Luke 16:26 - And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.
Read Luke 16:19-31.
Forever is a word that cannot be fully visualized. Try it. It's like thinking about halfway to infinity! Now think about the idea of existing forever--and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever and ever...... What if such an idea were true? The Bible teaches us that we will exist forever. What started out as a simple mental exercise now becomes an emotional experience. As the concept of existing forever grows on us, our emotions may range from joy to fear--depending on our relationship with God. The Bible teaches that believers will exist forever with God in a place called Heaven, while unbelievers will exist forever without God in a place called hell. Hell is not a pleasant subject to think about and most unbelievers simply dismiss it from their minds--except for using it as an occasional curse word. Some unbelievers, however, would agree that there ought to be some kind of hell. After all, if the Stalins and Hitlers can get away from their crimes and atrocities by merely dying, which is common to all of mankind anyway, then life is totally unfair and unjust. Somewhere along the line "it all has to come out in the wash" with some kind of standard upheld and penalty meted out, or else any talk about human decency and dignity and rights and good causes is just a joke. Although many people will go along with this line of reasoning to a point, they do not want to accept the biblical concept of hell. Why? Because the Bible teaches that hell is not just for the Hitlers and Stalins, but for every unbeliever. All have sinned and fallen short of God's standards (Romans 3:23). In the account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16, the Bible gives us some important teaching about hell. It should be pointed out, before going further, that the word translated "hell" in verse 23 is better transliterated "hades". Technically speaking, "hades" is a description of the present situation of deceased unbelievers awaiting their final consignment to hell. Since the Lord Jesus was relating what appears to be a true story and not just a parable, it is not surprising that He used the word "hades" to describe the condition of the rich man, because the final day of judgment for the damned had obviously not yet taken place. The description of "hades" here in Luke 16 is certainly applicable to hell--the place of those who are lost forever. In verses 19-21 we read that hell is a place of surprising reversal. In this life the rich man had it made, while Lazarus had nothing. The Pharisees who were listening to this story (v14) would have understood the rich man to be someone who was apparently blessed by God--most favorably! And poor suffering Lazarus would be understood to be an individual who was under the discipline of God. After all, he appeared to be forsaken by God and left to be licked by street dogs which made him ceremonially unclean. But after death, Lazarus, of all people, was found secure in Abraham's bosom. This phrase would be understood by Christ's audience as a description of eternal bliss in paradise! What a surprising reversal! Notice that the rich man is not said to be a Scrooge or a Simon Legree. In fact, verse 21 may indicate that he gave Lazarus the leftovers from his table. This rich man would be typical of a lot of Americans today--apparently enjoying God's favor and by no means deliberately neglecting the poor and suffering. Even token efforts of concern are characteristic of most citizens. Certainly God would not send a "good" person like this to Hell! But the Lord Jesus corrects such wrong thinking with this story. The Bible is not teaching here that all rich people go to Hell and all poor people go to Heaven. Luke 16 does not even tell us why this rich man went to Hell and Lazarus went to Heaven, although the rich man's self-centeredness may be a hint. The actualmeans of salvation, namely Christ, is given to us in many other Scriptures, but is not the focus of this story. This Scripture emphasizes that stature and position in this life may be surprisingly reversed in the life to come. We Christians must share this truth with our status-conscious society. In verses 23-24 we find that hell is a place of painful retribution. Some unbelievers have the idea that hell will be some kind of pleasant reunion with all their old friends. The Bible does not even suggest such a thought. The rich man was suffering torment (v23) and agony (v24), and did not even want anyone to join him in such a horrible place (v28). And there was no relief--not even the slightest ray of hope. Is such punishment fair, many people ask. It is not so much a question of fairness but of choice. Suppose I'm drowning and I choose not to believe it, so I choose not to take the life preserver that's thrown to me. Are the consequences fair? Unbelievers choose to go to hell because they either refuse to believe the truth or they refuse to do something about it. In Matthew 13:42, the Lord spoke of hell as a place where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth". Because they choose to go to hell instead of Heaven, some unbelievers will "weep" with unending regret and some will "gnash their teeth" in bitter anger against God forever. If you are reading these lines and you are not a Christian, fortunately it is still not too late for you to avoid the painful retribution of hell. Choose to commit your life to Christ now before you are lost forever. Verse 25 teaches that hell is a place of conscious remembrance. Hell is not cessation of awareness or memory. The rich man was not only aware of what he was missing as he viewed Lazarus, but he was able to vividly recall his past. In fact, he is commanded to think back on his lifetime on earth. (The imperative is used for "remember" in verse 25.) We are fortunate in this life to be able to blot out, at least partially, bad memories of past mistakes. This human characteristic tends to make life more pleasant. But in hell there will be no such convenience. Every guilty conscience will be fully awake and active. Probably the Lord Jesus had this "gnawing conscience" in mind when He described hell as a place "where their worm does not die...." (see Mark 9:44-48). What could be worse than remembering forever the missed opportunities to believe the simple truth? We are taught that hell is a place of no return in verse 26. There is no second chance in hell! Any idea of reincarnation is utterly foreign to Scripture. "It is appointed for man to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). And hell is not a place of temporary punishment with eventual admittance to Heaven after a period of purification. The Bible definitely does not teach that everyone is going to make it to Heaven in the end. (See Matthew 25:41, 46.) The fact that there is a "great gulf fixed" means that hell is a permanent situation. Verse 26 makes clear that even if someone in Heaven wanted to help someone in hell, this is impossible. Mercy is for this life only. The only good news here is that the fixed boundary means that believers are eternally secure in Heaven. Believers can no more fall from Heaven than Christ can fall from Heaven because the blessed position of every Christian is in Christ forever. (See Ephesians 1:6.) Finally, in verses 27-31, we see that Hell is a place of awful realization. The rich man was forced to realize that to reject or neglect the truth of the Scriptures meant to be lost forever. Like his five brothers on earth, the rich man had access to "Moses and the Prophets" during his lifetime (v29). This is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures, of course. Remember that the New Testament hadn't been written yet. For anyone who was open to the truth, the Bible was sufficient evidence--and it still is! Miracles will not convince the hardened skeptic in spite of what the rich man thought and argued (v30). As the old saying goes, "A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still!" Proof of the declaration in verse 31 took place not too long after our Lord told this story. A man named Lazarus (of all names!) was raised from the dead and came back to witness to the truth of Christ and the Scriptures. (See John 11.) The Pharisees who would not "listen to Moses and the Prophets" were not persuaded to become believers even though someone had been raised from the dead. These stubborn and calloused unbelievers plotted instead to kill Jesus (John 11:53)--and Lazarus as well (John 12:10)! And of course our Lord's own resurrection soon after did not change their unbelief either. How awful for those unbelievers, along with the rich man and any other rejecters of Scripture, then and now, to realize after death that they are lost forever. It is significant that the Lord Jesus spoke more of Hell than of Heaven, according to what is recorded in the four Gospels. Why would our loving Lord, who always "went about doing good", spend so much time talking about such an unpleasant subject? 2 Peter 3:9 gives the simple answer: Our God does not want anyone to be lost forever in Hell.