Hell

Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) to illustrate what takes place at the time of death. In the Old Testament of the Bible, hell was referred to as she’ol or hades. She’ol was, “a place of degradation, the locality or condition of those who have died or have been destroyed. It is implied that although, so far as the world is concerned, they have perished, yet they are still in a state of existence and are within God’s cognizance.” Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, everyone went to the same location when they died. She’ol was the place of the dead. It referred to the “netherworld or the underground cavern to which all buried dead go. It was not understood to be a place of punishment, but simply the ultimate resting place of all mankind (Gen 37:35)” (7585). In the New Testament, the word translated hell is geenna (gheh´-en-nah). Gehenna (or Ge-Himmon) was a valley of Jerusalem used figuratively as the name of the place (or state) of everlasting punishment (1067). Gehenna may have been believed to be a place that everyone that had turned their back on God went in order to be separated from him for eternity. Gehenna is described as “a gorge (from its lofty sides; hence, narrow, but not a gully or winter-torrent)” (1516).

Jesus’ story went like this:

“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 good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.'” (Luke 16:19-25, ESV)

After the rich man was denied relief from his suffering, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers of their impending doom. Abraham denied the rich man’s request stating that his family had already been warned by Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:27-29). The rich man replied, “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:30-31).

The interesting thing about Jesus’ story is that a short time later, he raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. He may have done it as a witness to the fact that the story he told about the rich man going to hell was actually true.

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The narrow gate

Jesus’ analogy of the kingdom of God being like a grain of mustard seed made it seem as if there would be only a small number people that would make it into heaven (Luke 13:19). Therefore, someone asked him, “Lord, are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23). Jesus’ response made it clear that the limitation to getting into heaven was not because of the size of God’s kingdom, but the method by which people would have to enter into it. He said, “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able” (Luke 13:24). Jesus previously referred to the strait gate in his Sermon on the Mount in which he said:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth to life, and few there be that find it. (Matthew 7:13-14)

The Greek word translated narrow, thlibo (thlee-bo) has to do with a path of life that is filled with trouble and suffering (2346). What Jesus was saying was that most people wouldn’t chose the strait or narrow gate because it runs counter to our natural instincts. Jesus further illustrated this point when he said, “And behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last” (Luke 13:30). The Greek terms Jesus used for first and last suggest he was describing a processional or steady stream of people going through the gates of heaven. In this processional those who started out at the end of the line might get in first due to their effort to enter the gate as quickly as possible. Others who were at the head of the line, but hesitated to go through the gate (i.e. experience suffering in their lives), might not make it in because the doors would eventually be shut (Luke 13:25).

Jesus’ instruction to “strive to enter in at the strait gate” (Luke 13:24) may have been a reference to spiritual warfare. The Greek word translated strive, agonizomai (ag-o-nid´-zom-ahee) means to struggle and is literally translated “to compete for a prize” (75). Figuratively, agonizomai means to contend with an adversary. Satan is sometimes referred to as our adversary (1 Peter 5:8) and the Apostle Paul talked about spiritual warfare in the context of wrestling “against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places” (Ephesians 6:12). Something that Jesus seemed to want his listeners to understand was that the strait gate couldn’t be entered into without expending some effort. In the illustration he used of the master of the house rising up and shutting the door unexpectedly, Jesus said of those that didn’t make it in, “Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets. But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence you are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity” (Luke 13:26-27).

It’s not fair

Jeremiah’s job as a prophet to the nation of Judah caused him to be a target of abuse and slander. It says in Jeremiah 20:1-2, “Pashur the son of Immer the priest, who was also chief governor in the house of the LORD, heard that Jeremiah prophesied these things. Then Pashur smote Jeremiah the prophet, and put him in stocks that were in the high gate of Benjamin, which was by the house of the LORD.”

