Everyone asks, “What about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19?” The teaching of Conditional Immortality means that the soul of man is finally destroyed on the Day of Judgment–at the end of this age. Therefore, technically speaking, this scripture has no bearing on this doctrine.
However, as a side note, there is sufficient reason for understanding this passage of scripture as a parable.
The parable in Luke 16:1, which He just told them, also began with the exact same words “There was a certain rich man,” (Luke 16:1). That story, “the parable of the shrewd accountant,” is clearly a parable (though not labeled as such). These two stories both have to do with “mammon” (money) and the misuse of it. If the first is clearly a parable, why not the second, for it is in the exact same section of scripture?
The point of the parable is at the end, “And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16:31). He told them this parable to make the point that, “No matter what anyone tells them (i.e. the Pharisees), they will never believe in me because they refuse to believe even Moses and the prophets.” Jesus just said money was their god (verse 14). He made a point and backs it up with a parable. The ultimate point of this parable is that their unbelief is due to money–not lack of evidence.
Matthew tells us, “and without a parable spake he not unto them.” (Matthew 13:34)
The Greek word used in this passage is not Gehenna (hell), but it is Hades (temporary abode of the dead). It is a different Greek word. A word that most translators mistranslate as “hell.”
Note: For an excellent study on this passage and Hades see What is Sheol. Remember, Hades will be itself emptied and destroyed one day:
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. (Rev 20:14)
The great nineteenth century Hebrew Christian scholar Alfred Edersheim flatly states it is a parable:
“The Parable itself is strictly of the Pharisees and their relation to the “publicans and sinners” whom they despised…their Pharisaic righteousness, which left poor Lazarus at their door to the dogs and to famine, not bestowing in him aught from their supposed rich festive banquets…it will be necessary in the interpretation of this Parable to keep in mind, that its Parabolic details must not be exploited, nor doctrines of any kind derived from them, either as to the character of the other world.”
(The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Alfred Edersheim, Hendrickson Publishers, Peabody Mass., 1993, p. 667)
Inter-Varsity Press scholar Craig Keener and many other conservative commentators also call it a parable:
“Some Jewish parables, including the rabbinic one mentioned at the beginning of this section, named a character or two…But this parable specifies only economic inversion.”
(Craig S. Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary New Testament, Downers Grove, Inter Varsity Press, 1993, p. 236)
The list could go on and on, but suffice it to say that there are sufficient grounds for looking at this as a parable. Either way, let it be said again, that the teaching of Conditional Immortality means that the soul of man is finally destroyed on the “Day of Judgment”–at the end of this age (Revelation 20:14. Therefore, technically speaking, this scripture has no bearing on the doctrine of Conditional Immortality, the destruction of the lost. Many Evangelicals who hold to Conditional Immortality also hold different views on the intermediate state and this paper does not discuss the intermediate state. It is also important to remember that if Jesus suffered on the cross for about six hours–we have every reason to believe that the lost will suffer no more than the same amount of time that Jesus suffered.
NOTE: For great information on the intermediate state of “Sheol”–visit www.sheol-know.org.