God’s Judgment Makes Manifest the Truly Rich
1. Why is the Kingdom message today so forceful?
IN HIS prophecy concerning the time of the end, Jesus said: “This good news of the kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth for a witness to all the nations.” This compares with the message at the first advent, namely, that the “kingdom of the heavens has drawn near.” Today’s message is more forceful. It tells of God’s kingdom actually established, for in the autumn of 1914 C.E. Jehovah installed his King, Christ Jesus, not on an earthly throne, but at the heavenly Mount Zion.—Matt. 24:14; 4:17; Ps. 2:6; Heb. 12:22.
2. What procedure will help us in applying the illustration at Luke 16:19-31 to our own day?
2 The Kingdom message at the first advent marked the beginning of an inspection and judgment period. It was the first strand in the pattern of judgment. As a result, changes began to take place involving two classes, as portrayed in Jesus’ illustration of the rich man and Lazarus. The same is true today. The principles on which the inspection and judgment are based remain the same, but it is worked out on a larger scale. By examining the context of the illustration and other related scriptures we were able to identify the two main characters at the time of the first advent in its first fulfillment. The same procedure will help us to get a clear picture of the present situation. It will also aid us individually to see where we stand in relation to that judgment pattern and its designed purpose.
3. How can we identify the modern “rich man” class?
3 We do not have to look far to find the modern “rich man” class. The religious clergy and leaders of Christendom bear a marked resemblance to the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day. Today, as then, these men are in a class to themselves, sacrosanct, reckoned as superior in standing and education, marked by their dress and their many titles. They are rich in positions of influence and prominence, often in good standing with the political rulers, and in some cases exercising a real power behind the throne, or the dictator. These men are also rich religiously in their claims to be exclusively God’s spokesmen in national affairs, also in social and personal problems. In their congregations they are usually the only ones ordained to preach and conduct the services. In some churches these men claim the right to hear confession and grant absolution. Certain ones even claim the right to canonize one as a saint, declaring such a one to be holy and righteous. In very truth the modern “rich man” class seeks to deck himself with purple and linen, enjoying himself from day to day with magnificence.—Luke 16:19.
4. Since when has a modern “Lazarus” class become apparent, and how so?
4 We also do not have to look far to locate the “beggar” class of Jesus’ illustration. Remember how at the first advent this class of lowly and humble ones showed up as soon as the forerunner, John the Baptist, began preaching. So, too, today, before the Kingdom’s establishment in 1914, there was a similar preparatory work done of clearing the way before Jehovah’s representative. (Mal. 3:1) Being on a larger scale, it covered a longer period of about forty years. At once it found those who were aware of their spiritual need, but who, like John’s disciples, became no longer dependent on the orthodox religious leaders for spiritual food. Up till then they, like Lazarus in his ulcerous condition, had been “put at his [the rich man’s] gate” to catch what morsels of food might be dropped. (Luke 16:20, 21) However, Christendom’s clergy, like their former counterpart, have shown scant concern for the common people. They have preferred their traditions and creeds to teachings governed strictly by the Bible. Their table might have the appearance of a magnificent spread, but their food is adulterated.
CORRECT VIEW OF THE TIME FACTOR
5. Are we to expect a sudden fulfillment of what was pictured by the death of the rich man and Lazarus?
5 Then, as told in the illustration, something happened that changed the entire scene. Both men died. That is where the important time element comes in, marked in the fulfillment by the declaration of the Kingdom good news. Yes, death is a climactic event, but do not get the wrong impression. The resultant changes do not occur all at once, affecting everyone simultaneously. It did not happen that way at the first advent. In anticipation of Jesus’ ministry, a work was done and a message declared for six months prior thereto that brought comfort to some and torment to others. Likewise prior to 1914, the message of truth centering around God’s kingdom brought comfort and hope to some, filling the souls of the hungry, but it angered and tormented the clergy, who were not slow to show it. (For details see Jehovah’s Witnesses in the Divine Purpose.) That early work and message were in anticipation of a larger and more clearly defined pattern to be worked out after 1914. Like the morning sun, we do not have to wait for it actually to rise for its penetrating beams to reveal everything in sharp outline. Before that, in anticipation, the welcome light of dawn gives an increasingly clear picture of the landscape before us.
