Part IV – The Great White Throne and the Lake of Fire

In my last blog we looked at Hades from the Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Hades was shown to be a place consisting of two compartments: one a place of comfort where Lazarus was located and one a place of torment where the Rich Man was located. Now even though the Rich Man was in torment, he was not yet in what we would refer to as “Hell.”

What we commonly refer to as “Hell” would better be called the Lake of Fire.  Nobody is in Hell or the Lake of Fire yet, and it will stay uninhabited until after the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. A look at these verses is necessary…

11a Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it,

It is Jesus Christ who sits on the throne based on:

  • John 5:22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son
  • John 5:27 [the Father] has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of Man

Jesus judges all unbelievers. Some people like to say, “Can you imagine what it would be like having to stand before the Father after you’ve rejected His Son?” That’s not true. You don’t stand before the Father if you reject the Son. You stand before the Son after you reject the Son. Jesus will be your Savior or He will be your judge. Imagine standing before Him after spending an entire lifetime without acknowledging His sacrifice. Terrifying.

In one moment, all the unbelievers who have ever lived will be raised from the dead to stand before this throne to be judged. Picture a throne large enough that all the billions of unbelievers throughout history can be stretched before it.

No believers will go before this throne. It isn’t that believers’ sins escaped judgment, it’s that their sins were judged on the cross.

11b from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away.

I think this is a figurative way of trying to describe how terrifying the throne is: even the earth and the sky try to flee from its presence. They don’t move away from it, they flee from it.

11c And there was found no place for them.

This means there’s no way to hide from the judgment; nobody escapes it

12a And I saw the dead,

This means spiritually dead. Regarding believers Eph 2:1 says And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins. Believers were spiritually dead, but then spiritually brought to life. This verse is about unbelievers who stayed dead in their sins. They were born physically, but they were dead spiritually. When they died physically they were still dead spiritually. Believers are born physically, but at some point in their lives they’re also born again, but spiritually. They die physically, but they remain alive spiritually.

12b small and great,

This is just another way of describing how nobody escapes this judgment: not the small or the great.Not the greatest, most famous, wealthiest, most powerful people in the world, and not the smallest, most insignificant, poorest, weakest people in the world. All unbelievers will be judged.

12c standing before the throne,

Notice they’re standing before the throne. This looks like a courtroom, but there’s something interesting about courtrooms. Most of the time everyone sits. These people are standing. One of the only times a defendant stands in a courtroom is when he’s being sentenced. This is a trial, but it really just consists of a sentencing. There’s no discussion. There’s no defense. There are no excuses. Nobody will be explaining why they rejected Jesus. Nobody will be talking about how this happened during their lifetimes or this person treated them this way, or they lost this loved one, etc.

12d and books were opened.

I believe one of these books will be the Bible based on John 12:48 He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him—the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day

12e And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life.

The Book of Life is commonly called, “The Lamb’s Book of Life.” It is the book that contains the names of all believers who have put their faith in Jesus Christ. It contains the name of all those who won’t be appearing before this throne because their sins were judged on the cross. I believe it’s mentioned here to encourage believers that its presence will ensure they aren’t mistakenly judged.

If your name is not in this book, you will be at this judgment.

12e And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.

Earlier it said books were opened. I’m guessing these books are the records of men’s deeds since it says they’re judged by their works. Maybe there’s a book for each person. If you don’t accept by faith the righteousness Jesus offers, you stand before God in your own righteousness (or unrighteousness) and you’ll find out how close you were to meeting the standard of perfection set by God.

In other words, all those who reject Jesus will be judged according to how well they obeyed the Bible, or I should probably say how poorly they obeyed the Bible. Consider these verses regarding judgment:

  • Matt 12:37 For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned
  • Luke 8:17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light.
  • Rom 2:16 in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel

All the words and even thoughts of unbelievers will be judged. No unbeliever will stand before this throne and feel like anything but a filthy, wretched sinner. Every sinful action, word and even thought will be brought to light. The righteousness of even the most righteous person will be shown to be woefully below the standard required by God to make it into heaven. It will instead be completely obvious each of these people deserved Hell instead of heaven.

