7 Surprising proofs the Thief on the Cross did not go to heaven

Did the thief on the cross go to heaven? A lot of Christians would say, “yes.” However, a deeper understanding of the Scripture will reveal to you the shocking truth. A truth that will change the way you see heaven, grace, and salvation.

A lot of Christians believe that the thief on the cross went to heaven with Jesus Christ (Yahshua the Messiah). Apparently, the thief on the cross proves that you can live in sin all your life and simply repent of your sins at the last moment and you will still be saved. In some cases, just pray the sinner’s prayer and you should be on your way to heaven.

However, are all these teachings and beliefs accurate? Did the thief on the cross really go to heaven? Or, is there a shocking truth in this story that most Christians don’t know?

It’s time for us to remove all the lies and deception. In this post, I will prove to you that the thief on the cross did not go to heaven and that most Christians are wrong in their understanding of this particular story.

What is the truth about the thief on the cross?

Who is the thief on the cross?

During the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, there were two thieves crucified together with Him. One was on the right side and the other was on the left side (Matthew 27:38). One of the thieves blasphemed the Messiah while the others later asked for God’s saving grace. 

For ease of reference, generally speaking, the thief on the cross is a term used to refer to the thief who later asked for Christ’s mercy.

We read the story in Luke 23:39-43:

39 Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.”

40 But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

43 And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

You can compare these verses to:

  • Matthew 27:38-44
  • Mark 15:27-31

With this in mind, let us now go through the 7 proofs that the thief on the cross didn’t go to heaven.

1. No one has ascended to heaven

Here’s a startling declaration of Jesus Christ that most Christians willingly or unknowingly ignore:

13No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven” (John 3:13).

These are the very words of our Master and Savior. Yahshua said that no one has ascended to heaven except Himself!  This was written many years after Christ’s resurrection.

Yet, millions of Christians will tell you that good people will go to heaven when they die including the thief on the cross.

If Christ said that no one has ever gone to heaven, then why do we insist that the thief went to heaven?

2. There’s no mention of heaven

Go ahead, read Luke 23:39-43, Matthew 27:38-44, and Mark 15:27-31. Do you see the word “heaven” ever mentioned? No, there’s none. People have only assumed that the thief went to heaven because of the word “paradise,” which leads us to the next proof.

3. Paradise is not heaven itself

In Luke 23:43, we read:

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” 

Many assume that the word paradise here refers to heaven.

Is this understanding correct?

The Greek word for “paradise” here is, “paradeisos.” The word itself is of Persian origin. It means an enclosed ground, park, and garden.

This is how Vine’s Dictionary defined the word paradeisos (3857): 

Paradeisos is an Oriental word, first used by the historian Xenophon, denoting “the parks of Persian kings and nobles.” It is of Persian origin (Old Pers. pairidaeza, akin to Gk. peri, “around,” and teichos, “a wall”) whence it passed into Greek.

To better understand this term, we must understand a few things.

First, where is this paradise? Paul gave us the answer:

2 “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4).

We can see here that the Paradise is currently located in the third heaven, which is the dwelling place of the Most High God.

Second question, where will the Paradise be in the future?

In revelation 2:7, it says that the “tree of life” is found in the midst of the Paradise of God. In Revelation 22:2, it says that the tree of life is in the New Jerusalem.

Where is the New Jerusalem? It will be established here on the earth!

We read in Revelation 21:2:

2 Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

So, we see here that the Paradise, which is currently in the third heaven will be brought down here on the earth.

Instead of us going to heaven, the Paradise will be put here on the earth!

What an incredible revelation from the Bible!

If you read through Revelation 21, it gives us the timing that the Paradise Jesus talked about would happen after the Millennial reign and when Satan is already put away.

This world would once again be a Paradise, like Eden, that is full of joy, prosperity, blessings, and life!

4. Jesus was talking about a future event

As we have just read, the Paradise that Jesus talked about will be established here on the earth. By taking into consideration all relevant verses, we can confidently conclude that Jesus was actually giving a prophecy of the future event when He will establish God’s Kingdom here on the earth.

Notice carefully what the thief said to Christ:

“Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

The thief himself knew that He will not go to heaven when he died. His words clearly show us that his request will be fulfilled in the future, not immediately.