6. How are we further guided in this respect?
6 There is another thing. When Jesus gave his illustration, the religious rulers still reckoned to hold on to their high living and pretentious claims. There were also many in a beggarly state who only later experienced the comfort of divine favor. That did not alter the fact that the inspection period had commenced and nothing could change its principles or stop or even hinder its outworking. Jesus spoke accordingly. So today, once Christ Jesus was enthroned on heavenly Mount Zion at the expiration of the Gentile Times in 1914, nothing could stop or delay the proceedings due to take place.
7. How did Paul identify the Greater Abraham, leading to what fine appeal?
7 In Paul’s inspired description of the Theocratic setup at “Mount Zion . . . heavenly Jerusalem,” after mentioning the “myriads of angels . . . and the [Christian] congregation of the first-born,” he then names the most important figure, the Greater Abraham, “God the Judge of all.” (Heb. 12:22, 23) Yes, he judges the “Lazarus” class and the “rich man” class and all others. His “judicial decision is a vast watery deep,” a “great chasm,” righteous and inexorable respecting all classes. (Ps. 36:6; Luke 16:26) However, until the final execution of his judgment it is possible for individuals to experience a change of heart and forsake one class and flee to another, even during this inspection period. Do not forget, though, the time is limited. It is in this vein that Paul continues, saying: “See that you do not beg off from him who is speaking.” He goes on to say that the entire present system of things, yes, the symbolic heaven and earth, will be shaken and completely removed. He concludes with this fine appeal: “Wherefore, seeing that we are to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us continue to have undeserved kindness, through which we may acceptably render God sacred service with godly fear and awe.”—Heb. 12:25-28.
8. What final word did Paul add, and what distinction is to be noted?
8 Paul adds a strong, final word: “For our God is also a consuming fire.” Note the distinction. In his illustration, Jesus told of the fiery condition that men suffer while still on earth, that torments but does not kill. Paul, however, was referring to the final execution of judgment that consumes and destroys all life in the “lake of fire . . . the second death.”—Heb. 12:29; Rev. 20:14.
9. How does the prophecy at Revelation 11:7-12 throw further light on the time factor?
9 Looking at the facts, we find further evidence of the need to consider properly the time factor. Though 1914 marked the birth of the Kingdom, it was not until 1919 that the “Lazarus” class fully experienced their changed condition. (Rev. 12:5) What happened? During World War I the clergy of Christendom were permitted by God to oppress and drive Jehovah’s dedicated servants of the “Lazarus” class into a tight corner of inactivity. As a class, it seemed they were finished and, symbolically, their lifeless corpses were exposed “on the broad way of the great city,” Babylon the Great. Their enemies ‘rejoiced over them.’ Then, under God’s directive decree, a sudden reversal occurred. The “spirit of life from God” restored them to activity, and “they heard a loud voice out of heaven say to them: ‘Come on up here’ . . . and their enemies beheld them.” That is exactly what happened in 1919 to Jehovah’s witnesses who were restored to his favor and exalted service in the interest of his kingdom in the eyes of all, including their enemies of the “rich man” class.—Rev. 11:7-12.
10. Since 1919, how have the changed conditions for both classes become more evident?
10 Since then the changed conditions as foretold have become more and more apparent. Jehovah’s true servants, who had previously wept and were hungry, could now “cry out joyfully because of the good condition of the heart,” due to being fed with Kingdom truths and enriched with Kingdom service. In contrast, it is woe to those professed servants of God who ‘declare themselves righteous before men,’ and like ‘all men to speak well of them.’ These now have cause to “make outcries because of the pain of heart” as they see the “Lazarus” class enjoying great prosperity and being made truly rich, “blessed . . . with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in union with Christ,” the reigning King, and with Jehovah, the Greater Abraham. But the modern “rich man” class are as good as dead and buried as far as having any evidence of divine favor. They reject the Kingdom message proclaimed by the “Lazarus” class. Instead, they advocate such human political substitutes as the League of Nations and the United Nations. Notice now the present-day pleas of the “rich man” class, as indicated in Jesus’ illustration.—Isa. 65:14; Luke 6:26; 16:15; Eph. 1:3.
