1970’s Pop Music diva Donna Summer died sometime in the morning of May 17, 2012. The media reported that her death was due to unspecified lung cancer. Like Whitney Houston who lost her life earlier this year, these talented women both claimed to be born again Christians. Traditional churchianity teaches that these women have now ascended to heaven to be with the Lord for eternity. And this central teaching of traditional Christianity is echoed in the many eulogies and commentaries summarizing their lives to untold millions. The Holy Bible, the instruction manual for every professing Christian, speaks on the topic of death quite a bit. However, the Bible never mentions that Christians at death goes to heaven. For that matter neither does it speak on the unrepentant descending to the fiery pit of hell to languish in eternal torment. As it relates to anyone ascending to heaven we find a paranthetical statement in John 3:13 that states: “And no one has ascended into heaven, except He who came from heaven, even the Son of man, Who is in heaven.” (Compare Proverbs 30:4; Acts 2:34.) In my previous two-three postings I discussed the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. For millennia this parable has been sort of a proof-positive statement on the doctrine of man and his/hers eternal destination. In those posts we looked at the possible origin of the teachings of an afterlife where men/women go either to a place of bliss or torment, citing Egyptian and Greek mythology as a likely basis for such a teaching and parable as Lazarus and the Rich Man.
So one is compelled to ask the question, what then does this parable mean if it is not a true commentary on heaven and hell? Our understanding of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is based on the context in which Yeshua was presenting his parable (a study of verses before and after the passage in question; an understanding of Yehshua’s audience make-up; an understanding of the political and social environment at the time; and a touch of pure Holy Spirit revelation).
Essentially, Yehshua’s purpose (apart from his ultimate death and resurrection atoning for the sins of all mankind) was to harold the coming Kingdom of God. He was a Jew, living in Judah amongst Jews, under the political and religious umbrella of Pharisaic Judaism, and under the brutal, pagan-based government of the occupier, Rome. From its infancy, Israel was hand-picked by Yahweh to be His chosen people–reference Deut. 14:2–“For you are a holy people to the Lord your God, and the Lord has chosen you to be a specially treasured people to Himself, above all the nations that are on the earth.” Unfortunately for Israel, it is common knowledge among most knowing Christians that Israel fell short of their chosen status on several occasions. Yet the Israelites throughout the centuries remained steadfast in their belief that they were the most God-cherished of people on the planet. The other nations, Gentiles, were often seen as “dogs,” unworthy to be associated with by even the most secularized, non-believing Israelite. By virtue of being a descendant of Abraham, all Israelites saw themselves as being in a place of honor above all nations of the earth.
Rom. 1:16–“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ because it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes–both to the Jew first, and to the Greek.”
It appears evident to us that as Yehshua launched his ministry, He did so with a mindset and purpose that the Jews and the lost sheep of Israel still held a special place in the heart and plan of Yehwah–reference Matt. 10:5,6–“These twelve Jesus sent out after commanding them saying, ‘Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter into a city of the Samaritans; but go instead to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And as you are going, proclaim, saying, the kingdom of heaven is at hand.'”
But true to form, the Gospel would ultimately be rejected by the Jew, as was Yehshua Himself rejected by his own as foretold by Yehshua in Luke 4:24–“…truly I say to you, no prophet is acceptable in his own country.”
The people of Israel over the centuries realized tremendous blessings by virtue of the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob; as well as the unparalleled blessings held by the Israelites in their receiving of the Law and the commandments of Yahweh. No other nation in the history of human existence has ever held such a place of honor–a la Abraham’s Bosom. If we were to transpose characters on the reality of the day, the Jew for centuries could be seen then as the Rich Man. Recall that the Rich Man, according to the parable, lived lavishly–dressed in purple robes (i.e., indicative of royalty–and indulged himself in luxury (reference Luke 16:19-31; Rom. 9:2-5–“That it is a great grief to me and an unceasing sorrow in my heart, causing me even to wish myself to be accursed from Christ for my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh; who are Israelites, to whom is the sonship and the glory, and the covenants and the giving of the law, and the service and the promises; who are of the fathers, and from whom came the Christ according to the flesh, Who is overall–God blessed into the ages. Amen.”).
Conversely, Lazarus–could this be the Gentile?–was poor (characterization of being without the light of the Laws, Commandments, and teachings of Yahweh)–full of sores (possibly lacking spiritual well being and object of scorn by the Isrealites maybe?). They, the Gentiles, were essentially at the doorstep of the Jew who squandered his/her spiritual wealth, hoping to receive just the slightest blessing from the royal table of the Jew. While Isreal gloried in her favorite status with Yahweh, the Gentile remained lost and forgotten.
Enter Yehshua, the Messiah, who foretells through his teaching of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, that the time of the primacy of the Jew was near an end. Eventually, the Jew, the Rich Man, would lose his/her place of honor, reclining at the table of the Lord and resting his/her head on the bosom of Abraham; finding him/herself in torment. Consequently, the Gentile will replace the Jew as the honored guest at Abraham’s table and bosom. Read Matthew 3:9, St. John 8:39 Eph. 2:12–“And that you were without Christ at that time, alienated from the commonwealth of Isreal, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus, you who were once far off are made near by the blood of Christ.”
We could go on and on discussing the transition of blessings from the Jew to the Gentile, but suffice to say that we can pretty much gather that the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16, had nothing to do with the establishment of an afterlife doctrine by our Lord and Savior Yehshua. So it would remain then that the Bible does not teach of an afterlife of hell or heaven immediately after death for the unrepentant and the redeemed respectively. On the contrary, the parable was based upon a commonly taught and understood first century CE story of life and death, derived from Egyptian and Greek mythology. And from that story the application of a change in the spiritual place of honor where the Jew has forefitted his royal place and lost it to the Gentile who out of obedience and acceptance of the sacrifice of Yehshua will receive eternal blessings.
So where are Donna Summer and Whitney Houston, and the countless other souls who have left us this year? Let’s pick this up in my next posting. In the meantime, stay praying, alert, and seeking the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness.