THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
F. E. BATSON
“However dim Scripture may be in its portrayal of the Intermediate Sate, it is at least explicit in negativing the current conceptions of Hades, both Roman and Protestant. Nothing short of a betrayal of the original Christian position has been the abandonment, through sheer unbelief, of the clauses in the Creed of Hades and the Ascension: if these clauses are merely figurative and pictorial (the Modernist legitimately retorts) so can be the clauses on the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. Thus also the modern obliteration of the doctrine of Hades has dislocated, and to a large degree nullified, the doctrine of the Resurrection of the Dead, which, when an intermediate world is eliminated, is made so unnecessary as to slip out of belief. The elimination of a single truth is a hurt done to all revelation.” In this exposition, Mr. Batson sets the state after death on its Scriptural foundations.
This incident (Luke 16: 19-31) has been asserted by some to be a parable, and various figurative meanings have been applied to it. The one commonly received is that the rich man is the Jewish nation, by God's gift rich in position and privilege but selfishly keeping all to itself, despising and neglecting others; Lazarus represents the Gentiles, spiritually poor, naked, hungry, homeless, within reach of the privileged-people, yet by them left destitute. Both die: the old dispensation runs out, and Jews and Gentiles are together launched into "the last times". By apostolic messengers the poor outcasts are now led unto the blessed privileges of the Gospel; these ‘stones’ become children of Abraham; while the Jews, who enjoyed so good a portion in the former dispensation, are cast out.
But against this or any other figurative interpretation being the true one, there are several objections:- (1). Even if we approach it as a parable, it is evident from a careful study of the parables spoken by Christ that they are, without exception, built upon FACTS, not fables; things which actually occur:- a sower goes forth to sow; an enemy sows tares among wheat; a net cast into the sea catches good and bad fish; a covetous man pulls down his barns and builds greater, etc. In all parables Christ builds the facts in the spiritual realm upon CORRESPONDING FACTS in the natural realm; therefore if this incident was a parable, it would be based on the facts given here, including the rich man's experience in Hades.
(2) Our Lord does not say, in giving this incident, "Hear another parable," nor does the Holy Spirit in recording it state, "He spake another parable unto them." In the many which He did speak they are definitely stated to be such.
(3) All other incidents which commence in the same way, ‘a certain man’ (e.g. Luke 10: 30-37 15: 11-32), are built upon facts.
(4) On such a solemn and important subject which Our Lord is speaking of here, had it been figurative, He would undoubtedly have said so, or applied the profounder lesson to be learnt by it, as in the case of "The unjust steward" (Luke 16: 9). Yet there is not the slightest hint of this in the whole narrative.
(5) The events on this side of the grave could be literal, so that the only objection put forward is what occurred in the unseen; but He who is TRUTH has linked all the events together, and His word is final.
It is therefore evident that our Lord meant this to be understood literally and not to be treated as figurative. Having instructed His disciples on the use of temporal wealth in the light of eternity (Luke 16: 1-9), and then rebuked the Pharisees who derided Him (5: 14-I8), Christ now utters a solemn warning to these covetous Pharisees around Him who boasted that they were Abraham’s seed, by giving the following incident. A wealthy Jew, proud of his descent from Abraham, with the knowledge of Moses and the Prophets, lives daily in splendour and luxury. No trouble or sickness mars his daily feasting: he has "more than heart could wish" (Ps. 73: 7). At his gate, in a wretched condition of poverty, disease and hunger, lay one of his fellow countrymen, vainly hoping that where there was so much luxury he might receive the crumbs from the table. But none was given. The rich man, like the Levite, passed by on the other side, and the only sympathy he received was from the dumb creatures which roamed those parts. Lazarus (‘God helps’), however, was faithful during his affliction and poverty, and received the words of Scripture, while the rich man’s attitude toward his Jewish brother revealed his covetousness and disobedience to the command of God given through Moses (Deut. 15: 7-11).
Both at last pass through the portals of death. From a sumptuous table, the rich man is carried to a sumptuous tomb by sorrowing worldly friends. Lazarus also died, but of his emaciated, plague-stricken body we are given no information, nor even told that it received a burial; probably it was cast away with loathing. But his soul had a convoy of triumphant angels. Where the rich man’s misery began, the beggar's splendour also began. Death freed the one from affliction and the other from selfish luxury.
