We have been requested to give our views on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16:19-31, but have delayed our response for several months, partly because we have been absent much of the time, and closely occupied when at home, but principally because we have no very special light on the parable. Even now we propose only to offer a few general remarks on the subject.
Like most of the parables in the New Testament, we believe this one had a special reference to the covetous Pharisees, who were present when it was spoken. The prophets had foretold of our Redeemer that he would open his mouth in parables, and utter dark sayings, and the evangelist informs us that, "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them." (Matt. 13:34) And when the disciples asked him concerning the application of the parables, he told them, "Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand." (Luke 8:10) This parable of the rich man and Lazarus was addressed to the Pharisees, and was doubtless intended to apply to them. Jesus had been speaking a parable to his disciples of the unjust steward, in the presence and hearing of the Pharisees. And it is said, verse 14, "And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men, is abomination in the sight of God." He then told them that the law and the prophets were until John, but now the kingdom of God is preached, and all men (Gentiles) press into it, and the impossibility of justification on an imperfect obedience to the law, and illustrated by the law of marriage, and then added the parable under consideration, all of which was addressed immediately to the Pharisees. We therefore understand that the Pharisees were the certain rich man in the parable. They were clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. They claimed to be exceeding rich in the works of the law, in self-righteousness, in ability to secure the favor of God. They prided themselves greatly in being the children of Abraham, never in bondage to any man; disdaining the idea of being saved by the imputed righteousness of Christ, as they had so much of their own. They claimed to have the covenants; to them had been given the law, and they lived as sumptuously on their own righteousness as their descendants, the Arminians of our day, do at the present time. Like the rich man in the parable, they were covetous, unwilling that publicans, sinners or Gentiles should feast with them. Although possessing so much, not even the crumbs wasted at their banquet would they allow to be given to publicans and sinners at their gate. Circumcision and the law with its ceremonies, carnal ordinances and divers washings, were the wall of partition between them and sinners, who could not be admitted through their gates. The pitiful condition of Lazarus, hungry and sore, wretched and perishing, excited no compassion, he was left to the brutal kindness of the dogs.
Lazarus, in the parable, must represent those poor, perishing Gentiles and Samaritans, publicans and harlots which were shut out from the privileges of Judaism, who could not be justified by the law of Moses, and who were treated with contempt by the Jews.
"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments," etc. The time of these deaths seems to have been indicated in the context, when the kingdom of God began to be preached by John, and all men pressed into it. The term of Lazarus' existence in degradation expired at the opening up of the gospel dispensation, in which lost, helpless, sick and sore, wretched, hopeless and dying sinners were to come from the east, west, north and south, and with publicans and harlots sit down in the kingdom of God with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the children of the kingdom, the carnal seed of Abraham be cast out.
When the middle wall of partition was abolished, and when the hour arrived in which the true worshipers of God should no more worship at Jerusalem, nor at the mountain of Samaria, but in spirit and in truth; when he should no longer be a Jew who was one outwardly, nor that circumcision which was outward in the flesh, then died the rich man, and he was buried. But Lazarus, or those who are ready to perish from the land of Assyria, and the outcasts from Egypt, came to worship the Lord in his holy mount at Jerusalem; not the old Jerusalem which was in bondage with her children, but the Jerusalem which is above and free, which is the mother of all those who are of the faith of Abraham. If ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.
Now their conditions are changed. The rich man's house is demolished, his sumptuous fare is discontinued, his days of luxury are numbered, he dies with the expiration of the ceremonial dispensation, is soon buried in pagan idolatry and engulfed in Gentile nations. In hell he lifted up his eyes. Hell sometimes means the grave, or repository of the dead; it also means darkness and torments, etc. It is here used figuratively as a part of the parable, and signifies the rejected state of the carnal Jews, who, like their cities which had been exalted to heaven, were cast down to hell. The Pharisees are thus tormented, and having been only Abraham's children after the flesh, are now cast forth from his embrace, while those who are born of God are by angels (messengers) carried to Abraham's bosom, and are blessed with faithful Abraham.
The carnal Jews are now nationally dead, scattered and buried among the Gentiles, but from their place of torment they see the Gentile church, borne by the apostles, in the doctrine of the gospel, to the bosom of Abraham, and comforted, while they are destitute of even a drop of consolation from the Lord by prophets or apostles to cool their parching tongues. Vainly now they cry unto Abraham to relieve them, by an acknowledgment of their fleshly descent from his loins. This he acknowledges by recognizing this rich man as his son, but says he can do nothing for them, as their day of exultation has expired by the abrogation of the covenant of works, and, like John the Baptist, he tells them to "Think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham." The plea of the rich man for a missionary arrangement cannot be entertained by Abraham, as the faith of Abraham cannot admit that missionaries sent from the dead will be more efficient than was Moses and the prophets whom the carnal Jews had been amply supplied with, and which the five brethren (who probably represent all the Pharisees or legalists of subsequent ages, including the present time,) still profess to adhere to. None but those who are born of God can have the faith of Abraham, and without that faith they cannot understand the spirituality of the law or the prophets; and should one arise from the dead, he could not make them wise unto salvation. In confirmation of the testimony of Abraham in the parable, the history of all the missionaries sent from the dead, or of dead missionaries from the apostolic age, has utterly failed to convince Arminian legalists of the fatal delusion they are under, as there is a great and impassable gulf fixed between those who are born of the flesh and those who are born of the Spirit, which effectually and forever cuts off all communication between the parties.
November 15, 1863.
Elder Gilbert Beebe
Editorials Volume 5
Pages 419 - 422