We are continuing our study of 2 Thessalonians 1:9 this morning. This is our third message on this verse. Remember that the context here (verses 3 through 10) is the second coming. The verses make up one complete sentence in the Greek. The subject here is not what happens in the afterlife but what happens at the Parousia.
They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV
The majority of commentators use this verse as a proof text for the doctrine of Hell. I have been trying to demonstrate that this verse has nothing to do with Hell. So, we have spent three weeks talking about Hell all from a verse that has nothing to do with Hell.
In our last study we looked at this verse exegetically and saw that the word Paul uses for destruction is Olethros. It has nothing to do with eternal, conscious torment. It refers to death and national judgment.To use this verse as a proof text for Hell is eisegesis (reading into).
So, I feel as though I have dealt with this verse and can move on but, it's hard to talk about Hell and not deal with Luke 16. It seems as if Luke 16 is everybody's go-to proof text on the doctrine of Hell.
Commenting on 2 Thessalonians 1:9, Steven J. Cole writes, "No one spoke more about hell than Jesus. He spoke of the rich man in hell who was in torment and cried out (Luke 16:24)."
And he called out,'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.' Luke 16:24 ESV
Like so many commentators, Cole sees 2 Thessalonians 1:9 as dealing with Hell, and he asserts that Yeshua is teaching a doctrine of Hell in this parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus. Let's look at that parable and see if we can make some sense of it.
"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. Luke 16:19-21 ESV
There are literally hundreds of interpretations of this parable. They are even divided on whether it is a parable or not. Many see this as a teaching on the afterlife and use it to support the doctrine of eternal conscious torment. But does it?
Let me start by saying that I think this is a parable. Our text says,"There was a rich man"—in Luke 15 there are three parables. The third one begins,"There was a man who had two sons." Chapter 16 begins with a parable about,"There was a rich man." In chapter 19 a story is identified as a parable about"A nobleman went into a far country." These all begin the same way indicating that they are all parables.
Sometimes in the Bible it is obvious when a parable is a parable and when real events are real events. Sometimes the reader can easily distinguish between things to be taken literally and things to be taken figuratively. But this is not always so simple. Many times, when Yeshua spoke in parables people misunderstood and took him literally. For example, Yeshua said, when visiting the temple in Jerusalem,
Yeshua answered them,"Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up." John 2:19 ESV
Those listening all thought he was speaking literally about the real temple and objected:
The Jews then said, "It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and will you raise it up in three days?" John 2:20 ESV
Yet the Gospel writer notes:
But he was speaking about the temple of his body. John 2:21 ESV
In other words, he was talking figuratively, in a kind of parable.
This parable story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is unique in at least four ways. First, although it comes immediately after a series of four other parables (the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the dishonest manager) and its style resembles a parable, it certainly is not a usual parable. Second, this parable is the only one in which real people (Abraham and Lazarus) are named. Third, its content clearly contradicts the rest of the Bible's teaching about what happens after death. Fourth, Yeshua uses various phrases (e.g., "the Bosom of Abraham") and images that are found outside the Bible and not in the Bible itself (e.g., the chasm separating the underworld into two sections).
Let me just say here that I don't claim to have this parable all figured out. If it were simple, there wouldn't be hundreds of interpretations of it. But I am confident that it is not teaching the doctrine of Hell and eternal conscience torment.
Let's look at the context. In this chapter, Christ is confronting the religious leaders' bad theology. They were lovers of money:
No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money." The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. Luke 16:13-15 ESV
We see from these verses that the emphasis of the parable is actually on the rich man rather than on Lazarus. Yeshua was speaking directly to the Pharisees, and they knew it! There is no break between the"You are those" in verse 15 spoken to the Pharisees and the Lazarus parable. This suggests that the Pharisees were the audience of this parable as well. Every one of the parables that Yeshua taught as recorded in Luke 15-16 targeted the Pharisees and exposed their incorrect assumptions and expectations.
