Luke 16: 19-31 - Is this a picture of heaven and hell?
“And in hell [Hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” - Luke 16:23
When I studied this parable I did so without commentaries or others’ research, so these are just my observations. (Note: Since then I have read the book “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle at the suggestion of a fellow believer. Although the authors are traditionalists, they do come to the same conclusions as I have about this parable with all their degrees and scholarly peers behind them - the conclusion being that this is not a picture of final punishment - or 'hell'.)
"The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) says that the rich man goes to 'Hades' while Lazarus goes to 'Abraham's bosom' (NASB). Hades here should not be confused with hell. Hades is where the wicked go to await judgment, after which they are thrown into hell... Lazarus is also in some sort of intermediate state where is waiting resurrection... Now, it's true that this is a parable, and so we shouldn't press the details too far. Jesus uses the parable in this context of Luke to confront the social structures of the day, not to teach us about the afterlife." - Francis Chan, Erasing Hell, p. 89
Are you more like Lazarus - or the rich man?
What about Lazarus? I wish we had more information about him. Was he a righteous man? Did he know the Law? What did he do - besides suffer sickness, homelessness and hunger - that made him deserving of all that comfort?
Jesus was directing this parable at the Pharisees (Luke 16:14). What was his point for them? They were smugly believing that Hades was reserved for those unlike themselves: clean-cut, religious, better than others, "blessed" with prosperity. Oh, how Jesus offended them! Perhaps we here in the abundance of America should be a bit afraid as we reflect on Jesus’ words: “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." (Luke 6:24-25) I, for one, know that I have always been well-fed. Compared to 95% of the world, we are all very rich in the U.S., isn’t that right? Who do we identify with more: Lazarus or the rich man?
I think that was Jesus' point all along.