How can a loving God send anyone to hell?

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:18

As I have shared the gospel with others one of the disturbing questions among non-Christians is how can a loving God send anyone to hell? To many people this seems like a major contradiction. One minute, preachers will talk about God’s love and forgiveness. Then they turn around and talk about hell – a terrible place of torment and unending fire where people want to die but they are unable to. How can God claim to be loving and forgiving and then turn around and send someone to such a terrible place of agony and suffering?

How do you respond to this question? Let’s look in our Bibles at John 3:16-21 where Jesus is having a conversation with a religious leader named Nicodemus. We have been doing a verse-by-verse study of the gospel of John. This book helps us see the major emphasis of Jesus’ ministry. While Christ was on earth, He was not scaring people out of going to hell with bad news; instead, He was inviting people to heaven with good news. Jesus spoke more about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, but that was not the major emphasis of His ministry. He did not earn His reputation as a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19) by being harsh. He earned it by being loving and kind and extending His love and forgiveness to people like all of us. Jesus’ message and ministry were not trying to scare people out of hell; but inviting them to receive the gift of eternal life so they could live with Him forever in heaven.

God’s love wants all people to live with Him in heaven. Jesus said to Nicodemus (and us), “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). God loves the entire world – over 7.8 billion people at the time of writing this article. How do we know this? Because He gave His only Son to die on a cross (I Corinthians 15:1-8). Why did Jesus have to die? Because God is holy and perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 6:1-5; Matthew 5:48; Romans 3:23; I Peter 1:16). The fact that God is holy and perfect demands that He must punish sin (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15; 21:8). A “slap on the wrist” is not enough. Due to its awful nature, sin is punishable by death (Romans 6:23a). Not physical death – but eternal death or separation from God (Matthew 25:41, 46b; Revelation 20:15; 21:8).

Fortunately for us, God let His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, who never knew any sin – no wrong thoughts, bad words, unkind attitudes, or evil actions – die on a cross where you and I should have been punished (2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18). Christ took our place on a cross. The nails that should have been driven through our hands and feet, were, instead, driven through His. Keep in mind, Christ didn’t have to suffer for your sin – He loved you enough to do it. When God brought His Son up from the grave on the third day, He was providing proof that He could now extend forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus. There is no sin that Christ cannot forgive and no person that He will not accept if he or she comes to Him on His terms.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). This is the heart of God. Some people confuse Christianity with religion. They think God sent Jesus to earth to make us miserable. They think Christianity is a bunch of dos and don’ts. “Don’t drink… don’t cuss… don’t smoke… don’t chew…  and don’t run around with girls who do.” They perceive God to be sitting up in heaven just waiting to hit them with His holy hammer when they mess up. But this verse tells us the very opposite. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn us, but to cleanse us. He did not come to rub our sin in, He came to rub it out.

Imagine for a moment… one of your children when they were small, playing in the road. You see a fast-moving car approaching. You know you can’t reach him in time. Running toward him you yell, “Get out of the road and come here!” It is important at that moment that your child trusts you and responds. Are you trying to ruin his fun? No, you are trying to save his life! God knows that we are all in danger. We are in danger of spending eternity separated from Him. The Bible calls it the second death and it is racing towards all of humanity (Revelation 20:6, 11-15). For that reason, God sent His Son to die on a cross, as a sacrifice for our sins. He’s paid our penalty. All He asks in return is that we believe or trust in Christ for eternal life (John 3:16).

God doesn’t want any human being to spend eternity in hell. In fact, Jesus tells us that hell was intended for the devil and his angels: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41).  Since God did not want us to spend eternity in hell, He sent His Son to die in our place so that whoever believes in Him should not perish in hell but have everlasting life.

Since God loves us so much, then why would He send anyone to such a horrible place as hell? Please hear this – GOD DOESN’T SEND ANYONE TO HELL. PEOPLE SEND THEMSELVES THERE.

