Are the Dead REALLY DEAD?

Countering the Prooftexts

by: Tim Kelley

September 5, 2020


No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.
ESV John 3:13


Rachael's Last Breath

Elijah's Chariot

Witch of Endor

the Transfiguration

God of the Dead

Lazarus and the Rich Man

Thief on the Cross


Last time we discussed what happens when a person dies.  We found that God told Adam that if he ate of the Tree that was in the Midst of the Garden – the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil – tht he would “surely die”.  But Satan – the deceiver – told Adam’s wife that God was lying to them, that they would “not surely die”, and they believed it!  From that time, most of mankind has continued to believe the Deceiver ever since.

By definition, a deceived person does not know when he’s been deceived.  We’re witnessing that throughout our country today – people protesting and rioting because of a perceived social injustice that the facts show does not exist.  There is just enough false information out there to make them believe something that is not true – and for the most part, they are not willing to see if what they are being told is true.

Much is the same with the belief that man has an immortal soul – Satan’s “big lie”.  It has been taught so long in churches and synagogues that many, if not most people simply believe it without ever checking the scriptures to see if it’s true. But today, many are beginning to open their Bible to see if these and other traditional religious beliefs are really true.  They want to check these out, but keep running into a brick wall - scriptures scattered throughout the Bible that seem to indicate that God is wrong and the “deceiver” is telling the truth.

How  do we rationalize stories like “King Saul and the Witch of Endor” or “Lazarus and the Rich Man” with what we previously learned about Satan’s lie of an “immortal soul”?  The answer can be summed up in much the same way we do all difficult scriptures – “context, context, and context”.  We have to apply what we know to be true – the foundational scriptures pertaining to any topic – and then look at the context that leads up to, or follows the scripture in question.

In this study, we will take these four foundations we established last time -

  • God had said that that if a man sins, he would die, and since all have sinned, all with die.  Therefore Satan’s statement that man will not die is in opposition to God
  • man does not have an immortal soul, but instead, man IS a soul that is composed of dust and the breath of God
  • when a man dies, his body returns to dust, and his breath returns to God
  • there is no conscious thought in the grave

- and apply them to the scripture in question and its context to discover what is really happening.

If a person can believe these things, then he should be able to go through the scriptures, and when he hits a brick wall, ask himself  “Do I want to believe God, or believe the deceiver?  So how do I explain this?”

We’ll begin our study of these common “brick wall” scriptures by working through the Bible from beginning to end. 

Rachael’s Last Breath (Gen. 35:18)

ESV Genesis 35:18 And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.

The King James Version of this verse renders the Hebrew phrase “ki metah” (כִּי מֵחָה - for she died) as a completed action because the verb “matah” in indeed in the ‘perfect’ - the completed tense, but disregard the fact that the phrase “bezet napheshah” (בְּצאת נַפְשָׁה - her soul was departing) is in the imperfect tense – an action that is not complete.  Later translations (like the English Standard Version) have corrected the early rendition, and now the verse is much clearer.

Simply stated - Rachael was dying, and as she was breathing her last breaths, she named her newborn son “son of my sorrow”, but as the text continues we see that Jacob ultimately named him “Benjamin” – “son of the right hand”.

Witch of Endor (1 Sam 28:15)

1 Samuel 28:11-14  Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" He said, "Bring up Samuel for me."  12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul."  13 The king said to her, "Do not be afraid. What do you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I see a god coming up out of the earth."  14 He said to her, "What is his appearance?" And she said, "An old man is coming up, and he is wrapped in a robe." And Saul knew that it was Samuel, and he bowed with his face to the ground and paid homage.

Like others, this story is used to show that the dead are not really dead, but this one is important in that it appears that a well-known prophet actually did appear and converse with a living person.  The key to understanding is that Samuel - when he was alive – obeyed God.  But if this was truly Samuel, he would be speaking with Saul in opposition to God. 

The context of the story is that Saul had failed to follow God’s command to destroy the Amalekites – all of them – but had spared Agag, the king,  Because of that, Samuel said –

ESV 1 Samuel 15:22-23  "Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.  23 For rebellion is as the sin of divination, and presumption is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king."

At that point, Samuel cut off all communication with Saul (15:26), and Samuel anointed David to be king (16:13)  In addition, God’s withdrew his spirit from Saul and an evil spirit filled the void (16:14).

Eventually, Samuel died (25:1; 28:3) and Saul had no one who would communicate with YHVH for him.  No matter how hard Saul tried to dialogue with Him, God would not answer him (28:6) and this is the first key to understanding what happened when he met with the medium at Endor, for if YHVH would not communicate with Saul, why would Samuel do so – even if he could (28:16)?  To do so would be in conflict with God’s will, and there is no indication that Samuel was ever in opposition to God.

