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Questions On Doctrine


The Rich Man and Lazarus



Believing, as Adventists do, in the unconsciousness of man in death, how do you explain our Lord's statement concerning the rich man and Lazarus? If this does not teach that men enter into their rewards at death, then what does it teach? What is the purpose of the story? Please state your position.


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 compassion.

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 16:17, 18).

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 between them.

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 space 
*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 afterlife.


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 universally


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 Matt. 25:31-41).

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. 38:18).


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 resurrection.)

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 for


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. 263.

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.

Additional Note

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 manners.

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), p. 901.

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