Remember when Christ taught us how to pray, He said this:

“Your Kingdom come” (Matthew 6:10).

Jesus didn’t say, “Your saints will go to heaven.” The Kingdom of God will be established on the earth!

Again, this is a future event. It didn’t happen when Christ died and was resurrected, but rather it will happen in the future as we have read earlier.

5. Translators made an error

Now, here’s where things get really interesting.

First off, we must understand that the original Greek manuscripts or texts of the Bible don’t use punctuations. 

While translators made a wonderful job in adding punctions in the English translation, their bias forced them to make a huge and blatant error in translating Luke 23:43.

Here’s what Dr. E.W. Bullinger mentioned in his book, The Companion Bible, about punctuations in Bible translations:

“None of our modern marks of punctuation are found until the ninth century…The punctuation of all modern editions of the Greek text, and of all versions made from it, rests entirely on human authority, and has no weight whatever in determining or even influencing the interpretation of a single passage” (1990, Appendix 94, p. 136, emphasis in original).

Because there are no punctuations in the original Bible text, it is up to the translators where they will place punctuations such as a comma.

With this in mind, could it be that changing the placement of a comma in Christ’s statement would make a huge difference?

Let’s read that again:

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

Do you notice the comma placed between the word “you” and “today?” What if you place the comma AFTER the word today? Let’s read:

And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I say to you today, you will be with Me in Paradise.”

That COMPLETELY CHANGED the meaning of Christ’s statement!

If we change the placement of the comma in Luke 23:43, Christ was just saying that he is making a statement today — on that day!

6. Jesus didn’t go to heaven that day

Let’s take this to another level of understanding.

After the death of Christ, where did He go?

“For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

The Scripture tells us that after the death of Christ, He didn’t go to heaven or paradise!

Instead, we read that He died and was buried and stayed in the heart of the earth for three days and three nights (Matthew 12:40)!

If you read John 20:17, Christ even said that He has not ascended yet to His Father after His resurrection.

IF Christ meant that the thief will be with him ON THAT DAY in Paradise, then Christ lied. We don’t have Savior because obviously, Jesus didn’t go to heaven on that day.

Of course, Christ didn’t lie. The problem lies in the incorrect understanding of theologians and scholars.

Was the dying thief more righteous than Christ that he would go immediately to heaven while Christ was still in the grave?

7. Jesus was using a Hebrew idiomatic expression

Did you know that the statement, “Assuredly I say to you today” is a Hebrew idiomatic expression? This is a common Hebrew idiom that is used to emphasize an important or solemn statement.

The same idiomatic expression can be found in the following verses:

  • 26 “Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men” (Acts 20:26).
  • 18I announce to you today that you shall surely perish; you shall not prolong your days in the land which you cross over the Jordan to go in and possess” (Deuteronomy 30:18).

Thus, because of the wrong placement of the comma in Luke 23:43, the idiomatic expression Christ used was lost.

The correct placement of the comma in Luke 23:43 has been recognized by the following Bible translation and reference:

  • The Concordant Literal New Testament
  • Rotherham Translation
  • A Critical Lexicon and Concordance to the English and Greek New Testament
  • The Emphatic Diaglott

Why does this truth matter?

We have proven that the thief on the cross didn’t go to heaven. Instead, we have seen how the Scripture gives us ample pieces of evidence that he died and went to his grave.

The thief on the cross is waiting for the second resurrection, together with the rest of the day, where they will be taught God’s way of life and be given a chance to be part of God’s Kingdom.

Now, we come to the final question that I have for you:

Why do we even bother to know the truth about the thief on the cross?

The Bible tells us that the truth will set us free (John 8:31-32) and that we must worship God in truth (John 4:23-24).

Knowing what really happened to the thief on the cross gives us a better understanding of God’s plan of salvation. It also gives us more confidence in God’s word that they don’t contradict each other but rather they complement each other.

God is in the process of saving mankind and everyone has their own timing. Everyone will be given a chance to learn God’s way of life and truth.

20 thoughts on “7 Surprising proofs the Thief on the Cross did not go to heaven

  1. Please after reading the piece , l did not get to know where the two thieves went after their death. I will be grateful if you will help me with the information.

