This passage is often used to justify the common view of hell we've inherited from the medieval church - flames, torture, etc. So we decided to take a closer look and see what we could find.
Here's a summary of the key takeaways from our discussion:
- Don't take the passage out of context - Jesus tells this story just after teaching his disciples to use their wealth well for the kingdom so they can be trusted with greater things than just money. The Pharisees, who 'love money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus' (v14). So Jesus tells this story about a rich man and a poor man, who's fortunes are reversed after death. He ends the parable prophetically (foretelling the future) by having Abraham say, "they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (v31). Of course, two people later go on to rise from the dead (first, a man who "coincidentally" happens to be named Lazarus, and later Christ himself). Powerful stuff!!
- We need to recognise this is a parable - Jesus is making a stinging indictment of the Pharisees and their failure to care for the poor and downtrodden who sits at the gates of their house (the temple - which Jesus later clarifies is actually God's house). This is a warning to them, clothed in metaphors. However, there are some key things to learn.
- There is a divide that can't be crossed - this parable suggests there is no going back. we do not get to live our lives again. We are judged for how we live in this life and, ultimately, whether our hearts shun Jesus or embrace him. (The parallel parable of the sheep and goats makes it clear this is not about religion - there are sheep who don't know they are sheep but are in for a wonderful surprise when they meet Jesus and see him clearly for the first time, only to realise it's him they've been serving all along. And there are others who assume because of their birth-right or status that they are the true sheep and sit above others - only to find they are in for a horrifying shock. Jesus is warning the Pharisees (and us) against this.
- The rich man, bizarrely, still seems to expect to be waited on - asking Abraham to order Lazarus to go and get him some water.
- This is not a future story. This story - although clearly a parable - is set in the present or the past. It does not depict 'hell' or the final judgement. The rich man is described as being in 'hades,' the term the Jews used for the grave or the underworld. He is having the opposite experience of the thief Jesus told would be in 'paradise' with him after dying on the cross. The Bible uses 'paradise' in a separate way from 'Heaven' or the 'New Heaven.' It indicates a waiting place, using imagery from the Garden of Eden, but different to the full experience of the heaven to come. Both the thief on the cross and the rich man in this parable are in waiting between their death and Christ's final return. That raises a whole host of other questions for us, but the key thing for now is that this isn't what we've been taught to think of as 'hell.' (Remembering too that the word 'hell' is a medieval word...it's not actually in the original scriptures).
- Notice that the rich man is not 'being tormented' in hades, he is 'in torment' himself...grieving over what he has lost and realising his children are in danger of the same fate.
- Notice how the rich man and Abraham address each other: The rich man calls him "Father Abraham" and Abraham calls him "Son." The rich man is a Jew, who considers himself a son of the covenant, one of the chosen. Just like the 'goats' in Matthew 25.
Our slides from Sunday, including the key questions Kelvin led us through are below. Big thanks to Kelvin for leading the discussion for us.
Bless ya team - see you next Sunday when we shift focus to what Jesus came to save us for!