Jesus talked about two important spiritual domains in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
He first mentioned "Abraham's Bosom" which most scholars equate with the "Paradise" found in other passages. 9 The second place Jesus discussed is a place of suffering called "Torment."
And He said to him, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise." ~ Luke 23:42
These were Jesus' words to the penitent thief on the cross. The word "paradise" was derived from a Persian word which meant "walled garden." 10
In near eastern climates gardens were often attached to king's palaces and mansions of the rich. Dignitaries occasionally offered favored subjects a chance to walk in the garden with them.
First century Jews believed that righteous souls went to such a place to await the resurrection. 11 Jesus' words to the thief on the cross confirmed this belief.
Angels carried Lazarus to Paradise after he died. There he was comforted in the presence of Abraham (Luke 16:22, 25).
Most authorities believe that Paradise is not the same place as Heaven. Passages like Luke 32:42, John 20:17, and verses concerning the Judgment support this view; although this has been a source of contention for some scholars. 12
Regarding this point, it's interesting to note that the presence of God is not mentioned in this parable. God is in Heaven, and His presence is typically mentioned when Heaven is presented in scripture (Matthew 7:11 or Mark 11:25-26 for example). This further supports the idea that Heaven and Paradise are distinctly different places.
And he cried out and said, "Father Abraham have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame." ~ Luke 16:24
Jesus used the element of fire to portray the rich man's misery in Torment. Fire was often used to depict spiritual punishment (Matthew 13:40-42, Matthew 25:41, Mark 9:43-48, Luke 3:17, and others).
Being tormented in flames, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to cool his tongue with water. The apparent smallness of this request reveals something about the extreme agony he was experiencing.
That Satan is not mentioned in this parable is notable. In Matthew 25:41 Jesus said, "Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels."
Note that sentencing to Hell occurs on the final day of Judgment. Furthermore, Hell is depicted as a place that has been "prepared for the devil and his angels." If the Rich Man were indeed in Hell, then it would be natural to conclude that the devil would have been there with him.
The Gulf"And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed," ~ Luke 16:26
First century Jews taught that only a "handbreadth" separated the wicked from the righteous in the afterlife. 13 Contrary to this belief, Jesus taught that a "great chasm" or "gulf" separated the Rich Man and Lazarus. Moreover, this gulf was "fixed" which means that it was permanent and immovable.
The Gulf represents a permanent separation between the saved and the lost. Neither the righteous nor the unrighteous can bridge the gap to cross over to the other side. Death irreversibly seals a person's eternal destiny.
"... it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment." (Hebrews 9:27)
Along with Luke 16:26, this passage indicates that lost souls are not granted a second chance once they die. This passage brings up 2 interesting points.
First, scripture never mentions reincarnation. No person in the Bible claimed to live a "past life" as another individual. As the Hebrew writer stated, "It is appointed for men to die once."
Second, scripture never states that the "not-so-bad" dead will be punished for a time, and then let into Heaven. If that were the case Jesus wouldn't have taught that the gulf was "fixed" (Luke 16:26).
The Rich Man had a change of heart after he died. Twice he begged Abraham to send someone from the dead to save his 5 brothers from his own fate. If the Rich Man's remorse did not save him from eternal punishment, then it's unreasonable to assume that the final state of any lost soul can be changed, regardless of how penitent that soul may be after death.
The idea that departed souls go to Paradise or Torment to await judgment is not new. This concept harmonizes well with other New Testament passages.
As mentioned previously some contend with this position and state that Paradise represents Heaven, while Torment represents Hell. It is not within the scope of this document to fully examine these claims. The interested reader would do well to study the passages listed below in greater depth.
- Matthew 7:21-23
- Matthew 11:20-24
- Matthew 18:7-11
- Matthew 25:31-46
- Mark 9:38-50
- Luke 16:19-31
- John 14:1-4
- 1st Corinthians 15:50-58