“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments…” ~ Luke 16:23
Just reading the verse above most people think of a man surrounded by flames and demons. This is the common teaching about the end of mankind without Christ. Many believe there are people experiencing this right now in the core of the planet or somewhere. Hell is a controversial subject in scripture. The goal of this article is to expound the true nature hell and its purpose.
What is Hell?
Before elaborating on Luke 16, let’s see what the Old Testament says about hell. Hell appears 54 times in scripture. 31 times from Genesis through Habakkuk, and 15 times in the Gospels. In Hebrew, hell is Sheol meaning grave or pit. Verses that mention hell often denote death, burial, in a low place or in a state of physical decay. Here is a popular verse that was spoken by David:
“For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” ~ Psalm 16:10
Note the use of the semicolon. This punctuation is separating two major sentence elements, hell, and corruption. It also separates two related independent clauses. David is saying he does not believe God will leave Him (Christ) in hell. This is actually a prophecy about Jesus. See Acts 2:25-28 where Peter quotes David and confirms this interpretation.
The verse goes on to say that God will not allow His Holy One to see corruption. In other words, His body will not decay. We know this is true because Christ rose after three days. Hell in Acts 2 is the Greek hades, again meaning the grave and death. They placed Jesus in the tomb and He was there for three days and nights. He did not remain long enough for his body to decay. This fact bears witness to the correct interpretation of this verse.
But what about the fire and torment? Well, there is nothing I’ve found in the Old Testament that proves hell is fiery. It does often mention that the dead and those that die are there. Even so, the New Testament seems to say something different.
Is Hell Hot in the NT?
The first instance of hell in the New Testament is in Matthew 5:
“But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.” ~ Matthew 5:22
So what’s the deal here? It says ‘hell fire’, right? Look again at the word hell used in this context. It is the Greek ‘Gehenna’. Gehenna is actually a real place. It is also known as the Valley of Hinnom. This is a place outside Jerusalem where people burned trash and carcasses. They kept the fires burning to keep down the smell. It prevents the spread of disease and to make sure everything burned up. And at one time, they tossed people alive into flames! Some of the kings of Judah sacrificed their children in the fires here according to Jeremiah 7:31. Because of this, they considered the place cursed so it remained a place of burning.
Jesus used it as an illustration only, because it demonstrated the destruction of sin. If you look it up, you will notice that the valley is no longer used as a trash dump in modern times. The fires are no longer burning. Everything there burned to ashes and the fires went out. What then should this remind you of? How about the lake of fire as described in Revelation 20:14:
“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”
Curious… Why cast hell into the lake of fire if hell is already a place of fire? Seems kind of redundant, don’t you think? Since God is not the author of confusion, it just makes sense that hell is not a place of burning, past or present. No one is burning in hell right now.
Why Would a Loving God Torment Man?
Let’s think for a moment. If you have children, you would want the best for them, yes? Even if they did something you didn’t like, you would still love them. And if they did something that warranted punishment, how long would you punish them? Anyone could understand a time span of a few minutes to a day or a week. You might even ground them for a month for a serious infraction. How many people do you know punish their children forever? I mean, are you STILL punishing your adult children for something they did as toddlers? Or did the punishment end at some point?
Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Yet that is what we accuse God of doing when we teach hell as being a place of eternal punishment! And if that is not enough, what if it was true? Imagine dying and being in tormenting flames for centuries. Then judgement day comes. What happens then? Are you taken out of hell and judged? Wow! Everyone in hell would consider Judgement Day a welcome relief, a ClubMed vacation! Don’t you agree? But then, the angels judge you guilty and cast you back into the flames, never to find relief ever again! EVER!!! That is just the height of cruelty! And that is NOT the character of our Heavenly Father.
“In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him.” ~ 1 John 4:9
The Rich Man Dilemma
Now we will explain our starting verse, Luke 16:23. Believe it or not, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was not a real event! A parable whether in Hebrew or Greek is a metaphorical or fictional story. So why would we think this happened? It seems like a horrible tease to offer this man a glimpse of heavenly peace and then deny him any relief or comfort. It’s like you having money for the ice cream man and the other kids don’t. You wave it in their faces singing “I got some ice cream, I got some ice cream…”
Again, God is not cruel and insensitive. He would not dangle a carrot or grapes just out of reach and make you feel miserable. It is not His will for any to suffer or perish. Like any loving parent, He wants only the best for us and would not humiliate us!
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” ~ Jeremiah 29:11
So where did this interpretation come from if not from the bible? All I will say here is that it is an ancient concept. It was also used during the Middle Ages as a means to influence and control. Ever heard of purgatory? That is where our modern concept of hell comes from.
Rejoice In The Truth!
I hope it’s a welcome relief to know that your loved ones who may have died without Christ are not in torment right now! We must give account for our sins and God loved us so much that He provided payment through His Son, Jesus Christ. He paid the price for sin with His life! It is the free gift from the Father in exchange that price. Those who turn down this free gift or exchange will pay for their sins themselves. They will pay just like Christ did; once for all time… but in the future. That punishment is eternal separation from God. Only death will do this, not eternal punishment. For this, you would have to be immortal. Note this: God will not allow sin to exist forever…