Sei sulla pagina 1di 24

A Rich Man, a Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

by Kevin Morgan author of Sabbath Rest

Published by Honor Him Ministries July 17, 2005



Luke 16:19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 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. 25 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.


he storyteller starts His story in the customary, expected way. His audience listens with ap-

he storyteller starts His story in the customary, expected way. His audience listens with ap- proval and delight as He rehearses the cross- cultural familiar tale.

“There once were two men,” he begins. “One was a rich man, who lived a life of luxury and ease. The other was a beggar by the name of Lazarus who suffered with terrible sores from his head to his feet. His only comfort were the dogs who came to lick his sores. Every day the beggar waited unnoticed outside the rich man’s house, hoping for a few crumbs that might fall from the rich man’s fine table! In the course of ”

time, the poor man dies and so does the rich

The storyteller pauses, but His listeners know what is coming next.

“The beggar is carried by angels to ‘Abraham’s bosom,’while the rich man finds that he has been taken on a trip to hell!”

His listeners smile approvingly. The rich man’s just deserts were just the ironic twist they had been expecting. This story always has an ironic twist! However, this time the story will have a surprise that the storytell- ers listeners have not been expecting. The storyteller goes on.

“Though in a very different place, with a very different reward, the rich man sees the beggar off in the distance, no longer suffering, while he himself enures the sweltering torment of hell.

“‘Father Abraham,’ he cries, ‘have mercy on me and send Lazarus with some cool water on his finger to give me some relief!’”

How convenient that he recognize the beggar now!

“Abraham responds, ‘Considering what you each have had throughout life, it is only fair that you now endure torment, while he finally receives the comfort he never had. Besides, there is a great expanse between the two of you that cannot be breached.’


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

“Slumping in recognition that he cannot escape his terrible fate, the rich man says, ‘Father Abraham, couldn’t you at least send Lazarus to my five brothers to keep them from having to come to this horrible place?’

“Abraham responds, ‘They have the Scriptures; let them listen to them, if they will.’

“‘But, Father Abraham,’says the rich man, ‘they will listen if Lazarus comes back from the dead to warn them.’

“‘No,’ says Abraham, ‘if they haven’t paid attention to the Scriptures, even a person coming back from the grave won’t turn them around.’”

“That’s a strange way to finish the story!” whispers one in the crowd to his neighbor.

Ah, but Jesus— the master storyteller— knows just what He was doing. He has finished the familiar tale just as He intended, leaving His audience to ponder Abraham’s curious parting words of admonition.

His listeners on that day aren’t the only ones who have been left to ponder the story. We too may have a question or two about what Jesus said on that day. What did the story mean? Did He intend that the story be taken as an eye-witness account of heaven and hell? as a validation of an immediate reward at death or of an intermediate state of consciousness between the grave and judgment? Examining the parable we shall soon see.


A Parable is a Parable

1. A Parable is a Parable ow should we interpret the parable, which we usually call

ow should we interpret the parable, which we usually call the Rich Man and Lazarus (or sometimes “Dives and Lazarus”)? We should begin by noting that the story does not stand alone. It is part of a series of stories that Jesus used to speak to the Pharisees, whose overriding motiva- tion in life was “unrighteous mammon,” not ministry to the lost. We should also note that a significant portion of their theology was derived from Alexandrian Greek philosophy rather than Old Testament scripture.

“The story of Dives and Lazarus was the last in a series of moving stories, addressed primarily to the Pharisees, as recorded by Luke. The fact that Jesus talked with outcasts and sinners drew sharp censure from the Pharisees, who murmured, ‘This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them’(Luke 15:2). These narratives were the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost son, then of the unjust steward, and finally that of the lost opportunity.

