation – Hebrews 9:27

3. After death, the righteous will enjoy happiness; the lost will endure indescribable distress (Luke 16:22-23)
Each person will be in one of two places after death. Jesus’ teaching goes along with Daniel’s (Daniel 12:2).
Each person is conscious of either happiness or distress (vv. 24-25). (Rev 14:10)
Memory of this life and its lost opportunities exists beyond the grave (v. 27-28). (Mark 9:48)

4. Everyone has a sufficient guide to happiness in the Scriptures (Luke 16:29-31).
Foreshadowing of the rejection of Jesus’ resurrection.
Evangelism is “snatching others from fire” Jude 23

Place of permanent punishment for ungodly

Final judgment In OT, hell is a place of final retribution for evil deeds (Psalm 21:10; 140:10; Mal 4:1-2). In NT, it described as a furnace (Matt 13:42, 50), a lake of fire (Rev 19:20; 20:14-15: 21:8), and a prison (Rev 20:7). The wicked are imprisoned here (Matt 5:25-26; 13:42, 50; 18:34; Jude 6; Rev 20:14-15)

Hell exists for retribution of evil deeds (Matt 16:27; Luke 12:47-48; 2 Peter 2:13; Jude 15; Rev 14:9-11; Romans 1:18-32) and the righteous rule of God (Matt 25:31-46; Rom 12:19; 1 Cor 15:24-25; 2 Cor 5:10).

Characteristics of Hell
Key Words

i. Sheol (OT word Gen. 37:35; Num. 16:30,33; Psalm 16:10, thought to be below ground Ezek. 31:15,17; Psalm 86:13).)

ii. Gehenna – 'ge-hinnom' meaning "Valley of Hinnom." It was a place to the southwest of Jerusalem. City garbage dump, constantly burning, rotting, piling up, stinking, bodies of poor buried, flies, maggots, history of child sacrifice, mass graves from battle, and idolatry. Job 10:21; 2 Chron 28:3; 33:6; Ps 88:12; Eccl 9:10; Isa 14:10; Jer 7:31-32; 19:2-6; Isaiah 66:24; Josiah defiled the valley to stop idolatry 2 Kings 23:10) In NT, used as condition, not a place.
iii. Hades (NT words used 10X in NT, 4X by Jesus: Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; other 6X Acts 2:27,31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13,14).

i. Fiery Hell -- Matt. 5:22, 29,30; 18:8-9
ii. Unquenchable -- Matt. 3:12
iii. Eternal Fire -- Matt. 25:41, 46; Jude 7,
iv. Lake of Fire -- Rev. 20:15,
Weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 13:42, 50; 22:13)
Darkness – (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13; Mt 8:12)
Separation from God in chaos – shut out of God’s presence, favor, goodness, creation (light from darkness) (Gen 1:1-3; Psalm 9:17; 34:15-16; 2 Thess 1:9; 1 Jn 1:5). Supreme penalty of sin is unquestionably the loss of God’s life and love.
Continuous and eternal Torment (Mt 3:12; 25:41; 2 Thess 1:9; Jude 7)
Conscious agony of body and soul (Mt. 10:28; Rom 8:29; Jude 7)
There appear to be degrees of punishment (Mark 12:40; Luke 12:48)
Many details are left to the imagination b/c human language cannot do justice to the reality.

Jesus defined hell more than any other person in Scripture, and forcefully spoke of need to avoid hell (Mt 5:22, 29-30; 7:19; 8:12; 10:15, 28; 11:22, 24; 13:40-42, 50; 18:7-9; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30, 46; Mk 9:42-49; Lk 12:46-47; 13:28-30; 17:26-29; John 15:6)

After crucifixion and at resurrection Jesus emptied the good side of Sheol into paradise (presence with the Lord) when he rose from the dead (Ephesians 4:8-10; 2 Cor 5:6-9; 12:2; John 3:14-15; Phil 2:9; 1 Peter 3:19-20)

In Revelation 20:14-15, Hades/Sheol will be thrown into the Lake of Fire for eternity, and the smoke of punishment will rise forever.

Objections to the doctrine of hell.
Hell is a dreadful reality that we don’t enjoy thinking about. Christ wept over Jerusalem, and believers are troubled over the destiny of the lost.
Once the doctrine of hell slips out of belief, others follow.

Universal Salvation
eventually everyone will be in heaven. Isn’t God a loving God who would never allow anyone to suffer (1 John 4:8)? This is only a false “hope,” to which proponents must resort. No Scripture backs them up. God is also just (Neh. 9:32-33; 2 Thess. 1:6), and eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Tim. 1:17 ). God punishes the evil doer (Isaiah 11:13) Further, question that God would not reject forever his creature, assumes that the creature is the highest intrinsic good, but the highest good for God is not humanity. Humanity was created to for God, to glorify Him (Psalm 73:24-26; Rom 11:36; 1 Cor 10:31; Col 1:16). This is why Jesus insists it is idolatrous to make God humanity’s servant (Luke 17:7-10). Yes, God is love. Yes, He loves us. But God and His love existed in completion for an infinity before humanity was created.
Salvation – The whole idea of being saved – saved from what? If not from something undesirable, then what? (Luke 19:10)

Annihilation – (General Baptists (1660), Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, John Stott) idea that those who reject God cease to exist at death. Scripture teaches the soul’s survival after death (Luke 16; Num. 16:30; Rev. 14:9-11) Why are sinners eternally kept in existence to suffer? At issue is the punishment due sin. We see things from a human point of view and not God’s point of view and the nature and terror of sin. Look at the deep sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. He made a way for us (Romans 3:26; 2 Cor 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24; 1 Cor 2:8). The penalty for sin was that the Infinite God die. How can we think that the penalty for sin would be anything less than infinite?

Purgatory – everyone gets a second chance after paying their dues on sin. Doctrine found nowhere in Scripture and developed to raise money for Catholic Church in Middle Ages. Luther, other reformers railed against this doctrine.

Jesus talked about hell more than any other person in Scripture, and his testimony should validate its reality more than anything else.

Henry Oxenham, 19th C English theologian[1]: “If Christ intended to teach the doctrine of eternal punishment, could he possibly have taught it in plainer terms?”

Hell is a real place. It is not mere unconsciousness. It is not temporal. It is eternal torment. Perhaps that is why Jesus spoke more of hell than heaven and spent so much time warning people not to go there. After all, if people just stopped existing, why warn them? If it was temporal, they'd get out in a while. But if it were eternal and conscious, then the warning is strong.

Not all questions answered, but we know enough to know that Jesus is the answer to Hell. He provides an escape. He provides eternal life in Paradise in His Presence. The doctrine of Hell caused me as a seven-year old to come to Christ. Won’t you come to Christ today for yourself?
[1] ISBE, Vol IV, 2502, 1956.