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This parable of Jesus has been quoted for centuries in attempts to prove the existence of a Hell Fire. But was that what Jesus was really describing?
Notice the context.
At Luke 16:14, 15 we read:
‘Now, the Pharisees (who loved silver) were listening to these things and were looking at him with contempt.
So he said to them:
‘You are the ones who claim to be righteous before men, but God knows your hearts, and things that are considered important by men are disgusting in God’s eyes.’
Therefore, with the above setting in mind, notice the next two points that Jesus went on to make:
· First (at Luke 16:16-18), Jesus went on to condemn the haughty Pharisees by saying that ‘anyone that divorces his wife and marries another is guilty of adultery’… So much for righteousness, because leaving their wives (after the women had grown old) and taking younger ones was common practice among such men.
· Second (at Luke 16:19-31), Jesus went on to tell the story of a ‘rich man’ (like the Pharisees) and a ‘beggar’ (like the common people) who both ‘died.’
So, notice that the real point Jesus was making, was that these men who were considered the ‘spiritually rich’ were about to see a major change in their situation. For after the death of Jesus, their high position as the spiritual leaders of God’s people (the favored position of IsraEl’s ancestor AbraHam, through whom their nation had received their Covenant with God) was going to be taken from them and given to the spiritually poor.
Remember that this is what actually happened to them just thirty-seven years later, when JeruSalem (along with its entire form of worship) was totally destroyed and those religious leaders and their people were led off as captives, while the true arrangement for worshiping God was passed on to the lowly common people or ‘beggars’…
The disciples of Jesus.
So, this second point that Jesus made (and which the Pharisees doubtlessly understood at least partially) is this: because they failed to learn from the Law and the Prophets, their high position was going to be taken from them and given to common people.
Therefore, this isn’t a tale that describes the torture of Hell Fire, it was a verbal picture (or parable) that served as a warning of what was going to happen to those haughty Pharisees.
For more information, see the commentary, Is There a Burning Hell?.