Final Thoughts on the Rich Man and Lazarus
I have spent the last four posts going over the Rich Man and Lazarus (see Luke 16:19-31) in quite a bit of detail. Just so we don’t lose sight of the forest for the trees I would now like to summarize my thoughts on the topic.
First, in my post “Is the Rich Man and Lazarus a Parable?” I presented evidence that the Rich Man and Lazarus is a parable. The evidence is strong that it is indeed a parable which makes a big difference in interpretation.
Second, in my post “Why Does it Matter if the Rich Man and Lazarus is a Parable?” I provided some of the principles for interpreting parables. The point I want to emphasize here is:
Look for the main point of a parable. Most parables are driving home one overarching truth or principle although there may be exceptions at times.
The main point of the Rich Man and Lazarus is that our opportunity to be saved occurs while we are on this earth and that the scriptures (Moses and the prophets) provide all we need to know to believe and be saved. The other details of the parable should not be the basis of doctrines of the church. I do not believe that the overarching truth being communicated by this parable is the final destination of the unbeliever.
Pollock makes a good point when he says that the parable is framed in a Jewish setting. I agree with that and would add that at the time of the first advent the Pharisees believed what we would call “the health and wealth gospel”. In other words those who became affluent in Jewish society were believed to have gained favor in God’s eyes. Their material wealth was the assurance of their salvation. This parable stood that idea on its head and showed that material wealth was no indication of God’s favor. To be saved you must believe.
Pollock also makes the statement that the awful condition of the Rich Man in Hades must mean something truly awful. Of course he believes that awful condition is burning. But if this is a parable, which I believe it to be, then this is mere speculation on his part. I have read several authors who believe that Greek culture had made enough inroads into Jewish society that Jesus was using the Greek concept of Hades as something His audience would relate to (this would be part of the “Jewish setting” in first century Israel). That may be true but it doesn’t need to be the case. Isn’t the possibility that the unbelievers are awaiting the executioner while imprisoned in Sheol/Hades enough torment? Probably not for most Christians but I think it is. We can speculate all day but it doesn’t get us closer to the truth.
Third, in my post “Does Using a Proper Name Turn a Parable Into a True Story?” I deal with the assertion that Jewish parables don’t use proper names (such as Lazarus). I had heard that said many times before and hadn’t thought through it until recently. The truth of the matter is that it really doesn’t hold water. It is not clear at all that this assertion can be justified from scripture and until someone can do that I won’t put any trust in it.
Finally, in my post “Old and New Testament Pictures of Sheol/Hades” I state my personal belief that the majority interpretation of the Rich Man and Lazarus is both inconsistent with the Old Testament view of Sheol as portrayed in Isaiah 14 but with any realistic view of how people on fire actually act.
Once again here is the quote from A. J. Pollock that I have been dealing with:
But the Lord likewise throws light upon the state of lost souls in hades. Most vividly does He contrast the state of the blessed with that of the lost.
“The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell [hades] he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. 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” (Luke 16:22-24).
The Lord framed His discourse in a Jewish setting, suitable to His hearers – hence the symbolism – “Abraham’s bosom.” But the companionship of Abraham and the bliss of his condition were not symbolical. And just as plainly as Scripture tells us hades is for the believer a condition of BLISS, so does the Lord tell us that hades is for the unbeliever a condition of TORMENT. Can we believe the one statement and refuse the other? Surely not! How infinitely kind, because infinitely solemn, so that His hearers might escape such a doom, were the warnings the Lord gave when on earth.
The objector may say if the eyes and tongue are symbolical so must the torments and the flame be symbolical. We do not dogmatise on the point, but we would like to point out that the objection does not lessen the gravity of the situation one whit. For if physical torments are symbolical, we earnestly ask, ‘Of what are they symbolical?’ There is no answer but one. Physical torments, if symbolical, must be symbolical of spiritual torments. Torments affecting the body, if symbolical, must be symbolical of torments affecting the soul. Be that as it may, we do not dogmatise; the contention that the language is symbolical does not in the very least lessen or affect in the very slightest degree the seriousness of the warning for if the language be symbolic, the symbolism is chosen by none less a person than the Son of God, and He intended it to convey an adequate impression.
Is the symbolism terrible? The truth intended to be taught is terrible. Is the symbolism terrible? The warning is terrible. We implore you, reader, not to allow human reason or sentiment to take off the keen edge of the truth.
HADES and Eternal Punishment
A J Pollock
[Click on this link to see the next installment in this series: Pollock on Gehenna]