Hell No, We Won't Go! The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Hell No, We Won’t Go!

Luke 16:19-31…22"Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23"In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24"And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'…"

Introduction: Is This Story About Hell?

It talks about a great gulf between heaven and hell right, which no one can cross? The rich man is in a place of torment where the flames seem to burn him. Certainly this is a story that God torments people for eternity with flames of fire right? 

Except… that there are elements around this story that teach us that this story has zero to do with an idea called hell. Not one thing in the story is about eternal conscious torment of sinners because if this is a story about hell, then it means salvation has nothing to do with Jesus, the cross, the death, burial and resurrection of Christ (the same with Mt 25, Sheep and Goats did you visit those in prison, clothe the naked?) or any such thing. It would mean that people go to heaven by giving to the poor, and they go to hell because they didn’t give a big enough offering to a mission in Africa. That is the absolute implication if we are to take this as a literal story.

In fact, God isn't even in the story itself at all!

Plus, if this was literal… then do we think that when we get to heaven that everyone is going to lay on the chest of Abraham instead of Jesus? Bosom buddies with Abraham, not Jesus? (see Putting Hell Back in the Basket, by Brazen Church) 

And do we think that we will SEE our loved ones in hell and talk to them, yet we are going to call that heaven? You're going to eternally see your mom or grandmother or a child that died at 16 years old in a car wreck and be filled with joy?

And if Hades has been destroyed in AD 70, as we preterists believe, then… it wouldn’t apply to us anyway!

II. A Parable of the Kingdom: 

In reality, this is a parable. So then what is this story really about? This is a story about role reversals, about the age of the kingdom that Jesus was ushering in, and about the Pharisees. It's a story about INCLUSION.

So first of all Abraham’s bosom. Can anyone tell me another scripture where this phrase is used? You won’t be able to because there are none. This is the only place in the entirety of the Old and New testament scriptures where this phrase is used. So churches have built entire doctrines on a phrase that neither Jesus, nor any apostle ever mentions again.

Remember it is a parable, using THEIR cultural images to teach a lesson. The idea of Abraham’s bosom came from something they picked up while in captivity in Babylon and is found in the Babylonian Talmud. In the same way that Paul quoted the Greek Philosophers to the Greeks, and the same way Jude and Peter quote from the book of Enoch, and the same way we use the word “mother nature”… even when we don’t believe in that pagan idea.  

II. The Inheritance of the Kingdom:

Secondly, Lazarus is not the Lazarus that was raised from the dead. This is a parable, using Abraham’s bosom and Lazarus. Those names go together. Lazarus is a shortened Hellenized form of Eliezer and his name means, “Whom God helps”. This is the name of the Gentile slave of Abraham. Abraham complained to God that he didn’t have a child, no one to leave an inheritance to… and so he was going to have to leave his inheritance to his Gentile slave from Damascus. (Gen. 5:2-3)

God did give Abraham a child, so the inheritance didn’t go to Eliezer. But God made a promise to Abraham that through his seed, all the nations (families) of the earth would be blessed. All means all, means not just the physical descendants of Abraham, but the Gentiles too. 

Lazarus is leaning on the bosom of Abraham. Just like John leaned against the bosom-chest of Jesus, so it is a figure of speech of one reclining at a banquet with Abraham and what he represents: the age of the kingdom after AD 70. It never speaks of it as some compartment of the underworld, rather it presents a picture of the banquet of the kingdom of God.

I think it was Jeff Turner in Saints in the Arms of a Happy God who wrote, “Jesus was not threatening the wealth loving Pharisees with hell fire in the context, but was warning them that the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame- Lazarus's of the world- were going to recline on the bosom of Abraham in the spiritual feast of the kingdom of God, while they who worshiped their wealth, positions and possessions would find themselves on the outside. "

Mat. 21:43, Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God (natural) will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit (spiritual). 

