Luke 16 contains the account of the rich man and Lazarus. You may have noticed that I did not call this a parable. That’s because I do not believe it to be one.
This account does not bear the marks of a parable. First, there is a man who is named in the parable. That’s not found in any other parable. Second, the word parable means “to throw beside.” A parable is a real-life illustration or story of something that could or did happen, but there is an underlying spiritual lesson (cf Luke 15; 2 Samuel 12:1-15). In the account of the rich man and Lazarus, the story is the lesson. There are no cloaked or underlying truths.
Also, I used the word Paradise in the title, even though the word does not appear in the text. This is because I couldn’t think of a clever alliterative title using Hades! It is a common misunderstanding that Hades and hell are the same thing. Hades is the realm of the unseen, while hell is the eternal abode of the damned.
The entire scene of Luke 16:19-31 takes place in Hades. This is the realm of all departed souls as they await the final judgment. Within this realm, we see two occupied regions. The rich man was in torment in flames on one side, while Lazarus was comforted with Abraham on the other. Between the two was a great gulf fixed prohibiting passage from one side to the other.
The place of Lazarus’ and Abraham’s rest is called Paradise in other places. For example, in just a few days we will read Luke 23 and the account of Jesus and the penitent thief. To this man, Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” We know this is the same place as Luke 16 because Acts 2:27 says concerning Jesus, “You will not leave my soul in Hades.”
So, we see Hades is the place where Jesus’ departed soul went while He awaited His resurrection on the first day of the week. But it certainly wasn’t the Hadean realm of torment, as Jesus promised it as an affirmation of hope to the penitent thief.
In all the years I have read and studied these texts, today was the first time I ever considered that the impenitent thief, like the rich man before him, could see his former companion at rest in the bosom of Abraham. And like the rich man, he could remember the wasted and now expired opportunity to join them in that rest of hope. What a tragedy!