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    • Hi Rita,

      That’s a good question!

      I haven’t thought of that before. However, I would say there are white people in the Bible.

      It believed that white people descended from Shem, one of Noah’s sons. I would be interested in hearing what others would say.

      Regards,
      Joshua

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  2. Always remember that God is not bounded by time. That’s why when Jesus died on that day, it is still the same day up to now in the eyes of God. They don’ t have date, time or calendar in their kingdom. Also when the thief died on that day, the next time he opens his eyes is when Jesus returns and he will be in paradise on that same day.

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  3. When you do that long search of scripture, using your own rationale, trying to sound wise (1 Corinthians 1 explains how you’ve gone crazy off the path, especially since you’ve just called the cross foolishness by saying you decide who goes to Heaven) in and age of idolatry and hatred of God, you are calling God a liar.

    Paul was called into the third heaven and knew firsthand that it wasn’t just a dream. When he says he would rather depart and be with Christ, he knew it was true that being dead is better ng alive, which agrees with Solomon in Ecclesiastes.

    The antichrist is working to fool you. Satan wants you to think that one has to live a perfect life or even a good life to be a child of God. A child of God believes in Jesus.

    Your account of two thieves and one mocking him us wrong. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe.” Mark 15:32. And the robbers who were crucified with him also reviled him in the same way.
    Matthew 27:44 ESV. They both mocked Jesus. But in Luke, and we have four gospel accounts for a reason, the one of his left repented of his dishonor and taunting. He knew who Jesus was. He knew that He had the power to come down if He chose, and He also knew that Jesus could have got them all of the cross, and instead of pleasing with Jesus for rescue, he confessed his own sin, looked to the only one who could save him, and asked Jesus to remember Him. This tells of his faith and change of heart.

    I hope you never get into any serious trouble with sin. It sounds like you would be in big trouble. Jesus came to heal the sick and call the righteous to repentance. He didn’t come to save people who cannot be saved. Only sinners can be saved. Only men and woman who acknowledge they own God for their sins and Jesus paid the debt.

    So, you are wrong. You’ve called God a liar. You have said that Luke, the physician and disciple, who was alive when Jesus died, is a liar, and that your mind has sought the truth and found it. Jesus said those who love the truth will be saved. The truth of Him. His forgiveness and power of being the One True God.

    Do you believe in the deity of Christ? That He was fully Man and fully God? Do you believe that only His work saves you? You CAN NEVER be saved on your own works.

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    • No, Jesus Christ (anointed one) was not God. God the Father, through Mary, produced Jesus who had the holy spirit. With the holy spirit he lived a “sinless” life on earth. The Father told Jesus to die as a sacrifice for the world’s sins. He obeyed and the Father raised him from the grave the third day. The Father sat Jesus at His right hand which gave him power and authority. About 30 A.D. Jesus was raised from the dead. At that time, in prophecy, Jesus told (Matt 24:30) the Nation of Israel he was “coming in clouds” which, to a Jew meant JUDGEMENT. He fulfilled the prophecy of coming (Parousia = presence) in clouds forty years later in 70 A.D. and destroyed the Jewish Nation, their temple and genealogies. Jesus used the Roman Army (and some other nations, to destroy Jerusalem. At the time of destruction, Jesus’ presence (Parousia) was there using the army as his tool.

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  4. 1 – For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud

    The cloud of Shekinah glory overshadowed Israel throughout their journey from Egypt to the Promised Land. During the day, the cloud sheltered them from the brutal desert sun, and during the night, it burned as a pillar of fire. It was a constant, ready reminder of God’s glory and presence (Exodus 13:21-22).

    and that they all passed through the sea. 2 They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea.

    All of Israel came through the Red Sea and saw God’s incredible power in holding up the walls of the sea so Israel could cross over on dry ground, and then God’s work of sending the water back to drown the Egyptian army (Exodus 14:21-31). It was not only an amazing demonstration of God’s love and power, but also a picture of baptism – by “passing through water,” all of Israel was identified with Moses, even as by “passing through water,” a Christian is identified with Jesus Christ (Romans 6:3-4).

