Theological comment concerning the story of the rich man and Lazarus has
differed throughout the centuries, with scholars of eminence and piety on both
sides of the question. The majority, however, seem to have regarded the story
as a parable, while some have maintained it to be historical narrative.
Adventists, for numerous reasons, believe it to be a parable.
The word "parable" comes from the Greek parabole, which means
"to place beside," or "to draw up alongside." Jesus used
parables to unfold great truths. He placed a simple story alongside a profound
truth, and the profound was illumined by the simple.
I. Setting and Intent of the Parable
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is one of a group of parables addressed
particularly to the
Pharisees, although "publicans and sinners" were also present. The fact
that Jesus talked with outcasts and sinners drew sharp censure from the scribes
and Pharisees. They murmured, saying, "This man receiveth sinners, and
eateth with them" (Luke 15:2). Their attitude became the occasion for a
group of moving stories, one of which is the parable of the rich man and
Lazarus. The first of these is the story of the lost sheep, followed by that of
the lost coin, next of the lost son, and then of the unjust steward.
While each of these stories emphasizes vital points of our Lord's gospel, the
underlying lesson of each is the same. Coming to the climax of the story of the
lost sheep, our Lord says, "Even so, I tell you, there will be more joy in
heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who
need no repentance" (Luke 15:7, R.S.V.). One cannot fail to see the satire
in His reference to the "ninety-nine righteous persons." He
emphasizes the same thought at the conclusion of the story of the lost coin,
and the same in the story of the lost son. In all, there was rejoicing over the
recovery of that which was lost. The truth of His words was grasped by both
Pharisees and multitude, but the Pharisees resisted His message.
In His effort to unfold His message of love, Jesus illustrated the kingdom of
God in many ways. More than one hundred times in the Gospels we find the
expression "the kingdom of God," or the "kingdom of
heaven," and always Jesus impressed the thought that His kingdom is filled
with joy and rejoicing. But these Pharisees, surrounded as they were by
stultifying rules, regulations, and traditions, found no place in
their religion for joy—least of all for the recovery of the lost. In fact,
their pride separated them from those who should have been the objects of
So, to bring the lesson of the kingdom home to these self-righteous men, Jesus
spoke the parable of the unjust steward. He told of a certain rich man who had
a steward. The steward had wasted his master's goods and was called to account
therefor. Unjust as this man was, he took a course of action that was likewise
uncommendable. He was looking out for his future, and so in an effort to
ingratiate himself with those he had served, he went to them one by one and
bargained with them.
To those who owed his master money, he suggested this method of settlement: If
one owed his master a hundred measures of wheat, the steward counseled the
debtor to write eighty. If the debt was one hundred measures of oil, the debtor
was counseled to write fifty. This was, of course, dishonest and wrong. But
being a shrewd man, he was building friendships for the future. No one would
contend that in this parable Jesus was condoning the steward's dishonesty and
trickery. He was, however, drawing a vital lesson from this man's shrewdness.
Even a wicked man makes provision for his earthly future; how much more
important that the child of God take account of the life to come! Then the
Master Teacher adds, "The children of this world are in their generation
wiser than the children of light" (Luke 16:8).
These lessons were not welcomed by the Pharisees, for they "were
covetous," and when they heard these things "they derided him"
(Luke 16:14). That is, they
sought to bring Jesus' teachings into contempt. Their actions drew a stern
rebuke from our Lord: "Ye are they which justify yourselves before men;
but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is
abomination in the sight of God" (verse 15). It was in this setting that
Jesus uttered one of the most illuminating statements in all of His teachings.
He said: "The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the
kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it." Weymouth puts
it, "All classes have been forcing their way into it" (verse 16).
The gospel of Christ is as wide as the world, and in His kingdom everyone may
find a welcome, irrespective of his social position, education, nationality, or
financial standing. How different from the teachings of the scribes and
Pharisees! They contended that poverty was the evidence of the curse of God,
while riches were a passport to glory. Our Lord's message found ready response
among the multitudes, especially among those whom the Pharisees despised. We
read, "The common people heard him gladly" (Mark 12: 37). People of
all ranks—the downtrodden members of society as well as many of the more
privileged— were pressing into the kingdom. But the Pharisees, by their very
attitude toward the great Teacher and toward those who believed His message,
were actually shutting themselves out of the kingdom.
