Hell in the Teachings of Jesus (Part 1)


This is the ninth in a 13-part series wherein I give you Hell, a little booklet by the inimitable Dr. Jeff Obadiah Simmonds.

Having said that humans are not inherently immortal, and only possess immortality if it is bestowed upon them by God, the Bible does indicate that there will be a resurrection of the dead—not only of the righteous, but also of the unrighteous—and that there will be a final Judgement.

“Those who have done good will rise to live, but those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” (Jn 5.29)

The book of Revelation also describes the final judgement:

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the Second Death. If anyone’s name was not written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20.13-14)

The Second Death is best understood as extinction or annihilation. While the lake of fire itself is described as a never ending fire, there is no indication that those who are thrown into it will be eternally tormented. The exception is the devil, the beast and the false prophet who are thrown into the lake of burning sulphur and “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev 20.10)

Prior to the resurrection of the dead and the last judgement, the dead are said to dwell in a shadowy abode called Sheol (in the Hebrew Old Testament) and Hades (in the Greek New Testament). It is said that Jesus descended into Hades after His death—that is, not into hell, but into the underworld.

The story of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16.19-31) refers to Hades. Lazarus is in paradise, while the rich man suffers in Hades. This story, more than any other, is used by opponents of annihilationism to indicate that the wicked suffer eternal torment. The story raises a number of questions: is the story a parable or an account of an actual event? Are we to understand it literally or metaphorically?

This story is in the context of a number of parables—the lost sheep, the pieces of silver, the prodigal son, the unjust steward and the rich man and Lazarus. Both the story about the rich man and Lazarus and the parable immediately before it, the unjust steward, begin with the same words: “There was a certain rich man…” (Lk 16.1, 19)

I am more inclined to see this as a parable, and therefore as a symbolic story rather than an account of an “historical” event in the afterlife. However, even if we were to understand it literally, we may note that Hades is the abode of the dead until the last judgement, and therefore the rich man’s condition is not (necessarily) eternal. After the resurrection of the dead, we may surmise, Lazarus will be raised to life and the rich man will be raised to condemnation, thrown into the lake of fire, and annihilated.

When we read any part of the Bible we must ask what the author’s point is. It is not legitimate to read a meaning into the story which the author did not intend. We may ask, then, if Jesus’ purpose was to describe in literal terms the condition of the afterlife, or if He was making another point. I would suggest that the intended message is twofold: firstly, that those who oppress the poor and needy now will, in the future, receive punishment, while those who are afflicted now will be comforted and receive a good reward. This is true regardless of whether we think of hell as torture or annihilation. Secondly, the point is that “if they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Lk 16.31). The question has to do with what will convince the Pharisees of the truth of Jesus’ claims—miracles and even resurrections will not suffice. Probably, the purpose of the story is not to give a realistic description of the eternal destiny of the wicked.

However, it would be dangerous to build a doctrine of eternal punishment on a parable, especially when there is no indication that the rich man is being eternally punished. If anything, the parable is about the condition of the wicked prior to the final judgement.

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9 Responses to Hell in the Teachings of Jesus (Part 1)

  1. Mark.V. says:

    If the only penalty for a lifetime of sin and debauchery is permanent death, where is the disincentive? Why repent? OK a sinner won’t go to Heaven, but so what, is Heaven that wonderful? Eternity in the presence of God will get boring after a while.

    This whole Heaven and Hell thing needs work. A God that permits an eternity of toment is unacceptable and why is going to Heaven so desirable? What exactly will we be doing for all eternity?

  2. Richard says:

    If the only penalty for a lifetime of sin and debauchery is permanent death, where is the disincentive? Why repent?

    The death penalty not good enough for you, Mark?! (The wages of sin is death. Perhaps that’s just a retainer. Perhaps you also earn a commission on sins committed.)

    This whole Heaven and Hell thing needs work. … why is going to Heaven so desirable? What exactly will we be doing for all eternity?

