Saturday, February 21, 2009

The Father Judges No One -- 1

Adapted from Chapter 3 of “Heaven for Skeptics” © 2009 by Bert Gary for FaithWalk Publishing

Will the Father judge me?

Arguably the most shocking thing Jesus ever said was . . .

John 5:22 “The Father judges no one . . .”

Let that sink in. When the reality of it hit me a few year ago, it kicked me in the teeth. Hard. What was I feeling? Befuddlement? I’d been told all of my life that God is my judge. If God is my judge, then how can he not judge? What Jesus said didn’t make sense. The Father judges no one?

Really reading it for the first time and realizing what it said made me feel stuck. A Christian for decades, and apparently I didn’t understand judgment. Worse, I was sure that I had God wrong. Who is Jesus’ Father if not my judge? What does he do if not judge me? And if he doesn’t judge me, who does? What is judgment? And how does it work?

I think it’s fair to say that we Christians tend to see God as a distant watcher and judge who will determine—based on individual human performance at being good and praying “the sinner’s prayer” with sincerity—who will get to “go to” heaven or hell when we die. My sense is that modern evangelicals everywhere believe and preach and teach this. (Am I wrong?) Yet, there is this verse. There is this claim Jesus makes about his Father in John 5:22 that is clear and uncompromising. This question still haunts me: Why is it so difficult to see God as anything but a judge?

Perhaps we should read the rest of the verse. Maybe that will fix things.

John 5:22 “The Father judges no one . . . but has given all judgment to the Son . . .”

Jesus claims, via John’s Gospel, that the Father has given away his intention to judge. Obviously he has the power to judge, and the right to judge. After all, he’s God the Father! But apparently he has neither the desire nor the intent to judge directly. Yes, the Father could judge, but he decided not to handle it himself. He emptied himself of that power, handing it over to his Son completely. This humble transfer of power—from Father to Son—is consistent with the character of the Father, showing his humble, deferential nature. The Father confidently and entirely entrusts to the Son all matters concerning judgment. That task has been delegated, so say the Scriptures, and not just John’s Gospel. In the Book of Acts, Paul concludes his sermon to the intellectuals in Athens by saying,

Acts 17:31 “[God the Father] has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (italics mine)

Will the Son judge me?

So obviously you are considering now the possibility that the Son, rather than the Father, will judge you. Millions of Christians would likely agree with you. But John again tells us that’s not quite right. Yes, the Son is the one who had the authority to judge. But what does the Son do with all that power given him by authority of his Father? He does the same thing that his Father did. Jesus says that he will not judge you directly either.

John 5:45 “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father.”

John 12:47a “I do not judge anyone who hears my words and does not keep them . . .”

John 8:15 “I judge no one.”

John 12:47b “. . . I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”

Jesus gives away the power to judge just as his Father did. It seems that he and the Father are on the same page. Judgment is a power that neither the Father nor the Son intends to exercise directly. It is not their nature, their will, or their way.

A little legalist that lives in a dark, cold corner of my heart objects to this strenuously. If there’s no judge, how can people be held accountable? Without a judge where is the moral deterrent to keep people from rampant sin and evil? There is no reason to be good if there is no consequence for being bad.

If that’s what you believe, I understand. But first rest assured, biblically speaking, there is a judge. It’s just that judgment is not implemented directly by the Father or the Son. And second, let me answer the accountability question with a question. (Jesus often answered questions with questions; I enjoy trying to do the same.) Assuming that you are married, is the only reason you don’t cheat on your spouse that you’re afraid you’ll get caught? Hopefully not. If you are blessed with a good marriage, hopefully the reason you don’t cheat is because you love your spouse in a relationship based on trust. The Scriptures are telling us something similar about God and judgment. The Father and Son that John wrote about are not interested in using threat of judgment to deter bad behavior. They’re interested in a relationship of love based on trust. As author Wayne Jacobson wrote:

“Trust is not a choice (or decision). It is the fruit of your growing confidence in Father’s love for you.”

We’ve established biblically that the Father refuses to judge you and has passed on the power to judge to his Son. And we’ve established that the Son, having received that authority does as his Father did; he passes on that power. So you’re probably asking yourself, Who is the judge then? That’s the wrong question as it turns out. Ask instead, What is the judge? Ask, What is biblical judgment?

What is biblical judgment?

The original language of the New Testament is Koine Greek. The Greek New Testament word kri,sij krisis (pronounced KREE-sees) means judgment. The English word crisis is obviously derived from krisis. Let’s get to the heart of the matter. Let’s look at the most important biblical verse for understanding the meaning of judgment. The key verse of Christian Scripture containing this word is:

John 3:19 And this is the judgment (krisis), that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (italics mine)

Jesus’ presence (not his direct pronouncement), John says, is the crisis, the judgment. I know the popular bumper sticker says, “Jesus is the answer,” but that is not a biblical quote. Biblically, Jesus is the crisis. And the 4th Gospel is saying that Jesus was not only a crisis during his ministry, but that he is a continuing crisis today. And moreover, not just a crisis of the past and present, but he will always be a crisis, even until krisis day—judgment day (Matt. 10:15; 11:22, 24; 12:36; 2 Pet. 2:9; 3:7; 1 John 4:17). How so?

A roach scurries into the cracks when you turn on a light. I’m trying to illuminate John’s analogy with light. He is asking us to consider that Jesus’ truth is painful to humans, too painful for some. The exposure of their lives in the light of truth hurts like hell. Thus the crisis.

John 3:20-21 “For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Either you can stand the truth of the light and let it expose you, or you can run for cover. You can either stay in the light to walk through the pain to the point that you are willing to look at your secrets and grudges and faults and bitterness and brokenness and, for lack of a better word, sin so that you can experience healing and forgiveness. Or, like most of us probably most of the time, you can strap on your fig leaf and hide from him, from yourself, from everyone.

Jesus said he was the truth. (“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” John 14:3) John’s point is that the truth is fine when it works in your favor or exposes someone else. But when it exposes your dirty laundry---not just to others but to you yourself? Well now, that’s not fun. When the light of day finds your hideaway, do you know what you’ve got on your hands? Exposure---a crisis of major proportions. Now that’s biblical judgment (krisis). But there’s a little more to it.

