Did Jesus teach that we have an immortal soul? Did the souls of Lazarus and the Thief go to Paradise, and that of the rich man suffer in Hell?
As the Creator of the world, Jesus would unquestionably be the best person to ask if humans have an immortal soul. Did Jesus ever teach that we have an immortal soul as some claim?
One of the hallmarks of Jesus’s teaching was that He never contradicted previously revealed Scriptures. He always quoted from Scripture and guided people to God’s Word whenever they were confused.
The Bible does not teach soul immortality. To learn about this, please read the article: What happens when we die?
In this article, we will learn that Jesus upheld this Biblical teaching. He clearly told us in no uncertain terms that we go to sleep in the grave after death.
But there are some important statements of Jesus that advocates of the afterlife present as proof for their doctrine. We aim to do a deep dive into these controversial passages and investigate if their claims are valid.
Did Jesus tell the Thief that his Immortal Soul would go to Paradise at his death? (Luke 23:43)
The thief was an extremely fortunate man because Jesus promised him eternal life just moments before his death.
This story is an encouragement as it demonstrates God’s love even for the most hopeless of sinners like the thief. It shows God’s unlimited compassion and eagerness to forgive any person who genuinely repents. We see a caring Saviour who was willing to save even in the midst of His suffering and death.
There is absolutely no doubt that we will see the repentant thief in Heaven someday. The million-dollar question is: did he go to Heaven with Jesus on Good Friday, or will he go there at the end of time?
Advocates of an immortal soul by necessity need to teach that the soul goes to Heaven or Hell at death. They use this passage to claim that Jesus was teaching soul immortality. And that the soul of a forgiven person goes to Paradise after death.
However, the Bible unequivocally states that once a person dies, his soul goes to sleep in the grave awaiting resurrection.
We will prove that this passage in no way supports the erroneous belief of conscious existence after death:
The position of a punctuation mark can alter the meaning of a sentence completely!
“We’re going to learn to cut and paste kids!”
“We’re going to learn to cut and paste, kids!”
In the first statement, someone will teach how to cut and paste kids! The second statement provides relief as the kids will learn how to cut and paste.
“Let’s eat, grandpa”
“Let’s eat grandpa”
In the first statement, grandpa is requested to eat, while in the second statement, the person wants to eat grandpa!
“A woman, without her man, is nothing”
“A woman, without her, man is nothing”
All the men in this world would go with the first sentence, and all the women with the second sentence!
Can you see how a sentence can mean the complete opposite, depending on where you place a comma?
You might already know, the authors of the Gospel wrote without any punctuation marks. Therefore, we can write the verse from Luke 23:43 with punctuation marks in two different places as below:
“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
“And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee Today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
The punctuation can drastically change the meaning of the sentence. The first sentence has Jesus promising the thief that he will go to paradise with Jesus on Good Friday. However, the second sentence has Jesus promising the thief on Good Friday that he will go to paradise someday.
The translators added the punctuation mark. They added the comma after today because they believed that a good soul goes to Heaven directly after death.
Is there further proof that the thief’s soul did not go to Heaven on the same day he died?
How to interpret Bible Passages
Yes, we can resolve this conundrum if we adhere to the following Bible principles of interpreting the meaning of doubtful passages:
- The Bible is the word of God; therefore, it never contradicts itself.
- If your understanding of Scripture contradicts other Bible verses, it means you are incorrect and not the Bible.
- Gather all the Bible verses that speak on that topic.
- Then let the Bible explain itself!
If we do the above for the passage in question, then we would arrive at the following understanding:
- The Bible clearly teaches that our soul goes to sleep on death.
- The Bible teaches that Jesus’ did not go to Heaven on the day of His death.
Which Day Did Jesus Go To Heaven?
Strongs definition of Hades: the place (state) of departed souls:—grave, hell.
In this verse, we see that Jesus’s soul was in the grave and not in Heaven. Jesus confirmed this in John 20:17:
This dialogue between Jesus and Mary takes place soon after His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Jesus clearly told Mary that He had not yet ascended to Heaven! This means that from Friday until Sunday morning, Jesus had not been to Heaven.
Jesus went to Heaven only on Sunday Morning. If Jesus did not go to Heaven on Good Friday, then was He lying to the thief? Jesus certainly couldn’t be in Heaven and not in Heaven at the same time!
As already mentioned, we should not allow our preconceived notions to confuse a Bible passage; otherwise, we will have unnecessary contradictions. Rather we should allow the Bible to interpret itself, and you will marvel at the beautiful harmony of Scripture.
