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We have now reached the crescendo of this series of parables that Luke arranged in this particular order to convey the gospel of the Kingdom. The first two focused primarily upon the lost sinners and publicans, using the prophecies of the House of Israel as biblical proof.
The third parable then introduced us to the scribes and Pharisees, portrayed as the older brother, where the connection is seen by their grumblings (Luke 16:2, 29). The fourth enlarged upon the character of this “older brother,” putting it into a new setting. He is now an unjust steward that shows us why the religious leaders were to be fired from their positions of stewardship.
The final parable is that of the rich man and Lazarus. Jesus again applied His parable locally, with the two sons being the repentant sinners and the unrepentant religious leaders who scoffed at His parables. This time, however, the rich man and Lazarus represent Judah and Israel, the two sons on a broader prophetic level. This parable, then, is more nearly akin to the parable of the Prodigal son and his brother.
This final parable in the series shows the condition of both Israel and Judah after they “died.” Israel (Lazarus) died in 721 B.C. when the Assyrians completed their conquest of Samaria, the capital of Israel. Judah was yet to die in the great war with Rome (66-73 A.D.), so the fate of the rich man was prophetic of the years ahead.
The parable blends the national prophecies of Israel and Judah with the local application in Jesus’ day.
Luke 16:19 begins this way:
19 Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day.
The Pharisees and religious leaders must have looked at each other awkwardly at that moment, since they and the temple priests were dressed this way (Exodus 28:5). These were the leaders of Judah.
20 And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores…
Isaiah speaks to Israel, saying in Isaiah 1:5-7,
5 Where will you be stricken again, as you continue in your rebellion? The whole head is sick; and the whole heart is faint. 6 From the sole of the foot even to the head there is nothing sound in it, only bruises, welts, and raw wounds, not pressed out or bandaged, nor softened with oil. 7 Your land is desolate, your cities are burned with fire, your fields—strangers are devouring them in your presence; it is desolation, as overthrown by strangers.
These “sores” are used as a metaphor for the rebellious state of Israel, which had refused God’s law. The nation was in need of salvation, which broadly means a sound state of health, body, soul, and spirit. The name, Lazar, or Lazarus, is in the Hebrew Eliezar, “the help of God,” or “God helps.”
Abraham’s chief steward, a man of great faith, was named Eliezar, and when he went to find a wife for Isaac, he was a type of the Holy Spirit, the “Helper” or “Comforter” (John 14:16) in search of a bride for his master’s son. Eliezar was a Syrian from Damascus, a fitting location, considering the fact that Israel had been taken to Assyria.
Once we identify the characters in this parable, it is easy to see that this is not about people dying and going to heaven or hell. Jesus did not mean to tell us that rich men go to hell, while poor men go to heaven. Israel’s ill health was a metaphor for their utter rebelliousness and lawlessness.
When we see the connection between Lazarus and the prodigal son, it is clear that Lazarus was not described as a righteous man, but only as a poor sick man. Yet when we compare him with the prodigal son, we know that he pictured Israel, which was destined to repent and return to the Father.
The numeric value of the name Lazarus in Greek is exactly 144. Hence, the underlying prophecy hidden under the surface is that he also represents “the elect,” which phrase (as used in Rom. 11:7), also carries the numeric value of 144. This suggests that the remnant of grace, or the elect, are not perfect, but are repentant.
Luke 16:21 continues the description of Lazarus,
21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
As for the local application of the parable, we need not belabor the fact that the publicans and sinners desired to hear the word, even as dogs long for the crumbs from the rich man’s table. What is less known is the history and destiny of the so-called “lost tribes of Israel,” who were deported to a foreign land.
The House of Israel was deported to Assyria, sentenced to live among the nations, far away from the Word of God in Jerusalem. Like the prodigal, Lazarus needed food. The “famine” that the prodigal experienced carried over to Lazarus as well.
