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Lazarus and the Rich Man: Will the Torment End as it did for Lazarus?

lazarus and the rich manWill the Rich man burn in hell forever? Does the Lazarus and the Rich Man parable teach eternal torment with no possibility of parole? Not if we interpret it as Jesus meant it. Then it shows Rich Man’s torment will end when he repents of his sins. How do we know this? “Reciprocity” governs what the Rich Man receives. He suffers torment because Lazarus during his lifetime suffered torment (Lk. 16:25).

Therefore, as Lazarus suffered only until he died, it follows the Rich Man’s torment ends when he “dies”. Repentance and belief are said to bring about the birth of a new man, one is born again. Repentance is the death of the sinner, so when the Rich man repents, he dies and his torment should end. Just as it did for Lazarus.

“Wait a minute”, someone might object. “Then Lazarus’ time in paradise is limited too!” Not so, the reciprocity has a governing purpose, persuade money loving Pharisees (Lk. 16:14) not to reject Christ.

So the focus is on the Rich Man (Lk. 16:16-17). That explains the unequal treatment, more is said about the Rich Man than Lazarus. Notice Lazarus is reposing with Abraham, nothing more is said about him. He isn’t shown feasting etc. Lazarus in paradise wasn’t the issue when Jesus told this story, it was the rejection of Christ’s authority by money loving Pharisees (Lk. 6:24).

Therefore, the “reciprocity” is not 100% equal both ways. While we can deduce the Rich Man’s Torment will end when he “dies” by repenting, that does not work in the other direction limiting Lazarus’ time in paradise. Confirming this reciprocity is unequal, there is a “great gulf” that prevents the Rich man from leaving Hades, while nothing so impassable existed for Lazarus.

The rest of this blog is exegesis. The parable was spoken to the Pharisees and in the Jewish Talmud I will cite similar early Jewish beliefs, including the concept torments purged sinners so eventually they could ascend to Father Abraham.

Jewish beliefs about the hereafter during the time of Christ

‘In the Hereafter Abraham will sit at the entrance of Gehinnom and will not allow any circumcised Israelite to descend into it.).-Abraham Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, (Schocken Books, NY, 1995), pp. 381.

The locus classicus on the subject reads: ‘ The School of Shammai declared, There are three classes with respect to the Day of Judgment: the perfectly righteous, the completely wicked, and the average people. Those in the first class are forthwith inscribed and sealed for eternal life. Those in the second class are forthwith inscribed and sealed for Gehinnom; as it is said, “Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Dan. xii. 2). The third class will descend to Gehinnom and cry out (from the pains endured there) and then ascend; as it is said, “I will bring the third part through fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call on My name and I will hear them” (Zech. xiii. 9). Concerning them Hannah said, “The Lord killeth and maketh alive, He bringeth down to Sheol and bringeth up” (1 Sam. ii. 6). The School of Hillel quoted, “He is plenteous in mercy” (Exod. xxxiv. 6); He inclines towards mercy; and concerning them said David, “I love the Lord, because He hath heard my voice and my supplications” (Ps. cxvi. 1). The whole of that Psalm was composed by David about them: “I was brought low and He saved me” (ibid. 6). A. Cohen, Everyman’s Talmud, (Schocken Books, NY 1995), p. 377.

Those whose merits and demerits are equal remain in a middle state, and the intercession of meritorious men such as Abraham saves them and brings them into paradise (Testament of Abraham, A. xiv.). According to the sterner doctrine of the Shammaites, these souls must undergo a process of purgation by fire; “they enter Gehenna, swing themselves up again, and are healed.” This view, based upon Zech. 13:9, seems to be something like the Christian purgatory.-Singer, I. (Ed.). (1901–1906). The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day, 12 Volumes (Vol. 5, p. 217). New York; London: Funk & Wagnalls.