God’s love allows people to choose between heaven and hell. Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). When a person refuses to believe in Jesus Christ they are rejecting God’s offer. They are condemning themselves. When a person refuses to trust Christ alone for the free gift of eternal life they are in essence saying to God, “I reject what Jesus Christ did in my place as my Substitute.” Therefore, God has no choice but to let us pay for our own sin, through eternal separation from Him in what the Bible calls hell. Those who go to hell are going there of their own choosing because they have rejected Christ and His free offer. God has not rejected them; instead, they have rejected God.

Suppose God blessed you and your spouse with a little boy. You love that little boy so much that you would do anything for him. Forbid the thought, but suppose that when your little boy is twenty-one, he begins a wayward life and eventually murders someone. Your state sentences him to die by lethal injection. Suppose that you could walk into his cell the morning he is to be executed and offer to take his place. That’s how great your love is for him. In so doing, you explain that he can be a free and forgiven man. Much to your surprise, he pushes you aside, walks to the table, and receives the punishment for his horrible crime himself. Did you not love him enough? Would you accept the accusation, “If you really loved your son, you wouldn’t have allowed that to happen”? Not at all! You did not reject him; he rejected you.

This is why the Bible puts the responsibility where it belongs when it says, “but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18b). Why would someone reject Christ’s free offer of everlasting life? Why would someone choose hell instead of heaven? The answer is in the following verses.

People love their sin more than the Savior. Jesus says to Nicodemus (and to us), “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). The presence of God’s light – His truth- forces people to make a choice – to either believe in Christ or reject Him. The reason people reject Christ’s offer of a free gift is because they love their sin more, and they want to stay in the darkness because it hides their sinfulness.

Let’s be honest, sin is fun. Sin feels good. Sin initially appears attractive. But sin is like a black widow spider. The bite of the female black widow spider can be deadly to humans. But the black widow gets its name because after the male has mated with the female, she kills and eats him. Sin has somewhat of the same effect on us. It is initially attractive and pleasurable, but in the end, it can devour us forever.

For example, suppose a person is unwilling to come to Christ because he is afraid of what God might do with the sins he enjoys? If that man so enjoys his immorality or drug abuse or overeating and, in fear of what God might do, is unwilling to come to Christ, he needs to examine Matthew 5:29-30: 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” What does Jesus mean here?

Let me explain where I’m at in my understanding of this passage. Alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, and sexual addiction are examples of sins which dominate the lives and thinking of millions upon millions today. People turn to such things to medicate their inner pain. The sinful addiction provides a temporary distraction or relief. However, it does not eliminate the pain. In fact, it takes more and more of the addictive behavior to keep masking the pain.

People can also turn to things like sports, work, home decorating, shopping, recreational activities, and hobbies to distract them from inner pain. These things, morally neutral in moderation, can so dominate a person’s time and attention as to become idolatrous and sinful. Evangelist Larry Moyer writes: “Have you ever met a man whose hand was so involved in business that there was no time to think about spiritual things? Or a woman whose eyes were so focused on a neat or new home that she neglected spiritual matters? Christ’s warning to a person in that position was: None of those are worth eternal separation from God [bold letters mine]. Such a person would be wise to cut off the hand with which he works or to pluck out the eye with which she focuses on a new home.” (from Larry Moyer, The Toolbox, Aug-Oct 1989).

No one can come to faith in Christ unless they see their need for Him. People with sinful addictions often cannot see that need unless they hit bottom and give up the addiction. Turning from sins is not a condition of salvation. However, for some it may be a practical necessity – not to clean up their lives, but to be able to see their need and come to faith in Christ. Jesus is telling us in Matthew 5:29-30, that nothing is worth going to hell over. What our hands touch and what our eyes see – does it keep us from trusting in Christ for eternal life? We would be wise to cut off the hand or pluck out the eye. It is better to be here with one hand or eye than separated from God in hell with two hands or eyes.

