Jesus teaches the Parable of the Prudent (or Dishonest) Manager. Then he says the law and the prophets were until John the Baptist, and the Law is still in effect. And he then issues his brief teaching on divorce. Finally, he tells the story or the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus.
As I write in every chapter:
This commentary and entire website is for everyone, but it is mainly for those in oppressed or developing countries, where Christians cannot afford or have access to wonderful Study Bibles or commentaries. I hope it helps them.
The translation is mine. I wrote it to learn what the Greek text really says. The translation tends to be literal, but complete literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If readers don’t read Greek, they can ignore the left side of the tables. I include the language to check my work and for Greek readers, who can also check my translation.
If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com. The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
Links are provided for further study.
Parable of the Prudent Manager (Luke 16:1-13)
|1 Ἔλεγεν δὲ καὶ πρὸς τοὺς μαθητάς· ἄνθρωπός τις ἦν πλούσιος ὃς εἶχεν οἰκονόμον, καὶ οὗτος διεβλήθη αὐτῷ ὡς διασκορπίζων τὰ ὑπάρχοντα αὐτοῦ. 2 καὶ φωνήσας αὐτὸν εἶπεν αὐτῷ· τί τοῦτο ἀκούω περὶ σοῦ; ἀπόδος τὸν λόγον τῆς οἰκονομίας σου, οὐ γὰρ δύνῃ ἔτι οἰκονομεῖν. 3 εἶπεν δὲ ἐν ἑαυτῷ ὁ οἰκονόμος· τί ποιήσω, ὅτι ὁ κύριός μου ἀφαιρεῖται τὴν οἰκονομίαν ἀπ’ ἐμοῦ; σκάπτειν οὐκ ἰσχύω, ἐπαιτεῖν αἰσχύνομαι. 4 ἔγνων τί ποιήσω, ἵνα ὅταν μετασταθῶ ἐκ τῆς οἰκονομίας δέξωνταί με εἰς τοὺς οἴκους αὐτῶν.
5 καὶ προσκαλεσάμενος ἕνα ἕκαστον τῶν χρεοφειλετῶν τοῦ κυρίου ἑαυτοῦ ἔλεγεν τῷ πρώτῳ· πόσον ὀφείλεις τῷ κυρίῳ μου; 6 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· ἑκατὸν βάτους ἐλαίου. ὁ δὲ εἶπεν αὐτῷ· δέξαι σου τὰ γράμματα καὶ καθίσας ταχέως γράψον πεντήκοντα. 7 ἔπειτα ἑτέρῳ εἶπεν· σὺ δὲ πόσον ὀφείλεις; ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· ἑκατὸν κόρους σίτου. λέγει αὐτῷ· δέξαι σου τὰ γράμματα καὶ γράψον ὀγδοήκοντα.
8 καὶ ἐπῄνεσεν ὁ κύριος τὸν οἰκονόμον τῆς ἀδικίας ὅτι φρονίμως ἐποίησεν· ὅτι οἱ υἱοὶ τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου φρονιμώτεροι ὑπὲρ τοὺς υἱοὺς τοῦ φωτὸς εἰς τὴν γενεὰν τὴν ἑαυτῶν εἰσιν. 9 Καὶ ἐγὼ ὑμῖν λέγω, ἑαυτοῖς ποιήσατε φίλους ἐκ τοῦ μαμωνᾶ τῆς ἀδικίας, ἵνα ὅταν ἐκλίπῃ δέξωνται ὑμᾶς εἰς τὰς αἰωνίους σκηνάς.
10 Ὁ πιστὸς ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ καὶ ἐν πολλῷ πιστός ἐστιν, καὶ ὁ ἐν ἐλαχίστῳ ἄδικος καὶ ἐν πολλῷ ἄδικός ἐστιν. 11 εἰ οὖν ἐν τῷ ἀδίκῳ μαμωνᾷ πιστοὶ οὐκ ἐγένεσθε, τὸ ἀληθινὸν τίς ὑμῖν πιστεύσει; 12 καὶ εἰ ἐν τῷ ἀλλοτρίῳ πιστοὶ οὐκ ἐγένεσθε, τὸ ὑμέτερον τίς ὑμῖν δώσει; 13 Οὐδεὶς οἰκέτης δύναται δυσὶν κυρίοις δουλεύειν· ἢ γὰρ τὸν ἕνα μισήσει καὶ τὸν ἕτερον ἀγαπήσει, ἢ ἑνὸς ἀνθέξεται καὶ τοῦ ἑτέρου καταφρονήσει. οὐ δύνασθε θεῷ δουλεύειν καὶ μαμωνᾷ.
|1 He proceeded to tell the disciples: “A rich man had a manager, and the manager was accused before the master of wasting his property. 2 And the master called him and said to him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Render your account of your management, for you can’t manage my things any longer.’ 3 The manager said to himself, ‘What will I do, since my master is taking my management position from me? 4 I know what I’ll do, so that when I am dismissed from management, they will welcome me into their households!
5 He summoned each one of his master’s debtors and began to tell the first one, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 He said, ‘One hundred measures of olive oil.’ The manager said to him, ‘Take your bill and quickly sit down and write fifty.’ 7 Then to another one he said, ‘You owe how much?’ He said, ‘One hundred measures of wheat.’ He said, ‘Take your bill and write eighty.’
8 And the Lord praised the crooked manager because he acted prudently, because the children of this age are more prudent in their own generation than the children of light. 9 “And I tell you, ‘Make friends by means of worldly wealth so that when it is used up, they will welcome you into everlasting dwellings.’
10 ‘He who is faithful in little is faithful in much, and he who is dishonest in little is dishonest in much. 11 If therefore you are not faithful with worldly wealth, who will entrust you with true wealth? 12 And if you are not faithful with that which is another’s, who will give you your own? 13 No servant can serve two masters, for he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and worldly wealth.’
This pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-co-pea) or section or unit of Scripture has troubled many commentators, because it seems to draw positive conclusions about worldly things and dishonest actions. (Another title could read: Parable of the Dishonest Manager.) I have distilled some commentaries here, plus my own observations.
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it says of the noun that it means (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
Verse 8 is especially baffling. Who is talking? The master (boss / owner) or the Lord himself? The Greek indicates the Lord Jesus (no possessive pronoun, e.g. “my”). Either way, Luke seems to endorse the lesson drawn from the manager’s shrewd or wise or prudent strategy. No, the master or the Lord did not endorse everything the manager did, but the master or the Lord did draw attention to prudence and wisdom and shrewdness. Can the sons and daughters of light act with shrewdness, wisdom and prudence by means of worldly wealth? How are they to do this?
Here is my boiled-down opinion on the gist of this startling parable. It is an argument from the lesser (the prudent manager or employment in other wealthy household) to the greater (the children of light or disciples or eternal dwellings).
If the manager became generous by compulsion in a crisis (he was about to be fired), so that he would be welcome in his generation’s households, then how much more should Jesus’s disciples freely make friends (especially the poor) by being generous to them with worldly wealth, so that the disciples will be welcome into everlasting dwellings! It is shrewd and wise and prudent to consider how God looks with favor on generosity with worldly wealth. Are you wise and prudent and shrewd enough to see how the kingdom of God works?
