The Pharisees theology always had the danger of causing them to be unkind to the poor and sick.  When they mocked Jesus for saying they could not serve God and money, Jesus gives them the Parable of the Rich man and Lazarus.  Or, we might say, a story of hell and how to get there.

There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every dayThis rich man is straight from lifestyles of the rich and famous.  He’s a one percenter.  A billionaire maybe.   He’s very wealthy.

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.   At the gate of the rich man is Lazarus.  A poor man, sick, covered in sores.  Maybe crippled, certainly hungry and homeless.  He would love to have the crumbs from the rich mans table.

 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.  They both die.  They both are in Hades, the place of the dead, the underworld.  The poor man is with Abraham, the rich man is in torment.  From view of the rich man, the poor man and Abraham are way off in the distance.

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.’  The rich man still had not learned to love and see Lazarus as a person.  He still immediately sees him as an inferior whose purpose in life was to serve him.

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.’   You might find it interesting that up to this part of the parable was an existing folk tale,  everybody had heard this before.  This was a common story.  It shows up in at least 7 different versions in rabbinic writings of the time.  Sometimes it was maybe a rich man or merchant, sometimes a poor beggar, poor slave or a servant.  They interact in life, but not really.  But in death, the roles are reversed.  It’s a very common story.

But Jesus adds this next part about the five brothers.  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.’   This is Jesus’ way of bringing the story from the afterlife to the here and now.  Jesus refocuses and says I want to talk about right now.

The original point of the story was that there would come a day when there will be a great reversal.  Here, in this life, some are rich, some are poor, but don’t expect things to stay that way once we are taken down to Sheol, to Hades, to the place of the dead.  In that place, a great reversal is going to come, some of the last will be first, and the first will be last.

Jesus point is that that day has arrived.   That time day is now..  That’s what I’m announcing with the Kingdom of God.  Now is the time for the poor on the ash heap to be lifted up  and be seated with the princes of his people.  If the rich don’t believe it, if they stand in the way, if they don’t get on board, they will find themselves tumbling down,   Many who are last shall be first.  You know that story you’ve been telling about how the day will come, that day of a great reversal, that day is now.  That’s what Jesus is announcing with the Kingdom of God.

The  Pharisees, who Jesus is addressing this to, are the five brothers.  They’re not dead yet, they are not in Hades, but they have a belief system that causes them to overlook people like Lazarus.   The rich man knows they’re in danger, he’s worried what will happen to them…

The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers – the Pharisees.  He asks Father Abraham to send him to my father’s house— Jesus has used that phrase before in a parable…for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ It’s too late for me, but send Lazarus to my brothers to save them….

But Jesus has Abraham say this – But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’  They don’t need Lazarus to go back.  They just need to listen to the law and the prophets.   How does Jesus sum up the law and the prophets??   “And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”” Matthew 22:37-40 ESV.  Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Love Lazarus, your neighbor sitting at you gate, as yourself.

And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’   And Jesus, through Abraham in the parable, says this…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 rich man thinks that if someone would rise from the dead, that might change his brothers mind.   Jesus says he’s wrong.  Think about this.  Did the dead Prodigal Son coming home to the Fathers house change the self righteous older brother?   It did not.  That is exactly how the father describes the brother, remember?   “It was fitting to celebrate and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.'”” Luke 15:32 ESV.   You have to put these two parables together.  Jesus is creating both these parables for the same group of people, the Pharisees.  In the parable of the prodigal, we have a dead brother who comes to life again, and it doesn’t change the older brother.  So here we have Abraham saying that if those brothers are not listening to the message of the law and the prophets to love god with all their heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as themselves, then they’re not going to be changed when a dead prodigal comes to life again.

Or even when a crucified Messiah is raised to life again on the third day.  

The fact is that if you do not love God and you do not love your neighbor, the resurrection of Jesus is probably not going to mean much to you.  You will do whatever you must to find a way to wiggle yourself out of the implications.

So, about Hell and how to get there.  Refuse to love.  Refuse to love God, refuse to love your neighbor, and you’ll find your way there.  The Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a means by which you can ignore God, scorn the suffering, and still have everything turn out alright.  Be careful that you don’t create a theological system by which you can ignore God, scorn the suffering, and have everything turn out alright.  Seriously…

Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets.  He came to fulfill them.  He said that, didn’t he?  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17 ESV.  What is Jesus summary of the law and the prophets?  Again, love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.  If you have created a theological system where you don’t have to love God or love your neighbor and think everything will still be ok, what have you done?  What kind of madness is that?

Whatever you think about what salvation is, know that Jesus did not come to save you from loving God and loving your neighbor.  That’s not what he’s saving you from, that’s what he’s saving you to.  Jesus has come to make that thoroughly possible.   He’s come to form a people who will actually live out the intent of all the law and the prophets.

Both Lazarus and the rich man are in the same place.  They are both in Sheol, Hades, the place of the dead.  But one is comforted, one is in torment.  So, what is hell?  The suffering of no longer being able to love.   Fyodor Dostoyevsky – The Brothers Karamazov.

“”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.'””

Luke 16:19-31 ESV

http://bible.com/59/luk.16.19-31.esv

John Lewis

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2 thoughts on “What is Hell??

  1. I just did a podcast on this – it should be posted tomorrow. the topic will be on hell. One way of looking at hell is that it is a place of torment. Torment is different than torture. Torment is self-imposed. The rich man in the parable brings the torment on himself and because God is a God of love, God grants the rich man exactly what he wants in this life – to have nothing to do with God or with his neighbor. He grants the rich man this for all eternity. And he suffers the torment, and never learns from it. And it is his own doing.

    Liked by 1 person

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