The Jewish attitude toward non-Jewish nations was that they were “dogs.” Jesus Himself did not consider them to be dogs, but He well understood the thinking of the day. One day Jesus took His disciples to Phoenicia in order to expose the heart idolatry in their hearts (Matt. 15). When they arrived, they were met by a Canaanite woman who begged for Jesus to help her daughter. He pretended to disdain her, saying, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matt. 15:24).
When she persisted, Jesus said to her, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs” (Matt. 15:26). By this time, no doubt, the disciples were nodding in agreement, as this reinforced their traditional view of other nations.
But the woman said, “Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27). The disciples were dumbfounded, for it was evident that she had great faith, though she was a Canaanite. The trap was sprung, and Jesus said, “O woman, your faith is great; be it done for you as you wish” (Matt. 15:28).
The irony is evident when we understand that this field trip was taken to expose the unclean food of the word that the disciples had been eating all of their lives in regard to this bad attitude toward non-Jews. Jesus’ apparent reluctance to heal the Canaanite woman’s daughter is contradicted by the fact that this was Jesus’ sole purpose in going to Phoenicia with the disciples. After this incident, they turned around and went back to Galilee.
If Jesus had meant to teach that He was sent only to Israelites, then there was no purpose for Him to go to Phoenicia. If He took the disciples there just to prove that Canaanites were unworthy of the blessings of God, then why did He heal her at all? Furthermore, how could she be a mere “dog” when she had such faith?
In fact, Mark 7:30 shows that they probably accompanied the Canaanite woman to her home. Otherwise, how would Mark have known the final detail that he revealed in his account:
30 And going back to her home, she found the child lying on the bed, the demon having departed.
How did Mark know that she had found the child lying on the bed? It is unlikely that the woman sent a message to Jesus telling Him that her child was lying on the bed. No, the disciples were eyewitnesses to this healing. Mark included this detail, because his gospel was written for a Roman audience. But Matthew’s account, written to Jews, omitted this, no doubt because it would have enraged the Jews unnecessarily.
The point is that the common thinking in that day was to equate non-Jewish nations with dogs. This would have been how Jesus’ audience would have interpreted Jesus’ parable in the story of Lazarus. They all knew that the House of Israel was scattered among the nations as lost sheep wandering among the “mountains.”
What is interesting is that “the dogs were coming and licking his sores.” This is what dogs do to show their sympathy and to cleanse wounds. Far from being a sign of mistreatment, this should be considered as an act of kindness toward the lost House of Israel.
Jesus then skipped to the end of the story, telling us the fate of both nations after their destruction, or “death.” Luke 16:22 says,
22 Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.
The story preserves the order of death, because Israel died first in 721 B.C. Lazarus (Israel) was said to be taken to Abraham’s bosom by the angels. When the rabbis spoke of righteous men’s death, they were said to be carried away by angels. They were also familiar with the phrase Abraham’s bosom, for it was said,
“The day that Rabbi died, Rabh Adah Bar AHavah said, by way of prophecy, This day doth he sit in Abraham’s bosom.”
“There are those indeed that expound, This day doth he sit in Abraham’s bosom, thus; that is, This day he died.” (Lightfoot, Commentary, Vol. III, p. 170).
Lightfoot comments further, saying on page 171,
“We may find out, therefore, the meaning of the phrase according to the common interpretation, by observing, first, that it was universally believed amongst the Jews, that pure and holy souls, when they left this body, went into happiness, to Abraham. Our Saviour speaks according to the received opinion of that nation in this affair, when he saith, ‘Many shall come from the east and from the west, and shall sit down with Abraham’.”
Jewish teaching in Jesus’ day often taught that the righteous were carried to the (heavenly) Garden of Eden, called Paradise. Other times, they spoke of the righteous being taken “under the throne of glory.” A third manner of speaking was to say that the righteous went to Abraham’s bosom.
The implication is that Lazarus was righteous, although we know from the details of the other parables that the prodigal was righteous only because he repented and returned to his father. The House of Israel, then, was cast out among the nations, but in the end, they were destined to repent and to return, not to the old land, but to their Heavenly Father.
