The Pattern of Judgment
“This is a proof of the righteous judgment of God, leading to your being counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are indeed suffering.”—2 Thess. 1:5.
1. What contrasts marked John the Baptist’s ministry?
JOHN THE BAPTIST began his ministry by preaching: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” He lost no time in gathering disciples around him who shared in the blessings of his ministry, preparing them to be “counted worthy of the kingdom of God.” At the same time he told the unworthy religious leaders that a time of judgment was impending, that “already the ax is lying at the root of the trees,” and that the coming one “will gather his wheat into the storehouse, but the chaff he will burn up with fire that cannot be put out.”—Matt. 3:1, 2, 7-12; 2 Thess. 1:5.
2. What is meant by a pattern, and how did Jesus commence such in his ministry?
2 The coming one, Jesus, as soon as he heard that John had been arrested, began preaching the same message: “Repent, for the kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” (Matt. 4:12, 17) He there began weaving the pattern of judgment, working out a harmonious design governed by a set purpose, for that is what a pattern is. The first strand, the all-important time element, was marked by the preaching of the Kingdom message. As Jesus said when leading up to the illustration of the rich man and Lazarus: “The Law and the Prophets were until John. From then on the kingdom of God is being declared as good news.”—Luke 16:16.
3. As recorded at Luke 16:17, 18, what two strands did Jesus then take up?
3 Jesus then proceeded to take two more strands, saying first: “It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one particle of a letter of the Law to go unfulfilled.” He then added: “Everyone that divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he that marries a woman divorced from a husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:17, 18) It is unlikely that his hearers saw any connection between those statements. In fact, not until after the Christian congregation had the inspired writings of the apostle Paul did the situation become clear. In the light of those writings we can today examine those two strands and appreciate their designed purpose.
4. In what way did Jesus fulfill the Law, leading to what realities and final outcome?
4 Jesus not only kept the Law by perfect obedience to its requirements, he also fulfilled it. As he once said: “I came, not to destroy, but to fulfill,” also saying that down to the last “particle of a letter . . . all things [must] take place.” (Matt. 5:17, 18) Paul wrote that the Law was a “shadow [or, “typical representation”] of the things to come, but the reality belongs to the Christ.” (Col. 2:17; Heb. 8:5; 10:1) In his life and sacrificial death, Jesus caused the big realities to take place. One of the main provisions of the Law was that of sacrifice for sins, especially those on the day of atonement. However, those animal sacrifices were “at no time able to take sins away completely. But this man [Jesus] offered one sacrifice for sins perpetually” by laying down his perfect human life in death. (Heb. 10:11, 12) His death laid the foundation for tremendous changes, with great benefits to those exercising faith therein, beginning with the Jewish members of the “Lazarus” class. Having fulfilled its provisions, then, says Paul, that former Law covenant was taken out of the way and nailed to the torture stake on which Jesus was impaled. (Col. 2:14) But what connection did that have with the next strand, with Jesus’ remark about divorce and adultery?
5. With what illustration does Paul show that some were “discharged” from the Law?
5 Having acceptably “offered himself without blemish to God,” Jesus was made “a mediator of a new covenant.” (Heb. 9:14, 15) Paul explains that prior thereto the Jews were bound under their Law covenant as “a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is alive . . . But if her husband dies, she is free from his law, so that she is not an adulteress if she becomes another man’s. So, my brothers, you also were made dead to the Law through the body of the Christ, that you might become another’s, the one’s who was raised up from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.” Paul was addressing his brothers of the “Lazarus” class, and it was only such who were “discharged from the Law.”—Rom. 7:1-6.
6. What standard did Jesus set respecting divorce, and how would this affect the Pharisees?
6 In contrast, Jesus’ words on divorce and adultery were addressed primarily to the Pharisees, members of the “rich man” class. They were not free from the Law. True, the Law did embody a divorce provision whereby a man could have more than one living wife, but Jesus went back to God’s original pattern for all who would have God’s favor in, or under, the new covenant. There was no divorce provision for Adam and Eve. So for a Christian to divorce his or her mate, except on the ground of sexual unfaithfulness, and then remarry while the divorced partner is still alive, it means that such a one commits adultery. Hence Jesus’ remarks to the Pharisees, who relied on tradition and the teaching of the then unwritten Talmud on this subject, would only irritate them. It was part of their torment.—Deut. 24:1-4; Matt. 19:3-9.
