By Joseph Ametepe
There are many stories people believe about “the Afterlife.” Some people believe that there is no afterlife. They believe that this life is all we’ve got. Once we die, we cease to exist. Others believe that there is life beyond the grave. Those who die are called “the departed spirits.” According to them, “the departed spirits” of loved ones now look over them and help them from the abode of the dead. Many people on the continents of Asia, Africa, and South America, hold to this view of the afterlife. Some in these continents even prepare the dead for the afterlife by burying the dead with the things they believe will be used in the afterlife, such as clothing, jewelry, and money. These beliefs about the afterlife are man-made beliefs. They are therefore not reliable. They may make people feel good and “well-prepared” for the afterlife. But they are deceptive and delusive. But the question is: Where do we turn to discover the real truth about the afterlife? No one knows about the afterlife than the person of the Lord Jesus Christ. His teaching about the afterlife is authoritative and accurate. Nowhere is His authoritative and accurate teaching about the afterlife vividly and visually presented than in Luke 16:19-31. With divine authority, the Lord Jesus eloquently and expressly shares a heart-moving story of two men, one rich and the other poor, to forcefully and freshly present the salient truths we need to know about the afterlife.
II. Communicator of the Story
The story we are about to learn from was not told by a patriarch like Abraham, a prophet like Moses, a priest like Aaron, a prominent apostle like Peter, a pastor like John, a preacher like Paul. But it is told by the Person of the Jesus Christ, the Lord and Leader of God’s people, the Teacher, the Truth and the Triumphant One, the eternal and the exalted Son of God and the Savior of the world – who always tells us the truth and teaches us the way of God in truth.
It is this Jesus who eloquently and expressly told this story in order to get our attention about what life is really and truly like after the grave. This means the story about to be told is true and trustworthy. As such, it demands your full and faithful attention from beginning to the end.
III. Contents of the Story
The contents of this rich and remarkable story are found nowhere else in the Bible. In fact, if Dr. Luke had not been led by the Holy Spirit to record this story for us, we would never have known anything about “the Afterlife” as vividly and visually portrayed by the Lord Jesus Christ in Luke 16:19-31.
By way of giving you an overview of this blessed and beloved passage, please notice that the Lord Jesus first briefly and brilliantly describes the conditions of the two main characters in their earthly lives in Luke 16:19-20. He also concisely and clearly speaks about the conclusion of their earthly lives in Luke 16:22. Also, He convincingly and categorically affirms their continual existence after death in Luke 16:23-25. He also confidently and yet calmly sets forth an important truth in Luke 16:26-28; that is, changing one’s destination in the afterlife is not at all possible. In other words, crossing over from one’s eternal dwelling place to another will never ever happen once death occurs. Finally, our Lord emphatically and expressly draws the attention of His audience to the chief role of the Scriptures in Luke 16:29-31 in guiding sinners in the way of righteousness. Now, let’s take a closer look at the details of this story after a brief overview of it.
A. Conditions of the two main characters in their lives on earth (vv.19-21).
Stories come alive when characters emerge from them and help shape them. In this particular story, two contrasting characters are presented to us, namely “a certain rich man” and “a certain poor man Lazarus,” whose name means “one whom God helps.” It is an abbreviation of “Eleazar” - a shortened form of “God has helped.” It is the only instance where a name is used in Christ’s parable. Clearly, he is not the Lazarus in John 11, who died at a later time. The rich man is called Dives after the Latin word for “rich.” Because the beggar Lazarus was the only character in any of Jesus’ parables ever given a name, some have speculated that this was no imaginary tale, but an actual incident that took place. Either way, the truths and teachings presented in this parable are clear and cogent. We should therefore pay careful attention to them.
In a convincing manner, the Lord Jesus presented sharp and striking contrasts in the conditions of the two main characters. The rich man was at the very top of the social ladder. The poor man, Lazarus, was at the very bottom of the social ladder. You and I are in between the very top and the very bottom of the social ladder. So the story applies to us as well. Perhaps you may be the very top. Others of you may be at the very bottom. The story applies to you too.
