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The rich man and Lazarus, Part 2

Sep 30, 2014

The rich man in Luke 16:22, representing the evil figs of Judah, found himself buried and in Hades, where he was “in torment.” Luke 16:22, 23 says,

22 … and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.

The rich man (Judah) was far from Abraham while it remained as a nation, not because they refused to honor Abraham, but because they refused to fulfill his calling to be a blessing to all families of the earth. There were two main schools of thought in those days, roughly representing the good figs and the evil figs of Jeremiah 24. The School of Hillel was peaceable, believing that the people ought to submit to the beast empires according to Jeremiah’s letter to the captives in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:1-23). Its rival was the School of Shammai, which was as rebellious as the people in Jeremiah’s day.

The narrow nationalism of the School of Shammai began to dominate religious thought just before the birth of Jesus and continued until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Jewish Encyclopedia tells us in Vol. III, p. 115, 116 (1904 edition),

“The Shammaities, on the contrary, were intensely patriotic, and would not bow to foreign rule. They advocated the interdiction of any and all intercourse with those who either were Romans or in any way contributed toward the furtherance of Roman power or influences….

“Their religious austerity, combined with their hatred of the heathen Romans, naturally aroused the sympathies of the fanatic league [i.e., the Zealots], and as the Hillelites became powerless to stem the public indignation, the Shammaites gained the upper hand in all disputes affecting their country’s oppressors. Bitter feelings were consequently engendered between the schools; and it appears that even in public worship they would no longer unite under one roof… These feelings grew apace, until toward the last days of Jerusalem’s struggle they broke out with great fury.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, we are told, “the characteristics of the Hillelites once more gained the ascendency. All disputed points were brought up for review… and in nearly every case the opinion of the Hillelites prevailed.”

So only after the hatred of the Shammaite School had produced its bitter fruits did the Hillelites regain the hearts and minds of the Judahites. It took the deaths of more than a million people to realize that the Shammaite School was wrong. Even so, the violent patriotism of Shammai rose up again from 132-135 A.D., when the people again revolted against Rome. The result was another destroyed generation, this time putting the Jews back under the iron yoke of dispersion from the land.

These wars essentially killed the nation, although not every individual Jew was killed. Jews continued to live as individuals within other nations, but Judah had died and had gone to Hades. Enslaved and oppressed, imprisoned as a people, they were “in torment.”

What is Torment?

First of all, hades is the grave. One cannot use the Greek concept of Hades and apply it to Scripture, as so many have done. Three centuries earlier, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the Hebrew scholars had to find Greek words that served to express Hebrew concepts. The Hebrew word sheol meant the grave or the pit, the place where dead people were placed. Psalm 115:17 says,

17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.

The Greeks put the dead of hades, but their idea of the state of the dead was quite different. We ought not to impose Greek definitions upon Hebrew understanding.

Secondly, the Greek word translated “torment” is basanos, or “abased.” It literally means

“a touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.”


When applied in a judicial sense, it referred to a jailor whose job often involved torturing people to discover the truth. The same word in its noun form was used in Matthew 18:34 in another parable. Dr. Bullinger says in his notes on this verse,

Tormentors: or jailors. Gr. basanistes. Occ. Only here. Imprisonment was called in Roman law-books cruciatus corporis.

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says that a Tormentor “is used of jailors,” and it gives Matthew 18:34 as an example. And so, basanistes is a jailor on account of his frequent use of torture eliciting information from the imprisoned ones. Likewise, basanos is the imprisonment itself.

The law of God was unlike Roman or Greek laws, most notably in the fact that God does not need to torture anyone to elicit information. Further, there is no torture permitted under God’s law, because the judgment always fits the crime. Only if a man has tortured others will the law apply from Exodus 21:23-25,

23 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

Divine judgment always fits the crime precisely, for that is God’s definition of justice. It is not the case that all unbelievers are to be tortured for their unbelief. They are to be judged according to their works (Revelation 20:13). Most unbelievers have not been involved in torturing other people.

In any case, the rich man in the parable is not accused of torture, but neglect. Yet once we understand that this is a national judgment upon the evil figs of Judah, then we can see how this “torment” has applied to them in the past two thousand years. Have they experienced pain during this time? Most certainly they have. Often this national pain has even taken the form of physical torture, for both Rome and (later) the Roman Church was ignorant of biblical law, and neither had a clear vision of dispensing the blessings of Abraham to all families of the earth.

