How many times, in a discussion of the non-existence of “Hell,” have you been presented with the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man? This can be one of the most difficult passages to understand by those who think the dead go immediately to their place of reward, Heaven or Hell. It is not as big a mystery to those who can comprehend the true state of the dead. Perhaps some “precept upon precept” study will make it clearer.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man is found in the 16th chapter of Luke, beginning in verse 19 and concluding with verse 31. The rich man lived and ate well, wearing fine clothes and living in luxury, while the beggar, Lazarus, in poor health, laid at the gate of the rich man living off of the table scraps that the rich man’s household tossed out to the dogs.
Read carefully the statement made in Luke 16:22: “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;”
Let’s examine this verse carefully. When was Lazarus carried by angels? What is Abraham’s bosom? Lazarus was buried just like the rich man. The angels will gather the elect at the resurrection after the tribulation. Notice what Matthew 24:31 says: “And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” Jesus is explaining the last days to His disciples and makes it clear that when the elect are carried by angels it will be at the resurrection, not at the moment of death. When the angels took Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham, they didn’t lay him in Abraham’s lap. Read John 1:18: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.” The Son being in the bosom of the Father means a close, intimate relationship, son to father, being of the same mind and situated in the same condition. Lazarus is with Abraham in the same manner, the close and intimate bond of being resurrected and immortal together. During the time this has taken place, the rich man has been buried. Revelation 20 verse 4 states that the saints “…lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.” Verse 5 tells us, “But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.” So, a thousand years after Lazarus was carried by the angels to the bosom of Abraham, the rich man awakened, “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:23).
Hell is translated from Hades, which means the abode of the dead, namely, the grave. The rich man is resurrected from the grave and sees Lazarus. Is this unusual? No, for we are told that the wicked will be able to see the saints after they are resurrected in Luke 13:28: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.” The condemned will see the saints and will be aware of the difference in their situations.
Luke 16:24 tells us that the rich man is extremely uncomfortable: “And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” If someone is in a fiery hell being consumed by flames, wouldn’t they ask for more water than just a damp fingertip? At least a bucketful. Abraham explains to him that he received his reward in the life of luxury he had lived, and now it is Lazarus’ turn. Even if Lazarus wanted to, there was a great barrier between them, as explained in Luke 16:26: “And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
That gulf was the difference in their states, saved/unsaved. After the life is lived, and the choices made, and judgment is rendered there’s no changing it. Let’s remember that the rich man has just lifted up his eyes after being dead for a long, long time. To him, his death was just a moment ago. “...but the dead know not any thing...” (Ecclesiastes 9:5); “...for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave...” (Ecclesiastes 9:10). The dead are totally unaware of the passage of time, so this man thought that his brothers were still alive. The lesson conveyed in verses 27 through 31 is that if someone refuses to be persuaded with all of the lessons, fulfilled prophecy, and fruit of the saints that they can observe in their lifetimes, not even one from the dead will change them. Remember, Jesus was telling this story to people of His day, publicans, sinners, and Pharisees. Abraham’s remarks to the rich man are in the present tense, although his brothers, too, would have been long dead, but Jesus told it this way to impress this lesson upon the people around Him at that moment.
FOR FURTHER STUDY:
Isaiah 5:24 As fire devours stubble, their blossom shall go up as dust.
Malachi 4:1 The day is coming that all who do wickedly shall be stubble and burned up.
Luke 16:19-31 The story of Lazarus and the rich man.
Revelation 20:6 The second death has no power over those in the first resurrection.
For questions or comments on this Bible study you can e-mail us by clicking on this link.