Arguably the most well known words of Jesus, thought to be describing heaven and hell, would have to be the account of Lazarus and the rich man as found in Luke 16:19-31. When taken literally the words paint a descriptive portrait of punishment and reward, but did Jesus intend for these words of his to be taken literally? Does the Bible contradict their literal interpretation? In the King James Version verse 23-25 we see Abraham in charge in heaven with Lazarus, and the rich man in tormenting flames.
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And 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.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
When taken literally, both Lazarus and Abraham are in heaven. With Jesus telling the story, it would have to be taking place before his atoning sacrifice of salvation. This would make Lazarus one of the faithful that are with Abraham as described in Hebrews 11. In verses 39-40, we are told these faithful are waiting for their promised heavenly city and immortality, until they, along with the rest of the saints, can receive the promises at the same time. Jesus told his disciples he would come back for them on the last day.
Taking conversations out of their contextual meaning can make it difficult to have acurite beliefs. It’s best to build our faith on conversations with obvious subject matter. One conversation that was exclusively about being born again and the Kingdom of God is recorded in John 3:1-21. In that conversation with Nicodemus, Jesus gives us the precise number of people that are in heaven. We find it recorded in John 3:13.
13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven.
Jesus tells us that no man was in heaven centuries after Abraham died and months before his own crucifixion. That’s right, Jesus told Nicodemious the exact number of people in heaven was zero. If not in heaven, where are the faithful in Hebrews 11? Nicodemious had a hard time understanding Jesus. Do you? Did Jesus know what he was talking about? What else could have Jesus meant when he spoke those words?