The Pharisees believed that wealth and health were signs that God was on someone's side. If one was poor and sick, then God was not with him. But in the parable, the rich man, whom all the Pharisees thought was the best Jew with great rewards waiting for him in heaven, found himself in torment. The poor sick man, who was, in the mind of the Pharisees, a bad Jew, was ushered by the angels to Abraham's "side" or "bosom." To be at one's side or bosom represented the closest place of fellowship one could have with another. The one whom the Pharisees believed was not a good child of Abraham winds up at the closest place of fellowship that there is—Abraham's bosom.
It was the Pharisees who had adopted the pagan view of the afterlife which taught that when a person died, he kept on living somewhere else. As we talked about in our last study, the Greeks taught the immortality of the soul. The First Century Jewish Historian, Josephus, describes the Pharisees as having a belief in this place of pre-resurrection afterlife. He writes of the Pharisees:
"They hold the belief that an immortal strength belongs to souls, and that there are beneath the earth punishments and rewards for those who in life devoted themselves to virtue or vileness, and that eternal imprisonment is appointed for the latter, but the possibility of returning to life for the former." (Josephus Ant. 18.1.3)
Luke's picture of the realm of the dead looks very much like the one that was, by his time, common to just about every Mediterranean and Near Eastern culture. This idea of a compartmentalized place in the afterlife was not biblical but came from the Pseudepigrapha. The Book of Enoch describes a compartmentalized place of the pre-resurrection afterlife. There are four compartments:
Enoch 22:1 And from there, I went to another place, and he showed me in the west a large and high mountain, and a hard rock, and four beautiful places. 2 And inside, it was deep, wide, and very smooth. How smooth is that which rolls, and deep and dark to look at!
This place also had three "separations" between them:
Enoch 22:9 And he answered me, and said to me: "These three places were made, in order that they might separate the spirits of the dead. And thus, the souls of the righteous have been separated; this is the spring of water, and on it the light.
So, this parable fits the view of the ANE culture of the realm of the dead.
"There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. Luke 16:19 ESV
The Pharisees listening would have known immediately whom Christ was referring to as the "rich man." Who in Israel dressed in purple and fine linen? Speaking of the priests' garments Exodus says,
They shall receive gold, blue and purple and scarlet yarns, and fine twined linen. Exodus 28:5 ESV
The Pharisees would understand that the man dressed in purple and fine linen was the Jewish high priest. The high priest when Yeshua spoke this parable was Caiaphas. We know from the Jewish historian, Josephus, who wrote a detailed account of the period in Antiquities of the Jews, that Caiaphas met all 4 of the first qualifications of the Rich Man: (1) he was rich (v.19), (2) dressed in purple and fine linen (v.19), (3) lived in luxury every day (v.19), and (3) in his lifetime he received good things (v.25). [Josephus: Antiquities, XIII: 10:vi:p.281, XVIII:1:iv:p.377, also Wars of the Jews 11:8:xiv: p. 478]
Josephus also records that Caiaphas served as high priest 18-35AD at the time of Yeshua's ministry. His father-in-law, Annas, had been removed from his office by the Romans for openly resisting them, but behind the scenes, he retained his authority and position. With this history in mind, look at what the rich man says:
And he said,'Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house— Luke 16:27 ESV
He could be asking Abraham to warn Annas his father-in-law of this judgment.
for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' Luke 16:28 ESV
Now, it may just be a coincidence that Caiaphas' father-in-law, Annas, had five sons, all of whom were high priests. Josephus records: "Now the report goes, that this elder Annas proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons, who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and he had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests…" [Antiquities, Book XX, chapter 9, section i, p.423]
But Abraham said,'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' Luke 16:29 ESV
What did the Tanakh have to say about Hell or the afterlife? Nothing. But it had plenty to say about Jerusalem's destruction. And I think that that is the torment that is going on with the rich man. He is trapped in Gehenna.
And he said,'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'" Luke 16:30-31 ESV
This assertion was proven true, for Yeshua did raise a real Lazarus from the dead, but the miracle only enraged Jews, who sought to kill Him.
So, the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well, John 12:10 ESV
Yeshua Himself was raised from the dead, but they still would not believe. And because of their unbelief, their Temple was destroyed and they were scattered, like autumn leaves before the wind, into all nations, they died to all their former privileges, died as a nation.
