For an extended video teaching of this, click here.
For an audio podcast of this teaching, click here.
Did the rich man go to hell because he was rich, or because he didn’t take care of Lazarus?
There are more than 40 recorded parables of Jesus.
When we consider the parables in the light of the rest of His ministry, we realize Jesus was a storyteller.
The stories and illustrations He told are called parables and there is something unique about them that makes them stand out.
One of the more interesting aspects of His parables is that it was a completely new way of presenting truth.
There is no evidence of parables in any of the rabbinic literature prior to this time.
He used parables to influence and challenge the thinking of the original audience and to help people consider a different perspective about Himself and the kingdom of God.
The parables are not presented as some science fiction idea of which the people would be unfamiliar.
Nor are they presented with the idea of teaching or explaining a particular doctrine or belief.
They are all stories filled with concepts from their everyday life.
Sowing and reaping, plowing and harvesting, sheep, wolves, coins, family relationships, work relationships—all found a place of understanding with the crowds to whom Jesus spoke.
There are a few people who have tried to maintain that this is somehow a true story, or a true rendition of what may occur.
However, most scholars from the many different schools of theology generally agree that this story is just that—a story, which we call a parable.
This was a long story, and rather than rehearse it for you, I will just give a synopsis of the points encountered in the parable. (Of course, you can read it in Luke 16:19-31)
- Rich man & Lazarus, a poor man
- Both men died
- Lazarus carried by angels to Abraham’s side
- Rich man to Hades
- Rich man could see Abraham
- Rich man called out to Abraham for mercy
- Abraham said no
- There is a great gulf fixed between the two places
- No one can cross in either direction
- Rich man—then warn my brothers
- Abraham said no
- Listen to Moses and the prophets
- If they do not listen to Moses, they will not listen to someone coming back from the dead
This is a long story leading up to the concluding statement about someone coming back from the dead.
Everything else helps to embellish the story.
However, many have tried to build doctrinal understanding from the things presented in this parable.
The main doctrine most people get from this parable is that of hell, based on the statement about hades, which we will get to in a moment.
First, though, let’s consider some of the lesser points of the parable.
What about Lazarus being carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom—or side.
If that concept is presented anywhere else in the Bible, I am not aware of it.
It is a figure of speech used to indicate a place of blessing.
We are told what happens to our spirit when we die.
and the dust returns to the earth as it was,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it.
We are not told how.
We are not told of any intermediaries who will carry us anywhere.
Plain and simple, the sprit returns to God, the one who gave it in the first place.
If this were something we should look forward to—being carried to Abraham’s side—what happens to Jesus?
Is Jesus not greater than Abraham?
So, if this point was something that is true and should be considered by those listening to Jesus, then it only applies to those who were under the Old Covenant, or at least only to Jews, who are the descendants of Abraham.
However, I see this as merely a figure of speech.
It is not a point of doctrine that must be received and believed.
The next point to consider is that the rich man could see Abraham.
I cannot find any biblical reference to the concept that the people in hades can see over into heaven, paradise, or the place of blessing and bliss.
Again, we are faced with a figure of speech for the purpose of bringing the story towards its main point.
And not only could the rich man see Abraham, he could talk to him and Abraham could reply.
If this were trying to teach a doctrine for us to understand, we would be in a most difficult position.
Talking with the dead is called necromancy and is specifically forbidden in the law of Moses.
A man or a woman who is a medium or a necromancer
shall surely be put to death.
They shall be stoned with stones; their blood shall be upon them.
The situation we have in this story, though, is not specifically that of necromancy, because both parties are dead.
Necromancy is that of a living person communicating with the dead.
Obviously, Jesus was not recommending the practice of communicating with the dead.
He was simply using a figure of speech to highlight His parable and the conclusion He was aiming for.
Now we can begin to talk about the part of the story where people have set up a doctrinal camp that they think must be believed.
The KJV uses the word ‘hell’. And that is just the beginning of the difficulties associated with the word.
And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments,
and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
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.
This passage, coupled with the “lake of fire” references in the Revelation, has given rise to the concept of eternal conscious torment inflicted on those who do not choose to accept the salvation that Jesus offers.
There is only one place in all of the Bible were the idea of “forever and ever”—or as we would like to say—eternally—is mentioned.
and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were,
and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
If we pay attention to the details, we see that it is only the devil, the beast and false prophet who are tormented forever and ever.
There is no verse which mentions this in reference to people, except where we hear of their worm not dying for those cast into Gehenna.
The word Gehenna is also translated as hell in the KJV, but we will save that for another time.
For right now we are considering hades as mentioned in this parable.
The word hades is a Greek word which is transliterated straight into the English.
It is hades in Greek, and it is hades in English, which is how the modern translations render the word.
Hades has an interesting history of development through the different periods leading up to the time of Jesus.
In Greek mythology, hades was the god of wealth,
Despite modern connotations of death as evil, Hades was actually more altruistically inclined in mythology.
Hades was portrayed as passive and never portrayed negatively; his role was often maintaining relative balance.
Aside from the mythological use, the concepts and beliefs taken from this word and its usage went through three distinct periods.
In the LXX, which is the Greek translation of the OT written almost 300 years before Christ, the word hades is used almost exclusively for the word sheol, which consistently means the grave.
Then after the Babylonian exile, the concepts went through some incisive changes.
By the time of Jesus, there were two concepts being taught, and Jesus seemed to be aware of both, since He offered differing concepts in His parables.
The main thought during His time was that hades was the realm of punishment and Paradise was the realm of blessing.
These thoughts can be found in the various writings of teachers and scholars outside the Bible, but neither is spoken of definitively in the Bible.
However, in the preponderance of places the word hades is used—which is only 11 times—it refers to the place of the dead, not the place of eternal torment.
It refers just as it did in the OT to the grave.
There is one last consideration we should look at.
For you will not abandon my soul to Hades,
or let your Holy One see corruption.
…he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ,
that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.
Act 2:27, 31
Both of these verses show that hades is the grave, which is the same as its use in the OT.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus was not given for us to develop a doctrine about hell.
It was given to emphasize a point for the Jews who heard Jesus and what they believed about the Law and prophets.
But Abraham said,
‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’
And he said, ‘No, father Abraham,
but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets,
neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”
This is the main point of the parable.
The conclusion is the main point in all the parables.
The idea here is that if you try to alter the effects of the Mosaic system by adding the terrors of the life to come, you will not succeed.
If the promises and threats of Moses failed to bring a change, it will not be changed by appealing to life in another world.
And the same applies for us today.
Trying to scare people with thoughts about hell just doesn’t work.
Jesus rose from the dead during the time those folks heard His teaching on the rich man and Lazarus, but His resurrection still had no effect on them.
The gospel is called good news.
Hell—for all of its misrepresentations—is not a part of the good news.
The good news cannot go through the no crossing zone and still be good news.