Lazarus and the Rich Man: Can the Rich Man Repent and be Saved?

lazarus and the rich man
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Some dismiss Christ’s story of Lazarus and the Rich man as a parable with no relation to reality. But parables always have relation to reality. For example, in the Luke 15:3-7 parable: the “hundred sheep” relate to “one hundred persons”; “the lost sheep who is found” to “the one sinner who repents”; the “friends and neighbors” on earth to “like inhabitants in heaven”; the “joy and rejoicing they have on earth” to “joy and rejoicing they have in heaven”. If parables had no relation to reality, they would be incoherent babble.

The Pharisees mocked Jesus when warned they could not serve God and Mammon (Luke 16:13-14). Jesus warns not a jot or tittle of the law they preferred above Him (Deut. 18:15, 18-19; Luke 16:16) would fail to be fulfilled (Luke 16:17), including punishments for their spiritual adultery with riches (Luke 16:13, 18).

Confirming the “rich man” symbolizes the Pharisees, Jesus begins the parable contradicting their belief Abraham would save them from Hades (Luke 16:23):

In the Hereafter Abraham will sit at the entrance of Gehinnom and will not allow any circumcised Israelite to descend into it. (Gen. R. XlVIII. 8.”)-A. Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, (Schocken Books, NY 1995), p. 381.

But Hades is temporary, it will be emptied of its souls (Rev. 20:13). Judgment Day is when eternal destiny is set, some rise to life and others to condemnation (John 5:28-29; Rev. 20:13). Then Death and Hades are destroyed in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).

Is Hades “just a holding cell” until Judgment Day or is it possible sinners repent and rise to a resurrection of life?

Repentance in Hades-Sheol implicitly taught in the Old Testament.

For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (07585 שְׁאוֹל she’owl; 86 ᾅδης hades Septuagint); neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. (Psa 16:10 KJV)

For great is thy mercy toward me: and thou hast delivered my soul from the lowest hell (07585 שְׁאוֹל she’owl; 86 ᾅδης hades Septuagint). Psa 86:13 KJV)

I will ransom them from the power of the grave (07585 שְׁאוֹל she’owl; 86 ᾅδης hades Septuagint); I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave (07585 שְׁאוֹל she’owl; 86 ᾅδης hades Septuagint), I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes. (Hos 13:14 KJV)


As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water. (Zec. 9:11 KJV) Compare Luke 16:24

Jonah could not liken his ordeal in the belly of a great fish to being in Sheol if repentance and salvation not possible in Sheol:

And said, I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell (07585 שְׁאוֹל she’owl; 2836 κοιλία koilia Septuagint) cried I, and thou heardest my voice. (Jon. 2:2 KJV)

Also compare the imagery in:
1Sam. 2:6-10; 2Sam. 22:5-7; Ps. 16:10-11; 30:3; 49:15; 56:14; 71:19-24; 88:1-18; 107:10-15; 116:3-9; 118:17-18; Isa. 4:4; 26:19-21; Lam. 3:25; Hos. 13:14; Jon. 2:2-6; Mic. 7:7-9; Zec. 9:11.

The Rich Man and Lazarus parable was a warning to the Pharisees their adultery with money would land them in Hades (Luke 16:14-18). Contrary to their tradition Abraham would not stand at the gate of Hades and prevent circumcised Israelites from descending:

In the Hereafter Abraham will sit at the entrance of Gehinnom and will not allow any circumcised Israelite to descend into it. (Gen. R. XlVIII. 8.”)-A. Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, (Schocken Books, NY 1995), p. 381.

The entire conversation between Abraham and the Rich Man lasts a few minutes. This isn’t about eternal destinies. Our LORD is warning the Pharisees their disbelief and love of money would land them in Hades even though they were God’s Elect children of Abraham. The curse for not believing in Jesus would befall them (Deut. 18:15-19) if they did not follow the example of the poor and the despised who were “pressing into” the kingdom ahead of them (Luke 16:16-17 compare Mt. 21:32).

Although the full purpose of Hades is not the subject, Christ indirectly reveals it. Hades was not for punishment only; the Pharisees were children of Abraham (Lk. 16:24). Abraham confirms their relationship, the Rich Man is his “son, child” (Lk. 16:25). That is true only of God’s elect.

Christ chose the word 931 βάσανος basanos to describe the Torment in Hades:

Meaning: 1) a touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal 2) the rack or instrument of torture by which one is forced to divulge the truth.-Strong’s Concordance

This “torment” is the kind that brings truth to the surface, resulting in “anguish” and “sorrow” (3600 ὀδυνάω odunao cp. Acts 20:38) for sin. The imagery of purging from sin is common in the Old Testament (Ps. 51:7; 65:3; 79:9; Prov. 16:6; Isa. 1:25; 6:7; 22:14; 27:9; Ez. 24:13; 43:20;43:26; Dan. 11;35):

He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, And purge them as gold and silver, That they may offer to the LORD An offering in righteousness. (Mal. 3:3 NKJ)

In Luke 16:24 the “flame” (5395 φλόξ phlox) causes the “agony” or “anguish” (3600 ὀδυνάω odunao). The Rich Man is being purged by the “flame of God’s inspection”; “His eyes like a flame” (Rev. 1:14; 2:18; 19:12). The “flame” is the “visible aspect of a fire that springs upward and is usually orange”(Logos Bible Sense Lexicon). God is revealed in the “flame” (Ex. 3:2; Judges 13:20; Isa. 66:15; Acts 7:30; 2 Thess. 1:8).

