The incredible teaching of Jesus in the story of the “Rich man and Lazarus” indisputably teaches the reality of hell. This story is not a parable as Jesus tells of a particular rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. In no parable is a personal name ever given. This story teaches the reality of heaven and hell.
The natural man thinks that hell is unreasonable and inconsistent with God’s nature, and thus seeks to invent false doctrines to ease its flaming wrath. Roman Catholics have devised purgatory without any scriptural evidence. Many cults deny a place of eternal suffering. Sadly, even some evangelicals teach annihilation or that the fire of hell is merely a metaphor.
We must never ignore the wrath of God or the terror of His warnings. Many verses in Scripture teach the reality that hell is a very real place. John the Baptist said hell is “unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12). Jesus called hell a “furnace of fire” (Matt.13:42), “everlasting fire” (Matt.18:8, 25:41), and “hell fire” (Matt.18:9). John the Apostle of love calls hell “a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev.19:20; 20:14,15; 21:8) and in Revelation 14:11 we read that in hell “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night…” If there is no hell, then the Bible is a hoax and Jesus Christ is a liar. If you are not a believer, you must flee from the wrath to come. You must be born again. It is appointed unto man once to die, and then the judgment.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus teaches three powerful and surprising lessons about hell.
Do you know who is there? A rich somebody! Do you know who wasn’t? A poor nobody! That would shock anyone listening to Jesus on that day. Someone who never expected to go to hell died and lived in hell. Surprisingly, someone no one gave a chance of salvation rested in Abraham’s bosom, or the place of paradise.
Why is Jesus talking about this? Because the religious Pharisees were like this rich man. They were in danger of hell fire. In Matthew 23:13-15, Jesus in love warns the Pharisees because He wants them to be saved, so He tells them directly and in unmistakable terms, they were going to hell. They did not expect that, but that was their destiny unless they would repent.
The second powerful surprise about hell: look what is in hell and what is not, Luke 16:24-26.
Incredibly, the rich man still possesses conscious memory, emotion, and he feels the burning pain of fire in hell. There are two words for the suffering of hell translated “torment” in this passage. In verse 23 and 28, the word torment is basanos, which speaks of conscious pain. The Scriptures use it of those suffering sickness (Matthew 8:6) and the suffering of those in hell (Rev.14:10; 20:10). The other word translated “torment” appears in verses 24 and 25. This word (odynaō) describes the emotional anguish of Mary when Jesus was lost, and they sought him sorrowing (Luke 2:48). This passage clearly teaches the conscious, irreversible, and immense physical and emotional agony in fire far beyond anything one can imagine.
Surprisingly, what does not exist in hell is any escape. Once a person lands in hell, there is no reversing this awful destiny. There is a “great gulf fixed” and no one can pass from heaven into hell or vice versa. Neither can anyone find any relief in hell, nor can anyone import even a drop of water into that infernal dungeon.
Many people have the false notion that one can pray for the dead and reverse their suffering. The Scripture does not teach this, but does teach the very opposite. All prayers and attempts to win the lost must be done while the loved one lives on earth, and prayers for the dead are vain.
The third powerful surprise about hell: look what the rich man in hell is concerned about and what he is not, Luke 16:27-31.
This rich man in Luke 16:27, 28 said, “I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: for I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.”
Incredibly, the rich man in hell became concerned about witnessing and sharing the Gospel with those who are lost. Although he was in hell, he was concerned about missions and the salvation of those who still had an opportunity to escape this awful destination. The word “send” is used many times of how the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world (John 5:23, 24, 30, 37). The word “testify” is used of apostolic preaching (Acts 10:42:18:5).
Surprisingly, the rich man in hell had no interest in the condition of anything material. He did not inquire about his previous passions: his luxurious home, his expensive wardrobe or his exotic cuisine (Luke 16:19). He was not preoccupied about many of the issues that continually distract us in this life: clothes, food, houses, sports, entertainment, politics or the stock market!
Since those in hell have extreme concern that their lost loved ones would be saved, we also ought to have the same burden. Are you actively seeking to go and witness to others around you so that they can be saved from sin and eternal death in hell, or are you preoccupied with lesser things?
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Matthew 25:46 says, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Where will you spend eternity? Make sure you are saved. Where will your loved ones spend eternity? Seek to witness to them while there still is time. Jesus died to save us from hell and rose again to give us life!