What a Dead Man Learned Too Late

Wayne Greeson

“It’s good to learn from your mistakes. It’s better to learn from other people’s mistakes.” Warren Buffett.

There are some mistakes we make that we can recover from. Then there are other mistakes from which there is no possibility of recovery. If we remain in our mistakes until we die, there is no chance to correct our error, there is no second shot in death. For “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Hebrews 9:27. These are the kind of mistakes that it’s far better to learn from other people.

If only we could learn from the mistakes of someone beyond death’s door. What would they say if they could speak to us? What would they tell us were their mistakes that we should learn from?

Jesus gave us this opportunity. He told us about a man who died and what he learned after his death about the mistakes he had made in his life. Jesus told us about the rich man and Lazarus, that we might learn before we die, what the rich man learned too late.

The rich man died. “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 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.’” Luke 16:22-24.

The first thing the dead man learned was, death was not an annihilation of his being. And, although he was dead, he was not in a state of unconscious sleep. He was conscious and felt extreme pain. This pain he described as torment.

Many deny that we will have conscious existence after death. This idea is often linked with the denial of torment after death. The argument is often made that our God is loving and merciful and for Him to condemn any one of His creatures to eternal torment is contrary to His nature.

But Paul said: “Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness.” Romans 11:22.

It is true that “God is love.” 1 John 4:16. But “our God is (also) a consuming fire.” Hebrews 12:29. Why a consuming fire?

Paul says “it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you… the Lord Jesus (will) … in flaming fire take vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 2 Thessalonians 1:6-8.

The apostle of love, John, wrote that God would punish the devil by eternal torment. “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” Revelation 20:10.

Jesus said that this same punishment will be given to those who do not care for “one of the least of these….” Matthew 25:41-46. “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ … And these will go away into everlasting punishment….” 25:41, 46. Jesus confirms this by telling us of the torment of the dead rich man in Hades.

The dead man learned in his death about the importance of the quality of mercy. The first thing he wanted was mercy. ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me….” Luke 16:24.

How great must his misery have been, for one who had never known want or needed mercy, to immediately ask for mercy for himself. His request was also very modest. All he asked was for Lazarus to dip his finger in water, then come and cool his tongue. Perhaps he asked for so little because he understood his punishment was just.

But Abraham gave the man two reasons why he would receive no mercy to relieve his torment. The first reason was because the man’s punishment was given by the retributive justice of God.

“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.” Luke 16:25.

(The second reason was that Lazarus could not get to the rich man, even if he wanted. “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.’” 16:26.)

The Scriptures clearly teach that God’s justice administering punishment and reward is based upon the principle of retribution. After death, God punishes or rewards based upon what one has done during their lifetime. “Also to You, O Lord, belongs mercy; For You render to each one according to his work.” Psalm 62:12.

Abraham explained to the dead man would receive no mercy in his death, based upon his lifetime. He had received good things in his life, while Lazarus evil things. The rich man received wealth and had a home, rich clothing and plenty of food. While Lazarus covered in sores was so poor, he begged for crumbs from the rich man.

The evil Lazarus received was not his poverty or hunger, but from the rich man. He had refused to give Lazarus mercy, refusing to provide even a few crumbs of the food Lazarus needed to live.

Because the rich man had not been merciful to Lazarus in his lifetime, he was now condemned by God to receive no mercy from his torment in the afterlife, not even a drop of water.

Solomon had warned the rich man, as well as you and I: “Whoever shuts his ears to the cry of the poor Will also cry himself and not be heard.” Proverbs 21:13.

Some might mistakenly believe that after death, that a loving and merciful God will overlook and ignore their lack of mercy and refusal to help those in need of help. But Jesus taught: “Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy.” Matthew 5:7.

Others might think that the principle of retribution is only an antiquated one from the Old Testament.

But Paul applies it to you and I today. “And do you think this, O man, you who judge those practicing such things, and doing the same, that you will escape the judgment of God? Or do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness—indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil….” Romans 2:3-9.

Learn now in your lifetime, what the dead man learned too late.

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