We are looking at the subject of "hell." And by "hell" I mean a place of eternal conscience torment. At the end of last weeks message, "Hell, No!" I said, "As always, I ask that you not accept what I say and not reject what I say, but that you be a Berean and search the Scriptures and see if these things are so." Well this week I received and e-mail from a Berean who questioned the fact of Gehenna being the garbage dump of Jerusalem. So I did some more research and I think he may be right. We all tend to end up on that calf path from time to time.
After more research this week here's what I found. There seems to be no evidence that the valley of Gehenna was, in fact, a perpetually burning garbage dump. There are no literary sources or archaeological data from the intertestamental or rabbinic periods to suggest that Gehenna was Jerusalem's burning garbage dumb. There is no mention of Gehenna being a garbage dump in the writings we have from Church Fathers, Christian and Jewish writers, or even secular writers.
W. D. Davies and D. C. Allison, in their excellent commentary on Matthew, note the lack of ancient evidence, but do not entirely reject the notion of a garbage dump. I think that the fact that 2 Kings 23:10 says that Josiah defiled Topheth gives us the idea that he turned it into a garbage dumb. But maybe we think that because it is already planted in our heads.
So if in fact Gehenna was not Jerusalem's garbage dumb, where did this idea of come from? It seems that the earliest mention of this theory comes a Rabbi named David Kimhi who wrote a commentary on Psalm 27 in the 13th Century. He remarked, "Gehenna is a repugnant place, into which filth and cadavers are thrown, and in which fires perpetually burn in order to consume the filth and bones; on which account, by analogy, the judgement of the wicked is called 'Gehenna.'"
So this very popular idea seems to have originated in Jewish circles in the Middle Ages. So maybe Gehenna was not a trash dump for Jerusalem. This really doesn't change what we talked about last week. What then did Yeshua mean by the "fires of Gehenna."
And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. Mark 9:43 ESV
So when Yeshua used "Gehenna" what did they think of, what did it represent? Let me briefly review what we saw last week:
And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind. Therefore, behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when it will no more be called Topheth, or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter; for they will bury in Topheth, because there is no room elsewhere. Jeremiah 7:31-32 ESV
Isaiah had already spoken of Topheth as the fiery destiny of an enemy of God.
For Topheth has long been ready, Indeed, it has been prepared for the king. He has made it deep and large, A pyre of fire with plenty of wood; The breath of the LORD, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire. Isaiah 30:33 NASB
So in the Tanakh the Valley of Hinnom was associated with the destiny of the wicked. It was a place of fiery judgment. Isaiah closes his book with these words:
"And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh." Isaiah 66:24 ESV
This verse is talking about God's destruction of Jerusalem in the generation when Yeshua was crucified. When Yeshua quoted these word in Mark 9:48-49, "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched," the disciples would have been familiar with these words as referring to a national judgment.
Edward Robinson, who was a preeminent explorer of the Holy Land beginning in 1838 wrote: "In these gardens, lying partly within the mouth of Hinnom and partly in the Valley of Jehoshaphat, and irrigated by the waters of Siloam, Jerome assigns the place of Tophet; where the Jews practiced the horrid rites of Baal and Moloch, and 'burned their sons and their daughters in the fire.' It was probably in allusion to this detested and abominable fire, that the later Jews applied the name of this valley (Gehenna), to denote the place of future punishment or the fires of hell. At least there is no evidence of any other fires having been kept up in the valley; as has sometimes been supposed" (Biblical Researches, vol. 1 , 404-5).
So the valley of Hinnon was the scene of human sacrifices, burned in the worship of Moloch and Baal (2 Kings 16:3 and 21:6), which accounts for the prophecy of Jeremiah that it would be called the Valley of Slaughter under judgment of God (Jer. 7:32-33). This combination of abominable fires and divine judgment led to the association of the valley with a place of perpetual fiery judgment. Gehenna was a reference to the Valley of Hinnon and the fiery judgment of God. As I said last week, Gehenna was a place that had become identified in people's minds as the symbol of national judgement. So Gehenna is not a reference to eternal conscience torment, it is a reference to national judgment, a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
So Gehenna has noting to do with eternal conscience torment, but most Christians think there is a place of eternal fire and torment called "Hell," which will be the ultimate fate of the wicked. But what does the Bible say about Hell? Nothing! The word "Hell" is not in the original language of the Bible, and if you see it in your Bible, it is a bad translation. The word "hell" is mistranslated in the Tanakh from the Hebrew word Sheol which is never seen as a fiery place of torment. Sheol refers to the state of being dead, or the grave—it does not necessarily refer to an actual place. In this sense of the term, all humans go there. Hence there is no need to see it as an actual physical place where all the dead went. It is merely symbolic of death.
