Wednesday, January 11, 2012

On Hell, Part 4

Many will argue that the account of Lazarus and the rich man is a clear teaching on heaven and hell. However, looking at that parable with an ancient Jewish mindset, you will see a completely different picture. It isn’t a treatise on heaven and hell at all – it’s a rebuke to the Pharisees, and it’s a parable on Jews and Gentiles. 

The rich man represents the Jews – purple cloth and fine linen represent royalty (the kings of Judah) and the priesthood (the priests of the tribe of Levi), and is foretelling the offering of the kingdom to the Gentiles. Luke 16:21 says that Lazarus was desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. (Gentiles were always dogs in Jewish thought). And remember the Syro-Phonecian woman from Mark 7:28? And she answered and said to Him, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs under the table eat from the children’s crumbs.”

There are other clues that this parable was about Jews and Gentiles (and not about heaven and hell): the bosom of Abraham, for one. This is a Jewish idiom, where being in someone's bosom shows a very close emotional relationship and position of honor. The idea of the kingdom of God being taken from them - the Pharisees - and offered to the Gentiles would have caused them to be in torments, as is pictured in this parable.  Parables are figurative.  They are not to be taken literally; they must be interpreted, and this parable is no exception.  I don't think the rich man would have been as calm as he was if his flesh truly was being barbequed.

The mention of the five brothers is a clue that the rich man represents Judah, as well as all of Israel – (Leah had six boys - both Levi and Judah had five full-blooded brothers). Also, there is a pointed reference by the rich man, saying that the brothers had Moses and the prophets – again, a very Jewish reference.  The rich man was well acquainted with Moses and the prophets.  And the reference to "rising from the dead" was foreshadowing the unbelief in the resurrection of the Messiah.  The Pharisees to whom this parable was directed knew exactly who Jesus was talking about - themselves!

Another question that comes to mind is this: does being a poor beggar give you assurance of salvation? Are you damned because you are a wealthy man? And finally, the Greek word that is translated hell in this parable is Hades. But in my first post on hell, we saw in Revelation 20:14 that Hades will be cast into the lake of fire and destroyed at the second death. Is "hell" cast into itself? 

There are many more insights to be gleaned from the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.  I hope you will take the time to dig!

If you wish to continue reading, click HERE for part 5.

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