The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus
In my opinion, many scholars misapply the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in an attempt to validate their doctrine of ‘Eternal Torment in Hell’. Thereby, ambiguity has eclipsed the simplicity of the narrative. Most Christians believe its purpose was to illustrate the final state of believers and unbelievers after physical death, but was that really Jesus' intention.
If we establish exactly to whom Jesus was speaking, we will have a clearer understanding.
Luk 16:14-15 KJV And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. 15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.
Jesus recounted this story in response to the greed and contempt exhibited by the Pharisees. He exposed the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders of His generation.
Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to the Jew first, thereby fulfilling God’s promises to Old Covenant Israel. During His ministry, He constantly warned the Jewish religious leaders of impending judgement; this encounter was one of those occasions.
If this was about the modern day concept of 'Heaven and Hell', how do we account for the following?
The Rich Man
Luk 16:19 KJV There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
Why would a rich man represent the unbeliever?
It is ‘the love of money that is the root of all evil’, not the possession of wealth…1 Timothy 6:10.
Mat 27:57 KJV When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:
Joseph of Arimathaea would rest on Abraham’s bosom, even although he was wealthy. The difference being that he managed his wealth honourably.
Luke 16:19 was a description of the self-indulgent lifestyle of the Pharisees; Jesus warned them that by their mistreatment of the poor in body and spirit they would reap what was sown.
Lazarus at the Rich Man's House
- Luk 16:20-21 KJV And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
‘full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table’ Why would a beggar be chosen to represent the believer?
Psa 37:25 KJV I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.
Why would a child of God desire the crumbs from the rich man’s table, rather than look to God and His people to meet his need?
Luk 16:22 KJV And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
Jewish tradition taught the righteous dead went to Abraham’s bosom in Sheol. Josephus during the 1st century AD confirmed this in his writings.
Luke 16:22 'Abraham's bosom - A Rabbinical phrase, equivalent to being with Abraham in Paradise. “To the Israelite Abraham seems the personal centre and meeting-point of Paradise” (Goebel).'— Vincent's Word Studies
The Rich Man in Hades
- Luk 16:23-24 KJV And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And 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.
Babylonian and Greek mythology influenced Jewish tradition. Jesus did not teach or correct the Pharisees’ understanding of the doctrine of 'Hell', many were rebellious and beyond instruction. Instead, He used Jewish tradition popular at the time, to accentuate the moral of His parable.
A Quote from Andrew MacLaren
Luke 16:19-31 'II. In the second part of the narrative, our Lord follows the two, who had been so near each other and yet so separated, into the land beyond the grave.
It is to be especially noticed that, in doing so, He adopts the familiar Rabbinical teaching as to Hades. He does not thereby stamp these conceptions of the state of the dead with His assent; for the purpose of the narrative is not to reveal the secrets of that land, but to impress the truth of retribution for the sin in question. It would not be to a group of Pharisaic listeners that He would have unveiled that world.
He takes their own notions of it-angel bearers, Abraham’s bosom, the two divisions in Hades, the separation, and yet communication, between them. These are Rabbis’ fancies, not Christ’s revelations. The truths which He wished to force home lie in the highly imaginative conversation between the rich man and Abraham, which also has its likeness in many a Rabbinical legend.'
The rich man saw Lazarus and Abraham in bliss and they could see him in torment. Do you think Abraham and Lazarus could watch a man in eternal torment and be at peace and happy?
Luk 16:25 KJV But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
Mat 3:8-9 KJV Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.
Why did Abraham say to the rich man 'Son'? The Jews proudly boasted that Abraham was their father. Again, audience relevance is important; Jesus was speaking to Jews in a narrative they could understand.
Luk 16:28-31 KJV For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them’ Old Covenant Israel was a privileged nation; the Gentiles did not have Moses and the Prophets to instruct them. Due to the Pharisees lack of spiritual discernment their faith was lacking to such an extent, they would not have received someone raised from the dead.
Instead, they preferred to teach the traditions of men.
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This parable does not describe the outcome of mankind.
The moral of the story is simply this:
The hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders had led astray the nation of Israel. Without conviction of their evil ways along with sincere repentance, judgement was about to come upon them, and it ultimately did in AD 70.
What do you think?
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Greek mythology has had a detrimental effect on Christianity over the centuries. Let us remove the myths surrounding the Doctrine of Hell by examining in context what Jesus actually said.