In the New Testament the word "hell" is mistranslated from three Greek words. The word Hades, which is translated from the word which is the Greek equivalent of Sheol (the place of the dead). It is translated from the Greek word "Tartaroo" once, which is the place of the condemned angels. And 12 times hell is translated from the Greek word "Gehenna." As we have said Gehenna is a symbol of national judgment. So none of these word speak of the abode of the damned, where they under go eternal conscience punishment. So none of the KJV's uses of "hell" have anything to do with a fiery place of torment. So as I said earlier, the word "hell" should not be in your Bible. Translating the terms "Sheol," "Hades," "Gehenna," or "Tartarus" in a manner that denotes a place of "eternal punishment" is a perversion of God's Word.
As we saw last week the idea of eternal conscience torment is not found in the Tanakh. So let me ask you what New Covenant truth is not found in the Tanakh? The only one that I know of is the mystery of Jew and Gentile being one body in Christ. So if the doctrine of eternal conscience torment is true, why do we never see it in the Tanakh?
So no hint of eternal conscience torment in the Tanakh, but it does show up in
Second Temple Judaism or Intertestamental Literature. All references in the Apocrypha to the end of the wicked is that of perishing except for one in Judith 16:17, which talks about eternal torment. This is our first picture of eternal torment in literature associated with the Bible. The literature of the Pseudepigrapha is equally split between the teaching of the wicked perishing and being eternally tormented. The Dead Sea Scrolls give a consistent picture of the total destruction of the wicked, they perish. No idea of eternal conscious torment is found in these documents. The Rabbinical Literature—Babylonian Talmud, Jerusalem Talmud and Mishna supports both views; that of the wicked perishing, and that of eternal torment. So there was not a single Jewish view.
So through out the Hebrew Scriptures we have no hint of the end of the wicked being eternal conscious torment, but once we get to the intertestamental period we start to see some indication of it. We'll talk about why this change came about during the intertestamental period next week.
This change of views from men perishing at death to being tortured is seen in the parable of Luke 16. We can't talk about hell with talking about Luke 16 and Lazarus and the Rich man. So let's look at this text and see if we can figure out what it is teaching.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' Luke 16:22-24 ESV
Does this sound like the traditional view of hell? This sure sounds like a story about God tormenting people with flames of fire. But there are elements around this story that teach us that this story has zero to do with an idea called hell. This idea of being tormented in hades is a view we would never have gotten from the Tanakh. So what is Yeshua talking about here?
I think the first thing we have to figure out is, is this a literal incident, or is this another of the several parables that are found in Luke's Gospel? If this were an actual account of life after death, there would be good reason to believe that there are countless sinners suffering eternal torment in hell's flames, screaming to heaven for relief.
Many facts make it clear that this is a parable and not an actual story. Do you think that people in heaven can see and talk to people in hell? Are the tormented in hell pleading for the residents of heaven to offer them relief? Is someone in heaven having to state reasons why these petitions cannot be granted? Would you enjoy heaven as you hear your loved ones scream in agony for eternity? Does that sound like heaven? Do you think that a drop of water on the tongue would somehow ease the suffering of being burned alive?
What exactly did Yeshua teach His disciples about the timing of God's judgment of sin and sinners?
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6:40 ESV
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. John 12:48 ESV
Judgment was to take place on the "last day" of the Old Covenant age. So how is this rich man suffering before the day of judgment? Christ taught that the dead are in their graves until the judgment:
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:28-29 ESV
As it stands, this story is irreconcilable with biblical teaching elsewhere. Our text says, "The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment"—this is the only place in the Bible where the dead are depicted as suffering in "hades" (or "sheol", the Hebrew equivalent). Yeshua taught that those who die, whether righteous or not, go to the grave and remain in their until the judgment. They do not retain consciousness. They do not go immediately to heaven or a place of torment.
