This parable starts with the lifestyles of a rich man and a beggar (Luke 16:19-21). Now the scene rapidly moves to the death of both men. Note that the beggar’s body is not even given a decent burial, whereas the rich man’s funeral was worthy of note – probably as prestigious as his lifestyle. But it is not the social rituals around death which matter to Jesus. The two men had radically different eternal destinies. One is described as being in heaven, and the other is far away from God’s presence awaiting judgement in hell.
In this parable, Jesus does not dilute the reality of hell. He is consistent with His other statements on hell, describing it as being a conscious place of continual torment where comfort is far away (Matthew 24:51). Worse still, the once-wealthy man could see the once-despised beggar being comforted by Abraham. Although he once despised the beggar, now that the trappings of self-indulgent living have been stripped away, he begs for the poor man to comfort him.
Although secularists like to preach that there is no existence after this life, and some religionists like the idea of a series of earthly existences, Jesus was clear that we live one life and after that spend all eternity in either the kingdom of heaven or in hell (Matthew 7:13-14). This parable does not say that all beggars go to heaven and all rich people go to hell; it is making the point that the desires and decisions of this life have eternal consequences; and that we cannot change our minds after death (Luke 16:26).
Modern societies like to pour scorn on such ideas. The idea that God would let anybody go to hell is shocking to many. So, it is important that everybody knows that He is also a just judge whose final sanction is hell. He wants them to stop their rebellion and repent of their sins so that they can receive forgiveness and peace with God (2 Peter 3:9). Preaching which ignores these truths is dangerously defective, deluding people into a false security. And living as though there are no consequences is a fatal blindness. So, the message about Jesus should include the bad news of hell, without which the gospel is merely a consumer preference. But as Jesus said it does exist - it is a potent reason why the gospel is very good news indeed.
© Dr Paul Adams