Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Spirits in Prison: Dead Humans or Celestial Sinners?

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.  (1 Peter 3:18-20)

When I was a young teenager, I remember sitting on the pew of the Southern Baptist church my family attended every Sunday morning, Sunday night, and Wednesday night, and listening to the preacher read that passage while perched behind a pulpit, lifted several feet above all of us in the congregation.  The preacher went on to commentate on this passage and explained that after Jesus was crucified and died, He went to a special compartment of Hell called “sheol”.  This was a place (according to him) that people who either had died prior to Jesus and/or people who were not blatantly evil during their lives, now lived…after they died.

I was intrigued!!  This was the first I had ever heard of such a thing.  I always assumed (being a good Southern Baptist) that at death, a person was either in heaven or stoking on the fires of hell.  But, THIS…THIS was new information and my curious, questioning mind in rapt attention to learn more details about this event I had never heard of before.

The preacher described how Jesus Christ (while “dead”) during the “three days and three nights” between the crucifixion and the resurrection was in this fantastical place, among those who had died before Him.  Also, there were people I had heard of such as Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob…John the Baptist too!!  And everyone was silent as Jesus…stood before them…and…preached a sermon!!  Awesome!!  Jesus preached a sermon and not ONLY THAT, but just like my pastor would do every time he closed down a service, Jesus had an altar call.  If any of those folks in this place called “sheol” wanted to believe in Jesus (who wouldn’t?) that person would go to Heaven with Jesus.  The Rich Man (from the very literal account) of The Rich Man and Lazarus fame, was not made this offer (not sure why not) because he was way over on the other side of some great chasm (the preacher called that place, “hades”).  Who knew there were so many possible places to end up when you died?!  My mind was reeling.

The pastor went on to explain that after this altar call, Jesus took all these newly converted folks to Heaven.  Nice story.  Had I been a student of the scriptures, maybe I would have wondered how those folks went on to heaven then, when Jesus Christ, Himself, didn’t go to heaven for another 40 days after His resurrection.  After all, He met Mary on the road after the resurrection and said, “Touch me not, I am not yet ascended unto my Father…” (John 17:20).  Or, maybe I would have wondered how any of these people went to heaven when John 3:13 has Jesus Christ stating that no one has ascended up heaven except for Him.  Or maybe I would have wondered how any of these people were hearing a sermon being preached or how Jesus Christ was preaching a sermon when countless scriptures state that there is no consciousness in death, no talking in death, no hearing in death, no thoughts, in death, but only silence.  Or maybe I would have wondered how all these people were listening to a sermon when the scriptures constantly used the figure of sleep, to describe what death was like.  But, maybe I wouldn’t have wondered that last part.  After all, as I scanned the congregation and even the choir loft, there were several dead…or asleep.

But, I didn’t wonder any of those things, because like so many, I never bothered to actually study the scriptures.  I mean, that was what the preacher was for, right?  

There was one thing that troubled me though.  Why would God give these people what amounted to an undeniable second chance at salvation?  I mean, the preacher always said that you had to make a decision for Christ, now, in this life.  There was no chance after this life.  This struck me as hugely unfair.  I mean, who in his right mind would listen to Jesus Christ preach a sermon and warn that if they don’t believe in Him (Who was standing and talking right in front of them) they were going to burn forever with that poor bastard, the rich man, across the way?!  You’d be a fool to wave that off.

This always bothered me, but like so many sermons that never quite made sense to me, I assumed the pastor knew what he was talking about (he was the pastor after all).  

Much water has flowed under the bridge since then, and thanks be to God, a little over six years ago, God pushed me into actually studying the scriptures, after a friend who had actually gone to seminary challenged me with a phrase I never heard in that Southern Baptist church, 

The salvation of ALL.

If we want (and hopefully we all do) the truth of what scripture teaches in general and on the topic of the “spirits in prison”, in particular, it is key and vital that you have a scriptural understanding of the distinction between the words “spirit” and “soul”.  These two, distinct words are not synonymous and interchangeable, regardless of what various Christian denominations and their pastors teach.  Also, if you currently believe that at death, a person is either “alive” in heaven or “alive” in hell, you also need to do some additional reading, prior to moving forward with this article.  

I have two articles on my blog, “The Afterlife and Resurrection” and “Soul and the State of Death”, which explain the difference between “spirit” and “soul” and what happens at death.

