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God’s Word for You

Luke 16:25-26 Purgatory or Not Purgatory

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Monday, October 29, 2018

25 “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus received bad things. But now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been set in place between us and you, so that those who want to cross from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

In these verses we continue to learn about heaven and hell from the words of Jesus:

  1. Those who are in heaven receive only good things, including comfort from God himself. These good things include everlasting life (John 3:16), oneness and unity with God (John 17:11, 17:22-23), complete freedom from sin, since all sins are taken away (1 John 3:5), everlasting righteousness (Daniel 9:24), and, as we see here with Lazarus and Abraham, reunion with other believers in the joy of heaven.
  2. Those who are in hell receive only bad things, including agony and separation from God’s love forever. Paul testifies in the second chapter of Romans that “God will give to each person according to what he has done (Psalm 62:12; Proverbs 24:12)…. For those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile” (Romans 2:8-10). Jesus describes this as both a torment within the body (“where their worm is not quenched,” Mark 9:48) and torment afflicting the body from the outside (“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire,” Matthew 25:41).
  3. The condemned spirit in hell is unable to leave his prison. He cannot leave hell to haunt the earth. Any spectral things that living people might think they see or are aware of on earth are not the spirits of the damned, nor of the saved, but can only be one of two things: (1) a specter of our imagination in which our emotions or certain of our senses leave an impression of a presence in our hearts and minds, or (2) a demon.
  4. Since no one can cross from one realm to another once in heaven or hell, this leaves no room for any intermediate state or place such as a limbo, or Purgatory. The doctrine of there being a limbo for children who die in original sin or for those patriarchs who died before the coming of Christ is refuted in part by this passage, since Abraham (a patriarch who died before the coming of Christ) is shown to be in heaven, as are Elijah and Moses (Matthew 17:3; Mark 9:4).

First, regarding the teachings about limbo, we must review what is said about it by Roman Catholics, since there is nothing at all in Scripture. For this we summarize Bellarmine (1542-1621), the Jesuit whose systematic approach to Catholic theology is thorough and honest.

    a] The Limbo (or hell) of the Children (limbus puerorum or limbus infantum), the permanent place of punishment “without pain” for children and infants who die in original sin. They are forever separated from God and “deprived of the contemplation of God.”

    b] The Limbo of the Fathers (limbus patrum), the temporary place of holding the souls of the Old Testament believers who died before the coming of Christ. The very existence of this is obliterated by Jesus’ account of the rich man and poor Lazarus, since Abraham, the epitome of the Old Testament believer, is present in heaven.

    c] Purgatory. This place of punishment is said by Bellarmine and other Catholics to be unavailable to those who die who had no belief at all in Purgatory—its benefits are removed from them.

It is not only Catholics who believe is such intermediate states or places; several Pietists, Enthusiasts (Millennialists), and others have adopted similar, though less thoroughly developed, opinions.

Today the first two arguments, the limbos of the children and of the Old Testament saints, have been declared to be incorrect depictions of the afterlife by Benedict XVI about a decade ago, based on an important document (The Ratzinger Report, 1985) he wrote before becoming pope. This is an example of a doctrine admitted to have been an error. It remains a concern to many Roman Catholics who even today doubt whether a pope could ever admit an error on the part of previous popes, and what that might mean regarding other dogmas of the Catholic Church.

As for Purgatory, Luther said: “Purgatory is the greatest falsehood because it is based on ungodliness and unbelief; for they deny that faith saves, and they maintain that satisfaction for sins is the cause of salvation. Therefore he who is in purgatory is in hell itself; for these are his thoughts: ‘I am a sinner and must render satisfaction for my sins; therefore I shall make a will and shall bequeath a definite amount of money for building churches and for buying prayers and sacrifices for the dead by the monks and priests.’ Such people die in (that is, having) a faith in works and have no knowledge of Christ. Indeed, they hate Him. We die in (that is, having) faith in Christ, who died for our sins and rendered satisfaction for us. He is my Bosom, my Paradise, my Comfort, and my Hope” (LW Vol. 2).

One of the most common arguments in favor of Purgatory appeals to 1 Corinthians 3:12-15, which says in part, “The fire will test the quality of each man’s work” (1 Corinthians 3:13). However, this is an appeal apart from the context. Verse 11 says clearly: “No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.” It is the foundation other than Christ which is burned up by the fire in Paul’s warning. It is Christ and Christ alone which remains, and we must put our faith entirely and only in Jesus our Lord.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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