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Beyond Today: The Rich Man and Lazarus

In His parable did Jesus really say people have immortal souls that go to heaven or hell at death? Hear the real truth.


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[Steve] What do you think happens after you die?

> Well, speaking for myself, I was in a car accident where I was in a coma for two weeks…and I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I'm going to be in heaven.

>> I think there's something out there. I think there's something else, yes.

> This is going to sound really weird but maybe there's like a higher dimension you go to if you led a good life.

>> I believe that everybody should get a chance to go to heaven.

[Steve] Paradise in heaven sounds so reassuring and comforting, doesn't it? But many believe they'll be able to look down upon others, even their loved ones who didn't make it to heaven. Imagine that scene. Hearing them from heaven—frantically screaming for help that you can't give them. Seeing them writhe in pain and indescribable agony, in flames of unending torture.

Now, what do you believe? What does the Bible teach? Stay tuned to Beyond Today as we investigate heaven and hell by examining the thought-provoking parable of Jesus: "The Rich Man and Lazarus."

[Announcer] Join our host Steve Myers, and his guests, as they help you understand your future on Beyond Today !

[Steve] Heaven or hell? The mystery of what happens after you die disturbs even some of the best of Christians. There are so many conflicting ideas. Now, we all know we're going to die, but most think they have an immortal soul that continues on.

Do you have an immortal soul? Does it go on living in heaven if you're good—or if you're wicked, will you suffer agony in hell forever?

On today's program, we'll examine Jesus' parable about the rich man and Lazarus. We'll see that the Bible teaches you do not have an immortal soul and that believing you go to heaven or hell immediately at death is not a teaching of Christ.

Now many believe that parable that's in Luke 16 proves there's an immediate reward or punishment. But does it really?

[Steve] What do you think happens after you die?

> I went to Catholic school, and if you read the catechism about all the ways you can go to hell and what happens there—if you ever read Dante's Inferno , it's some pretty gruesome stuff.

>> I believe you got to answer, and you have to believe in Christ, you're saved, you're going to heaven. If you don't, well, then you can make all kinds of things up. "Yeah, I'm going to be down there in that dark room," or "I'm going to be on those coals of fire," or whatever you want to call it.

> If you want to take the Calvinist view, you're either born with grace or not, which case, it's a big gamble when you die. I don't know. I take the Woody Allen version and try not to worry about it, you know? You'll go crazy. 

[Steve] But is it something what we should worry about? What does God's Word say? What about the rich man and poor Lazarus? Is it really a story about their actual experience in the afterlife? Sadly, many misunderstand the story—and as a result, they overlook its critical message. But most importantly—what does Jesus want us to understand from His parable?

Let' s notice what it says:

"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores" (Luke:16:19-21).

Now that's a disgusting thing. Jesus begins the story about a man who had everything, everything he needed and wanted. Yet, outside the door was a sick, starving, destitute man. The rich man wouldn't even help! Wouldn't even lift a finger to help that man.

Did you know that the story doesn't even really begin here? If this parable is going to make sense, we need to understand what led up to this example—what's the back-story?

Well just before this Bible parable, is another story about an unjust steward. That parable also begins with the phrase "there was a certain rich man." So as Jesus told His disciples that parable, the Jewish teachers, the Pharisees, those religious leaders were also listening. "Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him" (Luke:16:14). You see, the Pharisees sneered at Him because they knew He was talking about them.

This wasn't the first time Jesus took them to task for their selfish greed and corruption. So we see the context of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus involves a person's responsibility to use money and wealth properly—which includes caring for the needs of other people. It doesn't focus on heaven and hell but instead love and concern—those were the lessons the Jewish leaders needed to learn.

Now with that background, let's see what happens next:

"So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke:16:22-23).

Now many disagree—whether Jesus' words are intended to be understood literally or as a parable to illustrate a lesson. Some feel that in this story, Jesus gives an actual glimpse of the afterlife.

But wait. I'd like to challenge you today. Do you have a true biblical understanding of heaven and hell? What do you believe? Did you know there are numerous passages of Scripture that contradict the traditional religious teachings of going to heaven or hell at death? Jesus was actually teaching an altogether different kind of lesson.

Many gave their interpretation on the Yahoo Answers website. Let's listen to what they said:

"It means rich horrible nasty people who don't help others will burn in hell."

"It's nothing more than an ancient myth."

"It means that hell is a very real place."

"How could someone in heaven see someone in the center of the earth? Burning in molten lava? Then carry on a conversation?"

"Jesus is telling of what happens to people after they die."

