The Rich Man and Lazarus – Part 8Otis Sellers
And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. This is the way it would take place according to the traditions held by the Pharisees. To keep this idea from being preposterous, men have been forced to insert here the idea of a disembodied soul or a disembodied spirit. But such things are unknown to the Word of God. There is no hint of soul or spirit in the words of our Lord. That which lived, died, and that which died was carried by the angels. Our Lord was not revealing here what happens at death. He is exposing a teaching of the Pharisees about the angels carrying the dead to a place they called Abraham’s bosom. This is a thing and a place that is unknown in the Word of God. But it was not unknown in the traditions of the Pharisees, as the Talmud and the writings of Josephus give abundant witness.
The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell (hades) he lift up his eyes being in torments. The one who allied was buried, and the one who was buried is set forth as being tormented in hades. Since no one has been able to tell us how he got out of the grave and into a place of torment, men are forced to insert here some vague idea about a soul. This statement makes no more sense than if I should say “that a certain man died, and was buried, and in the penitentiary he was found in solitary confinement.” This cannot be true. And our Lord is not presenting the story of the rich man in harmony with the truth, but in full harmony with the traditions of the Pharisees about the transmigration of souls. From Genesis 1 to Luke 16 there is no Biblical record anywhere of a man being anywhere after death except in the tomb. God’s word to Adam was:
In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, until you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken; for you are dust, and unto dust you shall return Gen. 3:19.
In view of these words anyone who believes that Adam is anywhere except in the dust of the earth does not believe this declaration of God .
And seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. This is the way it would be according to the teaching of the Pharisees, so this is the way that the Lord presents it in His story.
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. This presents a conclusion which the Pharisees never included in their teaching. Since on earth Lazarus begged for crumbs, then, in hades the rich man is seen begging for a drop of water. And the ideas about Abraham’s bosom, the rich man’s eyes, Lazarus’ finger, the rich man’s tongue all serve to heighten the satirical story told by our Lord.
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. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. In answer to his plea for a few drops of water, Abraham is presented as setting forth all the Pharasaic traditions about the poor becoming rich in the life to come. His answer is pure gibberish. It could have no possible bearing upon why the poor man was where he was or why the rich man was in his condition. It is completely foreign to the truth about the grace of God which alone fits a sinner for blessing in the life to come. And it denies the justice of God, since it presents a man suffering simply because in his lifetime he received good things. Yet it is all in harmony with Pharasaic teaching. Furthermore, if the caste system were God’s will for earth, it should continue after death. So, our Lord presented it in this manner, but He placed the rich on the evil side of the gulf. This is the way it would have been it the Pharasaic tradition about the reversal of positions in regard to the poor were true.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. This request by the rich man points to another attitude assumed by the Pharisees which also needs to be exposed and rebuked. Their place as a privileged class in Israel caused them to feel that they were not required to believe the evidences given to ordinary men. “A sign from heaven”, was the demand they made of the Lord Jesus (Matt. l6:1). They imply the signs He has hitherto wrought are insufficient, and their position requires that they be granted some special sign which in outward grandeur will exceed all other signs that He has wrought. This false attitude is exposed by the words the Lord puts upon the lips of Abraham. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. This was the divine provision for all in Israel, high and low, rich and poor. If men believed Moses, they would have believed Christ (John 5:46).
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. The rich man declares that the written word is not sufficient, but if one comes to them from the dead, they will repent.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
The Pharisees are here exposed for their superstitions This man knows that while his brothers do not believe the Word of God, he is sure they will respond if one returned from the dead. There will always be those who will give credence to every strange portent, but refuse to give any credence to the sacred Scriptures. As in the case of a woman who attended a seance and claims her dead husband materialized as a bubble, telling her many wonderful things. She readily believed this bubble, but refuses to believe the Bible. There are many who would gladly listen to a ghost, but who will not listen to the Word of God. Superstition and unbelief always go hand in hand.
With the statement that since they had failed to hear the written Word, no miracle would persuade them to believe, our Lord ended His long battle with the Pharisees. His satirical story has reached its end. The Pharisees are stripped naked by it. Their exposure is complete. They can make no answer. Any attempt to reply will only reveal that His satire is understood, that it has reached its mark. Their sole hope now is to retire from the open field of battle, then seek more devious ways of silencing Him.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a divinely inspired satire. Its study is the study of a satire that was spoken by God. It is as much the Word of God as any other portion of Scripture. It was not given for the purpose of teaching men about the ways and works of God. Its purpose was to turn the light upon the Pharisees. It is not the place to go to find what our Lord taught about death, the state of the dead, future punishment, or future bliss. It Is Not the Gospel.
An objection is anticipated. Some will say that to treat this portion as a satire is to offer an interpretation that is so complex that it puts it beyond the reach of the simple, unsophisticated seeker of God’s truth. But is not this also true when Luke 16 is treated as historical narrative?
This story is not “the gospel.” The gospel concerns “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:3) and Christ is not even referred to in this story. This is not the place to bring an honest seeker who is looking for the Savior, neither is it the place to bring the simple believer who desires to learn more about God and Christ. This story was aimed at the sneering, unbelieving, self-righteous Pharisees. When handled rightly it still carries a powerful message to all such today.