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? Psalms 6:5 ESV
This passage affirms that in Sheol/Hades, which is death, there is no "remembrance" which is an attribute of conscious existence, and no one gives praise. This seems to be evidence that Sheol is a place of unconsciousness. But to make this point clear relative to the dead being unconscious in Hades, look at:
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Psalms 146:4 ESV
The Hebrew word for "breath" here is ruach, which is often translated as spirit.
For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love and their hate and their envy have already perished, and forever they have no more share in all that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 ESV
Everywhere in the Tanakh we see that death is perishing, no pain, no consciousness.
If man goes to heaven or hell immediately at his death, there would be no purpose in a resurrection. But the Bible teaches that the dead will be resurrected at Christ's Second Coming:
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2 ESV
The Hebrew word here for "contempt" is "darone." It is very important to note that the only other time it is used in all of Tanach is in Isaiah 66:24, which we discussed earlier. In Isaiah 66:24, those who have "darone" ("contempt" or "disgust") are the believers who go out and look upon the dead bodies (not living souls) of those who have been turned into ashes. Contempt and abhorrence are the way others think about them. It does not say they will forever be conscious or in torture, but that others will forever have shame and contempt for them. It is the contempt that is said to be everlasting, not persons. How does "everlasting contempt" become "everlasting torture"?
This resurrection happens after a time of great tribulation according to verse 1. It happens at the return of Christ. Man's eternal destiny is determined at the judgment, which according to the Bible, occurs at the Second Coming of Christ, not when a man dies:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Yeshua, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2 Timothy 4:1 ESV
At the time of Pentecost, King David was still in the grave/sheol:
"Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Acts 2:29 ESV
For David did not ascend into the heavens, but he himself says, "'The Lord said to my Lord, "Sit at my right hand, Acts 2:34 ESV
David had died 1,000 years earlier, and his body was still in the tomb/sheol.
This story of Lazarus and the rich man is a parable and parables cannot be taken literally. If we took parables literally, then we must believe that trees talk!
The trees once went out to anoint a king over them, and they said to the olive tree, 'Reign over us.' But the olive tree said to them, 'Shall I leave my abundance, by which gods and men are honored, and go hold sway over the trees?' And the trees said to the fig tree, 'You come and reign over us.' Judges 9:8-10 ESV
Do trees talk, do they assemble themselves together to appoint kings? No, parables are not be taken literally.
In his book, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Bernard Ramm says this about parables: "Determine the one central truth the parable is attempting to teach. This might be called the golden rule of parabolic interpretation for practically all writers on the subject mention it with stress."
Dodd writes, "The typical parable presents one single point of comparison." The details are not intended to have independent significance. Others have put the rule this way: "Don't make a parable walk on all fours." Let's keep this in mind as we look at this parable.
"There was a rich man"—in Luke 15 there are three parables. The third one begins, "There was a man who had two sons." Chapter 16 begins with a parable about, "There was a rich man." In chapter 19 a story is identified as a parable about "A nobleman went into a far country." These all begin the same way indicating that they are all parables.
Who is Yeshua talking to in this parable? What is the context?
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. Luke 16:14-15 ESV
Yeshua was actually speaking to the Pharisees. It was the Pharisees who had adopted the pagan view of the afterlife that when you die, you keep on living somewhere else.
The First Century Jewish Historian, Josephus, describes the Pharisees as having a belief in this place of pre-resurrection afterlife. He writes of the Pharisees: "They hold the belief that an immortal strength belongs to souls, and that there are beneath the earth punishments and rewards for those who in life devoted themselves to virtue or vileness, and that eternal imprisonment is appointed for the latter, but the possibility of returning to life for the former." (Josephus Ant. 18.1.3)
It was the Pharisees that assumed that if God was blessing them in this life, He would keep doing it in the next. If Yeshua were giving theological instruction to answer questions about God's eschatological judgment of sinners, we would expect Him to address those teachings to His disciples, not to the Pharisees.
Every one of the parables that Yeshua taught as recorded in Luke 15-16 targeted the Pharisees and exposed their incorrect assumptions and expectations. The Pharisees assumed that they were the 99 safe sheep, and that the shepherd would not care about the one that was lost. The Pharisees assumed that they were the coins already in possession, and valuable enough that the woman would not spend all that time looking for only one lost coin. The Pharisees assumed that the father would reject the prodigal's attempt at return, because there was the older son who had remained faithful. The Pharisees were the "honest" managers who did not fear dismissal, so they looked down on that dishonest manager who was desperate for help. The Pharisees saw themselves as the rich man, and expected to be just as comforted in the afterlife as they were in this one.