The Lord now lifts the veil concerning the condition of these two souls in Hades; not to gratify curiosity, nor to display His own knowledge, but with the one purpose of warning and instructing His hearers. Here we are taught, as also in other Scriptures, that the soul is an exact counterpart of the body, capable of hearing, seeing, feeling and speaking. The souls of the Martyrs cried for vengeance, and were given white robes and told to rest for a little season (Rev. 6: 9-11). The form of Samuel's soul appeared as an old man, covered with a mantle (1 Sam. 28: 14-15). The soul of this man asks for alleviation of his sufferings. He who in life was clothed in fine linen and purple is now enveloped in flame. The tongue that once enjoyed all luxuries now experiences the torment of thirst, and cries for Lazarus "to dip his finger in water and cool my tongue." But there was no cry of repentance; no confession of sin; no request for deliverance. Nor does Abraham tell him that he would enjoy the blessed state of Lazarus in due course. There was no hint of a change or second chance; character was fixed; the suffering was intense and continual, and an impassable gulf was between them.
A solemn truth concerning punishment is revealed here. Other Scriptures plainly teach that punishment in Hell* will be graded according to light and opportunity received (Rev. 20: 12, 13), but here the Lord teaches that it is graded in Hades also. Punishment postponed now, in the day of grace, will fall with greater intensity both in Hades and in Hell*. No punishment fell upon Dives before death, but it fell with full force after death. There is difference in degree of punishment, but not in duration. We are further informed that Dives saw Lazarus in ‘Abraham's Bosom.’ There is no scriptural reason why this should not be understood literally, for Luke 16: 9 implies that the [eternally] saved will be personally welcomed in the unseen [under]world by other conscious individuals. Moreover, that Abraham was there personally and was prominent in the whole scene is indisputable. To the Pharisees gathered around Christ who were listening and who were proud of being Abraham’s seed (John 8: 33), to be personally received and welcomed by Abraham would be the greatest honour conferred upon any individual. The bosom is the place of fellowship, honour and love (John 1: 18; 21; 20). Christ therefore reveals who Abraham acknowledges as his children, and who God recognizes as such, by giving Lazarus, who in his lifetime was poor, afflicted and despised but faithful, the place of honour and fellowship with Abraham. Thus it was an appearance and rebuke to the rich man in Hades and a solemn warning to the covetous Pharisees who were listening. We are not told that visibility is and conversation continual between the saved and the lost; nor are we told how long Abraham and Lazarus remained in this attitude. What Christ has not stated must not be assumed,¹ Moreover, God can grant special appearances when He chooses as in the case of Samuel and Saul (1 Sam. 28: 14).
[*That is, in ‘the lake of fire’ the eternal place and state of the lost after resurrection.]
Realizing that all hope for the alleviation of his own sufferings was past, Dives now makes an appeal for his brethren still living. This appeal is met by Abraham testifying to the sufficiency of Scripture, and that through [truth contained in] Scripture lies the only way of salvation. Dives now reveals the unbelief still in his own heart. It is not a denial of the truth of Scripture but of their effectiveness for salvation, and because they were not received by him and their warnings heeded, he thinks they will be as ineffective upon others; but that the testimony of a departed soul would be received. But Abraham gives a final and solemn reply to Dives:- "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16: 31). Abraham does not say that God would be unwilling to allow a departed soul go, if it would be effective; nor does he say it is impossible to send one from the dead; but that, if the Scriptures will not be heeded, neither will the testimony of one who even rose from the dead, and so far from effecting repentance, his brothers would not even be PERSUADED. Ears that are shut to God's Word reveal hearts that would be unconvinced by any miracle. God has done everything He can do for the salvation of mankind: He has given His Son, His Word and His Spirit; and they who reject these, will reject every witness. Moreover, God has given Dives’ message to the whole world, through the mouth of Him who rose from the dead, but it is only heeded by the few. But further proof of the truth of this solemn statement was given not long after. Our Lord raised Lazarus from the dead. What was the effect? Were they persuaded to accept the testimony of Lazarus? Did they believe Him who warned of coming judgment? On the contrary, they not only consulted to put Lazarus to DEATH (John 12: 10), but they also sought to put to death THE ONE WHO RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD (John 11: 53).