By contrast, the so-called “rich man,” who had feasted on the word of God every day and was dressed in priestly robes and splendor, found himself in hades. The evil figs of Judah, who grumble at the idea that their brother might repent and be blessed, will find themselves—as a nation—in the torment of tribulation, according to the judgment of the law. In Luke 16:22 we see that “the rich man also died and was buried.” Take note that he was buried, while Lazarus was carried.
Luke 16:23 says,
23 And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Being far away from Abraham was a metaphor for being far from the Kingdom of God. The grumbling scribes and Pharisees had a mindset that was “far away” from the faith of Abraham and the Abrahamic calling. That calling was to be a blessing to all families of the earth (Gen. 12:3). How were they to be blessed? Luke wrote the answer in Acts 3:25, 26,
25 It is you who are the sons of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with your fathers, saying to Abraham, “And in your seed all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” 26 For you first, God raised up His Servant, and sent Him to bless you by turning every one of you from your wicked ways.
The Jewish viewpoint was to secure the blessings of God for themselves. They believed themselves to be “chosen” to enslave all other nations, rather than to set them free by the power of the Jubilee. The Abrahamic calling was not to enslave but to bring all men to repentance, so that all men might draw near and enjoy the fruit of the Kingdom. But they thought the law had been given to them only, and that other nations were lacking in the ability to understand or follow the ways of God. They usurped the scepter by killing the King, because they no longer thought of themselves as stewards of the vineyard.
For this reason, Jesus said, they would be fired from being God’s steward. They would be replaced by another ethnos which would do God’s bidding (Matt. 21:43). Their attitude, even after being “buried,” was still far from Abraham. This seems to be a reversal of roles, since the prodigal son had been far away, and yet returned. Then the rich man, who was near, was cast out and placed far away. So Israel, which had been cast out, would repent and draw near, while Judah, which had been near, would be cast out far from Abraham and his calling.
The dispersion of the evil figs of Judah in 70 A.D. (when the nation died) did nothing to bring the Jews nearer to Abraham. Instead, they were in torment, despised and persecuted. I do not commend anyone for mistreating Jews, nor should we think fatalistically that this parable justifies the nations for oppressing them. Yet their oppression is well known in history, and especially to themselves. This “torment” is prophesied in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
The rich man in Luke 16:22, representing the evil figs of Judah, found himself buried and in Hades, where he was “in torment.” Luke 16:22, 23 says,
22 … and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Judah was far from Abraham, not because the religious leaders refused to honor Abraham, but because they refused to fulfill his calling to be a blessing to all families of the earth.
There were two main schools of thought in those days, roughly representing the good figs and the evil figs of Jeremiah 24. The School of Hillel was peaceable, believing that the people ought to submit to the beast empires according to Jeremiah’s letter to the captives in Babylon (Jer. 29:1-23). Its rival was the School of Shammai, which was as rebellious as the people in Jeremiah’s day.
The narrow nationalism of the School of Shammai began to dominate religious thought just before the birth of Jesus and continued until the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 A.D. The Jewish Encyclopedia tells us in Vol. III, p. 115, 116 (1904 edition),
“The Shammaities, on the contrary, were intensely patriotic, and would not bow to foreign rule. They advocated the interdiction of any and all intercourse with those who either were Romans or in any way contributed toward the furtherance of Roman power or influences….
“Their religious austerity, combined with their hatred of the heathen Romans, naturally aroused the sympathies of the fanatic league [i.e., the Zealots], and as the Hillelites became powerless to stem the public indignation, the Shammaites gained the upper hand in all disputes affecting their country’s oppressors. Bitter feelings were consequent-ly engendered between the schools; and it appears that even in public worship they would no longer unite under one roof… These feelings grew apace, until toward the last days of Jerusalem’s struggle they broke out with great fury.
After the destruction of Jerusalem, we are told, “the characteristics of the Hillelites once more gained the ascendency. All disputed points were brought up for review… and in nearly every case the opinion of the Hillelites prevailed.”
After the hatred of the Shammaite School had produced its bitter fruits in the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, the Hillelites began to regain the hearts and minds of the Judahites. It took the deaths of more than a million people to realize that the Shammaite School was wrong.
