The Point of No Return

Besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who woulda pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us” (Luke 16:26).

- Luke 16:19–31

Understanding the literary form of a particular passage of Scripture is essential for proper interpretation. If you read a poem like you read a narrative, for example, you may end up with all sorts of strange teachings that contradict the rest of the Bible.

Today’s passage is a parable, and so we must remember the essential guideline for interpreting parables correctly. Generally speaking, parables make one main point. Not every detail in a parable has a one-to-one correspondence with something in real life, as we expect in allegories. Some parables do have different elements that conform to different things, such as the parable of the soils (Mark 4:1–20). Yet even this exception to the rule conveys one fundamental idea. 

It is also true that Jesus would never use stories that might contradict the rest of Scripture’s teaching. For example, He would not teach us to do good deeds using an illustration based on reincarnation. This gives us license to believe the parable of the rich man and Lazarus depicts actual reality, for Jesus would have never used it if its implications denied the teaching of other texts on hell. Christ’s use of historical figures like Abraham in this parable supports this theory, as it sets the story apart from His other parables. 

Jesus begins the parable with a stark contrast between a man so wealthy that he owns the purple clothing only kings could afford and a poor man totally bereft of food and health (Luke 16:19–21). Both men die, and the rich man goes to hell, not because having wealth is evil, but because he ignored Lazarus’ suffering without remorse (v. 22). The rich man recognizes the righteousness of his punishment, for he never complains about his sentence. All he wants is a bit of water to alleviate his pain (v. 24).

We may speculate as to whether angels always escort believers into heaven or whether those in heaven can see those in hell and vice versa. However, the main point Jesus teaches here is the finality of death in relation to our eternal sentence. After death there is no opportunity to repent and change one’s destiny. An unbridgeable chasm exists between heaven and hell (v. 26).

Coram Deo

Second Corinthians 6:2b tells us “now is the day of salvation.” If we put off trusting in Christ, like the rich man in Jesus’ parable, we may not have an opportunity to trust Him later on. Today the Savior calls us to repentance and faith. We do not know what tomorrow may bring; our lives may be taken from us in an instant. If you are not a Christian, repent and trust Jesus for your salvation now. If you are a believer, tell a non-believer that today is the day of repentance.

Passages for Further Study

Ecclesiastes 8:8a
Jeremiah 20:11
Mark 9:42–50
Hebrews 9:27–28

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