In Luke 16:22, is Abraham's bosom, heaven, the reward of the righteous?
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Luke 16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom...
The death of Abraham is recorded:-
Genesis 25:8 Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to his people. 9 And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre;
It is never said of Abraham, or of any others whose death is recorded in Scripture, that after death they have gone away anywhere. They are always spoken of as dying, giving up their life, and returning to the ground. The same style of language is adopted by Paul when he speaks of the generation of the righteous dead:
Hebrews 11:13 These all died in faith, NOT HAVING RECEIVED THE PROMISES, but having seen them afar off.
When Jesus spoke of the death of Lazarus, he recognized the fact in its plainest sense:
John 11:11... he (Jesus) saith unto them, Our friend Lazarus SLEEPETH; but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep...14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is DEAD.
When Luke records the death of Stephen, he says, "He fell asleep."
Acts 7: 60 And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell ASLEEP.
When Paul refers to deceased Christians, he also speaks of them being asleep.
I Thessalonians 4:13 I would not have you ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are ASLEEP, that ye sorrow not, even as others who have no hope.
There are no exceptions in Bible narrative. The Bible speaks of death as the ending of life, and never as the commencement of another conscious existence. Not once does it tell us of a dead man having gone to heaven. When the dead are represented as conscious it is in an allowable poetical figure (Isaiah 14:4). They are otherwise spoken of as in the land of darkness, and silence, and unconsciousness. Solomon says:
Ecclesiastes 9:10 Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest.
Job, in his anguish, cursed the day of his birth, and wished he had died when an infant. We note what he says would have been the consequence:
Job 3:13 For now should I have lain still and been quiet, I should have slept: then had I been at rest, 14 With kings and counsellors of the earth, which built desolate places (Tombs) for themselves; 15 Or with princes that had gold, who filled their houses with silver: 16 Or as an hidden untimely birth I HAD NOT BEEN, as infants which never saw the light; there the wicked cease from troubling, and there the weary be at rest. There the prisoners rest together; they hear not the voice of the oppressor; the small and great are there, and the servant is free from his master.
Job 10:18 Wherefore hast thou brought me forth out of the womb? O, that I had given up the ghost, and no eye had seen me, I should have been AS THOUGH I HAD NOT BEEN.
David alludes to the state of the dead as follows:
Psalms 88:5 Free among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, whom thou rememberest no more: and they are cut off from thy hand...10 Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise and praise thee?... 11 Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? or thy faithfulness in destruction? 12 Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
These questions are answered in a short but emphatic statement, in Psalm 115:17:
Psalm 115:17 The DEAD praise NOT the Lord, neither ANY that go down into silence.
The Psalmist speaks of man's transient nature in the following words, which have a direct bearing on the state of the dead:
Psalms 39:5 Behold, thou hast made my days as an handbreadth; and mine age is as nothing before thee: verily every man at his best state is altogether vanity... 12 Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee, and a sojourner, as all my fathers were. 13 O spare me, that I may recover strength, before I go hence, and BE NO MORE.
David who spoke by the Spirit clearly shows that his being would cease with the occurrence of death.
Psalms 146:2 While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God WHILE I HAVE ANY BEING.
In addition to these statements of the destructive nature of death as a deprivation of being, there are other scriptures which specifically deny that the dead have any consciousness.
Ecclesiastes 9:5 For the living know that they shall die: but THE DEAD KNOW NOT ANYTHING, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6 Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now PERISHED; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun.
David is equally decisive.
Psalms 146:3 Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. 4 His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his THOUGHTS PERISH.
Psalms 6:5 For in death THERE IS NO REMEMBRANCE OF THEE: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?
Hezekiah, king of Israel, gives similar testimony. He had been ‘sick, nigh unto death’ and on his recovery, in a song of praise to God, he gives the following reason for thanksgiving:
Isaiah 38:18 For the grave cannot praise thee, death cannot celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth. 19 The living, the living, he shall praise thee, as I do this day:
Scripture clearly teaches that death is a total end of being - a complete obliteration of our conscious selves from God's universe.
In doing so, it establishes the doctrine of the resurrection from the dead on the firm foundation of necessity; for in this view, a future life is only attainable by resurrection. It is difficult to see any point in resurrection if a man ‘goes to his reward’ at death and enjoys all the joys of heaven of which his nature is capable. It makes no sense that, after a certain time, he should be compelled to leave heaven and rejoin his body on earth, when without that body he is supposed to have so much more capability of enjoyment. Resurrection is redundant in such a system.
We must first decide whether it is a literal narrative or a parable. If it is a literal account of things that actually happened, given by Christ as a guide to our conception of the "disembodied" state then it is clearly at variance with the scriptures we have so far examined. If it is a parable based not on fact but on the erroneous beliefs of those to whom it was addressed, the integrity of scripture is preserved. We might reasonably suppose that it is the tradition of the Pharisees that forms the basis of the parable.
AN EXTRACT OUT OF
JOSEPHUS' DISCOURSE TO THE GREEKS CONCERNING HADES.
1. NOW as to Hades, wherein the souls of the of the good things they see, and rejoice in the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it. Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, wherein the light of this world does not shine; from which circumstance, that in this region the light does not shine, it cannot be but there must be in it perpetual darkness. This region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, ill which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to every one's behavior and manners.
2. In this region there is a certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable fire, whereinto we suppose no one hath hitherto been cast; but it is prepared for a day afore-determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall deservedly be passed upon all men; when the unjust, and those that have been disobedient to God, and have given honor to such idols as have been the vain operations of the hands of men as to God himself, shall be adjudged to this everlasting punishment, as having been the causes of defilement; while the just shall obtain an incorruptible and never-fading kingdom. These are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined.
