The Story of Lazarus and Dives, Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis, (c1035-1040), National Museum, Nuremburg Source: Wikimedia Commons
In my opinion, many scholars misconstrue 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 obtain a clear understanding of the parable.
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 contempt and greed exhibited by the Pharisees. He exposed the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders of His generation and warned them of impending judgement. If the parable pertained to 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 be chosen to represent the unbeliever bound for Hell? It is the love of money that is the root of all evil, not the possession of wealth… 1 Timothy 6:10
Surely, Joseph of Arimathaea would rest on Abraham’s bosom even although he was wealthy, the difference being, he managed his wealth honourably.
This parable described the self-indulgent lifestyle of the Pharisees; Jesus warned them that by their mistreatment of the poor in body and spirit they would soon reap what they had sown.
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 heaven bound 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? Obviously, the parable was specifically directed at the Pharisees and not Heaven and Hell.
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;
A Quote from Vincent’s Word Studies
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).’
Jewish tradition taught the righteous dead went to Abraham’s bosom in Sheol. Josephus mentioned this in his writings.
A Quote from Josephus
’For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe there stands an archangel with an host; which gate when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they do not go the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoice in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the fathers and of the just, which they see, always smiles upon them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham.’ An Extract from Josephus’s Discourse to the Greeks Concerning 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?
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… Matthew 3:8-9
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‘ If this parable was about eternal torment in Hell, why did Abraham tell the rich man his five brethern had Moses and the prophets? Moses taught blessings and curses in this life, he never mentioned eternal torment in Hell. Old Covenant Israel was a privileged nation. If the Pharisees had obeyed and taught the Torah instead of the traditions of men, the imminent judgement would have been averted in AD 70.
This parable does not describe the outcome of mankind. The moral of the story is simply this:
The hypocritical 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?