Dr. Couch, is Luke 16:19-31 is a good illustration of hell today? Or, is punishment different today under the dispensation of the church age? What do you say?
ANSWER: Since Christ mentions the name of the poor man Lazarus, this story is not simply a parable but a true happening that explained to those in the dispensation of the Law that there is bliss for the believer and suffering for the unbeliever after death. However, now there are some differences in regard to what happens to the saved and the lost at death.
Lazarus, though a poor man was experiencing the blessings of a believer by being placed with father Abraham after his death. He is on Abraham's bosom after his death (v. 22), resting on his chest, meaning that he was being comforted by Abraham the faithful one. But the rich man was buried and was suffering in the grave "being in torment" asking for mercy, experiencing the suffering of the flames "in agony" (vv. 23-24). This story is in poetic form in the fact that we know he was not simply suffering physical torment but actual spiritual suffering. The physical actually turns to dust.
The wealthy man wanted the Lord to send a warning to his five living brothers so that they would not "come to this place" (v. 28). But Abraham said "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them" (v. 29). "They will repent if someone comes to speak to them from the dead," the rich man said (v. 30). Abraham answers "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead" (v. 31).
Apparently, the saved and the lost, before the death of Christ, were allowed to experience blessings (for the saved) and pain (for the lost). Christ's work was not completed and finished for the issue of dying for sin. However, after His death, burial, and crucifixion, the saved then go directly into the presence of the Lord, and the lost go directly into hell—the place of punishment—even though there was some experience of this, to a degree, prior to the work of the Lord on the cross.
I wrote in my Luke Commentary: There are certain things that can apply now to the issue of death which we can find in this story. (1) There is consciousness after death, (2) there is bliss for the righteous and torment for the wicked, (3) there is regret for what is done in life, (4) great spiritual consequences follow after death, (5) the die is cast in this life, with no "second chance" in view, and, (6) the witness of the prophets (and later the writings of the apostles) is sufficient so that one can know the truth. However, the hardness of the hearts of the lost is so great that even the witness of one coming forth from the dead will not persuade those who are spiritually resisting.
I added: Most scholars believe that the death of the Lord Jesus atoned for the sins of all the righteous who lived before the crucifixion and had a saving trust in God. This belief comes from Romans 3:25. Jesus as a propitiation (a place of satisfaction with God concerning sin), demonstrated "His righteousness, because of the forbearance of God (who then) passed over the sins previously committed." That is, there was a waiting period in which God passed over sins until Christ completed His work for sin on the cross. On this side of the death of Christ, when a believe dies, he goes directly into the presence of God. As the apostle Paul writes, "I … prefer (now) rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8).
At the very end of time, Revelation pictures in heaven "myriads and thousands of thousands praising the Lamb who is worthy to receive power and riches and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing" (5:11-12). And the lost, after being judged at the Great White Throne are seen as being "thrown into the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (20:14-15). Matthew 25:46 can be applied to all the unrighteous and the righteous. "And these (the lost) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (saved) into eternal life."
I hope this helps. Thanks for asking.
Dr. Mal Couch (3/11)