Maybe you say, “If my works aren’t good enough, what work do I do to get to heaven?” Jesus answered this in John 6:29 when He said, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”

13a The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.

The “sea” and “death” probably refer to the physical location of these people’s bodies. The “sea” was known as a bottomless abyss. That’s why Micah 7:19 says God will hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea. It was considered a place where nothing could return from it. Therefore it’s probably mentioned to show no matter the physical location of a body, God can raise it up again.

Hades refers to the location of people’s souls. We studied Hades in detail in my previous blog. It was shown to be a place divided into two compartments: one of comfort and one of torment. All the unbelievers with the Rich Man in the compartment of torment will be resurrected from Hades to stand before the Great White Throne. Nobody is in Hell or the Lake of Fire yet. Unbelievers don’t go there until after this judgment. Hades is the “waiting place” of all unbelievers until they’re resurrected for this judgment.

13b And they were judged, each one according to his works.

The Bible doesn’t have bold, italics or underlining, so when it wants to emphasize it uses repetition. Twice we’re told this because it’s so important for people to understand if they don’t have Christ’s righteousness, they’ll find out how well their righteousness stacked up…or didn’t stack up.

14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

Death and Hades weren’t permanent. They only existed until this judgment. Death was temporary in that unbelievers only stayed “dead” until they were resurrected to be judged before this Throne. When all unbelievers are resurrected, death will no longer exist because all the dead will again be alive.

Hades is not permanent either. Hades only existed until this judgment. When all unbelievers are resurrected out of Hades and brought before this Throne, Hades will be empty and no longer necessary. (As a note, the compartment of Hades where Lazarus was in comfort has also been emptied by this point by Christ following His crucifixion. We’ll cover this in a future blog.)

In a way the casting of Death and Hades into the lake of fire shows the final end of the vestiges of sin. Sin came into the world and brought Death. Death brought Hades in that Hades is the abode of the dead. With this judgment, Death and Hades come to an end and are also cast into the lake of fire. The last echoes of sin are finally brought to an end.

The lake of fire is what we commonly think of as Hell. It is called the Second Death, because it is where people go if they die twice. Believers die only once: physically. Unbelievers die twice: they die physically, and then they die spiritually when they are cast alive into the lake of fire.

15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

The reason it says anyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire is because anyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life hasn’t yet put his/her faith in Christ and will not have the necessary righteousness to enter heaven

We still have a lot to cover 🙂

Part III – The Rich Man and Lazarus

In my last blog we left off after contrasting Hades and the lake of fire and two truths emerged:

  • The lake of fire is what we commonly think of as hell; it will remain empty until all unbelievers throughout history are judged at The Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15); this takes place after the Millennium and before Eternity begins.
  • Hades on the other hand (even though it is often translated as Hell) is not the lake of fire and therefore is not hell. The lake of fire/Hell is a the place of eternal torment. Hades on the other hand is a temporary place divided into two compartments, one a place of comfort and one a place of torment.

The key passage for this is The Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-???

There are a number of reasons to believe this was a real event and not a parable:

  1. The story is never called a parable, while many of Jesus’ other stories in Luke are designated as parables (Luke 8:4, 12:16, 13:6, 14:7). The language He uses is also different in that He doesn’t begin with “the kingdom of God is like.”
  2. This story uses the actual name of a person. Such specificity would set it apart from ordinary parables in which the characters are not named; giving the impression He wasn’t presenting an illustration or fictional account for teaching purposes.
  3. This story doesn’t fit the definition of a parable, which is a presentation of a spiritual truth using an earthly illustration. This story presents spiritual truth directly with no earthly metaphor.
  4. The setting of the story is the afterlife as opposed to the parables, which unfold in earthly contexts.

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.

Purple dye was extremely expensive, being manufactured in Lebanon. Along with the description of his clothing, and food, it serves to show the luxuriousness the rich man experienced, not just occasionally, or even frequently, but every day. The description of the rich man reveals he shared in the oppression of the poor through his lavish and wasteful lifestyle.

