Having made the post about Judas Iscariot, my father approaches me and says, I read your post about Judas. It was somewhat long, but tell me this: Why was the beggar Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom? The question was a little off topic, but I suppose I opened the door, as I had made the point about the beggar Lazarus and the multiple levels of hell theory. Still, it is a great question.
The question is really deeper than it seems. I know this because of previous conversations we have had. However, the answer may not be a simple one. To start with, we have to set up a starting point to work from and that is God’s character. This character is evident in the Son, Jesus Christ, and it is mercy.
I know already that the answer is going to be difficult for many to wrap their minds around because: (1.) mercy has never been a theme intentionally taught in religious circles. When I hear complaints about the sad state of the church today, I also hear this, why do they not preach on sin anymore. Perhaps that is because we are all very adept at sinning, however, few of us are any good at showing mercy? (2.) You have to work on the principle that God’s word is true, and this is a huge obstacle for many.
My desire is to never teach from conjecture. I am sure that most know what that means: A preponderance of opinion without proof. So, how do we find enough evidence to prove a point about subjects within a parable, especially when most of us consider the parables to be mere stories?
First, we will operate on the principle that Jesus, the Jew, was speaking to Jews, and it is probable that these men knew whom Lazarus the beggar was, therefore in most cases, we should assume that these are real people.
Secondly, we have a recorded history of the ideals and traditions of the Jewish people. Thanks to Josephus, Tacitus and others like them, we can understand the mindset of the men that Jesus was dealing with, and it goes like this:
“The Pharisees considered wealth to be a proof of a person's righteousness. Jesus startled them with this story in which a diseased beggar is rewarded and a rich man is punished.” Life Application Study Bible
An aspect of this story that must be understood is that the hearers immediately registered that the rich man was righteous. That understanding was based in tradition, not scripture. It also tells you that many religious leaders had money, and this attitude helped to justify any dubious methods or lifestyle issues they had.
“The rich man did not go to hell because of his wealth but because he was selfish, refusing to feed Lazarus, take him in, or care for him. The rich man was hard-hearted in spite of his great blessings.” Life Application Study Bible
Now, how do we know that the rich man did not go to hell because of his wealth? Because this one of the few things on which we actually have evidence, based upon what Jesus tells us transpired in the parable.
“And it happened that the beggar died and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. The rich one also died and was buried. And in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried 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 my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things. But now he is comforted and you are tormented.” (Luke 16:22-25 MKJV)
The rich man is in hell, separated from Lazarus, and yet his habitual routine of demanding from people “beneath him,” is still there.
Here is a part of that conversation:
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame.”
The rich man is demanding that Lazarus get him some cool water and cross over into this area of misery, merely to comfort him.
Abraham responds with:
Luke 16:25 LITV …Child, remember that you fully received your good things in your lifetime, and Lazarus likewise the bad things. But now he is comforted, and you are suffering.”
Nelson's New illustrated Bible Commentary “The standard by which the rich man treated others was applied to him. In his lifetime he lacked compassion, so now there was no compassion for him.”
All we know about Lazarus is that he was a Jew, a beggar, and now in Abraham’s bosom, comforted. The mere fact that he is in Abraham’s bosom, should tell us that he was a Jew.
Therefore, we have two Jews; obviously from opposite ends of the monetary spectrum, but as Jews, both fall into the class of “God’s chosen people”. We tend to think that merely because they are Jews they should have an advantage. However, that is not the case, and the rich man finds himself, unexpectedly in a place of torment.
Since we have surmised that being the chosen people gains you no advantage, and your financial status is not a deciding factor in your destiny, what is the thing that stands out as the determinant of who receives God’s mercy? It would seem that living a selfless life style is.
I told you that many would have problems with the explanation and here is why: If Jesus is telling this parable then we know that the age of grace is not yet upon the world. Therefore, the only way for those under the Mosaic covenant to have any form of righteousness, even if temporary, is through their presenting themselves to priest, as the blood of the sacrificial lamb they have brought is poured out for their sins.
The only other option, and the one in which this parable then relies on while demonstrating God’s character, is mercy. That means that Lazarus, lacking any other evidence, is only in Abraham’s bosom, because of mercy.
My reasons for the usage of this passage in Matthew nay not be immediately clear, so stay with me as I explain how this fits the theme of God’s character and mercy.
For the kingdom of Heaven is like a man, a housemaster, who went out when it was early to hire workers into his vineyard. And agreeing with the workers for a denarius for the day, he sent them into his vineyard. And going out about the third hour, he saw others standing idle in the market. And he said to them, You also go into the vineyard, and I will give you whatever is just. And they went. Again, going out about the sixth and ninth hour, he did the same. And going out about the eleventh hour, he found others standing idle, and said to them, Why do you stand here idle all day? They said to him, Because no one has hired us. He said to them, You also go into the vineyard, and you will receive whatever is just. But evening having come, the lord of the vineyard said to his manager, Call the workers and pay them the wage, beginning from the last to the first. And the ones having come the eleventh hour each received a denarius. And having come, the first supposed that they would receive more. And they also each received a denarius. And having received it, they murmured against the housemaster, saying, These last have performed one hour, and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day. But answering, he said to one of them, Friend, I do not wrong you. Did you not agree to a denarius with me? Take yours and go. But I desire to give to this last as also to you. Or is it not lawful for me to do what I desire with my things? Or is your eye evil because I am good? So the last shall be first, and the first last; for many are called, but few chosen.
