In the last post, we covered the first segment of Jesus’ rich man and Lazarus account. We saw that the Watchtower doesn’t believe the story is a teaching about a conscious existence after death. Instead, it sees the account as a parable about a reversal of Jehovah’s favor which took place when Jehovah instituted the new covenant at Pentecost.
In this post, we’ll talk about how to engage Jehovah’s Witnesses in discussion of the second segment of Jesus’ story, Luke 16:24-26:
24 “And he called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy upon me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’”
I recommend that you ask the Witnesses to clarify what is causing the rich man’s torment and anguish. They should tell you that it’s the “fiery judgment messages” preached by Jesus and his disciples. Ask them to clarify what those messages are. Most likely, they will tell you Jesus and his disciples were warning people of Jehovah’s coming judgment and of their need to repent and obey him.
Next, ask the Witnesses what the rich man means when he requests that Abraham send Lazarus to “dip his finger in water” and “cool my tongue.” The will tell you that it means that these religious leaders were asking Jehovah to have Jesus’ disciples water down or let up from preaching the fiery messages that are causing them this torment.
Ask them to look at verse 25: “But Abraham said, `Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.”
Ask, “Do you see why I think Jesus is really talking about what takes place after death? Why does Abraham use the phrase “in your lifetime” and describe it in the past tense if the rich man is still alive?”
They will probably tell you that he is speaking about the earlier part of the rich man’s life before he lost Jehovah’s favor.
Say something like this: “So, just to clarify, the Watchtower teaching is that neither the rich man nor Lazarus has really died. All of this is taking place while they are still alive?” They will agree.
Then ask them to go on to give the Watchtower understanding of Abraham’s statement in verse 26: “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’”
They will tell you that “great chasm” that prevents people crossing from Jesus’ disciples’ side to the religious leaders’ side (and the reverse) is God’s unchangeable, righteous judgment.
Say something like this: “I’m confused. Why would those who are in Jehovah’s favor want to go over to the disfavored side other than to help them?”
If they say it would be to witness to them, ask, “How would Jehovah’s righteous, unchangeable judgment prevent them from doing that? If all these events take place in this life, why can’t Christians go over to the disfavored side to help those people?”
After they have responded, ask the further question: “Abraham said this great chasm also prevented the rich man from leaving the disfavored side and joining Lazarus on the favored side? If all these events take place in this life, why can’t people who realize that they are not in God’s favor repent and cross over to God’s side? Isn’t the way open for anyone to repent as long as they are still alive?”
After you have discussed this, you can give the Christian understanding by saying, “Just so you know where I’m coming from, I’ve always been taught that Jesus’ story is about two men who are still conscious after they died physically. The great chasm simply means that there is no second chance to repent and be saved after you have died. It’s too late then. Frankly, that makes more sense to me than the Watchtower’s interpretation of the great chasm. Do you see why I’m confused?”
Can you think of other ways to help the Witnesses see that the Watchtower’s explanation of the great chasm and of the inability of one person to cross over to the other side makes no sense?
Share your thoughts in the comments.