When Saul approached the medium, he did so deceitfully, claiming to be a person other than who he really was (28:8), but when a being appeared that claimed to be Samuel, the woman understood what was happening. 

So who spoke with Saul?  It must have been a demonic spirit.  We learned back in 1 Sam. 16:23 that a demonic spirit had entered into Saul, and now, as the king was dancing with the underworld in a game of deceit – and the demonic spirit played right along – taking on the identity of the deceased prophet. 

So why did the demonic spirit tell Saul the truth?  Because the truth fit the adversary’s plan.  The death of the King of Israel would suit haSatan just fine.

Elijah’s Chariot (2 Kings 2:11)

The story of Elijah is one that intrigues many.  He seems to just appear out of nowhere telling Israel’s King Ahab that he can control the weather (1 Kings 17:1) - a pretty bold statement for a previously unknown prophet, but that’s just the beginning.  Elijah is best known for his challenge to the prophets of Baal that showed the foolishness of the Israelites for following a false God.

But in spite of all the awesome things Elijah had accomplished, he became very discouraged when Israel's Queen Jezebel threatened his life. According the scripture, Elijah fled from her and eventually ended up on Mount Sinai where YHVH showed him His power, but expressed it through a "still small voice".

YHVH then sent Elijah to take care of a couple of tasks, then to anoint Elisha as his replacement. That event is recorded this way -

ESV 1 Kings 19:19-21  So he departed from there and found Elisha the son of Shaphat, who was plowing with twelve yoke of oxen in front of him, and he was with the twelfth. Elijah passed by him and cast his cloak upon him.  20 And he left the oxen and ran after Elijah and said, "Let me kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow you." And he said to him, "Go back again, for what have I done to you?"  21 And he returned from following him and took the yoke of oxen and sacrificed them and boiled their flesh with the yokes of the oxen and gave it to the people, and they ate. Then he arose and went after Elijah and assisted him.

Apparantly, Elisha did not get the hint. Elijah had given him his 'mantle', the symbol of his prophetic calling, but instead of performing the duties of his calling, Elisha simply followed Elijah.

This apparantly continued for some time, but eventually it was time for Elisha to be a prophet in his own right, to stand on his own – and Elijah knew it. So he tried a number of times to separate himself from Elisha, but Elisha clung to him (2 Kings 2:2, 4, and 6), so God sent a chariot to usher Elijah away so that he could not be followed. The Septuagint (LXX) states it this way –

LXX  2 Kings 2:11-12   And it came to pass as they were going, they went on talking; and, behold, a chariot of fire, and horses of fire, and it separated between them both; and Eliu was taken up in a whirlwind as it were into heaven. 12 And Elisaie saw, and cried, Father, father, the chariot of Israel, and the horseman thereof! And he saw him no more: and he took hold of his garments, and rent them into two pieces. 

Even though the ‘sons of the prophets’ knew that Elijah was going to be taken from Elisha that day (2 Kings 2:3&5), they did not understand that to mean that Elisha would “go to heaven”, for they asked Elisha –

ESV 2 Kings 2:16 … “Please let them (50 men) go and seek your master. It may be that the Spirit of the LORD has caught him up and cast him upon some mountain or into some valley."

But Elisha refused, knowing that it was not God’s purpose for him to be united with Elijah again. 

So what happened to Elijah?  We don’t know for sure, but we do know that some years later he wrote a letter to King Jehoram of Judah -

ESV 2 Chronicles 21:12-15  12 And a letter came to him (King Jehoram) from Elijah the prophet, saying, "Thus says the LORD, the God of David your father, 'Because you have not walked in the ways of Jehoshaphat your father, or in the ways of Asa king of Judah,  13 but have walked in the way of the kings of Israel and have enticed Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem into whoredom, as the house of Ahab led Israel into whoredom, and also you have killed your brothers, of your father's house, who were better than yourself,  14 behold, the LORD will bring a great plague on your people, your children, your wives, and all your possessions,  15 and you yourself will have a severe sickness with a disease of your bowels, until your bowels come out because of the disease, day by day.'"

Prior to this letter, Elijah last prophesied during the ending days of the reign of King Ahaziah of Israel. Ahaziah was a contempory with King Jehoshaphat of Judah.  Most Bible charts indicate that Ahaziah died roughly 4 years before Jehoshaphat died, and his son Jehoram reigned in his place for the next 6-7 years.  In 2 Kings 3:11 we find Elisha dialoging with King Jehoshaphat which indicates that Elijah had already departed before Jehoram became king.  Therefore, the letter was at least 6 to 7 years after Elijah departed.