Some people won’t let God love them because they will be exposed for what they really are – sinners in need of God’s love and forgiveness. This is especially true with church people. They live their lives being basically good, but if an invitation to trust Christ for salvation is given, they won’t respond because they are afraid their image will be shattered. They will be exposed and that is just too much to risk. But friends, love is risky. We take a risk receiving God’s love through Jesus Christ and we take a risk expressing our love back to Him.

Jesus said, “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20). I believe this verse can apply to Christians and non-Christians (“everyone”). We all dislike being shown that we are wrong. I feel that way myself. I don’t like to admit I am wrong. This verse is saying that this normal human reaction is part of our sinful nature. That’s why nobody wants to change. Nobody wants to admit he or she is wrong. When the Republicans are in power they try to convince the Democrats they have been wrong, but they won’t admit it. When the Democrats are in power they try to convince the Republicans they have made the wrong choices, but they won’t admit it either. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong. That is why it is so hard to change.

If you are a Christian and you have drifted away from God, you don’t like to be around believers who are walking with the Lord because it exposes your sinfulness and you start to feel uncomfortable. That is the Holy Spirit convicting you. It is not the committed Christian doing that. It is God inside of you nudging you to come back into the light. So, what do we do? We withdraw from committed believers and hang out with those who have no commitment to Christ. One of the ways we can tell that we are walking in darkness is by our lack of time with committed Christians. At first, we miss a Sunday. And then another and another. We don’t want to be exposed to the light of God’s Word because then we will have to face our sinfulness and shame.

“But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:21). The phrase “comes to the light” refers to the person “who does the truth.” He comes to the light “that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God,” meaning that they have “been produced by God.” This verse is referring to Christians. Verse 20 referred to both Christians and non-Christians. But this verse refers specifically to believers. And it is saying that if we will do (not just say the right words but start doing) the right things, despite our dislike of being shown to be wrong – if we are willing, in other words, to begin to obey the truth even though it means we have to admit we have been wrong – then we will find ourselves being drawn to Jesus, for He is the Light. And if we are doers of the truth of God’s Word, then we will openly identify with the light of Jesus Christ so that our works can be seen as being produced by God’s grace working in our lives.

When we are living the way God wants us to live, we will have more boldness to openly confess Jesus Christ before others whether they know the Lord or not; whether they are receptive to Christ or not. But when we are not living in a way that pleases the Lord we are less likely to openly identify with Him because we are feeling guilty and ashamed.

John the Baptist is a believer who “does the truth and comes to the light” by boldly expressing his convictions about the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:15-18, 29-34; 3:22-36). Jesus is warning Nicodemus who came “by night” (3:2) to come to Him “by day” now by boldly confessing Christ which would be contrary to many of the other believing Pharisees (John 12:42-43).

To summarize: How can a loving God send anyone to hell? He doesn’t. People send themselves to hell by rejecting God’s free offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Why? Because they love their sin more than the Savior.

You may be afraid to come to Jesus Christ because of mistakes in your past that still haunt you. You are afraid He will condemn you instead of cleanse you. There is no wrong too great for Jesus Christ to forgive. When I came to Christ as a filthy sinner back in 1979, I was met with compassion, not condemnation. Christ forgave me and accepted me as His own when I trusted in Him alone. And He helped me to put all my wrongdoings behind me. For the last forty-one years, I’ve been living in forgiveness. If He forgave me, He will forgive you, too. One of the most exciting things about the Christian life is not simply knowing I have been forgiven and I am going to heaven, although that is enough. But since I’ve come to Christ, I know He is with me all day every day. Disappointments do not seem nearly as big, and bad days do not seem nearly as bad with Him in my life.