“The same underlying lesson runs through them all — ‘more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance’(v. 7, R.S.V.). There is obvious satire in Christ’s reference to the ‘righteous’persons. As with the lost coin and the lost son, there is heavenly rejoicing over the recovery of the lost— but resentment by the Pharisees. More than a hundred times the expression ‘kingdom of God,’or ‘kingdom of heaven,’appears in the Gospels, often stressing joy and rejoicing over the reclaiming of the sinner. But the Pharisees, with their stultifying rules and repressive regulations and traditions and smug racial arrogance, found no place for rejoicing over the recovery of the lost.


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

“In the parable of the unjust steward Christ emphasized the necessity of building friendships for the future, drawing a lesson even from this man’s questionable shrewdness concerning his earthly future. How much more important to prepare for the life to come. But these important lessons were all spurned by the Pharisees, and they ‘derided’Christ (Luke 16:14). Their perverse attitude and actions drew a stern rebuke. They were seeking to ‘justify’themselves before men, but their attitudes were an ‘abomi- nation in the sight of God’(Luke 16:15).”LeRoy Froom, Condition- alist Faith of Our Fathers, vol. 1, pp. 245, 246.

Like the stories of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11) and the Unjust Steward (16:1), the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19) begins without identifying itself as a parable, though all are parables.

A parable is meant to illustrate one major point.

The fact that Jesus drew a lesson in the story of the Unjust Steward from the steward’s questionable shrewdness without recommending such behavior goes to show that His parables were not meant to “walk on all fours.” He told the story to illustrate one major point— now is the time to prepare for the life to come!

In a similar way, when Jesus told the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, He had one major point to make. He did not intend for us to take every point of the story and turn it into a doctrine. Jesus did not use the story because it was “an eye-witness account of heaven and hell,”but because it was a well-known story that would catch the attention of His hearers. Once He had them listening, He hit them with a surprise ending— a “sucker punch,” if you will— and declared that they should not wait for miraculous signs to believe, but should believe the testimony of the Word of God.

By the way, this was also a method that the prophet Nathan used with King David. He told the king a story about a rich man who took a poor man’s only lamb to feed his guests. Caught up in the pathos of the story, David never anticipated Nathan’s “sucker punch”— “Thou art the man!”

A Parable is a Parable


Figurative language shows that the parable is not a literal account.

The expression “Abraham’s bosom” is clearly a figurative expression since the redeemed could not literally fit into the bosom of Abraham— even if we limit the number to the faithful from the Old Testament era.

“In Kid[dushin] 72b, Adda bar Ahaba, a rabbi of the third century, is said to be ‘sitting in the bosom of Abraham,’which means that he has entered paradise. With this should be compared the statement of R[abbi] Levi (Gen. R. xlviii.): ‘In the world to come Abraham sits at the gate of Gehenna, permitting none to enter who bears the seal of the “It is plain that Abraham is here viewed as the warden of paradise,

like Michael in Jewish and St. Peter in Christian

” The

Jewish Encyclopedia (New York: Funk & Wagnalls, Co., 1905), Isidore Singer, editor, vol. 1, p. 93.

Likewise, that a person in hell could see and talk to another person in the place of delights beyond the “great gulf fixed” must also be seen as figurative, otherwise, the rich man in hell would either have supernatural vision or paradise and torment would be visible one from the other. (Would that really be paradise?) Above all, if the rich man were truly burning in the “torments” of hadês, would he have only asked for a dip of water and not a bucket-full — or even a fire hydrant— to quench his thirst? It is very hard to imagine someone being literally roasted with fire but still carrying on such a sensible and calm conversation as is portrayed in the parable.

Jesus’ version of the parable draws on an Egyptian/Jewish folktale, but with significant differences.

“An ancient Egyptian folk-tale, modified and popularized in Jewish circles, strikingly resembles the parable but lacks its emphasis on repen- tance through obedience to Moses and the prophets.” Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1990), pp. 203, 204.