The fiery chariots story2 is a fitting closing to the ‘story’ of Elijah – a most unusual prophet who suddenly appeared on the scene with no introduction, then just as quickly left the scene. God has the most interesting ways of amusing us!

Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1)

The ‘transfiguration’ is a term that is typically applied to the appearance of Yeshua, Moses, and Elijah on a mountaintop in the area of the Galilee.  Mark 9:2-8 and Luke 9:28-36 recount this event as well, so we must draw all three accounts together.

One of the first points to consider is that Yeshua was the only one of the three to be transfigured – a word that comes from the Greek word ‘metamorphoo’ (3339) and it means to change into another form.  This change in form is how a caterpillar becomes a butterfly, and in the case of Yeshua, He apparently changed from being in a physical body to being a shining spirit.  As for Moses and Elijah, they appeared in “glory” (Luke 9:30).

“Glory” in the NT is much different than what it is in the TNaKh.  The Hebrew word for ‘glory’ is ‘kavowd’ (כָּבוֹד – 3519), and it comes from a root word that means “heavy”.  God’s glory is often related to His ability in battle, and thus glory is associated with the armaments of war (a shining shield, sword, etc.).  On the other hand, glory in the NT comes from the Greek word ‘doxa’ (1391) which comes from the root word ‘dokeo’ (1380) which means ‘opinion’, ‘think’, ‘suppose’.  That’s because in the Greek culture of the first century, people were looked upon as “glorious” not because of what they did, but for what they ‘thought’. Since in this story, Luke is the only writer to use the term ‘glory’, and because the term appears in the context of the three of them discussing Yeshua’s approaching crucifixion, it appears that their ‘glory’ was simply the words of encouragement they were offering to Yeshua.  As for their appearance - they looked to the disciples like normal human beings having a discussion with Yeshua, and the only significant features being how they were dressed – Moses with his staff and Elijah dressed in an animal skin (2 Kings 1:8).  The other two accounts say nothing about their appearance. Thus it can be assumed that they did not appear in any ‘glorified body’ as some have suggested.

Nevertheless, their appearance with Yeshua did make an impact on the disciples as indicated by their question about building tabernacles.  This is significant because it shows that the three of them (Moses, Elijah, and The King) together in one place signified the return of the Kingdom of God, which is what Yeshua mentioned earlier –

ESV Matthew 16:28 Truly, I say to you, there are some standing here who will not taste death until they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom."

Since the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot or Booths) is a representation of the Kingdom of God, the disciples felt compelled to build one for each of them. 

So why did the disciples connect the three of them the Kingdom of God?  Because if first century Jewish culture, the Kingdom begins with a wedding – the wedding of the Messiah to Israel, and both Moses and Elijah play a part in it.

We know that YHVH betrothed Himself to Israel on Mount Sinai, but in Hebrew thought, the marriage is not complete until the union is consummated, which again in Hebrew thought, takes place just prior to the Marriage Supper.  In the betrothal process, it was Moses who brought the bride to YHVH, and it is Elijah who announces the arrival of the bridegroom.  Thus Moses is the ‘friend of the bride’ and Elijah is ‘the friend of the bridegroom’.  This is alluded to in John the Baptist’s discussion with his own disciples. –

ESV John 3:27-30  John answered, "A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.  28 You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, 'I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.'  29 The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.  30 He must increase, but I must decrease."

So one of the purposes of the transfiguration was to give the disciples a glimpse of the Kingdom of God, but there was another reason that is even more important.

In Luke’s account, he shows that it was eight days after Yeshua told them that some would see the Kingdom of God.  Eight is a significant number because it pictures a ‘new beginning’.  Though that is a study in itself, suffice it to say that there are seven days in the weekly cycle, and the 1st day could also be considered the 8th day, and as the 8th day begins a new cycle, it is a ‘new beginning’. 

Previous to the transfiguration, Yeshua had begun to prepare His disciples for his upcoming crucifixion.  To the disciples, the death of their leader – the man they had concluded would be Israel’s King and would drive out the Romans - would mean certain death for them as well.  So Yeshua showed them – via the transfiguration – that the Kingdom would be restored and that Yeshua himself would be the King.  He showed them Himself with Moses and Elijah discussing Yeshua’s imminent death3 as if they knew about it all along (which they certainly did4). They needed to understand that this was part of the plan, because if they were to lose heart, Yeshua’s ‘kingdom message’ would not get out.   Yeshua wanted them to see this picture of the kingdom to assure them that the message they were commissioned to spread would indeed come to pass – and that He would be at its helm. 

