Dr. Willis Newman, Esmeralda Newman, bible-teaching-about.com

Are the dead unsaved aware of being in hell?

QUESTION

Do the dead saved know they are with God, and the dead unsaved know they are in Hell as the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus suggest? 

David of Scotland

David, you have great insight and analytical skills – and many tough questions. Let me take a crack at answering them from the Bible. All my teaching is from the Bible, because on my own, I have no other way of knowing anything about heaven or hell. I have never been to either. Consequently, I must preface my statements by saying, “The Bible says so and so.” Here goes.

Your question deals with whether or not people are aware in the afterlife, either dead saved or dead unsaved. The quick answer is, according to the Bible, yes. You mentioned the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. From that episode, it is clear that the dead unsaved rich man was conscious and aware. I will pick up on this point later, but it is noteworthy that he did not complain about being in Hades. He did not like the heat, but he offered no objection to God for putting him at that destination. Evidently, he realized God’s justice.

Another Scripture that throws some light on the eternal conditions of the dead unsaved is in Matthew, chapter 25. Here Jesus contrasts the lot of both saved and unsaved. Of the unsaved he says, “And cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (v 30).

Next, Jesus tells of judgment. He states, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (vv 41, 46). Compare also Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; Luke 13:28.

Luke states, “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth there when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being cast out” (Luke 13:28).

Mark writes a more descriptive account, “go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched],” and also, “For everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:43, 44, 49).

What can we gather from this evidence? First, there is eternal punishment that is very severe. Second, denizens of hell could recognize Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Third, the conclusion is that they are aware, and since it is “eternal punishment” then for it to be punishment, the people would need to be eternally aware. Otherwise, the punishment would need to be “temporary…short lived…partial” or some such thing. The Scripture, however, clearly states, “eternal.”

Now for the saved: are they eternally aware? First, Old Testament people were aware. Consider the transfiguration of Jesus Christ. Matthew records, “And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him” (Matthew 17:3). Luke records the contents of their conversation, “who, appearing in glory, were speaking of His departure which He was about to accomplish at Jerusalem” (Luke 9:31).

So, now comes the question of New Testament saints, or saved Christians. They also are aware. Example one is Steven when he was stoned to death (Acts 7:55-60). Scripture records that Stephen looked up into heaven and could see Jesus standing at the right hand of God (v. 55, 56). Being close to death, Stephen called upon the Lord Jesus to receive his spirit, and then he fell asleep. It seems unlikely that Stephen became unaware of his surroundings when he entered heaven, although the text says he fell “asleep.”

However, the term, “asleep” does not necessarily refer to one losing consciousness. Paul uses it to describe those who have went on to heaven. For example, when he tells of the Rapture (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18), he states that those who have fallen asleep in Jesus will come back with Him. Surely, they were not taking a nap, because the text describes a great reunion with the departed saved.

Then consider Paul.  He wrote, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Philippians 1:21-23).

Again, “We are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord. Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (2 Corinthians 5:8, 9).

We can conclude that it is much better to be with Christ in heaven, and it would be difficult to be “pleasing” to Christ if we were not conscious.

The writer of Hebrews says, in describing heaven, “to the general (general = joyful) assembly and the church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of righteous men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). This pictures a multitude of activity occurring in heaven.

Jesus also described heaven as a place of conscious activity, “I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7; cf. v 10).

I think the clincher verse is this picture of activity in heaven, “And when He broke the fifth seal, I saw underneath the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God, and because of the testimony which they had maintained; and they cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘How long, O Lord, holy and true, wilt Thou refrain from judging and avenging our blood on those who dwell on the earth’” (Revelation 6:9, 10).

These martyrs were certainly aware of happenings on earth, and their environment.

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