Where Are You Going When You Die?

Bible Book: 1 Corinthians  16 : 19-31
Subject: Death, Eternity
Series: Points in the Parables

I found an article recently that recorded some interesting epitaphs. For instance, on the tombstone of a dentist named John Brown, it says:

Stranger, approach this spot with gravity!

John Brown is filling his last cavity

Another epitaph reads:

Here lie the bones of Mary Jones

For her life had no terrors;

She lived an old maid,

She died an old maid,

No runs, no hits, no errors

On the tomb of Mel Blanc, the cartoonist that gave us Bugs Bunny and Porky Pig, it simply says:

That’s all, Folks!i

Is that really all? Once we have succumbed to the cold and breathless grip of death; is that truly the end? Is this life really all there is, or do we go somewhere when we die?

Many view death, and what follows it, as a total and complete mystery. Most people feel that whatever waits on the other side of death is something we cannot know until we get there.

In the Word of God, we find that the afterlife is not shrouded in mystery at all. In fact, the Bible goes to great lengths to tell us about what waits for us on the other side of the grave.

As we continue studying some of the parables of our Lord, we come to a parable that peels back the veil between this life and the next.

The story of the rich man and Lazarus, as it is called, is a story that forces us to face the question of where we are going when we die.

Since, according to God’s Word, we are going to live on beyond this life, no question could be more critical than where we are going to spend eternity.

As we examine this parable, we find that there are three messages that confront us. Notice with me first of all, that in this parable:


As you study the context in which this parable is found, you will see that Luke 16 is a chapter in which the Lord Jesus deals with the issue of money and stewardship.

The chapter opens with a parable about a steward that had wasted his master’s money. When we come to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in many ways, the Lord is continuing with the same theme.

Two characters are presented in this parable. One man is filthy rich, and the other is dirt poor. One man lives a life of selfishness, while the other lives a life of suffering.

The Lord Jesus paints this sharp contrast between the rich man and Lazarus to teach a lesson to those who are blessed in this life.

What is the social message of this parable? Notice a couple of social lessons we draw from this parable. Notice first of all:

A. The opportunity our blessings give us

We may not realize it, but if we are to place ourselves in this parable, most of us match up better with the rich man than with Lazarus.

What I mean is that most of us are remarkably rich and wealthy when compared to the rest of the world. Materially, we are blessed with far more than 90% of the world could ever dream of.

We throw away more food in a day than many in the world will see in a week. We will spend more money on a car than most of the world will make in their lifetime. Most of us have more pairs of shoes in our closets than could be found in entire villages in other parts of the world.

Compared to most of humanity, we “fare sumptuously” in life. We have been blessed.

Contrary to what some assume, the rich man in this parable is not punished merely because he was rich. He was punished because he failed to see the opportunity his riches afforded him.

The Lord Jesus tells us that just outside the gate of this rich man’s home, in a place where the rich man would have passed nearly every day, lay the pitiful and sad figure of Lazarus.

The rich man had more than enough wealth to have ministered to the life of Lazarus, but he missed the opportunity his blessings had given him.

Notice another aspect of the social message of this parable. Notice not only the opportunity our blessings give us, but notice also further:

B. The obligation our blessings give us

As a Christian, we do not have the option of ignoring the needs of others around us while selfishly enjoying the blessings God has given us.

In James chapter two, the apostle says, “If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food…[and] ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead…(v.15-17)”

In 1 John 3:17, we find this question, “But whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him, how dwelleth the love of God in him?”

As believers, and more specifically as blessed believers, we have an obligation to share our blessings with those around us who are in need.

The old Scottish preacher, G.H. Morrison makes a statement to us about this parable. He says, “Wherever you are, there is a Lazarus near.”ii

There are always around us, regardless of our personal situation, those who are less fortunate than us. We are therefore obligated, by the Word of God to minister to the Lazarus that lives near us.

There is a social message in this parable, and it is in response to this social message that we give money to benevolence, and to ministries that meet the physical needs in our community and around the world.

There is in this parable a social message, but if that is all you see, you will miss the other critical and eternal truths that exist in our this parable. Notice with me a second message we find here. Notice not only that there is a social message, but notice also further that in this parable:


The Lord Jesus describes these two drastically different characters, and then goes on to tell us that both of these men died.

Death pays no attention to social class or economic status. Both the poor and the rich must answer the toll of death’s bell.

We pick up the parable in verse 22. It says, “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;”

The Lord continues in verse 23, “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments…” Here the parable takes a somber and serious turn. The Lord Jesus tells us that while Lazarus awoke to the blessings of heaven, the rich man opened his eyes in a burning hell.

The Biblical doctrine of hell is one that is increasingly unpopular in our day. Nevertheless, as we study the Word of God, we find repeated the serious message about a place called hell.

Notice with me a couple of things we draw from this parable about the serious message of hell. Notice first of all that:

A. Hell is an actual place

In 2000, U.S. News & World Report published an article entitled “Hell Hath No Fury”. The article stated that 64% of Americans believed in a hell, 25% did not, and 9% said they did not know.iii

In reality, it doesn’t matter if anyone believes in a literal place called hell or not. The Word of God clearly and plainly states that there is an actual place called hell.

In our text in Luke 16, the Lord Jesus Himself says that when the rich man died, he opened his eyes in a place called hell.

We may spurn and deny the existence of hell, but it does not change the fact that there is a place of everlasting punishment called hell. The Word of God clearly portrays that hell is an actual place.

If you head some twenty miles northwest of Ann Arbor, MI, you can literally go to Hell. Up highway six is the little town of Hell, MI, zip code 48169. The unofficial population of Hell is 266.

