By Albert Gardner
The account of the rich man and Lazarus reveals the two possible destinies of people after death. “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and seeing Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou are tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” (Luke 16:22-26).
Some have tried to dismiss the teaching given here by saying it is just a parable. This may be a parable but if it is, it is not called that by Luke. If it is a parable it is the only time Jesus named a person in a parable. However, it teaches the same thing whether it is a parable or not, for a parable is something that either did happen or could happen. A parable may illustrate and make the truth easy to understand, but it does not weaken the teaching.
HADES AND SHEOL
Hades is the place of departed spirits without regard to whether they are righteous or wicked. The Old Testament word translated Sheol has the same meaning as the New Testament word Hades. The rich man and Lazarus both went to hades but they were not together for they were separated by a great gulf.
Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom, a place of happiness. This is where Jesus went when he died. He told the thief, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). He did not go to the place of torment and flames where the rich man was suffering. Peter quoted from David and said that someone’s soul would go to hell (hades, ASV), and his body would not see corruption. He explains that David’s body did see corruption and that David was referring to Christ. “He foreseeing this spake of the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he left unto Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption” (Acts 2:31 ASV).
The rich man went to a place of torment, suffering, and flames. This is the place where sinful angels are kept till the judgment. They were “cast down to hell” (2 Peter 2:4). The Greek word “tartarus,” translated hell in this verse, is used nowhere else in the New Testament.
UNIVERSALISM, PURGATORY AND ANNIHILATION
There are three popular doctrines which relate to the problem of the suffering of the wicked. First, the Universalists teach that all will eventually be saved and that there is no eternal punishment. The rich man shows this doctrine to be false. Jesus taught there are two roads leading through life and one of them is the broad way “that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matthew 7:13). In the resurrection, some will be saved and some will be lost (John 5:29).
Second, the Catholic doctrine of purgatory involves the souls of people suffering for their sins. When they are purged or cleansed, they will be permitted to go to heaven. The rich man wanted Lazarus to leave his place and come to comfort him, but he was told there was a great gulf separating them. There could be no change. There would be no passing from one state to another. There is no purgatory. There can be no purifying of the wicked after their death. If one in his lifetime turns his back on the only sacrifice which can take away sins, the only thing which remains is “a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries” (Hebrews 10:27).
Third, the Jehovah’s Witnesses teach the annihilation of the wicked. When discussing the Greek word “gehenna” which is translated hell, they say “it signifies annihilation, not eternal torment.”1 They further state, “The Bible shows that it is only the incurably wicked that God will punish everlastingly – not with eternal torture, but by mercifully putting them out of existence forever.”2 Again, “Adam, therefore, went completely out of existence.”3 They say also, “As to ‘eternal torment,’ there is no such place.”4
If one goes out of existence, obviously there would be no punishment, for there would be nothing to punish. But is there anything beyond the grave? Does one continue to exist after death?
When Jesus was transfigured, the apostles saw him talking with Moses and Elijah (Matt. 17:3). Moses had been dead about fifteen hundred years and Elijah had been gone for about a thousand years. Yet they still existed and were still Moses and Elijah. They were conscious. Moses did not go out of existence at death.
The rich man in Luke 16 did not cease to exist at death but was conscious, had a memory of his life and brothers, was in torment and talked about his present state after his death. Jehovah’s Witness teaching about the dead going out of existence at death is a false doctrine.
In Luke 12:5, Jesus warned, “Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell.” Hell is not death but after death one can be cast into hell. If hell is nothing more than death or extinction, why fear God more than man? Men can kill other men but there is something worse than death which we are to fear. Jesus said one could “be cast into everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8). It is a fire “that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9:43).
The Bible is clear about the eternal nature of the punishment of the wicked. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46). It is easy to see that Life is the same in duration as is the Punishment of the wicked. If one is temporary, so is the other. If hell is temporary, heaven is also temporary.
The New Testament use of the words eternal and everlasting makes it clear what they mean. It is “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46). The fire is “everlasting fire” (Matt. 25:41). There will be “eternal damnation” for some (Mark 3:29). Now consider how other verses use these words.
1. God is everlasting. “According to the commandment of the everlasting God” (Romans 16:26). Does everlasting mean unending or temporary? Will God cease to exist?
2. The Holy Spirit is eternal. “Who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God” (Heb. 9:14). Is the Holy Spirit temporary? When the world ends will he go out of existence?
3. Redemption is eternal. “Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption or will he have to be offered again? Is his work of redemption completed or was it for just for a brief time?
4. Salvation is eternal. “He became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Heb. 5:9). Will obeying him still bring unending salvation?
5. The kingdom is an everlasting kingdom. The faithful will be in “the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11).
If eternal punishment is temporary, does that mean God, the Holy Spirit, salvation, and the kingdom are temporary and will cease to exist? The same words in both Greek and English are used to describe the future punishment of the wicked that are used to describe God, the Spirit, salvation, and the kingdom. “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41).
There will be eternal punishment for the wicked but we can avoid it if we will live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world (Titus 2:11-12).
1 Good News To Make You Happy, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc., p. 92.
2 Ibid., p. 97.
3 Children, Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of Pennsylvania, Inc., p. 70.
4 Ibid., pp 71-72.
Describe the rich man and Lazarus after death.
What is the meaning of hades and sheol?
Does one go out of existence at death?
Name five persons or things which are eternal.
Explain Matthew 25:46.