    3 They all ate the same spiritual food 4 and drank the same spiritual drink;

    All of Israel was sustained by God’s miraculous provision of food and drink during their time in the wilderness (Exodus 16:35 and 17:6). This was a remarkable display of God’s love and power for Israel, and a pre-figuring of the spiritual food and drink we receive at the Lord’s table (1 Corinthians 11:23-26).

    for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.

    Israel even had the presence of Jesus Christ with them in the wilderness! Perhaps Jesus had this in the back of his mind when he told the Samaritan woman at the well that he would give her “living water”

    Christ Is Supreme

    Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
    He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,
    for through him God created everything
    in the heavenly realms and on earth.
    He made the things we can see
    and the things we can’t see—
    such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
    Everything was created through him and for him.
    He existed before anything else,
    and he holds all creation together.
    Christ is also the head of the church,
    which is his body.
    He is the beginning,
    supreme over all who rise from the dead.
    So he is first in everything.
    For God in all his fullness
    was pleased to live in Christ,
    and through him God reconciled
    everything to himself.
    He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
    by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.
    This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault

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    • We know that only Jesus is “the way, the truth and the life” and that “no man cometh unto the Father, but by Jesus.” (John 14:6) Prior to Jesus’ atonement, the way to the Father was not open. Therefore, Old Testament saints went to a place called Abraham’s Bosom – Paradise.

      In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus describes two distinctly different places, where man’s soul went at death:

      1. the place of comfort called Abraham’s Bosom and
      2. the place of torment that we refer to as Hell.

      Why was it necessary for the Old Testament saints to be held in “paradise” prior to the resurrection of Jesus?

      The answer is found in Hebrews 11:39-40:

      Hebrews 11:39 And these all, having obtained a good report through faith, received not the promise:

      Hebrews 11:40 God having provided some better thing for us, that they without us should not be made perfect.

      The Old Testament saints were made “perfect,” but not until after the sacrifice that makes Believers today “perfect” also. Perfect here is used in the context of righteousness. Believers are made “righteous” or “perfect” in Christ as a result of his sacrificial death. That is why Hebrews 11:40 says that they (Old Testament saints) could not be made perfect “without us” or apart from us. At the point of the resurrection, all Believers (Old and New Testament) were perfected (regarded as righteous before God) through the sacrificial death of Jesus on the cross.

      In Matthew 12:40 – Jesus said he would spend three days AND three nights in the heart of the earth.

      In Luke 16:19-31 – Jesus identifies a place called “Abraham’s bosom” a place of comfort within eyesight of a place of torment called “hell” separated by a “great gulf.”

      In Luke 23:43 – Jesus tells the thief that today he would join him in “paradise,” not Heaven.

      In Ephesians 4:8-10 – Paul says that Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth after his crucifixion and led “captivity captive” i.e. “a band of captives” when he ascended.

      In John 20:17 – Jesus tells Mary not to touch him because he has not yet ascended to “my Father.”

      In Matthew 27:52-54 – we see that after the resurrection of Jesus, “many” of the resurrected saints wandered into Jerusalem and appeared to many.

      Notice the condition of the Believer since the sacrifice of the cross:

      I Corinthians 2:6, – “Howbeit we speak wisdom among them that are perfect:”

      Philippians 3:15 – Let us therefore, as many as be perfect, be thus minded: and if in any thing ye be otherwise minded, God shall reveal even this unto you.

      II Tim. 3:17 – That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.

      To be made perfect is to be born again, to be indwelled with the Holy Spirit.

      Jesus and Nicodemus

      Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a leader of the Jews. He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the signs You are doing if God were not with him.”

      Jesus replied, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

      “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Can he enter his mother’s womb a second time to be born?”

      Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh is born of flesh, but spirit is born of the Spirit. Do not be amazed that I said, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes. You hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

      Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God

      Heirs with Christ

      Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation, but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God

      Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. This promise belongs to you and your children and to all who are far off—to all whom the Lord our God will call to Himself.”

