14. The Rich Man & Lazarus

Meditating on the Parables of Luke: 14. The Rich Man & Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31:  “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’  “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Comment:  I confess I find this one of the most uncomfortable of Jesus’ parables because it has a variety of challenging facets to it, and also because the way Jesus tells is, with historical names being used, it feels almost like history (although it isn’t) and that somehow seems more challenging as well.

Content:

  • there was a rich man who lived in luxury.
  • there was also a beggar named Lazarus, who was physically a mess because of ill-health, no doubt from under nourishment.
  • eventually he died and was taken to the underworld where Abraham now dwelt.
  • the rich man also died and was carried to the fire of the underworld, yet he was able to look up and see both Abraham and Lazarus.
  • he cried to Abraham to let Lazarus come and bring him ease from his agony.
  • Abraham reminded him of how it had been on earth and is now reversed.
  • He pointed out that there was a great divide so here was no crossing over.
  • so the rich man pleaded that Lazarus be sent back to the rich man’s family to warn them so they would not end up here.
  • Abraham simply points out they have the Law and the Prophets.
  • The rich man says this is not enough; if someone from the dead goes to them, they will believe.
  • Abraham challenges that; if they won’t listen to God’s provision already they won’t be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.

Elements for consideration: Because of the strange nature of this story, we perhaps need to try and understand the various parts of it.

  1. i) Pre-death: a rich man who cares little for the beggar at his gate,
  2. ii) Death: Abraham, the father of faith is surely, we would say, in heaven with God. The alternative, where the rich man ends up, is what is called Hades or Hell. However, Jewish understanding was that there were divisions within Sheol (see below).

An Aside: Hell: It is worth pausing to consider definitions. Sheol, a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, is normally simply defined as ‘the state or resting place of the dead.’ When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, ‘Hades’ was substituted for ‘Sheol’. Hades is similarly ‘the state or resting place of the dead’. Gehenna, a Greek word used in the New Testament, is ‘the destination of the wicked’, and derives its name from a deep ravine south of Jerusalem, the “Valley of (the Sons of) Hinnom” (Hebrew ge hinnom). Some point out that this was an ongoing rubbish dump where rubbish was burned but, please consider, it could only continue burning as long as material was thrown in. As such it was not eternal. It is more a picture of destruction. In the case of all three, origins and usage are NOT clear.

Sheol Divided: The New Bible Dictionary states, “In the later Jewish literature we meet with the idea of divisions within Sheol for the wicked and the righteous, in which each experiences a foretaste of his final destiny (Enoch 22:1-14). This idea appears to underlie the image of the parable of Dives and Lazarus in the New Testament.”

  1. The book of Enoch is described as an ancient religious work that predates Jesus and would be known by the Jews of Jesus’ day. Jesus’ use of the parable mentioned above may therefore simply be using Jewish understanding of the day to convey certain truths:
  • We end up in a place determined by our present lives
  • That ‘place’ is really somewhere to be avoided.
  • Once we die there is no swapping over.

The Bigger Picture: In Revelation, references to the lake of fire (believed by many to represent Hell) are interesting. In Rev 19:20,21, The two of them (the beast & false prophet) were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse. i.e. with the coming of the King of Kings, Jesus, the beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake but their followers (humans), rebellious people, are killed by the word of God!

In Rev 20:9,10, “they marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God’s people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

i.e. The human armies are killed by fire from heaven but Satan is cast into the fire where he joins the beast and the false prophet – for ever.

Now, in Rev 20:13-15 we read, “each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Note it does NOT say ‘where they suffer for eternity’.

Fire: Consider, fire is an element that utterly destroys what it engulfs. The fire in the Valley of Hinnom burnt up and completely destroyed the rubbish thrown there. Wherever fire comes down from heaven it destroys. The only exceptions that specifically go against that are ones we have already seen involving Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet – all demonic spirit (fallen angel) beings.

References to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is simply used to convey how abhorrent this destruction should be to us where those who are destroyed miss out on all the wonder of eternity with God that the New Testament conveys. Similarly The few references to “where the fire never goes out” e.g. Mk 9:43 simply says the risk of that judgment is always there waiting for the rebellious. The emphasis is on the fire (the means of destruction) not the punishment (effect on people).

Back to the Parable: So it is probable that Jesus is using Jewish understanding of these things. The previous parable, of the shrewd manager challenged ethics. This one likewise challenges behaviour – concern for the poor – and both suggest that the ongoing behaviour indicates a set heart that precludes a person from entering heaven. The parable brings a strong warning to ensure that whatever relationship we claim to have with God, is shown to be real in the way it is worked out expressing the love, care of compassion of Christ for those around us, and that we cannot do without his grace expressed in and through us. May it be so.