To such Jesus said: "But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
because you shut the kingdom of heaven against men; for ye neither enter your
selves, nor allow those who would enter to go in" (Matt. 23:13, R.S.V.).
And again, "The publicans and
the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you" (Matt. 21:31).
Outcasts, without a knowledge of the law and the prophets, were pressing into
the kingdom, but those who knew the Sacred Writings—knew every jot and tittle
of them—were refusing the good news of salvation.
Jesus, in His parables, denounced the selfishness and avarice so rampant among
the religionists of that day. The Pharisees were covetous, and covetousness
springs from base selfishness. It springs from a determination to obtain
something at the expense of others. It lowers and enslaves the soul. It
destroys the judgment and leads men into wrong and mischievous courses of
action. To feign righteousness in order to accomplish wicked ends is diabolical
in the extreme.
But that is just what these men were doing. They were proud and covetous, yet
eager to justify themselves before men. At the same time, they derided the
greatest Teacher of all time. They had the law of God in their hands, but the
law of sin was in their hearts. They were perfectly familiar with the jots and
tittles of the written Word, but they did not know the living Word, the Author
of all truth. In spite of their external piety, they were actually rejecting
the Holy One of God. Their religion was all on the outside, and their attitude
drew from our Lord these scathing rebukes. Instead of religion being a joy,
they turned it into a burden. Instead of recognizing the kingdom as being
available to all, they made it an exclusive inheritance for a favored few.
With all their professed piety these same teachers were exceedingly lax on the
matter of morals. Divorce
was sanctioned by the rabbis for the most insignificant causes. Hillel, the
grandfather of Gamaliel, taught that a man might divorce his wife for such
trifling things as burning the dinner, or even oversalting the soup. (See
Talmud Gittin 90a). The Pharisees' flagrant violations of the eternal
principles of the great moral law led our Lord to say: "It is easier for
heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. Whosoever putteth
away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever
marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery" (Luke
When Jesus spoke these words He was nearing the end of His public ministry. The
Saviour was making His last appeals. Before Him were publicans and sinners,
Pharisees and the multitude. How He longed that all might come to Him and find
salvation! The particular purpose of this group of parables was to show that
the kingdom of which He spoke was more than form and ceremony; it was a
fellowship with God and man.
In the story of the lost sheep the shepherd's love is beautifully illustrated,
while the woman's diligent search for the piece of silver pressed home the
lesson that what was lost was of real value. But no story is so moving as that
of the prodigal son, for there we see the fatherly love of God. And the climax
of each is similar—there was great rejoicing over the recovery of that which
was lost. The story of the unjust steward, while more difficult to understand,
brought home a great lesson to the Pharisees particularly, for many of them
were keen businessmen
But now the Master presses home another great truth—the necessity of being
ready for the day of death. To teach this lesson He told the now-familiar
tale of the rich man and Lazarus, the purpose of which was to emphasize the
vital truth that riches, instead of leading a man into everlasting habitations
with the saved, may indeed prove a barrier against salvation.
Most commentators agree that this rather unique parable of the rich man and
Lazarus logically belongs where it is, following the story of the unjust
steward. Our Lord's description of the rich man was told with rare skill. There
is no indication of anything blameworthy in his outward life. He is not
depicted as voluptuous, unjust, or debauched. He was wealthy and lived in a
beautiful home. Moreover, he was tolerant, for he even permitted Lazarus to beg
at his gate. This rich man's place, in the social concept of the Pharisees, was
assured. As a son of Abraham, the rich man had doubtless taken particular pride
in his lineage. But when his life account closed, a great gulf separated him
from Abraham—a gulf that was impassable. Jesus showed that his whole life had
been lived in false security. Being a son of Abraham, the man naturally thought
of himself as being in the kingdom of God. But Jesus revealed the fact that not
only was he outside the everlasting kingdom, but he was outside forever. That
is the point of the parable
II. An Analysis of the Parable
1. The Predicament of a Literal Interpretation.—The scene of the parable is
laid in hades, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew sheol. The story is
often cited to prove the popular concept of the innate immortality of the soul.
Such proponents contend that it gives an authoritative glimpse into the future
life, provided by Christ Himself, and lifts the veil of the unseen world.*
We will now note some of the problems that confront those who hold this view.
