Luke 16:24-31

What Jesus Taught about the Judgment of Hell
Luke 16:24-31
Intro: Last Sunday we learned about the two kinds of characters who die and the only two conditions in which we can die. This week we will examine the second half of parable. In it we will uncover the two prayers that will not be answered in hell. This parable of the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham, has much to say about preparing for life after death. It is a timely word for us. As Christians we should never tire of hearing how we can be made right with God. If we are not Christians, there is no more pressing message than this. We pick up the parable with both the rich man and the poor beggar Lazarus having died and having been translated to their new dwelling places in the afterlife. The second half of the parable will show us four truths about hell and two thoughts about doomed souls…

Luke 16:24 “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.’

The first prayer that is refused in hell is the prayer for relief.

Jesus is speaking figuratively about the doomed soul’s suffering. Since the rich man is tormented in Hades, he has yet to be resurrected to judgment. Therefore he does not possess a physical body.

Christ gives us a physical description of a spiritual torment. He is describing that suffering in a way that gives us a clear picture of what it’s like to be under God’s judgment. 

The rich man feels like he is being consumed by fire. He wants any kind of watery relief – even a drop on what he thinks is his tongue.

If Jesus resorts to figurative language, does that mean that there is not a literal hell? Is the rich man only imagining his suffering?

Klaus Schilder – “Let no one say: it is merely symbolic and therefore not so terrible. By mere inversion one should rather say: if the symbol, the mere picture, is already awe-inspiring, how terrible the original must be!”

Hell does not rehabilitate

“send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue”

The rich man has not been humbled by his startling new circumstances. He has not realized that earth’s values no longer apply.

Instead, he assumes that since he is Jewish, Abraham was still his “father.” Not only that, he knows Lazarus by name but has never helped him. The suffering man at his gate was not some anonymous stranger. He was familiar with Lazarus.

He has no plausible deniability, and now he sees Lazarus present with Abraham. 

He also presumes that Lazarus is there to carry out errands on behalf of the upper class. Even in hell, he is still asking for privilege. 

The rich man never speaks to Lazarus directly. He continues to consider him an object, not a person. This is nothing like Abraham!

Those who are truly Abraham’s children live by faith. They produce fruit in keeping with their confessed repentance.

John the Baptist had already warned against claiming privileges based on being one of Abraham’s descendants.

Luke 3:8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones.

A quick note on Lazarus: His silence throughout the parable is impressive. He does not speak at all. He neither complains of his hard life on earth, not does he gloat over the rich man’s harsh fate after death. He does not even express resentment at the rich man’s attempts to have him sent on errands! All the way through, Lazarus accepts what God sends him.

Our response to God is revealed in the way we handle our circumstances, whether they are pleasant or severe.

How desperate the damned must be for mercy. How reasonable it must seem to them to cry out for relief.

Was the rich man really asking for all that much? He wasn’t even praying for his salvation. He makes no request to be delivered from hell forthwith. All he asked for was one little drop of water to soothe his burning tongue. 

Yet even that request was denied. God has no mercy for people who die rejecting Christ.

Luke 16:25 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.

Entrusted with the riches of this world, the wealthy man had generously rewarded himself during his lifetime. He has in fact been paid in full. He had nothing more coming to him, not even a single drop of water.

Luke 6:24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

The point is that those who live only for the things of this world will get nothing from heaven.

Abraham tells the rich man that he received good things during his life, but Lazarus had not. Their situations are now reversed.

In Mary’s Magnificat, she foretells of the Messiah coming with justice.

Luke 1:53 He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. 

Hell does not dull the mind

We should observe with humility the sober tone that Abraham takes with the damned soul who addresses him.

He uses a term of endearment almost by calling him “son,” meaning, “my child.” It conveys something of the compassion God has for those who are lost but still alive. God shows concern for even those who spurn Him.

There is no sense of “I told you so,” or “I wish you the worst,” or even “You have no standing left to speak to me.”

Instead, Abraham answers the rich man with solemn truth. He is matter-of-fact, but we can detect no harshness – there is no discernible edge in his remarks.

Abraham points to the rich man’s memory. It is still intact even though he is under judgment – 

“remember that in your lifetime…” – one of the agonizing things about hell is remembering all the opportunities the sinner had to repent but selfishly and foolishly refused.

Hell is a function of cosmic justice

The front gate of the rich man could have been opened. He could have made arrangements for Lazarus to come into his home and receive whatever he needed to survive, whatever he needed to live a normal life.

But that gate remained closed to the poor man. It opened for hundreds of the rich man’s closest friends who must have come from far and wide to enjoy the bounty. But the one who was daily lain outside the gate never received an invitation to come in.

Now the tables have been turned. In the next world, there is another gate that is closed.

It is the “gulf” or the “chasm” or the “expanse” between paradise and Hades/hell. 

Luke 16:26 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.’
There is no shuttle service from Hades to Heaven. A great divide separates the two extremes. No one may cross over in either direction.