20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

The rich man and Lazarus are contrasted in a concise and powerful way: the rich man is an example of a “lover of money” and the wealthy elite who live a life of conspicuous consumption, while Lazarus epitomizes poverty.

Lazarus is contrasted with the wealth and leisure of the rich man. The fact that Lazarus was laid at the gate by someone gives the impression he could not walk, which was probably the cause of the bedsores that not just spotted his body, but covered it. His destitution was so great that he desired not to eat at the king’s table, but simply to receive some of the crumbs that feel from it. Considering that he had this longing implies the king never gave him so much as a crumb.

The mention of the dogs is to show they took better care of Lazarus and showed him more compassion than the rich man.

22 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.

Luke’s use of the words “was carried” convey that Lazarus was carried to the place where he belonged and was entitled to, fitting in perfectly with Luke’s own version of the first beatitude (6:20 Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God). He was so poor and destitute that he did not even receive a burial, but the rich man received one, and it constituted his only reward upon death.

The phrase “Abraham’s bosom” occurs only this one time in the entire Bible, but it has become one of the most powerful and intriguing visual metaphors in the entire repertoire of Christian iconography. There are likely four possibilities of its origination:

  • The concept of comfort which is afforded by being held next to the bosom (Isa 40:11).
  • The common belief that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would greet new entrants into heaven (Mat 8:11).
  • The second temple practice of reclining and eating meals in proximity to other guests, the closest of whom physically was said to lie on the bosom of the host (John 13:23). Of note is the fact the Jews considered it a mark of special honor and favor for one to be allowed to lie in the bosom of the master of the feast, and it is by this illustration that they pictured the next world. They conceived of the reward of the righteous dead as a sharing in a banquet given by Abraham, “the father of the faithful” (Mat 8:11) and of the highest form of that reward as lying in “Abraham’s bosom.”
  • The universal custom of parents to take up into their arms, or place upon their knees, their children when they are fatigued, or return home and to make them rest by their side during the night (2 Sam 12:3; 1 Kin 3:20, 17:19; Luke 11:7), thus causing them to enjoy rest and security in the bosom of a loving parent

23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

The rich man finds himself isolated from Lazarus, which had been his desire during his life and as a result is a fitting judgment. Although the rich man’s location is said to be “afar off” compared to Lazarus’ location, it is still within eyesight. The next verse makes it clear that the rich man was even close enough to converse with Abraham himself.

24 “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.’

That the rich man called Abraham, “Father” implies he was a Jew (John 8:53), letting Jesus’ audience know that simply being a descendant of Abraham was no guarantee of where someone would spend eternity. The rich man was counting on being a descendant of Abraham as a means to avoid his affliction.

Clearly the place of torment is not a place of silence or soul sleep. Some interesting points regarding the states of those in the place of torment are learned from this verse:

  • The rich man is completely conscious, and is capable of feeling intense pain, so much so that he describes the flames as being tormenting.
  • He maintained his memories from his previous life being able to recognize Lazarus.
  • Somehow he is even able to recognize Abraham, which could possibly mean he was given an even greater consciousness and awareness if he had never met Abraham in his earthly life.
  • His selfish human nature remains unchanged even following his death, since he still views Lazarus in a place of inferiority where he should be told by Abraham to serve him.

25 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.

Although no mention of Lazarus’ condition was made up to this point, now it is obvious that he is in a place of comfort. Two reversals are also made between the rich man and Lazarus:

  • Previously the rich man was in comfort and Lazarus was in torment, but now Lazarus is comforted and the rich man is in torment.
  • Previously Lazarus was begging for assistance from the rich man, but now the rich man is begging for Lazarus’ help.

26 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.

An important distinction is made here, that the places of comfort and torment are separated by an impassable gulf. Not only is it not possible for someone to pass from torment to comfort, so too is it impossible for someone to pass from comfort to torment.

In my next blog we’ll discuss Gehenna or The Valley of Hinnom as well as Jesus’ time following His death and resurrection.

