God’s Word for You
Luke 6:24 Woe to the rich
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Thursday, January 11, 2018
24 But woe to you who are rich,
because you are receiving your comfort now.
“But woe to you,” Jesus begins. There will be three ‘woes’ in a row here, but Jesus will speak six more to the Pharisees in chapter 11. The word “woe” in Greek (οὐαί) is an interjection, like a shout of pain or horror. It sort of means, “How terrible it will be!” Because of these sayings of Jesus, the word has come down to us almost intact as “woe,” which can either be a noun for a calamity (she had many woes and sorrows) or a shout (Woe is me!).
Jesus only says “you who are rich.” He does not mention how the rich got their wealth. But whether through scheming, or theft, or graft, or by some more honest means like inheritance or a business windfall, the implication is that the wealthy too often do not (perhaps in most cases, rarely or never) use their wealth for God’s glory. Whatever the gift, God is the one who gives it. Each of us must ask, how shall I use my gift in God’s service? Has God given me intelligence? Leadership? A green thumb? Land? Musicianship? How can I use it best for God’s glory? Or do I seem to have a gift that should be rechanneled—something I have not used for good, that could be used in an entirely different way? For example, a wealthy person may never have truly used his wealth to benefit the poor, or the church. Oh, there may have been contributions or donations, but those were done more with an accountant’s eye for help with taxes, and not really with a heart of love. Wealth is a very difficult burden, because so few possess a faith that will allow wealth to flow out and away from of the possessor. “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle,” Jesus warned, “than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25).
This woe concludes with the reason for the woe: “because you are receiving your comfort now.” This isn’t the only time Jesus says this kind of thing. In chapter 16, in the story of the rich man and poor Lazarus, Abraham says to the rich man in Hades, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted and you are in agony” (Luke 16:25). The simple question the wealthy struggle with is, would you rather share your wealth in this lifetime, or have no share in God’s wealth in eternity?
The nature of eternal damnation is eternal exclusion from communion with God. Christ says to the doomed, “Depart from me” (Matthew 25:41). He also explains: “They will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12). If we compare Peter’s joyous glimpse of heaven on the Mount of Transfiguration, “It is good for us to be here” (Luke 9:33), then banishment from God’s presence must involve the most unbearable suffering of both body and soul. Hell is “trouble and distress” (Romans 2:9), “torment” and “agony in this fire” (Luke 16:23,24), the place where “their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24). The dogmaticians illustrated this unending pain with the agonies of a fish taken out of water. The difference is that the gasping, tormented fish will quickly die, but God’s judgment is that the man will suffer forever without end: “They will go away to eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46). Jude says that both the fallen angels and the sinners of Sodom and Gomorrah will be “kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains… who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 6-7), and for them “blackest darkness has been reserved forever” (Jude 13) and that their punishment is “the fire” (Jude 23).
But will hellfire be physical, or ‘hyperphyscial’ (more than or beyond the physical)? Some of our dogmaticians, such as Quenstedt, have reason to believe (or suspect) the latter: “Scripture usually speaks of the things of the future world in terms belonging to this life, as it (for example) describes the joys of celestial life as a wedding and a banquet (Matthew 8:11; Luke 22:30).” So Quenstedt interprets the fire of hell as being figurative for extreme agony. Gerhard is cautious: “It is wiser to be concerned about escaping this eternal fire by true repentance than to engage in an unprofitable argument as to the nature of this fire” (“De Inferno” par. 823). I don’t think it would be wise to say that there will not be an actual banquet in heaven, the sort described by Jesus in Luke 13:28-30), and so we should not say that there cannot be actual, physical fire in hell. It’s likely that an actual fire will would be combined with a psychological, mental, or emotional fire—the hyperphysical.
We can talk theoretically about hell until we are blue in the face, but there is a very practical concern that we can’t ignore. The frightened tourist in the airplane is only worried about one thing: Can this plane land without crashing? In the same way, the student of the Bible is only worried about something even bigger, even more severe: Is there a way to end this life without ending up in hell? Sinful man, if he is honest, says “No!” There is no way for a sinful human being to talk himself out of hell, to rescue himself from hell, to do enough good deeds to climb on them to escape from hell, or scramble behind any other seemingly good person and hide in their skirts to escape from the sentence of hell and sort of bluff their way into heaven. And yet heaven is ours. By the grace of God, the Son of God gave up his blood to cover over the guilt of our sins. Isaiah says: “He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of righteousness” (Isaiah 61:10). God doesn’t look away while we sneak into heaven under Jesus’ skirt. He does something entirely different. Fully aware of what he is doing, God gives us a garment of our own, made of righteousness that covers us, the righteousness of Jesus, God’s own Son, but given to us as a gift. Treasure the gift, which is yours through faith.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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