Perhaps the clearest and most accurate account of what happens to mankind after death is given by our greatest Authority, the Lord Jesus himself, as recounted by Luke, who was inspired by the Holy Spirit. It is found in Luke 16, verses 19 to 31.
It should be noted that this is not spoken of as a parable. Some critics seem to explain away the solemn implications of the story by carelessly waving it off as a parable. The Lord did not mention the name of the rich man, but he did disclose the name of the beggar: Lazarus.
At the outset, it should be made clear that the unnamed rich man was not condemned to Hades because of his wealth. The basis of salvation is faith in the Lord, and men are condemned for refusing to believe on Him. But this particular rich man showed that he did not have true saving faith by his careless disregard of the beggar who was laid at his gate. He had no genuine love for God, and no care for his fellow man. If he had had the love of God in him, he could not have lived in luxury, comfort, and ease when a fellow man was outside his front door, begging for a few crumbs of bread.
It is likewise true that Lazarus was not saved because he was poor. He had humbled himself before the Lord in repentance and trusted in Him for the salvation of his soul. This detail was left out but is implied from other Scriptures.
When the beggar died, he was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. Many question whether angels actually participate in conveying the souls of believers to heaven. We see no reason, however, for doubting the plain force of the words. Angels minister to believers in this life, and there seems no reason why they should not do so at the time of death. Abraham’s bosom is a symbolic expression to denote the place of bliss, also called Paradise. To any Jew, the thought of enjoying fellowship with Abraham would suggest inexpressible bliss. The Lord Jesus himself went to Paradise after He died on the cross, as he told the repentant robber crucified next to Him, promising him he would also be there.
When the rich man died, his body was buried - the body that he had catered to, and for which he had spent so much (the beggars body was probably thrown into the Valley of Gehenna where refuse was thrown and burned according to custom). The rich man’s soul, or conscious self, went to Hades. Hades is the Greek for the Old Testament word Sheol, the state of departed spirits. In the Old Testament period, it was spoken of as the abode of both saved and unsaved. But there were two different places within it, Paradise where the beggar was taken, and Hell where the rich man found himself, as he was in torments.
Verse 23 disproves the idea of “soul sleep”, the theory that the soul is not conscious between death and resurrection. It proves that there is conscious existence beyond the grave. In fact, we are struck by the extent of knowledge which the rich man had. He ... saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. He was even able to communicate with Abraham. Calling him Father Abraham, he begged for mercy, pleading that Lazarus might bring a drop of water and cool his tongue. There is, of course, a question as to how a disembodied soul can experience thirst and anguish from flame. We can only conclude that the language is figurative, but that does not mean that the suffering was not real.
We learn in verse 26 that the choices of this life determine our eternal destiny, and once death has taken place, that destiny is fixed. There is no passage from the abode of the saved to that of the damned, or vice versa.
From the New Testament, we know that when a believer dies, his body goes to the grave, but his soul goes immediately to be with Christ in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8 Philippians 1:23). Christ went to heaven at the time of His ascension, and took Paradise with Him, where it was seen, in a vision, by Paul (2 Corinthians 12:4). This transfer is possibly what is meant in Ephesians 4:8.
When an unbeliever dies, his body likewise goes to the grave, but his soul goes to Hades, as in the account given by the Lord. For the unbeliever, Hades is a place of suffering and remorse.
See terms descriptive of Hell in Matthew 13:42; 25:46; Philippians 3:19; 2 Thessalonians 1:9; Hebrews 10:39; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 1:13; Revelation 2:11; 19:20; 20:6,10, 14:8.
19 "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.
20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,
21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 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.
23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 "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.'
25 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.
26 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.'
27 "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house,
28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'
29 Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.'
30 And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'
31 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 chapter 16, verses 19 to 31