In the book “Children’s Letters to God”, a little boy named Mike wrote, “Dear God. What happens when you die? Nobody will talk to me about it. I don’t want to do it. I just want to know.”
A lot of folks are like Mike. They’re not ready to die. But they do have questions about it. Lots of questions.
One of our readers asked me to explain the afterlife in relation to Jesus’ teaching about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31.
Bible teachers are divided on whether or not this is a true story or a parable. It fits into a section of parables. But Jesus didn’t begin by saying it was a parable. It sounds real. But whether it’s a true story or not doesn’t negate the principles Jesus taught.
Two men lived. One was rich. One was poor.
The rich man “lived in luxury every day.” He wore fancy clothes. Ate expensive meals. Lived in comfortable surroundings. He enjoyed the best life had to offer.
In contrast, Lazarus was poor. Hungry. Sick. And his body afflicted with ulcerated sores. He laid at the gate of the rich man. He would have been happy with the crumbs from his table.
It doesn’t take much imagination to guess that the rich man was respected. Popular. And influential. While Lazarus was despised. Rejected. And ignored.
But both men died. And their situation in the afterlife was completely reversed from earth life.
Lazarus was carried “to Abraham’s bosom.” He was attended by angels. Comforted. At peace. And at rest.
The rich man went to a place of torment. He was in anguish. His suffering was intolerable. It’s pictured as a place of fire. He cried for comfort. Just a bit of water. But it was not to be. It was too late.
There are many lessons learned from this account.
(1) Jesus teaches that there is life after death. While the body dies. The soul of the person lives on. This life is not all there is. There is another world. A life beyond this one.
(2) From Jesus’ description the Hadean realm, in which disembodied spirits live, has two sections. A place of paradise metaphorically called “Abraham’s bosom.” Jesus went there when he died. And so did the repentant thief to whom Jesus promised, “Today you shall be with me in Paradise” (Lk. 23:43).
There is also a place of torment. It is depicted in the most painful way we can imagine. Suffering in fire. And yet the fire is not quenched. And the soul doesn’t die (Mk 9: 42-47).
(3) Our circumstances in this life are not necessarily indicative of what the next life will be. Those who are despised and hurting in this life, may be exalted and at ease in the next. And those enjoy luxury and pleasure today may be misery and pain in the next life.
(4) How we live in this life determines our eternal destiny. Lazarus was not carried to Paradise because he was poor and pitiable in this life and deserved a break. Nor was the rich man punished because he was wealthy. The context shows Jesus was teaching a lesson to those “who were lovers of money.” They trusted in riches. And like the man in the story were not concerned about the poor and helping the less fortunate.
Implied, based on other Bible passages, is that Lazarus was a believer in God. A man of faith. One whose hope was not in a better life on earth, but a heavenly home in the next life.
While there may be many unanswered questions about “What happens when we die?” we have enough information to know we want to live in a way to enjoy Paradise and not suffer in Torment.
The story is told of C. S. Lewis visiting a cemetery and seeing a gravestone with the inscription: “Here lies an atheist – all dressed up and no place to go.”
Quietly, Lewis remarked, “I bet he wishes that were so!”
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman