The Bible records a story that Jesus Christ told about contrasting eternal destinies between two men who had very different lives on Earth: a poor beggar named Lazarus (not to be confused with another man named Lazarus, whom Jesus miraculously raised from the dead) and the rich man who refused to help Lazarus when he had the chance to do so. While on Earth, Lazarus finds compassion only from dogs, rather than from people. But when he dies, God sends angels to carry Lazarus to heaven, where he enjoys eternal rewards. When the rich man dies, he discovers that his fortunes have also been reversed: he ends up in hell. Here's the story from Luke 16:19-31, with commentary:
Compassion Only From Dogs
Jesus begins telling the story in verses 19-21: "Here was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores."
The dogs would have promoted healing by licking Lazarus’ wounds, since dog saliva contains the antibacterial enzyme lysozyme, and stimulating the skin around the wounds through licking would increase healing blood flow to the area. Dogs often lick their own wounds to encourage them to heal. By licking Lazarus’ wounds, these dogs were showing him compassion.
Angelic Escorts and Talking with Abraham
The story continues in verses 22-26: "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side [heaven]. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades [hell], where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
The biblical prophet Abraham, who long ago went to heaven, tells Lazarus and the rich man that people's eternal destinies are final once they've been decided -- and no can assume that the circumstances of a person's afterlife will be the same as those in his or her earthly life.
Neither the wealth nor the social position that a person has on Earth determines a person’s spiritual standing before God. While some people may assume that rich and admired people enjoy God’s blessings, Jesus is saying here that assumption is wrong. Rather, what determines a person’s spiritual standing -- and therefore, his or her eternal destiny -- is how that person responds to God’s love, which God offers freely to everyone on Earth. Lazarus decided to respond to God's love with faith, while the rich man chose to respond by rejecting God's love. So it was Lazarus who got the blessing of going to heaven as a VIP, with angelic escorts.
By telling this story, Jesus is asking people to consider what they care about the most, and whether or not that has eternal value. Do they care most about how much money they have, or about what other people think of them? Or do they care most about being close to God? Those who truly love God will have God's love flowing through their lives, which will motivate them to love people by showing compassion to people in need, such as Lazarus was when he was a poor beggar.
A Request That Can't be Granted
The story concludes in verses 27-31: "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Although the rich man hopes that his five brothers would listen to him tell them the truth about the afterlife and repent and believe if they see him miraculously visit them from the dead, Abraham disagrees. Simply having a miraculous experience isn't enough to cause rebellious people to repent from their sins and respond to God's love with faith. Abraham says that if the rich man's brothers aren't listening to what Moses and other biblical prophets have said in the scriptures, they won't be convinced even by a miracle, because they've decided to live in rebellion rather than truly seek God.