The key for me is the word “prudent” (or “shrewd”). The unrighteous manager was shrewd in the ways of the world; now the kingdom citizens, the citizens of the light, must be shrewd in the things of the kingdom. But they must not be dishonest in the kingdom.
Now let’s look at each verse.
Jesus has rounded a rhetorical corner, so to speak, and he is now talking to his disciples, but the Pharisees and teachers of the law are still listening (see v. 14), as they had been in Luke 15. But the main audience is now his disciples.
And so Jesus begins another parable. Literally, the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable.
The phrase “the master” was inserted in this verse to make things clear. By the way, it is the noun kurios (pronounced koo-ree-oss), and in the vast majority of times it refers to Jesus as Lord, but it can be expanded to include worldly bosses and owners or lords. Here it could be translated as “boss” or “owner” of the lending business. It is used five times in this section: vv. 3, 5 (twice), 8, 13. It is not used in v. 1; here I only introduce the concept.
The verb for “wasting” is the same as in the Parable of the Lost Son, when the son spent things recklessly (Luke 15:13). It is the verb is diaskorpizō (pronounced dee-ah-skohr-pea-zoh), and it means “scatter, disperse … waste, squander.”
The owner-boss-lord-master calls the manager in and tells him he is fired. It looks like the manager kept a careful record, which could be used against him. The manager is now in crisis mode. What should he do?
He poses his problem clearly enough to himself in inner dialogue. “What will I do when the boss removes me from my management position—when he takes my job away from me?” He’s too used to an office job to dig ditches, one of the lowliest jobs in an agrarian society. And he’s too proud to beg. Or more literally, he’s ashamed to beg, which was worse than ditch digging in his society. Such a demotion for a manager! It would be like a manager today having to work in a warehouse, loading trucks. Loading trucks per se is not a bad job, but he would have felt humiliated when people figured out his previous employment. How many stories have I heard about managers who get laid off, and they are devasted, as they look for any job they can get.
He is lit up with an extra-clever idea. The Greek indicates a flash of an idea: “I know what I’ll do!” And some translations or paraphrases catch it well. NLT: “I know just the thing!” MSG: Ah! I’ve got a plan.”
“know”: the verb is ginōskō (pronounced gee-noh-skoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). The verb is so common that it is used 222 times in the NT. (Its cognate epiginōskō, pronounced eh-pea-gee-noh-skoh is used 44 times). BDAG has numerous definitions of the verb, depending on the context: (1) “to arrive at a knowledge of someone or something, know, know about, make acquaintance of”; (2) “to acquire information through some means, learn (of), ascertain, find out”; (3) “grasp the significance or meaning of something, understand, comprehend”; (4) “to be aware of something, perceive, notice, realize”; (5) to have sexual intercourse with, sex / marital relations with”; (6) “to have come to the knowledge of, have come to know, know.” (7) “to indicate that one does know, acknowledge, recognize.” So we can know a person, a thing, a fact, an abstract thing like pure math. We can even know God personally or know about him from a distance, like a theological truth. It is best to know him personally. We can know all these things deeply or shallowly. Probably the first definition works here.
His plan final goal is to get managerial employment in the household of others. It turns out in the next three verses that the debtors indicate that they are wealthy too. There was a real possibility that they would be rich enough to hire a manager.
This household notion is important because Jesus is about to say that disciples are supposed to use worldly wealth in such a way that it secures everlasting dwellings—heavenly households, so to speak.
The plan: he summoned each of the debtors, one at a time. Clearly these two men represented many others, but Jesus could not extend the parable indefinitely. The listeners were supposed to assume many debtors.
The amount of olive oil adds up to 875 gallons or 3000 liters, worth; 1000 denarii (and one denarius equaled a day’s wage for a farm laborer), so the amount was huge (NET). We are dealing with a rich businessman-farmer. “The second debtor owed 100 measures of wheat. One cor … was equal to 10 ephahs or 30 sewahs or in modern terms 10-12 bushels or nearly 400 liters … A cor cost about 25-30 denarii … So the debt was between 2,500 denarii and 3,000 denarii—or about 8-10 years’ salary for the average laborer” (Bock, p. 1331).
And the next businessman-farmer owed one hundred measure of wheat, which amounts 10-12 bushels or 390 liters. This was another huge amount a yield coming from 100 acres, a bigger farm than usual. The wheat added up to 2500-3000 denarii (NET). Massive.
In the previous two verses, either one of these debtors had room for a manager, if they wanted to hire him in their household.
So how and why did the manager reduce the debt? Three possibilities: (1) he simply lowered the price based on criteria we don’t know about; (2) the manager removed (exorbitant) interest from the debts. Such interest was illegal to charge to one’s fellow Jews (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:35-37; Deut. 15:7-8; 23:19-20), so he was doing his owner-boss-lord-master a favor by going back to the law; (3) he removed his own commission, which would not have cost the owner-boss-lord-master anything when it was removed (NET). The latter two possibilities are the likeliest. You can decide.
Who is “the kurios” in this verse (see v. 1 for a discussion of what this word means)? It says the “the kurios” without “my kurios,” as it did in vv. 3 and 5. And so often when Luke says “the Lord” he means Jesus (Luke 3:4; 7:13, 19; 10:1, 2, 39, 41; 11:39; 12:42; 13:15 and so on). Yet the flow of the story says that “the Lord” is probably the master-owner-boss. These translations say the owner-master-boss: KJV, NKJV, NASB, NIV, NLT, NCV, CEV, MSG, NET, ESV, in other words, the major translations. Yet the rest of v. 8 slides into Jesus’s comment or Luke’s commentary.
Therefore, whoever the speaker is does not matter so much, because the rest of the verse endorses the manager’s shrewd or wise or prudent behavior, within limits.
“crooked”: this translates the adjective adikos (pronounced ah-dee-koss), and this adjective and its noun cognate adikia (pronounced ah-dee-kee-ah) appear in this passage five times: vv. 8, 9, 10 (twice), 11. The a– prefix is the negation (“not” or “un-”) and the dik– stem means “righteous, “just,” “fair,” “honest,” and so on. So it could be translated as “crooked,” “dishonest,” “unjust,” “unfair,” or “unrighteous.”
8 Righteousness of the Kingdom
“this age”: the noun and adjective have versatile meanings, but it is clear that “eternal” is attached to God; apart from that modification it mostly means “a long time” or “an age.”
What Do Words ‘Eternity,’ ‘Eternal’ Fully Mean in the Bible?
“prudent”: it comes from the adjective phronimos (pronounced fraw-nee-moss), and it simply means “sensible, thoughtful, prudent, wise … shrewd.” So it is not necessarily a bad quality, yet the speaker called him a “manager of adikia” (unrighteousness). He is a man of the world, who does not observe the law closely. He is an unrighteous but clever manager.
“Jesus also laments that the children of this world show more concern for their security of their earthly existence and act more decisively to guarantee it than the children of light do in securing their eternal existence” (Garland, p. 650)
So in prudence (practical wisdom), the children of this age are wiser or cleverer than the children of light. In which way specifically? The speaker tells us. In one way only: the manager acted cleverly, wisely, prudently, sensibly, and thoughtfully. His adikia is not praised, but his thoughtful strategy is.
