The Rich Man and Lazarus

The hoary fable that every man has in his own nature an immaterial, ever-conscious, never-dying principle, vaulting from the gloomy regions of heathen mythology over into the precincts of Christianity, and claiming the positive authority of Christ and his apostles, instead of the uncertain speculations of Socrates and Plato, conceives that it finds a secure entrenchment in Luke 16:19-31, or the record concerning the rich man and Lazarus. Into this record, as into the strongest of strongholds, it enters with every demonstration of confidence. And from its supposed impregnable walls, it hurls mockery and defiance against all opposing views, as the infatuated subjects of Belshazzar defied the soldiers of Cyrus from the walls of Babylon.

We venture to approach, at least to reconnoiter. We venture further, from the record itself, even to lay siege to it, and dig a trench about it, which, if we mistake not, will soon effectually reduce it and all the arguments for immortality it is supposed to contain.

The first fact to which we call the attention of the reader, is that Christ, as the result of this narrative, or parable, or whatever it may be, refers us to Moses and the prophets for light and information respecting the place and condition of the dead. In the record, the rich man is represented as requesting that Lazarus might be sent to his brethren on earth, lest they should come into the same place of torment. How would he prevent them? By carrying back to them information respecting the state that follows this life. By telling how it fared with the covetous rich man who had enjoyed his good things in this life, and inducing them to live such a life here as to avoid the condition into which he had fallen.

And what was Abraham’s answer ? – 11 They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. . . . If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Verses 29-31. That is to say, Moses and the prophets had given them just as positive information respecting the condition into which man passes from this life, as could be given them were it possible for any one to retrace his steps through the portals of the grave, and rise from the dead.

The significance of this declaration should not be overlooked. It throws us right back upon the records of Moses and the prophets for information upon that subject respecting which the incident here related is claimed to be full and sufficient testimony

We therefore inquire what Moses and the prophets have taught us respecting the place where the scene here depicted is represented to have taken place. What place was this? Answer: Hades; for this is the word from which hell is translated in verse 23. In hell, Hades, the rich man lifted up his eyes, and saw Abraham and Lazarus afar off, though still within sight and speaking distance. The New Testament was written in Greek, while Moses and the prophets wrote in Hebrew. Sheol is the Hebrew word answering to the Greek Hades. These are the equivalent terms in the two languages. All that a Hebrew writer meant by sheol, a Greek writer meant by Hades, and vice versa. The question, then, is simply this: What have Moses and the prophets taught us respecting sheol, and the condition of those who enter therein?

The testimony respecting sheol has already been presented. We have found it to be the receptacle of all the dead, righteous and wicked. It takes in the whole person, and will hold dominion till the last day. It is located in the lower parts of the earth, and is a place of silence, darkness, and corruption. There the dead sleep, are unconscious, praise not the Lord, have no knowledge, exercise no emotions of love or hate. (See pp. 138-146.)

Such are the great facts concerning sheol, or Hades, revealed to us in the books of Moses and the prophets. Their statements are literal, plain, explicit, and unequivocal. In opposition to all these, can it be maintained that in sheol and Hades there is consciousness, wisdom, device, knowledge, happiness, and misery, as is popularly claimed on the authority of this record about the rich man and Lazarus? If not, and if Sheol is such a place of silence, darkness, inactivity, and unconscious ness as they declare, can the use of such language as is employed respecting the rich man and Lazarus in this very place, be accounted for?

These considerations leave us with the problem on our hands whether it were better to try to overthrow all that Moses and the prophets have written respecting sheol and the condition of those who enter therein, as we should be obliged to do, if we try to sustain the common view of the rich mail and Lazarus. Or shall an effort be made to account for the use of the language used in that narrative, in harmony with what Moses and the prophets have said respecting that place?

In the first place, we cannot set aside what Moses and the prophets have written; for Christ, in the very case under consideration, endorses them, and refers us to them for instruction. How, then, can we account for the fact that the rich man is represented as conscious, intelligent, and active, in Hades, when Moses and the prophets have taught us that Hades is a place of darkness and silence, without knowledge, wisdom, or device? If the record of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable, the use of such language is at once accounted for. For if it is a parable, the language is allegorical; and in allegory, life and action are often attributed to inanimate objects, for the sake of enforcing or illustrating some particular truth.

