The Rich Man and Lazarus
19“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In hell,[c] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So 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.’
25“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30” ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “
I’ve always loved this story as it gives food or thought on the old, “well if you don’t believe in Jesus before you die, you’re going to hell”. That’s not the message that Jesus is pushing in this little story. But on reading it again (and again) I wonder if Jesus is really talking about hell (the place) at all. At the start of the chapter Jesus is telling a story about wealth and how you can’t serve God and money. He then follows it with a couple of strange laws, which don’t make a lot of sense to me at the minute (but that’s not the point right now.)
He then goes into the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. At this moment he is talking to a group of pharisees who love money (v.14). The parable he tells about hell is about a rich man and a poor man. Maybe, Jesus is using the story to get at the pharisees for their love of money, not to give a doctrine of an eternal hell. That it is simply a way of saying:
“your actions towards others have eternal significance. By holding back your money you are bringing ‘hell’ to this poor man”.
There is also the question of what does Jesus mean when he uses the word hell in this parable? The greek word is Hades which closely resembles the hebrew world sheol (meaning grave). In Jewish faith, the righteous and unrighteous all go to sheol. It is the place of waiting before entering paradise. Many Jewish Rabbis believe that sheol is not a place where you would stay indefinitely, but more a place of shame where you repent for your mistakes and eventually enter paradise (similar in some way to the catholic view of purgatory). Sheol can also mean a present reality where you are out of step with God’s will so whenever we ‘sin’, we enter sheol until we repent.
So, maybe the question to ask ourselves from this chapter isn’t, “what can I learn about hell?” but “in what ways do my actions bring about hell for other people and how can I bring about heaven for them instead?”
In what ways am I blocking Heaven from reaching people?