The high priest in the Jewish Temple, on the Day of Atonement, slaughtered one goat and drove an identical goat out into the wilderness. The second of the two, the one driven away, is called the scapegoat (Azazel). This two-goat ritual may have been practiced by Jews for over 1000 years. (Leviticus 16:15-22) Do you see how this is connected to judgment?

John 12:31 “Now is the judgment (krisis) of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” (italics mine)

By “now” Jesus meant “his hour” was at hand. Jesus was seen by the early church as the true High Priest who drives out the old goat, Satan. The judgment, in John’s Gospel, is certainly the presence of Jesus’ exposing light of truth. But judgment is concentrated on the hour of the Passover sacrifice itself, which is simultaneous with Jesus’ crucifixion. This is the hour of crisis, says John. Not just any hour, but the hour that the liar, Satan, is exposed by the truth, Jesus. In the Gospel of John, Jesus’ Passover sacrifice of himself is referred to repeatedly as “the hour” or “his hour.”

John 7:30 Then they tried to arrest him, but no one laid hands on him, because his hour had not yet come. (italics mine)

John 12:23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. (italics mine)

John 13:1 Now before the festival of the Passover, Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart from this world and go to the Father. (italics mine)

John 17:1 "Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, . . .” (italics mine)

He called it “my hour.”

John 2:4 And Jesus said to [his mother], "Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come." (italics mine)

Here the Fourth Gospel claims that Jesus’ “hour,” the time for his sacrificial death, is both the judgment/crisis of the whole world, and the driving out of the ruler of this world (the adversary, the accuser, the evil one, the liar and the father of all lies, Satan). Here is another key passage:

John 12:31-32 “Now is the judgment (krisis) of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out.” 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself." (bold underline mine)

The “now moment” of krisis/judgment IS the crucifixion of Jesus. And the cross of Christ has a double effect, says John.

1. It draws all the children of the world unto Jesus (12:32).
2. It drives the ruler of this world out (12:31).

Let’s have a go at what this cross crisis really means.

First, by drawing all people unto him, Jesus presents each person with a crisis. There is no neutrality. Either you like being near a God who takes away everybody’s sin Scott free, or you think that’s horribly misguided. Either you want to dance at the universal atonement party to which all manner of reprobates are invited (Not universalism. See my blogs: You're Saved and A Country Fried Parable.”), or you’ll simply refuse to have fun with all those filthy sinners around. There’s your krisis/judgment.

Second, and at the same critical moment, by driving the evil prince out, people no longer have an accuser. (The name Satan means adversary. Revelation 12:10 calls him the accuser of humanity.) So simultaneously, now with no accuser and with the sin of the world taken away, there is nothing separating humanity from the Father but death. But, of course, the Scriptures show that the Father thinks of everything. There’s a plan to defeat death too. The image of the evil one being driven out will be joined with the grave being driven out.

1 Corinthians 15:26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death.

It is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead (as a promise of our own resurrections) that accomplishes the destruction of death, which brings us to the subject of life.

John 14:6 “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”

So how does biblical judgment really work?

The Father will not judge you. And the Son will not judge you. Perhaps you’ve already guessed who, or I should say what will judge you, biblically speaking. It’s the presence of life. Life eternal is the final judgment (krisis). Let’s lay it out.

Jesus is recorded as saying that “the word” (he calls it “my word”) he spoke will be your judge on the last day:

John 12:48b “. . . on the last day the word that I have spoken will serve as judge, . . .” (italics mine)

No need to wonder if Jesus is going to explain what the mysterious “word” is that will stand in for the Father and him on judgment day. He comes right out and tells us what it is, as recorded again by the author of John’s Gospel. It’s a word he says is directly from the Father. I suggest you read this and ponder it before you continue.

John 12:49-50 “. . . for I have not spoken on my own, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment about what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I speak, therefore, I speak just as the Father has told me." (italics mine)

That’s pretty straightforward, isn’t it?

  1. The Father will not judge you directly.
  2. The Son will not judge you directly.
  3. On the last day the word that the Son spoke will judge you on behalf of the Father and Son.
  4. The Father commanded that the Son should speak that word.
  5. The word the Father commanded the Son to speak is eternal Life.
From here on out I will capitalize Life when the word refers to the Life that Jesus gives and the word of Life that judges. Jesus was commanded by his Father to proclaim Life that is eternal, and that word—Life (Jesus called it “my word”)—serves as final judge. It’s as if Jesus is saying, For judgment now and on the last day, I’m just going to keep letting you bump up against Life and see what it does to your circuits.

Life eternal

OK. So what, you may be wondering, is eternal Life? Is it living forever? Is it an afterlife destination? The way the concept is often misused has left a lot of people confused. So let’s define the term before we look at how it works.

“Eternal Life” gets thrown around a lot in Christian circles, especially modern evangelical circles. It seems to be assumed by those who use it that they know what it means. And it is biblical. All four gospels and the Book of Acts use the expression. You’ll find it in five letters attributed to the Apostle Paul (Romans 2:7, 5:21, 6:22, 6:23; Galatians 6:8; 1 Timothy 1:16, 6:12; Titus 1:2, 3:7). It’s also found in 1 John (1:2, 2:5, 3:15, 5:11, 5:13, 5:20) and in Jude 1:21. That’s a lot. So, yes, biblically speaking, eternal Life is important. But what does it mean?

I’ll wager that the most common belief among Christians is that eternal Life is our future existence in heaven when we die. This definition has been ingrained in me from pulpits and Sunday school classrooms, by TV evangelists and everyday use of the phrase. What else could eternal Life be but a reference to the afterlife? It seems everyone assumes that that is what it is. It’s the place you go when you die.

Are you convinced?

I’m not.

In spite of the previous assumptions you might have, there’s a lot more to this “eternal Life” biblically speaking. We should begin with that---the Bible. Jesus defined it:

John 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

Knowing the Father and the Son is eternal Life. It’s a relationship. How much clearer could Jesus have been?