Dr. Lightfoot on the subject says: "The main scope and design of the parable seems to be this—to hint the destruction of the unbelieving Jews, who, though they had Moses and the prophets, did not believe them-nay, would not believe, though' one (even Jesus) arose from the dead. For that conclusion of the parable abundantly evidenced what it aimed at; if they hear not Moses and the prophets."
Now that we know who the rich man was let's back up in our parable and see if we can understand who Lazarus is.
And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. Luke 16:20-21 ESV
The begging may have had nothing to do with poverty, but could have been because he was unclean. According to the Law of Moses, a leper would have been ceremonially unclean.
He shall remain unclean as long as he has the disease. He is unclean. He shall live alone. His dwelling shall be outside the camp. Leviticus 13:46 ESV
When a Jew contracted a disease, he became "unclean." They were at most allowed only into the outer court of the temple. This meant the unclean were no longer allowed to eat from the sacrifices offered in the inner court. There is similar language in Matthew 15 about the Canaanite woman. She was a Gentile. Yeshua says to her that it would not be appropriate to"take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs." The words used in her reply could identify her with the beggar, Lazarus."And she said, Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their master's table."
And he answered,"It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." She said, "Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." Matthew 15:26-27 ESV
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. This parable may be condemning the rich man for leaving Lazarus outside when the Law obligated Jews to provide for foreigners inside?
Yeshua is saying that the weak, the unclean, and the poor Jews and Gentiles were denied spiritual food by the ruling caste of high priests. Lazarus, the Beggar—could represent the Gentiles. In regard to divine knowledge, they had been poor indeed when compared with the Jews. They had no knowledge of God, nor of His law!
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, Luke 16:22 ESV
Nowhere else in the Bible does it say that when men die they go to Abraham's side. In other translations it reads "bosom of Abraham," meaning the lap of Abraham. Mentions of "the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" have been found in burial papyri (cf. papyrus Preisigke Sb 2034:11). In early Rabbinical legends "the Bosom of Abraham" was where the righteous went. (cf. Kiddushin 72b, Ekah 1:85). This idea is not found in the Bible, but it was popularly believed. This parable is 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.
Notice here that they both died.
and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. Luke 16:23 ESV
Does this sound like the traditional view of hell? This sure sounds like a story about God tormenting people with flames of fire. And I can understand why people would see this parable as talking about Hell. But there are elements around this story that teach us that this story has zero to do with an idea called Hell.
This concept of being tormented in hades is a view we would never have gotten from the Tanakh. This story that the Lord uses is most likely taken from the Book of Enoch. Although I think that Enoch is helpful to our understanding of the context of the New Testament, I do not think it is Scripture. Enoch seems to be teaching that there are compartments in Sheol and that there is consciousness and suffering in Sheol.
Enoch 22:10 Likewise, a place has been created for sinners, when they die, and are buried in the earth, and judgment has not come upon them during their life.11 And here their souls will be separated for this great torment, until the Great Day of Judgment and Punishment and Torment for those who curse, forever, and of vengeance on their souls. And there he will bind them forever. Verily, He is, from the beginning of the world.
So, Enoch does teach the same things as we see in this parable. The problem, though, is that the teaching of the Bible contradicts them. Where are the rich man and Lazarus? They are both dead and according to the Bible where did people go when they died prior to the Parousia? They went to Sheol. The text says,"And in Hades" (the Greek equivalent of Sheol). So, they are both in Sheol and they are both conscience and the rich man is suffering. This view of Sheol goes against the teaching of the Tankah on Sheol. So, let me ask you, Are there contradictions in Scripture?
The primary rule of Hermeneutics is called The Analogy of Faith. This means that Scripture interprets Scripture. No part of Scripture can be interpreted in such a way as to render it in conflict with what is clearly taught elsewhere in Scripture. The Analogy of Faith is a safeguard that should help prevent us from reading into the Scriptures something that is not there.