In this portrayal, both the rich man and Lazarus had died, with the rich man
buried on earth with appropriate ceremonies. Although nothing is said about an
intangible, immortal soul leaving the body at death, these two characters are
often regarded as disembodied spirits—two ghosts, feeling their respective
ghostly misery and joy, with words issuing from their lips.
The rich man (frequently called Dives, from the Latin adjective for
"rich"), in torment, is depicted in the story as seeing Lazarus afar
off in "Abraham's bosom"—a common concept—and beseeching Abraham
to send Lazarus to relieve the torment of the rich man with a drop of water to
cool his tongue. But, in response, he is reminded of the impassable gulf fixed
That is the picture—the gulf between heaven and hell realistically too wide
for persons on opposite sides to cross over, but narrow enough to permit them
to converse. Now, if this portrayal is literal, then the abodes of the saved
and of the damned are forever within sight and sound of each other, yet the
*Thus Pool (comment on Luke 16:22) insists it teaches the existence of the soul
separate from the body, with the souls of the good and evil having passed on to
the state of eternal blessedness or endless woe. Van Oosterzee (Commentary)
likewise maintains it teaches that the life of both the godly and the ungodly
is uninterruptedly continued after death—death thus being identical with the
between them is unbridgeable. It was that concept that gave rise to Jonathan
Edwards' strange contention that the sight of the agonies of the damned
enhances the bliss of the redeemed!
It must not be overlooked that Lazarus was carried to "Abraham's
bosom," not into the presence of God. (See Part III.) Abraham is here the
chief personage and each of the characters is portrayed as without a prior
resurrection. But this concept results in a maze of absurdities and
contradictions. It creates a confused jumble of the literal and the figurative,
and does violence to the plain declarations of Scripture.
2. Narratrive—Literal Parable, or Allegory?—The parable was a common method
employed by Christ in teaching truth. And the laws, or principles, of parables,
familiar in Christ's day, were a sufficient safeguard against misunderstanding.
This particular parable, unique in the New Testament, has its nearest parallel
in the Old Testament, in the parabolic: imagery of Isaiah 14:9-11, which
represents dead kings, though actually in their graves, rising tip and sitting
on thrones in sheol (equivalent of the Greek, hades), conversing and rejoicing
over the mighty Babylonian conqueror who had put them to death, and who himself
has now been conquered by death and is coming to take his throne among them in
the nether regions.
Hell [margin, "the grave"] from beneath is moved for thee to meet
thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones
of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the
nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as
we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave, and
the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee.
Jotham's parabolic story of the trees, the vine, and the bramble engaging in a
political discussion is another parallel in the Old Testament. The episode
never took place in reality. But that in no way detracts from the truth
emphasized in parabolic form. This parable pictures inanimate objects
personified, and even given life and speech. In judges 9:8-15 we read,
"The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said
. . ." Anyone will recognize this as clearly figurative language. Parables
are often akin to fables, or fictitious narratives. In our concept of death,
dead men holding rational discussion is like the trees holding political
discourse. In a parable, then, there is often substantial truth in the
framework of the circumstantial fiction.
In this parable of Luke 16, hades is figuratively portrayed as a place of life,
of memory, and of speech. And the dead in hades are pictured as alive, and
seeking to give admonition to the living. It is an intriguing story, but to us
it is clearly figurative. In the story those actually dead are made to speak
and act, which is permissible in a parable, for in a parable all the
incongruities of time, place, distance, et cetera, vanish. In this allegory,
references to the gulf, the flaming fire, and the dead speaking are all
understandable, for the story is told to convey a moral truth. This is the
point and purpose of the recital, though the dead are not actually conscious
living beings, nor are the rewards and punishment meted out as yet.
3. Cannot Be Both Literal and Figurative.—All admit that either the story must be literal fact, and the narrative an
actual occurrence, or it is merely a parable. It cannot be both. If literal, it
must be equally true in fact and consistent in detail. But if a parable, then
only the moral truth to be conveyed is to be sought. And the story would then
be subject to the recognized laws and limitations of the parable. Thus all is
understandable. As we see it, the literal application is clearly incongruous,
and breaks down under the weight of its own absurdities. Christ is not here
disclosing particulars of life beyond the grave. Rather, He is employing a
trenchant story of the times to admonish and rebuke those who refused His
teachings on the right use of wealth.