 So - did they actually see Moses and Elijah?  No.  What they saw was a vision –

NKJ Matthew 17:9 Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, "Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead."

But what about Luke’s account?  It seems to indicate they were “fully awake” (NKJ) while at the same time they were “heavy with sleep”.

NKJ Luke 9:32 But Peter and those with him were heavy with sleep; and when they were fully awake, they saw His glory and the two men who stood with Him.

In the above passage, the phrase “fully awake” is from the Greek word ‘diagregoreo’ (1235) which has as its primary meaning “to watch through”.  It is only used once in scripture, so we must go to its root for more understanding.  The word is composed of two root words – ‘dia’ (1223), which is a preposition that means “by” and ‘gregoreuo’ (1127) which means “watching”.  In other words “they were heavy with sleep by watching”.  So what were they watching?  They were supposed to be guarding Yeshua while He prayed –

NKJ Luke 9:28-29  Now it came to pass, about eight days after these sayings, that He took Peter, John, and James and went up on the mountain to pray.  29 As He prayed, the appearance of His face was altered, and His robe became white and glistening.

Apparently His prayer went long as they sometimes do (Luke 6:12), and they fell asleep.  This same thing happened just a few weeks later while the same three disciples were again supposed to be watching.

NKJ Matthew 26:36-38  Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, "Sit here while I go and pray over there."  37 And He took with Him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and He began to be sorrowful and deeply distressed.  38 Then He said to them, "My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me."

As we know, they were unable to stay awake –

NKJ Matthew 26:40  Then He came to the disciples and found them asleep, and said to Peter, "What? Could you not watch with Me one hour?

But Yeshua was not through praying, so He went back to his prayer, and when He was finished, He again found them in deep sleep.

NKJ Matthew 26:43 And He came and found them asleep again, for their eyes were heavy.

This is much the same wording as we see in Luke’s account of the transfiguration where as He was praying his face began to shine and the disciples saw Moses and Elijah while they were sleeping.  In other words, they were dreaming, or as it says in Matthew, they had a vision.

Though Matthew and Mark leave out the significant detail in regards to the prayer, when you read all three accounts, you find the truth.

God of the Dead (Matt. 22:31)

This story began as an attempt to trap Yeshua in regards to the resurrection of the dead.  The Sadducees, a sect of Judaism that did not believe in the resurrection, presented a scenario that was based on the laws of levirate marriage.  In the scenario, a woman has a husband who dies, and she remarries.  That husband also dies and such is the case for the next five husbands. Eventually she dies.  Their question to Him was “whose wife will she be in the resurrection?”.  Yeshua did not give them an answer, but responded with a statement that they lead people astray because they don’t know the scriptures.  Not only did they not believe in a resurrection, they also did not believe in angels or spirits.

Yeshua then went on to say –

NKJ Matthew 22:31-32 "But concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was spoken to you by God, saying,  'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? God is not the God of the dead, but of the living."

So what did Yeshua just say?  He was basically stating that if Abraham died without receiving the promises God had made, and if there is no resurrection, then what good were the promises?  It is another way of saying that if there is no resurrection, what good is it to claim ancestry from Abraham? 

Yeshua was not saying that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were still alive..  That would have defeated His point – if they were still alive, what need would there be for a resurrection?

It is clear that Yeshua knew that the resurrection was in the future. In regards to the resurrection He said –

NKJ John 5:28-29   "Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice  29 "and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.

To Yeshua, the resurrection is in the future.  Paul confirms this by showing that the resurrection is hoped for, but has yet to take place -

Acts 23:6-8  But when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, "Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee; concerning the hope and resurrection of the dead I am being judged!"  7 And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees; and the assembly was divided.  8 For Sadducees say that there is no resurrection -- and no angel or spirit; but the Pharisees confess both.

And it was because this was the way that Yeshua believe that the Pharisees were ecstatic with Yeshua’s reply to the Sadducees. Even though they often disagreed with Yeshua, they were glad to see Him put the Sadducees in their place.

Lazarus and Rich Man  (Luke 16:19)

For many who believe in an immortal soul , the story of ‘Lazarus and the Rich Man’ (as it is often called) is considered a “home run”.  Since Yeshua stated that it happened, it has to be true.  Case closed!

But was Lazarus a real person?  Was Yeshua relating a true story?  If He did, then the case is indeed ‘closed’, but then many of the statements made about death in the TNaKh, as well as those made by the Paul, the disciples, and Yeshua himself would be false. 