Still here? Or, maybe you just finished reading those articles?  

In the scriptures, we will never see that humans or animals are referred to as “spirits”.  Animals and humans have spirit (the breath of life) but both humans and animals are consistently referred to as “souls” (Strong’s number 5315 “nephesh” in Hebrew and Strong’s number 5590 “psuche” in Greek) in the scriptures.  For example, when speaking of men in Numbers 15:30, we read:

But the soul that doeth ought presumptuously, whether he be born in the land, or a stranger, the same reproacheth the LORD; and that soul shall be cut off from among his people.

And, of animals, we read in Genesis 1:21:

And God created great whales, and every living creature(Hebrew #5315 “nephesh” “soul”) that moveth, which the waters brought forth abundantly, after their kind, and every winged fowl after his kind: and God saw that it was good.

On the other hand, God is said to be “Spirit” (John 4:24).  Also, angels and other celestial beings are said to be “spirits”. In 1 Kings 22:21-23, for example, we learn that a “spirit” (Strong’s number 7307 “ruwach” in Hebrew and Strong’s number 4151 “pneuma in Greek) presented himself before The LORD God:

And there came forth a spirit, and stood before the LORD, and said, I will persuade him. 22 And the LORD said unto him, Wherewith? And he said, I will go forth, and I will be a lying spirit in the mouth of all his prophets. And he said, Thou shalt persuade him, and prevail also: go forth, and do so. 23 Now therefore, behold, the LORD hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets, and the LORD hath spoken evil concerning thee.

The spirit in the passage above is a being.  You can call this spirit an angel, messenger, principality, or whatever; but of a certainty, the being is a “spirit.  This “spirit” is not a “soul”.

If we go back and look at our passage in question, 1 Peter 3:18-20 (shown below), we will want to carefully go through this short passage and pay close attention to not only the specific words used, but also the sequence of events and the specific words used with specific events.

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.  (1 Peter 3:18-20)

We read that Christ was put to death “in the flesh”.  That probably isn’t a mystery.  This is speaking to His death on the cross.  He was a living person and died; thus, His person died; being fleshly.  

Then, we come across the statement that He was “quickened by the Spirit”.  First, what does it mean to “quicken”?  That exact same Greek word “zoopoieo” (Strong’s #2227) is only used two other times in the New Testament.  See below:

But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? and with what body do they come? 36 Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened, except it die:( 1 Cor. 15:35-36)

And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1)

This same Greek word “zoopoieo” is found also in 1 Corinthians 15:22, where it is translated as “made alive”:

For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.

From each of the other usages of this word, we see that “quicken” means (in the context) to be made alive; resurrected.  Specifically, it means to be me made alive beyond the reach of death again.

So, when we read in 1 Peter 3:18 that He was “quickened” “by the Spirit”, we are being informed that after He was put to death in the flesh, He was resurrected/made alive/quickened by the Spirit (God’s Spirit/Holy Spirit).  

Let’s put it together:

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh [died], but quickened [resurrected/made alive] by the Spirit: 19 By which [in this way] also he went and preached unto the spirits [spirit beings] in prison;…”

 Was Jesus dead when He went to this prison and interacted with these spirits?  No, contrary to what the preacher said, Jesus Christ was resurrected prior to His visit to these spirits.  Why were these spirits in this prison?  Let’s continue at verse 20:

Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. 

These spirits were disobedient and Peter ties this disobedience to the time of Noah and the Flood.  Now, notice that when speaking of Noah and his 7 family members, we have the word “soul” used.  “Eight souls [people] were saved by water”.  The implication is that all the other souls, besides these eight, perished in the flood.
Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. “
Going back to verse 19, what about this “sermon” that Jesus Christ “preached”?  The Greek word translated as “preached” in this passage is the Greek word “kerusso” and is also translated as “publish” and “proclaim”.  It means generally, “to herald”.  While the gospel can certainly be “heralded” and “preached”, we (and I think my former pastor) tend to inject “sermon” and the concept of “preaching” a sermon into this text.  

