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Bosom of Abraham

The "Bosom of Abraham." It is infamous in the Christian world. Almost anyone who is familiar with scripture can recount the story. Yet, it is to be referenced in only one place, Luke chapter 16. "the beggar died, and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom: . . . the rich man . . .seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."

        "seeth Abraham afar off?" "between us and you there is a great gulf fixed?" What? Did the rich man have telescopic vision? Did he and Abraham call out very loudly to each other -- or did they have cell phones? Foolishness, you say? And I would reply that this is a narrative directed at the Pharisees to whom Jesus was now confronting - and He was out to reveal their Godless and hypocritical hearts.


The Rich Man and Lazarus - a Parable?

        What sort of reasoning is it that denies that a scripture qualifies as a parable because it happens to contain a couple of names? How many narratives have you ever read where the persons involved remained nameless? This one is in the midst of a bed of other parables. If you are about to label me as a heretic, I want you to know that you will of necessity be obligated to label some other fellows as such!

"This parable is not like Christ’s other parables, in which spiritual things are represented by similitudes borrowed from worldly things. . .But here the spiritual things themselves are represented in a narrative or description of the different state of good and bad in this world and the other."

Matthew Henrys Commentary (unabridged) volume 5, page 757

"We define or describe a parable thus: a parable is a similitude or comparison, by which some certain affair or thing is feigned, and told, as if it were really transacted, and is compared with some spiritual thing, or is accommodated to signify it. . .See Luke xvi. 19, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus."

Benjamin Keach, Preaching from the Types and Metaphors of the Bible, page 239.

        Let’s do a simple comparison with another parable found in the previous chapter. The account of the prodigal son is attested by all as a parable, is it not? Both parables have certain characters: first, in the parable of the Prodigal son we have the father; in this parable, Father Abraham. Second, we see two sons in each parable: the elder son in the Prodigal and the rich man in the other, both representing the Pharisee; third, the Prodigal, the son in want, perishing with hunger, while the other parable presents a beggar, perishing with hunger. Fourth, the Prodigal whom the father declares to have been dead is returned unto him and is now alive: he is comforted at the father’s house. In the other parable the beggar is declared dead, but he is very much alive in Abraham’s bosom!

        The “rich man” is very pious: Abraham is his Father; he is the Son of Abraham! Thus the satire used by our Lord in this parable. The rich man cries out: “Father Abraham” and Abraham addresses him as “Son!"

        Just prior to teaching the parable of the “rich man and Lazarus” Christ rebukes the Pharisees for their love of mammon. The scripture makes known their covetousness. The Lord exposes them as “they which justify yourselves before men. . .God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." The line of thought continues: “There was a certain rich man. . .” Similar beginnings to yet other parables are to be found in the scriptures.

        In John chapter eight the Pharisees, as on other occasions, boast that Abraham is their father; to which Jesus replies, “If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. . .Ye are of your father the Devil.”

        In light of this, (and again we stress) Jesus uses the terms, Father Abraham, and Son (relating the Pharisees as sons of Abraham in the flesh, but certainly not in the spirit of Faith.) Notice too, that the cry of the rich man is to Abraham; not to the God of Abraham! Thus do we have a picture painted for the Pharisees by our Lord, using satire; making a mockery of those "religious leaders," the "children of Abraham!"


Abraham's Bosom and the Kingdom of Heaven

"Eternal life is called the bosom of Abraham, Luke xvi. 22. Upon which Brentius in his commentary: "By the bosom of Abraham, you are not to understand a certain corporal or external place in the world, but either the promise of Christ made to Abraham; 'In thy seed shall all nations be blessed;' or Christ himself who came of the seed of Abraham; for in this sense all the godly that sleep in the Lord are reposited, or rest in Christ himself, till in the last day they rise together with their bodies, Acts vii. 59, Phil. i. 23. Therefore when Lazarus is said to be carried by angels into Abraham's bosom, we are to understand, that he was in the enjoyment of supreme felicity in Christ, which in the latter day shall be revealed." Benjamin Keach, Preaching from the Types and Metaphors, page 159.

        "And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven" Matt. 8:11.

        So - just where in reality was (is) the kingdom of heaven? Or is this scripture referring only to the yet future kingdom? But then, it is comprised of the heavenly (New Jerusalem) and the earthly. Is "Abraham's bosom" not heaven itself? And was it not always? If he and the Old Testament saints before him were accounted righteous; the righteousness of Christ being imputed to them; how shall we contend that they were in a "holding area" of some sort, not yet being allowed into heaven itself? Are we to say that there existed a "heavenly Purgatory" of sorts - that while Abel and Enoch and Abraham are declared righteous, yet they were not righteous enough to qualify for heaven itself? Since when does the scripture teach of "degrees of righteousness?" Degrees of Imputed Righteousness? I think not.

