Not surprisingly, Alexander has weighed in with another thoughtful, weighty comment regarding Jesus’ story of the Rich Man and Lazarus
(Luk 16:19-31 ESV) 19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 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.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house — 28 for I have five brothers — so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 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.'”
This is, of course, one of the classic rejoinders to the arguments for conditional immortality — and for good reason. It just doesn’t seem to fit the theory.
Argument 1: Nothing here requires everlasting torment
“Hades” refers to the place where the dead are, either the grave or the afterlife.
The entire conversation could have taken place in 30 seconds. It’s just as possible that the rich man had been cast into Revelation’s Lake of Fire, was being painfully destroyed, but had not yet suffered utter destruction. In other words, the process of destroying someone separated from God is evidently a painful, agonizing process and not instantaneous.
There’s no need to assume that the rich man was in everlasting torment.
The problem with fitting this lesson from Jesus into the conditional immortality is the fact that it evidently takes place long before the resurrection. And that leads to the question: Where are the dead?
Argument 2: The dead sleep
Several verses speak of the dead as asleep awaiting the Second Coming–
(Eph. 5:13-14) But everything exposed by the light becomes visible, 14 for it is light that makes everything visible. This is why it is said: “Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you.”
This passage is a reference back to Isaiah 26:19, which refers to the End when the dead are raised. (I like this especially because I love Bach’s “Sleeper’s Awake.”)
Jesus referred to Jairus daughter and Lazarus as “not dead but asleep,” although he raised them both from the dead.
In Acts, Luke routinely refers to the dead as asleep.
In several verses in 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians, Paul refers to the dead as asleep. In 1 Corinthians, he uses this language in the context of those arising in response to the Second Coming.
Argument 3: God exists outside time
The New Testament beat the scientists to this conclusion millennia earlier–
(1 Cor. 2:7 NIV) No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began.
(Tit 1:1-2 NIV) Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness– 2 a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time,
Einstein’s Theory of General Relavity shows that the universe exists in four dimensions — three spatial dimensions and one time dimension. And the Hawking-Penrose Theorem demonstrates that time began when the universe began. Indeed, as time is part of the created universe, there was no time (as we know and experience it) “before” the creation. God created time when he created the heavens and the earth.
In the age to come – in the New Heavens and New Earth – we’ll have eternal life, that is, life unbounded by time. There is no necessary correspondence between time as we experience it and time as God experiences it — if God is bound by any kind of time at all. As the Bible says, a thousand years is like a day to God. It doesn’t mean that he’s old! It means his time is radically unlike ours.
Hence, as heaven is outside the created universe, it’s not bound by and doesn’t have to even touch time as we know it.
Therefore, it’s entirely possible for me to arrive at the gates of the new heavens and new earth simultaneously with my great-grandparents and great-grandchildren. I really like this thought. And I think this is what we’re promised.
We all die. We all leave this universe and its time. And we all enter God’s realm where earthly time has no meaning. Thus, there’s one Judgment, and it all happens at once – just as the scriptures picture it.
This explains quite a lot, actually. From an earthly perspective, the dead appear to sleep, but not from their perspective. Indeed, the Rich Man and Lazarus notwithstanding, by far, the most common description of the dead in Christ is that they are asleep.
From a heavenly perspective, the dead find themselves immediately at the End, that is, at the entrance to the New Earth. Hence, the thief on the cross really did go straight to Paradise to be with Jesus.
Augustine reached the same conclusion in Book XI of his Confessions–
15. But if the roving thought of any one should wander through the images of bygone time, and wonder that Thou, the God Almighty, and All-creating, and All-sustaining, the Architect of heaven and earth, didst for innumerable ages refrain from so great a work before Thou wouldst make it, let him awake and consider that he wonders at false things. For whence could innumerable ages pass by which Thou didst not make, since Thou art the Author and Creator of all ages? Or what times should those be which were not made by Thee? Or how should they pass by if they had not been? Since, therefore, Thou art the Creator of all times, if any time was before Thou madest heaven and earth, why is it said that Thou didst refrain from working? For that very time Thou madest, nor could times pass by before Thou madest times. But if before heaven and earth there was no time, why is it asked, What didst Thou then? For there was no “then” when time was not.
Now, this has profound implications for the old Reformation disputes about predestination and all, but that’s not today’s topic. Today, the question is how to locate the Rich Man and Lazarus in the heavenly calendar. So imagine that you’re sitting in God’s lap viewing the universe through the God-version of a telescope or some such thing.
What time is it on earth? Well, God is outside of time. Indeed, God sees all time at once because he’s not in time. He made time and time is bound by God, not the other way around. God is bigger than time. This means that anyone in God’s immediate presence can see all of earth time simultaneously — if God chooses to let him see it. The entire history of the world could be arrayed before anyone outside the created universe.
Of course, our senses aren’t built to perceive higher dimensions. We are in fact time bound and so we can only see one moment at a time. But God is not like us, and he can share his perceptions with us as he sees fit.
The Lake of Fire, of course, is not part of the created universe either, and so it’s also outside of time. That means that God could, should he so choose, allow anyone there to exist forever or for just a moment, and he could let anyone there see all or some of the world. What to us is the past is neither past, present, nor future to someone outside the universe. It’s just not.
Argument 4: The dead appear asleep to us but not to God
The two views — the dead are asleep and the dead pass outside time — are unified by recognizing that things appear differently depending on one’s perspective. If I’m looking at this from God’s perspective, then the dead will be with Jesus in Paradise at once. But from the perspective of those bound by time on earth, the dead appear asleep — “asleep” because we know they will awake.