If He wasn’t preaching the gospel to these spirits and offering a good old fashioned Baptist “altar call”, what was He “preaching” to them?  We will get to that in a bit.  But first, is there any other witness to my interpretation of this passage?  Yes, and as a matter of fact, it comes from the same writer.  Look at 2 Peter 2:4-5, below:

KJVFor if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment; 5 And spared not the old world, but saved Noah the eighth person, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood upon the world of the ungodly;

I want to offer another translation of this passage as well, due to the sleight of hand, pulled by the translators with respect to the word “hell” in verse 4.  Please see the Concordant Literal Translation below:

For if God spares not sinning messengers, but thrusting them into the gloomy caverns of Tartarus, gives them up to be kept for chastening judging;" 5 and spares not the ancient world, but guards Noah, an eighth, a herald of righteousness, bringing a deluge on the world of the irreverent;"

Remember how I mentioned that the pastor stated that Jesus Christ went and preached this sermon to dead people in “Sheol”?  When we study the scriptural evidence, “sheol” and “hades” are the same thing, “the grave”.  There is no great gulf or chasm between them and one isn’t for good people, while the other is for the wicked.  Many times, pastors would preach that “hades” was a compartment for the wicked awaiting judgment, because the parable “the rich man and Lazarus” uses the word “hades” to describe where the rich man was.  Many passages in the Old Testament scriptures make reference to the dead patriarchs such as Abraham and Isaac being in “Sheol”.  King David is said to be in “sheol” as well.  But “hades” is simply the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word, “sheol”; both of which, mean “the grave”. The proof that hades is the equivalent of sheol can be easily found in Acts 2:  It turns out, that yes, Jesus Christ was in sheol/hades for 3 days and 3 nights, just as He said He would be, but He was not preaching, but He was dead, in the tomb.  

Verse 4 says:

For if God spares not sinning messengers [angels]

“…but thrusting them into the gloomy caverns of Tartarus, gives them up to be kept for chastening judging;…”

Although the words “sheol”, “hades”, and “gehenna” are found multiple times in the scriptures, the word “Tartarus” is only found one time; here, in this verse.  “Tartarus’ is the prison of 1 Peter 3:18-20.  The dead, and certainly no “souls”/”persons” are ever said in scripture to be in this place.  These angels/spirit beings, are the only beings said to be in the place the scriptures call, “Tartarus”.  

In what way did these messengers sin in the time of Noah?  While there is much controversy, on this topic, I believe the evidence of 1 and 2 Peter, Jude, support the narrative of these messengers being, “the sons of God”, the “ B’nai HaElohim” of Genesis 6.  The offspring of this union, is the Hebrew word “nphil” (Strong’s #5303).  See below:

And it came to pass when men had begun to multiply on the face of the ground and daughters had been born to them, 2 that the sons of God saw the daughters of men! that they were, fair,—so they took to themselves wives of whomsoever they chose, 3 And Yahweh said—My spirit shall not rule in man to times age—abiding, for that, he also, is flesh,—Yet his days shall be a hundred and twenty years. 4 The giants, were in the each in these days, and also, after that, when the sons of God began to go in unto the daughters of men, and sons were born to them, the same, were the heroes that were from age-past times the men of renown. 5 Then Yahweh saw that great, was the wickedness of man in the earth, and that, every purpose of the devices of his heart, was only wicked all the day; 6 and it grieved Yahweh, that he had made man in the earth,—and he took sorrow unto his heart. 7 And Yahweh said—I must wipe off man whom I created from off the face of the ground, from man unto beast unto creeping thing, and unto the bird of the heavens,—for I am grieved that I made them. 8 But, Noah, had found favour in the eyes, of Yahweh.” (Gen. 6:1-8)

As it turns out, in many cultures’ “mythologies”, (particularly the Greek mythologies) it is believed that some of the gods mated with human women, creating what were called “the titans”.  The titans were extremely violent and had superhuman abilities.  Did you notice verse 4, above, “…The giants, were in the each in these days, and also, after that, when the sons of God began to go in unto the daughters of men, and sons were born to them, the same, were the heroes that were from age-past times the men of renown.?  The ancient “mythologies” certainly made legends of these beings in the ancient times.  In Greek mythology, some of the Titans were, Crius, Cronus, Hyperion, and Oceanus.  From,, it may interest you to read the following:

The Titans were then imprisoned in a great chasm in the deepest, darkest part of the Underworld - Tartarus - which was even deeper than Hades and henceforth became known as a place of punishment.”