Luke 16:24 continues,

24 And he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.”

The appeal to Abraham is natural to the rich man, because the Jews believed that Abraham was their father. Nothing is said about repentance, but he desired mercy only. His desire for a single drop of water is his desire for the word that, as he says, might “cool off my tongue.”

The Tongue is the Problem

If this were a literal fire tormenting him, would he really be so concerned about his tongue? Would not the water be best served on his skin?

This is a Hebrew metaphor, as we see in the last words of David in 2 Samuel 23:2,

2 The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.

Likewise, we read in Psalm 34:13, 14,

13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.

Psalm 52:4 speaks of a “deceitful tongue.” Psalm 57:4 also says that the tongue is a “sharp sword.” James may have had the rich man in mind when he wrote in James 3:6,

6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by gehenna.

James also identifies the tongue as the rudder on a ship (James 3:4) and concludes in verse 8,

8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.

Therefore, it is highly significant when the rich man desired water to cool his tongue. The rich man’s tongue had defiled him in his earlier life and had set on fire his course in life. In other words, he was being judged by the words of his mouth, for even though the scribes and Pharisees believed they were teaching the word of God, in reality their tongues were full of deadly poison.

They were in need of the cleansing water of the word to be applied to their tongues. Abraham’s response to the rich man is given in Luke 16:25,

25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony” [odyne, “consuming grief”].

So the rich man is denied that which would put the word of God on his tongue. He could not say with David, “His word was on my tongue.” Instead, the rich man’s deceitful tongue had brought him “good things” (riches, reputation, honor) during his life, while the Lazarus, the lost sheep, had endured “bad things” while wandering among the nations.

In the end, both nations having been destroyed, the House of Israel finds its way to the bosom of Abraham, while the evil figs of Judah remained in consuming grief. The NASB translates odyne as “agony,” but the same word is translated “anxious” in Luke 2:49,

49 And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously [odynao] looking for You.”

The word odyne is also used in Romans 9:2, where Paul says of his countrymen, “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow [odyne] in my heart.” Paul was not being tormented or tortured, but he certainly felt great sorrow.

The Flame

The rich man was sorrowing “in this flame.” The Hebrew language used fire and flames very metaphorically, as well as literally. We have already seen how the tongue could inflame the world, but we also see this in the book of Obadiah, verse 18,

18 Then the house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau will be as stubble, and they will set them on fire and consume them, so that there will be no survivor of the house of Esau.

In my book, The Struggle for the Birthright, I gave the history of Esau (or Edom, Idumea) and how he and his brother Jacob fought over the birthright. Many of the prophets speak of the end-time destruction of Edom. Edom, known later by the Greek term Idumea, was conquered and absorbed into Jewry in 126 B.C. after they converted to Judaism. (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, ix, 1) They were some of the most rabid “evil figs” in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Josephus tells us that from then on, “they were hereafter no other than Jews.” In other words, the Jews would have a dual role to fulfill in prophecy, having in common the role of the evil figs. The modern Jewish state is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Esau-Edom in Genesis 27:40, KJV. Because Jacob had received the birthright through fraud and deceit, Isaac prophesied that Jacob would have to give it back to Esau at some point in history in order to allow Esau to prove himself to be unworthy.

This is what occurred in 1948, when Esau received the dominion once again and took the birthright name of Israel. Just as Jacob had pretended to be Esau in order to obtain the birthright, so also did Esau pretend to be Jacob to obtain it in return. Such was the justice of God.

But in the end, Jacob will be a fire, and Joseph (the birthright holder) will be a flame to the rich man, when the house of Esau becomes stubble. They will administer the “fiery law” to Esau until there is no one left of the house of Esau. This does not mean that all who are descended from Esau will be killed. It means that justice will be done until all have repented and have forsaken their identity as Edomites. All must receive citizenship in the Kingdom of God, giving up their fleshly, Adamic identity, and taking upon themselves the new identity as new creatures in Christ, the last Adam.

(to be continued)

This is the second part of a mini-series titled "The Rich Man and Lazarus." To view all parts, click the link below.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

This is part of the eighty-sixth part of a series titled "Studies in the Book of Luke." To view all parts, click the link below.

Studies in the Book of Luke

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Category: Teachings
Blog Author: Dr. Stephen Jones