Kingdom disciples are supposed to make friends by means of worldly wealth. Who are the friends (“they”)? It could be generic for anyone, but in Luke’s Gospel poor people or poverty are often contrasted with rich persons or wealth (Luke 6:20-26; 14:17-23; 16:19-31; 18:18-22; 19:8; 21:1-4). So the generosity is supposed to be directed towards the poor, not rich businessmen-farmers. Either way, children of the light are exhorted (strongly urged) to use the cleverness or prudence or wisdom found in the dishonest manager and make friends through money. But is money pure through and through? Apparently not in all cases, as seen here:
“worldly wealth”: it translates the noun mamōnas (pronounced ah-moh-nahs); it is an Aramaic term that was imported into Greek. It means “property” or “wealth.” It can be personified as Mammon (Luke 16:13 and Matt. 6:24). Here it could be translated as “wealth of unrighteousness” or “unrighteous wealth” because of the Greek phrase mamōnas of adikia.
When worldly wealth runs out or is used up as it always happens, especially after one dies (!), a disciple’s generosity will secure for him everlasting “dwellings” or “homes” (literally “tents”).
Before looking at other applications in this pericope, let’s take stock.
The parable boils down to these elements, contrasting the children of this age with the children of light:
(1). The inner motivational strategy is the same: prudence or shrewdness;
(2). The underlying means are the same: worldly wealth;
(3). However, the goals are different: a worldly household vs. a heavenly household.
(4). Therefore, the argument goes from the lesser (worldly household) to the greater (heavenly household).
It’s the two goals (no. 3) that makes the decisive and clarifying difference between the children of this age and the children of light. Therefore, the first two elements (nos. 1 and 2), though similar on the surface, will have different directions: using prudence and money either for an earthbound goal or for a heavenly goal. When the manager reduces the bills of rich farmer-businessmen, he expresses a form of generosity, but it is different from the generosity that children of the light are called to implement. How so?
The two different goals (no. 3) lend credence to the idea that children of the light are supposed to use worldly wealth to help the poor and to advance the kingdom. (Recall that wealthy women supported Jesus and his ministry in Luke 8:1-3.) And so children of the light are not to use money with shrewdness to help rich businessmen-farmers, as the manager did—a child of his age. The contrast between the children of this age and the children of light is stark. But how are children of the light supposed to use worldly, unrighteous money? That question is answered shortly.
“everlasting”: go to v. 8 and look for “this age” (aiōnios).
Jesus proceeds to speak four statements of opposites, two of which are rhetorical questions that demand one answer.
(1). In v. 10, Jesus pairs up two opposites.
Paraphrase: The faithful person in small things is faithful in big things vs. the dishonest person in small things is dishonest in big things.
The word faithful here means “trustworthy” and “reliable.”
Word Study on Faith and Faithfulness
The word dishonest here is the adik– word again, and see v. 8 for more comments.
(2). In v. 11, Jesus repeats the “unrighteous mammon” idea again (see v. 9 for more comments).
Paraphrase: If you are not faithful in worldly wealth, who will entrust you with true wealth?
So this rhetorical question does not need an opposite pair, because the question requires the answer: “no one will entrust you with money.” The last word wealth is inserted, because the Greek just says “the true.” Wealth is implied from the context (the previous clause in this verse).
(3). In v. 12 the same idea is repeated from v. 11.
Paraphrase: If you are not faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you your own?
Translations insert the word wealth again, which is surely right, but the Greek is silent about that. It is more impersonal. So it is open-ended. What things are you appointed caretaker over? Is it your child? Your job?
In any case, the rhetorical question requires the answer: “no one will give you anything.”
(4). Now we return to an opposite pairing. No servant can serve two masters. Why not?
Paraphrase: Either he will hate one and love the other vs. he will be loyal to one and despise the other.
Who are the two masters? Jesus reveal them: God vs. Mammon. The Shorter Lexicon suggests that here Mammon should be personified or turned into a personal being of some kind, as if it is lurking to devour you. In Gen. 4:7 sin is depicted as crouching, lurking by the door, ready to attack Cain.
Then Jesus ends this section with a clear and forceful statement. You cannot—are unable—to serve God and Mammon.
The Greek word for serve is more closely related “to be a slave to.” Whose slave are you?
So in those four verses, we see this pattern:
Paring of Opposites
Pairing of Opposites
This brief structure is designed to emphasize the meaning. In the elliptical Gospels, including Matthew and Mark, we are required to focus on the meaning and content, and if a literary structure directs our attention to focus on what matters, then the authors will use it.
Finally, 1 Tim. 6:17-19 is relevant:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works and to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life (1 Tim. 6:17-19, ESV).
So the rich converts to Christianity are called to use their money generously, do good with it, and to be rich in good works, so they can store up for themselves treasures in heaven.
Be faithful with worldly wealth, but don’t serve it. Let it serve God, and you should serve God. And then you can stand on top of money, as you look up to God.
Garland seems on target: “Disciples should learn from the children of the world, who act boldly and decisively to ensure their earthly future, also to act boldly and decisively—but to ensure their eternal future. As this agent recognizes his crisis and moves shrewdly to hedge his security in this world, so disciples should shrewdly use their worldly possession, which are only on temporary loan from God, in deeds of mercy to store up treasures for themselves in heaven” (p. 638). I could add “deeds of financial generosity” to store up treasures in heaven.
Here are simple equations:
The children of light > The children of this generation (children of light are greater than the children of this generation)
Shrewdness / prudence in the kingdom of God > Shrewdness / prudence in the world’s system (kingdom shrewdness or prudence or savvy is greater than those things in the world)
Children of light using unrighteous mammon to make friends > The manager using unrighteous mammon to make friends (kingdom children use money more shrewdly than did the manager) Why? Because eternity is at stake. The manager was bogged down in self-interest without looking towards eternity.
Making friends to secure eternal dwellings > Making friends in the manager’s life to provide security in the world’s system (to secure eternal dwellings is better and greater than securing a place in this age that is doomed to pass away)
So how do the children of light one use worldly wealth or unrighteous mammon to make friends?
Do the opposite of what the rich man will do to Lazarus (vv. 19-31). If the rich man had used his money to help impoverished and abused Lazarus, he would have secured eternal dwellings in heaven. No, money does not buy access to Abraham’s bosom, but it does show the fruit of repentance and a maturity and growth in righteousness. “Faith without works is dead” (Jas. 2:26).
Bottom line: be generous with worldly wealth, and God will notice. “And he [the angel] replied to him [Cornelius], ‘Your prayers and acts of generosity have gone up as a memorial, right in front of God’” (Acts 10:4).
GrowApp for Luke 16:1-13
A.. Study 1 Tim. 6:10 and 17-19. How are rich Christians called to use worldly wealth to secure treasures in heaven?
B.. We are supposed to see ourselves in parables. How do you prudently use worldly money, in order to secure heavenly dwellings?
C.. Are you trustworthy or untrustworthy in handling worldly wealth to help the poor and advance the kingdom of God? Explain.
The Law and the Kingdom of God (Luke 16:14-18)
|14 Ἤκουον δὲ ταῦτα πάντα οἱ Φαρισαῖοι φιλάργυροι ὑπάρχοντες καὶ ἐξεμυκτήριζον αὐτόν. 15 καὶ εἶπεν αὐτοῖς· ὑμεῖς ἐστε οἱ δικαιοῦντες ἑαυτοὺς ἐνώπιον τῶν ἀνθρώπων, ὁ δὲ θεὸς γινώσκει τὰς καρδίας ὑμῶν· ὅτι τὸ ἐν ἀνθρώποις ὑψηλὸν βδέλυγμα ἐνώπιον τοῦ θεοῦ.