THE PLEAS OF THE MODERN “RICH MAN” CLASS
11. How do we see the rich man’s plea at Luke 16:24 fulfilled in our time?
11 In broad outline, the arguments of the modern religious leaders are similar to those of the scribes and Pharisees. In both cases actions speak louder than words. Every effort is made to minimize or offset the vigorous work and message of the “Lazarus” class, even endeavoring to get the work banned where possible. ‘O for Lazarus to be sent to cool my tongue with a drop of water in this blazing fire!’ O for a soothing, complimentary word from Jehovah’s witnesses and, incidentally, get them to quit their position of divine favor! Anything to get them away from Abraham’s bosom!—Luke 16:24.
12. As indicated by Abraham’s reply, what has been the result of the plea of the “rich man” class?
12 In reply to the rich man’s plea you will recall that Abraham merely reviewed the facts, implying that nothing could alter them. That is how it is today. The result of the efforts to get Jehovah’s witnesses to tone down their message or change their stand are just as fruitless as with the early Christian congregation. Jehovah gives the same instruction to the “Lazarus” class today as he did to his servant Jeremiah: “To all those to whom I shall send you, you should go; and everything that I shall command you, you should speak. . . . They will be certain to fight against you, but they will not prevail against you, for ‘I am with you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah, ‘to deliver you.’”—Jer. 1:7, 19.
13. How did Jesus point to a wider application when mentioning the great chasm?
13 You will further recall in the illustration that Abraham next drew attention to the “great chasm.” But did you notice that he did not confine his remark to just the rich man and Lazarus, saying that neither of them could cross over to the other because of the chasm? He speaks of many people on both sides, saying: “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.
14. What further classes are seen in the modern fulfillment besides those pictured by the rich man and Lazarus?
14 By this means Jesus opened the door to a wider application of his illustration. This is particularly true in the modern fulfillment. We know that the rich man had five brothers who, by implication, were headed for the same place of torment. The only creatures Jesus mentioned as being on the side of Lazarus were those who took the trouble to put him, as a needy beggar, at the rich man’s gate, also the dogs who considerately licked his ulcers. There we have the clue. They did something for Lazarus in his need. The rich man did nothing. In another illustration, Jesus tells of those who do good to his spiritual brothers (the “Lazarus” class), even to the least of them, when seen to be in need. These who are glad to render service to Christ’s brothers may be nobodies, or just dogs, in the eyes of the “rich man” class, but Jesus says that in his eyes they are sheep (that is, his “other sheep,” in addition to his “little flock” of joint heirs). (John 10:16; Luke 12:32) On the other hand, those who refuse or fail to render any aid, Jesus likens to goats who suffer the final judgment, the consuming “everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” As for the sheeplike ones, they are invited to “inherit the kingdom prepared for you.” Even now, as seen in the vision given to John, they serve God “day and night in his temple,” in close association with the “temple” class or “Lazarus” class, hence enjoying an earthly position of divine favor. These associates are also made truly rich, “because the Lamb . . . will guide them to fountains of waters of life.”—Matt. 25:31-46; Rev. 7:15-17.
FURTHER PLEA REJECTED
15. How is the situation now seen regarding the plea for Lazarus to visit the house of the rich man’s father?
15 To endure tormenting shame and disgrace is bad enough. It is far worse if those well known to you, your own household, are involved and all alike share in the public exposure. As with the Jewish clergy of Jesus’ day, so now Christendom’s clergy and leaders find themselves in a similar position. They would like to maneuver the “Lazarus” class away from their position of rendering exclusive devotion to the Greater Abraham. Could they not be sent on a mission and, in the words of the illustration, call at the house of the rich man’s five brothers and stay long enough to give them a “thorough witness”? (Luke 16:27, 28) In other words, make a friendly contact with the supporters of Christendom and witness to them, yes, but the kind of witness that would spare them torment. If that should happen, we may be sure that they would be made welcome and would be retained and made a part of the household of the rich man’s father, Christendom’s father, the “god of this system of things,” Satan the Devil!
16. In what way does Abraham’s reply now have an enlarged fulfillment?
16 Could that be done? You remember Abraham’s answer: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to these.” (Luke 16:29) Today these Hebrew Scriptures have been supplemented by the Christian Greek Scriptures. The “Lazarus” class and their associates, that is, all of Jehovah’s witnesses, now use the entire Bible, telling, among other things, of the reason for God’s judgment on Babylon the Great, her bloodguilt, her friendship with the world, her false doctrines, her shameless luxury, her coming destruction.—Rev. 17:5, 6; 18:2, 3, 21.