Again, in the Great Tribulation, men will not only be warned of the eternal consequences of sin, and behold the resurrection from the dead of the two Witnesses (Rev. 11: 3-14), but they will also pass through the actual experience of punishment themselves, tormented for five months, with no escape from the torment (Rev. 9: 5, 6), yet they REPENT NOT. Others again, burned with great heat (Rev. 16: 8, 9), covered with sores, and gnawing their tongues for pain, not only remain unrepentant, but they blaspheme God because of them (Rev. 16: 10, 11). Not only are warnings ineffective, but so also is torment itself. Thus to the rich man who even in Hades bases all his appeals on the fact that he is a son of Abraham by nature (verses 24, 27, 30), a relationship which Abraham acknowledges as true (verse 25), God shows who is a true son of Abraham, by giving the one whom he despised the position of greatest honour. So from the unseen world has come one of the greatest witnesses to Christ. Abraham testifies to Moses and the Prophets, and both testify to Christ: " FOR HAD YE BELIEVED MOSES, YE WOULD HAVE BELIEVED ME: FOR HE WROTE OF ME" (John 5: 46).
[Note. 1. It is not stated that rich man in Hades was an ungegenerate soul.]
DEATH AND AFTERWARDS
It is the general belief that the eternal destiny of every man is fixed at his death. There is no scripture that asserts this, but some scriptures deny it, and as regards certain whole classes of persons.
1. We have already learned from Matt. 12: 31, 32 that such as blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven, [in this age or in the one to come]. These seal their doom even before death.
2. At the close of this age Antichrist will present to all men the dread alternative of denying God and worshipping himself as god, or of being executed. At the same time an angel will counter this demand by a proclamation announcing the eternal wrath of God against each who shall worship Antichrist, the Beast. Thus these also who worship him will seal their doom while yet alive. Their death will not make their fate more certain.
Shortly thereafter the Lord will hold an assize at
4. In older ages the heavenly lot of Enoch and Elijah was revealed while they were yet alive, and they did not die.
5. This will be the case with those companies of believers on Christ at the End Times who will be rapt to heaven alive, at either the pretribulation rapture of the watchful (Luke 21. 34-36; Rev. 3. 10; 12. 5; 14: 1); or at the general rapture at the close of the [Great] Tribulation (1 Thess. 4. 17; 1 Cor. 15: 51, 52).
6. The eternal salvation of believers does not wait their death to be secured and declared. Scripture gives them assurance as to this as soon as they believe: they are declared justified, are born of God (1 John 5: 1, 11, 18, 19), and receive the life eternal (John 10: 27-30, etc.).
The above cases make clear that the article of death has no influence on the eternal future of the whole classes of men mentioned. This sets aside the universal assertion commonly made.
7. Early in the public life of our Lord one of the ruling order of the Jews condemned in advance their later opposition by acknowledging that they knew Christ to be a teacher come from God (John 3: 2). In due time that inquirer himself, Nicodemus, followed that light and espoused Christ (John 7: 50-52; 19: 39), but the other leaders (with the honourable exception of Joseph of Arimathea: (John 19: 38), and their followers, though having yet more fully weighed the claims of Jesus to be the Son of God, deliberately rejected Him and later murdered Him. To these the Lord said: "I go away, and ye shall seek Me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go ye cannot come... I said therefore unto you that ye shall die in your sins: for except ye believe that I AM, ye shall die in your sins" (John 8: 2 1, 24).
This states definitely that the determined open-eyed rejecter of Christ will not escape from his sins, but will die weighted with them, and that no later association with the Redeemer will be possible: "Whither I go [in resurrection] ye cannot come." Up to the hour of death opportunity might remain for a change of mind and attitude, which is implied in the Lord's words "except ye believe ye shall die in your sins:" thereafter their path and lot would never coincide with that of Christ. The essential factors here are the definite facing of Christ, the weighing of His claims, with the following intelligent and firm rejection of Him and of His demands on faith and obedience. Such already settle their state and fate before they die.
scriptures speak to the same effect.
Paul (2 Thess. 1:
3, 10) dwells on the righteousness of God in judgment. It is righteous that God should count
worthy of His [millennial] kingdom such as have suffered in its interests. It is righteous that He should weigh back an
equivalent measure of affliction to those who afflict His people. This double evidence of right action by God
will be "at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from
heaven, with the angels of His power in flaming fire rendering vengeance to
them that know not God, and to those not obeying the gospel of
our Lord Jesus Christ." These are the later members of the
class of which Pharaoh king of
Those who protest that a God of love cannot consign His creatures to a lake of fire are striving against Scripture. In the words before us it is stated clearly that when He returns as judge who for us men and our salvation endured the sorrows of the cross, He will come "with flaming fire rendering vengeance." Elsewhere (2 Pet. 3. 7, 10) it is declared that, the heavens that now are, and the earth, by the same word [that destroyed the ancient world by water] have been stored up for [or with] fire, being reserved "against the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men... the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and the earth and the works that are therein shall be burned up," or "discovered," as the secret elements of an article are revealed when it is analyzed and dissolved by heat. In the light of this certain, Divinely appointed prospect the same apostle asks. "What shall be the end of them that obey not the gospel?" (1 Pet. 4: 17).