(Matthew 20:1-16 LITV)
If you look at Matthew 20:1-16 from a religious viewpoint, God can also be pointing out those that are angry at even the possibility of anyone making it into the kingdom of God without having to jump through all the hoops, that religion has put most through. (Note: this idea I am going to develop will not excuse your personal choices in this life, and, as you know, many of those decisions can and will cost you in terms of your health and personal losses.)
Having spent my life in church, I admit that I have my moments where I think I missed some great excitement, that otherwise would have been mine if I lived in the world. Because I am in recovery for anger and co-dependency, I am painfully aware of the damage the world has done to most, especially since I see many people I have come to love and appreciate get pulled back into old habits, which we call relapsing.
One of the statements I have heard repeatedly is that the White Throne judgment is the final judgment, and the time in which God sends everyone off to hell because their names are not found in His book. Sorry, but that is just not the case, and though it forces you to read your bible, you will not find that there. Allow me to show you.
Revelation 20:11-12 MKJV (11) And I saw a great white throne, and Him sitting on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And a place was not found for them. (12) And I saw the dead, the small and the great, stand before God. And books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
You need to find out who the dead are to understand this. As believers, the general idea is that we get caught up in the rapture, and are alive in Christ, therefore not subject to this judgment. From the time of Christ death until the rapture, all those who have died in Christ are also included as those in Christ, and therefore excluded. After the rapture, many will continue to come to Christ but since this is no longer a time of grace, they will have to prove their allegiance to God, and the nations (think Islam) will chop off the heads of those who do not comply with the global religion. You also need to know that there are only three groups of people in the world, and we need to name them: The Jews, the nations, and the church.
- - Scripture tells us that many Jews will survive the seven-year period, and will turn to the Lord. They are therefore excluded from the dead before the throne.
- - Followers of Christ throughout the seven years of wrath are called martyred saints; they will be killed, but are resurrected to heaven, hence excluded from the dead before the throne.
- - Therefore, the only people who can be considered the dead, are the people God deems the nations, those who refuse to acknowledge the Lordship of Jesus, and those throughout all time that also refused Him.
It is these, the dead without Christ, which must come before the White Throne for judgment. Now, if you were religiously minded, you would easily assume that these would go immediately to hell, but that is not the case.
This is where we have to go to another source to see what really happens, and so I take you to Matthew 25.
And all nations shall be gathered before Him. And He shall separate them from one another, as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats. And indeed He shall set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats off the left. Then the King shall say to those on His right hand, Come, blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry, and you gave me food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger, and you took Me in; I was naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me. Then the righteous shall answer Him, saying, Lord, when did we see You hungry, and fed You? Or thirsty, and gave You drink? When did we see You a stranger, and took You in? Or naked, and clothed You? Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and came to You? And the King shall answer and say to them, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you have done it to Me. Then He also shall say to those on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels. For I was hungry, and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty, and you gave Me no drink; I was a stranger and you did not take Me in; I was naked, and you did not clothe Me; I was sick, and in prison, and you did not visit me. Then they will also answer Him, saying, Lord, when did we see You hungry, or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister to You? Then He shall answer them, saying, Truly I say to you, Inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me. And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into everlasting life. (Matthew 25:32-46 MKJV)
If you were paying attention, you saw that the nations, those who have not acknowledged Jesus as Lord, come before Him in judgment.
God does the separating and deems some as sheep and others as goats. Regardless, they are all considered to be from the nations. The sheep gain entrance into the kingdom, an act of mercy upon those who showed mercy. In response, they do the most amazing thing, standing there in awe, they say, what did we do to deserve this?
The goats on the other hand, are told, “Depart from Me you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels”, but why? Because they did little outside of satisfying their own selfish desires.
It is clear to me that the goats are those not found in the Book of Life.
Revelation 20:15 MKJV And if anyone was not found having been written in the Book of Life, he was cast into the Lake of Fire.
How does any of this relate to the beggar Lazarus and the rich man? I believe that in the parable we get to see what God deems a sheep and a goat. I also believe it demonstrates the selfish actions of the rich man, and what it cost him. Lazarus, as a poor beggar, may never have had the opportunity to help anyone but himself during his lifetime, but we do not know that. We only know that God knows the heart and saw something that we could not see.
I told you that the answer would make many upset. I realize that some of that will emanate from the White Throne judgment conclusion alone, but the main thing is the idea, that God himself, would give mercy to someone who did not abide by all the rules I had to abide by. For the believer, our wage, in a sense, is eternity. My work day has effectively been all my life, and the reward has never increased, it is still eternity and a life with the Father. However, at the White Throne judgment, there are those who did not live by religious restriction, relaxed and merely lived a decent life, occasionally acting out of selfless motives while helping others as they could. This means that God, like the vineyard owner, brings them in at the last-minute, and pays them the same reward that I am being paid, and they did not have to live the austere life.
What does this parable about Lazarus tell me? That God has mercy on whom he will.