The Rich Man and Lazarus, or The Highway to Hell
Living easy, living free; Season ticket on a one-way ride; Asking nothing, leave me be; …Going down, party time; My friends are gonna be there too; … I'm on my way to the promised land. I'm on the highway to hell.
These are the lyrics to one of the most well-known and popular rock songs of all time. Millions of people sing along to these words with great gusto and approval. And unfortunately, these lyrics are true; they are an accurate description of the life and of the ultimate destiny of millions.
One of the most instructive passages regarding heaven and hell is the parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus. The story clearly shows us that hell is not going to be party time. It’s a warning that those on the highway to hell should turn off at the nearest exit.
Before looking at the details of the passage, we should consider what kind of story this is. Is it a historical account that really happened? Or is it a fictional account, a parable, designed to teach truth, but that was not based on historical facts?
Given the context, that Jesus had just told four other parables, it seems highly likely that this is also a parable. In fact, several ancient MSS of the Bible have the words “and he spoke another parable” before this passage. It’s possible that it’s historical, but it seems more likely that it’s a parable.
However, just like all parables, what it teaches is true. The points that it makes are genuine and accurate. I.e., the parable is consistent with reality. When the parable assumes an afterlife, that’s because there is an afterlife. When the parable mentions different destinations in the afterlife, that’s because there are two different destinations. So it’s a parable, but it points to reality.
What’s the main point of the parable? .31—if you will not listen to Moses and the prophets (i.e., the word of God), not even the greatest miracle will persuade you. Cf. vs. 17. If you don’t believe the Bible, there is no hope of eternal life. If you are not convinced by what is already written, then you won’t be convinced.
The problem for unbelievers is not a lack of evidence; it’s a heart of stone. That was the Pharisees’ main problem—they didn’t believe Moses and the prophets, and they didn’t sense their need to repent. They loved money and neglected the plight of the poor and the outsider. Thus, they will join the rich man in suffering the torments of hell. Anyone who does not repent and accept God’s offer of salvation will suffer the same fate.
Besides the main truth that the Scriptures is the authoritative Word of God, we find several other things we learn from this passage.