So, there are two questions that must be answered:

  • is the story a true story, or is it a parable, and
  • if it is a parable, why did Yeshua use a story that indicates that life continues on after death

We will attempt to answer both.

The context of the story begins in Luke 15.  It is here that we find Yeshua in the company of “sinners” and being harassed by the scribes and Pharisees.  Yeshua’s response was to tell them a parable.  So what is a parable? Before going further, let’s define a parable and determine their purpose, at least in regards to Yeshua’s purpose for them.

Early in Yeshua’s ministry, His disciples noticed that whenever He spoke to them, he spoke plainly, but when He spoke to others, He spoke using parables.  This perplexed them, so they asked him “why”? His answer was -

ESV Matthew 13:11-15 … "To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.  12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.  13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.  14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says: "' You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.  15 For this people's heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.'

Yeshua spoke to the crowds in parables because it was not their time to understand the deep things of the Kingdom of God.  They were able to get the basics, but the mysteries were only given to the disciples.  So by giving His messages to the crowds in parables, He was able to get His point across, but avoid divulging the details that were reserved for the disciples.

What are parables?  Every instance (except for one) of the word ‘parable(s)’ in the KJV is translated from the Greek word ‘parabole’ {par-ab-ol-ay} (3850).  ‘Parabole’ comes from the Greek words ‘bole’ (throwing) and ‘para’ (alongside).  In mathematics, a parabola is a u-shaped curve that can be defined by an equation.  It is called such because when you throw a ball into the air, the path of a ball a parabola.  A common example of a parabola is a satellite dish that many use to receive television signals.

In literary terms, a ‘parable’ is a comparison or story told to illustrate a point. Today, we would call it a ‘simile’ – a comparison of two things of a different kind. An example of such is: ”She is as innocent as an angel”.  In the simile “she” is not necessarily an angel, but her integrity is being compared to that of an “angel”.  In order to understand this simile, the hearer would not necessarily have to believe in angels, but would have to know a little bit about them.  Such is the same with Yeshua’s parable of leaven -

NKJ Matthew 13:33 Another parable He spoke to them: "The kingdom of heaven is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."

The point of the parable is that the Kingdom of God would start out very small, but would spread throughout the earth.  A person would not have to be a baker to understand this, but would at least need to know that a small amount of leaven placed in dough will eventually spread throughout the entire loaf.

Yeshua’s parables sometimes went beyond a simple comparison.  At times they would be in the form of a story where fictional characters were used to illustrate a truth.  For instance, the “Parable of the Good Samaritan” – a story Yeshua told to answer a Jewish lawyer who asked “who is my neighbor”.  In the story, a Jewish man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho and was attacked by thieves and left to die. A priest saw him on the road, but passed by without helping him.  Later, a Levite did the same thing.  Finally, a Samaritan came by and helped the Jewish man out.

In that parable, no characters are named, so it is apparent that the story was fiction.  What’s more, if the hearer was not aware of the animosity that existed between the Jews and the Samaritans, he would not have understood the parable.  Obviously, the Jewish lawyer did, so Yeshua advised him to follow the example of the Samaritan, i.e. – take care of others even if you don’t like them.5

It is interesting to note that the scripture never defines this story as a parable, yet most every Bible student claims that it is.

Let’s now take a look at the context of the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

The story actually begins in Luke 15 where a group of Pharisees and lawyers were mingling with a crowd that included tax collectors and sinners.  They were all listening to Yeshua’s teaching, but the Pharisees were mumbling, saying “… this Man receives sinners6 and eats with them." (vs. 2).  Yeshua hears their mumbling and responds to them with four parables: the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), the lost coin (15:8-10), the prodigal son (15:11-32), and the unjust steward (16:1-13).

The first three parables show why Yeshua was reaching out to sinners.  The fourth is an indictment against the Pharisees because they - like the unjust steward - laid an additional burden (their oral traditions) on the people.7  After the fourth parable, Luke records Yeshua giving a short commentary on that parable and then states the following as a background for what Yeshua did next -

ESV Luke 16:14  The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.

Being lovers of money and power was the underlying problem with the Jewish leadership – especially the Pharisees.  They ‘bent’ the law in order to accommodate their desire for wealth, and in the next verse, Yeshua called them out -

ESV Luke 16:15  And he said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

That statement was probably a reference to their greedy twist of the Torah commandments concerning “corban” 8 and the allegation that they “devour widow’s houses” (Mark 12:38-40). Yeshua then gave them a few more examples of their collective unrighteousness -  

  • how they resisted John the Baptist as his kingdom message was beginning to unfold (vs. 16)
  • their willingness to bend the law in regards to marriage (vs.17-18)

He then immediately jumped into the story of Lazarus and the rich man.

