There are of course many scriptures that are brought up when discussing hell, but probably the two most popular texts brought up are Luke 16 and Matthew 25.
I will address Luke 16 today and hopefully look at Matthew 25 tomorrow… both of which I have written a little about before.
In Luke 16 we find Jesus telling a parable about a rich man who “lived in luxury every day.” At the rich man’s gate laid a beggar names Lazarus who was “covered with sores and longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.”
When the rich man died he found himself in Hades where he was in torment. Lazarus, however, was taken to “Abraham’s side” (picture of a great feast).
One thing one has to remember when reading texts such as this one is that it’s a parable and not meant to be factual reality, but rather is a story told to portray truths. Many would like to think that Jesus is making theological absolute claims here, but if we take from this text that a place such as the one the rich man finds himself in is in fact literal we must then also believe that we go there due solely on works… for that is the reason the rich man was sent to Hades, because he refused to be generous to the beggar in need. I have heard many people take the hell part in this parable literal, but I have never heard anyone take the reasons the rich man went to hell literal.
A few more details in the story may give hints to what Jesus could actually be talking about…
Here is a very short, to the point, summary of what I think the parable is more likely to be portraying…
Before death we see the rich man living on the luxurious side of the gate (division) where he is living comfortable and we see Lazarus on the other side of the gate begging for mere crumbs from the rich man’s table.
After death we see this situation reversed. Lazarus now is living on the side of the chasm where a great feast is taking place and the rich man is in agony and now begging for a mere drop of water. Something else to point out is that it seems the rich man hasn’t changed even after experiencing the torment of the afterlife. For we find him begging Father Abraham to “send Lazarus” to get him water and to warn his brothers.
Context is also key… Is Jesus telling a parable about how people can go to heaven when they die, which is what we are mostly obsessed with? Or is Jesus using this story to warn about riches and greed? The Gospel of Luke over all seems to be greatly concerned with the poor and this story fits into that context. It doesn’t make sense, however, to place a story about avoiding hell and getting into heaven in the middle of Luke.
It’s also interesting that we can see in Luke 15 who Jesus is talking to when he tells this parable. He is talking to the Pharisees and experts in the law who were known to use “Hades” much like we do… to scare the hell out of sinners.