Compare that, with what we read earlier in 2 Peter 2:4:

For if God spares not sinning messengers, but thrusting them into the gloomy caverns of Tartarus, gives them up to be kept for chastening judging;"

You may be saying, “Wow, that is really similar, but in the Greek mythology, the Titans, not the gods, were imprisoned in Tartarus, right?”  That is correct, but keep in mind that stories and legends become corrupted and added to and diminished over time.  

In the scriptures, why did these Elohim/sons of God, mate with human women in the first place?  I think the answer to that question, and thus the answer to why Jesus Christ went to Tartarus to present Himself to these spirits, heralding His victory over the grave is found in Genesis 3 and the prophecy God made to the Serpent, when He cursed him.  

And enmity, will I put between thee, and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed,—He shall crush thy head, but, thou, shalt crush his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

Beginning with Genesis 6, Satan attempted many times to thwart the Promised Savior’s birth.  The uncorrupted human gene was being carried safely on Noah’s ark.  We see this when we read of the genealogy of Jesus Christ in Matthew 1.  While the genealogy begins with Abraham, we know that Abraham traced his ancestry back to Noah and one of Noah’s sons.

The Serpent was cursed for what he did in the garden.  God’s promise was that the seed of the woman would crush the head of the serpent, thus eventually undoing not only what Adam brought upon the whole earth, but also the works of the devil which began way back in the garden.

Arguably, Satan’s final attempt to thwart this prophecy was when he tempted the Promised One in the wilderness.  He offered Him all the kingdoms of the earth.  See below:

Again, the adversary taketh him with him, into an exceeding high mountain,—and pointeth out to him all the kingdoms of the world, and their glory; 9 and said to him, All these things, will I give thee,—if thou wilt fall down and worship me. 10 Then saith Jesus unto him, Withdraw, Satan! for it is written,—The Lord thy God, shalt thou worship, and, to him alone, render divine service. 11 Then, the adversary leaveth him,—and lo! messengers came near, and began ministering unto him.” (Matt. 4:8-11)

I like to think of the appearing of Christ Jesus to these spirits in Tartarus, like the Lord doing an end zone dance.  He did not sin, He was the propitiation for the sins of the world (1 John 2:2), He took away the sin of the world (John 1:29), He is the undoing of Adam, (Romans 5:18 and 1 Cor. 15:22), and in His death, all died (2 Cor. 5:14), He was begotten by God upon His resurrection (Acts 13:33), and in all this, He destroyed the works of the devil (1 John 3:8), and this victory was what He preached to the spirits in prison.

For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: 19 By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; 20 Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.  (1 Peter 3:18-20)

Monday, March 12, 2018

In Torments?