16 Ὁ νόμος καὶ οἱ προφῆται μέχρι Ἰωάννου· ἀπὸ τότε ἡ βασιλεία τοῦ θεοῦ εὐαγγελίζεται καὶ πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται. 17 εὐκοπώτερον δέ ἐστιν τὸν οὐρανὸν καὶ τὴν γῆν παρελθεῖν ἢ τοῦ νόμου μίαν κεραίαν πεσεῖν.
18 Πᾶς ὁ ἀπολύων τὴν γυναῖκα αὐτοῦ καὶ γαμῶν ἑτέραν μοιχεύει, καὶ ὁ ἀπολελυμένην ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς γαμῶν μοιχεύει.
|14 The money-loving Pharisees were listening to all these things and were ridiculing him. 15 And he said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves before God, but God knows your heart because that which is exalted among people is detestable before God.
16 The law and prophets were until John; from here on, the kingdom of God is proclaimed as good news, and everyone is urgently invited into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of the law to fail.
18 Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the one who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
Tying in the previous section and the next one about the Rich Man and Lazarus with these series of statements is difficult to pin down. This section here seems unrelated. After reviewing the options, Bock writes:
A better approach is to tie the section together by the theme of Jesus’ values and authority. Tiede [another commentator] shows that the authority of God’s kingdom should influence one’s value. The kingdom causes one (1) to renounced divided loyalties (16:10-13), (2) have idolatries revealed (16:14-15), and (3) raise standards of obedience (16:18). The issue of how 16:16-17 the picture is not clear from this perspective. Perhaps the point is that promise and authority have come in the kingdom and in Jesus’ teaching. Yet the kingdom’s coming fulfills the law’s promise and still calls for ethical living. The kingdom picture is crucial here, and the issue of Jesus’ authority and its values it leads to unifies the passage. (pp. 1344-45)
And Stein writes about the puzzle of finding a unifying theme in this passage and the previous one and the next one:
The tie between these early verses and the remaining ones (16:16–18), however, is unclear. It has been suggested that the last one dealing with divorce might be connected either to 16:16–17 as an example of how the law was not made void or to 16:9–15 as an example of how to handle possessions, since first-century wives were thought of more as possessions. It has also been suggested that these verses may have been placed here in order to prepare for the following parable that refers to the law and the prophets (cf. 16:27–31). Quite likely Luke brought together various sayings of Jesus in this section that stood isolated in the tradition to help his readers understand what it means to act “shrewdly” in light of the final judgment. (p. 416)
As usual, Bock is reasonable. If we pull the lens of the camera back, the ethical values and demands of the kingdom unites this passage with the previous one and the next one. But to look for a closer connection will come up empty.
“ridiculing”: it literally means “turning up their noses” at him. They loved money, and the previous pericope or section, challenged them to see money as an implement or tool to do good and secure future, eternal dwellings. Money is not the problem, but the love of money is the problem. 1 Tim. 6:10 says, “The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” (ESV). Be faithful with worldly wealth, but don’t serve it. As noted, it should serve God, and you should serve God. And then you can stand on top of money, as you look up to him.
“Pharisees”: You can learn more about them at this post:
Quick Reference to Jewish Groups in Gospels and Acts
They were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (cf. Garland, p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, ESV). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
Now what about Jesus replying to them instead of cowering away (in v. 15, next)?
As noted in previous chapters, first-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Here the confrontation is both verbal and acted out. Jesus healed the man with dropsy, so he won the actual confrontation, and this victory opened the door to his verbal victory with religious leaders who were binding people up with traditions. They needed to be loosed from them. Jesus shamed the leaders to silence. He won. It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back. But here he replied to the religious leaders and defeated them and their bad traditions. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus!
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse or baristas or clerks in the service industry. Discuss things with him or her.
“justify”: This is the verb dikaioō, (pronounced dee-ky-o-oh), and BDAG, considered the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, offers these definitions of the verb, depending on the context: (1) “to take up a legal cause, show justice, do justice, take up a cause”; (2) to render a favorable verdict, vindicate or treat as just, justify (3) “to cause someone to be released from personal or institutional claims that are no longer to be considered pertinent or valid, make free / pure”; “to demonstrate to be morally right, prove to be right, e.g. God is proved to be right (e.g. Rom. 3:4; 1 Tim. 3:16). In some contexts, it can mean to practice righteousness (Rom. 6:7; 1 Cor. 4:4; Luke 18:14). The verb is used when God justifies the sinner after he repents and puts his faith in Christ. That direction goes from God (subject) to man (object). Here, however, the verb goes from man (subject) to God (object). The Pharisees believed they were vindicated before God. However, God knew their hearts and looked past their external, religious shows. And he said they were not vindicated or justified.
Justification: What It Is and What It Is Not
“knows”: see v. 4 for a formal definition. God is omniscient, so he breaks through all the definitions.
“exalted … detestable”: it expresses the Great Reversal in the Gospel of Luke. In 1:51-53 Mary sang that Jesus and his kingdom would bring down the high and mighty and raise up the poor and humble. In 2:34, Simeon prophesied that Jesus was appointed for the rising and falling of many in Israel. Here the Pharisees believed they were vindicated before God, so they were exalted—self-exalted. However, before God they are an abomination or detestable. Those are strong words, but when they were publicly ridiculing him, he had to take action and expose them for what they were: pious before people, but wrong before God. The kingdom of God’s mission was to reverse or overturn (defective) common beliefs. Jesus would cause the fall of the mighty and the rise of the needy, and the rich would be lowered, and the poor raised up. It is the down elevator and up elevator. Those at the top will take the down elevator, and those at the bottom will take the up elevator.
“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only men. However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context. In Luke 2:25; 4:33; 6:6; 7:8, for example, the context says one man or male. So “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say.
Verse 16 says people are pressed to enter the kingdom. Does this mean loss of free will, or is something else at work in the verb?
The “law and prophets” mean the entire Old Testament. It was in force until John and now a shift is happening. John represents the old order, and Jesus is the embodiment of the new order. The Old Testament was built on laws and rules to compel people to remain within the Sinai Covenant, while the gospel is being proclaimed to compel people to enter the New Covenant for the first time. Abraham in the next parable (16:29) says that Moses and the prophets are sufficient to teach people to repent. It is an allusion to these Pharisees that if they truly believed in the law and prophets, they too would repent and follow Jesus.
What Does the New Covenant Retain from the Old?
Do Christians Have to ‘Keep’ the Ten Commandments?
Ten Commandments: God’s Great Compromise with Humanity’s Big Failure
One Decisive Difference Between Sinai Covenant and New Covenant
“kingdom of God”: What is it? As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5).
It also includes the Great Reversal in Luke 1:51-53, where Mary said that Jesus and his kingdom were bringing to the world. The powerful and people of high status are brought low, while the humble and those of low status are raised up. It also fulfills the reversal in 2:34, where Simeon prophesied that Jesus was appointed for the rising and falling of many. It is the right-side-up kingdom, but upside-down from a worldly perspective.