Another real clarifier of this whole issue is this quote from the lips of Jesus, again from the Gospel of John:

NET John 5:28-29 “Do not be amazed at this, because a time is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice 29 and will come out--the ones who have done what is good to the resurrection resulting in life, and the ones who have done what is evil to the resurrection resulting in condemnation.”

The New Testament insists there is a final day of resurrection when all people are raised, and some of those people will have Life. But note that everybody is raised on the last day. That’s what Jesus said.

Are all these terms starting to run together? That’s because it’s all of one piece! “Eternal Life” is used alternately with the phrase “inherit the kingdom” and the term “resurrection.” For example, in the Parable of the Talking Sheep and Goats (Matthew 25:31-46), the sheep are said to inherit the kingdom and enter eternal Life:

Matthew 25:34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand (the sheep), 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom . . .

Matthew 25:46 . . . the righteous (the sheep) [enter] into eternal life."

Let’s keep it simple. There are three things that are really important if you want a biblical understanding of the kingdom of heaven, eternal Life, and resurrection.

First, there is a now-ness and a not-yet-ness to all three, biblically speaking. The kingdom of heaven is among us and within us here and now, and yet it won’t come in its fullness until the last day. Eternal Life is ours already here and now, and yet we have not yet inherited it in its fullness and won’t until the last day. The human race is already dead and risen and ascended with the Son, and yet we have not and won’t rise completely (bodily) until the last day.

Second, these three are inseparable. The kingdom of heaven that comes in its fullness on the last day equals eternal Life given in its fullness on the last day, which itself equals resurrection of everyone bodily from the dead. On the last day the forgiven who want to be forgiven (more on that coming up) are raised bodily for Life eternal in his coming heavenly kingdom.

Third, these three are present now and forever in Jesus. Life was his message, yet he said that he is the Life. Because he is Life, he speaks Life. He is his message. The gift of Life isn’t given because of or from Jesus. The Life he gives is not distinct from his person. He is what he speaks. He is Life; Life is in him.

NET John 1:4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind.

1 John ..5:11.. And this is the testimony: God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son.

So, eternal Life biblically speaking is bigger than a future end-time destination. Much bigger. You don’t have to wait to die. You can have it now.

John 3:15 “. . . whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” (italics mine)

John 5:24 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life, and does not come under judgment, but has passed from death to life.” (italics mine)

John 10:10 “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (italics mine)

John 5:39 "You search the scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that testify on my behalf. 40 Yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (italics mine)

John 6:47 “Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.” (italics mine)

So where do we get this eternal Life?

John 6:63 “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (italics mine)

John 6:68 Simon Peter answered him, "Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.” (italics mine)

John ..8:12.. Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." (italics mine)

And why did Jesus say that he came?

John 10:10b “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (italics mine)

John ..10:28.. “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.” (italics mine)

John 14:6 Jesus said to him, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (italics mine)

Not only is his grace and good will toward you Life, not only does he give Life to everyone who has it, but he is Life. When he gives the kingdom of heaven, he gives Life; when he gives Life, he gives himself. In him we live and move and have our being (Acts ..17:28..). Adventurous Life is in him.

Life then is nothing if not a relational experience, says Scripture. It is a relationship that is Life rich and abundant. Anybody who has experienced relational joy, beautiful and sweet, has tasted eternity. I concur with my long-time friend Cary Stockett who says, “We are hard-wired at the factory for relationship.”

The following verses confirm this, and they summarize the gospel itself:

John 20:31 But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name. (italics mine)

John 11:25-26 Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?" (italics mine)

Is it clear enough? Life is something that Jesus is and gives, now and forever. It’s relationship itself. It’s oneness in the one who is Life. By trusting him, according to Scripture, we truly live in the kingdom of God/heaven. Jesus scripturally, as you will continue to see, is the resurrection, the Life eternal, the presence of the kingdom of heaven, the place, Paradise, and home.

So how does Life judge?

Life’s judgment comes not from the Father or the Son, but from our No to Life. To put it personally, it’s as if Jesus is saying, I’m giving you Life, and you keep saying No. If this is the way it is, truly it’s not the Father or the Son that judge you directly. The judgment is in your response to the presence of Life—merciful, honest, revealing, exposing, forgiving Life—given to you up front without strings. Religion is always a deal. Life is always a gift.

I realize that if you wanted to, in your mind you could divorce Jesus from Life. You have Jesus stuff over here, and real life stuff over there. Sunday is divorced from the rest of the week. And church is separated from your office and the ballpark. This is missing the point biblically speaking. What we’re talking about here is Life—the whole shooting match. And the Scriptures say that Jesus can’t be divorced from life because he is Life. All of it.

Where does your passion for your wife or husband come from? What passion are you participating in when you lose yourself in lovemaking or music or dancing or baseball or stock cars or cooking? The Scriptures of the New Testament are clear. It’s Life real, rich, passionate, and abundant. We are all up in his Life already, though we too often fail to recognize it as such. We always have been in him. Where’s the proof of this, biblically speaking? Fasten your seat belt. Here we go.

Check out the first verses of John’s Gospel (immediately below). Life as we know it was created by “the Word,” upper case “W.” John’s Gospel not only declares that Jesus’ message [“the word” (lower case “w”) that he spoke which was Life] is the point here. He also calls Jesus himself the Word of God---the Word that created you and every living and inanimate thing. It’s often assumed that God the Father was the lone creator. What we have missed is that the New Testament insists that the creator of all things is God the Son, the Word of God, Jesus himself:

John 1:1-4 and 14 In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

2 He was in the beginning with God.

3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being.

What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father's only son, full of grace and truth. (italics mine)

Do you get how radical the Scriptures are? No? Deal with this, then: Jesus made Jews. Jesus made Muslims. Jesus, the creative Word of God, according to the New Testament, made everybody and everything that existed, exists, or will ever exist.