Pashur had heard Jeremiah say that God was going to punish the people of Judah because they would not repent. Pashur’s actions gave the people the impression that Jeremiah was lying and was not a true prophet of God. Jeremiah was severely beaten and placed in a torturous device that would have caused him severe pain and discomfort. Pashur’s intention was to scare Jeremiah into silence. Instead, Jeremiah proclaimed:

And thou, Pashur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity: and thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou hast prophesied lies.

Jeremiah’s bold proclamation was not given as a result of his own strength, but because he feared God more than he feared Pashur. Jeremiah complained to the LORD about the unfair treatment he received. He said, “I am in derision daily, every one mocketh me” (Jeremiah 20:7). Jeremiah had become a laughing-stock and was mocked for speaking the truth. He was so upset by what was happening, that he wanted to give up his calling (Jeremiah 20:9).

In a moment of complete despair, Jeremiah revealed his feelings of depression and thought of suicide. He openly declared, “Cursed be the day wherein I was born: let not the day wherein my mother bare me be blessed, cursed be the man who brought tidings to my father, saying, a man child is born unto thee; making him very glad…because he slew me not from the womb; or that my mother might have been my grave…wherefore came I forth out of the womb to see labor and sorrow, that my days should be consumed with shame?” (Jeremiah 20:14-18).

Jeremiah’s death wish was in part a testimony to the hopelessness of the situation in Judah. Even though Jeremiah would have rather been able to encourage the people of Judah with a message of God’s mercy, he knew their destruction was imminent and all he could do was try to warn them. Showing us that he felt like a man stuck between a rock and a hard place, Jeremiah declared of the LORD, “Then I said, I will not make mention of him, nor speak any more in his name. But his word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I was weary with forebearing, and I could not stay”

Suffering

The prophet Micah was an ordinary man, an average citizen of the nation of Judah, that received a message from the LORD about God’s judgment against Samaria and Judah. Regarding the idolatry of Samaria, Micah was told, “And all the graven images thereof shall be beaten to pieces and all the hires thereof shall be burnt with the fire, and all the idols thereof will I lay desolate” (Micah 1:7).

Micah was greatly affected by the message he received because his own home town was going to be overrun by the Syrians as they marched toward Jerusalem (Micah 1:14). What was going to happen to Judah was a reversal of what they had experienced during the reign of king Uzziah. Over the course of fifty plus years, Judah’s borders had been expanded. They had regained territory lost in various wars and were prospering financially.

One of the indictments Micah brought against the rich citizens was their abuse of the poor. Micah declared, “Woe to them that devise iniquity, and work evil upon their beds! When morning is light, they practice it, because it is in the power of their own hand” (Micah 2:1). Basically, Micah was saying that people were dreaming up schemes to get rich and were acting without restraint. In particular, people were stealing each other’s land and were disrupting the social order of the nation (Micah 2:2).

When God’s people entered the Promised Land, every family was assigned a portion of land that was to be their inheritance throughout time. Even if a person sold his land, it was to be returned to him or a family member in the year of Jubile, which occurred every 50 years (Leviticus 25:50). The people of Israel and Judah were not following this law and the poor were being left homeless (Micah 2:9).

Like Isaiah and Amos, Micah’s message referred to a remnant that would be regathered to their homeland. An interesting aspect of Micah’s prediction was its depiction of sheep apparently being led to the slaughter. Speaking for the LORD, Micah said, “I will surely assemble, O Jacob, all of thee, I will surely gather the remnant of Israel; I will put them together as the sheep of Bozrah, as the flock in the midst of their fold: they shall make great noise by reason of the multitude of man” (Micah 2:12).

Psalm 44:22 also depicts God’s people as sheep being led to the slaughter. This psalm may have been written during the reign of king Hezekiah, which coincided with Micah’s ministry. Isaiah also used this illustration in his portrayal of the Messiah (Isaiah 53:7). God’s people and their Messiah were most likely depicted sheep being slaughtered because of the brutality they experienced and the innocent who were killed along side the guilty who deserved to be punishment.