The Lord’s 5-part parable beginning in Luke 14 and running through chapter 16 is the longest running accusation He ever had against the Pharisees.  Most of these stories are misinterpreted in some manner or another but each one is an accusation against the hypocritical Pharisees.  No parable of the Lord’s has likely been more misused than the satirical story of the rich man and Lazarus.
The rich man and Lazarus is not a teaching on eternal torment or heavenly bliss.  I’ll explain some of the symbolism and what is being taught but this article is not exhaustive.  Most of us misinterpret what the Lord is saying here due to our ignorance of the cultural climate and the teachings of the Pharisees.  
As background, it is important to understand that the Pharisees lived in relative opulence while the “everyman” Israelite lived in poverty under the oppression of the Romans.  The Pharisees taught the poor that it was virtuous to be poor, that they should embrace being poor, because in the “afterlife”, they would be rewarded by having their fortunes reversed.  They also esteemed their rabbinical teachings over the law and made God’s Word of “none effect”.  One way that they made God’s word of none-effect was that they borrowed Pagan ideas on the “afterlife” from the Babylonians and Egyptians and shunned the teachings of Moses and the prophets which clearly declare in (Gen. 3, Ez.18:20, Ecc.9:5-10, Ps.146:4, etc.) the Old Testament, that death is actually the absence of life and not life in another form.
“Now a certain man was rich and he dressed in purple and cambric, daily making merry splendidly." 20 Now there was a certain poor man named Lazarus, who had been cast at his portal, having ulcers, 21 and yearning to be satisfied from the scraps which are falling from the rich man's table. But the curs also, coming, licked his ulcers." (Lk.16:19-21)
At the beginning of this story, this “certain” rich man is described for us.  He is clothed in “purple and fine linen and eats sumptuously.  Other than that, we know nothing of him.  Lazarus is described as being poorwith dogs licking his wounds, and he is sustained on the crumbs which fall from the rich man’s table.  We are also told that when Lazarusdied, “angels carried him away to Abraham’s bosom”.  Nowhere else in Scripture are we told of a place called “Abraham’s bosom”.  The rich man (by contrast) is buried, while Lazarus himself is carried away by angels to this place.  Notice that.  Lazarus is physically carried away.  He isn’t buried like the rich man.  What were the OT and NT words ,respectively for “grave Sheol and “Hades”.  In this story, “hades” which simply means “the grave” or “unseen” is translated as “hell” by most versions.
“Now the poor man came to die and he is carried away by the messengers into Abraham's bosom. Now the rich man also died, and was entombed." 23 And in the unseen, lifting up his eyes, existing in torments, he is seeing Abraham from afar, and Lazarus in his bosom." (Lk.16:22-23)
Lazarus is being comforted in the “unseen”, while the rich man is in “torments”.  Why?  We are told nothing of the supposed righteousness or faith of Lazarus (unless being poor and having dogs lick your wounds is virtuous) and similarly, we are told nothing of the supposed wickedness or lack of faith of the rich man.  What is more important, we are told absolutely nothing of the saving work of God which is where salvation originates or the channel of salvation, the Lord Jesus Christ.  Remember, Jesus had yet to go to the cross.  I have heard a preacher say that “Lazarus wasn’t literally poor and the rich man wasn’t literally rich” but that the conditions described are indicative of their righteousness and faith.  If that were the case and we are to believe that their afterlife circumstance is determined by their righteousness or faith, then shouldn’t the roles be reversed?  Should we not take that to mean that Lazarus was poor in faith and righteousness and the rich man rich in faith and righteousness?  That argument makes no sense and is the result of wrongly dividing the word of truth and taking things literally which are figurative (such as the story as a whole) while taking things which are literal and interpreting them figuratively (such as individual words).  
And he shouting, said, 'Father Abraham, be merciful to me, and send Lazarus that he should be dipping the tip of his finger in water and cooling my tongue, for I am pained in this flame.'" 25 Now Abraham said, 'Child, be reminded that you got your good things in your life, and Lazarus likewise evil things. Yet now here he is being consoled, yet you are in pain." (Lk.16:24-25)
Where in Scripture are we told that Abraham is in charge of people in the afterlife?  Pleadings by the rich man for comfort are being made to Abraham in this story, not God.  Are we not specifically told in Deuteronomy 18:11 that anyone who “consults with the dead” is “detestable to the LORD”?  Yet are we to believe that Jesus has given new instructions and new revelation to…His…enemies?  Did Jesus reveal that we are actually alive when we are dead (in opposition to all Old Testament teaching) and that it is ok to consult with the dead?  I don’t think so.  I think it is far more likely that Jesus is brilliantly demonstrating in front of the Pharisees, the multitude and His disciples how the Pharisees are ignoring “Moses and the Prophets” also known as the Old Testament.  
“Yet he said, 'I am asking you then, father, that you should be sending him into my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers, so that he may be certifying to them, lest they also may be coming into this place of torment.'" (Lk.16:27-28)