Now please take careful note of the sharp and striking contrasts in the conditions of the two main characters. While the rich man lived a happy and high life, Lazarus lived a hard and humiliating life. While the rich man clothed himself gorgeously, Lazarus was covered with sores. While the rich man feasted on gourmet foods, prepared daily by the best chef in town, Lazarus could only long to be fed with the crumbs or scraps falling from the rich man’s table. While the rich man was surrounded by loved ones, family and friends, Lazarus was surrounded by dogs as his companions and comforters. Please understand that these dogs were not the cute, well trained and cared for domesticated dogs. They were probably wild dogs roaming the streets where Lazarus was laid. They were Lazarus’s companions and comforters in his poverty and pain. While the rich man had plenty and lived a pleasant and pain-free life, Lazarus was a pauper and lived in pain all his life. That is to say that the rich man lived in great comfort, but Lazarus had no such comfort. The rich man enjoyed perfect health but Lazarus’s lot in life was poor health. Whenever the rich man went for his annual medical check-up, he always got a clean bill of health from his general physician. But that was not the case for Lazarus. He never got a clean bill of health from his physician. These sharp and striking contrasts were for their earthly lives. These contrasts are vividly captured in the succinct and solemn words of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores” (Luke 16:19-21).
B. Conclusion of their earthly lives (v. 22).
But the Lord Jesus also presented a crisp and clear-cut contrast between the rich man and Lazarus on the day of their death, that is, the conclusion of their life on earth. The Bible says, “There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven – a time to give birth and a time to die” (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2a). Just as God has an appointed time for our birth, so also He has an appointed time for our death. On the day of his death, that is, the conclusion of his biological life on earth, poor Lazarus was wonderfully attended to by angels. Yes, by angels, not just an angel. How sweet! How special! How significant! A poor man, at the bottom of the social ladder was carried by supernatural angelic beings into the bosom of Abraham. “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22a). The Bible says, angels are ministering spirits sent out to render service for the sake of those who will inherit salvation (Hebrews 1:14). This is so vividly depicted at Lazarus’s death. A company of the heavenly and holy angels of the Holy God carried his spirit and soul to Abraham’s bosom, a place of comfort and blessedness.
Actually, Lazarus is the only person in the Bible of whom it was written that angels carried him into the bosom of Abraham at the conclusion of his earthly life. Please think of this! Lazarus was once cast at the gate of the rich man. But now at death, he was carried by a company of holy and heavenly angels of God. He was once laid at the gate of the rich man. But now, his soul was lifted up to “Abraham’s bosom,” an expression which is found only here in Scripture. The idea here was that Lazarus, the poor beggar in life was given a place of high honor, reclining next to Father Abraham at the heavenly banquet. In contrast, the rich man, who had had many servants and loved ones surrounding him day in and day out; was all alone in death. Notice the Bible simply said of him: “The rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16:22b). Please notice there was no mention of angels carrying him at death. He died and was buried. Period! How sad! How sorrowful! Please take careful note of this! The rich man’s superabundant riches could not buy the supernatural services of the holy angels of the Holy God of the universe. No angels came to carry his spirit and soul. He had no such company to serve him on his journey into life after the grave. Oh yes, he had human company on earth! But he had no heavenly company when he departed this life into the next.
C. Continual existence after death is affirmed (vv. 23-25).
One of the most important truths the Lord Jesus intended for His audience to understand is the continual existence of the person in the afterlife. He affirmed this truth in unequivocal and unmistakable terms. In so doing, the Lord Jesus also presented strong and stark contrasts between the two characters in their lives after the grave.
The rich man had all the comfort in this life, but not in the afterlife. He was in agony. He was in indescribable torment. He cried out for mercy and did not get what he cried out for. In other words, he enjoyed all the pleasures in this life, but unspeakable pain in the afterlife in Hades. Hades was the Greek term for the abode of the dead. In other words, it is the Greek name for the place where the souls of the dead reside. In brief, it’s the realm of the dead. Hades, the Greek name for the god of the dead or the underworld, is also known as Pluto. In Judaism, Hades was identified along with Sheol, as the place where the dead await judgment. I have never heard of anyone bragging with a beaming smile on his face: “Look, friends! I’ve just returned from Hades.” Why? It’s not a tourist destination. It’s a place of torment.
On the other hand, Lazarus, who had lived a hard and humiliating life, now enjoys a comforting, peaceful and pleasant life in the bosom of Abraham, a place of comfort where the righteous dead await Judgment Day, mentioned only once in the Bible, here in Luke 16:23.
You see, the rich man received good things in his life on earth, and likewise Lazarus, the bad things in his life on earth. But now, in the afterlife, God turned the tables. The rich man is now in agony, while Lazarus is now at rest and at peace. Oh how often God turns the tables in life!