Even so, the violent patriotism of Shammai rose up again from 132-135 A.D., when the people again revolted against Rome. The result was another destroyed generation, this time putting the Jews back under the iron yoke of dispersion (Deut. 28:48).
These wars essentially killed the nation, although not every individual Jew was killed. Jews continued to live as individuals within other nations, but Judah had died and had gone to Hades. Enslaved and oppressed, imprisoned as a people, they were left “in torment.”
First of all, hades is the grave. One cannot use the Greek concept of Hades and apply it to Scripture, as so many have done. Three centuries earlier, when the Old Testament was translated into Greek, the Hebrew scholars had to find Greek words that served to express Hebrew concepts. The Hebrew word sheol meant the grave or the pit, the place where dead people were placed. Psalm 115:17 says,
17 The dead do not praise the Lord, nor do any who go down into silence.
The Greeks put the dead in hades, but their Greek idea of the state of the dead was quite different from the Hebrew. We ought not to impose Greek definitions upon Hebrew understanding.
Secondly, the Greek word translated “torment” is basanos, or “abased.” According to Gesenius Lexicon, it literally means
“a touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.”
When applied in a judicial sense, it referred to a jailor whose job often involved torturing people to discover the truth. The same word in its noun form was used in Matt. 18:34 in another parable. Dr. Bullinger says in his notes on this verse,
Tormentors: or jailors. Gr. basanistes. Occ. Only here. Imprisonment was called in Roman law-books cruciatus corporis.
Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words says that a Tormentor “is used of jailors,” and it gives Matt. 18:34 as an example. And so, basanistes is a jailor on account of his frequent use of torture eliciting information from the imprisoned ones. Likewise, basanos is the word for “imprisonment” itself.
The law of God was unlike Roman or Greek laws, most notably in the fact that God does not need to torture anyone to elicit information. Further, there is no torture permitted under God’s law, because the judgment always fits the crime. Only if a man has tortured others might he be tortured as a judgment, but this law did not apply to eliciting information. Exodus 21:23-25 says,
23 But if there is any further injury, then you shall appoint as a penalty life for life, 24 eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, 25 burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.
Divine judgment always fits the crime precisely, for that is God’s definition of justice. It is not the case that all unbelievers are to be tortured for their unbelief. They are to be judged according to their works (Rev. 20:13). Most unbelievers have not been involved in torturing other people.
In any case, the rich man in the parable is not accused of torture, but neglect, specifically neglecting to dispense the word to those outside of the gate. Once we understand that this is a national judgment upon the evil figs of Judah, then we can see how this “torment” has applied to them in the past two thousand years. Have they experienced pain during this time? Most certainly they have. Often this national pain has even taken the form of physical torture, for both Rome and (later) the Roman Church was ignorant of biblical law, and neither had a clear vision of dispensing the blessings of Abraham to all families of the earth.
Luke 16:24 continues,
24 And he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue; for I am in agony in this flame.”
The appeal to Abraham is natural to the rich man, because the Jews believed that Abraham was their father. Nothing is said about repentance, for he desired mercy only. His desire for a single drop of water is his desire for the word that, as he says, might “cool off my tongue.”
If this were a literal fire tormenting him, would he really be so concerned about his tongue? Would not the water be best served on his skin?
This reference to the tongue is a Hebrew metaphor, as we see in the last words of David in 2 Sam. 23:2,
2 The Spirit of the Lord spoke by me, and His word was on my tongue.
Likewise, we read in Psalm 34:13, 14,
13 Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking deceit. 14 Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace, and pursue it.
Psalm 52:4 speaks of a “deceitful tongue.” Psalm 57:4 also says that the tongue is a “sharp sword.” James may have had the rich man in mind when he wrote in James 3:6,
6 And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by gehenna.
James also identifies the tongue as the rudder on a ship (James 3:4) and concludes in verse 8,
8 But no one can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil and full of deadly poison.
Therefore, it is highly significant when the rich man desired water to cool his tongue. The rich man’s tongue had defiled him in his earlier life and had set on fire his course in life. In other words, he was being judged by the words of his mouth, for even though the scribes and Pharisees believed they were teaching the word of God, in reality their tongues were full of deadly poison. They were in need of the cleansing water of the word to be applied to their tongues.
