This is from my Living Insights Study Bible by Chuck Swindoll:
In the Gospel of Luke (16:19-31) there is a vivid account of an interview with a deceased unbeliever. Don’t misunderstand, this is not the story of another fascinating “out-of-the-body” experience, but a startling narrative of the afterlife told the ultimate Authority on the subject–the Son of God Himself. While a number of commentators interpret this passage as a parable, I’m not so sure. By naming tow of the key characters, I believe that Jesus gives us ample reason to see these verses as recording an actual historical event–a true story of two men… and their contrasting eternal destinies. There is a rich man who, as we will see, is eternally lost. There is a poor man who is eternally saved. They lived in two completely different worlds during their earthly lives, but there was a remarkable change of circumstances at death. Death, the greatest of all levelers, reduces everything to the lowest common denominator.
When Lazarus, the beggar, died, his body was probably tossed in the local dump, the refuse pile. Chances are good that he didn’t even receive a decent burial. But his soul was taken immediately into the presence of the Lord, a presence called here “Abraham’s side.” (Luke 16:22).
When we read, “The rich man also died and was buried” (Luke 16:22), we can be sure his burial was one of great pomp and elaborate ceremony. So much for his body. It is his eternal soul that interests us. We find him in hell as we continue to read Jesus’ words: “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side” (Luke 16:23). the verse that follows does not contain a record of some paranormal experience reported by a man who saw lights and heard buzzing. it is, I believe, and event, not a vision. It becomes an interview, as it were. Notice first that there is agony. There is literal pain. The rich man is tormented. And somehow he catches a glimpse of those who are peace. Second, he is fully conscious. third, he not only has his senses, he also has his memory. Neither is obliterated by death.
The scene becomes increasingly bleak. Scripture pulls no punches. “So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire’ ” (Luke 16:24). Earlier Luke mentioned “torment.” Now it’s “agony.” Note that the man could still reason and visualize his surroundings. He still possessed the ability to feel, hear and taste. It was as if he still had a tongue and all five senses.
Abraham (who seems to speak for the Lord) answers the man’s request in verse 25: “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.” For those who joke about hell and say, “Well, we’ll be there for a while and somebody will just pray us out,” take a good look at the next verse: “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26). The “great chasm” that “has been fixed” suggests a permanent situation. In other words, it is impossible to change destinies or escape one’s location after death. Even if others wish for you to be released, they cannot come to your rescue. Realizing this, the man begins to bargain. This is where the account becomes extremely moving. The man in torment remembers his family at home. His concern for them is enormous—and understandably so.
Let me interrupt the story long enough to ask a question: Is it your feeling that the lost who are dead care about the lost who are alive? If you’re uncertain about your answer, read verse 28: “I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” Because the rich man was unable to escape, his number-one concern was that someone would go to his brothers and communicate the truth about hell to those who are still living. Talk about a missionary message! Talk about evangelistic zeal! If it exists nowhere else, an evangelistic passion exists in hell. This scene certainly silences the superficial comments we hear from some who joke, “Aw… I’ll just be in hell with all my buddies.” All it takes is a few verses from this account to realize there’s no companionship there. On the contrary, there is an awful, gnawing, inescapable loneliness.
In response to the rich man’s request, Abraham says to him, “They have Moses and the Prophets” (Luke 16:29). Meaning what? They have the Scriptures, the very Word of God. They have God’s voice in God’s Book. In other words, “Let those who are alive hear the truth of Scripture. They have ample opportunity to hear the truth. Let them pick up the bible and read it for themselves. Let them hear the preachers. Let them hear the Gospel as it is contained in God’s Word.”
And then listen to Father Abraham’s remarkable response to the rich man’s insistence that an appearance from beyond would make the difference: “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’ “ (Luke 16:31). You talk about the power of Scripture! If you could bring someone back from beyond—someone who has been in hell—to tell people what the future holds, it would not be as effective as Holy Scripture! The most invincible, convincing power on earth is the Word of God as the Holy Spirit uses the truth to convict the lost.
We have sufficient truth available to us in the Bible to do the job of bringing the lost to Jesus. It is all that is needed to convince people who have not yet bowed the knee to Jesus Christ that they are missing out on what life is all about. Even if we could do something miraculous, like bring someone back from beyond, it would not have as great an impact as simply presenting the Scriptures. Be careful to grasp the message of this powerful portion of Scripture from Luke’s Gospel: Those who ignore the Word of God in life will not be ignored by the God of the Word in eternity.
The Living Insights Study Bible, New Internation Version
Copyright 1996 by The Zondervan Corporation, All Rights Reserved