Contenders for literalism suppose Dives and Lazarus to be in a disembodied
state, that is, destitute of bodies. And yet the rich man is explicitly
referred to as having "eyes" that see, and a "tongue" that
speaks, as well as seeking cooling relief from the "finger" of
Lazarus—real bodily parts. They are thus portrayed as going to their reward
bodily, despite the fact that Dives's body was duly buried and in the grave.
Those who contend that, by this parable, Christ was supporting what we believe
to be a pagan concept of death, must also hold that He condoned the unethical
schemes of the unjust steward. But this no one would attempt to do.
As to "Abraham's bosom"—noted later—and its involvements, Dr.
Charles L. Ives, former professor of medicine at Yale (The Bible Doctrine of
the Soul, 1877, pp. 54, 55), pointedly remarks:
It will not do to say, as has been claimed, that Abraham's bosom is a figurative expression for the highest celestial felicity; for,
Abraham himself in his own person appears on the scene. And if he himself is
present in a literal sense, it is hardly fair to use his bosom, at the same
time, in a figurative sense! If his bosom is figurative, then Abraham himself,
and so then the whole narrative, is figurative.
All attempts to blend the literal and the figurative are equally futile. We
believe with Bloomfield (Greek Testament): "The best Commentators, both
ancient and modern, with reason consider it as a parable."—On Luke
16:19. Constable calls it the "general sentiment of Christendom." The
introductory phrasing and the entire form and construction correspond exactly
to other parables of Christ, such as the unjust steward and the prodigal son
(Luke 15:11; 16:1), which immediately precede and follow the rich man and
Lazarus. Proof must be offered to sustain the contrary.
4. Parable Not Suitable Basis for Doctrine.— The absurdity of the popular
contention becomes the more apparent the further the involvements are pursued.
To cite this allegory as a literal instead of a figurative account, would, as
has already been observed, place heaven and hell geographically within speaking
and seeing distance of each other, which is incongruous. Saints and sinners
eternally holding converse! The resultant question is inescapable: Will all who
die in Christ see and converse, across the dividing gulf, through all eternity,
with their own loved ones who have died out of Christ?
If the recital is conceded to be but a parable, but used to sustain the concept
of the conscious torment of the wicked, then we are confronted with the
accepted principle that a doctrine cannot safely be built upon a parable or an
allegory alone, especially when it contradicts the plain teachings of
Scripture. To do so involves the one who attempts it in absurdity and
contradiction. We repeat that this parabolic discourse of the Master was not
designed to teach conditions the other side of death, or in the unseen world in
the intermediate state, but to convey great moral lessons. Edersheim (Life and
Times of Jesus the Messiah) rightly says that doctrine cannot be derived from
this parable concerning the other world, or the character or duration of future
punishments, or the moral improvement of those in Gehenna.* We feel that to use
it as proof that men receive their rewards at death is squarely to contradict
Christ Himself, who states explicitly that the righteous and the wicked receive
their reward, "when the Son of man shall come in his glory" (see
If dead men actually hold converse with one another, then the parable
contradicts the plainest declarations of Scripture—"His breath goeth
forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish"
(Ps. 146:4); "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into
silence" (Ps. 115:17).
Abraham himself had died and his sons buried him (Gen. 25:8, 9). Nor is there
any account of his resurrection. In the Biblical account (Hebrews 11) he, like
the other patriarchs, is awaiting that "better" resurrection at the
second coming of Christ.
*And Dr. William Smith (Dictionary of the Bible, vol. 2,r. 1038) insists:
"It is impossible to ground the proof of an important theological doctrine
on a passage which confessedly abounds in Jewish metaphor."
So the contention that the reward is received at death (a) nullifies the
judgment, anticipating its predicted time; (b) completely contradicts what we
believe to be the clear testimony of Scripture that the dead are asleep; (c)
represents disembodied spirits as possessing bodily members; and (d) puts the
spirits in full view of one another.
5. Unrestricted Literalism in Conflict with Bible Truth.—If the narrative is
literal, then the beggar received his reward, and the rich man his punishment,
immediately after death and before the judgment day. But that again is in
direct conflict with Paul's declaration that God "hath appointed a day, in
the which he will judge the world in righteousness" (Acts 17:31). This
day, we understand, will be when "the Son of man shall come in his glory .
