The Rich Man in Hell
“And in hell he lifted up his eyes being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Luke 16:23
Many dear Christian people who are themselves opposed to cruelty in every form subscribe to creeds of the dark ages which misrepresent the heavenly Father as taking fiendish delight in creating millions of humanity, with the foreknowledge of an uncertain existence in the present life of a few years and their eternal torture. It is claimed by foreordination, or at least fore-arrangement, God planned that all except the saints shall spend an endless eternity in the most horrible torture. Some say in physical and others say in worse mental torture. These Christian friends have apparently failed to note that the Scripture references which they believe teach eternal torment are all of a parabolic or symbolic character; that there is not a literal statement to such an effect from Genesis to Revelation. On the contrary, there are numerous Scriptures which declare that the wicked shall be “destroyed,” “perish,” “die;” and that God’s provision is that none can have eternal life except as a gift and favor through Christ. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23
The masses, disgusted with all doctrines, no longer hope for anything reasonable or logical in religion. Some, devoid of heart and reason, are fully satisfied to let doctrines alone. But others still hunger and thirst after righteousness – truth. Their hearts cry out after the living and true God – a God of justice, wisdom, love and power. They realize that the Bible must be his revelation of his own character and purposes yet are free to acknowledge that they have never been able to truly understand it or to harmonize its doctrines. The message of present truth is for this latter class; and they are hearing it and being blessed, refreshed, comforted, strengthened by it all over the world. Coming to a clearer knowledge of the divine plan of the ages, they are finding it soul satisfying and sanctifying. It is this class that we are seeking to reach and to instruct more perfectly respecting the divine character.
A Parable or a Literal Statement
We remind you that in a parable the thing said is never the thing meant. For instance, wheat and tares do not mean wheat and tares, but children of the kingdom and children of the wicked one. Sheep and goats mean the Lord’s people and those of a different spirit or disposition. So in the parable under consideration we hold that the rich man and Lazarus and all the various things connected with the story are parabolic. The majority of people, who seem anxious to hold on to this parable as a proof text favoring the theory of eternal torment, insist that it is not a parable, but a literal statement of facts. For instance, it is not stated that the rich man was profane or immoral or wicked in any ordinary sense of these words. The whole account is that he was rich, was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. Viewed literally the implication would be that all the wealthy who wear purple apparel and who have a bountiful supply of provisions will by and by spend an eternity of torture, regardless of their moral characters. Surely such an interpretation is irrational. Likewise of Lazarus we read not a word about his good qualities, his purity of heart, his generosity to the poor, his reverence for God, etc., but merely that he was poor, lay at the rich man’s gate, desired to eat the crumbs from his table and was full of sores. If these conditions are to be understood literally, it would signify that moral and religious qualities have nothing to do with our admittance to a heavenly state, but merely poverty, sickness, etc., such as few of us could claim to have duplicated. Moreover, a literal interpretation would imply Abraham’s literal bosom as the place of bliss. And if Lazarus went there, and even two or three since, it would leave no room for any of us, unless Abraham has a larger bosom and longer arms than anyone we know. But, enough of this!
The Parable Briefly Explained
We offer a suggestion as to the meaning of the parable. We admit that, since our Lord did not interpret it, anybody has the same right as ourselves to seek to find and to make known an interpretation which will fit all the various parts of the parable and be reasonable, Scriptural and harmonious. Yet we have never seen any logical interpretation except that which we now present.
The rich man symbolizes the Jewish nation. For centuries that people were God’s peculiar people, of whom he said, “You only have I known (recognized) of all the families of the earth.” Amos 3:2
St. Paul tells us that the Jews had much advantage every way, “chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.” (Romans 3:2) These divine gifts, favors, blessings, promises, are all symbolically represented in the rich man’s condition.