17. (a) How is the “rich man” class affected by the “thorough witness”? (b) What sign do they demand, and why?
17 This extended “thorough witness” is not the kind that pleases either Christendom’s leaders or her supporters. When the rich man responded: “No, indeed, father Abraham,” he was really saying “No” to Moses and the Prophets. How true that is today! Jehovah’s witnesses in themselves are not disliked or feared by the religious leaders. It is their message from the Bible that, like a sword, is “powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things.” (2 Cor. 10:4; Eph. 6:17) Anything but that! So what is the alternative? A sign! A sign so overwhelming that there will be no call for either reason or faith. “If someone from the dead goes to them they will repent,” pleaded the rich man. (Luke 16:30) The “rich man” class acknowledge the need for repentance on the part of their supporters, but they want it done by a shortcut method. They want a method that will obviate the need to continually “pour out the seven bowls of the anger of God into the earth,” or to continually refer to Moses and the Prophets and the rest of the Scriptures, saying: “It is written.”—Rev. 16:1; Matt. 4:4, 7, 10.
18. In what way is Abraham’s final word seen to be appropriate in today’s situation?
18 There is no changing or evading the pattern of judgment. “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:31) That was Abraham’s last word. It turned out like that for the Jewish clergy and their supporters. It turns out the same way today. As in the early days, so now, neither the religious leaders nor their supporters can ever say they did not have the opportunity to listen to the Scriptures and their message. They are not forced to listen or be persuaded. They can harden their hearts and shut their eyes. They can oppose and persecute, but they cannot silence the witnesses who enjoy the protection of the Greater Abraham. In the apostles’ days “persecution arose against the congregation that was in Jerusalem . . . [but] those who had been scattered went through the land declaring the good news of the word.” (Acts 8:1, 4) Today the Witnesses may be driven underground, but they still preach.
19. What greater responsibility now rests on all the religionists?
19 The responsibility of the religionists is, in fact, greatly increased because “someone from the dead” has been raised up. As Peter said: “God raised this One [Christ Jesus] up on the third day . . . Also, he ordered us to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness that this is the One decreed by God to be judge of the living and the dead.” (Acts 10:40, 42) Yes, a thorough witness was then given, but even more so today since the risen One has become King and Judge in God’s kingdom. Additionally, the “Lazarus” class themselves were figuratively raised from the dead in 1919, as already noted, like Jonah’s deliverance from the belly of the great fish. But all this makes no difference to the household of the rich man and his brothers.
LEARNING HOW TO BE TRULY RICH
20. In James’ reference to rich men, what close correspondencies are to be noted as compared with Jesus’ illustration?
20 The Bible writer James very aptly summed up the theme of our discussion. Under inspiration he wrote: “Come, now, you rich men, weep, howling over your miseries [torment] that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted, and your outer garments [of linen and purple] have become moth-eaten. . . . Something like fire is what you have stored up [not in future eternal torment after death, but] in the last days.” Then, referring directly to the pattern of judgment, he continued: “Look! The judge is standing before the doors. Brothers, take as a pattern of the suffering of evil and the exercising of patience the prophets, who spoke in the name of Jehovah. . . . You have heard of the endurance of Job and have seen the outcome Jehovah gave, that Jehovah is very tender in affection and merciful.”—Jas. 5:1-3, 9-11.
21. How does the drama of Job compare with that of Lazarus?
21 This latter part gives the bright side of the pattern. For quite a time Job, like Lazarus, was deprived of everything and obliged to scrape the pus from his boils, like the dogs who licked Lazarus’ ulcers. (Job 2:8) Job, too, was at the mercy of his supposed benefactors, his three religious friends, from whom he got about as much relief and help as Lazarus did from the scraps from the rich man’s table. Then came an inspection and judgment from Jehovah that put everyone in his right place. It made manifest who was truly rich. Restored to health and openly shown as having God’s favor, Job was blessed with twice as much as he had before. Additionally, he had a new family of ten fine children, like the “great crowd” of “other sheep” who are gathered to the “Lazarus” class to become “one flock, [under] one shepherd.”—Job 42:10-17; Rev. 7:9; John 10:16.
