The GRAVITY of HELL (What happens to those who die outside of Christ) Part 1

Lazarus and the rich man: parable or not? | Theo-sophical Ruminations

Over the years I have had many conversations and taught often of what occurs when a follower of Jesus Christ dies. Simply put, they find themselves immediately in the presence of Christ for, “absent from the body is present with the Lord” (II Corinthians 5:8).

Scripture is clear that when the rapture takes place, those who have died in Christ will receive a glorified body first, then those who remain will be caught up, that for all eternity we will be in perfect form with Christ forever (I Thessalonians 3:13-18).

This truth ought to be a comfort to all who follow Christ, as it is central to our blessed hope, the great and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ (Titus 2:11-14).

On the contrary, it has been my experience that most Christians and sadly many ministers, know or rarely consider, the next stop for those who die outside of Christ (before the final judgment). Not only is grasping this truth essential to our walking out the Great Commission, but also in understanding some controversial passages of the New Testament.

Recently, while thinking on the loss of a family member that my wife and I were very close too (a family member who was not a follower of Jesus Christ), I began to ponder again what the Bible says about hell.

Relatively speaking, the family member that passed away suddenly, was a good person in comparison to many others, but had rejected the gift of God’s grace in Christ. Being a fairly religious person, liked by many, and having raised a family, she was good enough, in her own eyes and the eyes of most people, many have said, I am sure, “She’s in a better place”.

The only problem is that there are none “good enough” to be righteous before God, sufficient to pay for their own sin. When a person trusts their good works are good enough to appease God’s holy justice, all their righteous works are as used menstrual rags; utterly useless (Psalm 14:1-3; Isaiah 64:6).

We understand, from the bible that, “by the deeds of the law will no flesh be justified in His sight”, “for all have sinned and fallen short of glory of God”; “that the wage of sin is death” or eternal separation from God. This end is ultimately in the lake which burns with fire, that is referred to as the second death (Romans 3:20-23; 6:23; Revelation 20:14-15).

My wife and I attempted to share the gospel with this family member several times, over the years, to no avail. She was always fine in her own eyes and a little ticked that our sharing the truth suggested she would wind up in hell. This is often the case with those who are lost in religiosity and self justification. I submit it is further rooted in the human sin nature we are born with, as Jesus revealed in John 3:18-21.

John 3:18-21 (NKJV) “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. 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. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.”

This condemnation is what came to mind, when I was reading the word of God over a month ago and I thought of my deceased family member. Out of nowhere, I imagined her in torment, totally conscience, fearful, suffering and awaiting the most dreadful day for all mankind… the Day of the final judgment of the wicked at the Great White Throne (Revelation 20).

My mind and heart were overwhelmed with grief at the finality of the terrible thought, but I could not excuse it, for Hell, scripturally, is seen in the Christian vernacular, as both the temporary place of holding for those awaiting the final judgment (who are apart from Christ), and as the final forever judgment itself. Though related, there is a difference.

HELL (SHEOL or HADES)

In the O.T. there are 23 occurrences of the word Sheol, and in each case it is referring to the temporary place of the dead. Perhaps the most important use of it is in Psalm 16:10, where we are told 700 to 900 years before Christ’s death and resurrection…

Psalms 16:10-11 (NKJV) For You will not leave my soul in Sheol, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. You will show me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; At Your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

The reason for this passage’s importance is that it is quoted in Acts 2:27, 31 as a proof to the Jews on the day of Pentecost that Jesus Christ is the Messiah (LORD’s anointed), being He rose from the grave. In another passage, Ephesians 4:9, we see not only the place where Hades is located, but that Jesus visited it, in the three days He was in the grave.

Ephesians 4:8-10 (NKJV) Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

Before we talk of why Jesus descended it is important to first understand the character and make up of Hell (Hades), as a temporary holding place of the dead, in the lower parts of the earth. For this we must look at the true account of Lazarus and the rich man.

In Luke16:19-31, Jesus speaks to us of two men. The first man is a rich man, for whom we are given no name. We understand that he lived very well off and did not regard the poor, very much if at all. This is not an assumption, for sickly beggar Lazarus, was daily lain outside the rich man’s gate and desired just the scraps and thrown out left overs from the rich man’s table. Lazarus’ plight was so dire, that the dogs were the the only one to take pity on him, as they licked his sores.

When Lazarus dies, angels carry him to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man dies and was carried to Hades, where he has consciousness, and feels hunger, thirst and pain as he is awaiting his final judgment. Lazarus was conscious and felt satisfied, as He awaited not judgment, but the death and resurrection of the Messiah.

Luke 16:22-26 (NKJV) So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. 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. “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.’ 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. And besides all this, 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.’

Here we see the character and nature of Hell/Hades; the temporary place of the dead. Yes it is in the lower parts of the earth. Hades has two parts, one is still filling up, while the other is empty. Abraham’s bosom, the portion that is empty, is where all who died placing their faith in God’s word, were kept until Christ’s death and resurrection. This area was called Abraham’s bosom because He is the father of the faithful; as “he believed the LORD and He accounted it as righteousness to Him” (Genesis 15:6).

It was faith in the coming Redeemer that was the cornerstone of the faith in the O.T. saint. Let us consider Job

Job 19:25-27 (NKJV) For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

So we see that until Christ’s resurrection, Abraham’s bosom was filled with the O.T. faithful, waiting the resurrection of Messiah. Yes, King David, Moses, Daniel, Isaiah, even John the Baptist. They were awaiting the resurrection of Messiah. After He died, He descended, then picked up those held captive to death, and led them captive by his grace and love on high.

Ephesians 4:8-10 (NKJV) Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

Some dispute the above passage confusing the language, because of the second use of the word captive, but the word has a similar connotation to Paul’s use of the word “lay hold of… that which has laid hold of me” and “apprehended” in Philippians 3:11-13.

Philippians 3:12-14 (NKJV) Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

The above bolded terms give the idea that Paul was apprehended by Christ, arrested and captive to God’s love through the life of God’s Son. On the other hand, Paul was attempting to apprehend the one who apprehended Him. This is important in understanding that Jesus entered (first descended) into Sheol/Hades/Hell to free those in the faith, who were captive to death, until the Redeemer defeated death once and for all. Oh death where is your sting, Oh Hell (Hades) where is your victory!

Hebrews 2:14-15 (NKJV) Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Sadly, the place in Hades reserved for those who reject God’s grace in the cross and resurrection of Christ, who refuse to repent and walk in faith in the name of the only begotten son of God, is filled more and more daily. Those who die outside of Christ today and tomorrow, await their final judgement next to the rich man, and every other unrepentant human who has ever lived. What are they awaiting?

John 5:26-30 (NKJV) For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself, and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

In our next blog, we will take a further look into the finality of the sentence for those who reject the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

About Michael J Erdel

Mike is a pastor with The Assembly of God Fellowship. He is the lead pastor at Encounter Church in Fostoria Ohio. His desire is to encourage the Church of Jesus Christ, and declare God's hope through His Son Jesus, to a world which is long on excuses and short on hope. Mike has experienced the truth that when we kneel before Christ, surrendering to Him as Savior and LORD, being led and empowered by His Spirit. To Jesus Christ be all glory and honor.
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