Special Report: Is Hell a Literal Place?
Vol: 19 Issue: 2 Tuesday, February 2, 2016
I received an email from a reader asking me, “Do you believe in a literal hell where people will burn and be tormented forever and ever or is this a temporary place where people will go through a purging and purifying process for their sins?”
My correspondent directed me to a website that argues there is no hell and attempts to ‘prove’ it by ‘disproving’ the passage of Scripture that most clearly explains it. The website, published by one L. Ray Smith, takes the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 and turns it into a parable.
Thus, as a parable, argues Mr. Smith, the passage does not teach of a literal hell. Instead, it is symbolism and allegory, he says. Then he goes on at length, ‘proving’ it is ‘just a parable’, and torturing various Scriptures from other places in order to make them fit his argument.
It is really quite convincing, until, at long last, you come to the end of the piece and realize what Smith says the ‘parable’ was all about.
He argues, “The real truth of this parable is not nearly as morbid as it may appear at first glance. God has a plan that eventually brings all the Jews and all the Gentiles to salvation. The very heart of the Gospel is the salvation of the Jews and Gentiles, the salvation of the WHOLE WORLD!”
Well, there you have it, then! You don’t need to be saved. You needn’t trust Jesus to save you, since He is going to anyway. The whole world is gonna be saved.
Hitler and Stalin aren’t going to spend eternity in hell — they are going to be in heaven — with their victims. Won’t that be pleasant? (Does that mean that Judas will be there, too?)
Smith makes his case by arguing that the Book of Revelation is a Book of ‘symbols’ and therefore worthless as an authority, since one can interpret symbols and allegory to mean whatever one chooses.
Smith also argues that God is not a Trinity of Three Persons and that the Rapture is a divisive theory deceiving millions.
In addition, Smith claims that only the Apostles were capable of ‘rightly dividing the Word of Truth’ and that ‘Death cannot prevent sinners from repenting’.
Smith’s theology requires allegorizing things such as, ‘For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Ephesians 2:8) because one can’t have ‘faith’ after one is dead.
Hebrews 11:1 tells us, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
If the dead can repent, it isn’t by faith. A lost person ‘waking up’ on the other side won’t NEED faith.
He’ll see for himself that God is real, and hell is real and his choice wouldn’t be made by faith, but rather certain knowledge. Given the choice between heaven and hell, knowing you are already dead in your sins, where would YOU choose?
Contrary to Mr. Smith’s ravings, hell is a real place, attested to more often and described more clearly in Scripture than heaven is.
Three times in Mark Chapter 9, in describing hell, Jesus said of it, “Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:44,46,48)
“And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” (Mark 9:43-44)
Is this ‘allegory’? A ‘symbol’? A ‘parable’?
Revisiting Smith’s ‘parable’ in Luke 16, we read the following: “There WAS a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores.” (16:19-20)
Note that He didn’t say, “Now learn the parable of a certain rich man” — He said, “There WAS a certain rich man.”
Having established the players, Jesus went on to say of the rich man, “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (16:23)
Note the rich man is in hell, but he can see Abraham and Lazarus ‘afar off’. The Bible teaches that those whose sins were covered by the “blood of bullocks” — the Old Testament ‘righteous dead’ went to Paradise — and not to heaven.
Jesus told the repentant thief on the Cross, “Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)
Jesus explains that Paradise — or ‘Abraham’s bosom’ was located in the same place as hell, but separated into places of torment and places of comfort;
“And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” (Luke 16:26)
At His Death, Jesus ‘descended into hell’ in order to liberate the righteous dead and take them to heaven;
“Wherefore He saith, When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that He ascended, what is it but that He also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that He might fill all things.)” (Ephesians 4:8-10)
Once the righteous dead were taken to heaven, hell was expanded to make room.
Jesus tells us that hell is a place of fiery torment: “And 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)
There are several other things we learn from Jesus about hell, and about those who are condemned to it. First, the rich man has no name, whereas Lazarus is addressed by name throughout the passage. The rich man needs no name. Nobody will ever call it again.
He is eternally separated from God; to all intents and purposes, he is ‘dead’ to God, and to everyone who ever knew him. He is only alive to himself. But the rich man is cognizant of his life, how he ended up in hell, and those he left behind. His memories of his earthly life are intact:
“Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:22-28)
Jesus teaches us that those condemned to hell are; a) in fiery torment, b) are self-aware, c) are nameless and without hope of reprieve, d) are conscious of their situation, and, e) their memories of their earthly lives are intact.
The Book of the Revelation teaches that what we call ‘hell’ is more analogous to a county jail, where prisoners are held pending trial and conviction. Once a county jail inmate is convicted, he is transferred to a state penitentiary to serve out his sentence.
“And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:13-14)
When John describes the judgment against the devil, he writes: “And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.”
Note two things. First, the beast and false prophet ‘are’ – present tense — in the lake of fire. They were not consumed. Secondly, it is a ‘lake of fire and brimstone’ and its inhabitants ‘shall be tormented day and night forever and ever’.
Of course, if the Book of the Revelaton were really ‘symbols’ and ‘allegory’ — as Mr. Smith teaches — then this passage is meaningless. So would the rest of the Bible be meaningless, if Mr. Smith is correct.
If this passage is allegorical, then maybe the part about “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never die” is ALSO allegory.
Heck, maybe the whole Bible is allegory.
The facts are these. If heaven is real, then hell is real. If God is real, then Satan is real. The Bible is not a theological smorgasbord where one can pick and choose what to put on their plates and choose to reject other parts as unpalatable. The same Bible that reveals the existence of God and heaven also reveals the existence of Satan, hell and the Lake of Fire.Despite the best efforts of false teachers to recreate God in their own image, hell is real, and was NOT created initially for man — it was prepared for Satan and the rebellious angels.
Man was created in God’s Image — that is, with an eternal component that can not die. That existence continues somewhere; either in heaven with God, or eternally separated from God.
There is no third option.
That is why God places such great emphasis on the Great Commission. God knows what hell is really like, and gave His Own Son as a substitute sacrifice so that we could escape its torments.
Every person you see today, whether they are bagging your groceries or changing the oil in your car — EVERY PERSON — has an eternal destiny.
They will either spend eternity in unspeakable joy in the presence of the Father in Heaven, or they will spend eternity in equally unspeakable torment, separated from the Father, and remembering the opportunity they squandered to escape their fate.
For those of us that know the truth, that is an awesome thing to contemplate. It rekindles a sense of urgency for the lost. We are the watchmen on the wall.
It is incumbent upon us to be prepared, “and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear:” (1 Peter 3:15)
The Omega Letter exists — not to preach to the lost — but to equip the saved with the knowledge they need to “stand against the wiles of the devil.” (Ephesians 6:11)
The information in your Omega Letter is not for entertainment. We don’t sensationalize events to sell subscriptions. Our goal is to equip the one-on-one evangelist, to prepare you for such teachers and teachings as those presented by our Mr. L. Ray Smith.
We pray that Our Lord will continue to allow us to do so as the clock counts down to the end of the Church Age. Regardless of how false teachers try to frame things to suit, the Truth remains unspoiled.
“All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” (2nd Timothy 3:16-17)
Originally Published: June 30, 2007
Featured Commentary: Nahum’s Scarlet Soldier ~ Wendy Wippel