The context of this story is Jesus talking to the Pharisees about Mammon. Jesus was telling the Pharisees that just because they were natural descendants of Abraham, did not mean they were going to get the spiritual inheritance of the kingdom. Their abuse of money (in the same context) could be seen in how they were putting away their wives (not divorcing them) to avoid giving up the dowry. By leaving them destitute, if they remarried, it caused them to commit adultery. (see one of my most popular blogs called Spiritual Myth-Busters: God Hates Divorce?) So now they could no longer say, "We have Abraham as our father" because, "I can raise up out of these stones children for Abraham"! (Mt 3:9)

Jesus was speaking of the great role reversal which would soon take place when the scepter was taken out of the hands of Judah and officially belonging to Jesus alone (Gen. 49:10). This happened in AD 70 when the natural kingdom was taken away and the kingdom of God became spiritual in that Christ is ruling from heaven, not physical Jerusalem. The unbelieving Jews who rejected their Messiah would end up as outsiders literally weeping and gnashing their teeth in the fires of Jerusalem. They would end up, in this life, in outer darkness where if they rejected Jesus' truth about God, when they were the ones through whom the Messiah would come… then how dark is that darkness!  

This is the same thing James warned of in James 5:1-3, “come now you rich, weep and howl for your miseries that are coming upon you… you have heaped up treasures in the last days!”

III. The Chasm is Too Wide! 

This chasm is symbolic of the great cultural divide between Jew and Gentile. It is the social and economic division between Jews and Samaritans and Jews and Romans, and Jews and any non-Jews. Most likely it is a reference to the Jordan Rift Valley where the land Abraham was promised was separated from the Gentile lands. One day, the wold and the lamb would lie down together (Jew and Gentile... not lion and the lamb, btw).

Brad Jersak wrote that

“Lazarus is said to beg outside the rich man’s gate (v. 19). He longs to eat even the rich man’s table scraps. This is reminiscent of the Gospel story in which Jesus reserved his healing ministry for “the lost sheep of Israel” but a Canaanite woman appealed: “Even dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their master’s table.” Note the multiple allusions with Lazarus, who “… longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table” and “Even the dogs came and licked his sores” (v. 21).

Uncircumcised Gentile proselytes of Judaism were referred to as “gate proselytes” or “strangers inside the gate.” They enjoyed certain rights and privileges under the Mosaic Law. Is the parable condemning the rich man for leaving Lazarus outside when the Law obligated Jews to provide for foreigners inside? 

The great role reversal was coming. In fact, the Greek text indicates that it doesn’t say “the dogs licked his sores.” It says “the other dogs licked his sores.” In other words, Jesus was saying that the Rich man inside the house was just as much a dog, an outsider, a Gentile, as the dogs outside! Those “outside the gates” with “no inheritance” were going to participate in the kingdom of God! While the supposed sons of Abraham who abused the poor were going to be put out of this new era. 

Gentiles means nations. All the nations would be included not just the Jews!

This is a parable about racial division and about the way that the rich treat the poor. It’s not about heaven and hell, words that aren’t even mentioned in these passages. And it is a parable that everybody is included in the circle now. Not just the Jews, but ALL. All Gentiles! Because of Jesus death burial and resurrection he includes ALL!

This story is Luke 16 right? What was Luke 15? The story of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son… all teaching that ALL already belonged to him. The coin always belonged, along with the sheep and the son. There was never a time when they didn’t belong. The elder son was the Jews and the prodigal were the gentiles. So this parable in Luke 16 is teaching the inclusive nature of GOD’s love! Rich Jews have become like the older brother in the prodigal son story!

IV. Flames of Hell?

So what about these flames? Are the figurative? Are they literal? Is it both? Let’s look at just a few passages: Isaiah 4:4, “When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning…”

Malachi 4:1, “For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the Lord of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch.

John the Baptist, Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath (about to) come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, 9 and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. (who is he talking to?) 10 And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The fire not being quenched doesn’t mean it burns forever. It means you can’t stop it, or put it out until it finishes the job. No fire department is coming to the rescue. It won’t rain that day. It doesn’t mean eternal/forever. 

The reason that Jesus uses death in this parable to teach a lesson is that once the city was surrounded there was no turning back, it was over, there was no coming back from that decision to reject their Messiah!

