“The parable of the friend in need” is found in Luke 11:5-8. It is introduced by Jesus’ instruction on how to pray, commonly referred to as the Lord’s Prayer. After the instruction on how to pray, Jesus gives the parable:
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth.
What does this parable teach us? Notice, the householder finally complied with his friend’s request, not only because of friendship, but also because of his persistence. That is why Jesus added: “And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9-10). It should be obvious what Jesus was teaching in the parable. It is absolutely necessary that we be persistent in prayer. Keep in mind, however, the Bible does teach elsewhere that we should understand the will of the Lord (Eph. 5:17), and that we should not ask amiss (Jas. 4:3). When, according to God’s will, we make our requests known, we must be persistent. That is the lesson of this parable.
Understanding the will of the Lord comes by guidance of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the Holy Spirit would lead us into all Truth (John 16:13). So, it is important to always ask for God’s guidance through His Holy Spirit. By this means we can be assured that our persistent prayers will be answered. The only time a prayer would not be answered would be is if what we ask is not according to God’s will, or that we lack the necessary faith. Jesus emphasized: “And all things, whatsoever ye shall ask in prayer, believing, ye shall receive” (Matt. 21:22).
Another parable is closely linked with the parable of the friend on his journey. It is “the parable of the importunate widow” found in Luke 18:1-5. The purpose of the parable, Jesus said, was “. . . that men ought always to pray, and not to faint,” that is, they should continually pray and never allow themselves to become weary and discouraged. The parable is as follows: “. . . There was in a city a judge, which feared not God, neither regarded man: And there was a widow in that city; and she came unto him, saying, Avenge me of mine adversary. And he would not for a while: but afterward he said within himself, Though I fear not God, nor regard man; Yet because this widow troubleth me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she weary me” (Luke 18:2-5). The judge was not interested in upholding the law. His major concern was that he did not want to be continually bothered. Jesus said this judge was unjust. “And the Lord said, Hear what the unjust judge saith. And shall not God avenge his own elect, which cry day and night unto him, though he bear long with them? I tell you that he will avenge them speedily. . .” (Luke 18:6-8).
As the unjust judge avenged the widow, God will, in like manner, avenge His elect. Unlike the unjust judge, God, as the righteous Judge, will avenge His servants. At the present time the lot of His elect is to patiently wait for the return of Jesus Christ (Jas. 5:7-8). In the meantime many of them suffer, or have suffered at the hands of evil men. A day of reckoning is promised.
Then Jesus added a startling statement. He said: “Nevertheless when the Son of man cometh, shall he find [the] faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8). While “the” is not shown in the English translation, it is in the original Greek text. Christ is not emphasizing faith or belief in Him, though this is certainly included, but He is referring to the corpus of revealed doctrine. Jesus implied that near the time of His return the Truth of God-the true doctrine-will be difficult, if not impossible, to find. The reason: The world will be enmeshed in rampant evil and persecution; it is destined to become much worse yet (Matt. 24:37, 2 Tim. 3:12). As a result, many Christians will lose heart. They will become impatient and discouraged. They will cease to pray. This is why Jesus gave the parable-” . . . that men ought always to pray, and not to faint.” Christ will return! His kingdom will be set up on this earth (Rev. 19:11-16). At that time the saints will be rewarded (Rev. 3:11-12). In the meantime, they must maintain contact with God in prayer. By this means they will be able to endure to the end (Matt. 24:13).
The next parable to examine is “the parable of the ten virgins.” It is somewhat lengthy but easy to understand. This parable is about the kingdom of heaven, that is, the Kingdom of God. It tells us who will be in that kingdom and who will not. The parable is found in Matthew 25:1-13. In the Bible, a virgin is a symbol of the Church. Notice this example. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “For I am jealous over you with godly jealousy: for I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:2). In the parable the ten virgins typify the Church with its many members. The parable begins: “Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish” (Matt. 25:1-2). When Christ returns, the Church will enter into a marriage arrangement with Him (Rev. 19:7-9). So, the ten virgins go forth to meet the bridegroom. But ” . . . five of them were wise, and five were foolish.”
Foolish people do not generally realize they are foolish. It usually takes some harsh experiences to awaken them to reality. They are generally shortsighted. Animals are much the same way. God has not given animals the reasoning powers He has given human beings. Animals are essentially fact oriented, non-thinking creatures, which react to concrete reality or to various stimuli. They do not have the ability to contemplate the long-term abstract realm. Foolish people are much the same way. They generally live for the moment-the momentary thrill. They do not seriously plan for the future. The foolish virgins in the parable were shortsighted. They were foolish. They did not anticipate any emergencies. “They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them” (Matt. 25:3).
No so the wise. “But the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps” (Matt. 25:4). The wise had foresight. They came prepared. Bible Dictionaries tell us that oil is a symbol of the Spirit, or spiritual principle of life (New Unger’s Bible Dictionary, s. v. “oil”). The wise had plenty of extra oil, and their foresight quickly paid off. “While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept” (v. 5). The wise had prepared for an emergency. There was now a long wait. “And at midnight there was a cry made, Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him” (v. 6). Now, the extra oil was needed. “Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out” (vv. 7-8). What was the reply? “But the wise answered, saying, Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves” (v. 9). The foolish rushed off to try to buy oil, but it was too late. “And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (vv. 10-12). What is the lesson here? Jesus tells us in verse 13: “Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.”
The lesson is that we had better be prepared spiritually for the return of Christ at all times. We cannot allow ourselves to be caught off guard. But, consider this: Based on Matthew 24:32-33, some may think they know when Christ will return. Jesus said: “Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: So likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.” Jesus did not give a specific time. And what is the meaning of ” . . . it is near, even at the doors”? Does this refer to one year, five years, twenty years, a hundred years, or what? And how does God view time? The Apostle Peter tells us: “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8). Those who believe they can presently rest on their laurels, and then at some future time prepare spiritually for the return of Christ, will be sorely disappointed. Jesus did not give a specific time, and we should not assume that we know. In fact, Jesus warned: “Therefore be ye also ready: for in such an hour as ye think not the Son of man cometh” (Matt. 24:44). We must be prepared at all times for the return of Jesus Christ, and the establishment of the Kingdom of God. The foolish virgins lacked the Spirit of God. Without the Spirit of God one cannot enter the Kingdom of God (Rom. 8:11)!
Let us now examine “the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.” The reader should keep in mind the definition of a parable given at the start of this series. To repeat: A parable is a short allegorical story designed to illustrate some truth, religious principle, or moral lesson. This parable is found in Luke 16:19-31. Many have misunderstood this parable. The reason: They have interpreted the parable literally, failing to realize it is an allegory-an illustration of an important truth.
The parable begins: “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). Purple is the color of royalty, wealth, and power. So, this man lived in abundance and had little concern for the needs of others. “And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores” (v. 20). The physical condition of this man was pitiful. He was unable to work or to secure for himself even the minimum necessities of life. He was in miserable health, and was reduced to the level of a dog, even begging for crumbs. “And it came to pass, that the beggar died. . . ” (v. 22). What happens to a man when he dies? What does the Bible say?
Notice the following Scripture:
While I live will I praise the LORD: I will sing praises unto my God while I have any being. Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help. His breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish (Ps. 146:2-4).
So, what happens when a man dies? The Bible says he goes back to the dust of the earth, and in that very day his thoughts perish! The fact is: There is no consciousness in the grave.
Consider this text:
For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion. For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 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 (Eccl. 9:4-6).
So, what happened to Lazarus when he died? He went to the grave; he no longer had any consciousness. But notice, Luke 16:22 says that Lazarus “. . . was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. . .” What does this mean? Does the text tell us when Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom? Not at all. It simply states that at some point of time Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom. Does the Bible tell us when the angels will carry Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom, and for that matter, all the righteous who have ever died? Yes, indeed! But first we must see what “Abraham’s bosom” means. Notice Genesis 12:2-3. God made a promise to Abraham. He said: “And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.” What did God mean ” . . . and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed”? Notice the promise that God made to Abraham. It was two fold. Abraham’s descendants received a promise of great national wealth, and all mankind received the promise of salvation through that Messiah. So, the promise to Abraham was both race and grace. The descendants of Abraham have been given great material blessings (Acts 7:2-5), and all mankind has the opportunity to share in the spiritual blessings promised to Abraham. As such they, too, will be able to join in an intimate relationship with Abraham. “Abraham’s bosom” simply means that one enters into an intimate relationship with Abraham. Here is how the Apostle John described it: “No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him” (John 1:18). Christ was crucified, resurrected, and ascended into the heavens, where He is now standing at the right hand of God (Heb. 4:14, Acts 7:56). He now enjoys an intimate relationship with the Father. Jesus described it as follows: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out. And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God” (Luke 13:28-29).
