…and he looked up and saw something different. He saw someone, like a Son of Man, talking with Lazarus and the rest…
As he wept, he gazes at the rough stone below him. Tears were his constant nourishment as he inched his way across the harsh landscape. Smoke, sulfur, and heat constantly filled his lungs, making it impossible for him to take a deep, full breath and bring back pleasant memories of the sweet, cool air he once knew in life. The cries for help filled his ears with a cacophony of lament, agony, and despair. His eternal bed was made of rocks and heat, so the smoothness of his purple robe and fine linens had long since worn off, and his hands were now covered in soot, calluses, and cuts. Father Abraham’s words , “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,” echoed in the once wealthy man’s ears as he went over the conversation again and again in his racing but still clear mind. He thought of his brothers and agonized that he couldn’t give them any warning. As he reflected on his past, he was reminded of the moments he had experienced. He recalled, and that realization caused him more pain than the cuts, thirst, and deafening clatter of screams that all sounded the same melodies of regret.
The unfortunate traveler glanced up from his stony path and saw a man standing in his way. He was fresh and undamaged by the rocks, so he didn’t have any burns, blisters, or cuts. The initial shock, utter despondency, and abject horror of death were written all over his face. A conversation wouldn’t have changed anything, but he decided to start a dialogue with this poor soul anyway.
“You! Can you tell us about your past life? Is it possible that you attended one of my lavish feasts? Do you remember if I ever did business with you?” The poor sod asked in the vain hope that this newcomer might have brought along a piece of his past that would allow him to relive a happier time.
The newcomer denied being a decent person and instead claimed to have been a thief.
“Oh no, the Romans nabbed you. Sure, you’ll get caught eventually.” Through his sulfuric cough, the wealthy man managed to reply. “That’s right, I noticed the holes too. They got you, that’s for sure.”
The stranger cast his gaze about. The thief searched his surroundings anxiously as if he’d lost a priceless gem, and then he glared angrily back at the man, whose dirty smile seemed to drip words of torment.
“To be precise, I wasn’t alone; in fact, I had two companions. Just WHERE are they, anyway? They ought to be here with me.”
“The formerly wealthy man said, “Well, this place is vast; it can hold many, and more arrive every day, if there is a day. Were they, in addition, larcenists? Did they get to experience all the joy you did?”
The thief replied, “No; in fact the one nearest me claimed He was a King and that He and the other one would be united in Paradise.”
The man recognized the phrase “Abraham’s Bosom” and had no reason to disbelieve the thief.
In order to have a conversation with the thief, he had to raise his head from his hands. But he also noticed the horrors that surrounded the newcomer. People he knew as a child were there. They were actively torturing each other. The wealthy man could hear their cries and see their proud bodies deteriorate into mad, raving wrecks that echoed his own regretful thoughts and the stench of this vile place. Formerly proud men and women who have fallen victim to the same pride in life that he once possessed.
It was difficult for the man to raise his head, but the word “paradise” rang in his ears with greater clarity than it had before.
When he first arrived in Sheol, he caught a glimpse of Paradise in the distance. Something inside of him wanted to look back into Abraham’s Bosom, to talk to someone who wasn’t covered in sores, soot, sulfur, and shame. When he raised his head he noticed a change. Someone was overheard by the wealthy man conversing with Lazarus and the others present. Many of them were familiar to him, and they clustered around this man. Around Him, a light shone brighter than anything the rich man had ever seen before. The Son of Man’s words appeared to dance on the rays of light, filling the void with a brilliance that could not be ignored. His words resounded throughout the region, and they all said the same thing: “It is finished…it is finished.” Both Lazarus and the crowd erupted in joy. They sang in glorious harmony to aid the message that sin was no longer an issue because God had already paid the penalty for it.
Everyone else, including the rich man and the thief, looked into the light and heard the song, and they all started weeping because they realized they were not included in the Good News. To them, it was clear that Jesus, the one who freed them, would also come to judge them. The people of Sheol knew a better place was waiting for them, a white throne room that would sentence them in the future. It would be a much worse place, making their current location seem like Paradise.
When everyone looked up, they noticed something out of the ordinary. In a moment, Paradise vanished, leaving them heartbroken and hopeless. This Jesus had taken them away to a place they had never been before but were certain they would one day visit if even for a moment.
Eventually, nobody was left. All the great ones were gone: Lazarus, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah…all gone.
The two criminals faced each other. What had transpired was obvious to both of them instantly. The man the thief ridiculed was a king, and the thief longed for a conversion of heart like the one his earthly counterpart had experienced. The wealthy man, who had once been clothed in purple and fine linen, realized how starkly exposed he now appeared and wished he had bought gold straight from the mine so he could have known what he was really like in his previous life on Earth. Only the fact that they were imprisoned and tortured made them regret their rebellion against the King.
What had been a brilliant light in Paradise was suddenly among them. Sheol was made visible by Jesus’ radiance and made a bright place for the dead. What the Son of God said in Heaven echoed through eternity. Despite the pleading and sobbing of those around him, the once-wealthy man already knew God’s answer.
Jesus finished singing a triumphant song and looked at the wealthy man with compassion in His eyes.
Rather than being remembered for your achievements, Jesus warned his followers that they would be remembered as a cautionary tale.
The wealthy man’s gaze sank to the ground’s hard surface as the last rays of daylight faded.
The night had returned in all its shadows. Once again, themes of torment and agony replaced the songs of victory that had filled the air. Everyone in this den of iniquity started screaming a chorus that made it sound even worse. At some point in the future, they will be ushered out of Sheol and into Hell, also known as the lake of fire.
Scripture used for this story:
- Luke 16:25
- Luke 16:27-28
- Luke 23:43
- Ephesians 4:8-10
- Luke 16:26
- John 19:30
- Romans 2:4
- Hebrews 9:27
- Revelation 20:11-16
- Ephesians 4:8
- Revelation 20:12-13)
- Revelation 20:14
- Revelation 3:17-18
- Luke 16:29
- 1 Peter 3:18-20
- Revelation 20:11-15