Abraham’s response to the rich man is given in Luke 16:25,
25 But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony” [odyne, “consuming grief”].
So the rich man is denied that which would put the word of God on his tongue. He could not say with David, “His word was on my tongue.” Instead, the rich man’s deceitful tongue had brought him “good things” (riches, reputation, honor) during his life, while the Lazarus, the lost sheep, had endured “bad things” while wandering among the nations.
In the end, both nations having been destroyed, the House of Israel finds its way to the bosom of Abraham, while the evil figs of Judah remained in consuming grief. The NASB translates odyne as “agony,” but the same word is translated “anxious” in Luke 2:49,
49 And when they saw Him, they were astonished; and His mother said to Him, “Son, why have You treated us this way? Behold, Your father and I have been anxiously [odynao] looking for You.”
The word odyne is also used in Rom. 9:2, where Paul says of his countrymen, “I have great heaviness and continual sorrow [odyne] in my heart.” Paul was not being physically tortured, but he certainly felt great sorrow. So also is it with the rich man.
The rich man was sorrowing “in this flame.” The Hebrew language used fire and flames in a metaphorical sense as well as literally. We have already seen how the tongue could inflame the world, but we also read of metaphoric fire and flame in the book of Obadiah, verse 18,
18 Then the house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau will be as stubble, and they will set them on fire and consume them, so that there will be no survivor of the house of Esau.
In my book, The Struggle for the Birthright, I gave the history of Esau (or Edom, Idumea) and how he and his brother Jacob fought over the birthright. Many of the prophets speak of the end-time destruction of Edom. Edom, known later by the Greek term Idumea, was conquered and absorbed into Jewry in 126 B.C. after they converted to Judaism. Josephus tells us of these Idumea converts:
“Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would be circumcised, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision and the rest of the Jews’ way of living; at which time, therefore, this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, XIII, ix, 1)
In other words, the Jews would have a dual role to fulfill in prophecy, having in common the role of the evil figs. The two streams of prophecy are through Edom and the cursed figs of Judah. Both were caught up in violence and rebellion against God’s judgments. In fact, the Idumean faction in Judah produced some of the most rabid “evil figs” in the years leading up to the destruction of Jerusalem. Josephus writes about them extensively.
The modern Jewish state is the fulfillment of God’s promise to Esau-Edom in Gen. 27:40 (KJV). Because Jacob had received the birthright through fraud and deceit, Isaac prophesied that Jacob would have to give it back to Esau at some point in history in order to allow Esau to prove himself to be unworthy.
This is what occurred in 1948, when Esau received the dominion once again and took the birthright name of Israel. Just as Jacob had pretended to be Esau in order to obtain the birthright, so also did Esau pretend to be Jacob to get it back. Such was the justice of God. The Zionists took as their model the revolt against Rome and especially the Idumean “heroes” who fought the Romans at Masada.
But in the end, Jacob will be a fire, and Joseph (the birthright holder) will be a flame to the rich man, when the house of Esau becomes stubble. They will administer the “fiery law” to Esau until there is no one left of the house of Esau. This does not mean that all who are descended from Esau will be killed. It means that justice will be done until all have repented and have forsaken their identity as Edomites. All must receive citizenship in the Kingdom of God, giving up their fleshly, Adamic identity, and taking upon themselves the new identity as new creatures in Christ, the last Adam.
Luke 16:26 says,
26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.
There was already a great chasm between the good and evil figs of Judah, insofar as the two Schools were concerned. The appearance of Jesus only widened this division, as people had to decide whether He was the Messiah-King or not. At first, there were many who came to believe in Jesus, as the early chapters of the book of Acts indicates. However, the backlash came, and Saul took the lead in persecuting the Church. Most of the Christians fled from the land to the safer areas of the empire (Acts 8:1).