[Steve] But is that true? Is this story literal? Now we have to be careful not to jump to conclusions. So let's ask the obvious question. Does being carried to Abraham's bosom mean going to heaven when you die like most people assume?

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary states that the human bosom or breast is "the seat of the emotions and intimate feelings." It can also mean that a person or thing is cherished or embraced. The word points to a close, intimate relationship.

So when Lazarus is carried "to Abraham's bosom" it's telling us that he has a deep, personal connection to that righteous man Abraham who "was called the friend of God." Now on the other hand, the rich man—he was too worried about himself and his possessions to have a relationship with God.

Now that brings up a question: Where is that? Where will Abraham be when Lazarus is carried to him?

Heaven right? No. Many assume that. But that's not the case. That would mean that Abraham must be in heaven right now looking down on the rich man and us for that matter.

But is that true? I'd like to help you understand with our free study aid, The Truth About the Rich Man and Lazarus .

Discover what God has to say. The surprising truth about heaven and hell is so different from what most have been taught and possibly different from what you've always believed.

To request your free copy, call us toll free: 1-888-886-8632. That's 1-888-886-8632. Or go online to BeyondToday.tv to read or download, The Truth About the Rich Man and Lazarus.

You really need this eye-opening free study aid. It will help you base your beliefs on the rock-solid truth of the Bible. So, be sure to call us: 1-888-886-8632 or go online to BeyondToday.tv to request, The Truth About the Rich Man and Lazarus.

Now we've found that Jesus parable shouldn't be taken literally. Being taken to Abraham's bosom does not mean Lazarus was carried immediately to heaven and now can look down from paradise on others. Too many believe this false notion.

If you go to heaven, what do you think it's like to look down on your family or friends on earth?

> I kid my kids. I tell them, "I'm going to be nudging you, you know, so you better be doing the right thing, I tease them."

>> They see that in advertising, they see it in movies, they see it on TV, prevailing thought. "Well, my dad's looking down on me," or, "My mom, or my grandfather," or whatever.

[Steve] It can seem very comforting to think that our loved ones are looking down on us, but it's not a biblical teaching. While so many imagine a paradise in heaven, they haven't thought about looking down and seeing all the tragedy, starvation, natural disasters, the misery, affliction and suffering. What kind of paradise is that?

Well in a moment, we'll see the Bible promises something so much better.

Now here's the truth: "no one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven." Those are Jesus own words! (John:3:13). Even King "David did not ascend into the heavens" (Acts:2:34).

Now that may take you by surprise but the Bible actually teaches that people do not have an immortal soul that goes to heaven or hell when they die. Our dead relatives are not looking down on us.

Now that should challenge you. Do you believe the teachings of Jesus? He warned the religious leaders of the day, "There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out" (Luke:13:28).

In the parable about Lazarus going to Abraham's bosom, He's talking about being in the Kingdom of God. Abraham will be in God's Kingdom!

Now many confuse things by thinking the Kingdom of God is the same as heaven. But the Bible plainly explains that God's Kingdom will be established on earth at Jesus Christ's second coming. "Then the seventh angel blew his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, 'The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign forever and ever'" (Revelation:11:15, ESV). You see all that time, the resurrected faithful believers, including Abraham, will reign with Christ as kings and priests on earth (Revelation:5:10).

So we find the Word of God—Jesus Himself taught that no one has gone to heaven except the resurrected Christ. He said that Lazarus died and was later resurrected into the Kingdom of God.

So let's go back to the part that says, "The rich man also died and was buried" (Luke:16:22).

What's the significance of that statement? Let's allow the Word of God to teach us the facts. So we have to ask: What about the dead and buried? What does the Bible reveal about them?

"For the living know that they will die; but the dead know nothing… For there is no work or device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going" (Ecclesiastes:9:5, Ecclesiastes:9:10).

The dead are unconscious. Completely! They're not aware of anything. So when a person dies, all of his thoughts, knowledge, feelings, they come completely to a halt. Absolutely no awareness or consciousness continues anywhere—not in another location, not in some other state of being. They are not cognizant of anything.

The Holy Word of God compares death to sleep (Job:7:21; Job:14:10-12). Sleeping in the dust of the earth (Daniel:12:2). They will awaken later in a resurrection (Isaiah:26:19).

So let's notice how that applies back in the parable:

"And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then 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 in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented" (Luke:16:23-25).

Now before you say, Aha! I knew there was an ever-burning hell. Let's step back for just a moment. Don't presume that the rich man died and went to be tormented forever in hellfire. That's incorrect—it's not stated here or anywhere else in the Bible for that matter.