3. For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe there stands an archangel with an host; which gate when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they do not go the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoic in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the and of the just, which they see, always smiles them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham.
4. But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good-will, but as prisoners driven by violence; to whom are sent the angels appointed over them to reproach them and threaten them with their terrible looks, and to thrust them still downwards. Now those angels that are set over these souls drag them into the neighborhood of hell itself; who, when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapor itself; but when they have a near view of this spectacle, as of a terrible and exceeding great prospect of fire, they are struck with a fearful expectation of a future judgment, and in effect punished thereby: and not only so, but where they see the place [or choir] of the fathers and of the just, even hereby are they punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them; insomuch that a just man that hath compassion upon them cannot be admitted, nor can one that is unjust, if he were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it.
On this superstitious nonsense the parable is clearly based.
We see that the erroneous belief of the Pharisees is a very different thing from the Christian false doctrine of an immortal soul going to heaven beyond the skies, or hell as an abyss in some black part of the universe. There is a wide dissimilarity of the Jewish theory embodied in the parable from the commonly received doctrine of an immortal soul going to heaven or hell.
In the parable ‘Abraham’s bosom’ is nowhere referred to as ‘heaven’.
The idea of heaven and hell being within sight of each other, and of conversation passing between the two places is incongruous. Does an ‘immortal soul’ have fingertips, tongue, and other material members, on which water would have a material cooling effect? If we insist upon the story as a literal narrative, we are committed to these particulars, which are at variance with the popular theory.
As a parable, it was addressed to the Pharisees to enforce the lesson that in due time the mighty and rich would be brought down, and the poor exalted; and that if men would not believe Moses and the prophets, miracles (even the raising of the dead) would fail to move them. The parable has no reference to the view of the death-state which its literal outlines reflect; it rests entirely on the lesson which it was used to convey. A parable does not teach itself; it teaches something other than itself.
If it be argued that all parables have their foundation in fact, it can be shown that they do not necessarily exhibit things that are possible. Parables in which trees speak, and a thistle goes in quest of matrimonial alliances, and corpses rise out of their tombs and address other corpses newly arrived, will be found in the Scriptures (Judges 9:8; 2 Kings 14:9; Isaiah 14:9,11). The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is founded on an unsound belief; not on a literal possibility. That the dead should speak was necessary for the purpose of the parable, and it would not surprise the Pharisees to whom it was addressed. For, in fact, it embodies their false belief.
Christ was not using it with any reference to itself, but for the purpose of introducing a dead man's testimony. He wanted to impress upon them the lesson conveyed in the concluding words of Abraham, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead;" A forcible way of doing this was by framing a parable based upon their own theory of Hades, in which the dead were conscious, and, could therefore, speak on the subject he wanted to introduce.
This does not involve his sanction of the theory, any more than his allusion to Beelzebub conferred real existence upon that god of the heathen (Matthew 12:27).
When Christ spoke plainly, and for himself, of the dead, his words were in accordance with the truth; in the case of Lazarus:
John 11:14 Then said Jesus unto them plainly (indicating that 'sleep' is not 'plain' and literal), Lazarus is DEAD.
John 11:25 Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live:
John 5:28... the hour is coming, in the which ALL THAT ARE IN THE GRAVES shall hear his voice, 29 And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (condemnation).
It is in these plain words of Christ that we are to seek for the truth on the subject of the dead and not in a parable addressed to his enemies for the purpose of confusion and condemnation and not of instruction.
It would be strange indeed if so important a doctrine as the heaven-and-hell consciousness of the dead should have to depend upon a parable. A parable cannot take precedence over plain testimony. We cannot violate what is clear to make it agree with what we think is meant by that which is admittedly obscure. It is eminently more sensible to resolve uncertainties by that which is unmistakable. It may be argued that it is unlike Christ to perpetuate delusion, and withhold the truth on such an important question as that involved in the parable used. In reply it is sufficient to cite the following:
Matthew 13:10 And the disciples came, and said unto him, Why speakest thou unto them in parables? 11 He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it IS NOT GIVEN. 12 For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. 13 Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand. 14 And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive:
Luke 8:10 And he said, Unto you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God: but to others in parables; that SEEING THEY MIGHT NOT SEE, AND HEARING THEY MIGHT NOT UNDERSTAND.
Christ uses the fact that Abraham was dead to prove that there will be a resurrection of the dead. If Abraham were alive in Heaven the argument would be nonsense.
Matthew 22:32 I am the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.
Rather than proving the existence of immortal souls, it indirectly establishes the contrary. It recognizes the existence of men who are not ‘living’, but ‘dead’. It cannot be suggested that it means ‘dead’ in the moral sense, because this is excluded by Jesus speaking of the resurrection of the dead bodies from the ground (v31).
The Sadducees denied the resurrection. Jesus proved the resurrection by quoting from Moses the words of God, "I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Jesus deduced the resurrection from this formula by maintaining that God was not the God of those who were dead in the sense of being done with. From God calling Himself the God of three men who were dead, Jesus argued that God intended to raise them; for "God calleth those things which be not (but are to be) AS THOUGH THEY WERE" (Romans 4:17). The Sadducees saw the point of the argument, and were put to silence.
If ‘God is not the God of the dead, but of the living’ means that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are alive in heaven, Christ's argument for the resurrection of the dead is destroyed. For how could it prove the purpose of God to raise Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to assert that they were alive? The argument requires that they be dead, in order to be the subjects of resurrection. It is the fact of their being dead at a time when God calls Himself their God that yields the conclusion that God will resurrect them. Take away the fact of their being dead and we take away the point of Christ's argument. Properly understood, the argument is irresistible, and explains how the Sadducees were silenced.
I hope you have found this helpful.