Before we get into that story, let’s think about what we’ve seen so far.  Yeshua is confronted by the scribes (lawyers) and the Pharisees – men who are supposed to be experts on the law.  They accuse Him of coddling sinners, i.e. – “law breakers”, while at the same time, they themselves are corrupting the same law they accuse the “sinners” of breaking.  Yeshua responds with three stories (parables) to explain to them why He reaches out to the sinners, and one to illustrate how their oral traditions add an extra burden to the Torah.  The Pharisees then ridicule Him and He responds by reminding them that they had actually changed the Law of God to accommodate their desire for wealth, and they did it at other’s expense.

Now ask yourself - “In His current confrontation with the Pharisees, would it be beneficial for Yeshua to change the subject and tell a story illustrating what happens after a person dies, or would it be a better use of the occasion to tell a story about the ramifications of treating your brother harshly?”  Obviously, a discussion of life after death would serve no purpose. On the other hand, a ‘parable’ that pertains to the things He was currently dealing with would be beneficial because Yeshua - a master at crafting parables – could make His point very quickly without having to provide all the details.

Being that Yeshua oftentimes uses parables as the response to questions or confrontations, it is therefore safe to conclude that the story is not a true story, but is instead, a parable.  So the question now is why did he use a parable that seemingly indicates that life continues on after death? To understand that, we must understand a little about the Jewish culture of the day.

Like Judaism today, the 1st century Jewish people had differing views about what happens when a person dies.  Many of those views were based on Egyptian and/or Greek mythology that crept into Judea and Samaria as the Jews returned from Egypt, and as a result of the Hellenization of the Jewish people after the death of Alexander the Great.  One of the leading sources of ‘after life’ views was the writings of the Greek philosophers Plato and Socrates.  Plato was a proponent of the belief in an immortal soul and wrote extensively about it.  Over the years, many stories were written and circulated to explain Plato’s views.

One such story – written in Egypt but altered to fit the Judean culture – was about a rich publican and a poor rabbi, both of whom had died. In the 'afterlife', they were walking in the midst of beautiful streams.  The poor rabbi was able to bend over and scoop a drink of water with his hands, but whenever the rich publican attempted to do so, the water receded away9.

Yeshua may have used that story - altering it to fit His needs - as a backdrop for His parable.  In doing so, He could make his point very quickly since His audience – the Pharisees, did believe in an afterlife (resurrection) and would have been familiar with the story.

He told the story of a rich man who had a servant named Lazarus10.  Lazarus came down with a sickness, and the rich man – instead of taking care of him, no longer had a use or regard for him, and so he “threw”11 him at the gate of his property to fend for himself as a beggar. The servant wished that he could at least receive the scraps from the rich man’s table, but apparently was refused. Thus we have an example of a Hebrew refusing to take care of his Hebrew servant as prescribed by the Torah. 

At this point in the story, the Pharisees would have understood that He was talking about them.

To illustrate the consequences of such behavior, Yeshua borrowed from one of the prominent Jewish views of life after death. He showed that the beggar died – likely because of his sickness, and the rich man also died.  Whereas upon death the beggar was carried by the angels to “Abraham’s Bosem”12, the rich man was simply buried, but quickly found himself in torment.

Verses 23 through 26 are pretty much self explanatory – the parable shows that what happened in their ‘human’ lives is now reversed. 

The real meat of the parable begins at verse 27 where the rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers to not to continue in the lifestyle they all had or were currently living.  And how was that?  They lived like the rich man – without any regard for those who were less fortunate.  Abraham’s response to the rich man was that the still living brothers have the warning of Moses and the prophets right at their fingertips; and if they won’t listen to Moses (who, along with Abraham, was the most highly esteemed person in Jewish culture) what makes him think they would listen to someone who rose from the dead? Yeshua’s parable obviously hit the mark because we hear no more about the Pharisees that day.  They apparently slithered away, looking for another opportunity to attack.  Ironically, some of them did - just months’ later - actually see Lazarus rise from the dead, and as Yeshua said, they did not believe.  Even when Yeshua died and rose days later, they still did not acknowledge that what Moses and the prophets had foretold about Him actually did come to pass.

The greatest beneficiaries from this parable were the disciples.  As Yeshua said to them after the crowd had left and they were again alone -

NKJ Luke 17:1 … "It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come!