The rich man and Lazarus is the last in a string of stories Yeshua told in response to the Pharisees criticism of the rabble that Yeshua was associating with. Yeshua got to the point of these stories when He told those Pharisees, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts."
Talking to the chief priests and elders Yeshua said:
Which of the two did the will of his father?" They said, "The first." Yeshua said to them, "Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. Matthew 21:31-32 ESV
This is followed by the parable in which a householder let out his vineyard to wicked husbandmen. Each time a servant attempted to collect the owner's share of the harvest, he was mistreated. Finally, the landlord sent his son, thinking that the son would receive respect. Instead, the greedy husbandmen resented the presence of the heir and killed him. So the husbandmen were destroyed.
When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. Matthew 21:45 ESV
Matthew 22 opens with a parable of a wedding feast. In this story, the invited guests responded by offering reasons to be excused. The king then sent his servants into the highway to get as many as they could, both good and bad, to attend the marriage feast. Since this story follows the theme of the preceding two, it is logical to conclude that this also refers to the chief priests and Pharisees.
In each of the three parables just cited, those who were expected to receive God's glory were turned aside in favor of others who had been considered less worthy. The son who agreed quickly to work, the husbandmen who were given opportunity to take part in a profitable venture, and the guests who were first honored with a marriage invitation all failed to appreciate their advantaged position. They symbolize the chief priests, elders, and the Pharisees.
So what is the central truth of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man teaching? It is this:
Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. Matthew 21:43 ESV
This is what Yeshua is telling the Pharisees in our parable. Yeshua is telling the Pharisees that they are not going to enter the kingdom, but they are going to experience a fiery judgment.
Something that we must understand here is that this parable is not a story which Yeshua has made up "from scratch." He is using a story the Pharisees themselves might have used, but turning it against them. There is a consensus about this among scholars. In this parable Yeshua is using a familiar folktale and adapting it to a new purpose by adding an unfamiliar twist to the end of it. The story of the wicked rich man and the pious poor man, whose fortunes were reversed in the afterlife, seems to have come originally from Egypt, and was popular among Jewish teachers.
and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Luke 16:23 ESV
This representation of Hades does not agree with the views of the sacred writers on the subject. But it agrees perfectly with the ideas entertained by the Jews themselves concerning Hades. Christ drew this parable from the theological opinions of the Jews of His day concerning the state of the dead.
Josephus says, "Now as Hades, wherein the souls of the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is not necessary to speak of it. Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished, a subterraneous region where the light of this world does not shine; from which circumstance, that in this region the light does not shine, it cannot be but there must be in it perpetual darkness."
"This region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary judgments, agreeably to every one's behaviour and manners. In this region there is a certain place set apart as a lake of unquenchable fire, where unto we suppose no one hath hither to been cast, but it is prepared for a day afore determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall deservedly be passed upon all men. The just are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined. For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe stands an archangel with a host: which gate, when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they do not go the same way, but the just are guided to the right hand. This place we call the bosom of Abraham. But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good will, but as prisoners driven by violence into the neighborhood of Hell itself; who, when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapour . Not only so, but where they see the place of the Fathers and of the just, even hereby are they punished ; for a chaos, deep and large, is fixed between them; insomuch that a just man that hath compassion upon them cannot be admitted; nor can one that is unjust, if he were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it."
Now it should be clear that it is from this Pharisaic doctrine of Hades that we have the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Pharisees did not, however, get the idea from their own Scriptures, but from the heathen philosophers. If Christ sanctioned the Hadean state according to the Jewish belief at that time, which He didn't, then He plainly went against the teachings of the Old Covenant writers on the Hadean state.
This idea of a compartmentalized place in the after life was not biblical, but came from Pseudepigrapha. The Book of Enoch describes a compartmentalized place of the pre-resurrection afterlife. There are four compartments (22:2) but three "separations" (22:9) between them. These four compartments correspond to the four types of men according to the Talmud: "The righteous man who prospers, a righteous man who suffers, a wicked man who prospers, and a wicked man who suffers. (b.Ber. 7a).
Yeshua wasn't validating their false ideas, but using them against them. He was telling the Pharisees that just because they were natural descendants of Abraham, did not mean they were going to get the spiritual inheritance of the kingdom. Since these men were leaders of Israel, it may be concluded that the rich man in the parable symbolizes Israel.