(1) His clothing of purple symbolically represented royalty. That nation God had organized as his kingdom. As we read, “David sat on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord,” and again, “Solomon sat on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord in the room of his father David.” Although this kingly power was taken away from them in the days of the king Zedekiah, nevertheless the scepter of authority remained with them. “The scepter shall not depart from Judah . . . until Shiloh come.” Messiah was therefore to come to that nation, that it might have the great honor of being his kingdom, the channel of divine blessing to the world. (2) The fine linen symbolically represented righteousness, the righteousness which by divine arrangement was reckoned to that holy nation “year by year continually,” for centuries, as a result of their atonement day sacrifices. (3) The sumptuous fare represented the gracious promises of God through the law and the prophets and his covenants with that nation. (4) Lazarus, the poor beggar full of sores who ate of the crumbs, symbolized those Gentiles who were outside of the Jewish covenant, “aliens and strangers from the commonwealth of Israel.” They had not the health and fine linen symbolical of justification and harmony with God. Their sores and rags represented their degradation, sin and alienation from divine favor and forgiveness. The eating of the crumbs from the rich man’s table represented that under divine arrangement every promise and favor really belonged to the Jews, and that every blessing granted to the Gentiles was from Israel’s fullness. Such crumbs of comfort were the healing of the centurion’s servant and the Syro-Phoenician woman’s daughter. When this mother asked relief for her child Jesus answered: “It is not meet to take the children’s bread and to give it to the dogs.” The woman accepted the answer without offense, knowing that it was the Jewish sentiment in general, but she replied, “Yea, Lord; yet the little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from the children’s table.” Here she applied the word dog to herself and other Gentiles, and the favor which she requested she called a crumb from the Jewish table, following our Lord’s own suggestion in the matter. (5) The dogs which licked Lazarus’ sores represented Gentiles in general and that the class of them represented by Lazarus, anxious for a share in divine mercy and grace, were companions of dogs, aliens, foreigners from divine favor.
The Beggar and the Rich Man Die
The death which came to the rich man and to the beggar in the parable, represents a decided change as respects divine favors and treatment on the part of both parties. The rich man, the Jewish nation, took sick, and the dying process began from the time of our Lord’s crucifixion. As our Lord declared, “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate.” (Matthew 23:38) For forty years the rich man, the Jewish nation, gradually died to all of the wonderful privileges and blessings which had been theirs as God’s peculiar people. The death of that nation occurred in the year 73, three years after Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans under Titus. Never since then have they had national life, instead they have been dead and buried, entombed in hades as a nation. That is until the year 1948, when they became a nation again. This rebirth of the state of Israel was a miracle of history (Ezek. 37:1-11; Luke. 21:29, 30). Never before has a nation been destroyed, its people been dispersed to the ends of the earth, and then nearly two thousand years later, re-gathered to their home land and re-established as a nation.
The death of the beggar occurred three and a half years after the cross, at the end of Israel’s specified seventy weeks of special favor. “The middle wall of partition” between Jew and Gentile was then broken down. The beggar was no longer outside of the gate, the companion of dogs, but had full access to the table of the Lord and to all the gracious promises and covenants it held forth. Cornelius, the first Gentile convert, was received at this time; and his acceptance marked the end of special Jewish privileges, the breaking down of the “middle wall of partition.” Then and thenceforth every sincere Gentile seeking fellowship with God and a share in his gracious promises had, through Christ, exactly the same rights as had the Jew – no more, no less. Indeed, the Jewish converts to Messiah became fellow members of this Lazarus outcast class, which now, though no more glorious than before in the sight of men, was specially favored of the Lord. Ephesians 2:15
The Beggar in Abraham’s Bosom
Abraham is styled the “father of the faithful,” and from this standpoint all faithful to God are counted as his children – symbolically. This is the figure used in this parable. The acceptance of Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom in the parable means that all of that class outcast from the Jewish nation, but hungering for the crumbs of divine favor and blessing and cleansing, were adopted as Abraham’s seed or children of his bosom (he typifying God). Thus all Gentiles accepting Christ are now children of Abraham, children of God by faith in the blood of Christ. Our Lord Jesus is the Head of the seed of Abraham; and all we as well as all faithful Jews accepting him and becoming his disciples are counted members of his body. As the Apostle declares: “Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are the children of promise,” and, again, “If ye be Christ’s then are ye Abraham’s seed and heirs.” Galatians 3:29; 4:28
All scholars will concede that the Greek word hades and the Hebrew word sheol, rendered hell in our common version, really signify the death state, the tomb. Various Scriptures tell us of the silence of sheol and hades; that there is neither wisdom nor knowledge nor device there; and that the dead know not anything. Scholars therefore have been perplexed greatly at the statement of this parable that the rich man lifted up his eyes in hades, being in torments. The difficulty dissolves as soon as we have the proper interpretation to the parable and see that the Jewish people died as a nation and were buried as a nation, but did not all die individually. The people of Israel, outcast from their own land among all the nations of earth, are very much alive, socially personally, having suffered for all these centuries.
The Rich Man Tormented in Hades
Less than one hundred years ago we had an exhibition of how this rich man (Israel), dead as a nation, but alive as a people, has appealed to Father Abraham to have Lazarus cool his tongue with a drop of water. Of course the thought would not be that a spirit finger would take a drop of literal water to cool a literal tongue. The interpretation must be looked for along the lines of the parable. The fulfillment came when the Jews of this country in a general petition requested the president of the United States to co-operate with other “Christian nations” and intercede on behalf of their members in Russia that they might have more liberty and less persecution, that their torments might be cooled.