Here's why. In some Bible versions the word hades is misinterpreted as "an ever burning hell." It can be confusing unless we recognize that the word hades means "the grave." It doesn't mean burning fire; it means a burial place for the dead, a burial place for the dead—the grave.

Now the pagan Greek world misunderstood the Biblical concept of the grave and the truth of how people await the resurrection after death.

The Expositor's Bible Commentary (vol. 8, p. 992) states: "In the New Testament Hades is never used of the destiny of the believer."

Now back to the parable: Just how could the rich man lift up his eyes after he died? The Bible reveals that the only way this can happen—is through a resurrection.

Jesus taught that the dead can be raised in two ways: immortal—eternal life or to physical life. So remember that Jesus raised another man named Lazarus to mortal life, back to physical (John:12:17). And at the crucifixion many faithful followers who had died were raised right back to physical life (Matthew:27:50-53).

Now that tells us in Jesus' parable that the rich man would be raised from the dead as a mortal man—physical, just as he was before he died.

Now Abraham and the other faithful people, including Lazarus, at the return of Christ would have been raised as immortal spirit beings many generations earlier. Proof of that is found in Revelation 20 that God's spirit-begotten children will be resurrected to eternal life at Jesus' second coming and "they lived and reigned with Christ for a thousand years" (Revelation:20:4-5).

Verse 5 continues: "But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished." So the rich man's resurrection would be to physical life occurring after that thousand-year period.

Because the dead know nothing, here' s the interesting part. The rich man would be resurrected at the end of that thousand-year time span as a physical man. But it would seem to him as though it's the very next moment after he died. Like waking up after a nap or coming out of a coma. He would know absolutely nothing about the centuries that had passed since his death.

Now so far, we've seen that the Bible compares death to sleep and that we rest in the grave until a resurrection. We don't have an immortal soul that goes up or down at death. We are buried in Hades—the grave and we rest—knowing nothing. And then at Jesus return, Abraham and all the faithful believers will be resurrected as spirit beings. Those like the rich man, well they'll have to wait till the thousand years are over to be resurrected as physical beings.

The New Bible Dictionary is correct when it states that Jesus' story "is a parable which made use of certain Jewish thinking and is not intended to teach anything about the state of the dead" ( New Bible Dictionary p. 388).

It would be impossible, literally to have that conversation. How awful would it be to misunderstand and imagine watching others in agony?

How do you think you'd feel if you could look down from heaven to people in hell?

> That would make you feel sad…

>> Yeah, I struggle with that. I don't know how that would be.

> I wouldn't even really wish my worst enemy, you know, eternal hell.

>> You have family and friends down there, being able to watch over them, and see them and not be able to really help them or intervene in the way that we think of it, that actually sounds like hell, almost.

[Steve] That would be miserable. Have you considered that kind of paradise that most believe in? It wouldn't be heavenly and it's not biblical.

These teachings of Jesus may be unfamiliar to you. They may sound so different from what you've come to believe. I'd like to help you understand what your Bible really teaches. Order our free Bible study aid, The Truth About the Rich Man and Lazarus . There's more you need know.

You'll discover an in-depth study into the details of Jesus' teaching. When you order, The Truth About the Rich Man and Lazarus we'll also send you a free subscription to our bi-monthly magazine, The Good News .

Each issue has valuable articles on subjects that matter to you. It will help open your eyes to the stunning truths of your Bible. The Good News will also assist you in discovering more about Jesus Christ and how you can build a deeper relationship with Him.

To order, The Good News and our study aid, The Truth About the Rich Man and Lazarus call us free: 1-888-886-8632. That's 1-888-886-8632. Or, write to us at the address shown on your screen. Of course, you can read, The Truth About the Rich Man and Lazarus and The Good News online at BeyondToday.tv . [Beyond Today, PO Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254]

Now we've found that Jesus story was not about heaven and hell. That the dead know nothing in the grave, but await a resurrection. In the story, Lazarus, Abraham and all the faithful are resurrected spirit beings. So next, we see the rich man resurrected back to physical life.

So 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" (Luke:16:24).

Now if the rich man were already burning in the inferno of hell, wouldn't he want a bucket of water dumped on him, rather than just a few drops on his tongue?

Well Abraham replies, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us" (Luke:16:25-26).

This is not a description of punishment of the wicked immediately after death. Instead, the rich man becomes aware of the flames of the lake of fire where he will soon be thrown. Revelation states that "anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation:20:15).

The New American Standard New Testament Greek Lexicon explains that the word for "torment" can describe intense pain but also mental anguish or distress. So we see the rich man is not in a hell fire but experiences tremendous mental anguish to the point that now he has a dry mouth.