Part II – Sheol and Hades

In my last blog we discussed Old Testament (OT) believers being saved by faith, just like believers in the New Testament. We also saw how there was very little revelation in the OT regarding eternal punishment and eternal reward. In this blog we’re going to discuss where individuals in the OT went following death.

The OT teaches people went to a place of conscious existence called Sheol. This is a Hebrew word (shĕ’owl, Strong’s H7585) referring to the abode or dwelling of the dead occurring 65 times in the OT. English translations render shĕ’owl as “grave” (KJV, NKJV, NIV), “Hell” (KJV), or it is simply transliterated as “Sheol” (KJV, NKJV, RSV, NIV).

A very important point is Sheol doesn’t distinguish between the righteous and unrighteous dead. If I say heaven, you know I’m talking about the place for believers. If I say hell, you know I’m talking about the place for unbelievers. But if I say Sheol, I’m just talking about the place for the dead whether they’re believers or unbelievers.

Here are some verses using the NKJV showing believers in Sheol:

  • Gen 37:35 And all [Jacob’s] sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave (Sheol) to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him
  • Job 14:13 “Oh, that You would hide me in the grave (Sheol),
    That You would conceal me until Your wrath is past,
    That You would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
  • Psa 6:5 For in death there is no remembrance of You;
    In the grave
    (Sheol) who will give You thanks?
  • Psa 16:10 For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
    Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.
  • Psa 88:3 For my soul is full of troubles,
    And my life draws near to the grave
  • Isa 38:10 I said,
    “In the prime of my life
    I shall go to the gates of Sheol
    I am deprived of the remainder of my years.”

Here are some verses from the NKJV showing unbelievers in Sheol:

  • Psa 9:17 The wicked shall be turned into hell (Sheol), 7585
    And all the nations that forget God
  • Psa 31:17 Do not let me be ashamed, O Lord, for I have called upon You;
    Let the wicked be ashamed;
    Let them be silent in the grave
  • Psa 49:14 Like sheep they are laid in the grave (Sheol);
    Death shall feed on them;
    The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning;
    And their beauty shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling
  • Isa 5:14 Therefore Sheol has enlarged itself
    And opened its mouth beyond measure;
    Their glory and their multitude and their pomp,
    And he who is jubilant, shall descend into it

Now a little background info before discussing Hades

The OT was written almost exclusively in Hebrew (with a very small part written in Aramaic). Alexander the Great conquered the known world, essentially establishing a Greek-speaking culture around the 3rd century BC. To make the OT Scriptures readable to the Greek-speaking world, they had to be translated from Hebrew into Greek. In the late 3rd century BC seventy-two scholars began the work originally called by the Latin name versio septuaginta interpretum, leading to the shortened title Septuagint, and abbreviated in many bibles by LXX (the Roman numeral for seventy after the scholars who performed the work). When the NT writers quoted the OT, they actually quoted the Septuagint as opposed to the original Hebrew writings.

The Septuagint translated Sheol as Hades (hadēs, Strong’s G86) , making the two words virtually synonymous. To be clear, Hades is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, or you could say Hades is the NT equivalent of Sheol. In the NT when Hades is used, just like Sheol in the OT, it also doesn’t refer to believers or unbelievers; it’s simply referring to the abode of the dead.

Hades is used eleven times in the NT. Here are a few examples from the NKJV:

  • Matt 11:23 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
  • Matt 16:18 And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it.
  • Luke 10:15 And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades.
  • Luke 16:23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
  • 1 Cor 15:55 “O Death, where is your sting?
    O Hades, where is your victory?”
  • Rev 6:8 So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.

The KJV always translates Hades as Hell except in 1 Cor 15:55 when grave is used instead. This is unfortunate, because Hades and what we think of as hell are not the same. If we wanted to talk about hell, we should say the lake of fire (Rev 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15). Because of this poor translation, there’s confusion regarding the two, leading many to believe they refer to the same place. Although, Rev 20:13-14 clearly show Hades and Hell (or the Lake of Fire) to be two different places: The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”Verse 13 shows Hades (or Hell) depending on the translation) as a place containing the dead. Verse 14 then describes Hades (or Hell) being cast into the Lake of Fire, showing them to be two separate places.