Still Editing what follows. Keep checking for updates:

The Exegesis

13 No servant can serve two masters, for
either he will hate the one and love the
other, or he will be devoted to the one
and despise the other. You cannot serve
God and money.”
14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of
money, heard all these things, and they
ridiculed him.
15 And he said to them, “You are those
who justify yourselves before men, but
God knows your hearts. For what is
exalted among men is an abomination in
the sight of God.
16 “The Law and the Prophets were until 17 “Do not think that I have come to
John; since then the good news of the abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have
kingdom of God is preached, and not come to abolish them but to fulfill
everyone forces his way into it. them.
17 But it is easier for heaven and earth 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and
to pass away than for one dot of the Law earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot,
to become void. will pass from the Law until all is
19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the
least of these commandments and teaches
others to do the same will be called
least in the kingdom of heaven, but
whoever does them and teaches them will
be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
20 For I tell you, unless your
righteousness exceeds that of the scribes
and Pharisees, you will never enter the
kingdom of heaven.
18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You
marries another commits adultery, and he shall not commit adultery.’
who marries a woman divorced from her
husband commits adultery.
28 But I say to you that everyone who
22 The poor man died and was carried by looks at a woman with lustful intent has
the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich already committed adultery with her in
man also died and was buried, his heart.
23 and in Hades, being in torment, he 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear
lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off it out and throw it away. For it is better
and Lazarus at his side. (Lk.16:14-23 ESV) that you lose one of your members than
that your whole body be thrown into hell.
Note the Different Places and Times of
Punishment. Hades is the intermediate 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin,
place holding the soul between physical cut it off and throw it away. For it is
death and resurrection on Judgment Day. better that you lose one of your members
than that your whole body go into hell.
Hell (Gehenna, Lake of Fire) is the final (Mt. 5:17-30 ESV)
place holding the soul after leaving Hades
and imprisoned in a resurrection body on
Judgment Day. (Jn. 5:28-29; Rev. 20:13-15)

If the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man is “taken out of context” it will be misunderstood. Also, we will never learn why Christ’s teaching on divorce (Luke 16:18) appears here suddenly like an an orphan unconnected to what went before.

To solve these mysteries we must begin just before the “rich man” makes his first appearance.

Luke chronicles the changed relations between Jesus and the Pharisees. His patient answers to their offensive questions was gentle (Lk. 6:2-5; 6:7-11; 7:30-35; 7:36-47). That changed after the Pharisees insulted the Holy Spirit as the power of the Devil (Lk. 11:14-15. Mt. 9:34; 12:24-34). The next confrontation results in a series of woes upon the Pharisees (Lk. 11:37-52) and they respond in anger vehemently attacking Him (Lk. 11:53-54).

Jesus began warning His disciples against “the leaven of the Pharisees which is hypocrisy” (Lk. 12:1). Their evil deeds done in secret would be revealed and no one should be afraid of them, God is watching (Lk. 12:2-7). All denying Him would be denied entry by the angels, and blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven (Lk. 12:9-11). When they bring you to their synagogues to accuse you the Holy Spirit will give you the proper answer (Lk. 12:11-12).

The “rich man” lover of wealth is now introduced (Lk. 12:15-21) which would catch the Pharisees off guard as it describes a wealthy Sadducee, not a Pharisee a “man of the people”. But both love money more than God so little is different. Things calm down a bit as Jesus contradicts the “rich man’s” view of wealth counselling its use to make friends in heavenly places in preparation for His return (Lk. 12:22-48). During this lull in the confrontation many more predicates of the Pharisees are contradicted. You can review those at your leisure. We will skip ahead to the immediate context Luke 16:1 when praise of the “shrewdness” of a steward angers the money loving Pharisees (Lk. 16:14) resulting in the Lazarus and the Rich Man parable.

An unrighteous “rich man” and his “steward” added illegal usury fees in loan contracts by inflating what was borrowed (Deut. 23:19-20). When the steward he was about to be fired for incompetence he devises a scheme to maintain his standard of living (Lk. 16:2-4). He had debtors rewrite the contracts in their own hand (keeping the originals) hence deleting the unlawful usury (Lk. 16:5-7).

The Steward’s master commends his shrewdness, as the debtors not only are psychologically required to reciprocate, legally if they do not their fraud could still be exposed by the originals. As its in their hand they cannot deny their culpability. Nor can the Steward’s Master do anything about this fraud, the entire transaction was his scheme to circumvent the law of Moses (Deut. 23:19-20) and the originals are proof.

The Master is impressed, the “shrewd” way his Steward rescued himself from poverty. Jesus sadly observes the “children of the world” are much more diligent and wise advancing their own interests than the “sons of light” are advancing God’s interest (Lk. 16:8). But He counsels them to manifest the same shrewdness with wealth for God, so when they die angels will receive them in eternal dwellings (Lk. 16:9; 15:10. Mt. 25:34-40). Contrast the “Rich Man” who failed to make angelic friends with his wealth (Lk. 16:22-23. Cf. Ananias Ac. 5:1-5).