Again, as before noted, at the close of this age those who accept the service of Antichrist will do so in defiance of the gospel and of express angelic warning. These also will be of the class now in view who face the claims of God and His Son and deliberately reject them. In Rev. 16 the closing judgments of this age are depicted. A noisome and grievous sore breaks out on men, and also they are forced to drink water putrid with blood. Let men voice their horror at such inflictions and declare that such things cannot be, that the very idea is the invention of callous men: yet the holy angel declares that these judgments exhibit the righteousness of God. Next fiery heat scorches the God-haters: they sit in God-inflicted darkness, tormented by their sores, and gnaw their tongues for anguish. It is difficult to conceive that even a lake of fire can induce greater misery: gnawing the tongue indicates the last extreme of agony. Yet Scripture here twice emphasizes that even such awful experiences, so far from melting the obdurate heart into humble repentance, on the contrary do but provoke blasphemies against God, and they repented not of their works to give Him glory (Rev. 16: 9, 11).
These scenes represent one attribute of the holy God which is as clearly and frequently presented in Scripture as are His attributes of love, grace, and mercy. We are not in the least concerned to attempt to justify God and His ways, but only to note what is set forth in His Word. These solemn features are presented especially in the book of Revelation, and we remark again that it is no wonder that a leading advocate of universal restoration excluded this book from his treatise. Thus a basic question arises as to whether the whole Bible is really and in its entirety the Word of God. One of the largest and most vigorous books against eternal judgment was written by an avowed modernist and treats Holy Scripture as very unreliable.
These considerations all bear upon the fact that men are able while yet alive to determine their destiny, for eternal life or eternal death, and therefore the notion that it is death that settles the matter is unwarranted.
Now all the persons contemplated in the foregoing remarks are such as have faced the rights and claims of God and His Son and have either accepted or rejected them. This leaves open for inquiry the future of the vast majority of the human race, of whom this is not the fact. Here again, no word of Scripture states that their eternal lot is fixed at death.
The question was put, "Lord, are they few that be saved?" A profoundly interesting question! But Christ left it unanswered, and stressed the urgency of personal zeal to enter the narrow door. He did, however, warn that "many" would seek to enter in and would not be able. But the very fact that they seek to enter shows that the Lord's remark does not extend to those who have never heard of salvation and who therefore do not seek after it. It is not for us virtually to supply our own answer to the question and assert that "many" means that the vast majority of our human race must and will be for ever lost. Scripture provides no data for this conjecture, yet upon it universalists base their sharpest attacks upon the teaching of eternal perdition and their bitterest complaints that the character of God is horribly vilified. This is part of the rhetoric by which they create prejudice, and it is much to be regretted that too many who support the doctrine of eternal judgment have given occasion for this attack by having adopted the conjecture.
What the Bible says is most significant and is a relief to the subject. Speaking of man simply as man, without distinction of race, period, or religion, it shows in Rom. 1 that of old time men gave up God and that God could not but give up them. In chapter 2 every man is again addressed without distinction, whether Jew or heathen, by the words, "O man, whosoever thou art." It declares two principles of the Divine and final judgment as follows:
(1) The one who "despises the riches of God's goodness and forbearance and longsuffering" and acts from "a hard and impenitent heart … treasures up for himself wrath, in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." He being factious and obeying not the truth (that is such measure of truth as he may have known; whether from nature around, or the universally implanted sense of right and wrong, "the work of the law in the heart," or from conscience), but obeying unrighteousness as the guiding principle of conduct - to such a one God will render "wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish." These are four strong and fearful words, such as prepare the mind for the final picture of that wrath, the lake of fire.
(2) But on the other hand, equally emphatic, and equally addressed to every man, is the assurance that "to them that by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honour and incorruption, God will render eternal life," even "glory and honour and peace to every man that doeth good." And both the wrath and the peace will be awarded "in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ" (ver. 16). Both actions are part of the good news as preached by Paul, little as they may appreciate this to be good news who rebel against the doctrine of eternal [or, in the case of the regenerate, age-lasting] wrath. But let the advocate of the popular doctrine inquire of his heart whether he thinks it to be good news that such as are in view, who never heard the gospel in this life, may nevertheless receive eternal life in that great day.
