Trading Places

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Does the Bible teach beyond doubt that there is an eternal place of punishment awaiting those who die in their sins without the forgiveness found only through Christ Jesus’ finished work?

One of the most common passages of Scripture used as fuel for acknowledging the reality of a place called hell is a story Jesus one day told of a very wealthy man and a very poor beggar (Luke 16:19-31).

Because so many are apt to run to this text as proof of hell, what better place to dive into a series of posts examining the veracity of an eternal place of judgment than a story where we hear the condemning words, “in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes…?”

Now before jumping to an obvious conclusion, doesn’t every serious student of the Word ask some pertinent questions? Would it not be wise here to ask some things like:

1. Who is Jesus speaking to?
2. Is He responding to someone’s question or accusation?
3. Are there insoluble conflicts with certain obvious conclusions?

It’s very easy to look at the lives and deaths of these two men and simply conclude that the passage is telling us that one of them died and went to heaven while the other died and went to hell. And in reality, the narrative may very well be teaching something along these lines, but it doesn’t seem to be the primary intent of Jesus.

It appears that Jesus is speaking to a crowd about the attitude of the religious leaders of Israel.

Jesus has been speaking to His gathering of the costs and values of being a disciple; specifically His disciples (Luke 14).

As chapter fifteen opens, we are told that some of the most despised of Israel begin to join the mass listening to Jesus’ teaching. It’s assumed here that Jesus approves of their joining, because immediately the scribes and Pharisees begin to grumble, “This man receives sinners and eats with them (15:2).”.

Jesus will now spend two chapters addressing two points:

1. I came here specifically for the purpose of seeking and saving sinners (Luke 15).
2. The current religious leaders of Israel are unjust stewards of God’s riches (Luke 16).

Just as ccragamuffin recently proposed, could it be that Jesus is here simply teaching a reversal of fortunes? Is He demonstrating by parable His inclusive provision to the poor and the brokenhearted? Is this His way of proclaiming that the Kingdom is now open to the blind and oppressed? After all, it is the acceptable year of the LORD (Luke 4:18-19).

Had they been able to hear it, imagine the response of the Pharisees to the notion of sinful tax collectors dining and conversing with Abraham while they without invitation gritted their teeth from afar.

As for an insoluble conflict, if the rich man is in a literal and eternal hell because of his love for his wealth and empowerment, refusing to show any compassion for the poor, how will American church-goers, basking in their materialism while thousands around the world starve each day, fare in the judgment? Are they not laid at our gate? That would be another thought though for another day.

On a necessary note, even should we choose to see this narrative as a parable about something other than eternal punishment, there is still much evidence to weigh from Scripture regarding hell. It would be unwise to jump to conclusions.

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About mtsweat

Seeking the rest that is only promised and found in Christ Jesus, along with my treasured wife of more than twenty-five years, we seek to grow in our relationship with our Heavenly Father, walk with the Holy Spirit as He moves our hearts, loving others always as Jesus loves us, and carry the news of His glory, the wonderful gospel, that gives light and life where there once was only darkness.
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11 Responses to Trading Places

  1. Rob Barkman says:

    Again, very interesting study MT. I have nothing to add to this post that I did not say in the previous posting…. basically, over the years I have come to believe that it does not matter whether this account is a parable or not. To my knowledge every parable that Christ used was taking a common day event that was used to explain, through illustration, spiritual truths. Therefore, if this is a parable. Then Christ is using a common event (lost rich men dying and going to a literal place of torment, while saved poor men die and go to a literal place of reward etc etc) to teach the spiritual truths that you described in this posting. If it is not a parable, then obviously, both place are literal as well.

