Please first read Luke 16:19-31
I cannot tell you how often I am asked this question, “Is the account of the rich man and Lazarus a historical account or is it a parable?” Is it the true story of two men who lived and died during the time of Christ's earthly ministry or is it just a made up story used by the LORD to drive home a point? I believe that the evidence is that it describes an actual history of these two men.
By definition, a parable is a true to life story used to illustrate or illuminate a truth. This is true even if all of the details never occurred exactly as presented in the story. They are special stories that may, or may not, reflect actual historical events. Nevertheless, they must be true to life. By true to life we mean that a parable must be based on a real-life situation that the hearers are familiar with. In other words, the story itself has to be based on events that COULD have happened, whether they ever actually did or not.
Let’s talk about the word “Parable”. Our English word "parable" is a transliteration of the Greek word parabole. It is a derivative of paraballo, which comes from two Greek words para and ballo. Para means alongside or by the side of. And ballo means to lie, or to place, something. Thus, a parable is a story put down beside a truth in order to illustrate that truth through comparison.
Therefore a parable must be a true to life story in order for it to have any meaning to those who hear it. To try to use a fanciful story containing elements that have no basis to the world in which men and women live would only serve to confuse people rather than providing them with spiritual light. A simple survey of the LORD Jesus' use of parables reveals that He always used things commonplace to daily life, such as the building of houses, storing old and new wine, sowing seed, weeds growing along with the crop, yeast permeating bread dough, hidden treasure, fishing, monetary debts, un-forgiveness, vineyards, family life, weddings, a barren fig tree, a lost coin, an unjust judge, well you get the idea.
While His hearers may not have made the connection to the truths the LORD was pointing out, they needed no explanation as to what the stories were about because they involved common everyday things to which they could relate. When the hearers of the parables perceived that there was an analogy between the story and their own situation, they were prompted to think about it, hopefully to respond by faith to the truth illustrated. Parables can be extraordinary and even shocking, but never unrealistic or fanciful.
Now, when we come to the account of the rich man and Lazarus, we find a situation DIFFERENT from what is found in any of the parables. The hearers of the LORD Jesus Christ could understand the contrast between the lives of a rich man and a poor beggar. It was common to see beggars sitting by the road hoping for a handout, and they could easily identify the folks who had more than enough wealth to live comfortably. Then, (as it is now), there was a stark difference between the lives of those who have an overabundance and those with nothing.
Although we can still grasp that there is a great difference between the lifestyles of these two men, the vastness of the "great gulf" between them is often lost to us today because of the social services and assistance provided by the government. However, this is not the case in many third world nations today where people are literally starving to death. Regardless, the contrast in this story is the REVERSAL of that gulf after the death of these two men.
The hearers of this story could follow the contrast between these two men right up to the moment of their deaths. At that point, however, the situation changes drastically. The outcome was something that they could NOT relate to any life situations that they had ever witnessed. The state and location of the departed soul was beyond their life experiences, or what is commonly known to be true by experience. The circumstances described go beyond the realm of the parable. That does not mean that it isn't a true to life story, however. Physical death is a natural part of the life experience of all mankind, but what takes place afterward is hidden from those who have not yet experienced it. In this account of a beggar and a rich man, the LORD was revealing the reality of what takes place following physical death to drive home an important truth.
I believe it is important to mention at this point that even if it was a parable, the place referred to as Abraham's bosom and the account of what took place in there would have to be based on reality for it to have any meaning. Think about that.
Let us take a look at the reasons why the account of Lazarus and the Rich Man is an actual history of two real men and not a parable.
1) Parables are true to life, but hypothetical, illustrative stories. The names of specific individuals are NEVER given in them, but HERE the names of three men are given: Lazarus, Abraham, and Moses. Also mentioned are the "prophets" who were also real people.
2) It does not have the normal form of a parable with an introduction, analogy story, and application. Instead it is in the form of the narration of a real-life story given for the purpose of illustration.
3) It does not use the principle of comparison in a way that is characteristic of parables.
4) The discussion between the rich man and Abraham is not consistent with the parabolic style found in the Scriptures.
5) It seems obvious that in relating this particular story when He did, the LORD Jesus was using a real-life account that many of those listening to Him THAT day could readily relate to it because they actually knew, or at least knew of, the two men involved. The rich man's brothers may have even been in the audience.
AND NOW, THE PURPOSE OF THE STORY
The main point of the story of the rich man and Lazarus is that an individual's wealth and social standing, or the lack thereof, is not necessarily an indication of that person's spiritual standing before God. Many of the Jews, (the term “Jews” with a capital “J” always relates to the leadership in Israel, and NOT the common man), believed that the fact that they had accumulated wealth that afforded them social status and prominent positions in the religious community proved that they were under the blessing of God. They also thought, according to their logic, that those who were poor were under the curse of God. They no doubt appealed to the promises made to Israel in the Law of Moses concerning the blessings of prosperity for obedience to God's Law and the curses of poverty because of disobedience, failing to recognize the NATIONAL rather than the personal nature of those promises (see Deuteronomy 28:1-45 ). They were also ignoring the many warnings found in "Moses and the Prophets" that were directed towards the leaders of Israel who selfishly misused their power and wealth (Isaiah 56:10-12 ; Ezekiel 34:1-4 ; Micah 3:1-4 ).
To challenge their seriously flawed thinking, the LORD Jesus told the parable of the unjust (or dishonest) steward (Luke 16:1-13 ). The main point of that parable was that the dishonest steward, who represented the Gentiles, was wiser than the "children of light," a reference to the sons of Israel, who were to be a channel through which God's light would reach the Gentiles, that is, the nations of the world (Isaiah 42:5-7 ; Isaiah 49:5-6 ; Isaiah 60:1-3 ; Isaiah 62:1-3 ).
The true Light of the World is the LORD Jesus Christ Himself (John 8:12 ), who is the Messiah of Israel. In the prophetic program, the only avenue through which the Gentiles can come to the Light is THROUGH the Nation of Israel (Isaiah 60:1-3 ; Zechariah 8:20-23 ). The point of this parable was that those who were striving after riches were actually self-serving rather than servants of God. He was calling on them to choose between the two, saying: "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [money]" (Luke 16:13 ). The implication was that those whose priorities were based on accumulating wealth were demonstrating that their hearts were not right with God (Matthew 6:19-21 ).
On hearing Him, the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, scoffed at the LORD (Luke 16:14 ), who then accused them of being self-righteous and trying to press, or force their way into the Kingdom on their own terms (Luke 16:15-16 ). That is to say, they were counting on their self-proclaimed righteousness to open the door of the Kingdom to them. Jesus plainly declared that the terms of the Law were solid and could not be circumvented. The principles underlying the Mosaic Law express God's character, and therefore the Law is more enduring than the whole of creation (Luke 16:17 ). He then revealed their hypocrisy by pointing out that their attitude about divorce and remarriage was not in line with God's purposes (Luke 16:18 ; Matthew 5:31-32 ; Matthew 19:3-9 ).
Ok, so back on point, the key to understanding the point that the LORD is making in telling the story of the rich man and Lazarus is found in Luke 16:15-16 , "And He said unto them, ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. The Law and the Prophets were until John: since that time the Kingdom of God is preached and every man presseth into it" (Luke 16:15-16 ).
Though their self-justification might gain them favor among men, it would not gain God's favor because He knew what was in their heart (Jeremiah 17:9-10 ). The things that men hold in high regard, things that gain them position and respect among men are disgusting to God. In truth, the love of money reveals a covetous heart that has given its allegiance to "mammon" rather than God (1 Timothy 6:10 ).
In the Law and the Prophets, (a general term for the Old Testament Scriptures from Exodus thru Malachi), is found the promise, or proclamation of God's coming Kingdom on earth, which Israel was waiting for. John the Baptist came on the scene to introduce the Messiah, who would usher in the Kingdom Age, to Israel (John 1:26-34 ). After being baptized by John, the LORD Jesus Christ began His public ministry by saying, "The Kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the Gospel" (see Mark 1:9-15 ).
To drive home His point about how the money-loving Pharisees were misusing their wealth, to their own peril, the LORD told the true story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man wasn't lost because he had wealth, nor was Lazarus saved because he was poor. This was a matter of the heart with the focus being on the rich man, not Lazarus.
The rich man's failure to help Lazarus, a fellow Israelite, revealed that he had a wicked heart, a non-repentant heart. By refusing to provide for the poor beggar sitting at his gate, the rich man was rebelling against God who, through Moses, had given Israel specific instructions on how those with resources were to treat their poor fellow countrymen (Deuteronomy 15:7-11 ). They were to open their hands wide in providing for the poor and needy in their land. This man showed that he did not love the LORD God of Israel with all of his heart, soul, and might as commanded by the Law (Deuteronomy 6:4-5 ; Mark 12:28-30 ). The evidence of this was that he did not love his neighbor, who in this case was Lazarus (Leviticus 19:18 ; Matthew 22:34-40 ). Although he thought he could force his way into God's Kingdom, his heart attitude, which was demonstrated by his actions, proved him to be unworthy to enter.
When he asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to warn his brothers about what awaited them beyond death's door if they did not repent, "Abraham saith unto Him, They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them" (Luke 16:29 ). If, like the rich man, his brothers would not heed the warnings found in God's Word, from Moses and the Prophets, neither would they believe someone who had been raised from the dead. This proved to be true as even after His own resurrection the leaders of Israel rejected the LORD Jesus as their Messiah. It is sad to say, but for the most part mankind has continued to reject Christ as savior, even until today. This wicked generation.
Being true to life, this story is based on truths from which we can learn certain facts about the state of those who have experienced physical death. This is true even though teaching these things is not the main purpose the LORD had in telling it. Being based on truth, the facts learned from the experience of the rich man and Lazarus are consistent with what is found in other places in Scriptures. From this passage we know that:
1) After physical death, individuals continue to exist in a state of personal consciousness (Luke 16:22-25 ; Revelation 6:9-10 ).
2) Having experienced physical death, the individual's destiny is sealed. There is NO opportunity to cross over from the place of utter hopelessness to a place of hope after physical death (Luke 16:25-26 ).
3) Hades is not a figure of speech but a real place of real suffering to which the real unsaved go to await the real final judgment (Luke 16:23-24 ). They will stay there until the time of the resurrection to condemnation when they will be consigned to the Lake of Fire forever (Revelation 20:11-15 ).
4) There is a place, referred to here as Abraham's Bosom, which is a place of comfort and joy (Luke 16:25 ). The saved would go there until the time of their resurrection unto life. This place is also referred to as "Paradise" in the Scriptures (Luke 23:39-43 ). Originally it was a partitioned section of Hades, but was moved to heaven after Christ's resurrection. The Apostle Paul speaks of being "caught up into paradise" (2 Cor. 12:4 ), and, “He led captivity captive” Ephesians 4:8 , and “willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Cor. 5:8 . Members of the Body of Christ, during this Dispensation of Grace, upon their death, are then, “absent from the body, and present with the Lord.”
5) After physical death, unsaved individuals will have regretful memories of the past and knowledge of their hopeless future. (Luke 16:25-28 ).
6) After having died, individuals go to Hades or Paradise and are NOT able to return or send back messages, or appear to Jennifer Love Hewitt in the “Ghost Whisperer” (Luke 16:26-28 ), those notions are all the doctrine of demons. Moses, and Elijah, are exceptions, having been sent by God as special envoys. No one can return by an act of their own will. The Scriptures leave no possibility for reincarnation and spiritism.
7. Neither the saved nor the lost will cease to exist, nor will they exist without form between physical death and the resurrection. Both have a temporary form of some kind that enables them to see, speak, hear, feel, and recognize others (Luke 16:22-25 ). No doubt this form is of a spiritual nature and substance, but nevertheless, it is a tangible form with a recognizable human likeness.
SO WHAT ABOUT THE CONSCIOUS STATE OF THE DEAD
The story of the rich man and Lazarus clearly shows that after physical death they were very much aware of their circumstances and what was going on around them. The Apostle Paul stated that for the believer, and member of the Body of Christ, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21-23 ), indicating that this is in fact the case. That he had "a desire to depart (this life)" to be with the LORD tells us that he expected to consciously experience something "far better" than can be found in this life.
This means that at the time of physical death believers will "GAIN" something. As precious as the believer's life "in Christ" is in the here and now, it will be not worth comparing to when he leaves it to enter into the presence of the LORD. The Apostle Paul's statement that "to live is Christ" speaks of a purposeful life lived in service to and for the glory of the LORD Jesus Christ. The only way to add to this, to gain that which is better, is to enter into the very presence of Christ in heaven to consciously enjoy perfect fellowship with Him in a way that we cannot in this life. It is only by the Faith that the believer can find the confidence to face death "willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the LORD" (2 Cor. 5:7-8 ).
That the death of a believer brings him, or her, into a situation considered to be "GAIN", or the increased experience of spiritual blessing, refutes all erroneous ideas such as soul sleep or that the soul ceases to exist at death to be awakened or recreated at the time of the resurrection.
To enjoy the life of Christ in this life only to be experientially separated from Him by becoming unconscious or ceasing to exist would be LOSS, and NOT gain. This would be true even if it was only for a short time. But the fact that we have been given eternal life guarantees that we have everlasting fellowship with God. Our life in Christ will never be diminished, only enlarged. That "the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who is given unto us" (Romans 5:5 ) mandates the continued conscious existence of the believer after physical death because nothing, not even death, "shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our LORD" (Romans 8:39 ).
CONTINUED PERSONAL CONSCIOUSNESS AFTER PHYSICAL DEATH
1. The Old Testament saints are pictured as being "gathered to their people" after physical death (Genesis 25:8 ; Genesis 35:29 ; Genesis 49:29-33 ; Numbers 20:24-26 ; Numbers 27:13 ; Numbers 31:2 ; Deuteronomy 32:48-50 ): To be gathered to other people, then, makes no sense, and has no meaning, IF it only refers to entering into an unconscious state of being. To be gathered to their people speaks of being joined together in a relational way.
2) “His child having died, David expected to eventually go to his son” (2 Samuel 12:13-23 ). IF he had expected to enter into an unconscious state, he would have had no such hope. David fully expected to see his son on the other side of the veil of physical death. David's words, "I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me," show that he did not have the hope of resurrection in mind, but to join his son after he died. Together they would await the resurrection while enjoying each other's company.
3. The Calling of Lazarus from the Grave (John 11:1-46 ). Although the "how" is beyond our understanding, the fact that Lazarus RESPONDED to the LORD Jesus Christ's command to "come forth" from the grave speaks to us of the continued conscious existence of the soul following physical death.
5. The Repentant Thief on the Cross (Luke 23:32-34 , Luke 23:39-43 ). As they hung on their respective crosses, one of the thieves who was crucified with Him turned to Jesus with a repentant heart saying, "LORD, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom". Christ's response was to say, "Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in Paradise" (Luke 23:39-43 ). We know that at the time of His death the LORD Jesus descended to the "heart of the earth" where He stayed for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40 ) "and preached to the spirits in prison" (1 Peter 3:19 ). This tells us that up to the time of Christ's sacrifice for the sins of the world, "Paradise" was in the “heart of the earth”. He promised the repentant thief they would be together in Paradise THAT VERY DAY. Now, pay attention,this is the same place that is referred to as Abraham's Bosom in Luke 16:22 .
6. The LORD Jesus Christ's Direct Teaching that Departed Saints are Alive (Matthew 22:23-32 ). Using a hypothetical situation, the Sadducees challenged the LORD Jesus concerning the resurrection of the dead, which was something that they did NOT believe in. However, The LORD turned the tables on them, by exposing their ignorance about the subject. First He explained that in the resurrection, marriage would not be a consideration. He then went on to confront them on an important issue concerning the saints who have experienced physical death. He knew that the Sadducees not only denied a literal resurrection of the dead, but also even denied the continued existence of the person after death. To reveal their error, the LORD quoted God's words to Moses at the burning bush, "I am the God of thy father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob" (Exodus 3:6 ). Although Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had died hundreds of years before the time of Moses, God used the present tense "I am" rather than the past tense "I was" when identifying Himself to Moses as their God. This shows that they were existing in a conscious state at that time. The LORD Jesus' remark, in the present tense, that "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living" (Matthew 22:32 ) reveals that they were still alive as He spoke, some 1500 years later. Being alive indicates a continued conscious existence. If this was true before the Cross, it is undoubtedly true of believers on this side of the cross.