. . and before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them
one from another" (Matt. 25:31, 32). A literal interpretation also
conflicts with Christ's promise: "Behold, I come quickly; and my reward is
with me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12);
and with the promise of reward in Luke 14:14: "Thou shalt be recompensed
at the resurrection of the just." Compare also Paul's statement:
"There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord ...
shall give me at that day" (2 Tim. 4:8)—the day of His appearing.
This statement is in harmony with Malachi 4:1-3, which says that "the day
cometh"a future event—when the wicked are to suffer the torments of
consuming fire. It seems clear to us that the Old Testament, or "Moses and
all the prophets," are united and
harmonious in testifying that the dead, both the righteous and the wicked, lie
silent and unconscious in death until the resurrection day. (See Job 14:12-15,
20, 21; 17:13; 19:25, 27; Ps. 115:17.)
Jesus frequently referred to the fate of the wicked. He mentioned
"hell" (Matt. 10:28), referred to "hell fire" (Matt. 5:22),
called attention to the "resurrection of damnation" (John 5:29), to
the "damnation of hell" (Matt. 23:33), and to "eternal
damnation" (Mark 3:29). The Saviour also referred to the eternal home of
the righteous. He called it "paradise" (Luke 23:43) and His
"Father's kingdom" (Matt. 26:29). He bade His followers lay up
treasure in heaven (Matt. 6:20), and declared that it is to heaven, and His
"Father's house" (John 14:2), that He will take His children when He
comes the second time.
6. Does Not Involve Consciousness of Dead.— In the parable, Dives lifted up
his eyes "in torments," "in this flame." But according to
Scripture this torment does not precede the second advent (2 Thess. 1:7, 8).
Gehenna is the Greek word usually used when the fires of destruction are
described. But in this story of the rich man the word "hell" is
translated from hades, and the grave contains no such fire. To all Jews, all
the dead were in hades, the grave, the home of the dead.
So, for us the story of the rich man and Lazarus in no way proves the
consciousness of the dead, and the present and eternal torment of the wicked.
Such a conclusion is, we believe, wholly without justification, and
contradictory to the clear, plain teaching of the Word. Death is consistently
set forth in Scripture as a a condition of silence, darkness, and unconsciousness (Ps. 6:5; 115:17; Isa.
Neither Lazarus nor Dives has as yet received his reward. They are silent in
death, awaiting the voice that will call forth "all that are in the
graves" (John 5:28). They are reserved to the day of judgment (2 Peter
2:4, 9; compare Job 21:30).
In this allegory the unconscious dead are fictitiously represented as carrying
on a conversation, but without involving the actual consciousness of the dead—just as in the Old Testament, in the parable of the trees, they are
parabolically portrayed as holding conversation, and anointing a king over
them. But none would contend that this is evidence that trees talk and have a
king over them (Judges 9:8-15; compare 2 Kings 14:9).
The great gulf (Greek, chasma, "chasm")—narrow enough to allow
conversation to take place across it, but deep enough to prevent passage—is
incomprehensible on the hypothesis of immaterial beings. Rather, it would
indicate the irrevocable division that death fixes between the good and the bad
at the close of their earthly probation. Each must remain in the class in which
death finds him, until the great assize. Today one may pass from the state of
the condemned (John 3:18) to that of the pardoned. But when death comes, it is
forever too late. The gulf is fixed.
7. Obvious Purpose of this Parable.—A parable is spoken for the purpose of
influencing the living, and is adapted to the time. But God's appointed time of
grace for man is before death and resurrection. Retribution comes after the
resurrection. Life after death
is always consequent upon the resurrection. Moreover, when the rich man pleaded
with Abraham that Lazarus be sent back to warn his kinsfolk against the terrors
of hell, lest they come to the same place of torment, the answer is explicit:
"They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them" (Luke 16:29).
And if they will not heed them, then, Christ says plainly, they would not be
persuaded "though one rose from the dead" (verse 31).
8. We Must Therefore Conclude:
a. That the dialog, with its parabolic personification, was wholly imaginary.
