The Rich Man and Lazarus
The Rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) is one of the prime texts used to teach the doctrine of eternal torment. We have, in effect answered this assertion quite thoroughly in the general course of our study, but we offer this brief look at this parable as a supplement.
We must first recognize this to be a parable, rather than a literal story. It follows the same general pattern of Jesus’ other parables of the Kingdom. The rich man is the villain, representing (as usual) the Scribes and Pharisees. In verse 19 they are said to dress in purple (civil authority) and fine linen (religious authority). Dressed as they were, how conspicuous they must have looked as Jesus told the story!
They also “fared sumptuously every day” (vs. 19), having access to the Scriptures daily. Yet in the hardness of their hearts, they would not believe in Jesus, though he rose from the dead (vs. 31).
In contrast, there was Lazarus, the outcast, the “gentile,” who had no spiritual advantage whatsoever. To receive any spiritual food (God’s Word) he had to beg, hoping for a few crumbs from the table. His only comfort was from the “dogs,” a euphemism for the “gentiles.” This is confirmed by Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:21-28.
21 And Jesus went away from there, and withdrew into the district of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a Canaanite woman came out from that region, and began to cry out, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed.” 23 But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came to Him and kept asking Him, saying, “Send her away, for she is shouting out after us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 And He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” 27 But she said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.” 28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish.” And her daughter was healed at once.
One of the main purposes of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was to show that a profound change was about to take place. The “rich man” was about to be judged, while “Lazarus” was about to be blessed by the Word. And so, the “rich man,” the nation of Judah, “died” in 70 A.D. and was cast out. The “gentiles” then received the Gospel, and in accepting Christ, identified in His death (Rom. 6:7). And so they were blessed in “death,” while the Pharisees and their “five brethren” (vs. 28) remaining in Judaism were “tormented” thereafter.
For the past 2,000 years, the Jews have been saying, “We are tormented in this flame.” But Jesus had told them by another parable in Matthew 21:43,
43 Therefore I say to you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you, and be given to a nation producing the fruit of it.
If we take this parable as teaching about a future punishment, there is still no reason to conclude either that the “flame” is literal, or that it is unending. Neither issue is addressed in the story, and so we would have to fill in those details by other Bible passages. This we have already done, particularly in chapters 2, 3, and 4.
As Christians, we know that Jesus paid the full penalty for our sin. If the law demanded that the penalty be eternal torment in hellfire, then Jesus would have had to burn in hell forever. He did not do this. The question is: are we yet in our sins? Or did Jesus’ DEATH or a mere 3 days pay the penalty in full?
The answer is simple. Jesus was not tormented for eternity, and He did indeed pay the full penalty for sin. Therefore, as Paul said, “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), NOT eternal death, NOT hellfire, NOT some other death dreamed up in the imagination of men with which to threaten their enemies. All we need to do is see the example of Jesus to know the full penalty of sin.
In the pain He felt from Gethsemane to His death on the Cross, he paid for our personal sins, going through the “lake of fire” on this earth, even as we do on a smaller scale in the process of purification. In Jesus’ actual death for 3 days, He paid for the original sin of Adam, whose penalty was death (Gen. 2:17). It is not our intention to minimize the awful price He paid for sin. It was indeed a terrible price to pay. Yet an ETERNAL penalty is one in which there is NO HOPE of ever paying it in full. But we know that Jesus did pay it in full.