Does the Bible teach beyond doubt that there is an eternal place of punishment awaiting those who die in their sins without the forgiveness found only through Christ Jesus’ finished work?
One of the most common passages of Scripture used as fuel for acknowledging the reality of a place called hell is a story Jesus one day told of a very wealthy man and a very poor beggar (Luke 16:19-31).
Because so many are apt to run to this text as proof of hell, what better place to dive into a series of posts examining the veracity of an eternal place of judgment than a story where we hear the condemning words, “in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes…?”
Now before jumping to an obvious conclusion, doesn’t every serious student of the Word ask some pertinent questions? Would it not be wise here to ask some things like:
1. Who is Jesus speaking to?
2. Is He responding to someone’s question or accusation?
3. Are there insoluble conflicts with certain obvious conclusions?
It’s very easy to look at the lives and deaths of these two men and simply conclude that the passage is telling us that one of them died and went to heaven while the other died and went to hell. And in reality, the narrative may very well be teaching something along these lines, but it doesn’t seem to be the primary intent of Jesus.
It appears that Jesus is speaking to a crowd about the attitude of the religious leaders of Israel.
Jesus has been speaking to His gathering of the costs and values of being a disciple; specifically His disciples (Luke 14).
As chapter fifteen opens, we are told that some of the most despised of Israel begin to join the mass listening to Jesus’ teaching. It’s assumed here that Jesus approves of their joining, because immediately the scribes and Pharisees begin to grumble, “This man receives sinners and eats with them (15:2).”.
Jesus will now spend two chapters addressing two points:
1. I came here specifically for the purpose of seeking and saving sinners (Luke 15).
2. The current religious leaders of Israel are unjust stewards of God’s riches (Luke 16).
Just as ccragamuffin recently proposed, could it be that Jesus is here simply teaching a reversal of fortunes? Is He demonstrating by parable His inclusive provision to the poor and the brokenhearted? Is this His way of proclaiming that the Kingdom is now open to the blind and oppressed? After all, it is the acceptable year of the LORD (Luke 4:18-19).
Had they been able to hear it, imagine the response of the Pharisees to the notion of sinful tax collectors dining and conversing with Abraham while they without invitation gritted their teeth from afar.
As for an insoluble conflict, if the rich man is in a literal and eternal hell because of his love for his wealth and empowerment, refusing to show any compassion for the poor, how will American church-goers, basking in their materialism while thousands around the world starve each day, fare in the judgment? Are they not laid at our gate? That would be another thought though for another day.
On a necessary note, even should we choose to see this narrative as a parable about something other than eternal punishment, there is still much evidence to weigh from Scripture regarding hell. It would be unwise to jump to conclusions.
- Lift Up Your Eyes in Torment (mtsweat.com)
- Pondering the Pardon to an Interuption: O’ Hell, where is your victory? (mtsweat.com)