Jesus Christ came to earth to remove the condemnation all of us deserve and made it possible to come freely and openly to Him. If you have never come to Christ in faith, will you come to Him now just as you are? God does not want any human being to spend eternity in hell. He loves us too much to send us there. But we send ourselves to hell by refusing to believe in Christ to get us to heaven. We can run every stop sign, ignore all the warnings, discount all the pleas to change our minds about whatever is keeping us from trusting Christ and we can choose the path toward destruction. Sunday School teachers can tell us, TV evangelists can preach to us, pastors can warn us, but it is our choice to ignore every warning or we can take them to heart. My friend, it is still not too late. You can settle this issue right now. Simply take God at His Word when He says, “He who believes in the Son is not condemned.” (John 3:18).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I know I deserve to be separated from You forever in the Lake of Fire because I have sinned against You with my thoughts, words, and actions. You detest and hate sin, but amazingly You still love me and came to earth to cleanse me of my sins, not condemn me. You took my place on the cross to die for all of my sins. Three days later You rose from the dead and You are alive today offering eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in You. Right now, Lord Jesus, I am trusting You alone for Your everlasting life so I may live with You forever in heaven. Thank You, Jesus, for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in heaven. Please use me to share this good news with others so they may receive Your everlasting life and escape the eternal fires of hell which You intended for the devil and his angels. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

What happens to your spirit and soul at death?

SPIRIT, SOUL, AND BODY

The Bible clearly tells us that every human being is comprised of three parts: spirit, soul, and body. The apostle Paul is writing to Christians, and he says, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23). The spirit and soul are the immaterial or invisible part of human beings and the body, of course, is the physical part of us. God wants to “sanctify” or transform our spirit, soul, and body into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). But this transformation starts with our “spirit,” not our soul or body. Our spirit is the inner most part of us.

THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SPIRIT AND SOUL

The Bible makes a distinction between the spirit and soul. “For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit…” (Hebrew 4:12). What is the difference between our spirit and soul? Our spirit is the inner most part of our being. This is why the spirit is mentioned first in I Thessalonians 5:23. Our spirit connects with God Who is Spirit (John 4:23-24; cf. Romans 1:9; I Corinthians 6:17, 20; 14:14-15; Galatians 6:18; Ephesians 4:23; 2 Timothy 4:22; Philemon 1:25). God, who is Spirit, transforms our spirit. Our spirit is what animates our physical body. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26). When our spirit leaves our physical body, our body dies (cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:45; John 19:30; Acts 7:59-60). Our soul also departs from our body at death (cf. Genesis 35:18; I Kings 17:21-22).

According to I Thessalonians 5:23, our spirit has been implanted in our soul, and our soul has been implanted in our physical body. The Greek word for “soul” in the New Testament is psychḗ which is where we get our English words “psyche” or “psychology.” It has to do with a person’s distinct identity or life. The soul is actually one’s self. Your soul is conscious of self. As God’s Spirit communicates with our spirit, our spirit then communicates what God’s Spirit said to our soul or self. Then our soul communicates this to our body. Then our body communicates this to our environment and the people who are aound us.

WHERE DO OUR SPIRIT AND SOUL GO AFTER DEATH?

When physical death occurs, the spirit and soul are separated from the physical body. According to the Old Testament the spirit of believers returns to the Lord at death. “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). The physical body is buried in the ground (“the dust will return to the earth”), but the spirit of the believer “returns to God who gave it.” When Rachel died, the Bible says, “And so it was, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni” (Genesis 35:18). Based on other verses in the Bible, the departing of Rachel’s soul implies her soul (and spirit) departed to go be with the Lord in Abraham’s bosom or Paradise (Luke 16:22; 23:43).

Just before Jesus died on the cross, He cried out with a loud voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Then “He breathed His last’ (Luke 23:46). John writes, “bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30). Jesus’ spirit went to His Father in heaven when He died, and so does a believer’s spirit after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. For example, while he was being stoned in Acts 7, Stephen prayed, “ ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’ And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Now Saul was consenting to his death.” (Acts 7:59-8:1). It is clear that when Stephen died, he understood that his spirit would go to be with the Lord.

