The Rich Man and Lazarus
The Rich man and Lazarus (Luke
16:19-31) is one of the prime texts used to teach the doctrine of
eternal torment. We have, in effect answered this assertion quite
thoroughly in the general course of our study, but we offer this
brief look at this parable as a supplement.
We must first recognize this to
be a parable, rather than a literal story. It follows the same
general pattern of Jesus' other parables of the Kingdom. The rich
man is the villain, representing (as usual) the Scribes and
Pharisees. In verse 19 they are said to dress in purple (civil
authority) and fine linen (religious authority). Dressed as they
were, how conspicuous they must have looked as Jesus told the
They also "fared sumptuously
every day" (vs. 19), having access to the Scriptures daily. Yet in
the hardness of their hearts, they would not believe in Jesus,
though he rose from the dead (vs. 31).
In contrast, there was Lazarus,
the outcast, the "gentile," who had no spiritual advantage
whatsoever. To receive any spiritual food (God's Word) he had to
beg, hoping for a few crumbs from the table. His only comfort was
from the "dogs," a euphemism for the "gentiles." This is confirmed
by Jesus' words in Matthew 15:21-28.
21 And Jesus went
away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon.
22 And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that
region, and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, O
Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed."
23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples
came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, "Send her away, for
she is shouting out after us." 24 But He answered and
said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel."
25 But she came and began to bow down before Him,
saying, "Lord, help me!" 26 And He answered and said,
"It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the
dogs." 27 But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs
feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table."
28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, "O woman, your
faith is great; be it done for you as you wish." And her daughter
was healed at once.
One of the main purposes of the
parable of the rich man and Lazarus was to show that a profound
change was about to take place. The "rich man" was about to be
judged, while "Lazarus" was about to be blessed by the Word. And
so, the "rich man," the nation of Judah, "died"
in 70 A.D. and was cast out. The "gentiles" then received the
Gospel, and in accepting Christ, identified in His death (Rom.
6:7). And so they were blessed in "death," while the Pharisees and
their "five brethren" (vs. 28) remaining in Judaism were
For the past 2,000 years, the
Jews have been saying, "We are tormented in this flame." But Jesus
had told them by another parable in Matthew 21:43,
43Therefore I say
to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be
given to a nation producing the fruit of it.
If we take this parable as
teaching about a future punishment, there is still no reason to
conclude either that the "flame" is literal, or that it is
unending. Neither issue is addressed in the story, and so we would
have to fill in those details by other Bible passages. This we have
already done, particularly in chapters 2, 3, and 4.
As Christians, we know that Jesus
paid the full penalty for our sin. If the law demanded that the
penalty be eternal torment in hellfire, then Jesus would have had
to burn in hell forever. He did not do this. The question is: are
we yet in our sins? Or did Jesus' DEATH or a mere 3 days pay
the penalty in full?
The answer is simple. Jesus was
not tormented for eternity, and He did indeed pay the full penalty
for sin. Therefore, as Paul said, "the wages of sin is death" (Rom.
6:23), NOT eternal death, NOT hellfire, NOT some other death
dreamed up in the imagination of men with which to threaten their
enemies. All we need to do is see the example of Jesus to know the
full penalty of sin.
In the pain He felt from
Gethsemane to His death on the Cross, he paid for our personal
sins, going through the "lake of fire" on this earth, even as we do
on a smaller scale in the process of purification. In Jesus' actual
death for 3 days, He paid for the original sin of Adam, whose
penalty was death (Gen. 2:17). It is not our intention to minimize
the awful price He paid for sin. It was indeed a terrible price to
pay. Yet an ETERNAL penalty is one in which there is NO HOPE of
ever paying it in full. But we know that Jesus did pay it in