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Chapter 3 - The Rich Man and Lazarus
In the gospel of Luke we are told that the Pharisees, described as greedy, began to ridicule Jesus as he taught. Jesus responded first by saying that their pretensions did not fool God. He then inserted a comment warning about divorce (one might assume that the covetousness of the Pharisees included the desire for new wives). However following this introduction Jesus describes the fate of two people.
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously 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 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. 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.
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
This presentation by Jesus is so profound and suggests so many additional questions, that many have dismissed it as just an invented teaching story. However, there is nothing that suggests we should not take it as a literal description of actual people.
Our English word 'parable' is a transliteration of the Greek word parabole. It is a derivative of paraballo, which comes from two Greek words para and ballo. Para means alongside or by the side of. And ballo means to lay, or to place, something. A true to life story can be used to teach or illustrate a particular point. Jesus did this with the parable of the sower;
Another parable put he forth unto them, saying, The kingdom of heaven is likened unto a man which sowed good seed in his field: - Matthew 13:24
The use of the word 'likened' indicates that an illustrative example is being given. With the rich man and Lazarus there is no mention of it being figurative. Unlike parables, specific names are used. It is even possible that those hearing this knew to whom it referred.
We do not know if the description given by Jesus represents what everyone who has died experiences. It may be that the conversation between Abraham and the rich man was allowed as a special circumstance such as with the conversation between king Saul and Samuel.
Then said the woman, Whom shall I bring up unto thee? And he said, Bring me up Samuel.... And Samuel said to Saul, Why hast thou disquieted me, to bring me up? - 1 Samuel 28:11, 15a
There are some observations we can draw from the description Jesus gives;
1. There are two locations. One of comfort and one of torment.
2. One cannot cross from one location to the other.
3. These people could recognize each other.
We get a picture of these two different states when Daniel is told about the resurrection.
And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. - Daniel 12:2
We have seen where the word 'everlasting' can be applied to those who receive 'life' at the resurrection, not because the word translated 'everlasting' carries that concept in the Greek, but from other verses. However, there is no such external support for the use of 'everlasting' as applied to those who do not receive such life. The 'everlasting' (for the age) contempt Daniel mentions may describe the contempt rather than the people who are regarded as such. However, even such contempt cannot be held forever.
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. - Isaiah 65:17
Considering the different circumstances one can end up in after death, it would be wise to make sure one has a solid understanding of how these two circumstances are entered.
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