The politically correct folks bristle at Jesus claiming in the Gospel of John that, “No one comes to the Father but by me.” (John 14:6) This is misinterpreted by many as meaning that only Christians can be in relationship with God. Wrong. It’s saying that because all people are made in and by and through the Word (Jesus), then whether they consciously know it or not, all people are relating to God the Father, and all are doing so in and by and through Jesus who is the Word of God and God the Son, the one who created everyone, the one in whom everyone lives. It’s not an exclusivist claim. It excludes no one. He created the universe, and his atonement includes the universe. In Jesus, creation and redemption are universal claims:

John 1:4 In him was life, and life was the light of all people. (italics mine)

John 1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. (italics mine)

John ..12:32.. “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth (on the cross), will draw all people to myself.” (italics mine)

1 John 2:2 . . . and he is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world. (italics mine)

[Continued in “The Father Judges No One - 2”]

Monday, February 16, 2009

Are We Supposed to be Afraid of God?

An adaptation of Appendix C from © 2009 Heaven For Skeptics by Bert Gary for FaithWalk Publishing

If you’ve hung around churches or synagogues in your lifetime you’ve probably heard someone read or speak about fearing the Lord. Fearing God is actually biblical, but it may not be what you think.

Fearing God in the Old Testament

Let me simplify this by pointing out the words from the Old Testament that mean fear as terror and the one word that means fear as reverence.

Terror: The Old Testament uses pachad {pronounced pakh'-ad}, chittah {pronounced khit-taw'}, and 'eymah {pronounced ay-maw'} or (shortened) 'emah {pronounced ay-maw'} to mean fear as terror. But terror is for God’s enemies only.

Reverence: Those who love God, however, fear him as reverence, honor, respect, regard, or awe. And this fear as reverence is described with only one word in the Old Testament: yare' {pronounced yaw-ray'}.

Those who love God respect him. Those who oppose him may experience terror of him. Obviously feeling afraid of God as in terrified is different from feeling respectful.

When I was growing up I was afraid of a large knife-wielding bully down the street. That would be terror. It’s amazing how fast you can peddle your bike when you’re terrified. My friends and I did everything to avoid our neighborhood terrorist. On the other hand, I also feared my excellent teacher Mr. Pierce, but in a different way. I wasn’t afraid he’d hurt me. I had such respect for him that I didn’t want to disappoint him. He had earned my respect, though I can’t tell you exactly how he did that. He carried himself with authority. He meant what he said. He was a disciplinarian, but evenhanded, never raising his voice. He made his expectations of me clear. I felt that he respected me too.

The point is that when the Hebrew Scriptures mean terror, there are three specific words used. When they mean reverence, there is a different word used. In the Old Testament, those who love the Lord are to fear him as reverence only, not terror.

Fearing God in the New Testament

Now in New Testament Greek there is not the variety of words for “fear” that Hebrew provides. There’s just one: fobe,w phobeo {pronounced fob-eh'-o} is the verb; fo,boj phobos {pronounced fob'-os} is the noun. Phobeo/Phobos is where our English word phobia comes from.

This Greek word phobeo can mean fear as terror or it can mean fear as reverence. But the context always tells you which it is. Look at this passage in Luke.

Luke 2:9-10 Then an angel of the Lord stood before them (the shepherds), and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified (phobeo). 10 But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid (phobeo); for see -- I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people.” (bold italics mine)

The shepherds of Bethlehem are said to be terrified of the angel. The word is phobeo. But their terror, though understandable, is unwarranted. The angel specifically tells them not to be afraid using the same word--phobeo.

Are there examples of fear (phobeo) as reverence in the New Testament? Yes, many. Here are a few.

Mark 4:41 And they were filled with great awe (phobeo) and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?" (bold italics mine)

Mark 4:41 is self-explanatory, isn’t it? Phobeo equals awe, not terror.

Acts 9:31 Meanwhile the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and was built up. Living in the fear (phobos) of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers. (bold italics mine)

Notice in Acts 9:31 that fear of God and comfort in the Spirit are simultaneous experiences of the church at peace. If fear means terror in this verse, it makes no sense. Terrified people are neither comfortable nor peaceful. But if phobeo means reverence, then peace and comfort are perfectly compatible.

Ephesians 5:21 Be subject to one another out of reverence (phobos) for Christ. (bold italics mine)

It is not terror of Christ but reverence for Christ that makes one subject to others. The love for one’s brothers and sisters in Christ cannot come from terror. But love and a desire to serve one another can be born of one’s reverence for Christ. For as it says in 1 John 4:18, “There is no fear (phobos) in love, but perfect love casts out fear (phobos).” And remember, God is agape, not phobos.

Revelation 14:7-8 He said in a loud voice, "Fear (phobeo) God and give him glory . . .”

Revelation 14:7 pairs fearing God and glorifying God. This is about worship. Worship is adoration and love and reverence and respect. Therefore, if by phobeo John meant we should be terrified of God, then how can terror produce worshipful adoration? It can’t. Terror does not glorify God, obviously. But reverence and awe and respect and regard and honor do. Fear God, John wrote, making fear an expression of glorifying God and worshipping him. The Father’s children then worship and glorify God because they revere him.

Look at the definitions of phobos from the Friberg Greek Lexicon and the USB Greek Lexicon. In them it is clear that phobos can mean terror or reverence.

fo,boj (1) active - causing fear, source of fear, terror....
(2) passive (a) in a negative sense fear, dread, alarm
(b) in a positive sense respect, reverence, awe, (wholesome) fear
fo,boj fear, terror; [or] fear, reverence (for God)

Are there any instructions in the New Testament that we are to be terrified of the Father or Jesus? None. Neither the Father nor the Son instructs anyone to be afraid of them or to be afraid generally. On the contrary, “Do not be afraid” occurs eighteen times in the New Testament. “Do not fear” occurs six times. Twice Jesus asks, “Why are you afraid?” Once Jesus instructs, “Have no fear.” (NRSV)

Biblically, what the Father and the Son want is a relationship with trusting children who are filled with a wholesome fear as reverence, honor, respect, regard, or awe. Such a fear is born of appreciation for God’s humble self-sacrifice for the sake of his children.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Pearly Gates and Streets of Gold

What about the pearly gates and the streets of gold?

First, the pearls: John is referencing Isaiah. The word in question is the Hebrew word eqdah meaning fiery glow or sparkle. But is it a pearl? No English translation I could find translates eqdah as pearls. It’s often translated as carbuncles:

NAB Isaiah 54:12 I will make your battlements of rubies, your gates of carbuncles (eqdah), and all your walls of precious stones.

