Abraham’s bosom is a Jewish idiom, meaning “paradise.” Jesus used it once in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. In other incidents, Jesus spoke of paradise as a place where “many” would “come from the east and west” and “sit down with Abraham” at the feast of “the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11; Luke 14:15). Abraham was the father of the Jews (John 8:39, 56), and they conceived the patriarchs as welcoming his children to paradise.
The parable of Abraham’s bosom should not be taken literally for Jesus was talking figuratively and drawing a clear distinction between this life and the next and showing the relationship of each to the other. Many facts make it clear that this is only a parable. A few are as follows:
- Abraham’s bosom is not heaven (Hebrews 11:8-10, 16).
- People in hell can’t talk to those in heaven (Isaiah 65:17).
- The dead are in their graves (Job 17:13; John 5:28, 29). The rich man was in bodily form with eyes, a tongue, etc., yet we know that the body does not go to hell at death. It is very obvious that the body remains in the grave, as the Bible says.
- Men are rewarded at Christ’s second coming, not at death (Revelation 22:11, 12).
- The lost are punished in hell at the end of the world, not when they die (Matthew 13:40-42). The point of the story is found in verse 31 of Luke 16. Parables cannot be taken literally. If we took parables literally, then we must believe that trees talk! (See this parable in Judges 9:8-15.)
To interpret this parable literally and teach that men receive their rewards immediately at death clearly contradicts Jesus’ own declaration that “the Son of man shall … reward every man according to his works” when He “shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels” (Matt. 16:27; 25:31–41; 1 Cor. 15:51–55; 1 Thess. 4:16, 17; Rev. 22:12; etc.) and not at death as taught by many.
The idea that at death men go to a place where they suffer “torments” is utterly foreign to the Scriptures, which teach plainly that “the dead know not any thing” (Eccl. 9:5; Ps. 146:4). Jesus Himself resembled death to a sleep (John 11:11, 14). In this parable, Jesus was not discussing either the state of man in death or the time when rewards will be passed out.
And some wrongly conclude from the parable of Abraham’s bosom that Jesus was teaching that at death the wicked are taken to a place where they undergo “torments.” But this would make Jesus contradict His plain teachings on that subject upon other occasions, as well as the teachings of the Bible as a whole. It is in the “hell” of geenna that sinners are to experience fiery torments (Matt. 5:22), not in hadēs. Thus, it is clear when Jesus therefore presented the rich man as a “tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24), in hadēs, He was clearly speaking figuratively.
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In His service,
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