Jesus cannot lie. Therefore He was not telling the thief that he would be in paradise with Him on that day!
Did Jesus Teach Soul Immortality In The Parable Of The Rich Man And Lazarus?
The one parable that has fascinated Christendom above all is that of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Many Christians use this parable to justify their belief in conscious existence after death.
Jesus seems to tear the veil between our world and the land of the dead when He gives us a hair-raising account of two people dying and going to hadēs – the realm of the dead.
After death, Lazarus goes to Abraham’s Bosom, a temporary paradise located in Hades where all the good souls go. The rich man’s soul ends up in the fiery part of Hades consigned for wicked souls.
Isn’t this “real life” story a clear proof that Jesus really did claim that humans have an immortal soul?
The following points clearly demonstrate that Jesus was not sharing a glimpse of the afterlife. Neither was Jesus teaching soul immortality but rather was using this story as a backdrop to teach a moral lesson:
1. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus was a parable and not a real account
Parables form nearly one-third of Jesus’s teachings. They are simple memorable stories that He used to convey spiritual and moral messages. In these stories, He used themes and characters that people living back then could grasp.
We often misunderstand their cultural and contextual nuances that would make perfect sense to someone living in the 1st Century. Another essential feature of Jesus’s parables was that His stories were fictional and usually used as analogies for illustration.
E.g., the prodigal son was not a real historical person, and neither was the good samaritan.
Jesus merely used these popular and easy to understand stories to convey spiritual messages that would touch His hearers’ heart.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus was one such hypothetical story conveying an important moral lesson.
Jesus did not explicitly label this story as a parable. Therefore some people claim that He told us a real-life account of an afterlife.
This view is flawed because many stories within Luke’s Gospel are not called parables, but everyone accepts them as such. E.g.
- The Parable of The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37)
- The Unwelcomed Friend at Midnight (Luke 11:5-13)
Another vital point to note is that many of Jesus’s stories were grouped. These were either to emphasize a particular moral lesson by repeating it through different viewpoints and stories or to show the connection between related spiritual issues.
The Gospel writers labeled only the first of such a group of parables. Readers were expected to assume that the other stories are also fictional accounts.
E.g., The Parable of the Wedding guest in Luke 14:7-11 is the first in a series of parables. The remaining are not called parables, but no one would question that these are merely metaphorical accounts:
- The parable of the Invitation to Supper (Luke 14:16-27)
- The parable of the Warring King (Luke 14:31-32)
Likewise, the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is the last in a series of five parables. Only the first one is categorically identified as a parable. The five parables in this series are:
- The parable of The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7)
- The Parable of the Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10)
- The Parable of the Lost Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
- The Parable of Dishonest Steward (Luke 16:1-13)
- The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
Using the same line of reasoning, we can conclude that this parable was also not a true story. It would be irrational to assume that all the stories in this series were fictitious except for the last one.
Another argument that some give to defend their beliefs is that this parable has names for its main characters.
This argument is also unreasonable because no verse in the Bible says, ‘thou shall not consider a story to be a parable when it names a character’! Can you see how some people create bizarre and strange rules to support false doctrines?
Please read the last section of this article to learn why Jesus gave names to this parable’s characters.
2. Jesus incorporated the popular belief in an afterlife to teach a moral lesson.
Jesus used parables as a medium to reach the mind of His listeners. He would often use themes that were familiar or relatable to His audience. He did this to connect with them on a more personal level to convey important life-changing truths.
After the conquest of Palestine by Alexander the Great in the 3rd Century B.C., Hellenism (Greek language, culture, and philosophy) had begun to have a pervasive influence on the Jewish way of life.
Greek platonic ideas significantly impacted the scholarly mind of the Jewish Priests and Scribes. Ancient pagan religious customs and practices became very popular with intellectual Jews living just before and during the time of Jesus. They were so impressed with these vain philosophies that they replaced many simple Biblical teachings with these false teachings.
One such popular concept that they borrowed was the conscious existence of souls in Hades. Ancient Pagans considered Hades to be an underworld where the undying souls of the dead would go.
The Pharisees of Jesus’s time inherited the pagan concept of Hades even though it was alien to the Bible. The Pharisees believed that Hades consisted of two sections separated by a chasm. One for the righteous immortal souls to experience bliss and the other for the wicked to suffer a temporary punishment.