Carbuncle is a red gemstone that is smoothly rounded and polished. Other English versions of the Bible translate eqdah as graven stones, shining stones, beryl, sparkling jewels, firestone, precious stones, or crystal. The first Greek Old Testament, the Septuagint, translated eqdah as krustallos {pronounced kroos’-tal-los} meaning crystal.

John the Revelator, however, interpreted Isaiah’s Hebrew word differently. He called it margarites {mar-gar-ee’-tace} meaning pearls, which is not at all the same. Why did he do that? I don’t know, unless it has to do with Jesus’ kingdom of heaven parable about a pearl of ultimate value:

Matthew 13:45-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls (margarites); 46 on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”

I like this connection. The kingdom of heaven is the pearl of greatest value, and in Revelation the gates of the New Jerusalem are giant pearls. Who is the kingdom of heaven? Jesus is. Who is both the New Jerusalem and the Bride of the Lamb? The church is. It’s about Jesus and his followers. Is it so strange then that the gateway to the New Jerusalem, the Lamb’s Bride, is a great pearl representing the presence of the kingdom of heaven and Jesus himself? To enter the New Jerusalem is to enter the kingdom of heaven. To enter the kingdom of heaven is to be the Bride, is to enter into marital union with the Lamb who is Jesus himself, is to possess the pearl of all pearls. But there’s more. There are twelve pearl gates bearing the names of the twelve tribes of the ancient kingdom of Israel. The New Jerusalem that is the Bride of the Lamb is also the church, the new people of God, the consummated Israel. The marriage is consummated. Jesus and his people are one body. And the gates of pearl, John says, are forever open. (21:25)

So what about the streets of gold? The word is plateia {pronounced plat-i’-ah}. It’s not plural. It’s one street (singular), not streets. (21:21 and 22:2) John is showing us the main street that traverses the length of the city. But guess where the river of Life is. It runs all the way through the city, through the middle of the street (plateia). (22:2) The river flows from the throne of God and the Lamb. (21:1) The tree of Life, we should note, grows on both banks of the river, and therefore on both sides of the street. (22:2) No temple is needed in the city, for the temple is the presence of the Lord and the Lamb. Their presence fills the city. (21:22) There is free access to the street (the way of life), the river (the spring of life), and the tree (bearing the fruit of the spirit) because the twelve Gates are forever open. (21:25) There’s no darkness of any kind because the Lamb is also the Lamp. (21:23-25) He’s the light to all nations, his tree’s leaves heal the nations, he’s the temple where all the nations come to worship. (21:24-26 and 22:2-3) This holy city is international.

Like the gates of pearl, the street of transparent gold is a feature of the New Jerusalem according to John’s vision. But remember that the New Jerusalem is the Bride of the Lamb. And the Bride is the church. And the church is the people. So if the Lamb is the husband of these people, then he lives in them and has union with them and they live in him. To live in him and he in you is to be truly alive, pure and rich as streets of transparent gold running the length of your marriage. We’re talking about his richness and purity of heart inside of you, living water welling up inside of you, fruits of the spirit emanating from inside of you. The relationship between Jesus and his believers is one of pure clear gold and pure clean water and ripe and luscious ever-producing fruit. We’re talking about a marriage, a deep and abiding relationship, a relationship of such spiritual richness and joy that it satisfies all desire. John’s New Jerusalem, the Bride of the Lamb, symbolizes everlasting rest and peace in the Bridegroom. This is resurrection Life in him, now and forever.

Today there is much fascination with, fear of, even obsession with the “when” and “where” of The End. John does not share in this. He’s interested in the “who” of The End. He’s interested in the one who said, I AM The End.

Revelation 22:13 “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”

For more on the Book of Revelation see my blogs 666Rapture InterruptedThe Giant Flying CubeThe MillenniumNames In the Book of Life, and The Lake of Fire Defined.

Pearly Gates and Streets of Gold
Adapted from Chapter 9: Biblical Heaven and the Book of Revelation from © 2009 Heaven For Skeptics by Bert Gary for FaithWalk Publishing

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Lazarus Parable Is Not About the Afterlife

Adapted from Chapter 4 in Heaven for Skeptics by Bert Gary, Copyright 2010 for FaithWalk Publishing

Luke 16:19-31

Did you notice that a character in this parable has a name? Lazarus. Did you know that there are only two named persons in any parable told by Jesus in your Bible? And both are in this parable. They are Lazarus and Abraham. In none of his other parables are characters named. As my Australian friends say, “Funny that.”

Now it could be a coincidence, I suppose, but one of Jesus’ best friends just happens to be named Lazarus (mentioned 13 times in John 11:1-12:17); he had sisters named Mary and Martha; they lived in Bethany (near Jerusalem); and Jesus frequented their home. I count maybe a half dozen visits to their house recorded; I think there were more (not recorded) because I believe Jesus stayed over the years at their home when he visited nearby Jerusalem for festivals. John called Lazarus “the one whom Jesus loved.” (John 11:3) Obviously they were close. Mary and Martha’s scenes with Jesus always show that they too shared close friendships. (Luke 10:38-42; Mark 14:3; John 11:1-12:17)

I don’t think that Jesus named only one of his main parable characters (excluding Abraham’s supporting role) for nothing. I think Jesus’ sense of humor was in high gear. I believe the setting for the telling of this parable was in Bethany, in Jesus’ well-to-do friend Lazarus’ presence, perhaps in his very home, around his table, with Martha and Mary present too, and many disciples. Why? I think Jesus was being creative and having fun. (Gasp!)

In the context of Lazarus’ home, the naming of this character in the parable makes perfect sense. Lazarus of Bethany is probably well off financially. He has a spacious home able to accommodate many visitors at once. About $30,000 worth of nard happens to be stored in the cupboard. (John 12:3) Lazarus’ funeral drew a crowd of dignitaries, Judean officials from Jerusalem. (John 11:19) He was buried in an expensive rock-cut tomb similar to the one in which Jesus was buried---also a rock cut tomb made by another wealthy man, Joseph of Aramathea. (Matthew 27:57-60 and John 11:38) So, to give the name Lazarus to the poverty-stricken character would have brought a smile to everyone’s face, especially the way Jesus set it up.

