Luke 16 contains the account of the rich man who lived a life of extreme luxury. Laid outside the gate of this rich man’s house, was an extremely poor man named Lazarus. “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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; 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. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 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 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 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. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Luke 16:19-31
This is the only account where Jesus used names of real people instead of speaking metaphorically in a parable. Jesus did this so people would know this was not a parable, but that he was revealing what is real about Hell and what existed during that period, Paradise.
Prior to the time of Christ, Hell and Paradise existed in proximity. This was true during Saul and Samuel’s lifetime. During this period in time, Jesus had not yet come, so everyone who died believing on the coming of the Messiah, died in faith.
“These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off ”Hebrews 11:13
This means that everyone who died in faith went to Paradise, which was a temporary holding place for believers until the resurrection of Christ. Paradise was referred to as Abraham’s Bosom. In this regard Lazarus was in Paradise because he as well as everyone who was in Paradise, including Abraham, believed on the comning of the Messiah during their lifetime. This was the only way to get into Paradise. “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; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Luke 16:22-23
Those in the Catholic faith hold onto this teaching with a twist. They teach that Paradise remains but they call it “Purgatory”. In short, there is no such place in the scriptures that supplant what Jesus said about Paradise. Purgatory is inconsistent with any Biblial account.
After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Paradise was emptied and Hell expanded.“And the graves were opened and many of the bodies of the Saints which slept arose, and come out of their graves after His resurrection” Matthew 27:52-53
After the Saints left their graves, they walked around a bit on the planet surface as evidence of the resurrection. The expansion of Hell was predicted by Isaiah.
“Therefore Hell hath enlarged herself and opened her mouth without measure” Isaiah 5:14
According to scripture, since the resurrection, everyone goes directly into their judgment. There is no more Paradise, upon death you go to Heaven or Hell instantly. The Luke 16 account, describes that people who lived during the dispensation of Samuel and Saul went to Hell or Paradise. There was no provision for the dead to pass from one reality to the next. Jesus made it a point to give details on this fact as well.
“A Great Gulf Affixed” Luke 16:26
Man is not and was not afforded the capacity to travel beyond the Gulf dividing Paradise to Hell or to Heaven or the Earth as they pleased. This brings to light the acount of Samuel, Saul and the Witch of Endor. (1 Samuel 28:8–19).
In the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus teaches that heaven and hell are both real, literal places. Many preachers shy away from uncomfortable topics such as hell. Some even teach “universalism” – the belief that everyone goes to heaven. Yet Christ spoke about hell a great deal, as did Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews. The Bible is clear that every person who has ever lived will spend eternity in either heaven or hell. Like the rich man in the story, multitudes today are complacent in their conviction that all is well with their soul, and many will hear otherwise when they die (Matthew 7:23).
This story also illustrates that once we cross the eternal horizon, that’s it. There are no more chances. The transition to our eternal state takes place the moment we die (2 Corinthians 5:8; Luke 23:43; Philippians 1:23). When believers die, they are immediately in the conscious fellowship and joys of heaven. When unbelievers die, they are just as immediately in the conscious pain, suffering, and torment of hell. The rich man didn’t ask for his brothers to pray for his release from some purgatorial middle ground, thereby expediting his journey to heaven. He knew he was in hell, and he knew why. That’s why his requests were merely to be comforted and to have a warning sent to his brothers. He knew there was no escape. He was eternally separated from God, and Abraham made it clear to him that there was no hope of ever mitigating his pain, suffering, or sorrow. Those in hell will perfectly recollect missed opportunities and their rejection of the gospel.
The truth is, if we wish to live apart from God during our time on earth, He will grant us our wish for eternity as well. As one aptly said, “If you board the train of unbelief, you will have to take it all the way to its destination.”
Our earthly sojourn is exceedingly brief. Perhaps the greatest lesson to learn from this story, then, is that when death comes knocking on our door there is only one thing that matters: our relationship with Jesus the Christ.
“For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” Mark 8:36
“Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away.” James 4:14