This requires total commitment (Lk. 14:26-35), selling all possessions in their heart (Lk. 18:22) to follow Christ. Entrepreneurially managing wealth so what remains after necessary obligations (2Th. 3:10, 12. 1Tim. 5:8. Mt. 15:4-6. 1Cor. 9:9-10) invest the rest in the Kingdom. That requires total commitment far exceeding the minimum requirement for 10% (Lk. 11:42). When one loves God with all their heart soul strength and mind (Lk. 10:27), there is no love left for money.

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. (Lk. 16:14 NKJ)

They “derided Him” to eliminate the possibility anyone regard Jesus as a legitimate Teacher of God. The requirement for more than 10% is their proof.

15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Jesus’ proof they are illegitimate teachers of God’s will is manifest in the abominations they practice. Idolatrous love of money and adulterous circumvention of God’s law on marriage. Their traditions are justifications excusing disobedience to God’s law (Mk. 7:6-14)

16 “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.

Jesus’ authority was prophesied by Moses himself (Deut. 18:15). He is restoring the intent of the Law the Pharisees have set aside with their outward display of religion, not knowing its true power to live righteously.

17 “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.

Not one jot or tittle of the law will fail, including the curses that will befall all who fail to obey the voice of God speaking through Jesus (Deut. 28:15-68).

18 “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery. (Lk. 16:14-18 NKJ)

Then Jesus cites proof their traditions, building upon an allowance Moses made because of the culture at that time and hardness of their hearts, was not God’s original standard (Mal. 2:13-16). If they really taught God’s Will, then they would teach as Jesus does about divorce:

3 The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?”
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning `made them male and female,’
5 “and said,`For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh ‘?
6 “So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.”
7 They said to Him, “Why then did Moses command to give a certificate of divorce, and to put her away?”
8 He said to them, “Moses, because of the hardness of your hearts, permitted you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.
9 “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.” (Matt. 19:3-9 NKJ)

So Luke 16:18 is not an orphan text that found its way here, its Christ’s proof the Pharisees justify sin by their traditions. If they were legitimate interpreters of God’s Word they would teach as Jesus does about divorce. Therefore, they will end up in Hades when they die, not the poor they despised (Lk.16:22-23).

Here is an example of how the Pharisees made the Word of God of none effect, dealing treacherously with the wife of their youth (Mal.2:14-16). It clearly delegitimizes them as representatives of God:

47. The school of Shamai say: A man may not divorce his wife, except he found in her a matter of nakedness (fornication); for it is said (De. 24:1): “Because he has found in her matter of nakedness.” The school of Hillel (whom a certain school delight in representing as having exerted his authority for the modification of the severity of the Mosaic law) say: He may divorce her, even if she has burned his food; for it is said: “Because he has found in her matter of nakedness.” Rabbi Akiva says: He may divorce her, even if he has found a prettier woman; for it is said (De. 24:1): “And it come to pass that she find no favour in his eyes.” Guittin, fol. 90, col. 1.-Hershon, P. I. (1883). Genesis: With a Talmudical Commentary (p. 125). London: Samuel Bagster and Sons.

The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man is spoken to Christ’s disciples (Lk. 16:1) but as the Pharisees butted in (Lk. 16:14) their not making friends with unrighteous riches (Lk. 16:9, 22-23) is a focus that applies to everyone.

Naming Lazarus makes this different than a parable. As it reveals what happens after physical death it could be categorized as an apocalypse of the hereafter. The “Rich Man” life is similar to the Harlot in the Apocalypse, both dressed in fine linen and purple and living luxuriously (Rev. 18:12). The symbolism implies that is what they “longed for” (Rev. 18:14), no room for God’s desires in their hearts.

Jesus employs irony (Luke 5:32; 11:47–48; 12:54–56; 13:33; 18:9–14), the reversal (Lk. 16:25) being the “rich man” was not helped by God, only poor and sickly Lazarus as his name indicates (2976 Λάζαρος Lazaros, “helped by God”). The poverty he endured kept him free of the love of money (Lk. 6:20. Jam. 2:5) while the “rich man” left to his own devices becomes an idolatrous lover of money. Only in the hereafter is the truth known and its the reverse of what everyone believes will happen.

Preaching to the Dead (Postmortem Evangelism): The good and the bad news

To be continued