Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) to illustrate what takes place at the time of death. In the Old Testament of the Bible, hell was referred to as she’ol or hades. She’ol was, “a place of degradation, the locality or condition of those who have died or have been destroyed. It is implied that although, so far as the world is concerned, they have perished, yet they are still in a state of existence and are within God’s cognizance.” Prior to Jesus’ resurrection, everyone went to the same location when they died. She’ol was the place of the dead. It referred to the “netherworld or the underground cavern to which all buried dead go. It was not understood to be a place of punishment, but simply the ultimate resting place of all mankind (Gen 37:35)” (7585). In the New Testament, the word translated hell is geenna (gheh´-en-nah). Gehenna (or Ge-Himmon) was a valley of Jerusalem used figuratively as the name of the place (or state) of everlasting punishment (1067). Gehenna may have been believed to be a place that everyone that had turned their back on God went in order to be separated from him for eternity. Gehenna is described as “a gorge (from its lofty sides; hence, narrow, but not a gully or winter-torrent)” (1516).
Jesus’ story went like this:
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.'” (Luke 16:19-25, ESV)
After the rich man was denied relief from his suffering, he asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers of their impending doom. Abraham denied the rich man’s request stating that his family had already been warned by Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:27-29). The rich man replied, “Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him. If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:30-31).
The interesting thing about Jesus’ story is that a short time later, he raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. He may have done it as a witness to the fact that the story he told about the rich man going to hell was actually true.