“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’” …
They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and I suppose the same goes for the rich man in this parable who, even in the flames of hell, still thought he was better than Lazarus and should be served by the poor beggar. That’s one of several peculiar twists in Jesus’ story. Another is the ability for people in hell to communicate with those in heaven. I don’t know that we should build an entire theology of the afterlife on one parable, but the fact that Jesus told this story at least indicates that those in heaven and hell are conscious of their own condition relative to that of others. In fact, from this parable we can conclude that heaven and hell are present realities and that those who die today enter the afterlife immediately. While it may give us pause to think about the torment of those in hell, we should rejoice in the promise that those who died in Christ pass instantly into God’s glorious presence and the peace of heaven.
This parable also raises some confusion over how or why we gain salvation. Is Jesus telling us that all rich people who live in luxury during this life will end up suffering in Hades? Is He also suggesting that all those who suffer now will be granted a place in heaven? These notions may be appealing to some people as a sort of eternal redistribution of wealth, but we know from the larger council of scripture that salvation comes through faith and by grace, not according to our works or our financial status. Simply put, Jesus didn’t tell this parable to teach how we are saved. Rather, this story is meant to develop a sense of urgency in the hearts of unbelievers to seek after God before it’s too late and, as we will read later in the parable, to motivate believers to share the good news of Jesus, again, before it’s too late.
Let’s also not miss the simple fact that Jesus had a firm certainty about the afterlife. We may be tempted to doubt the reality of heaven or to wish that hell didn’t exist. While the characters and dialogue in Jesus’ story are fictional, like all his parables, Jesus presents heaven and hell as every bit as real as the road to Jericho in the parable of the good Samaritan or the farmer’s field in the parable of the sower and the soils. We can know for sure, with as much certainty as faith produces in our hearts, that heaven is real and that all those who find new life in Jesus will enter that glorious place.Father, thank You for the hope of heaven. I rejoice in the promise that one day I will see You face to face and will be safe from all the hardship of this world. For now, help me to lead a good life, to honor Jesus and to care for those in need around me. I ask this in my Savior’s name. Amen.
Pastor Mike Mirakian