Without a proper understanding of what the entire Bible says about death, it would be possible to get the idea from Luke 16:19-31 that when we die we go straight to heaven or straight to hell. When we study the Bible the way it suppose to be studied, “line upon line and precept upon precept, here a little and there a little” Isaiah 28:10, we understand that when we die we rest in our graves asleep, not knowing anything until Jesus returns and wakes us up. If we take the story of the rich man and Lazarus literally then we have a contradiction as to what happens when you die, as the rich man in the story dies and goes straight to hell. Here are some things to remember while reading this story to keep us from being confused.
Jesus tells this parable in the midst of other parables in Luke 15 and 16. Jesus is only using this story to make a point and was not meant to be taken literally. Jesus was telling this story to Jewish leaders and so He told it in a way to get their attention. For example, they were big believers in Abraham, so in the story Lazarus goes to Abraham’s bosom. Obviously, not only do we not go straight to heaven or hell when we die, we also do not go to Abraham but to Jesus. This is an obvious sign this story is not meant to be taken literally. The Rich man asks for water to be sprinkled on his tongue. Again if this was literal, what good would a few drops of water do? At the end of the story Jesus makes the point that if they did not believe already they would not believe though someone rose from the dead. Here Jesus makes the whole point of the story. Jesus picked the name Lazarus in His make believe story, to remind them that one named Lazarus did indeed rise from the dead and they still did not believe. And of course the real Lazarus who rose from the dead had no tales to tell from the grave as he had been dead and asleep the whole time.
For a study on what happens when you die click here.