And take…the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Ephesians 6:17
Volume XI, Number 14 March 02, 2008
In this issue:
Jesus concluded the parable of the dishonest steward with the summary that “no servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Lk. 16:13). The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, scoffed at his teaching and derided him (Lk. 16:1-13, 14). They honored themselves before others, but God knew their hearts and detested their pretentious, self-righteous conduct (Lk. 16:15).
It is within this context that Jesus tells of “a certain rich man” and “a certain beggar named Lazarus” (Lk. 16:19-20, 19-31). These two men lived very different lives. The rich man lacked for nothing, satisfying himself each day in luxury. Lazarus begged daily at the rich man’s gate, desiring to eat the crumbs that fell from his table. Not only did Lazarus have to contend with daily hunger; disease was his constant companion, as were the scavenger dogs that licked his open sores.
The rich man did not show compassion toward the beggar. His clothing was splendid and his food a feast. Yet, he had no pity on the poor man Lazarus; he was too self-consumed to notice.
But, death comes to both the rich and the poor, and it came to these two men as well. In life the rich man received his good things while Lazarus experienced calamity and trouble. But now, Lazarus was comforted in Abraham’s bosom while the rich man was tormented in flames (Lk. 16:22-25).
Jesus gives us a glimpse into the realm of the dead (or departed spirits, known as Hades, Acts 2:27, 31; 1 Cor. 15:55). This realm is distinguished from hell (gehenna), the place of eternal punishment following judgment (Rev. 1:18; 20:14; Mk. 9:43-48). There would be no relief given to the rich man in torments, for there was a great gulf between that place and the peaceful rest and safety of Abraham’s bosom (called “Paradise” by Jesus in Lk. 23:43). While alive, the rich man’s love of money had figuratively fixed a “great gulf” between himself and the beggar that he failed to mercifully reach across to relieve the suffering of Lazarus. In death, a real gulf now existed between them that could not and would not be crossed by either (Lk. 16:26).
Materialists (those who deny humans have an immortal soul that exists beyond death) scoff at this story just as the Pharisees must have. Whether this narrative is to be considered a parable or an actual event does not weaken the truth of its content in the least: its message remains the same. Jesus did not use error and fantasy to depict divine truth.
If it is noted that nowhere is this account described as a parable, one should also note that neither was the parable of the dishonest steward described as such; the first verse of this same chapter begins with the same words: “There was a certain rich man…” (Lk. 16:1; see Luke 10:30; 15:11 for more examples of such parables). Parables use real life events to teach spiritual lessons. Therefore, to view the rich man and Lazarus as a parable confirms the reality of its events. On the other hand, nothing suggests this could not have been an actual event. If it is the case, the truth it teaches remains the same. Therefore, rather than exhaust ourselves with a discussion of whether or not it is to be considered a parable, we will study its content to gain real and relevant insight into the realm beyond the grave, so that we may live by faith in this life as we prepare ourselves for the next.
Lessons from the Dead
God had forbidden the children of Israel from seeking after the dead for knowledge and understanding (Deut. 18:9-14). Instead, God gave them His law and sent his servants the prophets to Israel to speak His words of truth and warning (Deut. 18:15-19; Jer. 7:3, 13, 25). But now, the rich man desperately wanted a dead man – Lazarus – to return to earth and warn his five brothers about the future torment they would incur unless they repented. However, Lazarus would not be going back to earth with such a warning, for they had the law and the prophets (the revealed word of God) that taught them “to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God” (Mic. 6:8; Lev. 19:18). If they would not be persuaded to repent of their selfish, sinful love of money by God’s inspired word, the resurrection of a dead person would not convince them, either. Even when Jesus was shown to be alive after his death “by many infallible proofs” there were many who would not believe (Acts 1:3; 4:10-12, 15-20).
Jesus taught many lessons in the story of the rich man and Lazarus to convince us that we cannot serve two masters (Lk. 16:13). Please consider the following:
1. Do not trust in riches (16:19, 25, 27-31). This is at the heart of why Jesus told his audience about the rich man and Lazarus. Those who live for material things, serving mammon rather than God, serve a false god that cannot save them (Lk. 16:13; 9:25). The idolatry of covetousness drowns many souls in destruction and perdition (Col. 3:5; 1 Tim. 6:9-10). The love of money elevates one in his estimation of himself; it is arrogant and self-righteous as it selfish pursues material fulfillment at all costs (Lk. 16:15). In death, the rich man experienced the result of living for himself and not being rich toward God; of loving himself more than God and his neighbor (Lk. 9:25; 12:15-21; 10:25-37).
The Lord expects us to be good stewards of our material possessions instead of making mammon our master (Lk. 16:8-13). Material goods should serve us, not the other way around. Those blessed with material abundance are to remain humble and use their wealth as an opportunity to advance goodness, compassion and faith in God:
“Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life” (1 Tim. 6:17-19).
2. Salvation is not universal (Lk. 16:23). One man was saved and the other was lost. God offers salvation to everyone because He desires all to be saved from their sins (1 Tim. 2:3-4). Yet, few will choose to enter the narrow gate and walk the straightened way that leads to life (Matt. 7:13-14). Apparently, the rich man gave little thought to his salvation; he was too busy in his self-indulgent life to lay up treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:19-21; 1 Tim. 6:17-19).