They too were going to face  ‘offenses’ – ‘scandals’ – traps set with the hope of snaring a person in his words13, but they had seen how Yeshua, even after great ridicule, stuck to the message and humbly “put the Pharisees in their place” by saying as little as necessary and by carefully choosing His words. He assured them that with confidence in their message and faith which God provides, they too could stand against the Jewish leadership and do the job they had been called to do; and they replied “increase our faith” (17:5).   

So the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is just that – a parable.  It vividly conveyed Yeshua’s point that if a person will not believe the words written in the Bible, he will not believe them even if Yeshua Himself stood right in front of him teaching them.  Because He used a parable that incorporated their cultural beliefs, even though those beliefs were scripturally incorrect – He was able to get his point across in relatively few words.

Thief on the Cross (Luke 23:42)

ESV Luke 23:42-43   And he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."  43 And he said to him, "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise."

This passage is typically used to show that the ‘soul’ of Yeshua as well as the ‘repentant’ robber arrived in “Paradise” immediately upon death, but there are problems.

The first problem is that we know little about the thief’s heart while on the stake.  The common understanding is that he was repentant.  Unfortunately, there is no indication of that.  Even though he acknowledged that he was deserving of the punishment rendered, there is no indication that he was sorry for what he had done other than being sorry that he got caught.  What we do know is that he, along with his fellow thief did recognize Yeshua as the one many believed was to become the King of the Jews. Apparently this thief either shared that belief, or in his current predicament – thought that it might be possible.  After all, what did he have to lose?  The question then is whether or not Yeshua took this simple act of acknowledging that He was the king  - typical of a death-bed confession – as a repentant heart that would insure he would end up in ‘Paradise’ as opposed to Sheol?” 

We would also need to ask why it is that though the thief asked Yeshua to remember him when He came into his kingdom, Yeshua answered him by saying that “you will be with me in Paradise”.  Were the ‘Kingdom’ and ‘Paradise’ one and the same in the eyes of Yeshua?  What’s more, were either or both in existence at the time Yeshua made these statements?

The Greek word for ‘kingdom’ is ‘basileia’ (Strong’s 932), a term that generally means “reign” or “rule”. It is the same word that applies to the coming kingdom of God that had yet to begin even 40 days after Yeshua died as shown by the disciples question to Yeshua shortly before He ascended to YHVH.

NKJ Acts 1:6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, "Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?"

Since Yeshua knew that the Kingdom would not be restored on the day He was laid to rest, He could have answered the request in the affirmative since the request did not include a time frame.   Nevertheless, Yeshua did not answer the request, but instead stated that the thief would be with Him in Paradise.  Why did He not answer the request? Could it be that –

1 Corinthians 6:9-10 … the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.

So instead of making a promise to the thief that He could not keep, he indicated that the thief would eventually have to repent (which is the purpose for the Messianic Kingdom, and which Yeshua assumed he would do) and could then join Him in Paradise at the appropriate time. 

So what is Paradise?  Though many of the Jews in the first century were steeped in Greek mythology concerning the afterlife – much of which was based on the philosophy and writings of Plato – the term “paradise’, as used in the scripture, means “garden”.  In the LXX, the Greek word “paradeisos” (3857) translates the word “gan” ( גָן– 1588 – ‘garden’) in these TNAKH passages - Gen. 2:9,15,16; 3:1,8,10; and Ezekiel 31:8 -  and in each of these cases, it refers to the Garden of Eden, the home of the Tree of Life.  In the NT, ‘paradise is used (in addition to Luke 23:43) in Paul’s vision in 2 Corinthians 12:4 and in John’s vision in Revelation. In Paul’s vision, ‘paradise’ is equivalent to the ‘third heaven’, and in John’s vision it is clearly a reference to the Garden of Eden.

So Yeshua was referencing the Garden of Eden in the New Jerusalem as the place the (then former) thief would join Him. In fact, in Yeshua’s statement as well as the Revelation passage, the article “the” precedes the word “paradeisos” which further substantiates the garden being referenced is the Garden of Eden.

So is the thief there now?  Not according to Paul who indicates that the dead must await the resurrection that accompanies the 2nd coming of The Messiah before being united with Yeshua.

ESV 1 Thessalonians 4:14-17  14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep.  15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep.  16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord.

Therefore, it is not possible that the thief joined Yeshua later that evening in either the Kingdom or in Paradise.  So what else could it mean when Yeshua said “today you will be with me in Paradise”? Could they be meeting in some other location?  Could ‘paradise’ be somewhere else? Possibly!

