Cloudwatch, in response to your question, this passage cannot possibly be a literal account of a rich man and a beggar, but those who wish to advance the idea of "consciousness in death" almost always insist that it is. To them, I ask, how can this be a literal account when:
- This passage is found right in the midst of several other parables and symbolic passages.
- It begins either identically or very similarly to the other parables that surround it.
- It cannot be a literal story when it contains so many symbolic elements that no one can deny:
- The myriad of speculation as to the meaning of "Abraham's Bosom" on the part of those claiming that this is a literal passage is in itself an indictment of their entire premise, for if the passage is indeed a literal story, for what reason then should there be a need for any speculation?
- "Abraham's Bosom" cannot possibly be large enough to accommodate all believers who have previously died.
- It is entirely unreasonable to believe that a literal man completely engulfed in flames would be able to hold a thoughtful conversation with anyone else, which points to the idea that Jesus is employing a high level of symbolism in this passage.
- One single drop of water placed on the tongue of a person totally engulfed in flames could not possibly do anything to cool it or any other part of the body, again, making the use of symbolism here painfully obvious.
- The two men are in possession of body parts although according to the passage the resurrection of the just has yet to have happened. This is a major contradiction for those who teach that at death the "spirit/soul" of the dead goes flying off to heaven or hell without a body to be reunited once again only after the resurrection.
- Many people do not realize that the word "hell" in the Bible is translated from one of four words ("Sheol" in the Old Testament and "Hades", "Gehenna", and "Tartarus" in the New Testament.) When Jesus said the Rich Man was "in hell", it is extremely important to consider that He did not choose the Greek word "Gehenna" which refers to the fiery, burning, blazing hell that so many people think of when they hear the word - He carefully and deliberately chose the word "hades", which is never translated to mean the "fiery, burning, blazing" hell but is many times translated as "the place of the dead" or "the grave". It is from this place that the dead, which includes both the dead in Christ and those dead in their sins, will come forth in the resurrection of Life or Damnation. If Jesus intended to teach that the Rich Man was a real man that had previously died and wound up in hellfire, then why did He not choose the Greek word "Gehenna" which means hellfire? Moreover, the book of Revelation says that "Hades" will be cast into the Lake of Fire, or hellfire, which proves that "Hades" and "Gehenna" are not the same thing. Jesus' deliberate choice of wording is strong evidence to support the idea that the flames which torment the Rich Man are actually a symbolic representation for some other source of the Rich Man's torment, just as the "Rich Man" himself is actually an obvious symbol for not one man, but for an entire nation of gluttonous, ungrateful, rebellious "chosen people" sitting at the Lord's "table of blessing" while leaving their poor, destitute neighbors wholly neglected. I'd be happy to provide a Biblical interpretation of this parable for you.
- Nowhere in the Bible do we find that the dead righteous and dead wicked are able to communicate with one another. To the contrary, the Bible unmistakably speaks of the dead as being in a state of unconscious silence, without thoughts, knowledge, wisdom, reasoning ability, memory, emotions, or the ability to praise God (See Job 14; Psalms 146:4; Ecclesiastes 9; Psalms 88:10-12; Psalms 115:17). King Saul is said to have died for communicating with a "familiar spirit" that he “perceived” was the dead prophet Samuel. The fact that the disembodied "Samuel" came up from below rather than down from heaven above, as many would expect, spoke to Saul, was irritated, remembered that the Lord would give David the kingdom, and possessed knowledge of the fate of Saul and his sons proves, in light of the above Bible verses, that this could not have been the dead prophet Samuel, but a demonic spirit engaged in a work of deception by taking the form of one familiar to the living, a "familiar spirit". The Bible likely refers to it as "Samuel" merely because it took the form of the dead prophet when Saul asked the witch to conjure it.
- In Matthew 13:34, the writer says that, "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them", which he then says was a fulfillment of the Messianic prophecy of Psalms 78. It is there that the Lord Himself declares that He would call together His people and speak to them in parables. It is more than reasonable to expect that the highly symbolic passage of the Rich Man and Lazarus was just one of the many parables that He Himself declared He would speak when He would come to us as the "Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world."