A well known Jewish-Roman historian called Titus Flavius Josephus (who was himself a Pharisee) wrote the following regarding the belief of 1st Century Pharisees:
NOW as to Hades, wherein the souls of the of the good things they see, and rejoice in the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it…his region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, ill which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to every one’s behavior and manners…— Josephus’s Discourse to the Greeks concerning Hades
…the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world…This place we call The Bosom of Abraham…
But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good-will, but as prisoners driven by violence; to whom are sent the angels appointed over them to reproach them and threaten them with their terrible looks, and to thrust them still downwards. Now those angels that are set over these souls drag them into the neighborhood of hell itself…where they see the place [or choir] of the fathers and of the just, even hereby are they punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them; insomuch that a just man that hath compassion upon them cannot be admitted, nor can one that is unjust, if he were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it.
They also believe that souls have an immortal rigor in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live againAntiquities of the Jews – Book XVIII 1.3
Josephus was a former Pharisee and wrote that the Pharisees living at the time of Jesus believed in an immortal soul. However, Jesus never endorsed this teaching as He never claimed that man has an immortal soul. Instead, He explicitly declared that we remain in a state of sleep after death.
Since the Pharisees were the target audience of this parable, He adapted their preconceived opinions of the afterlife to teach them a valuable moral lesson on caring for the poor. He conveyed that the present life was the only probationary time granted to amend selfish behavior. He also made it clear that punishment for such behavior was hellfire from which there would be no relief provided. Furthermore, it was impossible for the dead to communicate with the living.
3. If this story was not a parable, then Jesus contradicted Himself and the rest of the Bible!
Those who teach that this story is not an allegorical narrative but a literal account of the afterlife will also then have then to agree that Jesus contradicted Himself.
Unlike the popular notion back then of an immortal conscious soul, Jesus unequivocally stated that death was an unconscious sleep like experience in the grave.
In John 11, we see the most amazing miracle of Jesus when He raised Lazarus from the dead. But before Jesus resurrected Lazarus, he compared his death to sleep.
If Lazarus was consciously living in Paradise, why would Jesus tell His disciples that he was sleeping?
Lazarus’s nonchalance further confirms this. He did not beg Jesus to send him back to heavenly bliss. Instead, he was mute about his time in the grave, with no noteworthy events to relay back to family and friends.
As you may have noticed, Lazarus shared the same name as the beggar from the parable in question. The beggar seemed to have a totally different experience because he was not asleep in his grave. Instead, his disembodied immortal soul was rejoicing in paradise, having a carefree existence in the presence of Abraham. Also, the rich man in Hades was conscious as he had all his senses active such as sight, hearing, sensation, etc. He was also able to experience pain, suffering, remorse, concern, and a sense of morality.
But how could this be? Why would Jesus be clearly teaching in John 5:28-29 that resurrection from the dead happens at His Second Coming, and the dead will be in their graves until then but at the same time teach about an afterlife.
This definitely wouldn’t make sense because it creates a glaring contradiction. We have clear statements from Jesus that the dead are not conscious. Since we know that Jesus will never contradict Himself, we can safely conclude that the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus was not a real account. Many Churches have created a false doctrine by twisting the meaning of this parable.
The rest of the Bible also confirms that death is an unconscious sleep in which a dead person cannot experience any form of awareness or sensitivity towards anything. We have already provided enough scriptural evidence for this in the below article.
4. If Jesus taught that man has an immortal soul, then He contradicted the doctrine of the End Time Judgment
Many churches use this parable to teach that when people die, they immediately receive temporary rewards or punishments. They see this story as a true account of the afterlife with the beggar whisked away by the angels into paradise and the rich man thrown into flames of torment.
But if this story is a true account, then it would contradict pretty much every aspect of the end-time judgment taught in the Bible. According to the afterlife theory, people are being judged and either punished or rewarded immediately after death.
However, the Bible is unambiguous on the topic of the Final Judgment. It explicitly states that every person who has ever lived will be judged at the end of time, and the rewards for the righteous and the punishment for the wicked are only meted out when Jesus comes back. Until then, the dead rest in an intermediate state of sleep in their graves.
People remain in their graves until Judgment Day
Jesus will give the reward or punishment when He comes back
Reward or Punishment given only after Judgment
The Moral Lesson Of This Parable
This parable reveals the rich man’s character who, despite being immensely blessed with material wealth, was totally inconsiderate towards the misery and suffering of a beggar who was diseased, hungry, and homeless.
In contrast, the rich man had everything that money could buy and lived an extravagant and lavish lifestyle. He had the capacity to minimize the beggar’s suffering, who was literally at his doorstep, yet he was unsympathetic.