62. Source of Life

Meditations in 1 John : 62 : Source of Life

1 John  5:11-13    And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.

John is strong on testimonies. We’ve seen it from the outset of this letter and now he refers to testimony again and again here – six times in verses 9 to 11. Remember what a testimony is – a record of what someone has seen or heard, what they know because they witnessed it. Now, says John, this is what I know because it has been conveyed to us: “God has given us eternal life.”  Perhaps because we see this so often in the New Testament or we’ve heard it said so often, we take it for granted, but it is a question that worries people throughout the world: is this all there is? What happens after death? According to the testimony of the New Testament, for the believer at least, life carries on and has no end. That is what this says.

But, might come the question, how can this be? Why should life carry on after death? Is it automatic? Is it just how things are, or is it conditional? Back comes the answer: “this life is in his Son.” What does that mean? It means that Jesus is eternal, as part of the Godhead for God is eternal, He has no beginning or end (and yes, our minds cannot grasp that concept but that doesn’t stop it being true). So when we became a Christian, as we’ve noted many times in these studies, He puts his own Holy Spirit into us and we are united with Him. Our spirit is knit together with His.

So when John goes on, “He who has the Son has life,” he means that he (or she) who has received Jesus into their life has Jesus ‘life’ (eternal life!) in them, because he has been dwelling in them throughout their time on earth since they became a Christian. His presence in them takes the real them (the real us is more than just the body) on after what we call death when the physical body stops operating. We often refer to our ‘soul’. That is the personality aspect of our spirit and so the real me, that is more than just the physical body, continues to exist, linked with Jesus’ spirit, after death. In fact it goes on and on. This is eternal life, life without end.

Does this happen for everyone, someone might ask. No, is John’s answer, “he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.”   If you have not received Jesus into your life, if you have not received his Holy Spirit into your very being, you do not have this eternal energy within you to take you on into eternity.  Is there nothing for this person, therefore, after death? Do they simply cease to be? No, the Bible indicates that each and every one of us will have to appear before God after death and account for how we have lived.

For those who have rejected God’s overtures to them throughout their lives, there is a clear indication that there is nothing about God or living on in His presence that would appeal to them, and therefore He conforms to their wishes and they cease to live in His presence. The concept of hell is quite clear in the New Testament, as either a place of exclusion from God’s presence or a place of destruction (views differ). The graphic pictures that Jesus painted of it, simply scream at us, you don’t want this!  Who, in their right mind, would reject the wonder of living in the presence of wonderful God in a most glorious existence? Only someone who is so blinded by sin and self-centredness!

But there may be believers who are uncertain about their future, which is why John continues, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”   i.e. if you are a believer, if you have invited Jesus into your life, realise that this does mean that you have eternal life. After death you have the wonder of an incredible life continuing on with no restrictions of Sin, Satan or Self. There, united to God, you will enjoy the wonder of all the goodness that God brings to you without restriction. It is, in reality, beyond our comprehension, at this moment. It is rather like a blind man trying to understand colour.  We hear or read the words of the New Testament, and our minds scrabble to grasp the wonder of it. But it will be ours and it will be wonderful!

46. Preacher in Prison

Meditations in 1 Peter : 46: Preacher in Prison

1 Pet 3:18-20 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.

The Bible is amazing. One minute you can be in the clearest of verses and the next you are left wondering whatever the next verse is about. So it is here. In the previous meditation we considered the simplicity and straight forwardness of the first part of verse 18 but in verses 19 and 20 we move into an unclear area where we are going to have to resort to speculation, and accept that different commentators through the centuries have concluded or suggested different things about these words.  Let’s examine it piece by piece.

He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit. Peter has just been speaking about Jesus dying for us, in the first part of verse 18. Now he speaks in more detail about his death and resurrection. Yes, he was put to death and his human body clearly died on the Cross. That was obvious. But then he was made alive. How? Scripture itself is not absolutely clear on this. Peter on the day of Pentecost declared, “God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him,” (Acts 2:24) the implication being that it was the Father who raised the dead Son, yet the back half of that verse suggests there is something more. Yet Jesus himself had said, I lay down my life–only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again,” (Jn 10:17,18) suggesting that Jesus himself had the authority to raise up his mortal body again. Peter, in today’s verses, suggests that his body was raised by the power of the Spirit – that it was the Holy Spirit who raised up the human body again. The apostle Paul appears to confirm this in his writings: “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.” (Rom 8:11)

So at the end of that we are left talking about the Holy Spirit, so it is he who is being referred to when Peter continues, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison.” The body remained in the tomb over those three days and you would have seen it lying there stationary if you had been inside the tomb during that time, but the spirit of Jesus – who is also the Holy Spirit, left the body and went on another task – to go and speak to other ‘spirits in prison’.  It is this phrase that leaves us all wondering, for Peter did not explain it beyond saying, who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.Those he preached to were apparently the spirits of those who had disobeyed God and died at the time of the Flood.

Now, first of all, I have to confess that my own understanding of this was that this is a reference to those who are in hell. They are clearly not in heaven and I do not believe there is any other indication of a half-way house called purgatory and so hell is the only alternative left. It would make sense that Jesus went down into hell because it would be an indication that he took the full punishment of Sin which wasn’t only death but also hell. It was a sign of the completeness of his taking our punishment. However, I realise that that still leaves questions and it isn’t something that appears elsewhere in Scripture.

