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God’s Word for You

Luke 16:22b-23 the soul in hell

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Wednesday, October 24, 2018

The rich man also died and was buried.  23 In hell, where he was in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus was by his side.

Jesus elegantly pictures the soul of Lazarus carried to heaven by angels, but there is no corresponding delivery of the rich man’s condemned soul by means of angels or demons to hell. Certainly, it would not be the demons; they are not servants of hell’s jailer. They are prisoners themselves. Do the souls of the damned simply appear in hell? Are they taken there by God’s good angels in the role of officers of the Lord’s court?

The word translated as hell here is Hades (ᾅδῃ). This is a word used either for the dead in general or for the place of punishment, hell. Hell was created as the place of punishment for the fallen angels. It is not their kingdom. “God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4).

The rich man’s spirit is instantly in agony. Here we learn new things about the suffering of those in hell, and by extension, some things about the souls who are in heaven. As we continue to learn things about the afterlife in this account, I will continue to number our discoveries picking up from where we left off.

  1. Souls in hell will suffer torment even prior to the final judgment. The spirit of this condemned rich man is en basanois (ἐν βασάνοις) “in torment.” This word is used of a woman’s agony in childbirth (Revelation 12:2), of the churning of storm-tossed waves (Matthew 14:24), of a sick man suffering terribly (Matthew 8:6), of men straining with all of their strength for fear of their lives (Mark 6:48), and of the agony that comes from the sting of a scorpion (Revelation 9:5). It can also be the disgrace one feels for sin (Ezekiel 16:52,54) or the shame of it (Ezekiel 32:24, 30). Basanos is also a terrible longing like a hunger (Ezekiel 7:19) or a suffering of severe pain (Matthew 4:24).
  2. Therefore, since the previous point (7) is revealed to us by Jesus, we understand that the torment suffered by those in hell after the final judgment will be even more severe, adding agony to the flesh over and above agony of the spirit. Jesus asked James and John about his own suffering of hell’s torment: “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38). In that context the cup that is drunk is inner, spiritual and mental torment (cp. Jeremiah 25:15, “this cup filled with the wine of my wrath”) and the baptism, far from a reference to the sacrament, is a reference to a scalding, agonizing outer pain: the baptism Christ received with a whip, thorns, nails, and the rough unyielding cross. These things were all part of Jesus’ suffering of hell (Mark 15:34). Job’s words for excruciating bodily pain fit this description of hell: “The churning inside me never stops; days of suffering confront me” (Job 30:27). Also: “Now my life ebbs away; days of suffering grip me. Night pierces my bones; my gnawing pains never rest” (Job 30:16-17). And Jeremiah said: “Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?” (Lamentations 1:12). And again: “Why is my pain unending and my wound grievous and uncurable?” (Jeremiah 15:18). And again: “Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart!” (Jeremiah 4:19). And yet again: “Woe to me! The LORD has added sorrow to my pain; I am worn out with groaning and find no rest!” (Jeremiah 45:3). These are mere shadows of hell’s torment. May the Lord spare us all from his wrath.
  3. The soul, separated from the flesh, is able to perceive things in the unseen world. It is not asleep (there are some who teach “soul sleep,” but that claim cannot stand up to what Jesus teaches here). The Lord uses a kind of anthropomorphism by saying that the rich man’s tormented spirit “lifted up his eyes and saw.” His eyes (ὀϕθαλμοὺς) were physically in his tomb, but the spirit was still able to perceive a sight a very great distance away, much further away than any human eye could ever see, all the way from hell to heaven.
  4. The spirits being punished in hell will be aware of those who are in heaven, and be able to tell who they are. Therefore, we understand that such knowledge will add to their suffering, or at least it will not ease their suffering in any way, for their suffering will be eternal and excruciating.

These details instruct us about some of the pain suffered by those in hell even before the final resurrection on the Last Day. We pray that God would spare us from this terrible end! We can do nothing by ourselves, but we treasure what God has done. God reassures us through Paul’s words: “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5-7). Our escape from the agony of hell rests entirely with Jesus. He suffered once for all (Hebrews 10:10), “the righteous for the unrighteous” (1 Peter 3:18), to save us. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the might of our Savior, our rescuer, our King.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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