If we look for the rich man’s “five brethren” we find them. There were twelve tribes of Israel, and, although all of these tribes were in a general way represented in Israel in our Lord’s day, yet, strictly speaking, that rich man was composed mainly of the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Now, if the two tribes were represented in the one man, the other ten tribes would be properly enough represented in his “five brethren.” The suggestion of the parable that something be done for these five brethren is for the purpose of showing us that nothing would be done for them. The answer of the appeal was: “They have Moses and the prophets. . . . If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” Luke 16:29, 31
Here, dear friends, we have a consistent interpretation of this parable, and it relieves our minds greatly. It assists also in illustrating to us the special relationship of the Jews under the Law Covenant and the loss of this special relationship by reason of their unbelief, which alienated them from the divine favor of this Gospel age and constituted a deep and wide gulf between them and the spiritual Israel class, represented in Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom. We thank God that the promise of the Scriptures is that with the end of this Gospel age this gulf of unbelief and consequent separation from divine favor will be done away, and that Israel will be delivered from the torments of these centuries and experiece a national resuscitation or resurrection under the glorious privileges, favors and advantages of the New Covenant. “Even so have these also not believed that through your mercy they also may obtain mercy.” Romans 11:31
Israel’s New Covenant
God’s great covenant, the Oath-Bound Covenant, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed,” applies specifically to the Christ, to our Redeemer and Lord, the Head, and to the “elect” church, the members of his body.
All of the privileges of blessing the world belong to this class, but they are received conditionally – that they will sacrifice their earthly rights and interests that they may have instead spiritual and heavenly conditions. Christ’s death and the death of these his elect members to earthly interests constitute the terms upon which he and they shall be the Mediator of the New Covenant for Israel, to give Israel a share on the earthly plane in the work of blessing all the families of the earth under their New Covenant. Thank God, this will mean restitution, uplifting out of sin and death conditions not only for those who have not yet entered the tomb, but for all of the race who will accept this favor of God through Christ, including those who have gone into the tomb. All refusing this grace will die the second death, symbolized by Gehenna.
What the Bible Says
The average man believes in hell, but thinks few people go there and that nobody knows much about it. The Bible is the only authority on the subject, and no one can know anything about it, aside from the Bible. When we consider Christ’s statement that unless a man loves him more than “father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple,” (Luke 14:26) and reflect that probably not one professed Christian in a hundred has reached either this standard or the other one which he set in the same chapter, that “Whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple” (Luke 14:33), it should make us willing to consider carefully what is to become of the 9,999 out of 10,000 of earth’s population that do not meet these conditions.
We all know that “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God (Psalm 9:17); but how many of us know that they will be re-turned there; that the passage, correctly translated, reads, “The wicked shall be returned into hell, all the nations that forget God” – showing that there are nations which go into hell once, come out of hell, learn of God, forget him and are returned there. We may all know (Jude 11) that Korah, or Core, went to hell; but how many of us know that he was accompanied to this place by his house, by all his household goods, and two other establishments similarly equipped? (Numbers 16:32, 33) We may all know that the Sodomites went to hell (Genesis 19), but how many know that they were accompanied by the city in which they lived and that there are other cities there? (Matthew 11:23) We may all suppose that many heathen warriors of long ago went to hell, but how many of us know that they took with them their weapons of war, and that their swords are there now, under their heads, with what is left of their bones? (Ezekiel 32:27) We may understand that the wealthy go to hell, but how many know that in the same place are sheep, gray hairs, worms, dust, trees and water? Psalm 49:14; Job 17:13-16; Ezekiel 31:16
We may all know that bad men go to hell, but how many of us know that the ancient worthies, Jacob and Hezekiah, fully expected to go there, and that faithful Job prayed to go there? (Genesis 37:35; Job 14:13) We may think that those who go to hell go there to stay forever, but how many of us know that Samuel said, “The Lord killeth and maketh alive; he bringeth down to hell and bringeth up” out of hell, and that David said, that God has the same power to aid those in hell that he has to bless those in heaven? (1 Samuel 2:6; Psalm 139:8) We may think that those who go into hell never come out, and that there is no record that any have come out, yet there are at least two persons in history who have been in hell and come out of hell. One is Jonah, who prayed in hell and was delivered from hell (Jonah 2:2); and the other is Christ, whose soul went to hell, but “his soul was not left in hell,” for God raised him up out of it. (Acts 2:31) And when Christ came out of hell he brought with him “the keys of hell” and now has the power and the right to set all its captives free. Revelation 1:18, 19