Here it is the already and not-yet. The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
5 The Kingdom of God: Already Here, But Not Yet Fully
Bible Basics about the Kingdom of God
Questions and Answers about Kingdom of God
Basic Definition of Kingdom of God
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
“proclaimed as good news”: as noted in previous verses in Luke, the phrase is one verb in Greek: euangelizō (pronounced eu-ahn-geh-lee-zoh, and the “g” is hard, as in “get”). Eu– means “good,” and angel means “announcement” or “news”; and izō is the verb form. (Greek adds the suffix -iz- and changes the noun to the verb and we do too, as in “modern” to “modernize”). Awkwardly but literally it means “good-news-ize,” as in “Let’s ‘good-news-ize’ them!”
Here the good news stands in contrast to the law and prophets. And it is so powerful that it compels people to enter the kingdom.
“everyone”: it is either rhetorical hyperbole, which means strategic exaggeration to make a point (see Luke 6:41-42 for another example of hyperbole), or it refers to the Gentiles, much like the Parable of the Great Banquet included them as the final invitees (Luke 14:15-24). In the culture Jesus was speaking to, people could be born into the Chosen People, and when the Israelite kings reigned in the past, the Israelites were born into the kingdom of God (of sorts). The gospel, on the other hand, must be preached and people must be compelled by powerful persuasion to enter it. It shakes and upsets people to their core. No more kingdom privileges by natural birth.
“pressed”: it comes from the verb biazō (pronounced bee-ah-zoh), and I take it to be passive (the Greek form of the verb in this verse can be passive or middle). But I went back and forth on the optional translations, until I finally settled on mine.
Here in 16:16, as the forerunner, John the Baptist powerfully proclaimed Jesus who was the groundbreaking pioneer and “usher” of the kingdom. John was the servant, while Jesus was the master of the kingdom. Both of them strongly urged people by compelling preaching to enter the kingdom.
See this post for more exegesis.
“Everyone Is Pressed into” the Kingdom
Will heaven and earth pass away? Heaven and earth will be re-created (2 Pet. 3:7, 10-13), but it will not pass away completely. God will rebuild and remake it along similar lines. Objection: then why did Jesus say this? Reply: this is hyperbole or a rhetorical device to startle the listener. He is simply saying that you can rely on God backing up his law. His law is reliable. Jesus’s words are also eternally reliable (see Luke 21:33).
“one stroke”: The Greek here actually means “one horn.” Some Hebrew letters have the tiniest stroke going upwards, like a horn. So this is, rhetorically speaking, an extra-strong statement about the law. Though I don’t know Hebrew very well at all, here are a few letters. Look for the tiniest upward stroke.
So what is retained from the old Sinai Covenant Scriptures (Old Testament)? That is a subject of debate. More law-oriented teachers say many things are retained. They believe in “strong continuity.” More grace-oriented teachers say very few things are. They adhere to discontinuity. As I read the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament), here is what is and is not retained:
Therefore, the good news is that even through the ancient cultural context God superintended the Bible to reveal who he was and who we are in relation to him. Some Bible interpreters believe in strong continuity between the Torah and the NT, while others believe in weak continuity.
However, as the old saying goes:
The New is in the Old concealed, and the Old is in the New revealed.
Jesus is the fulfillment of all of the discarded and retained items in the list in the links below. How? He kept them and they get “channeled” into him, so to speak. Picture him on the cross, and all of those items flowing into him, one at a time. And now he shows us how to keep the retained items. All we have to do is follow him and walk in the Spirit. And we can read the Old Testament through the filter of the New.
How Jesus Christ Fulfills the Law: Matthew 5:17-19
How Christians Should Interpret the Old Testament
Before we begin, it is imperative that you belong to a church and ask them about their divorce policy. I’m just a teacher with no pastoral oversight, but I merely teach what I believe the Scriptures tell us.
Please note: Many of my comments here are taken from my earlier one at Matt. 5:31-32, but with some edits for this pericope or section of Scripture. You can click back there for different emphases.
Now let’s begin.
This verse comes out of the blue, or so it seems. How is it connected to the rest of the pericope? NT specialists don’t like to read between the lines, so they assume Luke cobbled together this verse without much thought to context of the flow of the narrative. However, I’m not a member of that tribe, so I will attempt to read between the lines.
I believe these specific Pharisees who were tagging along and looking for their chance to put Jesus down may have been in dialogue with him, or someone may have reported to him that these Pharisees, who were rich, strutted around and used the law of Moses for their own benefits. These rich men may have divorced their wives and made arrangements to marry younger and possibly richer women. The men’s money ensured they got a good deal in their arranged marriages. Of course this is speculation, but Jesus is in the process of rebuking these Pharisees who were laughing at him. Rich men can do much of what they want, then as well as now. Perhaps their Mosaic liberty about divorce and money led these men to get divorces.
I have looked at divorce in the NT already, in a separate post, here:
Brief Overview of Divorce and Remarriage in New Testament
Jesus was helping womankind from frivolous divorces, which always seemed to favor the man.
Bottom line: Marriage is a covenant not only between the man and the woman, but between God, the man and the woman. Involve God in your marriage. If you do not, then sin enters and destroys the covenant, and civil, legal divorce may ensue.
Go to church, get counseling, and pray! Divorce—break the three-person covenant—is the last resort!
GrowApp for Luke 16:14-18
A.. Have you ever exalted something that you found out later was displeasing to God? How did you come to realize this? How did you correct your misunderstanding?
B.. How did God compel your heart to enter the kingdom of God? What is your story?
Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
|19 Ἄνθρωπος δέ τις ἦν πλούσιος, καὶ ἐνεδιδύσκετο πορφύραν καὶ βύσσον εὐφραινόμενος καθ’ ἡμέραν λαμπρῶς. 20 πτωχὸς δέ τις ὀνόματι Λάζαρος ἐβέβλητο πρὸς τὸν πυλῶνα αὐτοῦ εἱλκωμένος 21 καὶ ἐπιθυμῶν χορτασθῆναι ἀπὸ τῶν πιπτόντων ἀπὸ τῆς τραπέζης τοῦ πλουσίου· ἀλλὰ καὶ οἱ κύνες ἐρχόμενοι ἐπέλειχον τὰ ἕλκη αὐτοῦ.