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

“Years ago H. Gressmann (“Vom reichen Mann”) drew attention to an Egyptian folktale, copied in Demotic on the back of a Greek document dated in the seventh year of emperor Claudius (A.D. 47), telling about the retribution in the afterlife for conditions in this: a reincarnated Egyptian Si-Osiris, born miraculously to Satme Khamuas, takes his father on a tour of Am e nte, the realm of the dead, to show him what happened to a rich man who had died, was honorably lamented, shrouded in fine linen, and sumptuously buried, and to a poor man who had also died, but who was carried out unmourned on a straw mat to a common necropolis of Memphis. The rich man was seen in torment with the axle of the hinge of the hall’s door fixed in his right eye socket; but in another hall Osiris, ruler of Am e nte, sat enthroned and near him was the poor man, robed in the rich man’s fine linen. Si-Osiris’words to his father: ‘May it be done to you in Am e nte as it is done in Am e nte to this pauper and not as it is done to this rich man in Am e nte.’ “Gressmann thought that Alexandrian Jews had brought the Egyp- tian folktale to Palestine, where it developed as the story of a poor Torah scholar and a rich toll-collector named Bar Ma‘yan.”Joseph A. Fitzmyer, The Anchor Bible (Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1985), vol. 28A, pp. 1126-1127.

“The more well-known Jewish form of this folk-tale narrates the story of the rich tax collector Ben Majan [or Bar Ma‘yan], who died and was given a well-attended, ostentatious funeral. About the same time, a poor scholar found himself in Paradise, by flowing streams, while Bar Majan found himself near the bank of a stream unable to reach the water.”Craig L. Blomberg, pp. 203, 204.

The differences between the traditional tale and Jesus’version of it are significant. Not only does Jesus emphasize different things, but He gives the beggar the name of his friend Lazarus, whom He was about to raise from the dead. Was this because He was relating the experience of his friend? No, the Lazarus that was His friend wasn’t a beggar, but lived with his sisters. The Lazarus of the parable never comes back from the dead. It would seem then that Jesus had a different purpose in telling the story.


What Jesus Taught about Death and Hell

nterestingly enough, in speaking of the rich man’s dialogue with Abraham from hell, Jesus does not use the Greek word for hell that He consistently used to describe the fires of the judgment (see Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; and Luke 12:5). Instead of gehenna, a name that comes from the valley of Hinnom in Judea where garbage was incinerated, Jesus uses another name for hell— hadês, a hint to His audience that this parable is not a direct comment on final judgment.

“It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment.”Hebrews 9:27.

Though judgment does indeed sequentially follow death, according to Jesus, the fire of judgment does not come immediately at death, but at the end of the world.

“So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 13:49, 50 [this is future tense].

of teeth.” Matthew 13:49, 50 [this is future tense]. Jesus connects the meting out of reward

Jesus connects the meting out of reward with His return to earth.

“Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”Revelation 22:12.

Since the judgment meted out at the death of the beggar and the rich man does not coincide with Jesus’other teaching on the reward of the righteous and the wicked, the story must not be an actual description of the judgment which follows death. But does it validate belief in a state of consciousness following death? What does Jesus teach about this subject elsewhere?


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

How did Jesus describe death when He spoke about it more directly?

On the way to resurrect His friend, Lazarus, Jesus told His disciples:

“Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go that I may awake him out of Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.”John 11:11, 14.

Jesus describes death as a sleep— a sleep out of which He will awaken on the day of the resurrection those who die believing in Him. Then and only then does consciousness begin again. Why else would He call it sleep?

“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”John 5:28, 29.

“Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.”John 6:54.

“Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:”John 11:25.

When Jesus addressed the repentant thief on the cross, wasn’t He describing the man’s immediate promotion into glory?

“And he said unto Jesus, ‘Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.’And Jesus said unto him, ‘Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.’” Luke 23:42, 43 KJV.

What Jesus Taught About Death and Hell


Several points of Scripture establish that Jesus was not describing immediate passage into glory.

Point 1. The thief did not die when Jesus died (and probably not even that day). His legs were broken to hasten his death (John 19:32).