22. In order to become truly rich, what must we do and what must we avoid?
22 As individuals, we can learn how to become truly rich, even if it means changing our own pattern of life. We can “search for Jehovah . . . while he may be found.” We can avoid the errors of the ‘wicked and harmful man.’ The rich man in Jesus’ illustration never learned anything. He was haughty and self-centered to the end, persisting in viewing Lazarus as just a beggar to be called on to do his bidding. But Abraham countered his pleas by advocating just one thing, “Moses and the Prophets,” the Holy Scriptures. God’s pattern is made very clear therein, showing you how to “return to Jehovah, who will have mercy . . . for he will forgive in a large way.”—Isa. 55:6, 7.
23. How does Jesus’ message to the Laodiceans help us in this regard?
23 Jesus, too, in his message to the “congregation in Laodicea,” showed how you can learn by contrast to appreciate true riches. Though addressed primarily to the “Lazarus” class, the same principles apply to all of God’s people. That congregation had become lukewarm due to its failure to distinguish between true and false riches, and boasted: “I am rich and have acquired riches and do not need anything at all.” They were self-sufficient and self-righteous. But judged by true spiritual values, as Jesus said, they were ‘miserable, pitiable, poor, blind and naked,’ in danger of being rejected, vomited out of his mouth. Note Jesus’ remedy: “I advise you to buy from me gold refined by fire that you may become [truly] rich, and white outer garments that you may become dressed and that the shame of your nakedness may not become manifested, and eyesalve to rub in your eyes that you may see.”—Rev. 3:14-18.
24. Jesus’ words: “Buy from me,” call for what requirements?
24 Ah, yes! “Buy from me,” said Jesus, and pay my price. It is not unreasonable. He invites you to give yourself in devotion and dedication to Jehovah, as he himself set the pattern. Submitting yourself to his training and discipline will produce the ‘tested quality of faith, of much greater value than gold proved by fire.’ “Seek righteousness,” not parading in your own “purple and linen,” but in garments ‘washed white in the blood of the Lamb,’ trusting in the merit of his sacrifice. “Seek meekness,” by being teachable, continually rubbing in the eyesalve, making a real effort to keep your eyes opened to the truths stored up in God’s Word.—1 Pet. 1:7; Rev. 7:14; Zeph. 2:3.
25. What fine encouragement did Jesus then give?
25 To anyone taking this course, Jesus made a most inviting promise: “Look! I am standing at the door and knocking. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come into his house and take the evening meal with him and he with me.” (Rev. 3:20) If willing, you can respond to that personal appeal and become truly rich, enjoying the close position of his favor and acceptance as part of the ‘one flock under the one shepherd.’
26. What action is now urgently required, based on what quality?
26 If you come to realize that you have been trapped in Babylon the Great, then respond to that appeal quickly and become one of Jehovah’s people by dedicating yourself to him. The Babylonians are not told to flee, but Jehovah says: “Get out of her, my people.” (Rev. 18:4) It is a matter of faith, a living faith backed up by a course of action in harmony with God’s Word of truth. There is no excuse for ignorance. The chasmlike line of demarcation is clearly drawn. Jesus said: “This is the basis for judgment, that the light has come into the world.” Jesus himself, in his life and teaching, personified and exemplified that “true light that gives light.” Generally, men have refused to come to the light, preferring to practice the vile things that belong to the darkness. They refuse to exercise faith and, said Jesus: “He that does not exercise faith has been judged already.” They prefer to stay in a condemned state in Babylon the Great. It is their own choice.—John 1:9; 3:18-20.
27. By taking what course and gaining what position can we enjoy refreshing contrasts both now and in the future?
27 In contrast, why not come to the light and learn how to be obedient to it, so that your “works may be made manifest as having been worked in harmony with God”? (John 3:21) Thus, instead of having to taste the bitter contrast between life and destruction when that great city is destroyed, or at Armageddon, you can come now into the loving favor and protection of Abraham’s God, Jehovah. From that vantage position you can start experiencing now the happy contrasts that make life so endlessly interesting and worth while, with the wonderful prospect of everlasting life in God’s new system of things with its further promise of delightful contrasts, for its Creator says: “Look! I am making all things new.”—Rev. 21:5.