7. The Appearance of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36 ). It could be argued that Elijah couldn't be held up as an example because, rather than going through the normal experience of physical death, he was Raptured (2 Kings 2:11 ). However, even though it was under unique circumstances, there is NO doubt that Moses suffered physical death and his body was buried (Deuteronomy 34:5-6 ). Moses, with Elijah, appeared on the mountain after the LORD Jesus Christ was temporarily glorified before the eyes of Peter, John, and James. They appeared in a recognizable form and it is specifically stated that they spoke with the LORD about His impending death. This event reveals the continued conscious awareness of those who have departed this life. That Moses and Elijah spoke with Christ about His departure, which was about to take place at Jerusalem, confirms their continued ability to think, remember, and communicate. We don't have a record of exactly what Moses and Elijah spoke to the LORD Jesus about concerning the death He would die, but there can be little doubt that their conversation centered on what would be accomplished through the sacrifice of Himself for the sins of the world. He would fulfill the prophecies about Himself found in Moses and the Prophets (Luke 24:25-26, Luke 24:44-48 ).
8. That Jesus Christ Will Bring the Departed Grace Believers with Him from Heaven at the Time of the Rapture of the Body of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 ). Those who have died physically are presently in heaven as their body "sleeps" in the grave. Returning with Christ from heaven (1 Thessalonians 4:14 ) when He comes for His Church, they will receive their glorified bodies first (1 Thessalonians 4:15-16 ) and then those still living will receive theirs as they are caught up to be with the LORD (1 Thessalonians 4:17 ; 1 Corinthians 15:51-54 ). That Christ will bring them from heaven with Him can only mean that they are first in heaven with Him.
9. The Martyred Saints of the Tribulation (Revelation 6:9-11 ; Revelation 7:9-10 , and Revelation 7:14 ). While the believers who will die for their faith in Christ during the Tribulation are particularly singled out here, it MUST be remembered that their status is that of Kingdom saints. That is to say that their hope is to enter into Christ's Millennial Kingdom along with all of the other Kingdom saints. Their experience of being martyred during the Tribulation will be unique to the time in which they will live and die, but they will share the same general hope of all of the Old Testament saints. That they are found in heaven after having died indicates that all of the Kingdom saints who have gone before them are there as well. That they are pictured as asking the LORD to bring forth judgment on the earth indicates that they are anticipating returning with Him to receive their inheritance in His Kingdom (see Jude 14-15 ; Rev. 19:14-16 ). These martyred Kingdom saints, and all the others, who will accompany the LORD when He returns TO EARTH, are obviously waiting in heaven until the appointed time. That they are specifically said to be wearing robes and bowing before the altar in heaven tells us not only that they will continue to exist in a state of consciousness after death, but also, that they will have a recognizable human form.
SO, WHAT HAVE WE LEARNED
The principle, (which is true in all Dispensations), that we learn from the story of the rich man and Lazarus, is that it is only in THIS life that any man or woman has the opportunity to be reconciled to God.
For those who die in unbelief, there is NO second chance and there is NO ONE to intervene on their behalf. To die without Christ is to be separated from God forever, first in the torments of Hades and then finally in the Lake of Fire. As believers, this should move us with compassion for the lost and stimulate us to use every means available to proclaim the Gospel of the Grace of God as far and wide as possible.
We also learn from this story that believers immediately enter into a better place when they leave this life at the time of physical death. Knowing that this is true provides hope and comfort both to believers who are facing death and to those they leave behind in this life.
The LORD Jesus' purpose in relating this account was to warn the self-righteous money-loving Pharisees about the consequences of trusting in the traditions of man and worldly riches rather than in the Word of God (Mark 7:5-13 ; Luke 12:16-21 ). He also made it clear that people cannot be convinced of the truth through miracles such as someone being raised from the dead, but are to be convicted of the truth through the Word of God! (Romans 10:17 ). Those who foolishly reject the message of salvation through the cross will die without hope, while those who, by the Faith believe and receive the Gospel of God’s Grace are reconciled to God and receive the gift of eternal life. "In the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe" (1 Corinthians 1:21 ).
There is no one greater than "our Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13-14 ); there is no greater message than that of "Jesus Christ and Him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:1-5 ); and there is no greater calling than to "the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the Mystery" (Romans 16:25-27 ).
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” Acts 16:31
So There You Have it!
Spread this message to everyone you know, far and wide. The time is short
Grace be to you and peace, from God: our Father, and The LORD Jesus Christ.
In The LORD Jesus Christ,
The Lion and Lamb Ministry
David Picos, D.D.
Minister and Ambassador for Christ in the Ministry of Reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20 )