The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man  by Ted Robertson  ( Nov. 2010 )

Today we study a baffling parable told by Jesus. This parable is used by many Christians as evidence in the belief that hellfire is eternal – that the wicked will burn forever. But is this what Jesus really meant to teach? 
Is not a parable an object lesson that is designed to teach an important point and not necessarily to have its details extrapolated to buttress an unbiblical doctrine?

Let us explore and study.

The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man       Luke 16: 19 - 31

There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared umptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.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; and in hell he lifted 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.  But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime received 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. 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. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto 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.     Luke 16:19-31

Two Questions come to mind: 
(1) how can people be talking if they are dead? 
(2) why are people interacting with each other in Hell?

We understand from the Bible that the dead are dead and are not conscious in some ethereal realm or otherwise

For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?    Psalms 6:5

His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish.       Psalms 146:4

All go unto one place; all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again.   Ecclesiastes 3:20

When a wicked man dieth, his expectation shall perish: and the hope of unjust men perisheth.    Proverbs 11:7

Let me not be ashamed, O LORD; for I have called upon thee: let the wicked be ashamed, and let them be silent in the grave.   Psalms 31:17

What is the teaching of Scripture regarding the condition of Hell?   Is it eternal?  Will the wicked burn forever?

The use of terms like “eternal fire” and “everlasting fire” come from the same Greek roots. Compare Revelation 20:10 with Jude 7

And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Revelation 20:10

Even as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire. Jude 7

Note:  in both of these texts, the same Greek word is used to describe the fire.

Jesus says that everyone in Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed

Likewise also as it was in the days of Lot; they did eat, they drank, they bought, they sold, they planted, they builded; but the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.   Luke 17:28-29

Comment:  it is known that Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning, and that Jesus was correct to say that they were destroyed. Therefore, we can see that the terms for everlasting or eternal fire have meaning that the results of the fire are eternal.

The state of death is compared to sleep in Scripture

Consider and hear me, O LORD my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death;   Psalms 13:3

These things said he: and after that he saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep. Then said his disciples, Lord, if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death: but they thought that he had spoken of taking of rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.    John 11:11-14

So now the question becomes, if Jesus was not making a teaching about everlasting burning hell or that the dead are in a state of consciousness, what was the point of telling this parable?

There is a chapter about this in the book  Christ’s Object Lessons. pp. 260-271

There is a parallel story in the Bible.  Nabal who was overwhelmed with guilt for having mistreated David

When Abigail returned home she found Nabal and his guests in the enjoyment of a great feast, which they had converted into a scene of drunken revelry.  Not until the next morning did she relate to her husband what had occurred in her interview with David.  Nabal was a coward at heart; and when he realized how near his folly had brought him to a sudden death, he seemed smitten with paralysis.  Fearful that David would still pursue his purpose of revenge, he was filled with horror, and sank down in a condition of helpless insensibility.  After ten days he died.  The life that God had given him had been only a curse to the world.  In the midst of his rejoicing and making merry, God had said to him, as He said to the rich man of the parable, “This night thy soul shall be required of thee.” Luke 12:20.  – Patriarchs and Prophets. pp. 667-668

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