Jerry C. Brewer
Throughout history, man has sought to see beyond this life. Job asked, “If a man die, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). A few years ago when baseball great Ted Williams died his body was frozen with the hope of reviving it through cryogenics. Others have done the same, yet they are still dead and many questions remain. Can we know of things beyond the grave?
In one of the most remarkable passages in all of the Bible, Jesus pulled aside the curtain and gave us a small glimpse of what happens when we die and, in so doing, taught many lessons to the living. That passage is found in the account of the rich man and Lazarus.
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, 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. 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. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, there is a great gulf fixed: so that they that would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldst 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 (Luke 16:19-31).
This account provides our only glimpse beyond this life, but it’s rich with lessons for us today:
All Must Die
The rich and mighty will ultimately occupy the same amount of land as the poor and lowly. In a recent stroll through our local cemetery, I noticed that the rich in our community who have died have no larger grave plots than the poor who have also died. Death is an appointment that all shall keep, for the Bible tells us that “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). But this account is also intended to teach us lessons from beyond the grave. These two men, whose lives were such contrasts while they lived, are also contrasted after death. The rich man, who regarded not the misery of Lazarus while he lived, is now in far greater misery, and Lazarus, whose life was wretched on the earth, is now comforted in Paradise, a place which Jesus calls “Abraham’s bosom.”
Where These Men Are
Jesus says, “…in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” The Bible has two words that are translated “hell.” One is hades and the other is gehenna. Gehenna is a word of Hebrew origin and is used in the New Testament describing the place of eternal punishment for the wicked. It is used this way in Matthew 5:22, Matthew 23:33, and Luke 12:5.
The word hades means “unseen” and describes the unseen realm where the departed souls of men go at death to await the resurrection and judgment. This word was used by Peter in Acts 2:27 to refer to Christ’s death when he said, “thou wilt not leave my soul in hell.” Christ did not go to the place of eternal punishment, but to the paradise in hades.
Hades consists of two places—torment where the rich man is, and paradise where Lazarus is. Hades (or what is termed hell in Luke 16:23) is divided by what Abraham describes as “a great gulf.” Both men were in the same general place, but the rich man was in torment. That’s why he could see Abraham and Lazarus in paradise when “in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments.”
Death Seals One’s Eternal Destiny
For those who are in rebellion to God, this ought to be a chilling thought. The world is full of people who believe that it makes no difference whether we read, understand and obey the Bible. They believe that God will save men in the next life, no matter how they have lived in this one. But the account of the Rich man and Lazarus teaches otherwise. When the rich man died, his eternal destiny was sealed. According to Luke 16:26, he had absolutely no chance of crossing that “great fixed gulf” between his place of torment and paradise where Lazarus was comforted. Abraham told him that, “they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luke 16:26).
While the rich man lived upon the earth he had the opportunity to do God’s will, but refused to do it. His day of opportunity was ended and that is, sadly, the case for millions in our day. The Bible says, “now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). That’s why we preach the gospel of Christ—because there will be no opportunity for salvation when you die. If you die faithfully serving Christ, you will repose in Abraham’s bosom, but should you die without obeying the gospel in faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and a faithful life of service in Jesus Christ, you will be in torment with the rich man.
Memory Will Torment the Lost
While memory is precious to us all, it will be one of the most horrible things for those who are lost. Memory is one of the rich man’s torments. Abraham told him, “Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now, he is comforted, and thou art tormented (Emph. JCB). John Greenleaf Whittier penned these famous words in his poem, Maud Muller: “Of all sad words of tongue or pen/the saddest are these: “It might have been.” Those who enter torment will remember the opportunities they wasted in this life. They will regret those things for all eternity, and they will remember every time they spurned the call to gospel obedience. Again and again, world without end, they will cry, “If only I had heeded the call of Jesus Christ. It might have been.”
Material Things are not the Sum of Life
Like multitudes of people today, the rich man lived his earthly life without a thought to what lies beyond the grave. He was concerned only with material things and Jesus says he “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:20). He was literally, “making good cheer daily in splendor” without a thought for others or even his own soul. He obviously had plenty of food and drink and the “purple and fine linen” of his day was the clothing of royalty. He wanted for nothing that provides material comfort.
Now, there is nothing wrong with riches. The Bible does not condemn money, but it does condemn the “love of money” (1 Tim. 6:10). When men’s lives consist only of material things in which they place their trust, they will be sorely disappointed at death, for all those things shall be left behind.
In the parable of the two builders, Jesus taught that those who build their lives upon material things shall suffer eternal loss, but those who hear and obey His word shall have eternal life (Matt. 7:24-27). The rich man isn’t lost because he was rich in this life, but because he failed to use his riches in service to God.
Man Chooses his Own Eternal Destiny
There are many people who object to the notion of eternal punishment, saying, “A merciful God would not send men to torment.” But what they fail to realize is that God sends no one to be punished. All who are punished will go voluntarily, like this rich man. He had opportunities to do God’s will while he lived and escape the condemnation that he now suffers, but he chose to ignore them. That’s what Abraham recalled when he said, “Son, remember.” God “is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9), and Jesus begs, “Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).
Hell is not prepared for man, but for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). Those who go to eternal torment will do so by choosing to follow the devil.