A small cross on a grave with the sky visible in the background.

Basic Principles About Death From the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke

Over the past several months, many have dealt with friends and family becoming ill from COVID-19. While I expect a number of them have recovered, I’m sure that some died from it, or complications related to it. Even more have passed away from other health problems too. Of course, the eventuality of death is something that all of us have to face. It is the great equalizer.

Because of that, it is important for all of us to come to terms with our coming demise. Thankfully, God does not want us to be ignorant of what follows death. He speaks about it multiple times through His prophets. In fact, one thing we learn is that the LORD does not take pleasure in our deaths: 

For I have no pleasure in the death of him who dies,” says the Lord Yahweh. “Therefore turn yourselves, and live!

Ezekiel 18:32

As such, in Ezekiel, He urged the house of Israel to turn away from their transgressions and cast them away (Eze. 18:30-31). Just as an aside, even though the exact phrase, “Repent of your sins,” is not actually in the Bible, the concept is still found here and elsewhere. Returning back to the matter at hand, one of my favorite passages about death is in the Gospel of Luke. Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus explains much about what happens after our earthly life is over (Luke 16:19-31). By the way, I do not consider this teaching to be a parable.

Some Basic Principles Concerning Death 

I expect that most of us are familiar with this text, so I’m not going to go through it verse by verse. From it, we know that the rich man lived in luxury everyday, but Lazarus was full of sores and the dogs licked them (vv. 19-21). Eventually, both of them died.

While he was living, Lazarus was so destitute that he begged for food. After his death, he went to Abraham’s bosom, which was a place of comfort (vv. 22, 26). In contrast to him, the rich man went to Hades and was in torment (vs. 23). In the passage, only two places are being discussed. What may be surprising is that Luke doesn’t mention Limbo, Purgatory, Heaven, or Hell. As such, I don’t think it is wise for us to insert them into the text where the author did not. If we want to know about those locations, then we should explore other Scriptures that mention them. If we just focus on the immediate verses, it is easy for us to understand that there are two different locations that we can go to after death. 

Turning our attention to the rich man, we recognize that he was in anguish, did not receive any relief, and was separated from others (vv. 24-26). He was in great pain and knew that there were some who did not share in his terrible state. He had no peace. All of these facts give us many reasons to turn to God and seek Him. While the wicked do enjoy good things in this life, they are only fleeting. Such temporary blessings are not worth it if one goes to a place of torment after death. 

Beyond that, there is one more concept that I want to bring out from the text. Near the end, the rich man asks Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers. This is so that he may testify to them and they not come to torment (vv. 27-28). Essentially, he wants a miracle to be performed so that a beggar is resurrected from the dead. His petition is responded to with rejection.

That must have been a terribly crushing disappointment! Even though the rich man did not receive what he desired, the way the answer was phrased is very important for us. Remember, he wanted a special testimony given to his brothers, but Abraham said that they have Moses and the prophets (vs. 29). The man’s brothers already had trustworthy witnesses; if they listened to them then they could readily avoid that place of suffering.

This is applicable for us too. We don’t need a miracle in our personal lives to believe what God says about death. Reading the inspired words of both the Old and New Testaments provides everything we need to know about death. The Almighty is under no obligation to give us additional signs to convince us to believe His words. Just because someone wants a sign, it doesn’t mean that he or she will get one. Nor does God’s refusal to grant such a request impugn His motives. The Godhead has always had control over how He communicates with mankind, and we need to respect that. 

Before addressing one more topic related to communication in the next section, I’ll relist the three principles we’ve looked at for easy reference: 

  • There are only two places we can go to after death. 
  • One of these is a place of torment. 
  • God doesn’t need to give us a testimony through a personal miracle. 

Concerning the Concept of a Testimony 

Now that we have gone through these principles from Jesus’ teaching on the rich man and Lazarus, I feel it necessary to touch on one more idea. In the story, the man wants a testimony given to his five brothers. Abraham reminds him of Moses and the prophets. He refers him to written testimonies from the Old Testament. Although he speaks of them in a specific context, broadening the concept a little tells us something important. It indicates that the Biblical record is sufficient for people to believe God.

Although that isn’t a popular notion today, this passage is one that causes me to hold to that perspective. It is also one reason why I strongly support people reading the Bible. For those who want to learn about God and obey Him, the Scriptures are enough to help them move in that direction (and then some). When personal study is used in tandem with specific teaching, understanding the Word to the point of obeying the Gospel is a wonderful outcome (Acts 8:26-40)! 

Of course, if someone rejects God’s testimony as found in the Bible, then he or she will also dismiss the principles found above. Such is the case for Jesus’ life, death, burial, and resurrection as well. That’s terrible, because all of those parts of the Lord’s existence are crucial for us to have true knowledge of the Father. Furthermore, denying the resurrection of Christ corresponds with a turning away from the Word of God. They are both affirmed or denied together. Because of that, it is fitting that our text in Luke ends with the statement: 

“He said to him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.’ ”

Luke 16:31

Image Used

A Small Cross on a Grave and the Sky by artbejo from Pixabay.