22 ἐγένετο δὲ ἀποθανεῖν τὸν πτωχὸν καὶ ἀπενεχθῆναι αὐτὸν ὑπὸ τῶν ἀγγέλων εἰς τὸν κόλπον Ἀβραάμ· ἀπέθανεν δὲ καὶ ὁ πλούσιος καὶ ἐτάφη. 23 καὶ ἐν τῷ ᾅδῃ ἐπάρας τοὺς ὀφθαλμοὺς αὐτοῦ, ὑπάρχων ἐν βασάνοις, ὁρᾷ Ἀβραὰμ ἀπὸ μακρόθεν καὶ Λάζαρον ἐν τοῖς κόλποις αὐτοῦ. 24 καὶ αὐτὸς φωνήσας εἶπεν· πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἐλέησόν με καὶ πέμψον Λάζαρον ἵνα βάψῃ τὸ ἄκρον τοῦ δακτύλου αὐτοῦ ὕδατος καὶ καταψύξῃ τὴν γλῶσσάν μου, ὅτι ὀδυνῶμαι ἐν τῇ φλογὶ ταύτῃ. 25 εἶπεν δὲ Ἀβραάμ· τέκνον, μνήσθητι ὅτι ἀπέλαβες τὰ ἀγαθά σου ἐν τῇ ζωῇ σου, καὶ Λάζαρος ὁμοίως τὰ κακά· νῦν δὲ ὧδε παρακαλεῖται, σὺ δὲ ὀδυνᾶσαι. 26 καὶ ἐν πᾶσιν τούτοις μεταξὺ ἡμῶν καὶ ὑμῶν χάσμα μέγα ἐστήρικται, ὅπως οἱ θέλοντες διαβῆναι ἔνθεν πρὸς ὑμᾶς μὴ δύνωνται, μηδὲ ἐκεῖθεν πρὸς ἡμᾶς διαπερῶσιν. 27 εἶπεν δέ· ἐρωτῶ σε οὖν, πάτερ, ἵνα πέμψῃς αὐτὸν εἰς τὸν οἶκον τοῦ πατρός μου, 28 ἔχω γὰρ πέντε ἀδελφούς, ὅπως διαμαρτύρηται αὐτοῖς, ἵνα μὴ καὶ αὐτοὶ ἔλθωσιν εἰς τὸν τόπον τοῦτον τῆς βασάνου. 29 λέγει δὲ Ἀβραάμ· ἔχουσιν Μωϋσέα καὶ τοὺς προφήτας· ἀκουσάτωσαν αὐτῶν. 30 ὁ δὲ εἶπεν· οὐχί, πάτερ Ἀβραάμ, ἀλλ’ ἐάν τις ἀπὸ νεκρῶν πορευθῇ πρὸς αὐτοὺς μετανοήσουσιν. 31 εἶπεν δὲ αὐτῷ· εἰ Μωϋσέως καὶ τῶν προφητῶν οὐκ ἀκούουσιν, οὐδ’ ἐάν τις ἐκ νεκρῶν ἀναστῇ πεισθήσονται.
|19 “A rich man clothed himself with purple cloth and fine linen, celebrating each day in ostentatious luxury. 20 And a poor man named Lazarus, who had sores, was laid at his gate. 21 And he yearned to be fed from the things falling from the rich man’s table. Instead, even dogs were coming and licking his sores!
22 “And it happened that the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. And the rich man died and was buried. 23 And while he was in torment in hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham a long way off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out and said, ‘Father Abraham, pity me and send Lazarus so that he would dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am suffering in these flames!’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you enjoyed your good things in your life, and Lazarus likewise bad things. Now he is comforted here, and you are in misery. 26 Besides all these things, a huge chasm is fixed between us and you, so that those wanting to cross over from here to you are unable; neither could they go over from there to us!’ 27 Then he said, ‘Then I ask you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he would warn them, so that they do not come to this place of torment!’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. They should listen to them!’ 30 Then he said, ‘No, father Abraham! But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead!’”
Jesus is still addressing his disciples, but the money-loving Pharisees were listening to him. This parable is directed at them (and by extension to us today).
So is this a true account about real people or just a parable? I say it is a parable that should not be overanalyzed for the details of hell and paradise, and so do the majority of major commentators See this post for excerpts of their opinions and my own:
Rich Man and Lazarus: True Events or Just a Parable?
Incidentally, this Lazarus has nothing to do with Martha and Mary’s brother (Luke 10:38-42; John 11; 12:9-11).
The parable unfolds in three parts:
What Happened on Earth (19-21)
The Reversal in the Afterlife (22-23)
The Dialogue between Abraham and the Rich Man (24-31)
The reader can subdivide this pericope or section even further, if he or she wants.
One final comment about the Great Reversal: in Luke 1:51-53 Mary sang that the poor and humble would be raised up, while the rich and powerful would be brought low. In Luke 2:34, Simeon prophesied that Jesus was appointed for the rising and falling of many. Here in this story, the rich man started out on the high perch on earth, and Lazarus was on the lowest of the low. When the story ends in the afterlife, their positions will be reversed. The kingdom of God startles and overturns (reverses) (defective) traditional beliefs.
Luke’s Greco-Roman auditors would have been impressed with this reversal, because for them the rich and powerful were blessed by the gods. And in Jewish thought, the poor may have been being punished by God’s judgment (think of Job).
These verses set up the stark contrast between the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus means “God helps,” and that may be why he is given a name in the story. Jesus’s original and informed Jewish audience would have known this. It was a common name: the third most popular name among Palestinian Jews 330 BCE to 200 A.D. (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospel as Eyewitness Testimony [Eerdman’s 2006], p. 85). So we should not make too much of the fact that this man is the only named character in all of Jesus’s parable.
Some older preachers used to call the rich man Dives, but this is simply a Latin term for “rich man.”
“purple”: it speaks of aristocratic and especially royal clothes. Lydia, a very early convert to the Jesus Movement, sold purple dye and clothes (Acts 16:11-15). She appeared wealthy by her hosting and leading meetings.
Lazarus yearned or longed to be fed from the rich man’s table. The rich man did not go out of his way to feed him. Lazarus didn’t get the scraps; instead, he got the dogs licking his boiled sores. Job was struck by loathsome boils (Job 2:7). It is the same Greek word here in this parable and in the Septuagint (3rd century B.C. Greek translation from the Hebrew and pronounced sep-too-ah-gent) of Job.
The rich man was not denounced for his money per se, but as the story unfolds, he will come across as arrogant, as he tells Abraham to do favors for him or to send Lazarus to be his personal messenger. Or he was simply desperate in the afterlife, as Lazarus was in his earthly life.
“yearned”: it is the same verb here as in Luke 15:16, when the lost son yearned to be fed with the pigs’ food. It is the verb epithumeō (pronounced eh-pea-thoo-meh-oh and used 16 times). BDAG says it means, depending on the context: (1) “to have a strong desire to do or secure something, desire”; (2) “to have sexual interest in someone, desire.” The noun is epithumia (pronounced eh-pea-thoo-mee-ah), and BDAG says it means, depending on the context: (1) “a great desire for something, desire, longing, craving” (and one can do this with good or bad things); (2) a desire for something forbidden or simply inordinate, craving, lust” (so this is always bad).
Here Lazarus longed to be fed, in the passive construction. His sores were so bad that he couldn’t get up and take action.
“Lazarus desires food and gets only the embarrassing attention of unclean animals. Bu all observable criteria, one would conclude that the rich man is blessed and Lazarus is not. Lazarus never speaks in the parable; he suffers alone and in silence” (Bock, p. 1367).
The story takes a startling turn. They both died around the same time—further proof that this is simply a story and not a true account about real people. For Jesus’s story to be effective, they had to die at the same time.
The poor man did not get a burial, but the rich man did. The laconic parable implies that he got a traditional burial suitable for a rich man, complete with his family and friends in attendance. So what happened to Lazarus. Unknown, but he may have been thrown in a mass grave or for sure an unmarked one, unattended and unwept.
Abraham’s side speaks of paradise. Some teachers—even churches—say this was a “holding area” for the righteous believers (OT saints) to be kept until Jesus brought about redemption on the cross and then his burial and resurrection and ascension. Then he went to paradise after he died and before he was raised from the dead; he preached to the inhabitants there and led them out of paradise and into heaven, including Abraham. So this doctrine assumes there were two compartments in the afterlife: hades and Abraham’s bosom. Now what? Apparently, this doctrine teaches that after Jesus entered into heaven, Abraham’s bosom (paradise) must have disappeared or “got absorbed” into heaven, while hades still exists. But it is not clear from Scripture what happened to Abraham’s bosom (paradise). Nonetheless, other Scriptures support the idea that Jesus really went down to one or both of the compartments and preached and led righteous believers up into heaven.