Point 2. The word “today” emphasizes the surety of the promise and not the time of the fulfillment of the promise.

The actual Greek of Luke 23:43, with a literal translation, reads:

Amên (truly) soi (to you) legô (I say) sêmeron (today) met emou (with me) esê (you will be) en tô paradeisô (in the paradise).

Since there were no commas in the original text, the placement of the comma is not a matter of inspiration, but a matter of what makes the most grammatical sense. We note that the adverb “today” (sêmeron) can either modify what comes before it or what comes after it.

“This adverb, sêmeron (“today,”or better, “on this day”), occurs in the Septuagint Old Testament and the Greek New Testament 259 times. It is used as an adjective 24 times, and without a verb to qualify, 14 times. Of the remaining 221 times, it precedes the verb it qualifies 51 times but follows it 170 times.”Froom, vol. 1, p. 281.

Using the emphasis of the Greek original order and placing the comma after the word “today,” we see that Jesus was emphasizing the surety of the promise and not the time of its fulfillment:

“Truly to you I say today, with me you will be in paradise!”

Parallel uses of sêmeron in the Old and New Testaments

This is not the only time that a Bible speaker has used “today” to emphasize the truth of his statement. In two other passages we find a similar use of the word sêmeron. One is in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint) and the other is in Luke’s companion volume to his gospel— the book of Acts. (Most readers have probably not


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

noticed their similarity because most translations have rendered sêmeron as “this day.”) Notice the passages:

“And thou shalt go unto the priest that shall be in those days, and say unto him, I profess THIS DAY [sêmeron] unto the LORD thy God, that I am come unto the country which the LORD sware unto our fathers for to give us.”Deuteronomy 26:3.

“Wherefore I take you to record THIS DAY [sêmeron], that I am pure from the blood of all men.” Acts 20:26. (Here, the NIV has it right: “Therefore, I declare to you TODAY that I am innocent of the blood of all men.”)

In both passages, the speakers are emphasizing the truthfulness of their statements— just as Jesus was emphasizing the certainty of His promise by adding the expression “today.” (Similarly, in our time, we often make a point more dramatic by adding the words, “I’m telling you right now

Paul obviously did not mean that he was only innocent of their

blood on that particular day (never mind what he did last week or what he might do next week). As with Jesus on the cross, Luke has Paul using

sêmeron to emphasize the certainty of his statement and not to verify when that statement was to be fulfilled.

Point 3. Jesus did not go to “paradise” that day, for He plainly told Mary that He had not ascended to His Father (John 20:17).

It is hardly thinkable that anyone would describe any other place but the house of the Father as “paradise.” But strangely enough, that is what some have done. They have concluded that Jesus went to a different “paradise” at death than the Father’s house. (Did you notice that Luke said “the paradise”? That’s pretty specific.) They do this by combining (a) the description of the rich man in hadês of Luke 16 with (b) Jesus’ promise to the thief of “paradise” of Luke 23 with (c) the “hell” of Acts 2:27 where Jesus’soul was not to be left (see p. 13) with (d) the supposed preaching of Jesus to “spirits in prison” of 1 Peter 3:19 (see p. 12).


What Jesus Taught About Death and Hell


However, this league of verses falls apart when we realize that the rich man and Jesus were both in hadês, the Greek Old Testament’s equivalent of sheol, (see Psalm 16:10), which is “the land of gloom and deep shadow” (Job 10:21). But Paul speaks of “paradise” as being a glorious place (2 Corinthians 12:4) not a gloomy one. Besides this, Revelation 2:7 tells us that the “tree of life” is in “paradise” and Revelation 22:2, 3 describes the “tree of life” as being in the same place as the throne of the Father and Son (which would be where the Father dwells— His house). Since the Bible tells us Jesus went to hadês at death and people believe His promise meant that Jesus went to “paradise” at death, then “paradise” would be hadês and hadês would have the “tree of life.” Perhaps, by an extension of this line of logic, someone could conclude that this is how people can suffer in hell without perishing, by just going to the tree of life for a “refill” whenever they feel death coming on. Heaven help us! Actually, Revelation describes “paradise” as continuing on while “death” and hadês are destroyed in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14; 21:1).