Some notable instances of this style of writing are furnished us in the Old Testament. In Judges 9:7-15 the trees are represented as going forth to anoint a king over them; and they appealed to the olive- tree and to the fig-tree and to the vine, and received answers from them in which they declined to leave their stations of usefulness to be promoted over them. Finally, they appealed to the bramble; and the bramble accepted the trust. Now this representation was not designed to teach that trees literally ordain civil government, walk about, and converse together; but it was to illustrate the folly of the men of Shechem in electing Abimelech king. Again: in 2 Kings 14:9, we read that the king of Israel sent to the king of Judah, saying, “ The thistle that was in Lebanon sent to the cedar that was in Lebanon, saying, Give thy daughter to my son to wife.” This is not to teach that thistles and cedars have sons and daughters who unite in marriage but to illustrate the contempt which the king of Israel felt for the proposition which the king of Judah made to him.

Landis (p. 188) claims that it makes no difference whether the case of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable or not, since a parable should not be so worded as to convey a wrong impression to the mind, which this would do if the soul is not conscious in death. We reply, it makes all the difference in the world. For if it is a parable, the life and action attributed to the inanimate inhabitants of Hades, is not to teach anything respecting their real condition, any more than the life and action attributed to the trees and brambles in the cases referred to, is designed to teach what their condition is. But this intelligence and action are attributed to these inanimate objects, to illustrate some great truth which the speaker wished to enforce.

In the case of the rich man and Lazarus, what was the object in view? Answer: To rebuke the Pharisees for their covetousness (And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things. And they derided him. Verse 14); to show to them, since they thought that riches in this life was a mark of divine favor, and would secure God’s blessing in the next, that if they gave themselves up to the sensual enjoyments of their riches, neglecting and oppressing the poor, they would, in the future, meet God’s wrath instead of his favor; and that the poor, whom they despised and oppressed, might attain to that very state of felicity set forth under the figure of Abraham’s bosom, of which they thought themselves so sure.

That this is a parable seems abundantly evident: 1. It stands in connection with a long list of parables. The preceding chapter, Luke 15, contains three. This chapter opens with the parable of the unjust steward; and there is no intimation of a change from parable to literal narration in this case. 2. It is said that this cannot be a parable, because it is introduced by a direct assertion. There was a certain rich man,” etc. But others which are parables are introduced in exactly the same manner. Thus, verse 1: There was a certain rich man, which had a steward, etc. And chapter 15:11: A certain man had two sons,” etc. 3. The prophets to whom we are referred, speak figuratively of the dead in sheol, in the nether parts of the earth, as conversing together, taunting each other, weeping bitterly, refusing to be comforted, etc., representations exactly similar to those made in the case of the rich man and Lazarus, and fully as striking, but which no one can regard as setting forth the actual condition of the dead.

Thus in Isaiah 14:9-20, it is represented that when the king of Babylon is overthrown, he goes down into sheol, and the DEAD (for there are no others in its dark domain) are stirred up to meet him. The kings that had been destroyed by the king of Babylon, are represented as having thrones in sheol beneath, and when the king of Babylon joins them in their dark abode, they show their contempt for him by rising up in mock obeisance, as in life they had rendered him real homage. And they say, Art thou also become weak as we? Art thou become like unto us? Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms? “ No one can suppose that they literally acted or spoke thus. But all this is a striking figure to represent that death would reduce the king of Babylon to the same level with his subjects and prisoners.

Again: in Ezekiel 31:15-18 and 32:17-321, Pharaoh and his host, slain in battle with the king of Babylon, are set forth in the same manner. The strong among the mighty are represented as speaking to him out of the midst of sheol, as he enters therein. And this skeol, in “the nether parts of the earth,” full of graves and of the dead, is contrasted with the land of the living. These victims of slaughter went down to sheol with their weapons of war; and their swords they laid under their heads and when Pharaoh, lying among them, saw the multitude of his enemies that were slain also, he was comforted at the sight.