It is not said that the second class of persons find while on earth a life that is glorious and honourable and incorruptible, but only that they seek it. Such as have moved among un-evangelized people (and there are plenty such in these Western lands!), and have observed with care and sympathy, have not so seldom met such earnest seekers. They seem to us to be few in comparison; but we do not know all hearts, nor do we know what the Spirit of grace may go on doing right on to the day of judgment indicated. We ought to cultivate Paul's confidence that "He who hath begun a good work" in any soul - and surely it was His grace that began in these the good work of seeking after incorruption - will go on to perfect that which He began "until the day of Jesus Christ," not only until the day of death and then forsooth abandon His work unperfected. The final issue of His work may bring many blessed surprises, even as the issue of human and angelic obduracy will bring sad disappointments; for many that have been first in opportunity shall be last in attainment, while many that are now last may be then first.
The principle of justice involved in this is important and should be understood. An upright judge deals with the culprit according to his own knowledge of law, not according to the culprit's ignorance of law; and so sometimes he sees ground in law for acquitting one verily guilty of the act charged. For example, the judge may think that no statute forbids the act in question, or he may hold that there is lack of some technical evidence required for convicting. Similarly, God will deal with men according to His own knowledge of the value of the atoning work of the Saviour for all men, and He may see ground in divine law to extend that benefit of redemption to some who had not known of it in this life, such as infants and imbeciles, as also such as in much darkness of mind had at least longed after that type of life to which the cross of Christ affords access by faith.
Scripture is definite that righteousness is imputed to such only as believe. But they cannot believe without hearing the message. It is therefore clear that those mentioned, infants and imbeciles, must be caused to hear after death, since they could not understand it in this life. This establishes in principle that some will be given opportunity to hear and believe after death, and it becomes only a question of whether Scripture warrants the application of this principle to the multitudes that never heard the good news in this life.
It seems that the passage in Romans 2 examined can only find fulfilment in this way: they must hear, and so have opportunity to embrace that higher life which they sought here but of which they never heard. May it not be taken as certain that no one of such seekers who, in the providence of God, did meet with the message of God in this life ever rejected it, but gladly embraced its offer of life in Christ? and it may therefore be presumed that each such will do this if presented with the truth after this life. Thus will God fulfil His promise that such seekers will obtain eternal life in that day of righteous judgment, and the principles and conditions of salvation will be the same for them as for those who hear the gospel now. The cross of Christ the basis, the knowledge of the truth the means, and faith the condition; so that all will be of grace through faith.
The suggestion that such persons receive eternal life in that day of judgment accords with the plain suggestion in Rev. 20: 15, that some names will be then found written in the book of life. This will be examined later.
It is to be much observed how deliberate and defiant is the sin of those threatened with ultimate wrath. They condemn what nevertheless they practise, that is, they sin knowingly and are self-condemned (Rom. 2: 1-3); they positively despise the goodness of God, which therefore must have come to their notice (ver. 4); they are hard and impenitent, factious, and actually disobedient to truth known, even as it had been before said that "they hold down [that is, suppress] the truth in unrighteousness" (1. 18), while they obey the latter right willingly. Similar are those who will have their portion in the lake of fire as described in Rev. 21: 8 and 22: 15. They are the cowards (deilos, comp 2 Tim. 1: 7; Deut 20: 8, and Judg. 7: 3, LXX); unfaithful (apistos, comp. Luke 12. 46); the loathsome, detestable, disgusting (bdelusso, comp. Psa. 119. 163, LXX); murderers, fornicators, sorcerers (dealers in magic), dogs (wild, foul livers), idolaters, and all liars (pseudes, one who is utterly, deceitfully false).
there are all too many such is, alas, the fact; yet it is not our province to
declare every sinner to be so appallingly evil as to be irreclaimable. Each who seriously seeks light shall reach it,
while he who refuses it now courts darkness for ever. While all wickedness will receive its due
recompense of reward, the sin which makes condemnation certain is to reject or
neglect Christ; but these attitudes imply that He has been adequately presented
to the man. Who can affirm that this has
been done to vast numbers in
No "second chance" is offered to anyone, but only a first opportunity for those who did not hear the gospel in the present life.
- G.H. LANG.