When the Bible says Stephen “fell asleep” (Acts 7:60), it is referring to Stephen’s “death” (Acts 8:1). The words “asleep” or “sleep” are common metaphors for death of the physical body in distinction from the spirit or soul (Acts 7:60; cf. John 11:11-13; I Thess. 4:14-16). John 11:11-13 makes this very clear. Jesus tells His disciples, “ ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” John 11:11-13. Death is not a state of unconsciousness as some teach. A dead body appears to look like a person who is sleeping.

Similarly, in I Thessalonians 4:13-17, the apostle Paul writes about the sudden removal of the church from the earth called the Rapture which could take place at any moment. 13 But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). When Paul speaks of “those who have fallen asleep” he is referring to Christians who have died. Their physical bodies are asleep in the grave (cf. John 11:11-14), but their spirit and soul have gone to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21-24; Revelation 6:9; 20:4; cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).  

This is why Paul writes, 6 So we are always confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Paul refers to death as his spirit and soul being “absent from the body” and “present with the Lord” in heaven (5:8). There is no intermediate existence. We are either “at home in the body” (5:6) or “present with the Lord” (5:8). There is no mention of some other kind of existence in between being at home in the body or present with the Lord.

In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes, 21 For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24 Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul, death “is gain” because he (his spirit/soul) will “depart and be with Christ, which is far better” than living “on in the flesh.” Where is Christ right now? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father (Acts 5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrew 1:3, 13; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22).

We also see that the souls of believers also go to heaven. “When He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” Revelation 6:9. When Jesus opened the fifth seal judgment, the apostle John says he saw under the altar in heaven the “souls” of believers who were martyred during the Tribulation on earth.

At the beginning of the Millennium, the thousand year reign of Christ on earth, the apostle John writes, “And I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” Revelation 20:4. The “souls” of martyred believers from the Tribulation are seen reigning with Christ during His Millennial Kingdom on earth.

A DETAILED ACCOUNT OF WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH IN LUKE 16:19-31

We are going to look at a factual account that Jesus shared in Luke 16:19-31 to discover more details about what happens when we die. Some people believe this is a parable – (a made up story to illustrate spiritual truth) because they do not like what it teaches about the afterlife. But here are some compelling reasons why Luke 16:19-31 is not a parable:

1. It would be the only parable in the Bible that describes certain things that are outside of the realm of human experience. All the other parables talk about things that we are familiar with such as birds, seed, fields, pearls, wheat, barns, leaven, fish, etc. (see Matthew 13, etc.). This passage is different because it talks about what happens to two men after death, and this is a realm where none of us have had any personal experience. A parable is an earthly story with a heavenly or spiritual significance, but Luke 16 transcends the realm of the earthly.

2. It would be the only parable in the Bible that uses a proper name (“Lazarus”).

3. It would be the only parable in the Bible that makes mention repeatedly of an historical person – “Abraham.” Moreover, this historical person actually carries on a dialogue with the rich man! Indeed, mention is also made in this parable of “Moses,” another historical character.  What other parable speaks of real, historical persons? 

4. It would be the only parable in the Bible that describes the places where the dead go (“Torments in Hades,” and “Abraham’s bosom”).

5. It would be the only parable in the Bible that makes mention of angels. Compare Matthew 13 verses 24-30, 36-43, 47-49 where angels are mentioned in the explanation of the parable but not in the parable itself.

6. If Hades is not really a place of torment then this would be the only parable in the Bible where the Lord Jesus taught error instead of truth. This is not possible because Jesus is “the truth” (John 14:6). This passage is factual, not fictional.

Before we go any further, I want to clarify one more thing. This passage is not talking about the final destination of people. The place of unbelievers we will consider in Luke 16 is not the Lake of Fire (Revelation 14:10; 20:10-15) or the everlasting fire of Hell (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation 14:10; 20:10, 15). The Lake of Fire or Hell is where people who don’t believe in Jesus will go for eternity after the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:10-15). The place in Luke 16:22b-26 is “Torments in Hades” where lost people go when they die. It is a temporary holding area of torment and suffering for the Old and New Testament unbeliever. But it is not purgatory.