In the first century Roman Empire, crucifixion was the most dreaded of punishment.  People were hung on a stake and left there until they died, which oftentimes took days.  After death the bodies remained on the stake and were consumed by birds until they eventually fell to the ground where dogs and other carnivores would consume them. Because the Romans oftentimes made exceptions for the Jews, it was sometimes possible for the body to be immediately buried on death if: 1) the criminal was a common criminal and not an insurrectionist, and 2) a relative requested the body. 

Yeshua was buried in the ‘garden tomb’ because Joseph of Arimathea requested His body and had a tomb readily available. Could it be that when Yeshua said “today” he was indicating that the thief would die that day - greatly reducing the duration of his suffering, and that he might possibly be buried in a tomb? 

There is another possible explanation as well.  The word “today”  is often found in scripture as a proper noun of sorts because the it is often found in the form “ha yom” (הַיוֹם) which is oftentimes translated “the day” or “this day”.  Based on its usage, it can be a Hebrew idiom signifying that what is said is very important.  For example,

NKJ Deuteronomy 15:15 "You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this thing today.

Here, Moses is giving Israel instructions regarding servants, but these instructions could not be carried out until Israel entered the Promised Land.  Moses emphasized “today” because he wanted them to remember these things when they came into the land.

Another example is when Moses concluded the instructions to Israel.  He noted that -

NKJ Deuteronomy 29:10-13  10 " All of you stand today before the LORD your God: your leaders and your tribes and your elders and your officers, all the men of Israel,  11 "your little ones and your wives -- also the stranger who is in your camp, from the one who cuts your wood to the one who draws your water --  12 "that you may enter into covenant with the LORD your God, and into His oath, which the LORD your God makes with you today13 "that He may establish you today as a people for Himself, and that He may be God to you, just as He has spoken to you, and just as He has sworn to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

In this passage, the last two “today”s do not indicate a specific time.  How do we know? because the covenant made with Israel and their establishment as His people did not take place that day, but 40 years earlier when they were standing at the base of Mount Sinai.

In Yeshua’s statement, He could have been indicating to the thief that His promise “you shall be with me in paradise” is a sure thing, though it would not happen that day.

So it is scripturally impossible that Yeshua met the thief “in Paradise” that day unless “paradise” was simply a reference to a tomb in the ground.  To do otherwise would violate not only His words, but the words of his disciples and apostles as well.

2 KJV uses the singular “chariot”;  

3 Luke 9:31;  

4 Hebrews 11:24-26;  

5 There is actually more to it than just that; for instance, why was a Samaritan traveling to Jerusalem?;  

6 “sinners” in the eyes of the Pharisees could include failure to observe part of their ‘oral’ law;  

7 Like tax collectors, stewards in the first century added a fee to a person’s bill.  That fee was above and beyond what the debtor actually owed.  It became the collector’s compensation for collecting the tax or the money owed. The ‘unjust steward’ was simply forgiving the fee, not the debt.  In like manner, the Pharisees added their own laws to the written law of Moses – the Torah, thus adding to their burden (Matt. 23:1-4); but Yeshua did not.  He only expected the people to follow the written law (Matt 11:29-30).  In the parable, the unjust steward was considered ‘wise’ because he removed the additional burden that he had placed on the debtor.; 

8 ‘Qorban’ (Strong’s 7133) is a Hebrew word meaning ‘gift’ or ‘offering’.  The Hebrew word was transliterated in the Greek in Yeshua’s indictment against the Pharisees because they would make a vow declaring their possessions as ‘corban’ (gifts to God) which, they said, restricted them from using the property for secular reasons such as using the funds to take care of their elderly parents as prescribed by the Torah (Exodus 20:12).  The Pharisee’s would later renounce those vows after the parents had passed on and then use the property for their own purposes. Yeshua addressed this in Mark’s account –

ESV Mark 7:9-13   And he said to them, "You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!  10 For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.'  11 But you say, 'If a man tells his father or his mother, Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban' (that is, given to God)-  12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother,  13 thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do." ;  

9 based on an article written by a Mormon author - Egyptian Stories Reconstrextualized In Scriputre ;  

10 ‘Lazarus’ is the Greek transliteration for “Eliezer” who was Abraham’s servant;  

11 Greek word “ballo” (Strong’s 906) means “to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls”.  Translated in that sense 95 out of 125 times.;  

12 Though there is much speculation about the meaning of “Abraham’s Bosem”, it is simply not defined in scripture, nor in other contemporary writings.;  

13 Greek ‘skandalon’ (4625) – the triggering mechanism in a trap or snare.;