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  5. And then an event happens to both of them that changes everything—death. Verse 22, “It came about that the poor man died.” At that point, if there was a breath that Jesus might have taken before He continued the sentence, they would have said, “Knew it. God’s curse is now complete. He’s dead, gone to hell.” But Jesus said, “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” What!? This is the shocker; this is the bomb that explodes in the middle of their minds. It’s not surprising that a diseased, destitute, starving man chewed by dogs—filthy, diseased dogs—would then endure the final end of death. By the way, nothing is said about a funeral; nothing is said about a burial. There wouldn’t have been any if he was near Jerusalem. His body would have been taken by some who perhaps were the garbage collectors of the city and dumped in Gehenna, an ever-burning trash dump of Jerusalem, which is the symbol of hell. He would have been burned like garbage. No funeral because he would have been viewed by all as cursed by God and unworthy of a funeral. But there was something better than a funeral—he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.

    “And the rich man also died and was buried.” He had a funeral. Sure, this is the rich man. He’s respected. He’s honored. He’s surrounded by people who lift him up, give him due respect. The rich man died, as all men do, and a proper funeral is held for him, while the poor man is simply dumped on the garbage heap.

    Now in the thinking of the Pharisees, this is an open/shut deal, that the poor man goes to hell, the rich man goes to heaven. But the shock in the story is that the angels carry away the poor man into Abraham’s bosom. And that introduces us to life after death. What happens to the rich man? Verse 23, “In Hades…” What!? “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment.” This is a complete stunner. This is the absolute opposite of what they would have expected. This is the great reversal of everything. And I gave you the contrast and their reversal in the little list I went down with you, and now it happens. The poor man dies, carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom—language that expresses the fact that God sends His holy angels to gather one of His own into glory. This is terribly upsetting to their comfortable, simplistic theology that if you suffer in life, you are cursed by God. And if you’re rich, you’re blessed by God.

    What does it mean to be taken to Abraham’s bosom? I know in the past people have gotten real technical about that, that this is some technical title for a special place. I don’t think it’s a technical term at all. It’s the only time it’s ever used in the Bible, and it’s kind of an odd term. A better way to understand it, if you sort of take it out of its ancient sense, is he went where Abraham was to be with Abraham. That’s all it means. The poor man was taken to the place where Abraham is.

    Now the Jews know one thing for sure. Abraham is not in…What?…hell; that they know. Abraham is the father of faith. Abraham is the father of the faithful, Genesis 15. Abraham is the friend of God. They know where Abraham is, and Abraham is in heaven. Abraham is not in hell. And what happened is this man assumed to be cursed goes right to the place where Abraham is. And the idea of saying Abraham’s bosom, or Abraham’s chest, or Abraham’s presence is to say that he went to be with Abraham in intimate, personal fellowship with Abraham.

    Now the Jews know one thing for sure. Abraham is not in…What?…hell; that they know. Abraham is the father of faith. Abraham is the father of the faithful, Genesis 15. Abraham is the friend of God. They know where Abraham is, and Abraham is in heaven. Abraham is not in hell. And what happened is this man assumed to be cursed goes right to the place where Abraham is. And the idea of saying Abraham’s bosom, or Abraham’s chest, or Abraham’s presence is to say that he went to be with Abraham in intimate, personal fellowship with Abraham.

    This is not minimal concession to the poor man, to give him a remote place in heaven. This is to take him and make him a close companion/friend, fellowshiping with the greatest of all Jewish heroes, Abraham. When the Jews wanted to defend their privilege, when they wanted to defend their uniqueness, when they wanted to defend their place with God and their hope and their promise, they would say, “We are the children of Abraham.” He went to sit close to the host. He went to a feast with Abraham and became the guest of honor. This is another one of those outrageous stories that just blasts the sensibilities and the theology of the Pharisees. How can a man in this world who has so little, who was so bad, who was so desperate, who appears to be so cursed, become the guest of honor in heaven at the salvation banquet? He’s like John—you remember—in the Upper Room, the Passover, the final Passover, resting, reclining on the chest of Jesus. He has gone to the highest place of privilege. This is extreme reversal.