Before Jesus died on the cross, believers in Jesus went to a place called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22; 23:43) and unbelievers went to a place called “Torments” in Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died on the cross, He released the souls and spirits of believers in Abraham’s bosom (Ephesians 4:8-10) to go to God’s home in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4; cf. John 14:2).

Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, Old Testament believers could not go to the third heaven because Jesus’ blood had not removed all their sins yet. The Old Testament sacrifices had only covered their sins, not removed their sins (cf. Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4, 11). Only the blood of the Lamb of God could take away their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:10-22). After Christ’s death and resurrection, when a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit and soul go to the third heaven to be with Jesus while his physical body sleeps in the grave (cf. John 11:11-13; I Thessalonians 4:14, 16). 

But when an unbeliever dies, his or her spirit and soul go straight to Torments in Hades where they stay until they are called out to face God at the Great White Throne Judgment where they are judged according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-14). Then they will be confined to the Lake of Fire or Hell forever with Satan and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10, 15)!

Back to Luke 16. There are two main characters in Jesus’ factual account. The “rich man” (Luke 16:19) who represents unbelievers and a poor man named “Lazarus” (Luke 16:20) who represents believers. Let’s look at what happened to them when they died.

How was Lazarus greeted at death? Even though Lazarus had been alone much of his life, he “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” or “Paradise” (Luke 16:22a; cf. Luke 23:43) where he would enjoy fellowship with Old Testament believers such as “Abraham” who were there. So God’s angels received Lazarus and took him to dwell in Paradise with the Lord. Lazarus did not die alone. He died in the presence of God. Lazarus’ spirit and soul did not linger on earth for a period of days or weeks. His spirit and soul were taken immediately to Paradise to be with the Lord. There was no unconscious sleep as some religious groups teach.

Lazarus’ experience after death was the opposite of his experience on earth. In Abraham’s bosom or Paradise, Lazarus experienced intimate fellowship with Abraham – “Lazarus” was “in his bosom” or close to him (Luke 16:23). But on earth Lazarus was all alone (Luke 16:20-21). On earth he received “evil things,” but in Paradise he was “comforted” (Luke 16:25b).

How was the rich man greeted at death? “The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22b-23). The rich man was alone at death – no family or friends. When he died, his spirit and soul went immediately to “torments in Hades.” Let’s look at his experiences there after death.

1. He experiences sensation. “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). The rich man is not unconscious. He  can see (“he lifted up his eyes and saw…”), he can hear as shown in his conversation with Abraham, he can speak (“he cried and said…” – Luke 16:24a), he can feel (“I am tormented in this flame” – Luke 16:24b). The rich man still has desires, he still has needs, and he still has the ability to think and express himself. He was able to see into Paradise and realize what he was missing out on. Did he feel pain? “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame’” (Luke 16:24). Yes, he begged for relief from the torment of the flames. People will not party in torments, they will cry out for relief from their pain. Even though his body is in the grave in which it was buried, this man has some sort of a spiritual form that allows him to continue to live in this place called torments in Hades.

2. He experiences separation. We also notice that the rich man found himself separated from Lazarus and Abraham by a great gulf. Abraham said to the rich man, “between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (Luke 16:26). The Bible says that this gulf is “fixed.” That is, it will never be taken away. This separation from God and unbelievers is eternal! The rich man found himself separated from everything that Lazarus enjoyed. Could he cross over this gulf or could anyone come visit him? No. Once you go to torments, no one can get you out. There is no second chance after death. The Bible makes this clear. “Everyone must die once, and after that be judged by God.” Hebrews 9:27 [GNT]. So there is no halfway house between heaven and torments. There is no intermediate state. There is no limbo. There is no purgatory. Purgatory is a theory that was created during the Middle Ages. It is not found in the Bible.

In torments you will be all alone without family, friends, and worst of all – you will be without  God. Torments or Hell is total separation from God. If you go through all of life saying, “I don’t want God in my life” He will give you that wish forever in torments and the Lake of Fire. Second Thessalonians 1:9 says, “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” Torments and the Lake of Fire are the exact opposite of everything God is.