He was a hypocrite who presented a false morality, but his compassionless heart was visible to God. People have this misconception that rich people who lived a selfish and carefree life on Earth will continue to do so even in Heaven.
Jesus exposed this myth when the story took an unexpected twist, and the positions of the two characters were reversed. After the rich man died, he suffered in hellfire for his utter disregard for God and man.
The poor Lazarus was allowed to live happily in Paradise to recompense his suffering on Earth. When the rich man realized his mistakes, he requested a reprieve from his suffering, which was denied.
The valuable lesson that Jesus was teaching here was that the rich man’s probation closed at the end of his life, and any amends should have been made while he was alive.
The rich man then requested if his brothers could be warned by sending Lazarus back from the dead, but Jesus clearly specified that a dead person could not go back to warn about an afterlife.
This is an important point that should be considered because many people have a false notion that dead people’s souls can come back to communicate with living relatives and friends to warn or inform them of the afterlife.
This parable reflects the dynamic teaching power of Jesus. It reveals His immense wisdom and uncanny ability to apply the same teaching to people’s lives. This parable applies to:
We know that Jesus related this story to teach the Pharisees an important moral lesson. The Chief Pharisees had invited Jesus to dine, and He saw how badly they treated the ill person with dropsy. They also showed utter contempt against the tax collectors, sinners, and poor people in general.
Jesus used this parable as a rebuke towards their self-righteous attitude and their greed for wealth and riches.
Like the rich man, the Pharisees were blessed with wealth and power, which they used for their own selfish advantage. They loved positions of authority and were eager to dominate and control people’s lives using their rigorous unbiblical laws.
They looked at the poor with disdain and believed that they were unworthy of salvation.
Lazarus’s reward and the rich man’s punishment was in direct opposition to the false ideas propagated by these religious leaders. Jesus revealed that the Pharisees were to share the same fate as the rich man.
Why was a character of this parable given a name?
Another popular claim of the immortal soul adherents is that this parable is literal because Jesus named the characters (Lazarus and Abraham). But this is not the reason why Jesus chose to name them.
If He really wanted to indicate that this was a true account, He would have said so.
Jesus didn’t name Lazarus randomly but did so to rebuke the ideologies of the Pharisees.
The rich man in the story requested that Lazarus be sent back to warn his brothers so they could correct the error of their ways. The rich man was indirectly implying that he was in this predicament because God did not send dead people to warn the living of the penalty for leading unrighteous lives.
The Unscrupulous Pharisees Exposed
This line of reasoning represents the cases of many wicked people who will come up with false reasons to try and escape their punishment. In this instance, Jesus was exposing the corrupt heart of the Pharisees because he said that even if a person were to rise from the dead and bear witness, they would still not correct the errors of their ways.
This statement from the lips of Jesus was literally fulfilled when he raised his friend Lazarus from the dead. You can read about this account in John 11 and John 12. Despite this awesome miracle from Jesus, the Pharisees didn’t want to believe that Jesus was sent from God.
Throughout Jesus’s ministry, they kept accusing Him of doing miracles through the power of Satan (Matthew 12:24-28), but the miracle of Lazarus’s resurrection was a direct rebuke to the false accusation of these religious leaders.
If the Pharisees wanted, they could have learned the truth about the state of the dead or an afterlife from Lazarus directly. Lazarus, who was dead for four days, was definitely an authority on this subject because he could really answer if his soul went to “Abrahams Bosom” or the fiery hell of Hades.
The silence of Lazarus after his dramatic resurrection by Jesus is proof that we don’t possess an immortal soul.
Many people came to see Lazarus after his resurrection (John 12:9), and one of the top questions on their mind would have been: “what happens when we die?“
But the Pharisees were not seekers of truth (John 8:44) but instead were power-hungry wolves who wanted to kill Lazarus (John 12:10) to prevent him from exposing their erroneous teachings.
Though Jesus granted the rich man’s (The Pharisees) wish by raising the real Lazarus from death, they refused to accept it just as Jesus had described in the parable.
The Jewish Nation
Many in the Jewish nation were in the same deplorable condition of the rich man, using the Lord’s gifts for self-gratification. God blessed the Jewish nation with every temporal and spiritual necessity, but they refused to cooperate with Him to save the surrounding countries steeped in paganism and who were utterly devoid of God’s truth and grace.