Another case, perhaps still more remarkable is that of Rachel. (Jeremiah 31:15-17; Matthew 2:17, 18 ; Genesis 35:16-20.) Long ages after Rachel had died, and entered into sheol, a dreadful slaughter took place among her posterity. Thereupon she is represented as breaking forth into lamentation and bitter weeping, and refusing to be comforted because her children were not. And the Lord says to her: Refrain thy voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears : for thy work shall be rewarded, said the Lord.”

No one can suppose that Rachel literally wept at the murder of her children, nearly 2000 years after her death. Nor that the, slaughtered Egyptians put their swords under their heads as they were lying in sheol, and conversed together in the nether parts of the earth, some being comforted, and others ashamed. Nor that the kings overthrown by the king of Babylon rose up from their sepulchral thrones in mock solemnity, and taunted him with becoming weak as they.

But these were all figures to set forth great and salutary truths. May not our Lord then, for once, be permitted for a like purpose to use a like figure, so largely employed by the prophets, and so well known to his hearers, by personifying persons in Hades to perform actions which were not there literally to occur? We have certainly as good reason to suppose that Rachel, the Egyptians, and the king of Babylon, were real personages, and their descent into sheol and the accompanying circumstance as related by the prophets, veritable history, as to suppose that Dives was a real character, and his torment in Hades, and his conversation with Abraham, a real transaction.

Those who held in their hands the Old Testament Scriptures were perfectly familiar with such figures. There the trees of the field “ converse and clap their hands,” the “floods” lift up their voice, the hills and mountains sing, stones from the wall cry out, and beams answer, the blood of Abel finds a voice, and cries out from the ground. And dead men rejoice over the fall of their rivals, slain by the sword. In a volume abounding with such figures, cannot for once a rich man, representing a class of living persons, be endowed in Hades with life and speech? Must this one figure of personification be singled out from all others, as a rigidly literal narrative, and be made to sustain the weight of the most terrific doctrine of which the mind can conceive?

Moreover, it is said that the Jews held a tradition involving the very points introduced in this case, a place of reward called Abraham’s bosom, and a place of punishment for the unworthy. Taking it in this light, it would appear that Christ simply took them on their own ground, and presented an argumentum ad hominem.

Sufficient evidence has been produced to show that this is a parable. And now we invite the attention of the reader to the testimony of two eminent authors respecting the use which should be made of parables.

Dr. Clarke says:

‘Let it be remembered that by the consent of all (except the basely interested), no metaphor is ever to be produced in proof of a doctrine. In the things that concern our eternal salvation, we need the most pointed and express evidence on which to establish the faith of our souls.’ And Trench, in his work on parables, lays down this very important rule:

“The parables may not be made first sources of doctrine. Doctrines otherwise and already grounded, may be illustrated, or indeed further confirmed by them, but it is not allowable to constitute doctrine first by their aid. They may be the outer ornamental fringe but not the main texture of the proof. For from the literal to the figurative, from the clearer to the more obscure, has ever been recognized as the law of Scripture interpretation. This rule, however, has been often forgotten; and controversialists, looking round for arguments with which to sustain some weak position, one for which they can find no other support in Scripture, often invent for themselves supports in these.”

But some persist that this is not a parable, but a literal narrative; and not to seem captions, we will consider it in this light. If this is veritable history, all the particulars must be taken literally. Then the wicked, tormented in the flames of hell, are within sight and speaking distance of the saved in heaven. In other words, heaven is but the shore of hell. And on that shore the redeemed can sit and watch the damned in their fearful contortions of agony for which there is no name, and listen to their entreaties for relief and their shrieks of fathomless despair, for which there is no remedy, to an extent, it would seem, sufficient to satisfy the most implacable revenge. If this be so, our friends must certainly abandon the argument they build on Revelation 6:9-10, where they have it that the souls of the martyrs, disembodied and conscious, cry to God to visit vengeance upon their persecutors. If they were where they could look over into the fiery gulf, and behold their persecutors vainly battling with its flaming billows, or if not already there, destined in a few short years to be plunged therein, let no one say of the holy martyrs that they would, under such circumstances, cry impatiently to God to hasten or intensify his vengeance. The arguments based on the narrative of the rich man and Lazarus, and Revelation 6:9,10, must, one or the other of them, be given lip; for they devour each other. Let the advocates of the popular theory look to this, and choose which it shall be.

The beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. The rich mail also died, and was buried. Let it be noted that the persons themselves, as a whole, are spoken of, not any of their essential elements, or immaterial appendages. Nothing is said of the soul of either the rich man or Lazarus. As we are now considering this as a literal transaction, a question vital to the argument is, When do the angels bear those who have died, as persons (for there is nothing anywhere said about the angels carrying their souls), into Abraham’s bosom, or the state of the blessed? Such scriptures as Matthew 24:30,31; 1 Thessalonians 4:16,17, answer this question very explicitly: And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.” When? At the second advent of the Son of Man in majesty and glory. For then it is that the voice of the Archangel, ringing through the long galleries of Hades, shall wake the righteous dead from their silent slumbers, and angels shall bear them upward on wings of light to be forever with the Lord.

The rich man dies and is buried; and his next experience is the suffering of torment in consuming flame. How long after his burial he finds himself in this torment, we are not directly informed. But he has bodily organs; for he has eyes to see, and a tongue to be cooled; but these the dead are not usually considered to possess till the resurrection. This drives Landis (p. 191) to the unusual admission that the soul retains the human form, with its corresponding organs, hands, feet, eyes, tongue, etc. Again, the rich man sees Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom; but, as we have already seen, Lazarus is not literally borne there by the angels till the resurrection.

As a literal transaction, the scene is inevitably located, by the concurrent testimony of all Scripture, beyond the resurrection. How, then, it can be said to transpire in Hades, we leave those to decide who believe that it is a literal transaction. Certain it is that no such scenes can really occur in Hades, if the representations of that place given us by Moses and the prophets, as already noticed, are correct. While analogous scenes will really take place beyond the resurrection: there the righteous are rewarded, and the wicked punished in devouring fire. There the Lord told the impenitent Jews that they should see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of God, and they themselves thrust out, and that then there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Luke 13:28.

That this scripture does not teach the existence of conscious souls between death and the resurrection, is forever settled by the fact that Lazarus could return only by a resurrection from the dead. When the rich man requested that Lazarus might be sent to warn his brethren, Abraham replied that they had Moses and the prophets, and if they would not hear them, they would not be persuaded though one rose from the dead. The conversation did not therefore relate to the coming back of the immortal soul of Lazarus and indeed no mention is made of any such thing in the whole transaction.

Therefore, interpret it as we may, it cannot be reasonably or Scripturally used to prove the entrance of man’s naked, unclothed spirit into bliss or woe at the hour of death.1Smith, Uriah. Here and Hereafter, Or, Man in Life and Death: The Reward of the Righteous and the Destiny of the Wicked. Washington, DC: Review and Herald Pub. Association, 1915. Print.

References   [ + ]

The Watchman

The Watchman

In a special sense Seventh-day Adventists have been set in the world as watchmen and light - bearers. To them has been entrusted the last warning for a perishing world. On them is shining wonderful light from the Word of God. They have been given a work of the most solemn import, - the proclamation of the first, second, and third angels’ messages. There is no other work of so great importance. They are to allow nothing else to absorb their attention. Evangelism, p. 119

Leave a Reply

Be the First to Comment!

Notify of
wpDiscuz

Keyword/Text Search

Words of Life

God is the owner of the whole man. Soul, body, and spirit are his. God gave his only begotten Son for the body as well as the soul, and our entire life belongs to God, to be consecrated to his service, that through the exercise of every faculty he has given, we may glorify him.

— Ellen G. White, The Youth’s Instructor, September 7, 1893