SO what happens after we die? What really becomes of all that we gather in this lifetime? Our Lord Jesus lays down some principles in Luke 16:19-31, that describe the way things will be, after we pass on from this earth. He clearly communicates the attitudes that will help us get to our eternal abode and those that won’t.
Luke 16:19-31 is the story of Lazarus and a rich man. The rich man was quite wealthy, while Lazarus was extremely poor, homeless and probably paralyzed. The Bible says that Lazarus longed to eat the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. In those days, when rich people were at a banquet or dinner, they would not wash their hands or wipe it on a napkin after eating. Instead, they used soft bread to wipe their hands after dinner. This bread was then thrown out. It is likely that Lazarus was given this bread and that’s what he longed for.
And then one day, both the rich man and Lazarus died. Immediately after they had died, they were transported to their eternal abode. The Bible says that angels came and carried Lazarus into heaven (figuratively called Abraham’s bosom). Praise God, He sends His heavenly messengers to escort us into His glory! And the rich man went to hell. There were no stops, no waiting period, no changes to final destination after their deaths. Death has a sense of finality to it. Our eternal destinations are decided by the lives we lead and what we do here on this earth.
The next part of our reading, is a conversation that takes place between the rich man in hell and Abraham in heaven. We gather, from the conversation, that those in hell can feel pain, can understand, talk, hear, remember, and recognize people who are around and in heaven. The rich man asked for two things – 1) that Lazarus is sent down with a drop of water, to which Abraham answered that that was impossible because of a great chasm between them and the rich man. 2) The rich man also asked that Lazarus be sent back to earth to warn his brothers and family of the fate that awaited them in hell. Again Abraham disagreed. It is not possible for those in heaven to come back to earth or go to hell. God ceases all our work when we die. Abraham also said that the rich man’s family had the law and prophets, they should listen to that. And if they don’t heed the words of the law and prophets, they are not likely to listen to a man who was raised from the dead. These were prophetic words that our Lord Jesus used to show that even when He died and rose on the 3rd day, people would still not believe Him and His message.
Another significant fact was that the rich man knew who Abraham was and Abraham also knew who he was, addressing him as ‘son’. Though we might know the pastor and the pastor knows us, though we might be ardent church goers, we will have no place in heaven, if we don’t acknowledge that Jesus is our Lord and Savior and He died to take away our sins. Even a good conscience and philanthropic activities will not help us get to heaven. There is only one way and His name is Jesus Christ.
There are many things that we can learn from this interaction
Here are some similarities between the rich man and Lazarus
Both were beggars. One begged on earth, the other begged for mercy, after life on the earth.
Both were rich. One was rich on the earth, and the other was rich for the rest of eternity.
Both were alive. They were alive on the earth and after life on the earth.
Both had choices, on the earth.
Both heard the Law and the prophets.
Both were children of Abraham
Here are some differences between the rich man and Lazarus
The rich man was not called by his name. But Lazarus was honored and called by name, because he protected his relationship with God.
The rich man was opulent and healthy, while Lazarus was sick and homeless.
The rich man went to hell and he saw Abraham and Lazarus in the distance. While Lazarus went to heaven and sat by the side of Abraham.
The rich man had no time to pray on the earth, but he started praying when he was in hell. Lazarus spent his time on earth establishing his relationship with God and received his reward when he went to heaven.
Both Lazarus and the rich man had different problems. In verse 25, Abraham told the rich man that “on earth, he had his good things”. These were things that he choose, not what God wanted him to have. And the rich man received all that he desired. Also the rich man had the law and prophets but he had not listened to them. Lazarus was a heavenly man, but he didn’t do anything about his situation while he was on the earth. Poverty will not make us holy. Holiness is a state of mind and the heart. It is an attitude. Lazarus didn’t pray according to the way prescribed in the Word of God, James 4:2. He didn’t ask, for healing, for riches and he didn’t activate his faith to believe the promises of God (Jeremiah 33:3 and Isaiah 43:7). We are created for God’s glory. Not for His shame. Eternal life is good, but we can also reach for some blessings in this life.
And now, the question must be asked – will only poor people get to heaven? No, 1 Timothy 6:17-19, says that it is the attitude of the heart that is important. We must not be arrogant and put our trust in our wealth. We must learn to trust the One who made us. We must learn to be humble, even in our riches, because our riches too are a blessing from God. Deuteronomy 8:11-19 says we must remember where our wealth came from.
The greatest torture the rich man faced, was not the fire, nor was it provocation from the demons. The greatest torture he faced was to look up and see Lazarus enjoying eternity, while he burned in hell regretting every moment of his life. Holiness is a state of mind and a choice made in our hearts. Let us strive to be all that we can, for His glory on this earth. And let us strive to reach our eternal home that He has promised us.
The writer is the pastor in-charge of Bethel AG International Worship Center in Bangalore, India.