The description of the dress of the rich man seems odd if we are learning what brought him to be in torment, does it not?  What if the style of his dress is symbolic of something deeper that may be lost on us but would be immediately known by the Lord’s audience at the time?  The Pharisees had taken the place of Moses in teaching the people according to Matthew 23:2.  They were at the time, Israel’s aristocracy.  They were a class which was a melding of priest and king.  When the tribe of Levi (the tribe of priests) is described in Leviticus, they are described as dressing in “fine linen”.  Judah was the tribe from which the line of kings descended from.  Purple is a royal color designating regal standing.  It seems that the rich man represents 2 of the 12 tribes of Israel.  Who does the rich man request that Lazarus warn to avoid this torment?  You would think that perhaps he would want his wife and children warned (if he had any) however, he requests that his “five brothers” be warned.  If the rich man represents 2 tribes, could each of the “five brothers” represent 2 tribes as well?  The coupling of tribes with the five brothers and the rich man would equal 12; the number of the tribes of Israel.
“Yet Abraham is saying to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them!'" 30 Yet he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone should be going to them from the dead, they will be repenting.'" 31 Yet he said to him, 'If Moses and the prophets they are not hearing, neither will they be persuaded if someone should be rising from among the dead.'" (Lk.16:29-31)
Interestingly, Abraham tells the rich man that his brothers have the Old Testament (Moses and the prophets).  The rich man says, “no.”  He knows they won’t believe because he didn’t believe what Moses and the prophets said either.  They all believed that death was actually life somewhere else.  They all chose not to believe that Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Abraham said that they would not believe if someone rose from the dead.  This is amazing when you consider that shortly after this story, Jesus raised…from the dead…a man…named…Lazarus.  What was the Pharisees’ reaction?  They plotted against the Lord wanted Lazarus killed (see John 12:10)!!  Jesus was later crucified and rose from the dead.  What was the action taken by the chief priests and Sanhedrin?  They bribed the Roman guards of Jesus’ tomb to say that His disciples stole His body (see Matt. 28:12)!!
One of the key condemnations the Lord makes against the Pharisees in the story of the rich man and Lazarus is their hypocrisy.  The Pharisees managed to hold onto their relative wealth while keeping the everyday Israelite in poverty by insisting that it was ideal to poor in this life because they would be rewarded in the next.  So, Jesus, here; takes this ridiculous claim to its logical conclusion. While the poor Lazarus is comforted in the afterlife, He casts the rich man as in torments.  Because logic would tell you that if you will be rich in the next life because you are poor in the current life, then the inverse must also be true.  This was brilliant and while the true meaning of this parable is lost on most of us, The Lord’s intended audience heard it loud and clear.
“And in all this, between us and you a great chasm has been established, so that those wanting to cross hence to you may not be able, nor yet those thence may be ferrying to us.'" (Lk.16:26)
“Yet He, answering, said to them, "A generation, wicked and an adulteress, for a sign is seeking, and a sign will not be given to it except the sign of Jonah the prophet." (Matt.12:39)
What about this chasm between Lazarus and the rich man?  It is commonly taught (but not found anywhere in Scripture) that in the “realm of the dead”, there is a dividing line (a chasm) between the righteous dead and the wicked dead.  Again, nowhere in Scripture is this to be found.  However, twice before in the Old Testament we find a literal gulf of water preventing Israel from moving toward “good things”.  First, in the Exodus account, the Red Sea stands before the children of Israel and their escape of the Pharaoh.  God through Moses parts the Red Sea making a way for Israel to cross over.  Next, in Joshua 4, The LORD dried up the Jordan River so that Israel could cross over.  These two crossings of a gulf were to signs for Israel to believe.  The gulf between Lazarus and the rich man is symbolic of unbelief.  When Jesus pronounced to the Pharisees that no sign would be given except the sign of Jonah (concerning His death, burial, and resurrection) what had just happened?  The Pharisees had continuously ascribed the miracles of Jesus to the work of demons.  He had just used 5 loaves and several small fish to feed over 4,000 people and still they asked for signs and would not believe.
Israel nationally rejected their Messiah and after Israel was set aside by God (until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled) they have been in torment since A.D. 70.  God’s chosen people have been some of the most persecuted people in the history of the earth.  We see that because the rich man and his 5 brothers (the 12 tribes of Israel) did not believe, they are in torment.  
“even as it is written, God gives them a spirit of stupor, eyes not to be observing, and ears not to be hearing, till this very day." 9 And David is saying, Let their table become a trap and a mesh, And a snare and a repayment to them:" 10 Darkened be their eyes, not to be observing, And their backs bow together continually." 11 I am saying, then, Do they not trip that they should be falling? May it not be coming to that! But in their offense is salvation to the nations, to provoke them to jealousy." 12 Now if their offense is the world's riches and their discomfiture the nations' riches, how much rather that which fills them! 13Now to you am I saying, to the nations, in as much as, indeed, then, I am the apostle of the nations, I am glorifying my dispensation, 14 if somehow I should be provoking those of my flesh to jealousy and should be saving some of them. 15 For if their casting away is the conciliation of the world, what will the taking back be if not life from among the dead? " (Rom.11:8-15)
Will Israel forever be in torments?  According to the Apostle Paul, God (not Israel out of their “free” will) gave them eyes that they would not see.  It was not Israel’s time to believe when Jesus was heralding His earthly ministry.  Israel will believe though as will everyone else, in due time (1 Tim. 2:3-6) according to God’s plan across the ages of time.