Thus was fulfilled the prophecies of the good figs, who were sent away into the lands of their captors (Jer. 24:5-7). Meanwhile, the evil figs remained entrenched in the old land to fulfill prophecies of destruction that applied to them (Jer. 24:8-10). As time passed, a great gulf appeared between Judaism and Christianity. Though individuals could always cross over, the two groups remained permanently divided.
Both groups ended up in exile, first the Church and later the Jews, but the first was for their good, while the latter group was “tormented.” The Church was comforted (by the Comforter), while the Jews were bound up in grief.
Luke 16:27, 28 continues,
27 And he said, “Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.
This helps to identify the rich man in torment, for we read in Gen. 30:20,
20 Then Leah said, “God has endowed me with a good gift; now my husband will dwell with me, because I have borne him six sons.” So she named him Zebulun.
So we see that Judah had five brothers, all born of Leah. Further, Esau, too, had five sons. (Esau is Edom.) We read in Gen. 36:4, 5 that Esau’s three wives bore him five sons. Both of these branches of Judaism confirm their identification as the rich man in the parable.
Luke 16:29 continues,
29 But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.”
This statement shows that the rich man was not meant to represent unbelievers from other nations, most of whom had no knowledge of Moses and the Prophets. It is not a simple story of believers and unbelievers going to heaven or hell after they die. It is a parable that builds upon the previous ones and is meant to convey prophecy of Israel and Judah—specifically, the evil figs.
In Luke 16:30 the rich man again appeals to Abraham,
30 But he said, “No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!”
This is the climax of the parable, revealing the fact that Jesus would be raised from the dead. The Holy Spirit would thus confirm His anointing as the Messiah, and surely then, the people would repent. But Abraham responds in Luke 16:31,
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.”
This is, in fact, what happened. The chief priests knew that Jesus had foretold of His resurrection, and so they sealed the tomb and posted a guard to prevent anyone from removing His body (Matt. 27:65, 66). Such a guard could not prevent or hinder His resurrection, of course. But His resurrection did not produce any faith in these religious leaders. Instead of admitting they were wrong, they concealed the truth from the populace. Matt. 28:11-15 says,
11 Now while they were on their way, behold, some of the guard came into the city and reported to the chief priests all that had happened. 12 And when they had assembled with the elders and counseled together, they gave a large sum of money to the soldiers, 13 and said, “You are to say, ‘His disciples came by night and stole Him away while we were asleep.’ 14 And if this should come to the governor’s ears, we will win him over and keep you out of trouble.” 15 And they took the money and did as they had been instructed; and this story was widely spread among the Jews, and is to this day.
The chief priests heard the truth from the very soldiers that had been hired to guard the tomb. Did they then believe on Him who had been raised from the dead? No, they bribed the guards to say that the disciples had stolen His body while they were asleep. Everyone knew, of course, that those guards would have been executed for dereliction of duty. For them to claim to be asleep, then, was one of the most improbable stories ever told, for anyone could have asked them how it was that they had not yet been arrested.
The testimony of Moses is seen in his commissioning of Joshua (Yeshua) to lead Israel into the Kingdom. In Deut. 31:14, God tells Moses to “call Joshua, and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, that I may commission him.” Even as Joshua was commissioned to lead Israel after the second covenant had been given (Deut. 29:1), so also was Yeshua-Jesus commissioned to lead us after the New Covenant was established and ratified at the cross.
In John 5:45-47 Jesus said to those who had refused to believe the witness of John, the witness of the Spirit, and the witness of Jesus’ works,
45 Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. 46 For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote of Me. 47 But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words?
If any other nation had seen Christ rise from the dead, all the people would have believed in Him without hesitation. But the evil figs of Judah were unique in their blindness, because they had feasted on the word of God daily but had rejected its revelation.
Any time a person rejects genuine revelation, he blinds himself in that area of life, and it is difficult to return to the truth. The other nations, which had never read Moses or the Prophets, were ignorant, but not blind.
