Where Does the Bible Talk about Abraham's Bosom?

The phrase "Abraham's bosom" is one of the New Testament's most mysterious terms, and has led to all kinds of debates about heaven, hell, and what really lies on the other side of death. Here's what the Bible says about it and why it matters.

Author of Someplace to Be Somebody
Published Feb 18, 2022
Where Does the Bible Talk about Abraham's Bosom?

When Christians talk about the Bible's descriptions of heaven, a certain phrase sometimes comes up: Abraham's bosom. This phrase appears in one of Jesus' parables, and like many of Jesus' teachings, it has a mysterious and life-changing meaning.

Where Does the Bible Mention Abraham’s Bosom?

In Luke 13-16, Jesus capped off a series of parables with the story of a rich man arrayed in great attire and Lazarus, a beggar at the rich man’s gate covered in sores. Lazarus desired to eat what fell off the rich man’s table. Such was Lazarus' state that dogs licked his sores.

Jesus continued: “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.” The rich man—in torment—saw Abraham “far off and Lazarus at his side” ("his side" may also be rendered “Abraham’s bosom”). 

The rich man called out to Abraham for mercy and asked to have Lazarus dip his finger in water and cool the rich man’s tongue, “for I am in anguish in these flames.”

Abraham told the rich man he received good things in his lifetime, while Lazarus received bad ones. Now the roles were reversed; Lazarus had comfort while the rich man had agony.

Abraham then told the rich man a “great chasm has been fixed” so none may cross from, or to the other side. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus with a warning to his living brothers, “lest they also come into this place of torment.” Abraham told him, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”

The rich man argued if someone came to them from the dead, they would believe. Abraham said, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:19-31).

What’s the Context of Luke 16:19-31?

A prevailing theme in Luke’s Gospel is Jesus’ compassion for those the Jewish leaders saw as outcasts. These exiles included Gentiles, Samaritans, women, children, tax collectors, and sinners. 

Luke 9:51–19:27 reveals our Savior’s steadfast progression toward Jerusalem to complete His atoning work. In those passages, we find Jesus’ interactions in different settings (including but not limited to synagogues) with His disciples, individuals, crowds, Pharisees, and scribes. Jesus’ focus was the cross—that for which He came, and He taught as He went (Luke 13:22, Luke 18:31-33, Mark 10:45; Luke 13:10).

As Luke 11:53-54 says, “As He went away from there (where he had been teaching a crowd), the scribes and the Pharisees began to press Him hard and to provoke Him to speak about many things, lying in wait for Him to catch Him in something He might say.” 

Jesus took every opportunity to turn the Pharisees’ faulty teaching on its head. They believed merit saved a person. They thought wealth and status were proof of God’s approval, and rich people were the most likely aspirants to enter heaven. The account of the rich man and Lazarus shows Jesus reversing this concept—for the poor man enters heaven while the rich man does not. 

A previous parable of the prodigal son also serves as a pot of truth to those who think money cures all. The prodigal son, full of pride and money for a moment, became poor for lacking what riches cannot give. When he came to his senses, the prodigal son returned home—poor and humble—to a gracious father who rejoiced to have him back (Luke 15:11-32).

The closer Jesus got to Jerusalem, the more pointed His parables became against the Pharisees. Luke 19:45-46 gives us a stark look at what we can call Jesus’ exclamation point to some of what He had been teaching: “And He entered the temple and began to drive out those who sold, saying to them, ‘It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’’”

We can do nothing to buy salvation, it is wholly an act of God’s grace. (Ephesians 2:8) Jewish tradition claimed a man could purchase salvation by giving alms (Talmudic teaching), so the richer one was, the more donations, sacrifices, and offerings he could make toward the purchase of his redemption.

The Jewish leaders desired Abraham’s bosom (at his side in heaven), which was not a bad thing. However, their mode of operation and unbelief in the Savior proved to be their undoing. Jesus represented the new covenant, and his antagonists clung to the old covenant (Luke 13:28-29).

Luke 16:14-17 reads, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed Him. And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then, the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void.’”

The story of the rich man and Lazarus was another strong way for Jesus to make His point to the naysayers about who would lean against Abraham’s bosom (Luke 18:9-14, Luke 12:22-34, Luke 19:45).

Is Abraham's Bosom a Real Place?

Scholars debate whether Jesus’ narrative of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable or a real account. 

Whatever the case, Jesus used the stories He shared to teach lessons and used real objects and locations. Jesus portrayed the rich man as living a self-centered sumptuous life. Even in Hades, the rich man seemingly ordered Abraham to have Lazarus cool his tongue. The Jews who heard this would have immediately recognized the position of prominence given Lazarus: Jesus uses Abraham’s Bosom as a metaphor for paradise (or a heavenly banquet), which the rich man could see but was excluded from.

The contrast is striking. Abraham’s Bosom, where the righteous go, is a place of comfort and rest. Jesus describes Hades as a permanent place of unquenchable flame and the horrifying realization of forever-lost opportunities.

Jesus most likely used the term so His Jewish audience would immediately interpret the location as where the faithful go. It was where Abraham, their spiritual father, resided. Yes, Abraham was rich, but his wealth did not usher him into paradise. His faith did (James 2:23).

It’s interesting Jesus used the name Lazarus in this story, for Lazarus means “God has helped.” Lazarus, as depicted in this passage seemingly, “was more sensitive to his spiritual needs because of his deep physical needs.” And God indeed helped him. That is where we focus: on what God did rather than on Lazarus’ state.

Do Believers Go to Abraham’s Bosom?

When we come before the Lord with broken and contrite hearts, accepting and loving Jesus, we enter His rest (Hebrews 4:3). As a place of immediate ushering into the presence of the Lord along with all the saints who have gone before us, we too are welcomed to Abraham’s Bosom.

Abraham’s Bosom is depicted as paradise, and it may be akin to the paradise Jesus promised the thief on the cross (Luke 23:39-43). There is no “holding place” nor waiting period as our sins are atoned for. Scripture unswervingly teaches the spirits of the righteous dead go immediately into the presence of God (Luke 23:43; 2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). Even the presence of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Luke 9:30) disproves the concept they were kept in a section of Sheol until Christ finished his work. When Jesus said, “It is finished,” He meant it. He has secured for us a place in heaven, and He now sits at the right hand of the Father. (Hebrews 10:11-14)

For us, as the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” Believers enjoy immediate blissfulness the very moment our earthly lives end. To say we are gone to Abraham’s Bosom is to say we are in heaven.

Photo credit: ©Getty Images/Romonolo Tavani

Lisa Baker 1200x1200Lisa Loraine Baker is the multiple award-winning author of Someplace to be Somebody. She writes fiction and nonfiction. In addition to writing for the Salem Web Network, Lisa serves as a Word Weavers’ mentor and is part of a critique group. She also is a member of BRRC. Lisa and her husband, Stephen, a pastor, live in a small Ohio village with their crazy cat, Lewis. 

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