Luke 16:19-26, Was Lazarus In Hell?

Read carefully the following parable:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.”

“The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

“But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'”

Most readers, today, imagine that the rich man went down to hell while Lazarus, the beggar, went up to heaven. But nowhere does the text say that, and indeed, such beliefs would contradict the Biblical understanding of life after death.

There were no “heaven” and “hell” destinations in early Hebrew thinking … just one place, called Sheol, where everyone went … down, down from the grave, to a shadowy existence below the earth. By the time the New Testament was written, Sheol had morphed into Hades, but still, that’s where everybody went when they died.

Today’s parable is not at all about whether you will go to heaven or hell when you die. It is about two people in the underworld, before any resurrection occurred, where one was in fiery torment, yet could look across a chasm and see the other in comfort. Whether or not the tellers of this parable believed literally in a place called Hades is questionable, but the image clearly describes the Greek mythology of differing levels of comfort in the same underworld, close enough to each other that they can see and talk to one another.

1 Comment

  1. Hi,

    I appreciate your article and insights. However, there is one problem with this article. I don’t believe Luke 16:19-26 is a parable. Jesus NEVER used names in parables. Here he does, which leads me to believe, He is speaking of a real event.

    Furthermore, there is no obfuscated meaning, open only to those who would truly listen.

    I believe this is an account of a real event.

    In any case, thanks for your insightful writing.

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