3. Salvation is conditional (Lk. 16:25). In death, both the rich man and Lazarus received according to their lives on earth. The rich man had taken good things without evidence of giving good things to others (including Lazarus). On the other hand, Lazarus had lived with trial and trouble without relief. What happened to them after death is a clear example that “God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Gal. 6:7-8). How we live now will be recompensed in the next.
4. Death does not end one’s existence (Lk. 16:22-23). Man is composed of body and soul, of flesh and spirit (Matt. 10:28; Gen. 1:26-27; 2:7; Jno. 4:24). We have an “outward man” (the flesh) and an “inward man” (the spirit): the first is temporal, mortal; the second is immortal and continues beyond the death of its body (Eccl. 12:7; 2 Cor. 4:16-18; Jas. 2:26).
While the world advises us to live for the moment because “you only live once,” Jesus is teaching us that this life is not all there is with which to be concerned. We are more than flesh and bones, and our lives should reflect our understanding of this truth.
a. There is consciousness after death. Sight, speech, feelings, desire and reasoning abilities are all present in the scene before us. This passage shows the falsehood of the Jehovah’s Witnesses doctrine of annihilation and the Seventh-day Adventist doctrine of soul sleep.
b. Human beings do not become angels or ghosts after death. Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom when he died – he did not become one (Lk. 16:22). Angels are “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14). Neither do we see Lazarus hovering over the earth like a ghost, haunting and intervening in the affairs of men. He was not allowed to return to the earth (Lk. 16:29-31). Humans remain human when we die – we do not become angels or ghosts.
c. We do not go directly to our final, eternal reward when we die. God has appointed a day of judgment when all the dead ones will come forth and stand before Christ to be judged for the things done in the body (Heb. 9:27; Acts 17:30-31; 2 Cor. 5:10; Jno. 5:28-29; Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 20:12-15).
The day of judgment will be the time (1) When each person will “give account for himself to God” (Rom. 14:12). Neither Lazarus nor the rich man has done this yet. (2) When the true and righteous judgment of God will be vindicated (Rom. 2:2, 5; Acts 17:30-31). The books (divine truth) will be opened and the dead will be “judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books” (Rev. 20:12). There will be no mistakes; each person will receive a just sentence. (3) When “every knee shall bow” and “every tongue shall confess to God” (Rom. 14:11). The rich man, like many others, did not confess God during life. But on the day of judgment all will bow to the sovereignty of the Almighty.
5. Second chance doctrines are false (16:26). There is no crossing over the “great gulf” that is securely placed between Abraham’s bosom and the flame of unquenchable anguish. The Catholic doctrine of purgatory that says one will be punished for and purified of venial sins is a false doctrine. The unjust are kept under “punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Pet. 2:9). Mormonism’s vicarious work for the dead (including baptism and marriage) is equally false. One can neither believe nor obey for another person (Mk. 16:15-16). The concept of reincarnation, in which souls migrate from being to being, is also false: “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Heb. 9:27).
6. God’s present truth is sufficient to persuade us to prepare for death (16:27-31). Some are waiting for what they call a sign from heaven before they will believe God. The rich man wanted his brothers to get a sign from beyond the grave about the torment to come. But, heaven has already given us its message about life, death and eternity: God has spoken to us in His Son (Heb. 1:1-2). The gospel of Christ is powerful to persuade and save sinners (Rom. 1:16). The “word of this salvation” has been sent to the whole world (Acts 13:23; Mk. 16:15). The New Testament is inspired by God and thoroughly equips us for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17). The resurrection of Jesus Christ confirms the validity of His gospel, yet sadly, most are still not persuaded (even though Jesus arose from the dead, Lk. 16:31; Acts 2:32-33; Rom. 10:16-17).
7. The comfort of being saved (Lk. 16:22, 25). At death, Lazarus was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. “Abraham’s bosom” indicates a place of close intimacy, of warm embrace and restful security (Jno. 1:18; 13:23; see Isa. 40:11, in the kingdom the Lord carries His lambs in His bosom). The grief of hunger and the pain of disease were replaced with the comfort of blessed safety and rest. Christians will have tribulations in life, but rest awaits those who put their faith in Jesus Christ and obey Him (Jno. 16:33; Rev. 14:13).
8. The terribleness of being lost (Lk. 16:23-24). The rich man was fully conscious and completely aware of his circumstance, of his pain and horror, and of why he was “in torments.” The torment experienced by the rich man in death is a warning to all who are presently living for themselves and serving materialism to repent and obey God (Lk. 16:13). The wages of sin is eternal death (Rom. 6:23). Torment and anguish without relief is the prospect for those who are lost in sin. Now is the time to repent and obey the gospel of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 6:2; Heb. 5:8-9).
Created by Chuck Sibbing. 02/29/2008
The Spirit's Sword is a free,
weekly publication of the Mt. Baker church of Christ, Bellingham, WA