But Abraham said to him, “Son, remember that during your lifetime you had everything you wanted, and Lazarus had nothing. So now he is here being comforted, and you are in anguish. And besides, there is a great chasm separating us. No one can cross over to you from here, and no one can cross over to us from there.” [Luke 16:25-26 (NLT)]

Shortly after accusing the Pharisees of being more concerned with appearing righteous than being righteous and warning them that God knew what was in their hearts, Jesus told them a story about a rich man (who probably appeared quite righteous) and a beggar named Lazarus. The leprous and destitute Lazarus sat by the rich man’s gate and begged for scraps from the man’s table while mangy dogs licked at his wounds. The rich man ignored the beggar; to him, Lazarus probably was a little more than a piece of trash to step over before entering his home. When Lazarus died, he was carried by angels to a heavenly banquet and seated in a place of honor beside Abraham. When the rich man died, however, he ended up in Hades or Sheol, the realm of the dead. The mention of “torment” and “flames” there indicates that the rich man was in what Jewish tradition called Gehinnom (a place of fire and anguish).

Upon seeing Lazarus in the distance, the rich man asked Abraham to send the beggar over with some water to ease his agony. After Abraham explained that the chasm between them couldn’t be crossed, the rich man asked him to send Lazarus back to warn the wealthy man’s brothers about his fate in the place of torment. Abraham reminded him that the warning already was in Scripture and, since his brothers had ignored Moses and the prophets, they wouldn’t be persuaded by someone who returned from the dead.

Although Jesus spoke of sons, fathers, laborers, and land owners in his other parables, this is the only parable in which He used a proper name. Because Jesus seemed to use his words purposefully, I don’t think the beggar was named Lazarus by accident. It is only later, when Jesus raises Martha and Mary’s brother Lazarus from the dead, that we understand why this is the only parable in which a character is given a name and why that specific name was chosen. Just as Jesus predicted, even when a man named Lazarus did return from the dead, the Pharisees weren’t persuaded by him. Instead, they decided to kill him!

Remembering that this is a parable rather than a literal description of the next life, there is no reason to think that those in heaven or hell can see or converse with one another. Nevertheless, there are some clear theological implications to the story. The word translated as chasm was chasma. Used just this one time in the New Testament, it means gaping hole, vacancy, or impassable interval. The next word is stérizó, meaning firmly established or solidly planted. Without a doubt, that gaping hole is an unbridgeable space and, as Abraham explained, there can be no passage between them. This parable illustrates a clear and serious reality: the coming judgment depends on the choices made in this life and it is permanent and irreversible. While we have countless opportunities to get it right while we’re on this side of the grass, let us remember that there are no second chances after death!

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. [Romans 6:23 (NLT)]

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