The town of Hell, MI is named after the biblical place of the same name, but I assure you that they are nothing alike.

The parable in Luke 16, along with many other passages in the Bible, confirms that hell is an actual place.

Notice something else we find in this parable about the serious message of hell. Notice not only that hell is an actual place, but notice also further that:

B. Hell is an awful place

I want you to notice some of the language our Lord employs as he describes the rich man, and his state in hell.

First, in verse 23, it says, “…in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments…” Notice that word “torments”. It is translated from a Greek word that describes a rack used for torturing people.

Then in verse 24, the rich man says, “…I am tormented in this flame…” Here, the word “tormented” comes from a different Greek word that literally means anguish caused by intense pain.

Hell is a horrible, dreadful, fearful, and awful place in which men are consciously and continually tormented by never-ending flames.

A million cries of agony roar through the chasm of that terrible place, as men suffer for all eternity without even one brief second of relief or rest.

Words cannot describe nor could the mind conceive the horror, and terror of the actual and awful place called hell.

Hear the Word of your God! Hell is no myth! Hell is no fable concocted as a scare tactic for religion! Hell is a truly and terribly real place, where millions of men and women will horribly suffer in an endless, hopeless eternity.

It is a serious message! Let us not take lightly that which the Word of God speaks about with such frequency and clarity.

As we further study this parable, we find yet another message. We see not only that there is a social message, and there is a serious message, but we see also thirdly and finally that in this parable:


When it comes to interpreting this parable, it is important that we approach the task carefully. Ultimately, we must ask, why did the rich man go to hell?

From a larger perspective, why does anyone go to hell? There are some clues in this parable as to why people die and go to this awful place called hell.

Notice carefully the rich man’s words in our text. In verse 24, he asks for Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water to cool his burning tongue. It is interesting that while he did nothing for Lazarus while he suffered, he now wishes for Lazarus to help him in his suffering.

Then in verse 27, the rich man asks that Abraham send Lazarus to speak to His brothers, and to warn them about coming to hell. Notice verse 29. It says, “Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”

The spiritual message of this parable is found in that phrase, “Moses and the prophets.” This phrase speaks of the Word of God. Abraham said that the brothers should hear and heed the Word of God if they wanted to escape hell.

There are a couple of truths we draw from this spiritual message. Notice first of all:

A. The importance of announcing the gospel

Notice again in verse 29. Abraham answers the rich man’s request to warn his brothers by saying, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”

It is the hearing of the Word of God, and the message of the gospel that alone can deter men and women from going to hell.

There are countless people around us that are headed to an end much like the rich man in this story. When they close their eyes in death, they will open them in a place more terrible than we could possibly imagine.

As believers, the doctrine of hell should motivate us to announce and proclaim with boldness the message of the gospel!

Yes, hell is all too real, but it is also avoidable. Every one in hell deserves to be there, but no one has to be there. The gospel tells men and women that through repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, they can be saved from the wrath of hell.

The story is told of when then Vice President Calvin Coolidge was presiding over the Senate. One day a senator angrily told another senator to go “straight to hell.” The offended senator complained to Coolidge, who looked up from a book he was reading and said, “I’ve been reading the rule book. You don’t have to go.”iv

We will not help the lost world around us by downplaying the doctrine of hell. We will however help them by telling them that by the grace of God in Christ Jesus, they do not have to go!

The spiritual message we draw from this parable reminds us not only of the importance of announcing the gospel, but notice also further and most importantly, the spiritual message of this parable reminds us of:

B. The importance of accepting the gospel

Look again at our text. In verse 29, Abraham tells the rich man that his brothers should heed the words of Moses and the prophets.

Now notice the rich man’s response in verse 30. He says, “Nay, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.”

If you think carefully about what this rich man is saying, you will find in his words a subtle jab at God. The rich man is saying that God did not do enough to warn him about hell.

Gary Inrig, in his wonderful book on the parables, paraphrases the rich man’s words this way: “I didn’t have a fair chance. God could have done more. If He had communicated more clearly or attracted my attention more dramatically, I would have repented…”v

There are countless people today, who like this rich man, have refused to hear and heed the Word of God. They have yet to come to Christ because they are not yet convinced in the truth of God’s Word.

For those people, this parable serves as a stark and strong warning. God is not going to do anything more than He has done to convince your unbelieving heart.

2,000 years ago, God sent His only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross for your sins. He recorded the truth of that gospel in a book that He has miraculously and wonderfully preserved until this day.

For lack of a better term, the ball is now in your court! He presents you with the message, but you must believe if you are to be saved from the fires of eternal damnation! It is important, direly important, that you accept the gospel!

There are certainly more comfortable truths in the Bible than those presented in this parable, but I doubt there are any as important.

The rich man stands as an eternal testimony that the Judge of all the universe will do right. Sin will be punished, and therefore hell will be filled with guilty sinners.

The truth is however, so will heaven. The only difference in the sinner that burns in hell and the sinner that is blessed in heaven is their response to the Lord Jesus Christ!

Those that repent, and place their faith in Christ are spared from the torments of hell, because their hell was poured out on Christ at the cross.

As we leave this parable, ask yourself this question, “Will you listen to Moses and the prophets?” Will you give attention to the Word of God and to the gospel?

If so, then you will both accept and announce the truth of Jesus Christ!


i Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes; p. 184

ii Morrison on Luke,Volume II; Morrison, G.H.; p. 72

iii Perfect Illustrations; p. 132

iv Nelson’s Complete Book of Stories, Illustrations, & Quotes; p. 434

v The Parables; Inrig, Gary; p.130