D. Changing one’s destination in the afterlife is not at all possible (vv. 26-28).
In His authoritative and accurate teaching on the afterlife, the Lord Jesus, who Himself is “the eternal life, which was with the Father and was made manifest to us” (1 John 1:2b), sets before us another important truth: that is, changing one’s destination in the afterlife is not at all possible. In our lives on earth, we can easily move from one place of residence to another for different reasons. Sometimes a promotion in our job requires a major move to a different city or country or even continent. At other times, the choice of college or university we would like to attend demands that we move. Marriage often results in moving from one place of residence to another. Many circumstances arise in life to change our places of residence. I have moved many times in my life abroad in Canada and USA. The worst experience I had of changing my place of residence was due to harassment, hostility and racial abuse of a “white man” living directly above me. He made life so difficult and unbearable for me. When I brought my belongings to my new apartment complex, he accosted me and “F-Bombed” me twice, without any provocation. But things got worse and I had to move out. It was a painful and costly move. But the point here is that we are basically free to move from one place of residence in a city to another, one country to another, or even from one continent to another. But that will not be the case in the next life. Our eternal destination cannot be changed once death occurs. It is fixed for all eternity. It is final. It is settled. It is sealed. This is vividly and visually portrayed by the words of Father Abraham: “Between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26; ESV). An impassable gulf makes crossing over from Hades to Abraham’s bosom impossible. No amount of willpower and determination can lift a person from one side of the gulf and over it to the next side. It’s simply not attainable. It’s not achievable. It’s not accomplishable. Man has conquered many impassable rivers and gorges and canyons by constructing state of the art bridges. But there would be no such feat in the next life.
Concerned for his five brothers, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house “so that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:28; ESV). Notice the rich man didn’t have anything good to say about Hades throughout his interaction with Father Abraham. First, he spoke of it in these dreadful words: “for I am in anguish [or agony] in this flame” (Luke 16:24b). This reveals the unspeakable nature of the agony that the rich man was consciously feeling. You see, our Lord Jesus Christ is here solemnly and soberly depicting Hades as a place where the unspeakable agony of hell had already begun. The expression “in this flame” speaks of the misery of unquenchable flame. This is no joking matter. Second, he describes Hades as “this place of torment” (Luke 16:28b). Turmoil, trouble, torment, trepidation for all eternity will be the lot of the rich man. All the comfort he enjoyed in his life on earth would be vaguely remembered. It would be a thing of distant memory. The fact that he remembered his five brothers, was consciously feeling pain in Hades and cognitively engaged in conversation with Abraham clearly affirm the continual existence of the rich man. His existence did not end with his death. He lives on in a different realm.
E. Chief role of the Scriptures (vv. 29-31).
Recognizing his predicament and plight in Hades, the rich man desperately pleaded with Father Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead to warn his five brothers who are still living on earth. But he would be told that there would be no such return for Lazarus to earth to caution his five brothers. Rather, he would be repeatedly pointed to the Scriptures. He would learn about the chief role of the Scriptures – something he ignored all his life. The chief role of the Scriptures as the source of God’s truth is asserted in these words: “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead’” (Luke 16:29-31). Please notice Abraham twice mentions “Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29, 31). The repetition is for emphasis. It is stressing the chief role of the Scriptures in instructing sinners in the ways of God. How precious are the Scriptures! Even after His glorious and victorious resurrection from the dead, the Lord Jesus would direct His disciples to the chief role of the Scriptures - stressing the necessity of the fulfillment of all things written about Him in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms in Luke 24:44. The rich man requested for Lazarus to be sent to his five brothers to warn them. He was so certain that such a return from the dead to the land of the living would certainly convince his brothers – leading to their turning to God. But he was told such a return from the dead was absolutely unnecessary. Why? They can turn to the Scriptures as represented here by “Moses and the Prophets.”
IV. Compelling Spiritual Lessons from the Story
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus contains several compelling spiritual lessons which I would now like to share with you to see for yourself its richness and relevance for us today. Please take careful note of them.
- Death is no respecter of persons.
Death laid its icy cold hands on both the rich man and poor Lazarus. At their appointed times, Lazarus and the rich man faced death, “the grim reaper.” It didn’t matter that Lazarus was poor. It didn’t matter that the rich man had an abundance of riches. Death took both of their lives. Death brought an end to their biological lives on earth. Death didn’t differentiate between them. It didn’t treat Lazarus, who was at the very bottom of the social ladder differently from the rich man, who was at the very top of the social ladder. You see, death discriminates none, be it the king or a commoner. That is to say, in death everybody is equal. Wealth, caste, class, color of skin, competence, cultural background, country of origin, condition in life, etc., all becomes non entity in death. It levels one’s status. No matter how rich you are you just need a small piece of land for your burial. Same with any common man. Death says: “There is no partiality with me. When your appointed time comes, I will come for you irregardless of your social status in life. Your social status in life doesn’t influence me at all. I don’t care if you are high up on the social ladder or at the very bottom of it. I will come for you at the set time and bring your existence on earth to an end.” But thankfully, for the believer in Jesus Christ, biological death marks the end of trials and the entry into a new and better world. In other words, for the true born again believer, death is not the end – it is the doorway to endless life in the glorious presence of the God of glory. As has been said, “Death is a comma, not a period.”