    On the other hand, the rich man is in Hades; he’s lifting up his eyes, and he is in torment. The poor man died and went to heaven—follow this—and is fully conscious of where he is and who he’s with. It’s not soul sleep; this is not some kind of slow awakening. He’s there; he’s with Abraham. Same thing is true of the man, the rich man—he’s in Hades. In the New Testament, without going into a whole lot about Hades, in the New Testament, Hades always appears as the abode of the damned, never of believers. The only general use of Hades is a couple of times in the book of Acts where it’s referring to an Old Testament usage of the word, and the Old Testament is more general. In the New Testament, Hades appears always to refer to the abode of the damned, never the place of believers. It, therefore, is a synonym for hell and sometimes translations will say Hades, and sometimes they’ll say hell. And that is correct. It is synonymous with Gehenna. The rich man had it all in life, goes to hell. He’s there immediately. There’s no transition place; there’s no waiting place; there’s no limbo; there’s no nothing—he’s in hell. Then this very important phrase, “He lifted up his eyes.” What does that mean? Awakening, sensing, aware, conscious, immediate consciousness of hell. There’s no Purgatory, folks; there’s no waiting place. He died; he went to hell; and he was instantaneously aware of it.

    And what was his experience? “Being in torment,” literally “torments,” plural; not one but many, coming at him from every conceivable angle—a fully informed conscience now without restraint, without mitigation, accusing him of every evil ever committed, every act of the rejection of the truth ever committed, and that accusation would go at full force for the rest of eternity. The torments Jesus described as darkness and fire and weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. The believer who dies is immediately in the conscious fellowship and joys of the heavenly experience. The damned are immediately in the conscious experience of torture.

    And then our Lord crafts an imaginary conversation. It comes, beginning in verse 23, “When the rich man saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.” That’s why we say this is a fictional story. People in hell can’t see people in heaven. But for the sake of illustration, the tormented rich man is, in the story, allowed to look out of hell into heaven, across that impassable gulf for the sake of the point. Though in reality, souls in hell have no access to heaven; souls in heaven have no intrusion from the eyes of those in hell. It is purely a parable. But for the sake of illustration, to help us understand that he understands what he’s going through, and he’s allowed in the story to understand what Lazarus is experiencing, and he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me.”

    You see, this father Abraham thing, they would all identify with. Wait a minute, I’m a Jew; I’m a child of Abraham; you’re my father. Consistent with that is obligation—they would understand that, like all Jews, especially the Pharisees. He assumes Abraham to be his father and himself to be a child of Abraham. And he knows that Abraham is a model of hospitality, Genesis 18, and so pleads both in the story to the hospitality of Abraham, as well as to the responsibility of Abraham to take care of one of his children. Have mercy on me. Interesting. The merciless one now wants mercy. He requests for himself from Abraham what he was never willing to give to the man who requested it from him.

    And this is really bizarre. “Have mercy and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I’m in agony in this flame.” Listen, this man is so ingrained with the idea that he is superior to Lazarus that even though he’s in hell and Lazarus is in heaven, he thinks Lazarus is still his servant. “Send Lazarus.” He requests mercy to be brought to him by the very one to whom he refused to show mercy. He still thinks lowlifes like Lazarus are supposed to serve him, even in hell. Which is to say this about hell, it is not remedial. It doesn’t correct you; it doesn’t fix you; it only punishes you. Send Lazarus? Lazarus once needed and wanted what the rich man had. Now the rich man needs and wants what Lazarus had. The rich man wouldn’t give it, and Lazarus can’t.

    There’s no repentance here. There’s no remorse here. There’s no seeking forgiveness. There’s no humility here. Again, hell is not remedial; it doesn’t fix you; it confirms you; it crystalizes into permanency the wretchedness of the sinner, without relief or mitigation forever. He still sees himself as one to be served by the lowly. “Send him down here that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue.”

    That’s a very interesting statement—metaphoric, obviously. There’s no water in hell, and H20 couldn’t relieve the torment of hell anyway because it’s not a physical thirst. It’s metaphoric, but it’s a good indication of the horrors of hell because he doesn’t say, “Could you send Lazarus down with a bucket? Is there a hose in heaven that you could just kind of, you know, roll over the edge and gravity might send down a constant stream to hell?” It’s not that. “I just want a drip off the tip of his finger, not a bucket, not a barrel, not a pipeline.” The souls of the damned suffer so profoundly that one tiny drop of relief would mean everything to them. But it never comes. I am in agony in this flame. Odunao is the Greek verb, “to be in great pain.” Real water can’t soothe an eternally tortured soul. But this is the terrifying image of hell. No relief and the sinner forever and ever and ever, never pleading for one tiny drop of relief, wants no crumbs for the poor man and now no drops for the rich man.

