College & Career Class Lesson Summary, December 30, 2018
We have parked on Ephesians 4:8-10 as these verses are often used to support the idea that Jesus went to hell when He died to take Old Testament believers out of a place called, Abraham’s bosom, and take them to heaven. We did determine from 1Peter 3 and 2Peter 2 that there seems to be an event where Christ preached to some spirits that were in prison and they are associated with something that happened during the days of Noah. This preaching seems to be associated to the time when Jesus once suffered for sin. (click –>Ephesians Chapter 4, pt. 3 for more detail). So, this much of the story seems to be on par with what scripture presents. But, what about this Abraham bosom thing?
There is a thought that Old Testament believers didn’t go to heaven before Christ’s resurrection and they were simply collected in a place called Abraham’s bosom. This place is derived from Luke 16 where we see a rich man die and go to hell, but Lazarus, the beggar with leprosy, go to Abraham’s bosom. From this one account, it is presumed/extrapolated that this is speaking about the location of all believers prior to Christ’s resurrection. After the resurrection, everyone simply goes to heaven. Christ lead the Old Testament saints from Abraham’s bosom to heaven to get this “going to heaven” thing started.
Ephesians 4:8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. 4:9 (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth? 4:10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
Let’s discuss the Abraham bosom idea first, then we’ll come back and see if we can make sense of what Paul is actually getting at here in Ephesians 4.
Luke 16’s account of Lazarus and the rich man is a parable in a string of parables that Christ is giving to the Pharisees, going back to Luke 14. This may catch you off guard that I’m referring to this account as a parable as there is some conventional thought that would suggest that if an account contains an actual proper name, then it is referring to an actual event and/or person. However, this idea doesn’t hold consistency with scripture.
First, there is no scripture that defines how to identify a parable, whether it contains proper names or not. Second, we do find parables in the Bible that DO contain proper names. For example, in Ezekiel 23, we have the parable of the two sisters and both sisters are named. These sisters are a type of Samaria and Jerusalem:
Ezekiel 23:1 The word of the LORD came again unto me, saying, 23:2 Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother:
Ezekiel 23:4 And the names of them were Aholah the elder, and Aholibah her sister: and they were mine, and they bare sons and daughters. Thus were their names; Samaria is Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah.
We also have the entire book of Hosea that is a parable of God and His people and the parable maintains two main cast members – Hosea, the husband (as God) and Gomer, the whorish wife (as His people).
Lastly, we are told that when speaking to crowds, that Jesus did not speak anything but parables to them because it was prophesied He would do so,
Matthew 13:34 All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them: 13:35 That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.
We should also not be so hasty to conclude that if it is a parable, then somehow it doesn’t carry as much weight as if it were a real event. That is nonsense – the weight carried is in the PRINCIPLE of whatever is being spoken of, whether real event or parable. What makes the Red Sea crossing great is not the Red Sea – it is the salvation of God that was on display that makes it great. That is the principle of the Red Sea and often in scripture, you’ll find Old Testament writers drawing Israel’s attention back to their deliverance through the Red Sea but isn’t to celebrate the Sea, but God’s deliverance. It was a real place – the crossing really happened, but the PRINCIPLE of the whole event is what is important – the salvation of God.
It is my contention that Luke 16’s account, being a parable, is designed to teach something to these Pharisees that Jesus was been giving the business to since Luke 14. There are a series of parables and lessons the Pharisees need to learn and submit to.
Luke 14:1 And it came to pass, as he went into the house of one of the chief Pharisees to eat bread on the sabbath day, that they watched him. 14:2 And, behold, there was a certain man before him which had the dropsy. 14:3 And Jesus answering spake unto the lawyers and Pharisees, saying, Is it lawful to heal on the sabbath day? 14:4 And they held their peace. And he took him, and healed him, and let him go; 14:5 And answered them, saying, Which of you shall have an ass or an ox fallen into a pit, and will not straightway pull him out on the sabbath day? 14:6 And they could not answer him again to these things.
|Parable & Principle||Excerpt|
|Luke 14, Wedding Feast –||Pharisees need to humble themselves||Luke 14:11 For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.|
|Luke 14, Great Banquet –||Pharisees need to humble themselves and quit making excuses for their unwillingness to humble themselves||Luke 14:13 But when thou makest a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: Luke 14:14 And thou shalt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.|
|Luke 15, Lost Sheep & Lost Coin –||Pharisees are every much lost sheep as the sinners Jesus was with – they need to recognize this – they need to humble themselves||Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.|
|Luke 15, Prodigal Son –||Pharisees are the Prodigal Son – squandering the goods of God for their own gain…but they are dead and need to be made alive||Luke 15:18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,|
|Luke 16, the Unjust Steward –||Pharisees won’t find themselves stewards of God’s true riches if they can’t even handle being a just steward of earthly riches||Luke 16:11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?|
There is a common thread in all of these parables and that is the Pharisees need to humble themselves and recognize just how in despair they really are, apart from the very Messiah they are rejecting. Right before we get to Lazarus and the rich man, we find a parable about riches and how no matter how much they fancy themselves as the stewards of riches here on earth, they will never have God’s true riches in their hands to be a steward of. Christ shows them how their current status as stewards is in shambles. He is next going to show them that riches will get you nothing from God – no status – no prestige – nothing. Think about it – God, who is rich with eternal blessings of His grace would have no reason to be impressed with any riches we amount, for the most valuable of our riches fall miserably short of His glory.
The parable begins,
Luke 16:19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 16:20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 16:21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
Notice that both men are “certain”, which is very ‘parable-esque’ language. However, one of these men gets a name and I think if we understand that name, we’ll see exactly what Christ is teaching the parables. (Anytime you are reading or studying the Bible and you come across a name, whether of a person or place, do some digging on its meaning. Names had some important roles that we can miss if we just read past them casually.)
The name Lazarus means, ‘God has helped.’ That should tip us off immediately about what this parable is going to teach – the one whom God helps is not the rich man who fairs sumptuously every day, having contempt for his fellow man who poor and perhaps unlovely, but rather the one whom God helps is the leprous beggar. Lazarus desired to be fed simply with the crumbs from the rich man’s table but the rich man wouldn’t oblige and kept his sustenance all to himself. This is exactly what the Pharisees were doing – starving Israel for their own gain. Yet, when it was all said and done, the rich man and this Lazarus died and were buried. Lazarus gets the red carpet treatment being carried by God’s limo service to Abraham’s bosom, while the rich man is simply buried and finds himself in quite a different scenario.
Interesting that Lazarus, in Hebrew, is Eleazar (sometimes Eliezer). There are many Eleazars in scripture, but quite a few of them were priests. Pharisees were priests. Keep that in mind. There was an Eleazar who was the high priest of Aaron. Eleazar was the priest who oversaw the rebuilding and dedication of the walls of Jerusalem during the time of Ezra. Yet, suffering the fate of this rich man, the Pharisees hear from Christ that He doesn’t recognize their priestliness. In fact, we’ll see that Lazarus receives what the true priests of God receive. The sick, leprous beggar gets treated as a priest, while the actual priests get treated to regret, agony and torment.
The variant name, Eliezer, is interesting to this discussion because it has a direct tie back to Abraham,
Genesis 15:1 After these things the word of the LORD came unto Abram in a vision, saying, Fear not, Abram: I am thy shield, and thy exceeding great reward. 15:2 And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? 15:3 And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir. 15:4 And, behold, the word of the LORD came unto him, saying, This shall not be thine heir; but he that shall come forth out of thine own bowels shall be thine heir.
Except Abraham have a child, his steward, Eliezer, would be heir to all Abraham had. Why I like this is because the Pharisees were always clamoring about being a child of Abraham, simply by their blood heritage. Christ was always dismissing this idea as it wasn’t blood heritage that makes someone a child of Abraham, for, as Christ said, God is able with stones to raise up children unto Abraham (Matthew 3:8; Luke 3:9). Notice, Eliezer, the STEWARD of Abraham’s things (recall the Luke 16 parable of the unjust STEWARD), would be the heir of Abraham’s inheritance. Lazarus, in Luke 16, becomes an heir of Abraham, not the rich man. Lazarus is carried to Abraham’s bosom. This isn’t a place/compartment in hell – this is a familial status. It wasn’t uncommon in Old Testament Jewish thought for folks to believe that when they died, they were regathered to their ancestors who had preceded them in death. Note Davids words,
2Samuel 12:22 And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live? 12:23 But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.
The Pharisees would have been well-versed in this idea, so for Christ to claim that Lazarus was gathered to the bosom of Abraham and not the rich man would have been a direct indictment upon their perceived familial association. It is Lazarus who is helped by God. It is Lazarus who receives the end of his faith. It is Lazarus who is ultimately part of Abraham’s family while the rich man is joined to a family of torment. Abraham’s bosom is nothing more than a term of association, not a geographical place. It was not a compartment in hell. You might ask, then why in Luke 16 is there this talk about the rich man talking with Abraham across a great gulf? There’s nothing wrong with what is written, but we shouldn’t approach this with our presuppositions in order to understand it. The great gulf is not this nebulous, cavernous divide between the good side of hell and the bad side. This entire account is designed to teach a PRINCIPLE to the Pharisees. The hellish language simply amplifies the point being expressed.
Luke 16:24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 16:25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 16:26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
The Pharisee, who fared sumptuously every day now finds himself with nothing, nor a way to rectify his situation.
Luke 16:27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: 16:28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 16:29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 16:30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 16:31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
The humble receive mercy, the proud receive judgment – that’s the whole point of this account. If the Pharisees won’t hear Moses and the prophets and humble themselves therefore, they surely won’t believe even if someone rose from the dead. And note that this rich man is still calling Abraham as father. Even in judgment, he is so dense that he doesn’t understand Abraham isn’t his father.
That was a lot, but let’s summarize. Yes, Jesus did preach to the spirits in prison, as we’ve established. However, Jesus did not take Old Testament saints from a good side of hell to heaven as no such good side ever existed, and, furthermore, we have ZERO scripture that even teaches this. So, what about Ephesians 4:8-10 then? Does it say he descended into the lower parts of the earth to lead captivity captive? Isn’t that talking about going to Abraham’s bosom and taking Old Testament saints out? To put it succinctly, no, it isn’t.
The context of Ephesians 4 has been about our worth walk being defined by our meekness and lowliness of mind, endeavoring to keep the bond of peace in the spirit of unity. (verses 1-3). Paul then demonstrate the perfect unity of God, manifested in the 7 ones – One Body, One Spirit, One Hope, One Faith, One Lord, One Baptism, One God and Father. (Verses 4-6) Paul now is going to describe how in this unity, Christ has given gifts to us, according to the measure of His grace (verse 7). These gifts and their purposes are described in verse 11 and following, however, Paul makes a quick parenthetical comment about Christ being worthy to give gifts to us.
When Christ came to earth, it was to fight some battles, namely, with Sin and Death. He took the hill of Calvary and defeated Sin there. In His resurrection, He defeated Death. There were spoils of this war He fought, but these spoils were not the treasures of Sin and Death, but were what Sin and Death had subdued – Righteousness and Life. Christ resurrects and ascends far above all heavens and is seated at the right hand of the Father, victorious. He then doles out the spoils of the war to us. Within the bounds of Righteousness and Life, He has various gifts that He’s given us (again, starting in verse 11 of chapter 4). All Paul is saying is that this same Christ who ascended to heaven is the same Christ who first descended to the lower parts of the earth to rescue a captivity (you and I, held captive by Sin and Death). The phraseology of “lower parts” is simply to draw distinction between His ascension ON HIGH. (You’ll find similar distinction in Isaiah 44:21-23).
You might say – how do you get all of that out of Ephesians 4:8-10? What helps is that Paul is actually quoting the Old Testament book of Psalms and if we go back and read that Psalm, we can see exactly why Paul is writing this. For the sake of space, I’ll not post the Psalm, but go read it (click –> Psalm 68), and you’ll see it is a Psalm of triumph, where a Conquering Hero leads a captivity to freedom and doles out to them the spoils of war.
That’s what it says.
So, how do these gifts benefit us? What are they and what is their purpose?
Our story continues…