In Ezekiel 26 the prophet speaks about people of the ancient world who died long ago and were brought down to “the pit.” There were times when entire cities were lost. The people of Tyre came to a terrible end, but they did not cease to exist. These became inhabitants of the underworld, the dwelling place of the dead. Scripture says it is a desolate place and that the dead were made to dwell down there among “the ancient ruins.” The dead can never return to “the land of the living” and so they are never heard from again.
Psalm 49 tells us the reason why people go to Hell. It is because of their sins. Hell is an eternal and unbearable consequence of sin. When death separates soul from body, the soul that is lost goes to Hell. Here, the psalmist tells us it is impossible for you to ransom the soul of a loved one. A soul is far too valuable. All the money in the world is not enough to buy eternal life for just one soul, to keep it out of Hell.
In Matthew 25 Jesus revealed that Hell is an “eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” Therefore, we know that it exists. Why? Because Jesus said so. It is a prison made for spiritual criminals, and it is on fire. We know from other scriptures that many demons and lost souls occupy the netherworld. Hell is filled with the aftermath of condemned people from throughout history who did not believe in God or obey His commands.
We know from Second Peter 2 that God did not spare the angels that sinned in the days before and after Noah’s Flood. Instead, He cast them into “gloomy dungeons” in Hell. These are the ones who left their places in God’s Kingdom. They were the producers of abominations. Now they are bound by “chains of darkness” as they await God’s Judgment Day.
In Matthew 12 Jesus made known that he would go down into the heart of the Earth for three days and three nights. And, in fact, he did. After Jesus died on the cross he went to Hell. While his physical body was dead his spirit was very much alive. In First Peter 3 we find out “in the spirit he went and preached to the spirits in prison.” Scripture in Ephesians 4 explains that “he descended to the lower, earthly regions” and that “when he ascended on high, he took many captives” with him.
This event took place nearly 2,000 years ago. God showed the world that Jesus is Lord by raising him from the dead. This was also the first time that the redeemed of the Lord entered Heaven. Until that time no one had gone to Heaven or seen God face to face except for the Son of God and the holy angels. In John 1 we learn that no man in previous history had ever seen the Father but the Son. In John 3 Jesus told Nicodemus what this religious scholar had failed to understand: “No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man.”
In Luke 23 we witness the crucifixion of Christ. Two criminals were crucified with him, one on his right and the other on his left. Only one of them repented of his sins and called out to Jesus, asking him to remember him when the Lord comes into his Kingdom. Jesus answered the man, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” But here Paradise was not a reference to Heaven.
In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. The rich man enjoyed a life of luxury and ignored the needs of Lazarus as this poor man suffered just outside his gate. Eventually the rich man died and found himself in Hades, the realm of the dead. The time came when Lazarus died too. Only, he was taken by angels to a place that appeared to be Paradise. Lazarus found himself at Abraham’s side where he was comforted and free from the troubles of this world.
Abraham was a man of faith who had lived several centuries before Moses. When the lost soul (who had been the rich man) looked up, he could see Abraham and Lazarus in Paradise. The saved could see the damned, and the damned could see the saved. But there was “a great chasm” that divided the two realms, so that no one from either side could cross over to the other side.
Christians and non-Christians alike sometimes wonder what became of people who lived and died before the time of Christ. It seems likely that “Paradise” or “Abraham’s Bosom” as it’s sometimes called was in an upper region of Hades. It may be that the righteous dead from generations past were the train of captives that Jesus set free. Perhaps some of these were the people who lived during Old Testament times and who had listened to and followed the teachings of Moses and the prophets.
It is clear by the usage of so many proper names that the story of “The Rich Man and Lazarus” was not a parable. This really happened. And when the lost soul asked Abraham to warn his brothers who were still alive on Earth to repent of their sins, Abraham said that they need only listen to Moses and the prophets, and if they would not listen to them then they would not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.
Resurrection life for the believer is revealed in Matthew 27 by those who were found in Christ and were raised from the dead. After Jesus’ resurrection the ground shook, rocks split apart, tombs broke open, and the cemeteries outside the ancient city of Jerusalem began to empty out as the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life.
After this took place, John 20 says of the disciples that some of these men saw the empty tomb where Jesus had been buried, and they still did not understand from Scripture that Jesus had to rise from the dead. Some of Jesus’ own followers struggled with the sober reality of resurrection life. In Matthew 28 Jesus met with his disciples on the top of a mountain. When he appeared before them, they worshipped him, but some doubted.
This generation is a lot like that. Some have witnessed miracles and still they do not believe. Others have only heard about these things and yet they choose to believe.
In First Peter 1 we find out that faith in Jesus Christ releases resurrection power to save people from Death and Hell. Now, if a person has faith when they die, they are saved and go to be with the Lord in Heaven. Peter explains that “the goal of our faith is the salvation of our souls.” This is what faith looks like. You heard about him and even though you do not see him you believe in him.
When Jesus went to the cross he took the sins, sickness, and sorrows of billions of people upon himself. He suffered incredible physical pain as he hung on the cross for about six hours, but he did not only bleed to death. God put the full punishment for our sins upon him. No matter what sins you have committed, there is forgiveness of sins in the blood of Jesus Christ. He paid the price once for all. His sacrifice is much greater than our sins.
In John 10 Jesus said that he is the Door and that anyone who enters through him shall be saved and have everlasting life. He said, “A thief comes only to steal, kill and destroy…” That is the Devil’s nature, to take from others. But the Lord did not come to take anything from us. He came to give us something. Jesus said, “But I have come so that you may have and enjoy life to the full, till it overflows.” Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep.”
In Revelation 1 Jesus declared that he had died but now he is alive forever, and he holds the keys (authority and power) over Death and Hell. Death is not the end. The life that Jesus came to give us is a new kind of life; a super-abundant, rich, enjoyable, spiritually powerful and never-ending life. It is the same kind of life that the Father and the Son have shared in Heaven from the beginning.