"And being in torments in Hades, he [the rich man] lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.'"
The rich man's spirit was taken to the torment part of Hades at death. He was able to see and recognize Abraham and Lazarus afar off. Although it is unknown how he could recognize Abraham, a man he had never met, this verse definitely implies that we will recognize each other beyond this life.
The rich man cries out in anguish to Abraham, pleading for some relief from his suffering. He hopes for just a little relief from his torment, namely the cooling of his tongue with water. The irony of his request is significant. It is parallel to what Lazarus had desired on earth--just some crumbs for relief. Amazingly, the rich man, who had no mercy on Lazarus while on earth, now expects Lazarus to serve him and be merciful toward him! This wicked man is certainly full of pride.
Since Hades is a spiritual realm (and not physical) it is difficult to completely understand the references to physical things (e.g., fire, water, tongue, etc.). One must remember that any description Jesus gives of the afterlife will be limited by the fact that He must describe a spiritual place in physical terms so that we may comprehend. We should be content in knowing that the wicked will suffer greatly eternally after death (more than we can imagine) and that we should serve God faithfully to avoid being of that number.
The rich man had referred to Abraham as "father," and Abraham acknowledges this relationship by calling him "son" (Luke 16:25). It should thus be noted that being a physical descendant of Abraham held no guarantee of salvation (cf. Matt. 3:9,10).
There is no indication that the rich man lived an immoral or wicked lifestyle, as man commonly defines such. He may have perceived himself, and others may have thought of him, as a godly man. There is no evidence that his wealth was acquired wrongly or that his sin was in being rich (cf. I Tim. 6:17-19). But, he was guilty of the sins of poor stewardship and insensitivity toward the needs of others--needs that he could have provided. There is no indication that he oppressed the poor, yet we know that he offered no relief to Lazarus, a poor man who could not have escaped his attention sitting at his gate. May we take advantage of the opportunities God gives us to serve Him by helping meet the needs of our fellow man (cf. Matt. 25:35-40). May we be faithful in the use of the money (and other resources) the Lord has blessed us with, whether it be little or much (cf. Luke 16:10-12). Otherwise we will find ourselves in torment with the rich man when our life is through, and all we will be able to do is "remember" the blessings and opportunities we wasted! Surely much of the torment of the afterlife will be in "remembering" and realizing what one should have done differently.
In addition to the facts already mentioned, it was not possible for them to bring any comfort to the rich man, even if they had desired to. There was a "great gulf fixed" which prevented anyone from crossing to the other side. It prevented those in torment from leaving and it prevented those in comfort from relieving those who were suffering.
It would appear that pride and social class were two "gulfs" that the rich man chose not to cross on Earth. He could have crossed them had he humbled himself and sought to help others and not just himself. But, now he finds himself wanting to cross the spiritual gulf of Hades and such is simply not possible.
We will conclude studying this passage in our next lesson.