In Luke 16:19-31 we have story that Jesus told about a rich man who went to hell and Lazarus, a poor man who went to heaven. At question is, using this account as a literal story or example of what happens after we die?
I frequently hear ministers point to this story as evidence of what happens after we die or preachers who point toward this story as if it is literal and not figurative as most parables are.
The most popular argument made in favor this being a literal story and not just a parable, is that Jesus used an actual name, “Lazarus.” So if this a literal account and not a parable, then consider the following points of this story that would also have to true:
- Abraham’s bosom would have to be the literal location of eternity,
- Heaven and hell are separated by a space that allows conversation between each other,
- The rich man was in hell with his body which contradicts the doctrine of the resurrection,
- The rich man expected Lazarus in heaven to quench his thirst without risking the moisture on his finger to dry-up in the flames,
- The conversation between two dead men contradicts Ecclesiastes 9:5-6, 10.
It would be most honest to handle the text of Luke 16:19-31 by not reading into it with preconceived ideas or conclusions, but to allow the context to actually explain itself.
The story crescendos with the rich man, who by the way is nameless, wanting Abraham to go warn his living brothers. To which we have Luke 16:29-30 stating “Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.”
The final verse of this account is Jesus’ summary in Luke 16:31 which states, “And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
The purpose of this story is that the Jews, represented by the rich man, are not beyond damnation simply because they have been gifted with the oracle of God to the nations of the world. They have “Moses and the prophets” and they must take heed to them to be saved.
Lazarus, the poor man in this story, represents the Gentiles who take heed to “Moses and the prophets” and who have been beggars for the crumbs from the rich man’s tables.
Perhaps Jesus choose to use a real name in this account because later He would raise His friend Lazarus to life, and even at that it would not pursued salvation as God’s Word does.