    If we accept this as a parable and that a literal place of punishment does not exist….
    My two concerns are…
    1. the Lord could have used other actual events to illustrate the spiritual truths you have described in this posting, perhaps a rich man imprisoned and tortured by the government for wrongdoing, or many other scenarios. Why did He feel the need to make up a imaginary event when He did not have to?
    2. why did He depart from the “norm” and use this made up scenario when in all His other parables He used common day events to help explain his teachings. After all using the common day event was the whole key and value of using parables in His teaching. It was explaining what was difficult to understand using physical events that were very familiar and easily understood by the public?

    Lord bless you my friend. Keep up the good work.

  2. I love the openness to discuss these things, and with such humility too! It truly is the Father’s heart to chew on, and search out these things in a “Spirit of one accord”. When we happen upon things of disagreement, the Spirit should be expressing oneself in a culture of honor. If one cannot agree with what is presented, instead of getting hackles raised in defense of perceived truth, we must honor the other person who is made in the image of God as we are. God does not need us to defend Him, but we do need to love. Just like two married people do not always agree, the foundation is still love. It is ok to agree to disagree and still remain honoring of one another. I trust my God to clarify the difficulties. Thank you Mike for your humble and honoring approach to this discussion.

    • mtsweat says:

      Indeed, good friend, I have been pleasantly surprised that I have not yet been approached aggressively by my own. Some have expressed their displeasure with acknowledging a friction exists, but no one yet has been mean-spirited. For that, I am grateful. We’ll see how it unfolds. Hopefully my reader base hangs around… it’s interesting to me that many have chosen to stay away from this series. Not sure what that is all about. Anyway, many thanks for your encouraging support. You are truly a friend in the manner of John 21. Blessings as you serve our Lord.

  3. Steven Sawyer says:

    Sorry, Mike, I meant to compliment you on YOUR question. I saw that I messed up after I posted.

  4. Steven Sawyer says:

    Wonderful post, Mike. Very good question: “…if the rich man is in a literal and eternal hell because of his love for his wealth and empowerment, refusing to show any compassion for the poor, how will American church-goers, basking in their materialism while thousands around the world starve each day, fare in the judgment?” I am also in agreement with CC.
    I have two other endings to CC’s question that might be worth pondering: “But will we hear the Lord teaching us if we refuse to engage in meaningful exchanges of thoughtful responses?”
    1. “But will we hear the Lord teaching us . . . if we refuse to accept those whose views, color, cultural background, denomination and or beliefs might differ from ours?”
    2. Or “But will we hear the Lord teaching us . . . if we, as authentic followers of Christ, refuse to live in the unity of the Spirit we already enjoy since we accepted Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior?”

  5. Judy says:

    “How will American church-goers…fare in the judgement?” An excellent question. I also appreciate ccragamuffin’s response to listen to the Spirit in the paradoxes and tensions in which we live. Lord, may we serve you well in love and humility.

    • mtsweat says:

      Your words leave me searching for a graceful way to bring the next post in this series, Judy. For that, thank you. Many Blessings good friend.

  6. ccragamuffin says:

    “HAD THEY BEEN ABLE TO HEAR IT, imagine the response of the Pharisees…” Oh my, oh my….that statement is an earthquake to the hard ground of prejudiced-conceited-closedmindedness. And that strange, stringy adjective is not just for the Pharisees of the the first century…it is for us…for ME. I stopped and reread “had they been able to hear it” several times as the Spirit warned…”listen”. We are moving in an area of many paradoxes, there is a Biblical tension that we must recognize, a Biblical tension that we must live with. There are several views, and variation of views, that can sit under the protective umbrella of orthodoxy. But will we hear the Lord teaching us if we refuse to engage in meaningful exchanges of thoughtful responses? And you answer that also with your “It would be unwise to jump to conclusions.” Thank you for the engaging post.

    • mtsweat says:

      To tension or not to tension…

      We have reached the tension that usually leads me to declare enough of this. However, at the pressing of your wisdom, I intend to see this through. Hopefully the next post doesn’t run everyone off. We will look at what it means if this narrative is the rendering of an actual event. Blessings to you good friend.

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