(On the Wednesday before Palm Sunday, being my last teaching Wednesday before Easter [due to the altered church schedule during Passion Week], I decided to teach a lesson on the necessity of the cross and our guilt in placing Christ there. Our class was unusual in number. Two of my usual students were absent, however another of my regular students had brought a visitor to sit in on the class. As I wrapped up my lesson, having talked about the penalty of our sin being eternity in hell, this visitor remarked to me “Hell doesn’t really exist,” and went on to inform me that the Bible does not talk about hell. Well, I sent a silent prayer up to God in that instant, both hoping that he would open this girl’s eyes to see the truth of the Gospel, and also that he would prevent me from being arrogant in what I was about to do: give a systematic biblical defense of the doctrine of hell. Here, I am going to exposit one of the primary texts I used in this defense of hell’s existence, Jesus’ Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, found in Luke 16:19-31 [as always, I’m quoting the ESV].)
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers —so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
The key passage in this scripture is where Abraham tells the rich man, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.” You see, Jesus foretells of the fact that he will, himself, rise from the dead, but people will not believe in him, because if they believed what was prophesied in the Old Testament, they would know who is was. They don’t, however, and so they are doomed for hell. This parable has several levels of implication, not the least of which is the reality of the immediate hell – Hades – itself. This is distinguishable from the fire into which the fallen angels and the damned if the earth will be sent to in the Final Judgment (Matthew 25:41-46, Revelation 20:7-15), however it is indistinguishable in its purpose or in its residents, except that the devil and his legions are not in the current hell, but travel the earth (Job 1:7). Those people who are destined for this temporal hell will most certainly end up in the eternal hell, just as those who ascend into the presence of God right now, the paradise Jesus tells the repentant thief of on the cross (Luke 23:43), will certainly come into the New Jerusalem which will come (Revelation 21).
We see in the above passage that the rich man in Hades is in terrible torment. He, in fact, seems to be in burning, as he says he is “in anguish in this flame.” This corresponds to other scripture passages where hell is likewise described as a place of fire and darkness (Jude vs. 7, 13), where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12). Some would say that hell is simply the absence of God, however it is more appropriately talked about as the ultimate pouring out of God’s just wrath. The day whereupon the righteous will be sent to the eternal heaven, and the damned into hell is considered “the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). As J.I. Packer explains “Hell is not so much the absence of God, as the consequence of his wrath and displeasure.” God is like a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), and his righteous condemnation for defying him and clinging to the sins he loathes will be experienced in hell (Rom. 2:6, 8, 9, 12).
Hell is real. God is just, and in his justice, he must show his wrath against those not atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ, his Son. Remember, upon this Easter, that Jesus has raised from the dead, he who was prophesied about in “Moses and the Prophets.” We have the hope of salvation through him, though we are all born as “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3). He came so that we may have God’s mercy, so remember that “whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” How terrible will the condemnation be for those who stand in the fiery wrath of God.