Further, it is apparent from Jesus’ words that the Jewish problem was NOT that they had read Moses, but that they did not believe his writings. They, of course, completely disagreed with Jesus’ analysis of the problem. They believed their understanding of Moses, not realizing that their understanding was based on heart idolatry. The idols of their heart told them that non-Jews were dogs, that Romans were dogs, and that they had a right to do all in their power to fight the Romans in order to gain independence.
They believed that the Messiah would be the one who would overthrow the Romans by the use of miracles. Jesus, however, did not meet their messianic hopes, because He understood the laws of tribulation given through Moses, and He submitted to Rome even as Jeremiah had instructed the Judahites in his day to submit to Babylon.
The five parables in a row build upon each other to give us a clearer understanding of the Kingdom. In them we see two main characters representing Israel and Judah and their distinct destinies prophesied in the law and the prophets.
The lost sheep and the lost coin focused fully upon the lost House of Israel, which had been dispersed more than 700 years earlier by the Assyrians. The parables show how they would be found in the end.
The third parable was of the prodigal son and the older brother, again representing Israel and Judah. The prodigal son repents and returns to his father, while the older brother grumbles and refuses to enter into the celebration. The grumbling son answers to the scribes and Pharisees who had grumbled about sinners and tax-collectors (prodigals) repenting and coming into fellowship with Jesus (Luke 15:1, 2).
While the third parable introduces us to the Judah son, the fourth focuses almost entirely upon him, telling us that he was about to be dismissed for misusing the master’s goods. Both the prodigal and the unjust steward squander the father’s inheritance (Luke 15:13; 16:1), but unlike the prodigal son, the unjust steward does not repent. Instead, the steward increases his theft in order to find housing after his dismissal. He reduces the debts that others owe his master, not out of compassion but with the understanding that those debtors will then owe him the difference. In making such “friends,” he hopes to obligate them to house him indefinitely when he is dismissed.
The final parable sums up the destinies of both Israel and Judah. Lazarus is Israel, situated outside the gate with very little to eat (of the word). The rich man is Judah—the chief priests in particular—who feast daily on the word and become rich on account of it. Both nations die. One is carried to Abraham’s bosom, while the other is buried in the grave (hades).
The final conversation is between the rich man and Abraham, where we learn that the rich man has five brothers. This identifies him with Judah and also with the sons of Esau. His brothers “have Moses and the prophets” (Luke 16:29), yet they refuse to believe His prophecies of Christ, even though they knew that He was raised from the dead.
In the progression of revelation, the House of Israel leaves the House and goes into the far country, but the famine of hearing the word finally causes him to repent. And so, he is destined for Abraham’s bosom—fulfilling the call of Abraham to be a blessing to all families of the earth.
The House of Judah, on the other hand, was never exiled—at least not permanently, for they returned from their Babylonian captivity after seventy years. There they remained until the time of Christ. They remained in possession of the Scriptures. Like the older brother, they were always with the Father never lacked for the word of God. But they squandered God’s provision and were dismissed from their position as steward of God’s household (or vineyard). One must read the parable of the vineyard in Matthew 21:33-45 to obtain further details about the divine judgment in this case.
The rich man in the fourth parable is God Himself, and the steward enriches himself by misusing the wealth of his master (God). Hence, the rich man in the final parable is no longer God but the House of Judah (evil figs). Judah later was destroyed and “buried” in hades, where the Jews were imprisoned and remained consumed by grief.
The solution to their dilemma was to believe Moses and the Prophets, to repent and accept the Messiah who (they knew) had been raised from the dead. Unfortunately, they had already refused to believe Moses and the Prophets—Jeremiah in particular—and so they were blinded to the point where they could not believe. Hence, the great chasm stood between Abraham and the rich man, and it was impossible for the evil figs of Judah to fulfill the Abrahamic calling.
All of these great prophetic themes about Israel and Judah were then applied locally to the excommunicated sinners and publicans, who were like the lost House of Israel, and the religious leaders, dominated by the School of Shammai, who were in rebellion against God like the evil figs of Judah.
The next chapter in Luke focuses upon repentance as the solution to the problem.