When will the angels carry Lazarus into Abraham’s bosom? When will this promise of an intimate relationship with Abraham be fulfilled? We find the answer in Matthew 24:30-31. “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory. And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.”
The Apostle Paul tells us the same thing:
But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. [Paul states here that the dead are asleep.] For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not [precede] them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord (1 Thess. 4:13-17).
Salvation will be given to the righteous at the return of Jesus Christ, and not before; and this includes Abraham! The Jews in Jesus’ day recognized this. Notice this encounter Jesus had with them: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my saying, he shall never see death. Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that thou hast a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and thou sayest, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?” (John 8:51-53). If the righteous go to heaven at the time of death, surely King David would be in the Kingdom of God. But notice what the Apostle Peter said about King David: “Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulchre is with us unto this day. . . . For David is not ascended into the heavens. . . ” (Acts 2:29, 34). And Jesus Himself said: “And no man hath ascended up to heaven. . . ” (John 3:13).
Continuing the parable, “. . . the rich man also died, and was buried” (Luke 16:22). What happened to him? The same thing that happened to Lazarus. He was placed in the grave; he no longer had any consciousness or awareness. He was, as the Apostle Paul said, “asleep,” and, like Lazarus, will remain in the grave until the Resurrection. But notice what happened next. “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (v. 23). What did Jesus mean by the word “hell”? Most Christians have grossly misunderstood the word “hell.” In this text the English word “hell” is translated from the Greek word hades. It is the equivalent of the Hebrew sheol and simply means the grave; it has no connotation beyond that. So, from the grave the rich man saw Lazarus enjoying an intimate relationship with Abraham, that is, sharing in the promise of salvation. When will the rich man see Lazarus in an intimate relationship with Abraham? At the time of the Resurrection! He will look up and see Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.
Notice what the rich man said. “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” (Luke 16:24). When will the resurrected be tormented by a flame? Jesus gave the answer in Matthew 13:49-50. “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” This is called the “second death” (Rev. 20:14). From this death there will be no resurrection. The rich man has been condemned to this fate; he is among the incorrigibly wicked, resurrected to be cast into the final lake of fire. John the Baptist warned of this time. He said, “. . . I indeed baptize you with water; but one mightier than I cometh, the latchet of whose shoes I am not worthy to unloose: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost and with fire: Whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and will gather the wheat into his garner; but the chaff he will burn with fire unquenchable” (Luke 3:16-17).
The rich man in the parable now views Lazarus in a state of salvation, but he himself is condemned. This is why he is “tormented by this flame.” What did Abraham say in reply? “. . . 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. 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” (Luke 16:25-26). What is this gulf? It is immortality given to the righteous at the time of the Resurrection. “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years” (Rev. 20:6).
The Apostle Paul described this resurrection:
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor. 15:50-53).
No mortal can cross this gulf from mortality to immortality unless God grants it. Lazarus was granted immortality, but the rich man was not.
Now in desperation, the rich man thinks of his brothers. He is completely unaware of the time lapse between his death and the time of the Resurrection. So, he said: “. . . I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28). What was Abraham’s reply? “Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them” (v. 29). The fact is: Had the nation of Israel really listened to Moses and the prophets, they would have accepted Christ. Jesus plainly told the Jews in His day that they rejected him because they refused to hear Moses. “Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?” (John 5:45-47).
In the parable the rich man disagreed with what Abraham said. He told him: “. . . Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30). Abraham replied: “. . . If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (v. 31). This important verse tells us two things: (1) There will be a resurrection from the dead, and (2) the righteous who are in their graves are as good as living, in God’s eyes; it will only be a matter of time before they will live again in the Resurrection. Jesus said: “But as touching the resurrection of the dead, have ye not read that which was spoken unto you by God, saying, 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” (Matt. 22:31-32). To repeat: God does not view time the way men do. “But, beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day” (2 Pet. 3:8).
What the parable of Lazarus and the rich man teaches is that the only hope of life after death is the Resurrection. At that time the righteous will enter into an intimate relationship with Abraham-immortality in the Kingdom of God. Man does not have an immortal soul. Man is a soul (Gen. 2:7). Souls die (Ezek. 18:4, 20, Rom. 6:23). The parable also teaches that the fate of the incorrigibly wicked will be death for all eternity in the lake of fire. Man will not be tormented endlessly in a hell fire. The death of the wicked will be final. The Bible does not teach eternal punishing. Rather, it teaches eternal punishment. “And these [the wicked] shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46).