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.” (Luke 16:19)

Everyone at the table probably looked at the host, Lazarus, at that point, making a quick assumption that Jesus was connecting his beloved friend, Lazarus, with the wealthy man in the story. But they were too quick to judge. There’s a zinger in the second line.

I can imagine Jesus saying, And every day right there at the rich man’s gate, there was a poor man named . . . (Everyone probably got quiet. He’d never named a person in a parable before. Whose name will he choose?) . . . let’s see . . . what shall I call the poor man . . . oh, I’ve got it. His name was . . . Lazarus!

You know they all laughed. Lazarus was the poor man, not the rich bloke? There's a twist! They had to have laughed. Now they were glued to the story. (When were they not glued to Jesus’ stories? I would have been.) Jesus used the name of his rich best friend whom he raised from the dead for a “parable character” who is poor, lonely, diseased, defiled, licked on by dogs, and right away dies. What a whopper! You know that they laughed and loved it. But that was just the set-up.

Then the rich nameless guy in the parable also dies. And—get this—they don’t “go” to the same place after they die, says Jesus’ tale. In fact their afterlife experiences are a hodgepodge of Hebrew scripture and Greek mythology, both of which, as we will see again, Jesus was very familiar with, and his listeners must have recognized too—all the more reason not to take his story literally. Those present for the telling never would have.

Let’s start with the parable character Jesus named Lazarus after his buddy. He dies, but Jesus says, Poor Lazarus was carried away by angels to be with Abraham on the far side of a canyon (chasma in Greek – chasm in English – meaning a wide space).

Jesus may have been drawing on an image from a popular apocryphal scroll called today 4 Esdras:

4 Esdras ..7:36.. The pit of torment shall appear, and opposite it shall be the place of rest; and the furnace of hell (gehenna) shall be disclosed, and opposite it the paradise of delight.

Whether Jesus was familiar with and using 4 Esdras, he pictures the afterlife in a similar way. Gehenna (see my blog: Hell Defined 2), the burning Valley of Hinnom, is viewed by Esdras as a burning pit. On the far side of the burning valley is a paradise.

But Jesus’ parable throws in two curve balls. 1) Jesus doesn’t say that the canyon is burning. He says that on one rim or side of the canyon there is tormenting fire, and on the other rim or side there is paradise. And 2) Jesus doesn’t call the buring side Gehenna (the term 4 Esdras chose); he calls the burning side Hades, the boring mythological underground abode of the dead. Both of these details created strange, dare I say playful, contradictions. We’ll get to these in a sec.

Notice this irony too. Jesus’ listeners would have. The real Lazarus of Bethany was buried. The parable-Lazarus was not. He was carried away to the rim of the canyon by angels. (John 16:22).

So what is Lazarus doing in his new paradisaical location on the canyon rim? Nothing, it seems. He’s more being than doing. He’s standing next to Abraham—“in his bosom” means by his side or in his embrace. Parable-Lazarus does nothing in the afterlife. He says nothing. He’s just there, seemingly content in proximity to (in close relationship with) the Patriarch Abraham. Perhaps true contentment doesn’t have to do or say anything.

Then, Jesus said, the rich man, unlike Lazarus, was buried. Yet while his body is buried, somehow he’s also present in the Greek mythological underworld called Hades. Incredibly, Jesus places Hades on the opposite side of the aforementioned canyon. Jesus doesn’t place Hades underground! Which brings up the aforementioned contradictions.

When Jesus wants to speak of a place of suffering and fire, he always uses the word “Gehenna,” not “Hades” (see the blogs: Hell Defined 1 and Hell Defined 2). When he uses the word Hades, he is either referring to “the grave” paralleling the word “Sheol” in the Old Testament, though once he also referred intentionally to the Greek pagan mythological underworld. He did this at Caesarea Philippi:

And Jesus answered him, "Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you (that Jesus is the Messiah), but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. (italics mine) (Matthew 16:17-18)

Caesarea Philippi was the ancient city of Paneas named for the god, Pan. Jesus would have seen the temple of Pan standing in front of a cave from which the headwaters of the Jordan River flowed. I’ve taught at this ruin many times, pondering the yawning cave that once greeted Jesus and his disciples. Within the cave there stood a huge statue of Pan. Pan is in the cave because it was his job, according to the myth, to guard the entranceway to Hades—the Greek mythological underground abode of the dead. Get the connection?

In Caesarea Philippi, a city dominated by the view of the temple of Pan—a Greek god who guarded the entrance to Hades--, Jesus refers to the gates of Hades as a metaphor for the church’s power to prevail even against death and the grave. One more time:

And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it.” (italics mine) (Matthew 16:17-18) [a[|dhj hades {pronounced hah'-dace}]

All this is to say that when Jesus said Hades, even at Caesarea Philippi, he meant the grave. He was saying that his church will be victorious over death and the grave, using Hades in the Old Testament sense of Sheol (see Hell Defined 1 and Five Coincidences at Caesarea Philippi)

The term Hades occurs only ten times in the New Testament (Matthew 11:23, 16:18..; Luke 10:15, 16:23; Acts 2:27; 31; Revelation 1:18, 6:8, 20:13; 14—eleven if you include 1 Corinthians 15:55, which you can’t). In all but one of those ten occurrences Hades means the grave. Guess which one is different? That’s right. The one that’s different is in the Parable of Poor Lazarus and the Rich Man. There, as in all his parables, Jesus gets creative. There Hades means the abode of the dead, meaning the equivalent of Greek Mythology’s underworld.

Does Jesus believe in Hades, the Greek mythological underground abode of the dead? Of course not. And he proves it. He places Hades not underground in his imaginative story, but on the far rim of a canyon. And he does more.

To me what’s most peculiar is that Jesus adds the notion of tormenting flame being in the rich man’s Hades, which is downright humorous. Hades wasn’t a place of fiery torture in Greek mythology and philosophy. “Punishment for wrongdoing in the old (Pre-Plato) Greek stories . . . was not generally an after-death affair.” (Turner, 28) Hades was just drab.