Since “God is love” (I John 4:8b), without God, Hell is a terrifying and lonely place. You are all alone! So there’s no love there. The Bible says, “There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment” (I John 4:18). The opposite of love is fear. You know what it means to live without love in your life? It means you are scared to death all the time. That is hell. It means you are lonely all the time. That is hell. One of the big myths about hell is that in hell it is just going to be a big party for all the people who like to party. Friends, no one will see anybody else in hell. It is total separation from God and everybody else. There are no relationships in hell. There are no friends in hell. It is total aloneness.

Since God is light (I John 1:5), hell is complete darkness (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 1:13). Since God is good (Psalm 34:8), there will be absolutely nothing good in hell. Since God is eternal life (John 1:1, 4, 14; 14:6; I John 5:20), that means hell will be eternal death. Since God is gracious (Psalm 145:8), that means there is no place for grace in Hell.

3. He experiences intense suffering. The noun torments (basanos) means to be tested or examined by means of torture (Luke 16:23). The rich man is in a place of extreme pain and torture. The verb tormented” (odynáō) is in the present tense (Luke 16:24) and means to cause intense pain. This teaches us that the intense pain and suffering in this dreadful place do not cease. People do not simply burn up and no longer exist as some false religions teach, but they endure this intense pain and torture forever. The rich man wants to die or at least lose consciousness, but he cannot.

Of all the agonies of torments, perhaps the worst one of all is described in verse 25. “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented’ ” (Luke 16:25).  The word “remember” tells us that people in torments have the capacity to remember the events of this life and that they are forced to deal with those memories eternally. They will remember every gospel message they heard and rejected. They will remember how God manifested Himself in thousands of ways to draw them to Himself. They will remember and they will know that they have no one to blame for their situation but themselves!

If you have never trusted in Jesus as your Savior to give you everlasting life, I wonder what you will remember when you arrive in torments? Will you remember this message? Will you remember all the Christians who witnessed to you and prayed for you? Will you remember how you wasted your life on temporary things and condemned your own spirit and soul to the torment and torture of hell forever? Will you remember how good and gracious God was to you and how you rejected His great love for you?

The rich man said to Abraham, I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment (Luke 16:27-28). The rich man wanted Lazarus to be sent back to his family to warn them of the terrible suffering of torments. Nobody in torments wants their family and friends to join them there because the suffering and pain is so great. In fact, those in torments want to do all they can to warn those they care about not to join them there. Yet there is nothing they can do about it! This, too, is a form of suffering in torments.

4. He experiences stubbornness. Amazingly torments is filled with stubborn people. Abraham said to the rich man regarding his family, 29 They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ” (Luke 16:29-31).  Jesus us is teaching us that people have all the truth they need in the Bible (“Moses and the prophets”) to avoid going to hell, so sending someone back from the dead would be useless. Even in torments, the rich man still hasn’t figured out what it takes to keep a man from that awful place. He stubbornly begs for the salvation of his family, and won’t hear the truth that they must hear God’s word and “repent” which means to change their mind about whatever is keeping them from trusting in Christ, and then trust in Him to take them to heaven. Even in torments, the rich man is totally unchanged. There is still no willingness to do things necessary to leave – the rich man does not even ask to get out. These verses tell us that even when people find themselves in the pain and suffering of hell, they are still lost and they still have no room for God in their lives.

SPIRIT AND SOUL REUNITED WITH THE BODY AT THE RESURRECTION

Old and New Testament unbelievers’ souls and spirits will re-enter their resurrected bodies at the end of the thousand years reign of Christ on earth to stand before the Great White Throne Judgment. 11 Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15. 

The apostle John “saw the [unbelieving] dead [of all ages], small and great, standing before God [in their resurrection bodies which are eternal], and the books [containing all their works] were opened” so they could be “judged according to their works” to determined their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12; cf. Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47). Those like the Devil, the Beast of Revelation, the False Prophet, and other false teachers will no doubt experience greater punishment for misleading people away from God (Revelation 20:10; cf. Matthew 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47; 2 Peter 2:1-17; Jude 1:2-13).

