Two Men and the Afterlife

Jesus told a story in Luke 16 that has resonated with millions since the day it was taught. Two men lived very different lives, but both experienced the same conclusion: Death. First, there was the rich man who lived a joyous and eccentric life. He dressed in the best clothes and ate the very best food every day. He had nothing to worry about in life as far as his physical needs went. Conversely, there was a poor man named Lazarus who suffered daily outside the gates of the rich man’s house. He was covered with sores which the dogs came and licked. Moreover, he didn’t have anything to eat and he desired to have the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. After some time both men died, and the rich man was found in Torment, but Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s Bosom (same as Paradise where Jesus went in Luke 23:43). 


Each man received what was justly due to him and it so happens that it was the reverse of what each experienced on the earth. Lazarus suffered physically while he was still alive, but he is pictured as being in comfort with Abraham in his bosom after he has passed from the earth. The rich man on the other hand had everything he could possibly ask for in life, but he is pictured in the afterlife as being tormented in the flame. First, we must understand that the afterlife is real and Hades (place of the dead) is a real place. Jesus teaches us in this story that there are two separate places in Hades. One is called Abraham’s Bosom or Paradise as seen here in this story and in Luke 23:43. The other place is simply referred to as Torment which is not a place anyone desires to be. These places are not fictional, and they also point out that Heaven and Hell are real! When Jesus returns, He will judge everyone according to their deeds. Those who are alive will be sent to Heaven or Hell. Those who are in Paradise will go to Heaven and those who are in Torment will go to Hell. 


The fact that this will take place also shows that there are no second chances in the afterlife. All our “second chances” come while we are still alive and on this earth. The rich man was in so much agony and he was so desperate for relief that he was willing to get by with just a drop of water on his tongue. Abraham explained to him that he had his chance to do good while on earth, but he chose not to and now he is reaping the consequences of his actions. But what exactly did the rich man do that was wrong? Well, the fact that Lazarus sat outside his gates implies that he knew about it and he did not help him. He was certainly more than capable of helping Lazarus since he had an abundance of blessings and resources, but he chose not to and in so doing he neglected the Law of Moses (See: Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 15:7). In other words, he forsook God’s law by not showing love to his neighbor and by extension showing love to God. Now, he is being humbled in Torment.


Lazarus on the other hand is exalted in this story. Now, you might say how is that the case when he is just some poor beggar who was covered in sores? First, notice how Lazarus is the only one named in the story. We don’t know the name of the rich man because in God’s eyes he is not worthy to even be named. Second, even though Lazarus was poor he didn’t seek to steal or commit wrong, so he could get what he needed to survive and relieve himself. It is often a temptation for one in a condition such as Lazarus to steal and commit wrong (cf. Prov. 30:9) to get what they need but Lazarus refrained. Third, Lazarus was never envious of the rich man’s life and his possessions. His only desire was to be fed with the crumbs that fell from his table. What a great example of not being envious. In this, we also see great self-control and trust in God exercised. Fourth, all these things combined prove to illustrate that Lazarus was faithful in all things and he listened to God’s law unlike the rich man. The fact that he is with the father of the faithful (Abraham; Rom. 4:11) shows us he was faithful in his life to God despite suffering physically every day. We can be poor physically but still rich spiritually (Jam. 2:5; Rev. 2:9). 


There are great lessons to be learned from the lives of both of these men. The story does not stop there however. The rich man realizing he does not have a second chance and knowing the suffering there is in Torment, begs Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers who are still alive on earth. The implication of his statement is that at the very least his brothers are following in the same direction he did, and he now knows where that ends. 


Abraham’s response to the rich man was clear: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (Lk. 16:29). But this was not enough for the rich man! He said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!”(Lk. 16:30). The rich man’s point is indeed the climax of the story, but it is a sad one! His conversation with Abraham shows that he was not willing to listen to Moses and the prophets in his lifetime and he knows that his brother share the same attitude. 


He does not find God’s word to be enough and therefore he pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus since he thinks someone coming back from the dead will sway their minds otherwise. Abraham response to this is powerful,“If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Lk. 16:31). The rich man’s attitude is no different than the attitude many people have in our world today.


We may want to see some great miracle performed or see someone do the “impossible” otherwise we have no intention of believing in God and believing His word. The irony is that God has done the “impossible” and He has worked many miracles through Jesus. We have it all recorded for us in His word. The fact is that we all live by faith whether we realize it or not. People make decisions every second of everyday based on faith. It is impossible to please God without faith (Heb. 11:6) but He has also given us a tremendous amount of evidence in His creation, in our own minds and in His holy words. If we fail to listen to the bible, then we have failed to listen to what God wants for us. Remember there are no second chances when we get to the other side. Will you be the rich man, or will you be Lazarus?