Conditionalists refuse to accept the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as definitive teaching on the intermediate state for several reasons, some of which can be seen in the contrast between these texts:
- Luke 8 reflects a literal event in the life of Jesus and a real human being, a small girl. Luke 16 reflects a story that Jesus told, which probably did not originate with him. He used one of the Pharisees’ stories and ended it with a twist that they did not expect.
- The focus of Luke 8 was a real death and a real resurrection. The focus of Luke 16 was the selfishness of the Pharisees and their refusal to follow the law by having compassion on the needy. In which passage would it be more natural for Jesus to convey didactic teaching about the intermediate state?
- The witnesses of the event described in Luke 8 were Jesus himself, the young girl and her parents, and some of his disciples. The hearers of the story in Luke 16 were the Pharisees, who “were lovers of money” and “ridiculed him” because he taught that “you cannot serve God and money.” ((Luke 16:13-14)) In which context would it have been more appropriate for Jesus to share insight into the mystery of the intermediate state?
- The literary context of each passage is also important to consider. Luke 8 appears in a conjunction with a group of passages which emphasize who Jesus is. His authority and power are expressed in the chapters immediately preceding and following the story in chapter 8. In that context, it makes sense to show Jesus as having the power to raise the dead. Luke 16 is within a group of chapters emphasizing the opposition and antagonism of those (like the Pharisees) who wanted to see Jesus done away with. In that context, what Luke wants to show is the reason why these people hated Jesus, and why his journey to Jerusalem would lead to the cross. A literal description of the intermediate state would not add to Luke’s purpose for Luke 16.
- In the final analysis, it must be admitted that these two texts do represent two alternative views of the intermediate state. In the one, people are asleep and must be awakened by resurrection. In the other, people are awake and are experiencing some sort of afterlife. In Luke 8, there is no reference to judgment. In Luke 16, all those who have died are already being judged.
- One cannot combine these two views of the intermediate state without distorting one into insignificance. Conditionalists accept the teaching of Luke 8 as normative and choose to see the description in Luke 16 as representing what the Pharisees believed — not what Jesus believed — about the intermediate state.