The term “Abraham’s bosom” is found only once in the New Testament, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), in which Jesus was teaching about the reality of heaven and hell. “Abraham’s bosom” in this story is also translated “Abraham’s side” (NIV, ESV), “next to Abraham” (CEV), “with Abraham” (NLT), and “the arms of Abraham” (NCV). These various translations speak to the enigmatic nature of the Greek word kolpos.
All these translations are attempting to convey the sense that Lazarus went to a place of rest, contentment, and peace, almost as though Abraham (a highly revered person in Jewish history) was the protector or patron. In a sad contrast, the rich man finds himself in torment with no one to help, assist, or console him.
Contrary to some contemporary thought, the Bible does teach that both heaven and hell are real places. Each person who lives will spend eternity in one of these two places. These two destinies are portrayed in Jesus’ story. While the rich man had lived for the day and only focused on life here on earth, Lazarus endured many hardships while trusting in God. So, verses 22 and 23 are significant: “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. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
Death can be thought of as separation. Physical death is the separation of our body from our soul/spirit, while spiritual death is the separation of our soul from God. Jesus taught that we ought not to fear physical death, but we should be most concerned about spiritual death. As we read in Luke 12:4-5, Jesus also said, “And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” Jesus’ use of the term “Abraham’s bosom” was a part of His teaching to focus the minds of His hearers on the fact that our choices to seek God or disregard Him here on earth literally affect where we spend eternity.