What is the “great gulf” in the Bible? What does it signify?

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The phrase the “great gulf” is mentioned in the gospel of Luke in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In this parable, Jesus continues the lesson given in the parable of the Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1–12). This lesson teaches that the use made of the opportunities of life decides human future destiny (vs. 1, 4, 9, 11, 12).

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.

Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31).

The great gulf

The “great gulf” signifies the difference in moral character between the wealthy man and the poor Lazarus. The fixing of the gulf means that after death, the character of a person cannot be altered. It is too late to change it (Isaiah 26:10). This gap that striped the rich man from the happiness of “Abraham’s bosom” had been created in the present life, by his own neglect of using the opportunities that had been given to him by God that he may prepare for eternal life.

The rich man erred in thinking that salvation is based on Abrahamic descent rather than upon a relationship with God (Ezekiel 18). In this parable, Jesus addressed the Pharisees (Luke 16:9) who rejected His teachings on stewardship (v. 14). They had no excuse for they had sufficient light by “the law and the prophets,” and also through the preaching of John (v. 16).

Fulfillment of the challenge

A few weeks later, as if in response to the challenge of the Pharisees when they asked for more evidence than what they had before, Jesus raised Lazarus from death. But instead of believing in Christ, they hardened their hearts and planned to kill the Son of God (John 11:47–54). They also wanted to destroy Lazarus to eliminate the evidence of Jesus’ miracle (John 12:9). Thus, the religious leaders offered a literal fulfillment of the truth of Jesus’ words, that those who reject the OT would also reject “greater” light, even with the proof of a witness of one who “rose from the dead.”

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

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