And we believe not merely that it did not happen but that it never could
happen, as between the saved and the lost.
b. That the time is likewise fictitious. Not only is the dialog invented, but
time is antedated. (Men are not to be rewarded, or to receive retribution,
until the resurrection, but here they are pictured allegorically as before the
c. That it is the only place in Scripture where hades is portrayed as a place
of torment. Such is usually reserved for gehenna. But Christ, for the purpose
of parable, and utilizing current concepts, here antedates and portrays Dives
and Lazarus as alive in hades before the resurrection, just as Isaiah raises up
his dead kings in hades to utter a taunt upon Babylon.
According to the teaching of Jesus in other parables, the recompense is at the
resurrection of the just—the "time of harvest" and the "end of
the world," when God's people are gathered into His garner, and the
wicked, as tares, are bundled for burning (Matt. 13:30, 49; Luke 14:14).
Such we understand to be the intent and the limitations of this parable.
III. Contemporary Jewish Concept of "Abraham's Bosom"
It is evident, from Jewish writings, that the Pharisees and various others of
Christ's day believed in the idea of consciousness after death. Their concept
of hades had greatly changed since the days of the patriarchs and the close of
the Old Testament canon. And in the time of Jesus they believed much as did the
Greeks and others around them.
Reference is made, in the parable just noted, to "Abraham's bosom"
(Luke 16:22), an expression found no other place in Scripture. So far as the
Bible is concerned, there is nothing to indicate where "Abraham's
bosom" is, or what it signifies.
We find, however, that the expression appears in extra-Biblical literature, and
that it was apparently a current concept, or tradition, of the Jewish people.
Josephus, in his "Discourse Concerning Hades," states that they call
"Abraham's bosom" the place of felicity to which the righteous go at
death. The Talmud refers to it as "Abraham's lap" (Kiddushin
72b). It was evidently the common belief of many in the days of Jesus.
In fact, the description of hades, as given by Josephus, parallels very closely
the narrative of the rich man and Lazarus. (Full statement quoted in additional
note on p. 565.) There we read of the great gulf fixed, of the chamber of the
righteous being within sight and speaking distance of the chamber where the
wicked are tormented, and of other details referred to in the story as narrated
by Jesus. Not only do these
concepts appear in the writings of Josephus, but they are to be found in other
Jewish literature. Thus we read concerning hades: (1) that hades was composed
of two chambers (2 Esdras 4:41); (2) that one of these chambers was for the
righteous; the other for the wicked (Midrash, on Ruth 1:1); (3) that the
righteous inhabit one chamber (Wisdom of Solomon 3:1); the wicked the other,
where they are accursed, scourged, and tormented (Enoch 22:9-13; Talmud Erubin
19a); (4) that the inhabitants of one chamber are visible to, and within
speaking distance of, the inhabitants of the other chamber (Midrash, on Eccl.
7:14); (5) that the righteous are welcomed into hades by companies of
ministering angels (Talmud Kethuboth 104a; 4 Ezra 7:85-87, 91-95); (6) that the
righteous are received into hades by Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (4 Maccabees
13:17); and (7) that the righteous, as part of their reward, sit "in
Abraham's lap" (Talmud Kiddushin 72 b). And Josephus gives this testimony:
They also believe that souls have an immortal vigour in them, and that under
the earth there will be rewards or punishments, according as they have lived
virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an
everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live
again. Antiquities xviii. 1. 3.
Such was the setting of current concepts, or traditions, concerning hades as
the home of the dead, at the time that Jesus referred to it in the parable.
IV. Obvious Lessons of the Parable
Important lessons are taught in this parable: (1) that earthly blessings at
best are uncertain and transitory; (2) that rich men are responsible not only
what they do but also for what they do not do with their wealth; (3) that this
present life is the only opportunity we will be given to make preparation for
the future; (4) that selfish inhumanity, and the wrong use of riches,
disqualifies one from a place in God's eternal kingdom; (5) that the clear
teachings of Scripture are sufficient to make us wise unto salvation.
The rich man was not separated from Abraham because he was rich, for Abraham
himself was a man of wealth, but because he had disregarded the fundamental
teachings of the law and the prophets, which are love to God and love to man.
Jesus said that on these two hang all the law and the prophets (Matt. 22:40).