Later, however, Plato did introduce some elements of suffering to Hades. While good souls went to the Elysian Fields to ride horses, play games, and play lyres in flowered meadows, bad souls went to a place in the basement of Hades called Tartarus (mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4—see Hell Defined 2). (29)

In utter contradiction to this dualism (good/bad; Elysian Fields/Hades), however, Plato sometimes sounded very Hindu or Buddhist, speaking of souls proving themselves worthy through a series of reincarnations to go finally up (!) to “the true Hades” to be bodiless forever with the gods. But bad souls are reincarnated as donkeys, wolves, ants, wasps, or the like. (31) The punishment in this sense is on earth.

Yet, back to the dualism, Plato saw souls that were neither particularly good nor bad being sent to Hades to be purified for a time. This may be where the concept of Purgatory comes from, though the Zoroastrian hell is also for purifying, and the Islamic hell is also purifying for some at death. It’s hard to tell who was borrowing from whom. But Plato claims that very bad people are thrown into Tartarus in the depths of Hades where the Titans are chained (32). It’s a prison. But he adds at the end of The Republic that in Hades sinners are met by wild men who “drag them off and flay them with scourges and thorns.” (33) But a fiery Hades? It’s not to be found.

“The Greek underworld is more like a musty closet than a furnace; it is a dark, sterile, and humorless realm, where the departed wander about aimlessly as shades of their former selves—the dead seem more devitalized and bored than tormented.” (Lewis, 174)

Gehenna [ge,enna geenna {pronounced gheh'-en-nah}] is a New Testament word that Jesus used just eleven times (and James once). It is definitely a place of fire. (On this 4 Esdras agrees.) No wonder. It was Jerusalem’s burning dump. Gehenna, or ge-hinnom in Hebrew, meaning The Valley of Hinnom, is a ravine that runs from the west side down and along the south end of Jerusalem’s Old City wall. Even though it’s not the safest place in the world today, I’ve walked its length. In biblical times, it is the place where garbage and sewage were burned. Continuously burning garbage and sewage is the perfect metaphor for a wasted life in a hellish existence, don’t you think?

Jesus—being intentionally and playfully contradictory in his Lazarus parable—places the rich man not in a fiery Gehenna Valley but in a nonsensical fiery Hades on a canyon rim. Why a fiery Hades for the rich man? You will not believe this:

Hades was the lord of the underworld and of the dead. His realm was also called Hades, and his name means unseen. But the ancient Greek god had two other names, both prominent in Roman times—the time of Jesus. The Romans called him Pluto, which means wealthy. Borrowing from the Celts, the Romans also called him Dives Pater (shortened to Dis Pater or just Dis). Dives Pater means Father Rich Man. (Turner, 36)

Hades/Pluto was equated with Dis Pater probably because in mythology he mined the earth for gold and such. Being the god of mining and underground wealth connected him to the underground abode of the dead. Therefore the god of mined wealth also became the god of the dead.

So let that sink in. Hades is Dives Pater, Father Rich Man. Jesus’ parable, “Poor Lazarus and the Rich Man,” is traditionally called, “Lazarus and Dives.” Folks, that is not a coincidence. Jesus put the rich man in his parable in Hades, a place in mythology that is ruled by the god Hades who is also called Father Rich Man! Are you getting this?

Upon death, the rich man (Dives) in Jesus’ parable is sent to Hades, the realm of Father Rich Man (Dives Pater). This playful parallel is not accidental. The layers of Jesus’ creativity and humor are astonishing.

But look at the many contradictions that occur when you literalize this parable. Lazarus dies. His burial isn’t mentioned, and he is transported by angels over to Abraham’s side of a canyon. He’s asked later in the parable to dip his finger in water, so wherever Lazarus is, Jesus portrays him as a physical being throughout, not a disembodied soul. The rich man’s body is buried, however. No transport is mentioned for him at all. Suddenly he’s in two places at once, in the grave and in Hades (which biblically should be the same thing, since Hades is the Greek word for Old Testament Sheol, meaning the grave). The rich man is definitely not a disembodied soul in either place. And note that Jesus’ parable-Hades isn’t underground. It’s on the opposite rim of the canyon from Lazarus. And the rich man is being tormented by flames physically in Hades, which introduces other inconsistencies. Hades is not known for flames. Moreover, Greco-Roman Hades was a place specifically for souls, not bodies. The rich guy asks for water on his tongue. So he definitely has a body in Hades, but he’s also buried—two bodies?

None of this is very sensical, is it? Taking it literally pushes it to absurd contradictions. But what if that is Jesus’ exact intention. It’s a clever parable, remember, a cartoonish and playful parable, just as Jesus meant for it to be. His listeners no doubt delighted in its colorful, comedic paradoxes and plays on words.

Does that freak you out? Sorry. But it’s clear to me that Jesus meant for his parables to be instructive and entertaining, not internally consistent and logical and factual. (Can a camel literally go through the eye of a needle?) Jesus’ audience that day, an audience of friends and disciples, probably enjoyed the hodgepodge of Hebrew, Greek, and Roman afterlife names and concepts as much as they enjoyed the use of rich, real life Lazarus’ name for a fictional poor man.

Why have we (in the church) intoned Jesus in somber voice and projected his image in super-seriousness on the screens of our minds? Take a deep breath and lighten up, for goodness sake. Relax. It’s a playful parable! Enjoy Jesus’ salty teaching at its best.

Jesus continues, From Hades the rich man looked way across to the other side of the gorge,* and there stood poor Lazarus (Now the rich man recognizes Lazarus! But he never recognized or acknowledged him, ironically, on the sidewalk of his own home while they were alive!) with Abraham.

But Bert, you might complain, it says that the rich man looked up to see Lazarus and Abraham, doesn’t it? Nope. The Greek New Testament reads evpa,raj tou.j ovfqalmou.j auvtou/, which literally translates as “he lifted up his eyes.” Those who interpret this parable literally assume that this means that the rich man literally looked up into the sky to see Abraham and Lazarus “in heaven.” That’s a misunderstanding of the phrase.