The Torment in Hades is designed to bring the true person to the surface, liberate their free will from all bondage to sin and delusion. After suffering for their sins “judged according to men in the flesh”, if they choose to believe the gospel preached to them in Hades they will “live according to God in the Spirit” apart from any torment, eagerly waiting for the Second Coming of Christ when they will rise with the dead in Christ:

6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1 Pet. 4:6 NKJ)

27 And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment,[1]
28 so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Heb. 9:27-28 NKJ)

15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.
16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.
17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.
18 Therefore comfort one another with these words. (1 Thess. 4:15-18 NKJ)

Context confirms the torments in Hades have redemption in view. The Rich Man is clearly sorrowful. If he were not, then he would be irredeemable. The redeemed in heaven want to comfort the Rich Man (Lk. 16:26), but that would be out of place if he were irredeemably wicked and was being punished eternally for sin. That would be rebellion against God’s judgment (compare: Deut. 19:21).

If the Rich Man knew his torment was eternal, as irredeemably wicked he would curse God and Abraham and everyone else. Therefore, his rational demeanor, his concern for his family are consistent with his still having hope for future relief.

Finally, it follows from God’s love for humanity (John 3:16) Hades is among the “all things work together for good to them that love God” (Rom. 8:28) because the majority of these would be eternally lost if postmortem evangelization does not occur. Hades is an “intermediate state” before the final judgment, therefore its logical purpose is re-education, not judgment. If that is not so, from whence these who rise from Hades to a resurrection of life?

28 “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice
29 “and come forth– those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (Jn. 5:28-29 NKJ)

13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them…
15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Rev. 20:13-15 NKJ)

John is viewing this terrifying event and observes only those NOT written in the book of life were cast into the Lake of Fire. For John to know that, he had to see those who WERE written in the book of life and notice they were NOT cast into the Lake of Fire.

So where did these Elect come from if they did not repent in Hades? They must be God’s Elect because their names were written in the book of life written since the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4; Rev. 13:8; 17:8). Therefore, they are God’s Elect predestined to be conformed to the image of Jesus. Even Hades was one of the things working together for their good (Rom. 8:28-29). Therefore, Hades cannot be a place of torment for sin only, it must include a means for redemption from eternal death.

That fits the scripture revealing God is there in Hades, no doubt to save as many as He can:

If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.
(Ps. 139:8 NKJ)

For all the above reasons the purpose of Hades is to evangelize the dead. Upon repentance and belief in Jesus Christ, it follows torment in Hades ends once God’s anger for sin is turned away (Isa. 12:1-2; 54:8; Ps. 30:5; 126:5).

In other words, once ‘judged according to men in the flesh, they live according to God in the Spirit’ (1 Pet. 4:6; Psa. 86:13; 139:8; Jonah 2:2). Although they remain in Hades (Luke 16:26), when they repent and believe the gospel preached they live according to God in His Spirit apart from torments eagerly waiting for the Return of Christ (1 Pet. 4:6; Heb. 9:27-28; 1 Cor. 5:5; 1 Thess. 4:15-18). Like Lazarus they are in a restful state.

Confirming repentance and eventual salvation is possible for the elect in Hades, Jews who died enemies of the Gospel are still God’s Elect (Rom. 11:28) He will not forsake (Rom. 11:1). God’s election to predestination (Rom. 8:29), the gifts and calling of God; are irrevocable (Rom. 11:29). Although they died enemies of the Gospel (Rom. 11:28), and so judged according to men in the flesh, they can choose to live according to God in the Spirit (1 Pet. 4:6), eagerly waiting (Heb. 9:28) for their Deliverer:

26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob;
27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”
28 Concerning the gospel they are enemies for your sake, but concerning the election they are beloved for the sake of the fathers.
29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. (Rom. 11:26-29 NKJ)

When God’s mercy and love, His righteous judgments are made manifest, all the earth will see His glory and cry out:

Who shall not fear You, O Lord, and glorify Your name? For You alone are holy. For all nations shall come and worship before You, For Your judgments have been manifested.” (Rev. 15:4 NKJ)


27 Καὶ καθ᾽ ὅσον ἀπόκειται τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἅπαξ ἀποθανεῖν, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο κρίσις·
28 οὕτως καὶ ὁ χριστός, ἅπαξ προσενεχθεὶς εἰς τὸ πολλῶν ἀνενεγκεῖν ἁμαρτίας (Heb. 9:27-28

The article doesn’t appear before krisis so this does not refer to “the Judgment” before the Great White Throne (Rev. 20:11). The parallel with humans is elegance with a twist. Both Christ and humans were appointed to die once for sins. His death is a sacrifice for our sins, while our death for our sins. The Divine “determination” or “Judgment” is we bear their cost in Hades, but the Divine “determination” for Christ’s sacrifice is He became our Redeemer who takes away the sins of the many who repent and “live according to God in the Spirit” (1 Pet. 4:6). That is why these human dead eagerly wait in Hades for the coming of Christ a second time apart from sins when He will raise them from the dead in Salvation:

so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation. (Heb. 9:28 NKJ)

God’s Plan for the Lost
Elect Rise From Hell On Judgment Day?
Preaching to the Dead (Postmortem Evangelism)
Does the Lake of Fire Symbolize Eternal Torment for all cast into it?
Jesus Preached to the Dead

What did the apostle John reveal when he said: “It is the last hour”?
Where Is The Judgment Of Fallen Angels?

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