Living on the Edge of Hell

I have been discussing popular ideas concerning the intermediate state. Where do people go between death and resurrection? I have posted on the ideas of purgatory and soul sleep. One more popular scenario remains. Between death and resurrection, people dwell on the edge of Hell.

This is the scenario known as Abraham’s Bosom. I should also qualify that it does not teach that people currently go to the edge of Hell in the intermediate state, but they used to do so. If you read the story from Luke 16 of the rich man and Lazarus you see that a poor man named Lazarus left the agony of poverty in the world of the living only to experience the blessings of paradise postmortem. On the other hand, a rich man left the comforts of his own riches on earth only to experience the excruciating torments of Hades postmortem. The setting of the story is in a location in which those in the place of blessing can converse with those in the place of torments. Though they cannot pass from place to place due to a great gulf, they are close enough to have a conversation. Verse 22 of the story refers to this place as Abraham’s bosom.

There are some odd passages of Scripture in which it seems Jesus, while dead, went into a postmortem location and preached (Ephesians 4:8-10, 1 Peter 3:19, 1 Peter 4:5-6). When I say these passages are odd I mean they are hard to interpret even in their context. In 2 Peter 3:16 Peter says that some things Paul writes are hard to understand. In a sense it is like the pot calling the kettle black. Fisherman Peter is no simpleton either. In short, those who hold to an Abraham’s Bosom intermediate location would say that before Jesus’ resurrection there was a place, often referred to as Hades, that had two compartments. One compartment was a place of blessing, the other a place of torments. When Jesus died and rose again He not only saved the future saints from their sins but He also accomplished a mission in which He was able to rescue the Old Testament saints from Hades and take them to the place we now call Heaven, or at the very least the place Jesus called “The Father’s House” (John 14:2). When Jesus did this Hades became only a place of torments. Hell expanded and now resides as a single compartment in the center of the earth.

Those who argue against this position do so by pointing out that the passages used to contrive it are few and obscure. The plain teaching of Scripture indicates that the Old Testament saints plainly went to Heaven while the lost plainly went to Hell. They would say that the Abraham’s bosom story (which John MacArthur argues in his The Glory of Heaven) refers only to Lazarus leaning affectionately on Abraham just as John did on Jesus’ bosom at the last supper (John 13:25). Those who would hold this position would also say that the Luke 16 story is not to be taken literally in the sense of deriving an intermediate setting for the saved and the lost. It is a parable to explain the condition of the saved verses the lost.

My response to this is threefold:

  1. If the Luke 16 story is not intended to be taken literally, at least in its setting, then how is it to be taken? Jesus was a great story teller, but all of His stories were based in truth. Why in this one parable did He conjure some fantasy land to explain the difference in the fate of the saved and the lost? In the end the parable is a warning to those who would stand in the place of the rich man’s brothers. In this case it is true that the conversation that takes place is paramount to the implied moral. But again, why this one time does Jesus go fantasyland, ethereal when all of His other parables are based in settings that are close to home, rooted in traditional doctrine and reality?
  2. We cannot deny, as obscure as they are, that there are obscure verses in the Bible. True, we should derive our doctrines from the plain teachings of Scripture. Yet, at the same time, something odd happened, something obscure, and it is documented in Holy writ. As odd as it is, I would sure like to know what all the fuss is about!
  3. Whether the place of blessing is somewhere in Georgia and the place of torments is in a remote African desert, Hades, or Abraham’s Bosom, who cares? What we should pay attention to is that there is a massive difference in the experience of the saved and the lost postmortem. Plainly, those who have received eternal life in Jesus Christ will receive just that, life eternal, which begins second number one after death. Those who reject Jesus Christ will, postmortem moment one, begin to experience torments. Whether that place is the center of the earth or the center of Oklahoma, all I know is that I don’t want to go there. My advice, avoid the trip yourself. Receive Jesus as Savior, experience eternal life (Read John 3).


AP Mattox said…
Scofield has a note on Luke 16:19 which I believe adds validity to a literal interpretation of this passage. He points out that the story is not said to be a parable (as many but not all are) and also that in no parable is an individual named as is here.

Popular Posts