All this confusion is based on the faulty assumption that Jesus went to “paradise” on the day of His promise. But, according to Jesus’ own testimony, He did not go to paradise that day, even though He really meant what He said to the thief on the cross!

Point 4. When it least looked like He would be able to keep it, Jesus made a promise to the repentent sinner hanging beside Him.

“Christ did not promise that the thief should be with Him in paradise that day. He Himself did not go that day to paradise. He slept in the tomb, and on the morning of the resurrection He said, ‘I am not yet ascended to My Father.’John 20:17. But on the day of the crucifixion, the day of apparent defeat and darkness, the prom- ise was given. ‘To-day,’while dying upon the cross as a malefactor, Christ assures the poor sinner, ‘Thou shalt be with Me in paradise.’” Ellen G. White, The Desire of Ages, p. 751.


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

Did Jesus’spirit preach to “spirits in prison”when He died?

“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.” 1 Peter 3:18-20.

Peter says that Jesus was “quickened by the Spirit: by which also he

went and preached.” How did He preach? It was by the Holy Spirit (for He had commended His own spirit to God). When did the Spirit preach?

“ when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.”

“ Did He preach the gospel to them and thus give them a chance

to be saved even after they had already died?

is not the Greek euangelizomai (‘to preach or tell the

good news’), which would certainly have meant that after His crucifixion Christ really did preach a salvation message to lost souls in Hades; but rather it is ekêryxen, from kêrysso (‘proclaim a message,’from a king, or potentate). All that v. 19 actually says is

that Christ made a proclamation

This verse means, then, that Christ

through the Holy Spirit solemnly warned Noah’s contemporaries by the mouth of Noah himself (described in 2 Peter 2:5 as ‘a preacher [or “herald”] of righteousness.’Note that ‘preacher’in this verse is kêryka, the same root as the kêryxen referred to above in connec- tion with 1 Peter 3:19).” Gleason L. Archer, Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, pp. 423, emphasis supplied.

the only audience mentioned is

the generation of Noah

the verb translated


What Jesus Taught About Death and Hell


Where did Jesus’body, soul, and spirit go when He died?

“ As to Christ’s condition in death, Christ’s body was put into the

grave, or sepulcher (hadês, or gravedom — Ps 16:10, Acts 2:31), while He commended His “spirit” to God (Luke 23:46; cf. Psa 31:5). According to the apostle Peter, who had talked with Jesus after the resurrection (John 21:7-22) and who was the preacher at Pentecost (Acts 2:14), Jesus’ soul (Greek psuchê equivalent here to Hebrew nephesh, [meaning] Jesus Himself) was in the grave from death until the resurrection. Quoting David (Psa 16:10), Peter said of Christ:

“‘Thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (hadês, “the grave”], neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.’ ‘He would raise up Christ to sit on his throne’ (Acts 2:27, 30).” Froom, vol. 1, p. 374, 375.

What is the natural sense of Peter’s statement? It is simply that Jesus was not left in hadês or the grave, which was neither a place of suffering or of bliss, where His body would have begun to break down if His Father had not called Him forth to life and bodily resurrection.

Because the Greek word hadês is borrowed from paganism, there is a mistaken notion that hadês, in the New Testament, and sheol, in the Old, represent a dwelling place for dispossessed souls.

“Hadês among the Greeks originally signified the deity of the underworld. Later on it became the name of the realm of the dead itself. In the Septuagint Greek translation of the Old Testament, the word occurs sixty-one times as the translation of the Hebrew word sheol (which generally means the realm of the dead). In the New Testament hadês occurs eleven times (Matt. xi. 23, xvi. 18; Luke x. 15, xvi. 23; Acts ii. 27, 31; I Cor. xv. 55; Rev. i. 18, vi. 8, xx. 13, Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1952), p. 429.