- Once death occurs, one’s eternal destination or dwelling place cannot be changed.
It is fixed. It is final. It is forever settled and sealed. Although the rich man had his way on earth, once he died, he learned a bitter lesson. He could not change his eternal destiny. It is only in this life that one can accept Christ and receive the gift of eternal life. You cannot accept Christ and receive the blessed gift of eternal life after you die. In fact, this is why God gives many opportunities throughout one’s life to turn to Christ and trust in Him for the forgiveness of one’s sins. No one will be able to stand before God and blame Him for not giving him or her ample opportunity to believe in His Son Jesus Christ in this present life. God is always inviting people to believe in His Son in order to receive the gift of eternal life in this present life. In John 3:16, the most well-known Bible verse; the Lord Jesus Himself gives an open invitation and an opportunity for sinners to believe in Him and receive the gift of eternal life. He calmly and confidently declares: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” John, disciple whom Jesus loved, also presents the offer of receiving eternal life in these simple and straightforward words: “He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life” (1 John 5:12).
- The rich and famous who do not care for God in this life, will cry out to Him for mercy in the afterlife, but it will be too late.
Not only was his cry for mercy too late, it wasn’t heard. You see, in his life on earth, the rich man never cried out in desperation for anything. Why? He had everything. In his life on earth, the rich man called the shots and his orders were swiftly carried out. But now, even his most earnest pleas were not heard. This is a sobering lesson indeed.
- Riches cannot prevent the inevitable – death.
At the appointed time set by God, death came for the rich man. He could not use all of his riches to bribe death from laying its icy cold hands on him. Oh yes, he had it all in life! Oh yes, he was rich beyond measure! Oh yes, he lived a life of luxury and lavishness, fueled by his abundant riches! Yet, he succumbed to death and left all his riches behind. The riches of this world, no matter how abundant and abounding, cannot prevent death, the grim reaper, from ending your earthly existence. No one has successfully used his or her riches to postpone or put off his or her appointed day of death, let alone prevent death from taking his or her life. Please don’t make the mistake of putting your trust in your riches to ward off death. It is inevitable. An appointment with death is awaiting you and me. For the believer in Jesus, death is but a door through which to enter into the fullness of enjoying life eternally in the presence of the loving and living God. But for the unbeliever, death is a door leading to everlasting doom and damnation.
- Riches cannot buy the supernatural services of the holy angels of the Holy God of the universe.
The rich man’s superabundant riches could not prevent death from laying its icy cold hands on him at the pointed day of his death. But they also could not purchase the supernatural services of the heavenly and holy angels of the holy and only true God of the universe. Poor Lazarus, having no riches was carried away on the day of his death by the angels of God simply because of his faith in the one true God of the universe, who is fully and finally revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ. But all the wealth of the rich man could not secure the supernatural services of the supernatural angelic beings. Truly, money, no matter how much abundant it is in one’s bank account, can’t buy the gift of God. A vivid example of this biblical truth is found in Acts 8. Simon the magician of Samaria had for many years astonished the people of Samaria with his magical powers to the point that he was “called the Great Power of God” (Acts 8:10). But then, Philip the evangelist came to town to preach the gospel. In the context of preaching the good news, God performed great signs and miracles through Philip. Many believed; men and women, and were baptized. When the Jerusalem church heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Simon Peter and John. Upon arriving, they laid their hands on the new Samaritan believers. After laying their hands on the new believers, they received the Holy Spirit. Well, Simon, the magician, wanted to get in on this new “power display.” So he offered Simon Peter and John money, and I think quite a lot of it, so that he too could lay hands on people to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:11-18). Peter’s response to him was strong and sharp. “But Peter said to him, ‘May your silver perish with you, because you thought you could obtain the gift of God with money! You have no part or portion in this matter, for your heart is not right before God. Therefore repent of this wickedness of yours, and pray the Lord that, if possible, the intention of your heart may be forgiven you. For I see that you are in the gall of bitterness and in the bondage of iniquity’” (Acts 8:20-23). Unfortunately, Simon the magician did not receive Peter’s strong and sharp rebuke. He thought he didn’t need repentance (see Acts 8:24). But the point is noted. No amount of money can buy the gift of God. As such, the superabundant riches of Dives could not buy the supernatural services of the holy angels of God on the day of his death. His soul was not carried away by the holy angels of the holy God of the universe.