So why did Jesus go to this particular group of spirit beings? Think about what happened at the Flood. Noah and his family was the only survivors (certainly in that part of the world – the Middle East – although there are signs of a catastrophic flood all over the world) and it is not clear how much Noah explained in his preaching why the people needed to repent and turn from their wicked ways. Could it be that here we have a unique illustration of how God, in the form of His Son, in the Spirit, went down to those in hell and justified (for the sake of justice) why they were there?  Is this God wrapping up the loose ends ensuring that in eternity there is no question possible about the justice meted out by the Godhead?   Is this God confirming to all the onlooking heavenly watchers (see Eph 3:10) that even if they heard the truth from the Son of God himself, these individuals would have remained unrepentant?

One of the things I am convinced about, after years of reading the Bible in detail, is that when we see God face to face and if we are allowed to see as He does – in completeness – we will never find a reason to criticise anything that God has said or done throughout existence. There will never be a person in hell who is there unfairly!  Indeed there will never be a person in heaven who is not there by the grace of God, but at least they are there because at some point in time-space history they made a decision to face the truth and call on God for mercy, which they then received, together with an abundance of grace that flowed forth to us through the wonderful work of Jesus on the Cross. The best I can do with these verses is suggest that here we have a brief unique glimpse of the justification of God, something that went on behind the scenes, so that the guilty could never claim innocence. That is a sobering thought!

33. Eternity

Meditations in Ecclesiastes : 33 :  Eternity

Eccles 3:9-11 What does the worker gain from his toil? I have seen the burden God has laid on men.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.

Now in the previous meditation we pondered further on the question of work, or toil, or labour, because that is where verse 9 was leading us, and verse 10 speaking of a burden seems to naturally flow on from that, but when we add on verse 11 Solomon seems to do an amazing turn about which leaves us then wondering was that what he had meant by God’s burden? How do these verses knit together to make sense?

Well yes, he certainly starts from the point of talking about work and we’ve seen how he has felt frustrated about having to work with no ultimate meaning in it, and yes that does seem to be a burden that we cannot escape from without God. But then it is as if he says, but it’s not only work, for that is only one facet of life; there is this whole much bigger thing of meaning to life, which again we don’t seem to be able to make sense of.

Look at that amazing statement that he makes: He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, i.e. God has put within the hearts of every human being a sense that there is something more to life than just living out this material-based life for three score years and ten. There must be something more, something deep within us says. There must be ‘meaning’ to life!

This is the major thing that undermines the platform of the atheist, because they say that there is no God, life is just chance, pure blind chance, and yet deep inside us we know that that is not so. Why is it that countless generations of students have sat around contemplating the meaning of life, if there is no such thing? Why is it that it has even formed the heart of some humour, this contemplating meaning? Some philosophers have struggled with this and, excluding God from their equations of thought, have brought themselves to the edge of suicide. A world without meaning or purpose seems a terrible thing to us. Why? Is it because God has breathed life in to us and there is an echo of Him in every single human being and that echo is an echo of reality, of eternity, of Him?

So what is the burden of this feeling? It is that yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. Without revelation from God we cannot know what the truth is. Why is it that there are so many world religions? Surely it is because of this sense from within that there is something more, and all religions except Judaism and Christianity are in fact mankind reaching out for this eternity, reaching out for some deity to make sense of life. Judaism and Christianity uniquely declare that God has revealed Himself – Judaism through Israel, and then Christianity through Israel and then His Son, Jesus Christ and finally through the Church.

Without God’s revelation though, we are doomed to frustration, doomed to struggling to make meaning of it all by ourselves, and hence the many different world religions. We may not be able to prove God’s existence, but once we accept it, suddenly everything else makes sense. This is where the Bible as a complete entity is so exciting because when we see it in its completeness we see the completeness of the revelation that starts with God creating the world, and finishes with Him redeeming it and bringing something new into being at the end of the material phase of it.

Yes, that is the truth revealed in the Bible, that the material world as we know it is limited in time and space and there will come a point where it ceases in the present form. The Bible clearly states what will follow but our understanding of that is not clear (for it doesn’t give us every detail) and which is why there are a number of interpretations of exactly how it will work out. Yet the truth is clearly stated, there is more than finite material existence, there is eternity, time without end, or timelessness!

And yes, there again we struggle to understand. We can use the words but our understanding is limited to that which God gives us. We are more than finite material-based human beings; there is an eternal element about us, something that will continue on after the material ceases to function and we lie down and ‘die’.  That, as far as I can see, is the only reason for the existence of an eternal hell, a place where God’s presence is not known, a terrible existence. It can only be because there is an element of us that carries on after life here, and when we choose not to be in God’s presence (as many do choose) then ‘hell’ is the only alternative. Oh yes, the concept of eternity carries with it many repercussions. Yet God has sent Jesus so that we don’t have to end up in that God-less existence. Instead we can receive eternal life from him and that means life in all its fullness in God’s presence in heaven. That is the wonder of the glorious alternative that is given to us if we will receive it.