The Rich Man in Mental Torment

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The Rich Man in Mental Torment

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Again let's be careful not to assume the rich man in the story is already engulfed in an unbiblical ever-burning hellfire. If this were a genuine description of the punishment of the wicked after death, he could not actually be burning yet (see "The wicked will be completely burned up"). Rather, he would be aware of approaching flames of the lake of fire into which, he realizes, he would soon be cast. "And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15).

Facing imminent death he cries out to Abraham to "send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water" to cool his tongue. If he were already burning in a searing inferno wouldn't he really want pails of water to put out the flames, rather than just a few drops on his tongue? So the rich man is not in a fire but is, rather, beset by tremendous mental anguish to the point where his mouth has become nearly dry.

The rich man then says, "I am tormented in this flame" (Luke 16:24). The word "tormented" is translated from the Greek word odunao. The NAS New Testament Greek Lexicon explains that this word can describe not only intense pain but also mental anguish or distress. The NAS Exhaustive Concordance states the word "in" here in Greek is en which can mean being "in" or "on," but it can also mean "at, by, with." If a real portrayal of going to the lake of fire, the rich man would be in extreme mental distress as he realizes his fate is to be utterly burned up.

It's vital to grasp Christ's warning here to the Pharisees—that those who were unrepentant would be "weeping and gnashing" their teeth after realizing they are excluded from God's Kingdom (Luke 13:28).

The infinite gulf between mortal and immortal life

After the rich man pleads with Abraham to have Lazarus cool his tongue with a few drops of water Abraham replies to him, "'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us'" (Luke 16:25-26).

This great gulf would include the infinite distance between mortal and immortal life (1 Corinthians 15:50-54). Faithful, obedient believers who are made immortal will never die (Luke 20:34-36; John 11:26; Revelation 20:6). However, human beings who refuse to repent of their sins lose their opportunity for everlasting life. "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries" (Hebrews 10:26-27).

Because of his unrepentance over his love of money and pleasure to the neglect of another human being the rich man had destroyed his relationship with God (Isaiah 59:1-2). He knew what was about to happen to him. He realized his fate was sealed and he would die shortly in the lake of fire. As a result, the rich man's last thoughts turned to some of his family members.

Without awareness of time having passed and assuming his five brothers were still alive, he implored Abraham to have Lazarus encourage them to repent lest they too would be punished. "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.' Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent'" (Luke 16:27-30).

Finally, Abraham replies, "'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead'" (Luke 16:31). Why did Jesus include this statement in His parable? Because even though the Pharisees felt they followed Moses and the prophets, they in fact rejected them. Speaking to the Pharisees at an earlier time Jesus said, "For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe My words" (John 5:46-47)?

Jesus advised His disciples that the prophets' message about Him had everything to do with loving God and fellow human beings (John 1:45; Matthew 22:37-40).