    Abraham responds. Jesus puts words in the imaginary Abraham. Abraham said, “Child.” I don’t think Jesus could resist that, “child.” Yes, in the genetic sense, in the genealogical sense, in the racial sense, you are a child of Mine. You are a son, a descendant. But I also think there’s just that note of compassion that’s always in the heart of Jesus, which is the reason He’s telling them a story—to warn them. “Remember, during your life you received your good things.” What’s that? Common grace, providence. The world is full of riches; don’t mistake it, folks. The world is full of riches. When God created the planet, He didn’t create a brown bag. This world is loaded with wealth. It’s staggering to see how wealthy the world is. Where do you think that comes from? All of it comes out of this planet, all of it, because the Creator put it there. And He gave us all things richly to enjoy from which to give Him honor and praise and glory and to get a foretaste of heaven’s splendor—and the lavishness of God and His love of shining, blazing, beautiful things and tender, delicate, glorious things, and everything in between. He gave us a taste of glory from which, when we enjoy these things, we can then give Him glory and begin to taste the flavors of our eternal joys. But this man, having received those providences, simply indulged himself. And like the earlier man Jesus talked about, built bigger barns to store his stuff. And follow the eat, drink, and be merry line—you had your stuff; you received your good things; and in this life Lazarus, bad things. Yeah, life can be like that. The unregenerate can die filthy rich and the regenerate can die filthy poor. It’s true.

    You can enjoy all the providences of God—all the common grace components of a generous, gracious God. What a hell, to be without any of that forever. For all of that is connected to God. And when God is not there, none of that’s there either. You had your opportunity. Instead of going from blessing and providence to faith in God, you went to self-indulgence. On the other hand, the poor man, he had nothing. I don’t know what his story was; there was no story because he’s a fictional character. But you could fill in the blanks. How do you get to that point? How do you get like that? Probably physical disability would be what would be assumed; dumped, plopped there. If you were physically disabled in that world, it was tough. Lazarus had his hard life, but now—underline that, folks—but now, different world. He’s being comforted here; you are in agony. He is comforted because the angels brought him here, and he’s in the fellowship of the Father of the faithful—and you are in agony.

    What Lazarus was temporally, you are eternally—miserable. What you did not provide for Lazarus when you could have, he cannot provide for you. And it’s never, ever going to change—never. Verse 26, “Besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed (sterizo, “set fast”). In the tense that it’s in, “there has been fixed and it will stand forever, permanently.” There is this chasm set which cannot be crossed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and none may cross over from there to us; mark it, folks. When you’re in hell, you will never go to heaven. When you’re in heaven, you will never go to hell. It’s forever fixed, set. No relief, no hope. Read it carefully. There is a great chasm fixed. The Greek says hopos, “so that” no one can go the other way.

    Well, the rich man in the story is not finished. He has general compassion for his own family. He knows his fate is fixed, eternal agony. But he has one more request, verse 27. He said, “Then [and the word “then” means “okay,” a transition away from that] this is where I will be forever.” No hope—“Then I beg you, father [not God; father Abraham in the conversation] send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—that he may warn them lest they also come to this place of torment.”

    You know, I guess you could say if the guy had any redeeming value, that was it. He cared about his brothers. I like that about him; it’s good that he did. And he knew that his brothers were like him. He was in hell and they were coming. This…this…this request is really kind of a complaint. He still has a condescending attitude toward Lazarus because—get it again—“send him.” If you won’t send him to me to bring water, send him to my brothers. Again I remind you, hell is not remedial; it is punitive. He still treated Lazarus with disdain even though he knew him to be in the presence of Abraham, and carried there by the angels of God. But he does care about his family. And he knew they were in the same path he was in. We can assume that the Pharisees would be hearing this as a man who is religious and blessed by God, and therefore had religious brothers who were into Judaism and Pharisaic Judaism. But they were going to end up in hell just like he did, and he knew it because they weren’t aware of what hell was like, and so they weren’t concerned to avoid it.