Notice the uses of the word Ge-henna. Ge-henna is a literal valley in Jerusalem known for as a place of judgment because it was there that Israel offered sacrifices of children to the false god Molech. So as the apostate Jews murdered their believing brothers, the day would come where they themselves would suffer at the hands of Rome and end up burned in the city's destruction and thrown into the valley below. History records that this is exactly what happened.

Matthew 23:15Authorized (King James) Version (AKJV) 15 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell (Ge-henna) than yourselves. When Jesus called the Pharisees, not the sinners, children of the devil, it wasn’t literal. It was the same figure of speech here where he calls them a child of Gehenna. Were they all literal children who were born in the valley? Of course not.

Matthew 5:21 Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: 22 but I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell (Ge-Henna) fire.

Wikipedia says, "The word Raca is original to the Greek manuscript; however, it is not a Greek word. The most common view is that it is a reference to the Aramaic word reka, which literally means "empty one", but probably meant "empty headed," or "foolish."

When the unbelieving Jews scornfully rejected the wisdom of the believing Jews they were setting themselves up for the judgment of Ge-henna.

Mark 9: 42 “But whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— 44 where ‘Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.

Where is Jesus quoting from? Isaiah 66:24 “And they shall go forth and look Upon the corpses of the men Who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, And their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” This scripture is in the context of the new covenant and the fall of the city of Jerusalem. 

Historical References:

Josephus records,

“While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance.
Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise – nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined.
There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate. The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail.
The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives." (Josephus' account appears in: Cornfield, Gaalya ed., Josephus, The Jewish War (1982); Duruy, Victor, History of Rome vol. V (1883).)
Among the tragic events that at this time occurred, the following is more particularly deserving of notice: A false prophet, pretending to be a divine commission, said that if the people would flee to the Temple, they should behold signs of their speedy deliverance. Accordingly, about six thousand people, chiefly women and children, assembled in a gallery that was yet standing, on the outside of the building. While they waited in anxious expectation of the promised miracle, the Romans, with the most wanton barbarity, set fire to the gallery. Multitudes, rendered frantic by their horrible situation, threw themselves from the gallery onto the ruins below and were killed by the fall. Meanwhile, awful to relate, the rest, without a single exception, perished in the flames. (Welton, Jonathan (2013-11-01). Raptureless: An Optimistic Guide to the End of the World - Revised Edition Including The Art of Revelation (Kindle Locations 1380-1385). BookBaby. Kindle Edition.)
"Now the seditious [Jews warring against Rome] at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwords, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. However, when Titus [the Roman general besieging Jerusalem], in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a groan; and, spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that this was not his doing; and such was the sad case of the city itself." (War of the Jews V 12.3-4)
"Manneus, the son of Lazarus, came running to Titus at this very time, and told him that there had been carried out through that one gate, which was entrusted to his care, no fewer than a hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies, in the interval between the fourteenth day of the month Xanthieus, when the Romans pitched their camp by the city, and the first day of the month Panemus. This was itself a prodigious multitude; and though this man was not himself set as a governor at that gate, yet was he appointed to pay the public stipend for carrying these bodies out, and so was obliged of necessity to number them, while the rest were buried by their relations; though all their burial was but this, to bring them away, and cast them out of the city. After this man there ran away to Titus many of the eminent citizens, and told him the entire number of the poor that were dead, and that no fewer than six hundred thousand were thrown out at the gates, though still the number of the rest could not be discovered; " (War of the Jews, V 13,7)

So this is a parable a tale using cultural images and characters harking back to Abraham. It's about the torment and literal destruction of Jerusalem that the rich Pharisees would go through as they hated the Gentiles, refused to take care of the poor. There was going to be a great role reversal!

All were going to get the inheritance, not just Jews. But those apostate Jews were going to find themselves trapped in the city completely separated from any hope at the fall of Jerusalem. IF THEY DIDN'T trust in the death, burial, resurrection of Christ, or EVEN if they didn’t trust what MOSES said would happen… then they would be destroyed by the fires of Rome.

For further study see: 


Her Gates Will Never Be Shut, Brad Jersak, 

Putting Hell Back in the Basket, by Brazen Church