Thursday, October 11, 2012

The importance of Jesus' teaching on Hell

Luke 16:19-23 19“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20“And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22“Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23“In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.

Yesterday we looked at Korah, the man who went to hell.  Today we will meet a second man, called "the rich man" who is described being in hell.  Before we come to his story, let us first consider the New Testament teaching on Hell.

Jesus' Teaching on Hell
According to Dr. John MacArthur, Jesus teaches more on the subject of hell than the prophets, apostles and evangelists of scripture put together. (Ashamed of the Gospel, page 64).  In my own study of Jesus' teachings on various subjects, it is surprising to see how often he mentions "Hell" in comparison to other topics:

1. Heaven = 34 times
2. Salvation = 21 times 
3. Hell = 17 times
4. Love = 17 times
5. Money = 12 times
6. Prediction of his crucifixion = around 10 times
7. Not judging people = 3 times

Further study reveals Jesus' description of hell, which matches the Old Testament understanding but with far more detail:

1. Unquenchable Fire   Mark 9:43 compare Num 16:25; Ps106:17,18
2. Everlasting Fire        Matthew 18:18
3. Outer Darkness        Matthew 25:46
4. Gates of Hell             Matthew 16:18 compare Ps 9:13; Is 38:10
5. Place of conscious existence. Luke 16:25-28

6. Place of wailing, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28

7. Place of constant burning and stench. Matt 5:22, 29-30; 10:28; Matt 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5

The Rich man in hell
With the full background of Jesus' teaching on Hell, we now come to Luke 16, which represents the fullest treatment on the physical sights and sounds of "hades", "sheol" or as the KJV renders "hell".  What can we note about this rich man in hell?

1. The rich man would had been unexpected in hell. 
In the Jewish culture, particularly the Pharisees to whom Jesus' was speaking, wealth was taken to be a sign that someone was right with God.  In fact, Luke 16:14 tells us that the Pharisees loved money, since it not only fit their desires but also was a big part of their theology of works righteousness.  To have a rich person in hell would had been offensive to the listener of Jesus' day.  We reading the text  may not be as surprised, since the Rich Man is described as living for himself and his pleasures, not evidencing any sign of ever having repented or believed on the Lord for His salvation.  Nonetheless, if we would had been listening to Jesus, knowing what we know of that culture, we would not had expected it as much.  Like Korah in Numbers 16, we could say the rich man would had been the last person we would had expected to end up in Hell.  It goes to show that only by grace through faith in Christ is a person saved from wrath, rather than one's social standing or supposed reputation among men.

2. The rich man was unrepentant. Luke 16:24
This rich man was in agony in the flames of hell.  He wanted comfort.  Just as he had lived his entire life in "joyous splendor everyday" (16:19), he was chiefly concerned about escaping the pain.  Contrary to what many may think, hell is not a place full of people regetting their rebellion against God.  In Revelation 16:9,11 and 21 we see God pouring out final wrath upon this earth, a "literal hell on earth" prior to Christ's return.  Unbelievers left on this planet actually curse God all the more, giving us insight into the fact that whatever the condition of unbelief in this life, it is only magnified in hell.

3. The rich man had re-occuring memories. Luke 16:25,28
Father Abraham reminds the rich man: "remember during your life".  The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to "his father's house, for he has five brothers".  The rich man's perpective on Lazarus as the "begger at his gate" had not changed.  In hell, the person refuses to change.  Ironically, the rich man is now the beggar and Lazarus is in comfort. (Luke 16:25)

4. The rich man rejects God's Word. Luke 16:30
As the rich man and Abraham continue to exchange words "across the gulf" fixed between them, the rich man begs Abraham to send warning to his brothers about the awfulness of hell.  Abraham states in Luke 16:29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ What does the rich man say? Luke 16:30 tells us -“But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’"   Notice how the rich man still believes his way to be better than God's Word. Furthermore, someone else needs to repent, however the rich man never expresses remorse over his unrepentance.  Sad indeed!

Why the doctrine of Hell is crucial for Christian consideration
As you read on into Luke 17, Jesus gives further warnings about being on our guard in our faithwalk and not stumbling.  In Luke 17:5 we read -  "The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
Hell is admittedly a disturbing doctrine, however for the Christian the doctrine of Hell is beneficial in the following ways:

1. It puts into sharp focus eternity and the need to trust in Christ.  It should raise the burden to get the gospel to as many people as possible. 

2. For the Christian, the doctrine of Hell has the positive benefit of helping us praise God for His grace and to rely ever more on such grace. 

3. I'm sure when the disciples heard this teaching they lost confidence in their own self-righteousness and leaned more on Christ their righteousness.  Only through Christ can I have confidence before the Just and Holy God. 

4. Only in Christ can I have the increased faith needed to overcome adversity and fear.  1 John 4:17 states - "By this, love is perfected with us, so that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world."