And no wonder the rich man is in extreme mental distress. He now realizes his fate is to be utterly burned up. He might even remember Malachi 4 where it states, "For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up, says the Lord of hosts?" (Malachi:4:1)

Christ uses this story to warn the Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, that those who are unrepentant will lose their opportunity for eternal life in God's Kingdom, not tortured forever in hell; but burned up and forgotten. Jesus also compared the wicked people to tares—weeds that are gathered up into bundles at harvest time and are totally burned up (Matthew:13:30).

Here the rich man now realizes his fate is to be burned up in the lake of fire. So his final thoughts turn to some of his family members.

Without realizing that time has passed he says, "I beg you therefore, father, that you would send [Lazarus] to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment. Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'" (Luke:16:27-31)

Abraham replies, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead."

You see the Pharisees thought that they followed Moses and the prophets, but in reality, they rejected them. Christ told them earlier: "if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words? (John:5:46-47). They didn't believe Jesus and they faced a difficult fate.

There even was a real man named Lazarus that Jesus did resurrect back to physical life—and yet they still didn't believe Jesus.

So what can we learn from Jesus' parable?

Well first, we've found that it's a mistaken idea to think that you have an immortal soul that goes to heaven or hell when you die.

We've also discovered the truth about the resurrection of the dead. The dead know nothing and await a resurrection. The wicked—they will be resurrected and cast into the Lake of Fire and burned up. But most importantly, we've learned that how a person lives today is what matters the most.

Because the rich man wouldn't repent and wouldn't change from his love of money and pleasure, he neglected other human beings and destroyed his relationship with God.

So we are all warned, "But your iniquities have built barriers between you and your God, and your sins have made Him hide His face from you so that He does not listen (Isaiah:59:2, HCSB).

So what should you do?

> We're supposed to make choices and do the right things and do what we can every day to help each other.

>> You know, that's just like you said, that's just something we need to think about while we're here. Make changes in our lives if we are doing wrong so that won't even be a situation at hand.

[Steve] The most important point Jesus was making to the Pharisees and to all of us should be very clear. It's not too late to change.

Let's ask ourselves:

Am I consumed with my own personal interests?

Am I distracted by all the entertainment, and pleasures that surround me?

Am I preoccupied with only my own concerns?

We cannot afford to ignore those who need encouragement, those who need support, those who need a helping hand. There is time.

There is a time of judgment though that's coming for everyone. Let's take to heart the message of the rich man and Lazarus and begin to change now.

So many are ingrained by incorrect ideas about heaven and hell. So I'd like to help you in your spiritual journey with our free study aid: The Truth About the Rich Man and Lazarus . It will help you uncover the details of Jesus teaching.

Be sure and order your free subscription as well to our magazine— The Good News . It will help you understand how the Bible applies to what's going on in your world with articles that are relevant to your life.

Call us toll free: 1-888-886-8632. That's 1-888-886-8632. Or, you can read both online at BeyondToday.tv .

Now if you want more of what God has to offer, be sure and tune into our live, bi-weekly, Wednesday night Beyond Today Bible Studies. Join us as we dig into various biblical topics and take an in-depth view of them—they're webcast live from the home office of the United Church of God. Find them by going to our Beyond Today website and clicking on the "Bible Study" graphic . I think you'll really enjoy them.

Of course, the United Church of God has hundreds of Sabbath-keeping congregations meeting on Saturday across the United States and around the world. Go to BeyondToday.tv—click on the "Contact" tab and find a congregation near you. We'd love to see you!

It's easy to misunderstand the parable of the rich man and Lazarus if you lose sight of Jesus' main point.

It is important to understand the facts about what happens after death—but it's even more critical that we examine our own attitudes and our own actions.

Don't be like that rich man. He chose to ignore the desperate needs of others while he lived a self-centered life.

Even though he had every opportunity to help and to serve and to change, he ignored other's hardship and suffering. And so, it destroyed his relationship with God and in the end—He realized it was too late for him to change.

But The Good News is: it's not too late to change, if you start now. Begin today by letting God lead you to deeper understanding through His Holy Bible.

You can change! Dedicating yourself today—get to know God. Really know Him and understand Him personally and learn His ways thoroughly.

Now is the time to listen to Him and to make every effort to be like Him—preparing for eternal life in God's future Kingdom.

Thanks for joining us. Be sure to tell your family and friends about Beyond Today and tune in again next week and join us in praying, "Thy Kingdom come." For Beyond Today , I'm Steve Myers. Thanks for watching.

[Announcer] For the free literature offered on today's program, go online to BeyondToday.tv . Please join us again next week on Beyond Today !

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