Is the account of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31 a parable or did it actually occur?
In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus described the afterlife of Lazarus and a rich man. Lazarus died and was taken to heaven while the rich man was taken to a place of eternal torment. There is much controversy over whether Jesus intended the account to be taken as a literal series of events or whether it was to be understood as a fictitious parable.
In support of the account as real-life events is that it includes several specific details, including names of people involved that are not elsewhere used in parables by Jesus. Further, the disciples did not ask for an explanation of this story as they did with other parables because the meaning was clear from the true account of the narrative.
Some note that the narrative does not follow the typical outline of a parable. However, this does not prove whether it is intended as actual events or not. It only highlights a different storytelling pattern.
In some ways, the evidence is inconclusive. However, the use of real names (Lazarus and Abraham) and other details noted above appear to favor the account as the telling of real life events from both this life and the next. In either case, many details of the afterlife are made clear.
First, a person's life immediately continues with God or apart from God after this life.
Second, a person's eternal destiny cannot be changed after this life. In other words, a person cannot switch from hell to heaven after death.
Third, there are only two destinations—Abraham's side (in God's presence) or in Hades (eternal torment and separation from God). No other option is mentioned, including limbo, purgatory, annihilation, soul sleep, or reincarnation.
Fourth, the method for communicating the good news that will bring a person salvation and eternity with God is through sharing Christ as presented in Scripture. The end of the account includes a reference to the Law and the Prophets (God's revealed truth) as well as the resurrection of the dead (a reference to the resurrection of Jesus).
Fifth, Jesus emphasized the deceitfulness and deficiency of wealth regarding salvation. Money can be used for good or evil purposes, yet wealth can easily corrupt and certainly cannot change one's status in the afterlife. Believers are called to use worldly wealth to do good: "They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life" (1 Timothy 6:18-19).
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