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

Though the term hadês does carry certain connotations from its hellenis- tic roots, when used in the Bible as an equivalent for sheol, it does not signify a dwelling place for wandering souls. It simply means the place of the grave. The human “soul” cannot wander at all, for it is not an entity that exists apart from the union of the “body” and the “breath of life” (Heb. “spirit”) as we see in the account of the creation of the first human being.

“And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”Genesis 2:7.

Death then is the reversal of life, not life in a different form.

“Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.”Ecclesiastes 12:7.

Many assume that this means that a conscious spirit goes back to God. But this would contradict Jesus’ own statement, for, though He com- mended His spirit to the Father when He died, He plainly told Mary after His resurrection that He had not ascended to the Father (John 20:17).

When man’s body goes to the earth and His spirit returns to God, the “soul” ceases to function. It does not exist somewhere else. It is not stored up in some subterranean cavern. “Soul” is a description of a person’s identity— his conscious self. That is why Scripture employs it to depict a person in dialogue with himself. (“And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou

” Luke 12:19.) When a person dies, the person is held

captive by death and the grave. But Jesus overcame these captors, and, when He returns in glory, those who die trusting in Him will experience the outworking of His victory by the resurrection of the whole person from death and the grave— spirit, soul, and body (1 Thessalonians 5:23). Paul punctuates his hope in the resurrection at Jesus’return with words of victory over death, drawn from Hosea 13:14:

has much good

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” 1 Corinthians 15:55.

What Jesus Taught About Death and Hell


Doesn’t Paul’s expression, “Absent from

the body and

teach that the saints go straight into

present with the Lord,”

Jesus’ presence at death?

“Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: (For we walk by faith, not by sight:) We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8.

Although Paul makes it clear in Second Corinthians that being present with the Lord is the next event he expects to experience after this bodily existence, the one thing that Paul does not make clear in this passage is the time at which this event will take place. And why doesn’t he? He doesn’t need to. He already laid out the time element clearly— just months before— in his first epistle to the Corinthians. (He also laid out the time element in the first epistle that he ever wrote— 1 Thessalonians).

“Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.”1 Corinthians 15:51-54.

“For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air:


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

Though Christians often speak of being “immediately in Christ’s presence” at death, this is only true in a certain sense. They are not “immediately in Christ’s presence” in point of time, but “immediately” with regard to their consciousness. Because a person does not sense the passage of time when he or she is “asleep in Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:18), the transition into Christ’s presence does seem to be immediate.

If Christians who have died could be transported directly into Christ’s presence, Scripture reveals that they would be unaware of the fact.

“For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave [Heb. sheol] who shall give thee thanks?”Psalm 6:5.

“Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithful- ness in destruction?”Psalm 88:11.

“The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence.”Psalm 115:17.

“So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.”Job 14:12-15.


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.


What Jesus Taught About Death and Hell


The “great gulf fixed” is the result of the choices of one’s life.

“The rich man claimed to be a son of Abraham, but he was separated from Abraham by an impassable gulf— a character wrongly developed. Abraham served God, following His word in faith and obedience. But the rich man was unmindful of God and of the needs of suffering humanity. The great gulf fixed between him and Abraham was the gulf of disobedience. There are many today who are following the same course.”Ellen G. White, Christ’s Object Lessons, pp. 269, 270.

Besides His own teaching on death and hell, Jesus reminds His audience by Abraham’s final words that there is another court of appeals in coming to a proper understanding of this subject.

“They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”

What do Moses and the prophets (i.e., the Old Testament Scriptures) have to say about the subject of death and hell? We’ll consider that next.


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell


27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.



What “Moses and the Prophets” Taught about Death and Hell

esides being a clue to our finding testimony regarding the One who is the way to eternal life (John 5:39), Jesus’ reference to “Moses and the prophets” in the parable is also a clue to the proper interpretation of the parable itself.