Yes, evpai,rw epairo {pronounced ep-ahee'-ro} can mean literally lift up, raise, or elevate. But frequently the term is used figuratively. Here are some examples from our New Testament Gospels. In Luke 11:27 a woman “raised her voice.” This cannot mean that she took her larynx from her throat and lifted it over her head! No, it’s an idiom, an expression that means something beyond the literal words. To raise your voice is to shout or cry out. In Luke 21:28 Jesus tells his listeners to “lift up your heads.” Does he mean to take your head off and hold it in the air? Does he even mean literally to look up at the sky? No on both counts. It’s an idiom. It means have courage or take heart, similar to our idioms in English to “hold your head up high” or “keep your chin up.” In John 13:18 Jesus said, “He who is eating the bread with me, did lift up against me his heel.” (YLT) Does Jesus mean that one of the disciples is going to stomp on him? Again, no. It’s an idiom. It’s often translated into English as “turned against me.” He’s speaking of Judas’ betrayal. Now look at Matthew 17:8:

6 When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7 But Jesus came and touched them, saying, "Get up and do not be afraid." 8 And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. (italics mine)

By “looked up,” did Matthew mean literally that they looked up into the sky? No. Again, it’s an idiom. It means to look closely or to notice. It’s the same in our parable. Here’s Young’s Literal Translation of Luke 16:23:

YLT Luke ..16:23.. and in the hades having lifted up his eyes, being in torments, he doth see Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom, (italics mine)

Now we see that “having lifted up his eyes” is an idiom meaning to take notice. Besides, he can’t be literally looking up to the sky because Jesus places the rich man and Lazarus on opposite sides of a canyon. The characters are at eye level. Jesus is simply telling us that in his tale, the rich man looks around and notices that Lazarus and Abraham are over on the opposite rim of Jesus’ much misunderstood and much literalized gorge. (Friberg Lexicon; Thayer’s Greek Lexicon)

And the man cries out, “Mr. Abraham, sir, I beg you, show me a little compassion. Let Lazarus dip his finger in some water and come over here to cool my tongue. Man, it’s hot as hell over here!

This is ridiculous—intentionally. First, if you’re really on fire, you don’t use reason to try and talk your way out of it. Second, how much help is one drop on your tongue when your whole body is blazing? Third, how do Lazarus and Abraham hear him at such a great distance? Maybe it’s a really small chasm! Either that, or their cell phones have a good signal, for Abraham responds to the rich man’s finger-in-water request with a resounding No:

Son, remember how you had it good during your lifetime, and Lazarus had it really bad? But now he has it good here, and you have it really bad there. And this grand canyon separates us so that if anyone wants to cross from here to you, he can’t, and if you want to come over here, you can’t. [As if the rich man hadn’t already noticed all this! Maybe the reason he wants water is not to cool his tongue but to get the abundant life on the other side, referring to the “living water” mentioned by Jesus in John’s Gospel (4:10-14, 7:38) and in the Book of Revelation (7:17, 21:6, 22:1-2 and 17).]

So the rich man says, Sir, again I beg you, let me run home real quick and warn my five brothers so they won’t end up here. [Is he really concerned about his brothers, or is this another excuse used to escape his place of torment, or maybe just another attempt at a reprieve from the heat? Jesus’ listeners were probably saying, No, Abraham, No! Don’t let him go. He’s making an excuse to escape!]

Your brothers don’t need you, said Abraham to the rich man. They’ve got Moses and the prophets to show them the way.

No, Sir Abraham, I know those guys. They aren’t going to read old laws and prophesies. But I truly believe that if you let me go to them personally, when they see that I’m raised from the dead, I think they’ll believe me and change their minds. [That’s what repent means literally—mind-change.]

Here comes the zinger. Don’t you know Jesus’ friend Lazarus loved this last line?

Hey, Rich Boy, if they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone were to rise from the dead! said Abraham. THE END.

Look at the levels of meaning. Not only had Lazarus of Bethany been raised from the dead causing many notables to believe (John 11:43-48 and John 12:10-12), but Jesus himself would rise. And Jesus cleverly ends the story with a humdinger referencing coming back to life. He tells the truth. Even the resurrection won’t impress or convince everybody. Obviously so, even today.So what’s this story about? You choose. Multiple choice. Luke 16:19-31 is:

A.     a literal description of a historical event.
B.     an eyewitness report from heaven and hell.
C.     a parable about failure to love your neighbor.

I go with C. It’s a parable about the danger of failing to love your neighbor. If you can’t love now, when are you going to do it? This parable says love today. Don’t blow your present opportunities to love. Because a compassionless existence is a living hell, though one may not realize it until it’s too late.

“The choice is between a living death and a dying life.” (Kreeft, p. 164)

The purpose of the parable is to awaken Life-filled, self-sacrificing compassion now, and to fulfill the law and the prophets by loving your neighbor now:

. . . you shall love your neighbor as yourself. . . (Leviticus 19:18)

As you probably know, this parable is often touted as a documentary on the afterlife. Why? Because there are too many humorless literalists in the world today, and because of them, the church has all but missed the fun. And moreover, the literalists are desperate for afterlife material, as there is much less afterlife emphasis in the Bible than people have been led to believe.

In the Parable of Poor Lazarus and the Rich Man, Jesus has given us a crafty afterlife cartoon designed to tickle and tease the imaginations of those who have ears. Jesus is piercing the heart with a playful drama. It’s a life and death caricature of the failure to love. How desperate must you be for afterlife “data” to turn this delightful, intimate, love-your-neighbor farce into an unsmiling eyewitness report on the hereafter news channel?

The chasm between greed and generosity, between callousness and compassion, between neighborly neglect and neighborly love can and must be crossed in this life.

Plain Truth Magazine published this article as The Lazarus Parable--Just for the Hell of It?

For more on Jesus' parables see my blogs The Absurd Parable of the Unforgiving SlaveThe God Who GamblesParable of the Vine and BranchesThe Crooked ManagerThe Friend at MidnightHeaven Is Like a Crazy FarmerHe Speaks Of . . .Salted With FireTalking Sheep and GoatsIs Your Eye Evil?Two Prodigals and Their Strange FatherThe Lazarus Parable Is Not About the Afterlife,and Jesus Used Parables Like a Sieve.