“The sea … Death and Hades [temporary holding place of the spirits and souls of dead unbelievers until the great white throne judgment] delivered up [resurrected] from the dead [unbelievers] who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works” before the great white throne (20:13). Notice that whether their bodies are decomposed in the sea or in the ground or cremated or vaporized, God will raise up their bodies to stand before His Great White Throne.

As a result of this Great White Throne judgment, all the unsaved dead [“Death”] and “Hades” will be “cast into the lake of fire” which “is the second death” (20:14). Everyone who dies without believing in Christ alone for everlasting life is “not found written in the Book of Life” and will “be cast into the lake of fire” where they will be tormented forever along with Satan and all his fallen angels (Revelation 20:15; cf. 20:10; Matthew 25:41).

The resurrection of Old and New Testament believers in Jesus Christ will take place at different times. The first time, will be at the Rapture or sudden removal of the church at any moment when the spirits and souls of Christians who have died will return with Jesus from heaven in the air to re-enter their resurrected bodies permanently. The apostle Paul writes, 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.” I Thessalonians 4:14-16.

Christians who are alive at the time of the Rapture will receive their glorified bodies as the are reunited in the air with Jesus. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.” I Thessalonians 4:17. Paul alludes to this in I Corinthians 15. In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” I Corinthians 15:52-53. The phrase “we will be changed” refers to living Christians at the time of the Rapture who will receive their glorified bodies.

The next time when believers’ spirits and souls are reunited with their resurrection bodies will be at the beginning of the Millennium, the thousand year reign of Christ on the earth after the Tribulation period (Revelation 20:4-6). At the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, all who possess eternal life through faith in Christ are all resurrected by this time including Old Testament believers (Daniel 11:45-12:2) and Tribulation believers who died (Revelation 20:4). In Matthew 25:31-46 we are told that when Christ returns to earth at the end of the Tribulation period, He will judge the Gentile nations. In this judgment, those believers who survived the Tribulation, will enter the Christ’s Millennial Kingdom in their mortal bodies (Matthew 25:34-40, 46b).

Conclusion:

Where will you live after you die? The Bible tells us that all people will live forever after death in one of two places: either in Heaven with Jesus Christ (John 14:2-3) or in the Lake of Fire (Hell) separated from Jesus forever (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:15). Do you want to live forever in Heaven with Jesus? If so, you need to realize the Bible says you have a problem called sin (Romans 3:23). The penalty for sin is death or separation from God forever in a terrible place of agonizing suffering called the Lake of Fire or Hell (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation 14:10; 20:10, 15).

Please understand that God loves you and He does not want you to suffer forever in Hell (John 3:16; I Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9). This is why He sent His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to die in your place on a cross and rise from the dead, proving that He is God (Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-8). Jesus is alive today and He offers you everlasting life as a free gift (Romans 6:23b). Christ invites you to “believe in Him” to “have everlasting life” both now and forever (John 3:16; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26).

Jesus promises that the moment you “hear” and “believe” His promise of everlasting life, you now have “everlasting life” and “shall not come into judgement” for your sins because you have “passed from death into life” (John 5:24). Christ also guarantees that when you die, your soul and spirit will go immediately to heaven to live with Him forever (John 14:2-3; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21, 23) and eventually be reunited with your resurrection body when Jesus returns for His Church (I Corinthians 15:35-57; I Thessalonians 4:14-17).

The person who never believes in Jesus “is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). God’s wrath abides on him now and forever. “He who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). When the unbeliever dies, his soul and spirit go to torments in Hades (Luke 16:23) until he is resurrected to stand before the Great White Throne Judgment where he will be judged according to his works to determine the degree of his punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). And then he (spirit, soul, and body) will be confined to the Lake of Fire where he will be tormented forever (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation 14:10; 20:10, 15).