- Jesus is not teaching that rich people will never enter into heaven.
If we are not careful, we can erroneously conclude from this story that God is against all rich people. Please be assured that the Bible is not teaching from this story that there is no place for the rich in heaven. That is not what Jesus is teaching in this story. Yes, Jesus had fearlessly taught His disciples of how hard it would be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God (see Mark 10:17-30). In the above passage, the Bible speaks of Jesus’ love for the rich young ruler (Mark 10:21). You see, Jesus wanted God’s very best for this wealthy ruler. But the problem was that the man was “possessed” by his riches. He was so strongly attached to his wealth and riches that he had no room in his heart for God. In other words, the love of the things of this world controlled and consumed his heart. He was not rich toward God. The idea the Lord wanted to convey in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is that no person, who on seeing dogs showing greater compassion toward a helpless creature than he himself and remains indifferent, deserves heaven or is by any stretch a believer. You see, the riches and the pleasures of this life choked the word of God sown in his heart. As such, it was impossible for him to enter into the kingdom of God. Until he completely surrenders his heart with all of its desires to God and sees his desperate need for God, his poverty of spirit before God, and calls upon God with simple and sincere childlike faith – to save him, he will not see the kingdom of God, let alone share in its blessings.
Also, to show that God is not against rich people entering into His heavenly kingdom, the Bible speaks of rich people, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, Solomon, Joseph of Arimathea – who all believed in God, and are now sharing in the blessings of God’s heavenly kingdom. God is clearly not against rich people’s salvation and sharing in the blessings and benefits of His heavenly kingdom. However, the problem is that rich people often become so attached to their riches that it is impossible for them to see their abject poverty before God and turn humbly and honestly to Him with a whole and willing heart to seek His salvation and the forgiveness of their sins. Does that describe you? If so, I pray that you will truly humble yourself today before a loving and gracious God, whose arms are always open wide to receive the truly humble and repentant sinner!
- Jesus is not teaching that all poor people will go to heaven.
Jesus is not saying here that poor people have a free pass to heaven. Far from it! Just as Jesus is not teaching that God is against all rich people going to heaven, so also He is not teaching that all poor people will be in heaven. The condition for entering heaven is faith alone in Christ alone. Sure, Lazarus was poor, very poor indeed. He was totally helpless. But he was not accepted into heaven on the basis of being a poor man. The word used for poor “ptochos” speaks of one who is in abjectness needs lifting. It refers to one who had fallen from a better estate. It vividly describes a person who is so poor that he can only obtain his living by begging. In other words, he has nothing at all. As such, he is dependent on alms. But poor Lazarus is assured to have been a believer having demonstrated such patience in his great suffering and being found in the bosom of Abraham. You see, his faith in God shone brightly in his suffering on earth. He didn’t call the rich man all kinds of derogatory names for not showing him care and compassion. He didn’t complain in his suffering. He didn’t curse the day of his birth as he contemplated his lot of suffering in life. Rather, he simply endured suffering – committing himself to a faithful Creator who has promised him a better and a blessed life after the grave. You see, it takes true faith, genuine trust in God to endure such a prolonged and painful suffering. Lazarus displayed such true faith in the Lord his God. Please take note of this, being poor does not guarantee heaven. But expressing genuine faith in the one true God of the Bible, who is fully and finally revealed in the Person of the Lord Jesus, does guarantee heaven for the poor, the rich, the great, and the small!
- The departed spirits do not have any influence on the living – even on their family members.
If there was any man who could exert great influence on the lives of his family from the abode of the dead, it was the rich man. He was an influential man on earth. He was an impressive man on earth. He was an important man on earth. But he was completely helpless in the afterlife. Please notice that he could not even get a drop of water to quench his thirst in the fiery flame of Hades, let alone warn his brothers from the dead. He was totally helpless. He couldn’t quench his thirst or return from the dead to warn his brothers himself. What’s the point? The point here is that, "the departed spirits" cannot help themselves in the afterlife, let alone help the loved ones they’ve left behind. In other words, "the departed spirits," CANNOT, AND ARE NOT ABLE, AND DO NOT HAVE any influence on the living – not even on their family members. The deceiver, the devil, has deceived many people into believing that they can call on “the departed spirits” of their loved ones to help them from the abode of the dead. It’s big, big lie of the devil. And yet many people buy into this lie, sacrificing to the spirits of the dead as a way of honoring them and hoping for them to assist them in this life. I must confess to you that my family has bought into this lie. When my beloved father died, and later my oldest sister, my mother’s oldest grandson, my oldest brother, and my beloved mother, libations were poured to their “departed spirits” as a way of honoring them for them to help us who remain in the land of the living. Knowing that this is wrong, sinful, and that it is a deception of the devil, I often knelt down before my God to confess this sin and pleaded with Him for His cleansing, deliverance and pardon for my family.