    So what he says is, “Look, my brothers don’t have enough information about hell. That’s the problem. They don’t have enough information about hell. If I knew what I now know, I wouldn’t come here. So could you please send Lazarus to tell them what’s here so they won’t come, for I have five brothers and want him to go and warn them that they might not come to this place of torment?” No words of repentance here, impossible in hell. No Holy Spirit. But Jesus creates a fictional concern to get the point of the whole story: Why do people go to hell? Why did the rich man go to hell? Why? And why would his brothers go to hell?

    Here comes the answer. Verse 29, “Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them.’” You know what their problem was? They didn’t listen to…What?…What? They didn’t listen to Scripture. They didn’t listen to the Word of God. “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them”—akouo, from which we get acoustic; “listen, heed, understand.” This is exactly what they would not do. Jesus said that again and again; Matthew 13:13 to 17, “You hear but you do not understand.” They had Moses and the Prophets; that was enough. What…that simply refers to the Old Testament. What could they have learned from the Old Testament? Everything they needed to know about the nature of the all-holy Creator and Law-giver and Judge, the eternal and true God. From the Old Testament they would have had ample and sufficient information about their own sinfulness and need for repentance. They would have had truth concerning salvation by grace alone through faith alone, and justification comes by grace through faith. They would have known that God offers complete forgiveness of sin and escape from judgment and wrath and condemnation. They would have understood even from the Old Testament that alien righteousness coming from God is imputed to those who put their trust in Him. They would have understood from the Old Testament that substitution is the way God deals with sin. And they would have understood if they had believed the Old Testament that there was coming a sacrifice and coming a Messiah, and coming a Savior who would crush the head of Satan, who would provide redemption for His people, who would be the suffering Substitute, who would then establish His throne and bring all the unconditional promises to Abraham and David to Israel and the world.

    Finally, they would have understood that they had to repent and believe. They would have understood the need for total abandonment, forsaking all other hopes, all other rights, all other gods, all sin and self-reliance, and have come to a true and living God. And if they had truly believed Moses and the prophets, they would have known that Jesus was that promised Messiah. So he says, “Let them hear the Scripture.” Let them hear the Scripture. If they do not hear the Scripture, there’s no hope. Salvation comes by hearing the Word.

    Gets a little argumentative. But he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Really? “Father Abraham, you’re wrong. They don’t have what they need. Scripture’s not enough. Scripture’s not sufficient. They had Moses and the Prophets; I had Moses and the Prophets. I’m in hell.” The Pharisees had Moses and the Prophets and they were headed for hell, and that was the point of telling them the story. But if someone will rise from the dead—a powerful sign which again indicates that in the minds of the people listening to the story, the brothers also knew Lazarus, and if Lazarus, whom they knew to be that wretched beggar comes back, they’ll recognize the same guy who was there by the gate, and he can tell them he’s been to hell and back and warn them, and certainly they’ll avoid hell.

    Well, the problem is you can’t avoid hell just by not wanting to go there anyway. You have to avoid hell by following the path of salvation revealed in Moses and the Prophets. He said to him, verse 31, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” Was that true? Who rose from the dead? Jesus. Did they believe? No, no, no. In fact, in an interesting divine coincidence, Jesus raised a man from the dead by the name of Lazarus. The rulers knew it, and it was what motivated them in part to execute Jesus. We don’t want to go to hell. He warned, and religion won’t protect you—only the truth, the gospel truth, the saving truth, the salvation truth revealed on the pages of Scripture completed in the New Testament through the work of Christ will rescue you from hell and take you escorted by the angels into the full fellowship of all the saints, including Abraham and all faith.

    Jesus decides to name one of the characters, and He gives him the name Lazarus, which is such a wonderful choice in actuality because a name Lazarus is a form of Eleazar, which means “the one whom God helps.” And certainly in the story Lazarus received the greatest help from God, and that is access to heaven, salvation. And I think he’s given a name simply to distinguish him from the non-descript rich man, because no one in hell needs a name. You’re no one there, and there are no relationships there. But everyone in heaven has a name.

    Well, so much for an overview. The story breaks into three parts: life, death, life after death.

    Hope this gives you some more understanding on the parable, Joshua

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