Saturday, June 28, 2014

The parable about hell - or not

Luke 16: 19-31 - Is this a picture of heaven and hell?

“And in hell [Hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” - Luke 16:23

So, I’d like to look at the rich man and Lazarus… no conversation on hell is complete without discussing this famous parable! I suspect it to be the main source of Christianity’s classic view of heaven and hell. The question is, does this parable really represent eternal life and eternal punishment after Judgment?

When I studied this parable I did so without commentaries or others’ research, so these are just my observations. (Note: Since then I have read the book “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle at the suggestion of a fellow believer. Although the authors are traditionalists, they do come to the same conclusions as I have about this parable with all their degrees and scholarly peers behind them - the conclusion being that this is not a picture of final punishment - or 'hell'.)

"The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) says that the rich man goes to 'Hades' while Lazarus goes to 'Abraham's bosom' (NASB). Hades here should not be confused with hell. Hades is where the wicked go to await judgment, after which they are thrown into hell... Lazarus is also in some sort of intermediate state where is waiting resurrection... Now, it's true that this is a parable, and so we shouldn't press the details too far. Jesus uses the parable in this context of Luke to confront the social structures of the day, not to teach us about the afterlife." - Francis Chan, Erasing Hell, p. 89

I consider this parable to be like Jesus’ other parables; He uses an example of some reality to teach a deeper lesson. I believe at some point this is or was a representation of a real place. As to the reality of the setting, the first clue that this couldn’t possibly be a picture of eternity is that those being tormented can apparently see and talk to those being comforted. Heaven and hell communicating with each other through eternity! I don’t think so! God continually says the wicked will be no more (Psalm 37:10. Prov. 24:20). Also, Lazarus is in the ‘bosom of Abraham’ and I’m pretty sure that in heaven the Big Man will be Jesus. Also, it says the rich man was in Hades and we know that Hades is temporary as it will be thrown into the lake of fire one day (Rev. 20:14).

I wonder if this parable is only significant to a Jewish audience, as both men were apparently Jewish and the audience was Jewish (disciples and the Pharisees - Luke 16:1,14). It makes me think of Luke 13:28 - "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.” And also “... his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” (Matt. 18:34-35) He also said, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets…” This sounds like a uniquely Jewish story lesson. I don’t imagine a Gentile in that situation would have related to being comforted by Abraham. Do you think this parable even applies to Gentiles at all?

In John 5:29 Jesus explains that there is an hour coming where those who did good deeds will experience ‘a resurrection of life’, while those who committed evil, ‘a resurrection of judgment’. Notice the ones who committed evil are facing judgment on a future Day – not this idea of dropping straight into hell once you die. It seems that the Second Death (lake of fire) does not come into the picture until this great Judgment occurs.

Had the rich man been through judgment? It sounds as though he was just beginning to get the idea of what situation he was in, and he being a Jew. Obviously, life on earth was continuing as he begged for someone to be sent to warn his brothers. In the final Judgment the old heavens and earth will pass away (Luke 21:33, 2 Peter 3:10, Rev. 21:1) – there will be no one left on earth to try to ‘warn’.

Are you more like Lazarus - or the rich man?

What about Lazarus? I wish we had more information about him. Was he a righteous man? Did he know the Law? What did he do - besides suffer sickness, homelessness and hunger - that made him deserving of all that comfort?

Jesus was directing this parable at the Pharisees (Luke 16:14). What was his point for them? They were smugly believing that Hades was reserved for those unlike themselves: clean-cut, religious, better than others, "blessed" with prosperity. Oh, how Jesus offended them! Perhaps we here in the abundance of America should be a bit afraid as we reflect on Jesus’ words: “But woe to you who are rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep." (Luke 6:24-25) I, for one, know that I have always been well-fed. Compared to 95% of the world, we are all very rich in the U.S., isn’t that right? Who do we identify with more: Lazarus or the rich man? 

I think that was Jesus' point all along.

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I understand this is a difficult subject and there are different views from folks who all value God's inspired word. I value your feedback, corrections and questions. Please leave a comment!