7. How did Jesus anticipate the benefits of his death?
7 Thus we see the pattern of judgment taking shape. Keep in mind, however, that the changes guaranteed by Jesus’ death began to go into effect before his death actually occurred. The message and work of both John the Baptist and Jesus were based in strong faith on the certainty of Jesus’ carrying out all that was foretold and foreshadowed in the Law and the Prophets. In proof of this, when Jesus instituted the memorial of his death the night before he was impaled, he passed the cup to his disciples, saying: “This cup means the new covenant by virtue of my blood, which is to be poured out in your behalf . . . and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom.”—Luke 22:20, 29.
8. What resulted from Jesus’ declaration of the Kingdom message?
8 No, those changes did not have to wait. The declaration of the good news of the kingdom began to bring about a complete reversal of conditions to both the classes we are considering. From then on both classes died to their former condition and experience, shown in Jesus’ illustration by the death of Lazarus and the rich man. At Jesus’ death in fulfillment of the Mosaic Law the “Lazarus” class died to that Law; and at the following Pentecost they were certified by the outpoured holy spirit as being in the Greater Abraham’s bosom. What happened next, as described by Jesus, and what was signified thereby, we will follow with interest.
ABRAHAM, THE IMPORTANT FIGURE
9, 10. (a) What important character did Jesus introduce in his illustration? (b) How did the Pharisees view their relationship with Abraham? (c) In what way were they correct, and in what way incorrect, in their conclusions?
9 Imagine the scene. In torment in Hades the rich man lifts his eyes, and what does he see? Why, afar off there is that one-time beggar now enjoying the bosom position with Abraham, that is, the favored place, as when one reclines in front of another on the same couch at a meal! (Luke 16:23; see also John 13:23.) Bringing Abraham into the picture was very significant, adding the most important strand to the whole pattern of judgment. Whom does he picture? Remember, Jesus was speaking directly to the Pharisees. They reckoned that they as the religious rulers were the only ones entitled to the bosom position of Abraham. In their eyes the common people did not come into the picture at all. Those rulers said to Jesus in an earlier encounter with him: “We are Abraham’s offspring,” and again: “Our father is Abraham,” and yet again: “We have one Father, God.”—John 8:33, 39, 41.
10 From this it is evident that the Pharisees considered that Abraham represented God. In this they were right. Where they were wrong was in claiming sonship with either Abraham or God. In God’s eyes this relationship is determined, not by fleshly descent, but by one’s disposition and works. As Jesus said to them on that same occasion: “If you are Abraham’s children, do the works of Abraham,” and Jesus also said: “You are from your father the Devil, and you wish to do the desires of your father. That one was a manslayer when he began.”—John 8:39, 44.
11. Why was faith essential in order to accept Jesus as the Messiah?
11 While that explains why Jesus pictured that the once rich man was far removed from Abraham, we might wonder why Lazarus, after his death, was pictured as carried straight to the bosom position of Abraham. (Luke 16:22) The emphasis is on faith. Jesus came, not as King, as expected, but in the “likeness of sinful flesh,” “brought just like a sheep to the slaughtering.” (Rom. 8:3; Isa. 53:7) It required real faith to accept him as the Messiah. Some, not the haughty, but the humble, did exercise such faith. They stepped out in faith, just as Abraham did when he “went out [of his own country], although not knowing where he was going.” (Heb. 11:8) They became disciples of Jesus and later, at Pentecost when they received the holy spirit, they became Christians. Of these, Paul wrote: “For all who are led by God’s spirit, these are God’s sons. . . . The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.”—Rom. 8:14-16.