By this series of parables Jesus unmasked the philosophy of the Pharisees and
revealed the utter worthlessness of certain of their teachings. They stood
condemned before the judgment seat of the Eternal. In the very Scriptures they
professed to teach—Moses and the prophets—witness was borne against the
things they were doing. "Except your righteousness shall exceed the
righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the
kingdom of heaven," declared Jesus (Matt. 5:20). His kingdom is a kingdom
of fellowship, where love and joy abound. When we enter that kingdom we are the
children of God and members one of another. It is a family relationship where
all are equal and love is the bond. These basic principles of the kingdom the
Pharisees failed to understand.
The parable also presses home the truth that while eternal life or death is a
choice set before every one of us, yet we reveal in this life our fitness for that life to come. The rich
man was not condemned for his riches, but for his selfishness; nor was the
beggar saved because of his poverty or even his earthly sufferings. Our Lord
was not condemning wealth, but its misuse; neither was He extolling poverty as
a virtue. He confounded the Pharisees from their own teachings, thus preventing
them from throwing dust, as it were, into the eyes of the multitude.
This parable, framed as it is in the form of an argumentum ad hominem, is, as
we have already noted, based upon the Pharisees' own concepts of the condition
of the dead. On this Ellen G. White has remarked:
In this parable Christ was meeting the people on their own ground. The doctrine
of a conscious state of existence between death and the resurrection was held
by many of those who were listening to Christ's words. The Saviour knew of
their ideas, and He framed His parable so as to inculcate important truths
through these preconceived opinions. He held up before His hearers a mirror
wherein they might see themselves in their true relation to God. He used the
prevailing opinion to convey the idea He wished to make prominent to all—that
no man is valued for his possessions; for all he has belongs to him only as
lent by the Lord. A misuse of these gifts will place him below the poorest and
most afflicted man who loves God and trusts in Him—Christ's Object Lessons, p.
It was brought to this group of critics, then, not to condone their errors but
to illustrate from their own teachings the unsoundness of their position. Our
entrance into the kingdom of God is by grace, and grace alone; but once in the
kingdom we are to live as citizens of the kingdom, according to the principles
of that kingdom, as revealed in Scripture. If men turn from this clear
revelation of God in His Word, they will not believe though one were to rise
from the dead.
A supernatural event, or even an accumulation of such events, will not suffice
to convince those who reject the Word of God.
In this parable Jesus was revealing to His hearers (some of whom were tax
gatherers and notable sinners), not only that the philosophy of the Pharisees
is unsound but that it can be justly condemned even from their own literature.
The following paragraphs are taken from the Works of Josephus, his
"Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades":
1. . . . Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous
region, wherein the light of this world does not shine; from which
circumstance, that in this region the light does not shine, it cannot be but
there must be in it perpetual darkness. This region is allotted as a place of
custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who
distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to every one's behavior and
2. In this region there is a certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable
fire, whereinto we suppose no one hath hitherto been cast; but it is prepared
for a day afore-determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall
deservedly be passed upon all men; when the unjust, and those that have been
disobedient to God, and have given honour to such idols as have been the vain
operations of the hands of men as to God himself, shall be adjudged to this
everlasting punishment, as having been the causes of defilement; while the just
shall obtain an incorruptible and never-fading kingdom. These are now indeed
confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined.
3. For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate . . . when those
pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they
do not go the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led
with hymns sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in
which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not
constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things
they see, and rejoicing in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will
be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we
have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing
cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the fathers, and of
the just, which they see, always smiles upon them, while they wait for that rest
and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we
call The Bosom of Abraham.
4. But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the
angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good-will, but as
prisoners driven by violence; to whom are sent the angels appointed over them
to reproach them and threaten them with their terrible looks, and to thrust
them still downwards. Now those angels that are set over these souls drag them
into the neighbourhood of hell itself; who, when they are hard by it,
continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapour
itself; but when they have a near view of this spectacle, as of a terrible and
exceeding great prospect of fire, they are struck with a fearful expectation of
a future judgment, and in effect punished thereby: and not only so, but where
they see the place [or choir] of the fathers and of the just, even hereby are
they punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them; insomuch that
a just man. that hath compassion upon them cannot be admitted, nor can one that
is unjust, if he were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it.—The Complete
Works of Flavius Josephus, Whiston translation (John C. Winston: Philadelphia),