In fact, “the departed spirits” are not who we think they are. They are not the spirits of our loved ones. They are actually demons who impersonate the spirits of our loved ones. Like Satan, their master, who “disguises himself as an angel of light. Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds” (2 Corinthians 11:14-15). In this context, the servants of Satan are specifically identified as “false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). Like false apostles and deceitful workers, demons are also Satan’s servants. As such, demons also disguise themselves as the spirits of our loved ones who have passed on. Mark this well! Demons are impersonators. Demons are impostors. Demons are impressionists. They are excellent at mimicking or masking or masquerading the personalities of the spirits of our loved ones. They assume the appearance of what they are not. Earlier, in his instruction to the church at Corinth, Paul made it clear to them “that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to demons and not to God; and I do not want you to become sharers in demons” (1 Corinthians 10:20). The Bible’s teaching here is that, by offering sacrifices to “the departed spirits” of our loved ones, we are actually participating and partnering with evil spirits, who are out to no good. Beware! Be warned!
- A place of torment and agony awaits all those who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ and His message of love and forgiveness of sins.
The rich man trusted in his riches rather than in Jesus Christ. As such, he found himself in a place of unspeakable torment and agony. He was forever separated from the loving presence of the loving and living God. Oh yes, he had all the comfort in his life on earth! But now, he is tormented in the fiery flames of Hades. This will be the lot of all those who reject Jesus Christ. You see, living a comfortable life on earth does not guarantee that one will be living in comfort in the afterlife. This was the bitter lesson the rich man learned.
- Jesus knows all about the afterlife and speaks of it authoritatively and accurately.
All throughout human history, mankind has believed all kinds of stories and teachings about the afterlife. Many religions, whether they believe in the soul’s existence in another world like Christianity, Islam and many pagan belief systems, or reincarnation like many forms of Hinduism and Buddhism, believe that one’s status in the afterlife is a reward or punishment for their conduct during life. Ancient Egyptians believed in the afterlife. As such, to ensure continuity of life after death, people paid homage to the gods, both during and after their life on earth. When they died, they were mummified so the soul would return to the body, giving it breath and life. In fact, Egyptian religious doctrines included three basic afterlife ideologies; belief in underworld, eternal life, and rebirth of the soul. The underworld, also known as the Duat had only one entrance that could be reached by traveling through the tomb of the deceased. The initial image a soul would be presented with upon entering this realm was a corridor lined with an array of fascinating statutes, including a variation of the famous hawk-headed god, Horus. After entry, spirits were presented to another prominent god, Osiris. Osiris would determine the virtue of the deceased’s soul and grant those deemed deserving a peaceful afterlife. The Egyptian concept of ‘eternal life’ was often seen as being reborn indefinitely. Therefore, the souls who had lived their life elegantly and were guided to Osiris to be born again. In order to achieve the ideal afterlife, many practices must be performed during one’s life. This may have included acting justly and following the beliefs of Egyptian creed.
Inscriptions from the Shang dynasty of China (c. 1500-1050 bce), mentioned that deceased kings dwelled in heaven together with the God on High. This was clearly a very special afterlife, available only for royalty. ~Adapted from Wikipedia.org
These and other beliefs of the afterlife are not authoritative and accurate. Only the teaching of Christ on the afterlife is authoritative and accurate; convincing and compelling. Why? It’s because He is the Truth. Not only that, He always tells us the truth and teaches us the way of God in truth. He has never told a lie. His word to us is true and trustworthy. His teaching in this parable is reliable and revealing. He knows the end from the beginning. He knows all about eternity like no other. He is eternal. The future is present to Him. As such, he can speak of it confidently and convincingly; authoritatively and accurately. Do you believe His authoritative and accurate teaching on the afterlife? If not, why not?
- There is existence of the person after death. Death is not the end of life.
Oh yes, death certainly does end our biological life on earth! But there is life beyond the grave. In fact, the continuation of the existence of the personality is clearly made plain in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Both of them were conscious and were alive in their respective places of eternal destination or eternal dwelling place. Their existence didn’t cease with death.
