Here is an article on this subject that was written in 1879 by Charles T. Russell and published in a Journal called “Herald of the Morning”.
I like what it says on the subject better than anything else I have ever read. To the best of my knowledge here it is word for word as he wrote it.
Not infrequently are we asked, when showing that the trial, or probation of the great mass of the human family is in the next age, when the saints shall judge the world, when as joint heirs with Christ, they enter upon “the glory that is to follow,” and sit down with him on his throne, etc. What do you understand to be Christ’s teaching when speaking on the “rich man and Lazarus?”
Let us inquire first, Is it a narrative of a fact, or is it a parable? Because, if it is a fact it would imply much that is ridiculous, among others, the following absurdities:
Lazarus is not said to be admitted to Abraham’s bosom on account of faith, nor yet of works, but simply because he was poor; no other qualifications are mentioned. If this is the narration of an actual occurrence, it would justify every very poor sick miserable person in expecting to go to Abraham’s bosom; not on account of faith in Christ; but because of having evil things in this life, he should be comforted hereafter. Again, if the two places, heaven and hell are referred to, it teaches that they are located uncomfortably near to each other, and the occupants of the two places converse; and the saints would see and talk with their former relations and friends. Which, if our sensibilities are not destroyed, but rather increased, must forever be a source of unpleasant emotions. We have no sympathy with Jonathan Edward’s conclusions that the saints will become so hardened that fathers and mothers will look over the battlements of heaven and seeing their children writhe in agony, will turn in holy glee and sing louder than before, the praises of God.
No, love and pity will never be blotted out so long as there is suffering; but rather be intensified, when we come into the likeness of him of whom it is written, “Greater love hath no man than this,” etc. If so nearly located as Lazarus and the rich-man, it could not be true that “former things shall not be remembered nor come into mind.” He will wipe all tears from off all faces.
For the above, and other reasons, almost all commentators accept this as a parable, and not the relation of an actual fact. If a parable, we know the rich-man means some class he is made to represent; so also with Lazarus, Abraham’s bosom, hell, the drop of water, etc. they represent other things than what the words express. This is true of all parables; “wheat and tares,” does not mean wheat, but represents something else. Our Lord explained some of his parables, and left others unexplained This of the rich-man is one he left unexplained, we may differ therefore conscientiously as to its meaning. In presenting my views I do not say they are right, and all others are wrong, but simply state what, with present light, I understand the Master to teach. The rich-man represents the Jewish nation at the time of Christ’s preaching. The purple, represents royalty; the fine linen, purity, and together, represent the Jews as a royal priesthood. Up to this time they fared sumptuously every day. They had been the recipients of the choices of God’s favors; --“What advantage hath the Jew? Much, every way; chiefly because unto them were committed the oracles of God.” Christ in his ministry, came to his own, and his own received him not; when sending out his disciples, he charged them, --“Go not in the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not.” When the Syrophenician woman came beseeching him for her daughter, he refused to take of the children’s bread and give it to dogs; thereby calling the Jews children, and the Gentiles dogs; but finally, because of her great faith, he granted her the favor, as a crumb from the children’s table.
Lazarus represents the Gentiles, poor, “without God and without hope in the world.”
The condition of things then existing, terminated by “death,” at the death of Christ: “for if one died for all, then were all dead.” The Jews ceased to be God’s royal people. They have been “tormented,” while Gentiles are “reconciled to God,” and, introduced into the bosom [family] of Abraham. The torment into which the rich man went, is fitly represented by the troubles which have come upon them since they rejected Christ; and during which time God has showed them “no favor.” Lazarus also died and was carried by angels into the bosom of Abraham: If any man be in Christ he is a new creature; that is, he has died to the world, and the angels are ministering spirits, “sent forth to minister for them who shall be heirs of salvation.” Hence, they have a hand in conveying Lazarus into the family of “the father of the faithful.” If the two tribes represent the rich-man, may not the ten tribes represent the five brethren, who have Moses and the prophets?
The thoughts conveyed to me by this parable are much the
same, as by
In this parable, Christ does not refer to the final
C. T. R.