        That they were and are righteous is without question. Hear the witness of Christ: "Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes; and some of them ye shall kill and crucify; and some of them shall ye scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias . . ." Matt. 23:34-35.

        Hear the witness of the Father: "By faith Abel offered unto God a more excellent sacrifice than Cain, by which he obtained witness that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts: and by it he being dead now speaketh" Heb. 11:4.

        "And Enoch walked with God: and he was not; for God took him" Gen. 5:24. God took him? Where? To heaven that he might continue to abide in His Presence? Or did he drop him off in "Abraham's bosom?" For that matter, where did righteous Abel end up? If there indeed was some other "place"for the Old Testament believers it certainly did not become "Abraham's bosom" for quite a while. And why Abraham's bosom; why not Abel's bosom, or Enoch, or Noah . . .? What is so significant that it should be identifying with Abraham?

        We've already answered the question. It is the satire used by our Lord to expose the folly of those religious Pharisees: "Abraham is their father!"

        "Abraham is our Father." Of course! For Abraham is made a father of many nations; he is made exceedingly fruitful; kings are to come out of him; an everlasting covenant is established between God and Abraham and his seed after him in their generations. But the Pharisees are not interested in the kingdom of heaven. Their desire is unto the earthly "kingdom" of Abraham with its wealth, its posterity, its power: a Christless kingdom that they themselves would manipulate. "Abraham is our Father!"

        "No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon." The choice must be made: to declare allegiance to the God of Heaven and His kingdom; or, worship at the shrine of the kingdom of mammon: mammon be god!

        Following this scripture our Lord gives the Pharisees a graphic picture to make known the consequences of the worship of mammon rather than of God. It is in the form as such, of a play, a portrayal, complete with the cast of characters. We are presented the script, we are shown the scenes; the play is a satire. Abraham and Lazarus play themselves: they are not representing any person or group. The rich man remains unnamed, for to name him would throw his (the Pharisee's) concentration on another; a particular person. The design, the intent of the Director is to cause the Pharisee who is "watching" the drama to subconsciously put his own name upon the character of the rich man. In the parable of the Prodigal son the "elder son" is not named for the same reason; that the Pharisee put his own name upon him. The prodigal son is not named for the publicans and sinners are to recognize, to identify themselves as the fallen sons of Adam, being in need of rebirth, of repentance, of restoration to the Father.

        The rich man (or Pharisee's) claim is in vain! Abraham, his 'father' is unable to bring him over into "Paradise." He is not able to send Lazarus to him with a drop of water to cool his tongue. Yet he still persists in calling upon "Father Abraham," as though Abraham is deity, rather than calling upon the God of Abraham! But then, he does not know the God of Abraham, does he? Abraham is no Saviour to him, but he continues anyway: "I pray thee therefore, father, . . .send him [Lazarus] to my father's house . . .Nay, father Abraham: but if one went to them from the dead . . ."

        I love this dual picture: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one [One] rose from the dead." It is ironic that another Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha did rise from the dead; also that One (Christ Himself) rose from the dead; but as foretold by our Lord, the Pharisees did not believe.


A Far Greater Problem

        There is a prominent Dispensational teaching that digs away at the very root of the gospel. The doctrine of an Abrahamic "paradise" adds to the problem. We are taught to accept as truth that the Old Testament believer was "under the law." Whatever the means of his salvation, it was short of being saved by grace; his salvation was on a temporary basis by the offering of the blood of animals . . .his position to Christ and the benefits thereunto was somewhat inferior to that of the New Testament Christian! A broadly accepted teaching is that the "Church" began at Pentecost and he, the Old Testament saint was not, neither is now, a part of it. Though the Dispensationalist looks with expectation in being able to talk to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when he disembarks in the Celestial City, he is secretly unsure of their immediate presence: are they yet in Abraham's bosom? (Wherever that is.)


The Scriptures Beg to Differ!

        "But God, who is rich in mercy . . .even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ . . .hath raised us up together . . .made us sit together in heavenly places . . .building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord. . .ye are builded together for an habitation of God" Eph. 2. "That the gentiles should be fellowheirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel" Eph. 3:6. In Romans chapter 11 verse 17, Paul says, "thou being a wild olive tree, wert grafted in among them, [O.T. believers] and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree;" This is only a sampling of scripture that clearly identifies Old and New Testament believers together as one body in Christ.