We may suppose that hell is to last forever, but the prophet speaks of its coming destruction, and John the Revelator says that it is to be made to “deliver up the dead” which are in it, and it, itself, is to be destroyed. (Hosea 13:14; Revelation 20:13)
The last passage cited affords the explanation of the whole subject, for in the margin opposite Revelation 20:13 the translators have explained that the word “hell” means “grave.” Reversely, in the margin opposite 1 Corinthians 15:55, the translators have explained that “grave” means “hell.” The terms are interchangeable and the meaning is the same. In the margins of the old family Bibles, we are told in seven places, and in both ways, in both the Old Testament and the New, that hell means the grave, and the grave means hell. Psalm 49:15; 55:15; 86:13; Isaiah 14:9; Jonah 2:2; 1 Corinthians 15:55; Revelation 20:13
Let Honesty and Truth Prevail
Having demonstrated that neither the Bible nor reason offers the slightest support to the doctrine that eternal torment is the penalty for sin, we note the fact that the various church creeds, and confessions, and hymn-books, and theological treatises, are its only supports; and that under the increasing light of our day, and the consequent emancipation of reason, belief in this horrible fiendish doctrine of the dark ages is fast dying out. But alas! This is not because Christian people generally are zealous for the truth of God’s Word and for his character, and willing to destroy their grim creed-idols. Ah no! they still bow before their admitted falsities; they still pledge themselves to their defense, and spend time and money for their support, though at heart ashamed of them and privately denying them.
The general influence of all this is to cause the honest-hearted of the world to despise Christianity and the Bible; and to make hypocrites and semi-infidels of nominal Christians. Because the nominal church clings to this old blasphemy, and falsely presents its own error as the teaching of the Bible, the Word of God, though still nominally reverenced, is being practically rejected. Thus the Bible, the great anchor of truth and liberty, is being cut loose from, by the very ones who, if not deceived regarding its teachings, would be held and blessed by it.
The general effect, not far distant, will be, first open infidelity, then anarchy. And luke-warm Christians, both in pulpits and pews, who know, or ought to know better, are responsible for much of this. Many such are willing to compromise the truth, to slander God’s character, and to stultify and deceive themselves, for the sake of peace, or ease, or present earthly advantage. And any minister, who will risk the loss of his salary and his reputation for being “established” in the bog of error, by uttering a word for an unpopular truth, is considered a bold man.
Responsibility of Christians
If professed Christians would be honest with themselves and true to God, they would soon learn that “their fear toward God is taught by the precepts of men.” (Isaiah 29:13) If all would decide to let God be true, though it should prove every man a liar (Romans 3:4) and show all human creeds to be imperfect and misleading, there would be a great creed-smashing work done very shortly. Then the Bible would be studied and appreciated as never before; and its testimony that the wages of sin is death (extinction), would be recognized as a “just recompense of reward.”
A correct understanding of the subject of the herafter is almost a necessity to Christian steadfastness. For centuries it has been the teaching of “orthodoxy,” of all shades, that God, before creating man, had created a great abyss of fire and terrors, capable of containing all the billions of the human family which he purposed to bring into being; that this abyss, he had named “hell,” and that all of the promises and threatenings of the Bible were designed to deter as many as possible (a “little flock”) from such wrong-doing as would make this gruesome place their perpetual home.
While glad to see superstitions fall, and truer ideas of the great, wise, just and loving Creator prevail, we are alarmed to notice that the tendency with all who abandon this long-revered doctrine of eternal torment is toward doubt, skepticism, and infidelity. Why should this be the case, when the mind is merely being delivered from an error do you ask? Because Christian people have so long been taught that the foundation for this wicked blasphemy against God’s character and government is deep laid and firmly fixed in the Word of God – the Bible – and consequently, to whatever degree their belief in “hell” is shaken, to that extent their faith in the Bible, as the revelation of the true God, is shaken also; so that those who have dropped their belief in a “hell,” of some kind of endless torment, are often open infidels, and scoffers at God’s Word.
Gained by the Lord’s providence to a realization that the Bible has been slandered, as well as its Divine Author, and that, rightly understood, it teaches nothing on this subject derogatory to God’s character nor to an intellitent reason, we have attempted to lay bare the Scripture teaching in regard to hell, that thereby faith in God and his Word may be re-established, on a better, a reasonable foundation. Indeed, it is our opinion that whoever shall hereby find that his false view rested upon human misconceptions and misinterpretations will, at the same time, learn to trust hereafter less to his own and other men’s imaginings, and, by faith, to grasp more firmly the Word of God, which is able to make wise unto salvation; and, on this mission, under God’s providence, this little book is sent forth.