12. How were those who adhered to faith further blessed?
12 Paul also said respecting these: “Those who adhere to faith are the ones who are sons of Abraham . . . [and] are being blessed together with faithful Abraham.” How so? To Abraham the grand promise was made that through his seed “all nations of the earth will certainly bless themselves.” That seed is primarily Christ Jesus. But in the riches of God’s undeserved kindness others are privileged to share with Christ as part of that seed. As Paul again said: “You are all, in fact, sons of God through your faith in Christ Jesus. . . . Moreover, if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s seed, heirs with reference to a promise.”—Gal. 3:7-9, 16, 26-29; Gen. 22:18.
13. (a) Who comprised the “Lazarus” class in the first instance? (b) How did John and Jesus act as angels toward such?
13 In summary, then, we see that the members of the Christian congregation, led by God’s spirit, are God’s sons. They are also spoken of as sons of Abraham because of their faith like that of his and because, with Christ Jesus, they constitute Abraham’s seed, God’s instrument for fulfilling his purpose centered in his kingdom. They comprise the “Lazarus” class, commencing with those Jews who were conscious of their spiritual need and who exercised faith when they heard God’s messengers, John the Baptist and Jesus. In fact, John and Jesus acted as angels, or messengers, in bringing those Jews into line for those grand blessings tied in with God’s promise given under oath to Abraham and his seed. No wonder, then, that Jesus pictured Lazarus as at once “carried off by the angels to the bosom position of Abraham.”—Luke 16:22.
14. What indication was given that many non-Jews would come into divine favor?
14 Though the “Lazarus” class, to begin with, was limited to the faithful Jews, it did not stay that way. To a certain Gentile army officer who showed unusual faith, Jesus said: “I tell you that many from eastern parts and western parts will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens; whereas the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the darkness outside. There is where their weeping and the gnashing of their teeth will be.” (Matt. 8:5-12) This indicated that many non-Jews, hitherto alienated from God and in a beggarly condition, would come from all parts and be brought right into the bosom of divine favor. As Paul said: “Now the Scripture, seeing in advance that God would declare people of the nations righteous due to faith, declared the good news beforehand to Abraham, namely: ‘By means of you all the nations will be blessed.’” (Gal. 3:8) But as for those who thought that as the natural sons of Abraham they were the undisputed heirs to all the key positions in God’s kingdom, they would find themselves rejected and in torment.
15. What fine picture of the Theocracy did Jesus give at Matthew 8:11?
15 The inclusion of Isaac and Jacob together with Abraham in this instance makes a fine picture of the Kingdom, the Theocracy, in its complete setup. Abraham, the father of those who adhere to faith, pictures the heavenly Father, Jehovah, the real source of all the blessings to the nations. Isaac, Abraham’s son, pictures God’s Son, Jesus Christ. Thus when Abraham offered his son Isaac in sacrifice on Mount Moriah, or went to the point of doing so, he foreshadowed how Jehovah offered up his only-begotten Son in actual sacrifice. In turn, Isaac’s son Jacob pictures the Christian congregation. As Jacob received life from Abraham through Isaac, so likewise the Christian congregation receives spiritual life from Jehovah through Jesus Christ. This congregation started off with a remnant of faithful Jews, but about three and a half years after Pentecost the Kingdom good news began to be preached to the Gentiles, starting with Cornelius. Since then the people of the nations have come in from all parts, making up the full number. All of such constitute the “Lazarus” class.
GOD’S “JUDICIAL DECISION” A “GREAT CHASM”
16. How did the requests made by the rich man show his real intention regarding Lazarus, and revealing what disposition?
16 Turning our attention now to the latter part of Jesus’ illustration, taken up with the argument between the rich man and Abraham, we find further expressions of God’s judgment. Note the two pleas made by the rich man. First, he asks that Lazarus be sent to cool his tongue with a drop of water because of the fire. Failing that, he then asks that Lazarus be sent to warn his five brothers about this place of torment. (Luke 16:24-28) Anything to get Lazarus away from Abraham’s bosom, and keep him away! Why did he not ask that the angels be sent on these errands of mercy, seeing how speedily they acted when carrying Lazarus off to Abraham? But, no, it must be Lazarus who must do the running about and act as messenger. From Jesus’ portrayal of the rich man we can only imagine that, if Lazarus had actually visited him and put his finger in his mouth to cool his tongue with a drop of water, the rich man would have got a grip on his finger and kept him there! We know for a fact, as Jesus said, that the scribes and Pharisees strained every nerve to “make one proselyte,” and, having once got him, they made him a ‘subject for Gehenna twice as much so as themselves.’—Matt. 23:15.