So, does Yeshua teach something that is in conflict with all the teaching of the Tanakh? No. What does the Tanakh teach us about Sheol? Prior to the completion of Yeshua's messianic work, no one went to Heaven. First John 5:20 says that Yeshua is eternal life, and nobody had eternal life until the age to come:
who will not receive a hundredfold now in this time, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and lands, with persecutions, and in the age to come eternal life. Mark 10:30 ESV
If prior to Yeshua's finished messianic work no one went to Heaven, where did people go when they died? In the Tanakh, the Hebrew word for where they were prior to the resurrection, is Sheol. In the New Testament the Greek word is Hades. What this place was is not something that everyone agrees on.
Most scholars see Sheol as either the grave or some sort of reference to a place "in the earth" to which everyone goes. This latter view is part of the three-tiered cosmology of ancient Israel and other ANE peoples.
Some teach that we have to believe in a subterranean place called "Sheol" because this is what the Israelites believed. Yes, the Israelites did believe that Sheol was a subterranean place. But the Israelites also believed in a cosmic tree. The Israelites believed that running through the center of the earth is this gigantic tree whose branches go to the heavens and whose roots go down to Sheol. But I don't know anyone who believes that today. Just because the Israelites believed something doesn't make it true.
The Judeans of Yeshua's time viewed Messiah as a warrior-prince who would expel the hated Romans from Israel and bring in a kingdom in which the Judeans would be promoted to world dominion. Yeshua sought to wean the disciples away from the traditional notion of a warrior Messiah. Instead, He tried to instill in their minds the prospect that the road to His future glory was bound to run by way of the cross, with its experience of rejection, suffering, and humiliation. Yeshua taught them that His Kingdom was not of this world, it was not a physical kingdom but a spiritual one.
So, some see Sheol as a place or a realm where the spirits or souls of the dead are held awaiting resurrection. They see it as a state of existence where one is not conscious or aware of the passage of time and cannot know anything. Some see it as a semi-conscience state, and others see it as a conscience state. Most see it as a subterranean holding tank for departed souls.
My view on Sheol is that it is synonymous with death. Throughout the Tanakh we see this fact in numerous passages where death and Sheol are placed in parallel.
Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell. Psalms 49:14 ESV
Whether you think Sheol is a place or death doesn't really matter for this discussion. What matters is that Sheol was a place where all men went prior to the resurrection. It is also important that we understand that the Bible makes it clear that there is something beyond Sheol for the righteous. Notice Hannah's prayer:
The LORD kills and brings to life; he brings down to Sheol and raises up. 1 Samuel 2:6 ESV
"Raises up" is a literal translation and speaks of resurrection. The idea is that of coming "up" out of Sheol, the grave. Notice this "upward" language in Proverbs 15:24.
The path of life leads upward for the prudent, that he may turn away from Sheol beneath. Proverbs 15:24 ESV
The "upward" idea is contrasted with Sheol which is "below" in the ground.
In Hannah's theology of Sheol, to die is to be brought down to Sheol where all the other dead are. To be rescued from that condition is to be brought back to life, and that is something that only the LORD can do.
The Tanakh uses many metaphors and similes to describe Sheol, but the bottom line is that it is death. Therefore, I understand that Sheol was used to speak not of a place or a realm but of death and the grave. When someone is in Sheol, he is dead; he does not cease to exist but sleeps.
Then David slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David. 1 Kings 2:10 ESV
And Solomon slept with his fathers and was buried in the city of David his father. And Rehoboam his son reigned in his place. 1 Kings 11:43 ESV
When men died, they went to the grave and slept until the resurrection.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2 ESV
Until the resurrection in AD 70, men"sleep in the dust of the earth"—not in a subterranean cavern but in the grave. The hope of Israel was resurrection, that time when Yahweh would raise them from death. God had promised to redeem His people from the grave.
I shall ransom them from the power of Sheol; I shall redeem them from Death. O Death, where are your plagues? O Sheol, where is your sting? Compassion is hidden from my eyes. Hosea 13:14 ESV
Psalm 49:15 says the same thing.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me. Selah. Psalms 49:15 ESV
These verses express hope that God will provide salvation beyond the grave, one of the few references in the Tanakh to life after death. These verses anticipate the clear New Testament teaching of life after death, of eternal life, and of salvation given from God.