The poor diseased man from this story accurately represents the condition of these nations. The rich man was a descendant of Abraham and believed that God would grant him direct access to Paradise simply because of his ancestry. It was only after he was denied entry into “Abraham’s Bosom” that he realized that he had made an incorrect assumption and had lost salvation.
Similarly, the Jewish Nation had this self-righteous attitude and treated Samaritans and Gentiles with contempt and thought they were physically and morally superior. They hid God’s truth and did not engage in evangelism or outreach and made salvation into a “Jewish only” thing.
They incorrectly assumed that they were God’s chosen people and that their sins as a nation had no bearing on their relationship with God.
Despite their brutal crucifixion of Jesus, God, in His love and mercy, had given them many more years of probation. But they had become so hardened in their rejection of their Messiah Jesus Christ and His Gospel that they sealed their fate for good.
They were no longer God’s special people and lost all His protection and mercy. Blinded by the false assumption that God was ever by their side, they boldly resisted the Roman army’s invasion and even attacked them.
The Jews were convinced that they would gain victory against the Romans, but they were proved wrong when both the temple and their holy city – Jerusalem was utterly destroyed in 70 A.D.
People living today
This parable is equally applicable to people living today because many are in a similar depraved condition as the rich man and will suffer the same fate as we approach the closing scenes of our world.
Humans don’t naturally possess an immortal soul, and Jesus never said that we would be given chances after our time on this planet comes to an end. Christ revealed that the present life is the probationary time in which every person will decide their eternal destiny. But instead of using this God-gifted life for comforting and caring for others, many living today live like the rich man, obsessed with self-gratification and debauchery.
The rich man was not an atheist or a criminal. He did not treat the beggar with contempt or violence. He ignored the miserable plight of the beggar.
His biggest sin was his indifference toward the suffering of others.
The condition of the beggar aroused no feeling of sympathy in the heart of the rich man. It was God who had entrusted the rich man with wealth and prosperity. He expected the rich man to use his free God-given talents to care for the suffering of his fellow human beings.
Many leading the Rich Man’s Life Today
The rich man had all that money could buy, he had spent all his time and energy to acquire the best life possible, but he did not invest his time to seek the true Heavenly riches, which could have made his account right with God. He had spent his life in self-pleasing gratifications and had made no provision for eternity.
There are today many who are following the same path as the rich man. Their soul longs after the excitement of worldly pleasure, and their mind is full of love for display. Especially with the advent of the smartphone and social media, many people engross themselves by taking selfies, visiting exotic locations, and then plastering their imaginary lives all over social media to invoke the jealousy or applaud of others.
Society is filled with these self-centered narcissists whose only desire in life is to log into Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram daily to constantly inform their “followers” of their current location, the last meal they had, and other ego-centric pleasures that they indulged in.
Many of these self-righteous people are not open infidels, but they desire to live their lives for themselves and not for God. He is not in their thoughts. They have never served God nor their fellow humans and will never do even if given another opportunity.
They fail to appreciate or utilize the precious opportunities granted to them on this earth and are not fitted to inhabit heaven. Just like the huge chasm that was fixed between the rich man and the beggar, there is a huge gulf between their characters and that of the righteous.
These classes of people are no more righteous in the sight of God than the most terrible sinner. Just like the rich man, these will beg for another chance, but they will not get it because their fates have been eternally fixed by the characters they developed and molded during this Earthly life.
They scorned all the opportunities in this life to learn the ways of God, and finally, they will go down into the grave with the same characters they formed in co-partnership with satanic agencies. There is no afterlife and no second chance in the grave to alter the destiny that they have chosen.
But to those reading this article, there is still hope. You still have a life left to correct sinful behavior and to follow the ways of Righteousness. Learn from Christ and beg God every day so that you can overcome selfishness and ask Him for Divine Guidance, and He will give you the Holy Spirit, which will transform your life and make you fit to enter the Heavenly Courts of God.
We have now learned that Jesus never taught that humans have an immortal soul. In fact, the concept of the immortal soul goes against Jesus’s fundamental message. He clearly taught that His death is essential for our Salvation. It is only through His sacrifice that we can gain everlasting life or immortality.
Notice that Jesus says that everlasting life is a future reward that He will give to those who accept and follow the Gospel. Why would Jesus need to give us eternal life if we already possessed an immortal soul?
We will gain immortality only when Jesus comes back and raises us from the dead on the last day – The Final Day of Our Earth.
Therefore those who teach this strange unbiblical doctrine of the immortal soul do not really understand the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. If we naturally possess an Immortal Soul, then we are not subject to death, and hence there is no reason for Jesus to die for our Sins!