"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. Luke 16:19 ESV
The parable tells us that the rich man, "feasted sumptuously every day." The rich man personifies the Jewish people, who were rich in religious privileges, being God's chosen, covenant people, as the Apostle Paul said of them:
They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises. To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen. Romans 9:4-5 ESV
Their priests were "clothed in purple and fine linen," and served at the altar "every day."
"Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! Revelation 18:16 ESV
So it seems to me that the rich man is apostate Israel living lavishly off of all that God has given them.
And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. Luke 16:20-21 ESV
I see Lazarus, the Beggar—representing the Gentiles. In regard to divine knowledge they had been poor indeed when compared with the Jews. They had no knowledge of God, nor of His law! In Matthew 15:21-28 is a story of a woman of Canaan who begged of Yeshua, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil." Yeshua ignored her. His disciples advised that He send her away. She was a Gentile. Yeshua says to her that He was, "not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel," and that it would not be appropriate to "take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs." The words used in her reply could identify her with the beggar, Lazarus. "And she said, Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table."
Uncircumcised Gentile proselytes of Judaism were referred to as "gate proselytes" or "strangers inside the gate." They enjoyed certain rights and privileges under the Mosaic Law. Is the parable condemning the rich man for leaving Lazarus outside when the Law obligated Jews to provide for foreigners inside?
The death of the two men in this parable may represent the changes brought about in the relationship between Jew and Gentile by the Gospel. Israel appeared to be the logical recipients of the grace of God. It did not turn out that way. The Gentiles were more receptive.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Luke 16:22-23 ESV
The Gentiles are now in "Abraham's bosom." Can anyone tell me another Scripture where this phrase is used? You won't be able to because there are none. This is the only place in the Bible where this phrase is used. This parable is using their cultural images to teach a lesson. The idea of Abraham's bosom came from something they picked up while in captivity in Babylon and is found in the Babylonian Talmud.
Abraham's bosom has reference to the Abrahamic promises made available to the Gentiles. They are now the children of Abraham, heirs of promises made to him, through faith in Christ.
John observed about Yeshua that "He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1:11). This favored nation lost her lofty status by rejecting the Gospel of Yeshua the Christ. This happened in AD 70 when the natural kingdom was taken away and the kingdom of God became spiritual in that Christ is ruling from heaven, not physical Jerusalem. The unbelieving Jews who rejected their Messiah would end up as outsiders literally weeping and gnashing their teeth in the fires of Jerusalem.
Josephus records, "While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance.
Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise—nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined.
There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate. The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail.
The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives." (Josephus' account appears in: Cornfield, Gaalya ed., Josephus, The Jewish War ; Duruy, Victor, History of Rome vol. V .)
"Now the seditious at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwards, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. However, when Titus, in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a groan; and, spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that this was not his doing; and such was the sad case of the city itself." (War of the Jews V 12.3-4)
So this is a parable is about the torment and literal destruction of Jerusalem that the rich Pharisees would go through because of their rejection of the Gospel. The rich man represents Israel, and Lazarus symbolizes the Gentiles. At the coming of the Gospel these two men exchanged positions of advantage. The rich man who previously fared sumptuously every day was now in torment. The deprived Lazarus found himself in Abraham's lap.
What was Yeshua intending to teach with this parable? I believe that He intended to point out the stubbornness of the Jews, and their impending doom for having rejected their Messiah, also to show that the Gentiles (who had been beggars in the estimation of the Jews), would be brought into covenant relationship with the promises and covenants made to Abraham!
But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'" Luke 16:29-31 ESV
This assertion was proven true, for Yeshua did raise a real Lazarus from the dead, but the miracle only enraged Jews, who sought to kill Him. Yeshua Himself was raised from the dead, but they still would not believe. And because of their unbelief their Temple was destroyed, and they were scattered, like autumn leaves before the wind, into all nations, they died to all their former privileges, died as a nation.
Dr. Lightfoot on the subject says: "The main scope and design of the parable seems to be this—to hint the destruction of the unbelieving Jews, who, though they had Moses and the prophets, did not believe them-nay, would not believe, though' one (even Jesus) arose from the dead. For that conclusion of the parable abundantly evidenced what it aimed at; if they hear not Moses and the prophets."
This parable is not about the after life it is about the coming judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70. It is about the end of Old Covenant Judaism and the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises. There is nothing here about eternal conscience torment.