        "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast" Eph. 2:8-9. This scripture is applicable just as much to Old Testament believers as it is to us!

        "These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth . . .But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city" Heb. 11:13,16. Died in faith? Seeing; being persuaded; embracing; confessing? Sounds just like a New Testament plan of salvation, doesn't it? Strangers and pilgrims on the earth; desiring a heavenly country; God is not ashamed to be called their God; He hath prepared for them a city? Old and New Testament saints seem to be totally in agreement concerning the things of God - don't they?


Leading Captivity Captive

        “Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things”) Eph. 4:8-10.

        Here is a portion of scripture that has been commonly misconstrued. A widespread interpretation calls the Captivity to be the Old Testament saints; that the term, “led captivity captive” refers to the Lord Jesus leading them forth from Paradise. The logic is that they could go no further than "Abraham's bosom"; that they could in no wise enter heaven until Jesus died, was buried, and risen - the time element, you know! But the logic is illogical. The believer, be he Old or New Testament saint, leaves the temporal at death and enters immediately into the Eternal. In the realm of Eternity, the "time factor" does not exist - Christ is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world! The Old Testament saint looked forward to the cross - and we look back 2000 years: but with God it is Eternity Present!

        There are but three scriptures which refer to the place called Paradise. The first, "And Jesus said unto him [the repentant thief] Verily I say unto thee, to day shalt thou be with me in Paradise" Luke 23:43. In Second Corinthians 12, Paul speaks of himself being "caught up to the third heaven . . .he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter." Paul was caught up into the third heaven: Paradise. Will anyone argue that Paul was not caught up; that he stood not before the throne of God? The last reference: "to him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God" Rev. 2:7. Shall we say that the tree of life which we know to be in Heaven, is to be found in a place called "Abraham's bosom?"

        "Wherefore he saith, when he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men."

        One of the basic laws of interpretation is that of the “law of first mention,” and it well applies here. The first reference to leading “captivity captive” is found in Judges chapter five. “Awake, awake, Deborah: awake, awake, utter a song: arise Barak, and lead thy captivity captive, thou son of Abinoam. Then he made him that remaineth have dominion over the nobles among the people: the Lord made me have dominion over the mighty” Judges 5:12,13. Israel’s second judge, Ehud, led the people against the Moabites after slaying their king, and the land had rest for eighty years. But after his death Israel once again fell back into sin. “And the Lord sold them into the hand of Jabin king of Canaan. . .twenty years he mightily oppressed the children of Israel.” At that time the Lord raised up a “prophetess”, Deborah. She sent word to Barak the son of Abinoam: he was to assemble ten thousand men at Mount Tabor; Jehovah would draw Sisera (Jabin’s general) and his armies to meet him at the river Kishon; there He would deliver them into his hand. But the death of Sisera would be given into the hand of Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite. Sisera’s death came as she drove a tent nail through his head. The victory was secured and Israel rested for forty years. “Then sang Deborah and Barak. . .Praise ye the Lord for the avenging of Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves” Judges 5:1. The song related the entire episode. In the song there is conveyed a poetic illusion, “Awake, awake, Deborah: awake awake, utter a song: arise Barak, and lead thy Captivity captive” vs. 12. The term most surely would have rung with familiarity among the Israelites! “Captivity” in the song was portrayed by the oppressors, the Moabites. Israel was the oppressed, the captive. But now the tables are turned: Israel is the captor, while Moab is the captive!

        A defeated people might find their entire city or district removed from the land and relocated nearby their captors, where they were made to serve as slave labor. Removal was thought to sever a people from the care and protection of their god: it implied the defeat of such deity. Their prominent leaders were likely to be chained, to be treated with indignation and cruelty; the victors leading them down the main streets of the city in great celebration of their triumph.

        Let us make the application: Sin was our Captivity. It drew us away; it bound us; it enslaved us. It “removed us from the care and protection of our God: it implied the defeat of such deity!” But He has slain the enemy! They are overcome by His power! He is triumphant, victorious! Death and hell are vanquished foes! He is risen from the grave, alive evermore. He has delivered His people from Captivity! He has taken Captivity captive!

        “Buried with Him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with Him through the operation of God, who hath raised Him from the dead. And you. . .hath He quickened together with Him. And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” Col. 2:12,13,15. Does this verse not clearly define that which we have just read?