17. How and why did the religious rulers seek to get relief from the “Lazarus” class?
17 How ridiculous to think of this taking place literally, but how appropriate to the facts, since we know the classes Jesus had in mind! So we ask, How did the religious rulers seek to get relief, if by only a drop of water, from the “Lazarus” class? Those men would not have been so tormented if the despised followers of Jesus had just followed him and kept quiet. Instead, they were trained and sent forth, first the twelve and then the seventy. They, and not the rulers, were now acting as Abraham’s seed, conveying heaven-sent blessings, curing the sick and preaching the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:1, 2; 10:1, 9) Come Pentecost, and about 120 were empowered by the holy spirit to speak with tongues, and before the day closed a further 3,000 were added to their number. And their boldness! Both publicly and before the Sanhedrin, the apostle Peter and others, such as Stephen, never hesitated to declare the responsibility and bloodguilt of those rulers. (Acts 2:23; 3:14, 17; 4:10; 5:30; 7:52) As Abraham’s natural descendants, the “rich man” class figuratively called out: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me” and make this “Lazarus” class speak instead in our favor, if only a word! How did Abraham reply?
18. How did Abraham’s replay fittingly portray both sides of the pattern of judgment?
18 Abraham’s first words merely stated the facts: “Child, remember that you received in full your good things in your lifetime, but Lazarus correspondingly the injurious things. Now, however, he is having comfort here but you are in anguish.” (Luke 16:25) No words were wasted on the rich man. Why not? Because Jesus knew that he was acting as God’s servant in a time of inspection. He was in truth Abraham’s seed and any who called down evil on such seed were cursed by God. (Gen. 12:3) As a class, the “rich man” had had his day, his “lifetime,” when he had ‘received in full the good things’ that he could so easily have dispensed to those in need. But that class showed that they never had any intention of doing so, and now God’s adverse judgment was manifest upon them. God’s favorable judgment was equally manifest on the “Lazarus” class. This was the pattern of judgment, like a design in drawing where one side balances and offsets the other. A strong straight line is drawn right down the middle for emphasis, and this is where the “great chasm” comes in. Note Abraham’s next words to the rich man.
19. What was the effect and significance of the “great chasm”?
19 “And besides all these things, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you people, so that those wanting to go over from here to you people cannot, neither may people cross over from there to us.” (Luke 16:26) No fraternizing! The “Lazarus” class could not compromise and speak peace to the “rich man” class. Jesus appreciated that this was a vital strand in the pattern of judgment, and that God’s “judicial decision is a vast watery deep.” (Ps. 36:6) Mark you, it was only as classes that the judgment was final. Neither class, nor any supporting classes, could cross over to the other, but individuals could and did during their lifetime. The apostle Paul was a notable example who, when “formerly in Judaism,” bitterly persecuted the “Lazarus” class. (Gal. 1:13-17) John the Baptist called the Pharisees and Sadducees “offspring of vipers,” and then said: “Produce fruit that befits repentance.” Some of them later did so.—Matt. 3:7, 8; Acts 6:7.