10. Do I Really Know Jesus? Did He Descend into Hades to Preach?
However, the interpretation taken here is that this parable is a story (not a true account about real people), and Jesus was merely using popular belief about the afterlife for the earthbound purpose of doing righteous deeds before one dies and the Great Reversal in the afterlife. Therefore, from this parable we should not base far-reaching doctrine about the details of the afterlife.
Instead, other Scriptures teach that punishment will be handed out to the unrighteous unbelievers only at the final judgment, not immediately after they die. So what happens to them immediately after they die and before the final judgment is not clear from Scripture. They may indeed be placed in a nonpunishment “holding area” until the final judgment, when their punishments will finally be decided. Alternatively, some teach that unbelievers will indeed be thrown into hades and punished in fire until they are finally judged, and their eternal punishment will be decided then and to which degree they will be punished. This latter view may be the better one.
Are There Degrees of Punishment, Rewards after Final Judgment?
Please read a three-part series, each of which has plenty of Scriptural support:
1. Hell and Punishment: Eternal, Conscious Torment
2. Hell and Punishment: Terminal Punishment
3. Hell and Punishment: Universalism
Charismatic theologian and Presbyterian minister J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams did not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism).
However, if you insist on taking the darkness and the fire literally, then you may certainly do so.
Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
For the believers in Jesus, however, they immediately go into heaven after they die to await their rewards (or no rewards) at the judgment for Christians. At this judgment, no believer in Jesus will be thrown into hades, but will remain in heaven and be rewarded (or not) according to the deeds they did in their bodies or on earth.
What Will Heaven Be Like for You?
Ten Biblical Truths about Your New Body
“Hades”: The term is not as clear in the details as we have been taught. It is mentioned 10 times in the NT: Matt. 11:23; 16:18; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14. And Matt. 11:23 // Luke 10:15 are parallels, so the number of distinct times is actually nine. And hades is not elaborated on in detail, and not even in Revelation, except for some symbolic usage. Hades will even be thrown in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14).
Let’s take a brief look at the term.
In Matt. 11:23 and Luke 10:15, Jesus pronounced judgment on various towns, which will be brought down to hades. No elaboration on what hades is.
In Matt. 16:18, Jesus said the gates of hades will not prevail against the church, again without elaboration on what it is.
Luke 16:23, the term is found in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, and hades in this parable expresses the standard Jewish and Greco-Roman view of the afterlife, with only a little description, such as fire and torment. Yet most scholars believe that parables are not a firm foundation on which to build gigantic doctrines about the afterlife. One scholar reasonably concludes that this story about a rich man getting what he deserves is a Jewish religious folktale, which Jesus adopted and adapted for the purpose of telling the earthbound point that one should be kind with money.
Once again, see my post on the Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
Rich Man and Lazarus: True Events or Just a Parable?
In Acts 2:27, 31 the word is found in a quotation from the Old Testament (Ps. 16:8-11), and hades translates the Hebrew word sheol, which can mean “the grave,” “the pit” or “realm of the dead.” So the detailed description of hades is not entirely clear in those two verses.
Rev. 1:18 says Jesus has the keys to death and hades, without explaining what hades is.
In Rev. 6:8, after the fourth seal was open, death rode on a horse, and hades followed him. So the terms are highly symbolic.
In Rev. 20:13-14, death and hades gave up their dead, the people were judged, and thrown into the lake of fire, and even death and hades were thrown into it.
Therefore, we must be careful about strutting on the platform at church and preaching as if hades and final punishment are unambiguous.
Bible Basics about the Final Judgment
The rich man is desperate, and he calls Abraham and orders him to order Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in the water. No, let’s not get bogged down into how much water and which kind of water it was. This simply a story element. It shows the rich man’s suffering and arrogance to boss around Abraham. Or maybe the rich man was desperate, and this prompted him to boss around the patriarch.
Incidentally, the verb for dip is baptō (pronounced bahp-toh), and it is related to baptize. To baptize is to dip (not sprinkle).
Also, when people die, they do not take their bodies with them, but leave it behind in the grave. They will be reunited with their bodies at the ends of the age, at the second coming. Instead, after everyone dies, they have a kind of noncorporeal spirit that looks like their appearance on earth. The bodily element in this story is designed simply to highlight the suffering. This is one more reason to interpret this parable as a story, not a clear teaching on doctrine.
Outside of this parable, the teaching portions of Scriptures (however few they are) about the afterlife are silent on whether people can communicate with each other between paradise and hades. Whatever happened to paradise after Jesus emptied it of believers (says one theory), it is not likely that people can communicate between hades and heaven. This is why, once again, it is important not to overinterpret the details about hades and Abraham’s side in this story. Jesus is simply using popular belief about the afterlife to paint a vivid picture of the Great Reversal. Maybe God wants us to focus instead on our life on earth, to be sure we are following Jesus, so we don’t experience the Great Reversal in the afterlife or here on earth.
One can believe in the flames of hades and still believe in the other two theories (annihilationism and restorationism). All three theories teach that the flames of hades exist. The question is, once again, the duration of the punishment. More and more evangelicals are coming around to the belief that the duration is not eternal, particularly for your kindhearted grandmother who never got around to accepting Jesus before she died.
Once again, the communication between hades and Abraham’s side is just a story element. It is not to be overinterpreted as clear doctrine.
It is interesting that Abraham calls the rich man “child.” It shows at least a little pity.
Abraham points out that the rich man enjoyed “your good things in your life.” The rich man lived without God or at least a very self-centered life.
Lazarus received bad things in his life, and now the Great Reversal is spelled out clearly in v. 25. The rich man took the elevator (lift) down, while Lazarus took the elevator (lift) up.
Now let’s look at the noun life more closely. It is very versatile.
It is the noun zoē (pronounced zoh-ay, and girls are named after it, e.g. Zoey). BDAG says that it has two senses, depending on the context: a physical life (e.g. life and breath) and a transcendent life. By physical life the editors mean the period from birth to death, human activity, a way or manner of living, a period of usefulness, earning a living. By transcendent life the lexicographers mean these four elements: first, God himself is life and offers us everlasting life. Second, Christ is life, who received life from God, and now we can receive life from Christ. Third, it is new life of holiness and righteousness and grace. God’s life filling us through Christ changes our behavior. Fourth, zoē means life in the age to come, or eschatological life. So our new life now will continue into the next age, which God fully and finally ushers in when Christ returns. We will never experience mere existence or permanent death, but we will be fully and eternally alive in God.
A great gulf separates paradise (Abraham’s bosom) and hades. No human can go back and forth. This is the dimensional element of the story. Many old-school preachers said hades was below the earth or in the earth (they made much of the lava pouring out, once in a while). However, it is not clear where hades and the lake of fire are, in the spirit world, but they take on some sort of dimension, both spatial and location, in the invisible world.
Maybe Scripture is not as clear about the afterlife as we want, because God is telling us that it is none of our business. The only things we have to know are these:
Hades = bad;
Heaven = good;
Jesus = the way to heaven
Living life for yourself = the way to hades.
“If the righteous and unrighteous do not mix in the afterlife, then the possibility of being saved after death is excluded” (Bock, p. 1373).