        In the book of Judges chapter sixteen we are given through Samson, a portrayal of the resurrection of Christ; a metaphor of Death and Hell. “Then went Samson to Gaza. . .And it was told the Gazites, saying, Samson is come hither. And they compassed him in, and laid wait for him all night in the gate of the city. And Samson lay until midnight, and arose at midnight, and took the doors of the gate of the city, and the two posts, and went away with them, bar and all, and put them upon his shoulders, and carried them up to the top of an hill that is before Hebron.”

        Death and Hell thought to compass in our Lord; but He arose while it was yet night. And He came forth! Not only does He carry the keys of Death and Hell (not the keys to them) but He has carried away the Gates of Death and the Grave, bar and all! Even the framework, the doorposts are removed! As trophies of His victory, He carries them up to the top of a hill: He has “led “Captivity captive!” “And having spoiled principalities and powers, He made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in it” Col. 2:15. It was “to the top of the hill that is before Hebron.” Hebron, a royal residence for king David: shall we not say that Christ also entered His royal residence in triumph over His foes? May we therefore stand triumphantly in Christ and cry aloud, Death, where is thy sting; Grave, where is thy victory!

        Returning to Ephesians chapter four we offer a brief synopsis of verses eight through eleven.

        “When He ascended up on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.” He ascended up far above the heavens, that He might fill all things,” all the members of His church with gifts and graces, according to His riches in glory. “And He gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.” Ten days after our Lord’s ascension (the number of completion for those who are interested) the gift of the Holy Ghost was given; and that, to every believer! Acts 2:38, 10:45, 11:16.

“As great conquerors, when they rode in their triumphal chariots, used to be attended with the most illustrious of their captives led in chains, and were wont to scatter their largesses and bounty among the soldiers and other spectators of their triumphs, so Christ, when He ascended into heaven, as a triumphant conqueror, led captivity captive. . .He conquered those who had conquered us; such as sin, the devil, and death. Indeed, He triumphed over these on the cross; but the triumph was completed at His ascension, when He became Lord over all, and had the keys of Death and Hades put into His hands.”

Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Volume VI, Page 703


Christ and the Spirits in Prison

        We've been addressing scriptures that are deemed troublesome. Let us look at one other that has been shrouded with much confusion amongst the Christian brethren.

        “For Christ also hath once [not twice] suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also He went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is eight souls were saved by water” I Peter 3:18-20.

        It was the days of Noah. “And God saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” Gen. 6:5.

        The Lord thought to destroy man from the face of the earth: “But Noah found grace in the eyes of the Lord” Gen. 6:8. He would build an ark to the saving of his family; judgment would come. But God always gives warning; He allows space for repentance; and this He would do for this generation. “And the Lord said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years” Gen. 6:3.

“The preacher - Christ Jesus, who has interested himself in the affairs of the church and of the world ever since he was first promised to Adam, Gen.3: 15. He went and preached, by his Spirit striving with them, and inspiring and enabling Enoch and Noah to plead with them, and preach righteousness to them. The hearers. Because they were dead and disembodied when the apostle speaks of them, therefore he properly calls them spirits now in prison; not that they were in prison when Christ preached to them, as the vulgar Latin translation and the popish expositors pretend. The sin of these people: They were disobedient, that is, rebellious, unpersuadable, and unbelieving; this their sin is aggravated from the patience and longsuffering of God (which once waited upon them for 120 years together, while Noah was preparing the ark, and by that, as well as by his preaching, giving them fair warning of what was coming upon them. The event of all: Their bodies were drowned, and their spirits cast into hell, which is called a prison (Matt. 5:25, II Peter 2:4,5); but Noah and his family, who believed and were obedient, were saved in the ark.”

Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Volume VI, Page 1026

        Some say, Well Jesus went to hell to preach to the spirits in prison. And I would ask, Why? And what would he preach? They are already condemned; their fate is sealed; the day of opportunity is past; repentance unto salvation is no longer possible. The only message Our Lord has for such as these is, “Depart from Me, all ye workers of iniquity” Luke 13:27. And that would be senseless, for they’re already in hell.

          Jesus preach to those already in hell? Unless one believed he was in a temporary hell; that he might hear, make confession, and yet be purged from his sin; that he might leave that place and go to heaven - such “belief” reeks of Catholicism!

* Anyone who is familiar with these writings may notice that I have borrowed excerpts from other articles. I would ask that you pardon the repetition.

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