The Lake of Fire then becomes the dwelling of all unbelievers condemned to eternal punishment. It appears as a place of perpetual torment, and not of annihilation. Hades on the other hand is shown to be a place of temporal torment or comfort, which is what we’ll discuss in the next blog!

Part I – OT Believers and the Afterlife…

If you’ve been a Christian very long, and especially if you’ve read the King James or New King James Versions of the Bible, you’ve probably wondered what the deal is with Hades and Sheol. Are they the same as hell? You’ve probably also heard of Gehenna and the Lake of Fire. What do all these places (that is if they are places) have to do with each other?

We’re going to take a look at those terms over the next few blogs, but first let’s establish an important point regarding Old Testament (OT) believers and unbelievers: they were saved by faith, just like us…

Heb 11:13These (The OT believers discussed earlier in the chapter: Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, and Sarah) all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. Notice the words died in faith. They didn’t receive the promises God made to them. They had to look forward to them in faith. They had to trust God just like we do, and their belief was accounted to them as righteousness (Gen 15:6).

Charles Ryrie sums up the matter of faith succinctly in this way: “The basis of salvation in every age is the death of Christ; the requirement for salvation in every age is faith; the object of faith in every age is God; the content of faith changes in the various ages.” In other words, no matter when people lived, their salvation is ultimately dependent on the work of Christ and a faith placed in God, but the amount of knowledge people had concerning the specifics of God’s plan have increased through the ages via God’s progressive revelation. Obviously those living after Christ’s First Coming will know much more than those looking forward to it in faith. Combine that with the revelation found in the New Testament and you have a monumental amount of information available to Church-age believers that wasn’t available in the OT.

Here are a few interesting verses dealing with the topic showing that although their revelation was limited it was still sufficient enough for salvation:

  • A little further in Hebrews 11 the author says Moses “[esteemed] the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward” (11:26). This is to say Moses considered abuse suffered for Christ greater than the wealth and prestige of Egypt. Moses knew he was suffering, or forfeiting the blessings he’d have in Egypt for the Messiah; the author implies Moses knew he was doing it for Christ.
  • Gal 3:8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” So this verse even says the Gospel was preached to Abraham when God established the Abrahamic Covenant with him. We probably wouldn’t think of those words as constituting a solid Gospel presentation, but because of the limited revelation in the OT, simply believing in these words was enough to save.
  • John 8:56 Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad. This refers to Abraham’s joy in looking forward to the day of the promised Messiah. Although we assume Abraham’s revelation of the Messiah was limited, we’re still told he looked forward to it with joy.

The point is, OT believers had saving faith in Christ. They were saved looking forward to Christ like NT believers are saved looking back on Christ. Interestingly, I think most people feel it was easier to believe in the OT where there were numerous miracles and supernatural events. We assume everyone would have faith then; however, the irony is OT believers would probably assume the same about NT believers since we all live after Christ came. To them, how could anyone possibly not believe when Jesus has already come?

The OT revelation of the afterlife was very minimal. It wasn’t until Jesus Christ that eternal reward and eternal punishment were clearly revealed. Although insignificant compared to the revelation in the NT, the OT did discuss eternal life and eternal punishment, but on a much narrower scale:

  • Dan 12:2 And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
    Some to everlasting life,
    Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
  • Isa 66:22-24 “For as the new heavens and the new earth Which I will make shall remain before Me (so it’s important to know He’s looking forward to eternity here talking about the New Heavens and New Earth),” says the Lord,
    “So shall your descendants and your name remain. 23 And it shall come to pass That from one New Moon to another, And from one Sabbath to another, All flesh shall come to worship before Me,” says the Lord. 24 “And they shall go forth and look Upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
    (Jesus quoted most of this verse and applied it to hell in Mark 9:47-48).

The idea is in verse 24 Jesus is describing the eternal punishment of the unrighteous.

That’s really about it for OT verses dealing with eternal reward and eternal punishment. Limited, huh? There are plenty of verses though about death and individuals going somewhere when they die (as opposed to being annihilated) and that will be the topic of the next blog!