In our parable, we see men in Hades talking and suffering, but the Tanakh teaches that there is no praise to God and no remembrance in Sheol.
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? Psalms 6:5 ESV
Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon? Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness? Psalms 88:10-12 ESV
The dead do not praise the LORD, nor do any who go down into silence. Psalms 115:17 ESV
If the dead are conscience, why are they not praising God?
For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise? Psalms 6:5 ESV
This passage affirms that in Sheol/Hades, which is death, there is no "remembrance" which is an attribute of conscious existence, and no one gives praise. This seems to be evidence that Sheol is a place of unconsciousness. But to make this point clear, look at Psalms 9 and 146.
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going. Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish. Psalms 146:4 ESV
Throughout the Tanakh, we see that death is perishing. There is no pain and no consciousness.
Notice what Yeshua teaches about the dead.
"Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. John 5:25 ESV
Those who were dead hear Yeshua's voice and they come to life. Are those in Sheol considered to be dead or alive? Here we have dead people coming alive.
Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment. John 5:28-29 ESV
Where are these dead ones? They are not said to be in Sheol but in the tombs. At the resurrection they come out of the tombs, the grave."All who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out"—this is synonymous with the dead coming alive. This voice of the Son of God is the life-giving voice of God. This is one of the themes of the Fourth Gospel—Yeshua brings life to the dead.
So, the Bible asserts that prior to Christ's Parousia, all go to Sheol without moral distinctions because the grave is the common end of all life. There is no clear case of punishment in Sheol because this is not applicable to the grave. This idea of being tormented in Hades is a view we would never have gotten from the Tanakh.
If you think that this parable is about the afterlife, let me ask you some questions. Do you think that people in heaven can see and talk to people in Hell? Are the tormented in Hell pleading for the residents of heaven to offer them relief? Is someone in heaven having to state reasons why these petitions cannot be granted? Would you enjoy heaven as you hear your loved ones scream in agony for eternity? Does that sound like heaven? Do you think that a drop of water on the tongue would somehow ease the suffering of being burned alive?
What exactly did Yeshua teach His disciples about the timing of God's judgment of sin and sinners?
For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day." John 6:40 ESV
The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. John 12:48 ESV
Judgment was to take place on the "last day" of the Old Covenant age. So how is this rich man suffering before the day of judgment? Christ taught that the dead are in their graves until the judgment.
In his book, Protestant Biblical Interpretation, Bernard Ramm says this about parables: "Determine the one central truth the parable is attempting to teach. This might be called the golden rule of parabolic interpretation for practically all writers on the subject mention it with stress."
So, what is the central truth of the parable of Lazarus and the rich man teaching? It is this:
Therefore, I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. Matthew 21:43 ESV
This is what Yeshua is telling the Pharisees in our parable. Yeshua is telling the Pharisees that they are not going to enter the kingdom, but they are going to experience a fiery judgment.
This parable is about role reversal. This is a parable about the torment and literal destruction of Jerusalem that the rich Pharisees would go through because of their rejection of the Gospel. The rich man represents Israel, and Lazarus symbolizes the Gentiles. At the coming of the Gospel, these two men exchanged positions of advantage. The rich man who previously fared sumptuously every day was now in torment. The deprived Lazarus found himself in Abraham's lap.
Something that we must understand here is that this parable is not a story which Yeshua has made up "from scratch." He is using a story the Pharisees themselves might have used and turning it against them. There is a consensus about this among scholars. In this parable Yeshua is using a familiar story and adapting it to a new purpose by adding an unfamiliar twist to the end of it. The story of the wicked rich man and the pious poor man, whose fortunes were reversed in the afterlife, seems to have come originally from Egypt, and was popular among Jewish teachers.
This parable is not about the afterlife; it is about the coming judgment on Jerusalem in AD 70. It is about the end of Old Covenant Judaism and the fulfillment of the New Covenant promises. There is nothing here about eternal conscience torment.