    Perhaps. … I don’t have the answers.

  3. Mark.V. says:

    “The death penalty not good enough for you, Mark?! ”

    Actually no, we all have to die sometime, the prospect of dying does not frighten me, an eternity of boredom does.

  4. Richard says:

    So what would provide a sufficient disincentive? What would turn you away from a lifetime of sin and debauchery?

    Eternity in the presence of God will get boring after a while.

    What’s boring about eternity in the presence of God? God, eternity or you?

  5. Quote: “The story of Lazarus and the rich man (Lk 16.19-31) refers to Hades. Lazarus is in paradise, while the rich man suffers in Hades. This story, more than any other, is used by opponents of annihilationism to indicate that the wicked suffer eternal torment. The story raises a number of questions: is the story a parable or an account of an actual event? Are we to understand it literally or metaphorically?…”

    This parable is to be taken literally because Christ says it thus… There was a *Certain Rich man* … These are True stories… Not merely ‘Parables’. like “A sower went forth to sow…” And it would be dishonnest of Christ to make out The Rich man was not suffering torment… if there was no such place…

  6. Quote: “However, it would be dangerous to build a doctrine of eternal punishment on a parable, especially when there is no indication that the rich man is being eternally punished. If anything, the parable is about the condition of the wicked prior to the final judgement….”

    This is correct. The Rich man was in Hell… which is a temporary ‘holding cell’
    for the Lost in which they await the great white throne judgement at the end Of Christ’s 1000 year kingdom reign, when they shall be raised (from hell) and face the ultimate judgement and be cast into the Lake of fire… and be there forever. The essential point of the parable is that they survive death…ie they are not anihilated, the flames of hell torments them yet does not consume them, neither will the Flames of the Lake of fire consume them.
    Now what sort of dirty trick would it be if God turns around and says…”Oh you just misunderstood” …there is no Hell…no lake of fire…” I personally would be very pleased to hear it, yet that does not vindicate decieving people into believing eternal torment is real! I dont like the doctrine at all! I wish it were not so. Yet My whim is meaningless! I am not God. I must trust in the Lord with all my heart. I must have faith in his righteous judgements, and believe his word…believe the warnings about Damnation for the lost… and being moved by a sence of urgency to preach the gosple, that they may be saved. This is what it means to be objective…ie to accept Gods Holiness and righteous judgement even when I dont personally like it. *This fits in with reality* There are many things about Reality that I dont like…yet God allows them to take their course… like child cancer…or children being burned alive in house fires… or being run over… I must still trust in God’s goodness inspite of these Realities. *That is the essence of faith*… Not merely believing what is convenient… or plesant… or re-defining God into the image you think he ought to be… Thats Falce Religion! The word ‘Judgement’ appears more times in the Bible than ‘Salvation’.

  7. Joseph Orlov says:

    “The Second Death is best understood as extinction or annihilation. While the lake of fire itself is described as a never ending fire, there is no indication that those who are thrown into it will be eternally tormented. The exception is the devil, the beast and the false prophet who are thrown into the lake of burning sulphur and “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Rev 20.10)”

    I can’t (won’t) tell you why, but this answers a question which has been burning in my mind for the past few weeks. Funny how that happens when the subject at hand is the Bible and its interpretation.

    Mark:

    “What exactly will we be doing for all eternity?”

    You are not thinking in Einsteinian terms. Heaven is a maximally dilated experience of space-time. Thus, sequence (and the concept of “boredom,” which is unique to it) does not apply.

  8. Richard says:

    This parable is to be taken literally because Christ says it thus… There was a *Certain Rich man* … These are True stories… Not merely ‘Parables’.

    If a parable is meant to be taken literally then it is not a parable. In any case … in the KJV, Mark 12 begins: “And he began to speak unto them by parables. A certain man planted a vineyard …”

  9. Pingback: Welcome to Death | Eternal Vigilance

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