What Happens at Judgment to People Who Never Heard Gospel?
The rich man takes up his own cause again. He asks (not bosses) Abraham to send Lazarus (the Greek just reads “him”) on a trip from paradise to the earth to communicate with the living—his five brothers. Once again hades is described as the place of torment.
Moses and the prophets = the entire Old Testament. The Torah, associated with Moses, was placed first, while the prophets were placed last, in the Septuagint (the third to first century B.C. translation of the Hebrew Bible into Greek, and pronounced Sep-too-ah-gent).
The five brothers should listen to or pay attention or heed them.
Then the rich man contradicts the great patriarch who embodies paradise. Not so! If someone comes back from the dead, then my brothers will repent of their ostentatious, luxurious living that ignores the poor. Herod thought that John the Baptist or one of the prophets had risen from the dead, but he did not repent (9:7-9; 13:31). Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead (also named Lazarus, but only by coincidence), and this raising did not cause repentance, but a plot to kill Jesus (John 11:45-53). Jesus resurrection only prompted the Jewish leaders to invent a lie about it (Matt. 28:11-15). It takes more than a dramatic miracle to cause repentance (Garland, comment on 16:30-31).
“repent”: it is the verb metanoeō (pronounced meh-tah-noh-eh-oh), and “to repent” literally means “to change (your) mind.” And it goes deeper than mental assent or agreement. Another word for repent is the Greek stem streph– (including the prefixes ana-, epi-, and hupo-), which means physically “to turn” (see Luke 2:20, 43, 45). That reality-concept is all about new life. One turns around 180 degrees, going from the direction of death to the new direction of life.
Abraham replies that the living brothers wouldn’t believe, if someone rose from the dead and presented himself alive. Apparently many people whose heart is hard and self-centered, as these rich brothers were, would not believe. They might even scoff at the resurrection.
Jesus said the same thing to the Jews in John 5:45-47
45 “Do not think that I will accuse you before my Father; the one who is accusing you is Moses, in whom have hoped. 46 For if you believe Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words?”
In Luke 16:31, Jesus uses this coming back from the dead to hint at his own resurrection. They won’t believe in it, except for the few thousand of Judeans and citizens of Jerusalem who converted (Acts 2:41; 4:4; 21:20), and so did priests (Acts 6:7). But as a nation, the people ignored his resurrection.
In John 12:9-11 the Jewish establishment heard about the miraculous resuscitation of Lazarus, yet they plotted to kill him:
9 A huge crowd of Jews learned that he was there and came not because of Jesus alone but so that they might see Lazarus whom he raised from the dead. 10 The chief priests planned to kill Lazarus also 11 because many of the Jews left because of him and believed in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)
So Abraham was right when he said the rich man’s five brothers would not listen if someone came back from the dead.
One sidebar comment: no one should seek opinions from dead people who seemingly communicates with them; these seekers are getting in contact with evil spirits.
NO: Magic, Witchcraft, Sorcery, and Fortunetelling
GrowApp for Luke 16:19-31
A.. No one should overinterpret this parable about the details in the afterlife. However, we should see ourselves in the parable. It is about getting your heart right with God, so he can welcome you into his presence. How would you explain someone how to get his heart right so hades will not be his ending place?
B.. This parable is also about doing good on earth to the poor. How have you ministered to them? Do you contribute money to feeding programs? What else could you do?
Summary and Conclusion
Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), but he is also ministering to people in the towns and villages (13:22). He needs to teach people before he dies for them. In this chapter he is teaching people and confronting religious opponents.
First, in the Parable of the Prudent (or Dishonest) Manager, Jesus praises the use of worldly wealth, wisely, prudently, thoughtfully, and strategically. The manager used it to secure a new management position in another rich household. In contrast, Jesus teaches us to use worldly wealth wisely, prudently, thoughtfully and strategically, to secure eternal dwellings. How so? By reducing the debt of rich farmer-businessmen? No, by using it for the kingdom, much like the wealthy women used it to fund Jesus’s ministry (Luke 8:1-3) and by using it for the poor (Luke 16:19-31). Money in itself is not the problem, but the love of money is (1 Tim. 6:10).
Second, Jesus fiercely rebuked the Pharisees by proclaiming that things that people exalt are detestable to God. Then he explained how the old Sinai Covenant connects to the new kingdom of God that he is introducing. John was the last of the old, and Jesus is the beginning of the new. It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the old law to become void. Jesus fulfills the law, which means that he accomplished it, which means that all elements of the law go through him. Picture a stream from a long distance (the old Sinai covenant) flowing through him. He is the filter. What is not retained in the New Covenant from the old is contained in him. What flows through him pertains to us.
Third, his interpretation of the divorce law, I believe, was designed to rebuke this specific group of Pharisees, who may have been loose with their marriages. Men could divorce their wives for “any cause” (Deut. 24:1). They were money-loving, implying they were wealthy, and rich men tend to listen to their baser nature (note the rich man in the parable in vv. 19-31), and maybe these Pharisees easily sought divorces. No, sorry, Jesus said. The loose interpretation of Moses’s divorce law is defective. Don’t use it to your own advantage. But the private lives about the Pharisees is merely speculation on my part.
Finally, the famous Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is presented. He is still talking to these money-loving Pharisees. The main point is the Great Reversal prophesied in Luke 1:51-53 and 2:34. In the first passage Mary sang that Jesus and his kingdom would raise up the poor and lowly and bring down the high and mighty. In the second passage, Simeon had prophesied that Jesus was appointed for the rising and falling of many in Israel. This parable overturns standard and defective beliefs. It was widely believed that a poor man may be suffering from judgment (think of Job in the middle of his life-story), while a rich man benefitted from God’s blessing (think of Job at the beginning and then the end of his life). After they both die at the same time, Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man is in hades, in the flames of torment (I picture Jesus glowering at the Pharisees at this moment). Prosperity is not wrong per se, but a bad use of it is wrong. Use worldly wealth to benefit poor people like Lazarus.
Finally, I believe we should interpret this story as a parable, and not a clear, doctrinal teaching on the afterlife. It would be unwise to put such a heavy doctrinal burden on this parable. However, I won’t quarrel with anyone who does build a heavy doctrine on it. He may be right.
Rich Man and Lazarus: True Events or Just a Parable?
Bock, Darrel L. Luke 1:1-9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 1 (Baker, 1994).
—. Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. (Baker 1996).
Culy, Martin M., Mikael C. Parsons. Joshua J. Stigall. Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2010).
Fitzmyer, Joseph A., SJ. The Gospel according to Luke, I-IX. Vol. 28. The Anchor Bible. (Doubleday, 1981).
—. The Gospel according to St. Luke, X-XIV. The Anchor Bible. Vol. 28A. (Doubleday, 1985).
Garland, David E. Luke. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2011).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014). The Greek text in the table comes from the Nestle-Aland 28th ed, available here: https://www.academic-bible.com/en/online-bibles/novum-testamentum-graece-na-28/read-the-bible-text/
Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans, 1997).
Liefeld, Walter L. and David W. Pao. Luke. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. (Zondervan, 2007).
Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. (Eerdmans, 1978).
Morris, Leon. Luke. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. (IVP Academic, 1988).
Stein, Robert H. Luke: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. The New American Commentary. Vol. 24. (Broadman and Holman, 1992).