A common fear of humans is what happens to them after they die. Numerous religions teach the concept that “bad” people will be sent to hell after they perish. Mainstream Christianity has different ideas about what hell is and what it’s like. Some see it as a place of “fire and brimstone” where sinners are burned and tortured forever.
Dante Alighieri, the writer of The Divine Comedy, wrote it with the notion that sinners are tortured in ways that symbolize justice for their sins. Recently, many Christian churches have taught about a less cruel hell, described as eternal separation from God. The accepted understanding among Christians is that nonbelievers and evil people will live in some state of torment forever. So who was the first person to go to hell, and what was their experience like?
What is hell?
These ideas about what takes place when we die aren’t taught in the Bible. It doesn’t mention that unbelievers are eternally tortured in a place of dark seclusion from God or fiery torture. These concepts contradict one of the Bible’s plainest declarations about the result of sin in human life. At the end of a chapter illustrating the effects of sin versus the results of righteousness in Romans 6:23, the apostle Paul says the wages of sin is death, but we can find God’s gift of eternal life in Christ Jesus.
Paul clearly states that the wages, or results, of sin in a human’s life is eternal death. This concept contradicts the teachings that sin’s wages are eternal life in hell. Paul’s words match Revelation 20:14, where the incorrigibly wicked’s fate is called “the second death in the lake of fire.” The Bible’s description of the “lake of fire” differs from hell’s standard conception. It’s a place that will kill and utterly destroy the wicked, as detailed in Matthew 10:28. In Malachi 4:1, the prophet Malachi prophesied that all who do evil would fall, and the day when they will burn up is coming.
In the New Testament, three Greek words are translated as hell: Hades, Gehenna and tartaroo. Hades describes the place of the dead, the pit, or the grave. According to The Holman Bible Dictionary, Hades is the Greek parallel for the Hebrew word “Sheol,” referring to the place of the dead. Acts 2:27 and Psalm 16:10 use Hades and Sheol to illustrate where Christ’s body was when He was dead for three nights and days.
Gehenna is the valley of Himmom, a valley near Jerusalem where children served as a sacrifice by fire in connection to pagan rites. Dead bodies and garbage were eventually burned and disposed of in this valley. Gehenna signifies the “lake of fire” depicted in Revelation 19:20, the voracious fire that will destroy the unrepentant. Tartaroo only appears once in the Bible in 2 Peter 2:3, referencing a restraint condition for demons until their judgment.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is meant to show the contrast between our lives on earth versus the afterlife. In life, the rich man lived a luxurious life, eating every day and wearing the finest clothes. On the other hand, Lazarus lived a very simple life. He had sores on his feet, and all he could eat was the scraps from the rich man’s table. Even in death, their lives were very different.
The rich man was buried, anointed in oil, wrapped and put in a tomb. Meanwhile, Lazarus’ body was likely dumped in Gehenna. This is the point where the story gets interesting. In death, Lazarus’ body was carried to Abraham’s side while the rich man’s body was taken to Hades, as detailed in Luke 6:23. Now, their roles are reversed. Lazarus lives in the lap of luxury while the rich man suffers in torment. Even though he’s still called the rich man, he has nothing. At some point, the rich man asks for mercy but not to be saved from his circumstances. Instead, he asks for Lazarus to be sent to Hades so he can dip his finger in water and cool the rich man’s tongue. This request may sound strange, but it indicates that the rich man wanted Lazarus to serve him.
Who was the first person to go to hell?
We could assume that the rich man was the first person to go to hell, but the Bible doesn’t explicitly say that. However, the Bible does describe who will go to hell. The Bible mentions hell 167 times, often called the Abyss or everlasting punishment. Jesus discussed heaven and hell as if they were real places. The story of Lazarus and the rich man was an actual event that showed the reality of two differing eternal destinations. Heaven is the residence of God, where Jesus went to prepare a place for believers who love Him.
On the other hand, hell was made for the devil and his demons. However, because every human is a sinner, all those past the age of accountability have already been condemned to hell. Everyone deserves hell as the punishment for rebelling against God.
In John 3:3, Jesus clearly states that no one can see God’s kingdom unless they’re born again. He also says hell is an eternal punishment for people who don’t obey Him in Matthew 25:46. In 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, we read that God will punish those who don’t know Him and don’t follow Jesus’ gospel. They will be penalized with eternal destruction and exiled from the Lord’s presence and glory. In Matthew 3:12, John the Baptist said Jesus would gather His wheat in the barn and burn the chaff with fire.
John 3:18 illustrates who will go to heaven and who will go to hell in the simplest terms. It says that those who believe in Him won’t be condemned, but those who don’t are already condemned because they don’t believe. Therefore, those who don’t believe in Jesus’ name will go to hell. However, believing goes beyond mentally recognizing the truth. It requires an allegiance transfer. We must forsake our sins, stop worshipping ourselves and start to worship God in our soul, heart, strength and mind.