I recognize that the Bible says that upon death the spirit goes back to God, but the rich man and Lazarus had all their parts with them because the rich man and Abraham could talk. The rich man was worrying about the pain on his tongue. Besides, we can’t twist the scripture to say that it was Lazarus’ spirit only that went to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man’s body only that went into the ground any more than we can say we are saved by faith only. This story says what it says. We can’t make more of it. If it’s true it’s all true. Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom; the rich man went to the grave. It doesn’t get any plainer than that.
Now, the story goes that the rich man saw Lazarus “afar off,” but it couldn’t have been that far since he could see well enough to recognize Lazarus and Abraham–even through all the smoke of the fire in which he was burning. And Abraham, and presumably Lazarus, could see the rich man punishing and they could definitely hear him talking. Abraham seemed to speak quite easily to the rich man without even yelling as far as we can tell. (Probably even the smoke was drifting over and Abraham and Lazarus were smelling it since it was so close. If I were Lazarus, I don’t know how “comforted” I would be seeing the rich man in torment and smelling his smoke, but that’s beside the point, I guess.) I know the Bible calls the chasm between Abraham’s bosom and the grave a “great gulf, ” and any kind of gulf is deep and wide; so I’m really not sure how Abraham and the rich man could have carried on this conversation, especially with the noise from the crackling fire and all the other tormented beings that were probably crying and carrying on.
But as we check in on Lazarus, we find him comforted. He’s happy. He’s content. He suffered in this life so now he’s at rest and all is well. He is being rewarded. Yes, even before the Judgment and even without Christ’s sacrificial death, Lazarus is blessed and comforted and rewarded. And the rich man, even before the Judgment and without the sacrifice for sins, is being tortured. The reward for Lazarus is perhaps not as glorious as we might hope, but it’s a reward nonetheless; and the punishment for the rich man is not gnashing-of-teeth kind of torture. He can ask for water and think about his lost brothers, so he’s not too bad off; and apparently everybody else around him is resting comfortably or at least not drowning out his words with their screams. But it’s uncomfortable.
The Bible says that it is appointed to man once to die and after this comes judgment (He 9:27). But apparently something else comes in between–some sort of partial or mini or pre-judgment that nobody told us about. Frankly, I am surprised because the apostle Paul said that without the resurrection, the dead in Christ have perished (I Co 15:18). Christ hadn’t been resurrected when the rich man and Lazarus died. And Lazarus most certainly hadn’t been resurrected. Yet he hadn’t perished. Lazarus was, from the point of death, alive and well and living in Abraham’s bosom–where he remains to this day! He is comforted, not killed (or even ruined or lost).
Paul also said that his fighting with “wild beasts in Ephesus” had gained him nothing if the dead are not raised. He said we might as well eat and drink, for tomorrow we die if we are not resurrected (I Co 15:32). He is saying here that if the dead don’t rise, then we receive no benefit from doing good. Why? Because we die and that’s it! We go to the same place that the most heinous sinner goes. But how can that be if the story of the rich man and Lazarus is true? Lazarus is very advantaged, even without the resurrection! He is in Abraham’s bosom, comforted, instead of across the gulf tormented. And the same would be true of Paul. So why would he say this?
Paul said too that if in this life only we have hope in Christ we are of all men most miserable, or we are to be pitied above all men (I Co 15:18). But Lazarus isn’t miserable! He is comforted! And that even without the resurrection. How can this be? If a good man is immortal and living in Abraham’s bosom, without the resurrection, why would Paul say he has apollumi (perished)?
Remember Matthew 10:28? We are to fear Him who, after killing the body, can destroy both body and soul in Gehenna. The word apollumi is the same word Jesus uses here for destroy. The dead in Christ, without the resurrection, have been destroyed just like God will destroy body and soul in Gehenna. But that’s not what is happening to Lazarus! No, Lazarus is comforted. So, unlike what Paul said, Lazarus is not to be pitied without the resurrection. He is fine and dandy and enjoying hakuna matata (Swahili for “no worries” in case you haven’t seen “The Lion King” fifty times).
We might think that without Christ all (good and bad alike) would be tormented. And that might be so. But Paul was not talking about Christ’s sacrifice. He said that without the resurrection, the dead that had fallen asleep in Christ had perished. Even though Christ had at this point (when Paul was talking) come and shed His blood, without the resurrection of these particular righteous people, they had perished! Stop and let that sink in for a minute.
Also, if the story of Lazarus and the rich man is true, then the death and resurrection of Jesus made things better for the good (being risen and getting glorified) but it made things so, so much worse for the bad (being risen and put with the devil to burn in a more painful fire than they had been burning in already). So that means that Christ’s death and resurrection was a bad thing for the majority of people, since we know that few will find the straight and narrow path (Mt 7:14).
So, if the story of the rich man and Lazarus is true and something that can teach us about life after death, then some other doctrines we hold to cannot be true.
1. The dead (even those in Jesus) perish without the resurrection (I Co 15:18). (False.)
2. Our faith and service to God gain us nothing if the dead are not raised (I Co 14:32). (False.)
3. The body returns to dust and the spirit returns to God (Ec 12:7). (False.)
4. God alone has immortality (I Ti 6:16). (False.)
5. Christ brought immortality and abolished death (II Ti 1:10). (False.)
6. People die and then comes the Judgment (He 9:27). (False.)
7. The dead don’t know anything (Ec 9:5). (False.)
8. The thoughts of the dead perish on the day they die (Ps 146:4). (False.)
9. There is no wisdom or knowledge in the grave (Ec 9:10). (False.)
10. The gospel is good tidings of great joy to all people (Luke 2:10). (False.)
11. The wages of sin is death (Ro 6:23). (False.)
12. We can’t receive eternal life without the sacrifice of Christ (I Jo 5:11). (False.)
In my humble opinion, it takes away from the great sacrifice of our Savior to say that we are immortal and can receive a reward of life (even if it’s just in Abraham’s bosom) without Him. The simple truth is that without the resurrection (which the rich man and Lazarus had not experienced and could not experience at that time) we are just as dead, ruined, destroyed, or lost if we die in Christ as we are if we die out of Christ. And, in fact, the apostle Paul said that, without the resurrection, we who die in Christ are of all men most miserable. Why? Because we have been fooled. We live our lives in service to God and then we die just like those who never knew Him. We die, never to be resurrected, never to receive eternal life, never to be comforted or find rest for our souls. Indeed, we would be pitied by all. But thanks be to God that Christ suffered and died and arose from the grave so that we might have eternal life in Him.