A PARABLE OR REAL EVENT?
The Rich man and Lazarus parable is a greatly misunderstood topic in the Bible and one that many Christians use to defend their belief that God is going to burn the lost for ever and ever. But if we look at this parable in a more simple clear way, which we will do here, then we will be able to see that this cannot be a real event and in no way does it support the "eternal hell" teaching. So let's take a look at the verses in question.
Luke 16:19-21 ...'There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.'
Jesus was addressing this parable to the Pharisees, because they thought that their mere Abrahamic descent was sufficient to save them. So we have two classes of people. Those, like the Pharisees (rich man) who thought that their own works and "righteousness" would save them. And those who desired and "hungered" for the truth (Lazarus). Jesus is making the important point that it is what you do with the opportunities given you in this life that will decide your eternal destiny. Will you, like the Pharisees (rich man) think you are rich and believe that your mere race and own works will save you? Or will you, like Lazarus seek and hunger for the truth of Christ Jesus?
The rich man had opportunity to help this beggar laid at his gate, but did not do so. The rich man did no "wrong" towards the beggar, but his refusal to help someone in need showed that he knew nothing of the true meaning of the second greatest commandment, which was to love thy neigbour as thyself. And what did Jesus say elsewhere about not helping someone in need? ... Matthew 25:45 ...'Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.'
Luke 16:22-23 ...'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; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.'
Now this is where we start seeing the rich man and Lazarus parable for what it is. The mainstream teaching is that when we die, our bodies go back into the ground, and our "soul" floats off to either heaven or hell. But look carefully at what happens here in this parable. Lazarus is CARRIED to heaven, suggesting that he is taken BODILY to heaven. And the rich man is BURIED in the ground. And now notice what it says about the rich man. It says that he was "buried and being in HELL lifted up his eyes". Do you see the clear connection between buried and hell. Jesus is linking the two and saying that the rich man IN HIS GRAVE IS IN HELL. Because that is what the Greek word Hades means, the grave!
Now let's look at even more compelling evidence that this is a parable and not a real event.
Luke 16:24 ...'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.'
So if this is a real event, then it means that those in heaven and those being "tormented in flames of fire in hell" CAN SEE EACH OTHER! Now I don't know about you, but for me, being able to see from heaven the lost burning in flames of fire for eternity, WOULD NOT BE HEAVEN. And what does the rich man ask for Lazarus to do? To dip his finger in water so that the rich man's TONGUE can be cooled. Two things. How does a BODILESS soul have a PHYSICAL tongue that can be cooled? And how is a drop of water going to cool someone burning in flames of fire?
Do you see? There are many problems if you take this parable as literal.
It is evident that Jesus is relating an imaginative story designed to make clear a certain particular truth concerning the relationship between this life and the next, and does not intend His words to be taken literally. If the rich man had "eyes" and a "tongue" and Lazarus had a "finger" then it would mean at death they went BODILY to their rewards. But scripture clearly does not teach this, as at death our bodies go to the grave.
So what is Jesus pointing to when he said that the rich man is "tormented" in the flames? Jesus is pointing to the time at the end AFTER the second coming, when the lost are "cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20), where they will "burn up" and be like "stubble" (Malachi 4), and will cease to exist. Which is the SECOND DEATH (Revelation 21). Yes, they will be tormented in the flames, but they will burn up and die the second death.
Luke 16:26 ...'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.'
As we can clearly see, Jesus is teaching us that when we die, our destiny is SEALED, never to be reversed. Those who are lost at death, remain lost, and those who are saved, remain saved. There is no other chance to save someone once they have died. And what does this prove? It proves the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory to be false! The Roman Catholics believe and teach that you can pray to get someone out of "hell", or pay some money (indulgence) to get them out. But Jesus is clearly teaching that no one can pass from being lost to saved after they are dead.
Luke 16:27-31 ...'Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 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 finishes the parable by confirming that it is only through the Word of God laid out in scripture that will lead us to the truth of salvation. And confirms that if you don't accept the clear truths in the Bible, then even one being RAISED FROM THE DEAD (notice how Jesus links the "sending of Lazarus" to raising him from the DEAD?) would not convince the person who rejects the truths laid out in scripture. And did Jesus prove this with the Jewish nation? YES! A few weeks after He told this parable, He raised literal Lazarus from the dead, and STILL the Jews would not accept Christ for who He was! So Jesus here proved His point well.
This is the Bible truth about the rich man and Lazarus. This cannot be a literal event. Jesus is merely portraying an important lesson in this story.
To say that the saved go straight to heaven at death and the lost burn in fires of hell for eternity go against the clear teaching of scripture that when we die, we return to the dust and our "thoughts perish", and we are not raised again until the second coming of Christ.
Psalm 146:1-4 ...'Praise ye the LORD. Praise the LORD, O my soul. While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.'