Does the Story of Lazarus and the rich man teach that the dead are conscious?
The "Iglesia Ni Cristo" teaches that the dead are unconscious as they await judgment. However, some narratives, such as the narrative of Lazarus and the rich man seem to contradict this teaching. Does the story of Lazarus and the rich man really teach that the dead are conscious?
Luke 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.'"
When we examine this passage, we see that it does indeed teach that the dead are conscious.
The narrative of Lazarus and the rich man is not a parable.
Given the pattern of the parables of Jesus, this narrative is not a parable. In parables, the characters never have names. Therefore, since Lazarus is a named character, it seems reasonable to understand this passage as speaking of an actual event that took place.
If the consciousness of the dead were a false teaching, Jesus would not have used it as the foundation of the story.
If the INC wishes to claim that the dead are not conscious as they await judgment, they must offer an explanation of why Jesus would use such an idea as the foundation for this story.
Others have tried and failed. The Jehovah's Witnesses teach that it's all metaphorical language that describes two living men who experienced a reversal in living situations. The Seventh Day Adventists teach that it's a metaphor for the "tortures" of annihilation. Neither have offered any reason for these interpretations apart from their own theological presuppositions. That is, they base their understanding of this text on their assumption that the dead cannot be conscious.
The question still remains: why would Jesus speak of Hades as being a place of torment for the wicked who await judgment if it is not? Why would Jesus speak of the bosom of Abraham as a place of comfort to the righteous as they await vindication if it is not? The INC has not offered any public responses to these questions.
The narrative of Lazarus and the rich man teaches that the dead are conscious as they await judgment. The INC ignores the difficulty this passage presents to their doctrine concerning the state of the dead.