Years ago, I met a man who was not a believer at a lunch with his family members in Bellingham, Washington State. The family had seated us next to each other. It was a strategic plan. You see, the family had been praying for his salvation. Knowing that I am gifted in sharing the good news with people, they prayed for the Lord to open the door for me to do so. The Lord answered their prayers. He opened the door for me to share His good news with the man. I wasted no time in pouncing on the opportunity presented to me. In other words, I took full advantage of it. When it came to life after death, this man emphatically declared to me that there is no life after death. He said, “This life is all we’ve got and I am living it to the fullest.” I patiently and politely responded to him that, there is indeed life after death. It is one of the clearest and convincing teachings of the Bible. There is indeed life after death either in the presence of the loving and living God or away from His presence. Because the man was so certain of his belief, I could only pray for him. And that was what I did for several years. Then came a critical moment in his life. He became gravely ill and was staring death in the face. It was then that God did a gracious work in his heart to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of all his sins. A few days after expressing genuine trust in Jesus Christ as the Lord and Savior of his life, he entered life in the presence of the loving and living God. His existence continues just as was the case of Lazarus and the rich man after death. Please notice that as a person whose existence is continuing in the afterlife, the rich man requested for help. He needed the help of Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off his tongue (Luke 16:24b). He recognized Lazarus and Father Abraham (Luke 16:24). He also related the agony he was suffering as a person in Hades (Luke 16:24). He reasoned with Father Abraham as he expressed his concern for his brothers. (Luke 16:27). He remembered that he had five brothers who were still living on earth (Luke 16:28). His request for help, his relating of his agony, his recognition of Lazarus and Father Abraham, his reasoning with Father Abraham, and his remembrance of his five brothers who were still living on earth, clearly show the continuity of the existence of his person after death. You see, the rich man and the beggar named Lazarus each went to a place in the afterlife in which he was fully self-aware, able to experience pleasure and pain. Each could see, feel, think, and converse. In fact, other religions have assumed the continuation of the person in an afterlife, often in some other “world” much like this one.
- Scripture, that is, the written Word of God, is the invaluable source of gaining the transforming truths and teachings of God.
In unspeakable anguish and agony, turmoil and torment, the rich man earnestly pleaded with Father Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead to go and warn his five brothers still living on the earth. For once, the rich man is thinking about the good of others. He does not want them to come to the same place of torment in which he is suffering. But his urgent plea would not be answered in the way he wanted. You see, he thought a dramatic return of Lazarus from the dead to earth would get his brothers’ attention. It is highly likely that the five brothers all knew Lazarus. After all, he had spent most of his life at the gate of their rich brother. As such, returning from the dead would be a real attention-getter. They would not only recognize him but readily respond to his message of warning. So, the rich man thought. However, Father Abraham pointed them to the scriptures. “They have Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29). The expression, “Moses and the Prophets” which is used twice in this story, (Luke 16:29, 31), refers to the Old Testament Scriptures. The repetition is for emphasis. It is to stress that the written word of God is the one and only invaluable source of gaining the transforming truths and teachings of God, especially regarding matters concerning eternal life in Jesus Christ. As such, it is important to pay attention to the written Word of God. Today, people flock to where “miracle crusades” events are being held than focus on the written Word of God. Instead of feeding on the Word of God to gain God’s perspective on this present life and the life soon to come, masses find it more enjoyable and entertaining to seek out thrills of sensational and spectacular demonstration of miracle healing power. Scripture is largely ignored today. It is not the focus of many, even for those who call themselves Christians today. Hunger for the Word of God is at an all-time low among believers and there is little or no interest among unbelievers for the precious Word of God in our day. Writing his final words to his protégé, Timothy, Paul reminded him of the value of the sacred writings. He reminded him, “how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 2:15). You see, the Scripture provides the comprehensive and complete body of divine truth necessary for life and godliness. Continuing his instruction of Timothy, Paul clearly states the fourfold function of all Scripture. “All Scripture is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16). The Scripture provides us with true and trustworthy divine instruction - which we can find in no other book on earth. It also provides rebuke for wrong behavior or wrong belief. It also helps those who have fallen or stumbled back to their feet. In other words, it also points the way back to living life God’s way. Finally, it also provides positive training in godly behavior. This is why it is important to pay careful attention to the Bible – the most important document God has given to mankind. Speaking powerfully and stressing profoundly the sufficiency of Scripture to overcome unbelief, Father Abraham gave his final answer to the rich man. “He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). The Bible says that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation (see Romans 1:16). It’s as if Father Abraham is saying to the rich man, “No amount of evidence will ever turn unbelief to faith. But the revealed word of God has inherent power to do so. As such, they should pay careful attention to it. They should seek out the Word of God. Because it directs all who will hear and heed it into the way of truth and righteousness for their own benefit and blessing both in this present life and hereafter. Therefore, they should embrace its transforming truths and teachings. They should believe its saving message. They should love it. They should learn from it. They should listen to it. They should long for it. They should live out its truths.”