20. How did the rich man make a further appeal, and how did this have an application in Jesus’ day?
20 Knowing the mental attitude of the “rich man” class, Jesus added to his illustration a further argument prompted by the rich man. Trying to ignore or get around that chasm, he pleaded: “In that event I ask you, father, to send him [Lazarus] to the house of my father, for I have five brothers, in order that he may give them a thorough witness, that they also should not get into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27, 28) Observe that, while addressing Abraham as father, he speaks of a more closely related father, in whose house there are five brothers of his. Jesus knew of the religious house of Judaism, built on human tradition, to which the religious rulers belonged. It was that house that prompted the spirit of bitter persecution, even of murder. Its father was the Devil, who “was a manslayer.” (John 8:44) The five brothers (with the rich man making six, a symbol of the Devil’s organization) represented all the admirers and supporters of the religious rulers, and manifesting the same spirit. The rulers sought relief from being exposed, not only in their own eyes, but also in the eyes of their supporters. If these, their brothers, were figuratively to die and land in the same place, that would but add to their torment. So, in effect, those rulers wanted the “Lazarus” class to quit the position of divine favor and give a “thorough witness,” not of the judgment message, but one that would give the appearance of things being restored to what they were prior to the inspection period, when neither the rulers nor their supporters were exposed to torment.
21. What was the import of Abraham’s response?
21 Could that be done? What was Abraham’s response? “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to these.’” (Luke 16:29) Nothing else and nothing less than God’s word of truth! It was on that authority alone that Jesus spoke to the people and their rulers, including the judgment message then due. The “Lazarus” class spoke likewise. For example, Peter’s strong, stirring message on the day of Pentecost was based entirely on quotations from the Hebrew Scriptures, from Moses (the Law) and the Prophets and the Psalms. The fact that three thousand immediately responded and were baptized proved that the Hebrew Scriptures in themselves were a sufficient warning and guide to those willing to listen, many of whom were formerly adherents of Judaism.—Acts 2:41.
22. (a) What was the rich man’s final plea? (b) What prompted this, and how did Jesus respond to the demand for a sign?
22 But the rich man had not finished. Showing now his true colors and bluntly disagreeing with Abraham, he said: “No, indeed, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them they will repent.” (Luke 16:30) In other words, he called for a climactic sign, for someone to rise from the dead, as being the one thing necessary. This would avoid the need either to preach from the Scriptures or to expose the traditions of Judaism. More than once the Pharisees and others asked Jesus to “display to them a sign from heaven.” He answered: “A wicked and adulterous generation keeps on seeking for a sign, but no sign will be given it except the sign of Jonah.” Jonah was a sufficient sign to the Ninevites who, Jesus said, “repented at what Jonah preached, but, look! something more than Jonah is here.” (Matt. 16:1-4; 12:38-41) Jesus preached with far more authority and supporting evidence than Jonah ever did. But the result was as Jesus said: “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe.”—John 4:48.
23. How was Abraham’s final word appropriate and true to the facts?
23 In agreement with this, Abraham replied to the rich man: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31) This was the final word of judgment against the class represented by the rich man and his brothers. If they turn a deaf ear to God’s message in the Scriptures, they will turn a blind eye to God’s messenger, whether it be Jesus or the “Lazarus” class. As Jesus told them: “You are searching the Scriptures . . . that bear witness about me,” and he added that, “if you believed Moses you would believe me, for that one wrote about me. But if you do not believe the writings of that one, how will you believe my sayings?”—John 5:39, 46, 47.
24. What warning and encouragement can be gained from the final word spoken in this illustration?
24 Jesus’ illustration ended on a note of strong judgment, as clear cut as that “great chasm.” It showed God’s righteous “judicial decision” both for and against. It was against the whole household of those who only “heard with annoyance,” and who “shut their eyes; that they might never see . . . and get the sense of it with their hearts and turn back.” (Matt. 13:15) But, thank God, that final word was wholly in favor of the “Lazarus” class. There would never be any need or justification for their leaving or forsaking the place of divine favor with all its comforting provisions and opportunity for feasting at Jehovah’s banquet table.
25. What questions does this prompt respecting our own day?
25 Can we draw parallel lines and extend the pattern of judgment in all its salient features to our own day? Does Jesus’ illustration have a pointed message for us? Can we trace two classes in contrast and see how a great change, a reversal of conditions, has taken place under our very eyes? And are we, as individuals, thereby helped to see what we must do to find true riches under God’s favorable judgment?