These two men had lived practically next door to each other, but now they are separated forever. There is a great divorce between heaven and hell. An eternal divide has been set in place, put there by Almighty God. It is wide. It is bridgeless. It is final.

The wicked dead who suffer surely want to escape but cannot. We have already noted that hell does not rehabilitate its occupants.

And if it were possible for the redeemed to panic and seek to cross the gulf to rescue their lost relatives and friends, they would be denied. The chasm is fixed by divine decree.

Jesus Christ is the only bridge from wrath to righteousness. It is only by faith in him that a sinner can be forgiven and become a child of God.

This verse urges us to obey the Gospel. Put your faith in Jesus now, while you still have time, or else very soon you will find yourself in a place where no one can come and rescue you at all.

No one will be allowed to travel there to preach the gospel to you. And once you are there, you will not be able to come to Christ. 

After death there is no passage that leads to heaven from hell. The gulf is fixed.

Hell is an irreversible sentence

The rich man cannot but see the justice of the situation: he could have acted differently. He should have acted differently; but even if his own case is hopeless, something may yet be done for his relatives.

Seeing that his fate is sealed, the rich man lobbies Abraham on behalf of his unbelieving brothers.

Luke 16:27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house,
Luke 16:28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’

The doomed in hell long for the work of evangelism

Is it not staggering that the horrors of Hades were so awful that suddenly the doomed rich man was interested in the missionary work of the Gospel?

He did not want his brothers to experience the pain he had to endure.

He longed for someone to warn his brothers who were still alive. Presumably, they were living the same lifestyle of luxury without concern for others. 

Once again, his request seems perfectly reasonable. What could be more appropriate than a dead man’s prayer for his family’s salvation?

Yet this plea was also denied – or better yet, deemed unnecessary.

Luke 16:29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’

In other words, the rich man’s brothers had in their possession everything they needed to get to heaven. They had the word of God – the very means of salvation.

Moses and the prophets = the Law and the Prophets (OT) – these scriptures continually mandate care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger. His brothers need no other instruction according to Abraham.

One of the reasons the rich man found himself in hell is that he did not believe God’s word. Even suffering there, he still did not believe in its power to save.
Luke 16:30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

Here was the kind of man who never really understood the point of going to a worship service and listening to someone teach the Scriptures on the Lord’s Day. He valued his own skepticism towards spiritual truth. Indeed, he was proud of it.

Ultimately this is what kept him out of glory: his lack of compassion towards others was simply the outward evidence of his inner unbelief.

The rich man knew his brothers well enough to understand that they did not believe the Bible any more than he did. But what if God tried a different approach with them?

The second prayer that is refused in hell is the prayer for an alternative sign.

What if a ghost came and preached to them? Surely they would have to sit up and take notice, right?

Not even a spectacular sign like one returning from the dead can change those whose hearts are set against God’s word.

The doomed in hell still do not understand the Gospel

Remember that the rich man, because of his earthly status, was accustomed to special considerations. The rules never applied to himself or his close associates. They were always the exceptions.

He will not take no for an answer.

Continuing to insist that he holds a position of privilege even in torment in the afterlife, the rich man maintains that a special envoy is required to convince his family.

His attitude was, “the Scriptures might be adequate for the common man, but me and my brothers are not common men. We need a special visitation from someone beyond the grave.”

If you think about it, this request was a passive-aggressive criticism of God. The rich man thought God’s strategy to win the hearts of lost men was inadequate. He knew a better way to reach his brothers than God Himself!

Luke 16:31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

According to Abraham, if the Scriptures were insufficient to persuade the brothers, a supernatural announcement will make no difference.

Here we are given a deep insight into the heart of unbelief – an insight so powerful and so profound it could save a person’s soul: 

Philip Graham Ryken – If you do not believe what God has said in His Word, then you will never believe anything else God does either, and you will never truly believe in Jesus.

If people are not willing to listen to the Scriptures, then even the most spectacular miracle will not persuade them of the truth about Jesus Christ.

illus: There’s a reason I am usually reluctant to acknowledge any Christian confessions and baptisms of worldly celebrities and athletes, especially soon after they make the confession. Often, they turn into publicity stunts. They go on the Christian conference and interview circuit and enjoy the applause of gullible believers. But sadly, time usually tells a tragic tale. Just as Jesus prophesied in the parable of the 4 different kinds of soil, they quickly spring up but are choked out by the cares of this life and the love of money. The gospel does not need any help from those with worldly influence!

In John 11, when Jesus raised another Lazarus from the grave after being dead four days in Bethany, it did not convince the high priest or his associates of Jesus’ authority.

John 11:45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him. 
John 11:46 But some of them went away to the Pharisees and told them the things Jesus did. 
John 11:47 Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, “What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. 
John 11:48 If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.”

John 11:53 Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death.


This is the real problem with unbelievers who are hellbound. It is not that God has failed to give them what they need to get to heaven; it is that they refuse to receive what He has given.

The Bible is enough to rescue you if you will only believe what it says about the cross and the empty tomb.

But if you do will not believe what God has said in His word, you will never believe in Jesus, you will never get to heaven, and you will only have yourself to blame.