It is important to note that in this story, the rich man continued to demonstrate his bossy attitude toward Lazarus. First, he pleaded with Father Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off his tongue (Luke 16:24). He is still thinking of Lazarus as “a good-for-nothing” poor man, except to be sent out to do his bidding. Then again, he pleaded with Father Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s household to warn his five brothers lest they also come into this place of torment (Luke 16:27-28). You see, the rich man’s bossy attitude toward Lazarus hadn’t changed. He repeatedly asked Abraham to send Lazarus to wait on him and warn his five brothers. Someone has said, “The flames of hell do not atone for sin or purged hardened sinners from their depravity.”
With confidence and conviction of heart, the Lord Jesus vividly and visually presented to us an authoritative and accurate, clear and compelling teaching on the afterlife. He did so like no other would do. He is the Truth. He is eternal. He knows the end from the beginning. What is “future” to us is “present” to Him. In this parable, He made it clear that there is indeed life after the grave contrary to the belief that this life is all we’ve got. His teaching also reveals the continual existence of the person after death. Both Lazarus and the rich man were conscious in the afterlife. Lazarus was conscious of pleasure in the bosom of Abraham – a place of blessedness and comfort. But the rich man was conscious of pain in Hades – a place of torment for the unrighteous and unsaved souls awaiting the final judgment of God. Being conscious, he confessed the agony and anguish he was experiencing in Hades. The rich man also conversed with Abraham and called out to him for help. This is all possible because of the continual existence of the person after death. The story also emphasizes the important role of the Word of God in directing people into the way of righteousness and truth for their own benefit and blessing in this life and in the life soon to come. Certainly, it’s solemn and sober message to us is that once death occurs, we cannot change our eternal dwelling place or destination. It is fixed. The story of the rich man and Lazarus raises the following questions: What do you believe about the afterlife? More importantly, are you certain of where you will spend your afterlife? In the loving presence of the loving God or away from His loving presence, in a place of torment?
VI. Call to Respond to the Gospel
There is indeed life after the grave. For those who believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins, death only ushers them into eternal bliss in the presence of the loving and living God of all the earth. But for those who do not believe in Jesus, death will usher them into an eternal destination of doom and damnation. The question is not whether there is an afterlife. But the question is: “Are you certain of where will you spend your afterlife? In the comforting and caring, loving and lavish presence of the one and only true God of the universe or away from Him?”
Jesus wants you to response to His authoritative and accurate teaching on the afterlife. He loves you like no one else and wants God’s very best for you, both in this life and in the life to come. The Bible makes it very clear that God does not delight in the death of the wicked or anyone. His desire is that you turn from the wrong path in life to Him. He asks: “’Do I have any pleasure in the death of the wicked,’ declares the Lord God, rather than that he should turn from his ways and live? ‘For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone who dies,’ declares the Lord God. ‘Therefore, repent and live’” (Ezekiel 18:23, 32). You may say that you are not wicked. You are a good person who has been living a good life. But may I humbly and honestly say to you today that according to the Bible “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). “All” includes all people, yes, and even all good people who have been living a good life. We are all sinners before a holy and righteous God. In ourselves, we are not good enough for heaven. We cannot rely on our merit to gain entry into heaven – the holy presence of the holy God. But thanks be to God! He sent His Son Jesus Christ into the world from heaven to dwell among us and to die on the cross for our sins and make a way for sinners to be saved and set apart for the purposes of God, both in this life and in the life soon to come. Simply come to Jesus today just as you are. You don’t have to clean up yourself. You can’t. He will do that for you. Sincerely confess to Jesus today that you are a sinner who cannot earn your way into heaven by being good and doing good. Steadfastly call on the name of the Lord Jesus today – with simple and sincere child-like faith; believing in your heart that He died on the cross for your all your sins, that He was buried to put away all your sins, and that He rose again from the dead on the third day, to bring you into a right standing with a holy and righteous God, and you will be saved and set apart for the purposes of God, both in this present life and hereafter. If that is you desire today, please pray this simple prayer from your heart.
“Dear Heavenly Father, I honestly acknowledge to You today that I am a sinner who is not deserving of heaven at all. But I thank You for sending Your Son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for all my sins and to save me. Jesus, I humbly accept You today as my Lord and Savior. Please, come into my heart and make it Your throne from this day forth. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit and with Your love so that I may love You and live for You. Thank You Jesus for saving me. In Your name I pray. Amen!”