It has been frequently noted that, by the time of Jesus’ sojourn on Earth, the Jews had imbibed Greek thinking on the intermediate state of man in death. (See Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Appendix XIX.) Where did the Greeks get such an idea?

The first book of Moses tells us that, when God said that eating the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil would bring death, the serpent taught the first “doctrine of devils” (1 Timothy 4:1)— “Ye shall not surely die” (Genesis 3:4). That falsehood was taught throughout the various religions of antiquity— from the Egyptian “realm of the dead” to Plato’s “immortality of the soul.”

It is significant that, in relating this parable, Jesus began with what was commonly believed and ended with an appeal to Moses and the prophets (that is, the Old Testament Scriptures). Do the Old Testament Scriptures promote the idea of conscious life beyond the grave? No, they warn against the very attempt of communicating with the dead.

“And when they shall say unto you, Seek unto them that have familiar spirits, and unto wizards that peep, and that mutter: should not a people seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?”Isaiah 8:19. (Notice also God’s warning in Deuteronomy 18:10-12.)

seek unto their God? for the living to the dead?”Isaiah 8:19. (Notice also God’s warning in


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

Why do they warn against communicating with the dead? It is because the dead have nothing to say.

“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them

there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor

wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.”Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10.


“His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.”Psalm 146:4.

If somebody “dials up the dead” and gets an answer, it won’t be because the dead person is talking, but because somebody else— a representative of the one who told Eve, “Ye shall not surely die”— has gotten “on the line.”

Moreover, the Old Testament Scriptures do not speak of an immediate reward at death. Rather, they uphold the same blessed hope for the believer as does the New Testament— bodily resurrection on the last day.

“If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come.”Job 14:14.

“Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead.”? Isaiah 26:19.

“God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave; for he shall receive me.”Psalm 49:15 (cf. Daniel 12:2).


30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.



Jesus’Last Word on the Parable

4. Jesus’Last Word on the Parable braham’s final response is the “punch line” of the entire

braham’s final response is the “punch line” of the entire parable, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” Oh, how true these words were! Even the resurrection of Lazarus did not help convince the Jewish religious leaders, who claimed to believe and live by “Moses and the prophets” of who Jesus was. Had they not been blinded by national pride and offended by Jesus’disregard for their cherished traditions, they would have allowed the Scriptures to lead them to the One who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.

“Ye search the scriptures, because ye think that in them ye have eternal life; and these are they which bear witness of me.” John 5:39, ASV.

Having rejected the testimony of the Scriptures, it was not hard for the Jewish leaders to go one step further and plot to silence the testimony of the one who provided one of the greatest evidences of Jesus’ power to save and to give life. They plotted to kill the very one Jesus had named in the parable— Lazarus!

“But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus also to death; Because that by reason of him many of the Jews went away, and believed on Jesus.”John 12:10, 11.

Let us pray that we never reject truth because of tradition or the pressures of our culture, or because of our own personal preference. Even as you have read this booklet, won’t you open your heart to God in prayer and tell Him that you believe what Jesus has said to you through His Word and that you want to hold onto the truths that He has revealed to you?


A Rich Man, A Poor Man, and a Trip to Hell

Summary of conclusions:

Jesus did not tell the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to teach about judgment in the afterlife but to remind the Pharisees, who had great confidence in their affluence as a sign of approval with God, that it is the decisions one makes with regard to the revealed Word of God during one’s lifetime that determines one’s fate.

After catching the attention of His audience with a well-known folktale of the first century, Jesus directed His listeners not to wait for the miraculous to make a change in their lives, but to shape their lives (and their doctrines, we might add) according to the testimony of the Scriptures.

Jesus, Paul, and the Old Testament Scriptures all testify that death is a sleep and that the reward for how one has lived is given not at death but at the end of the world.