It has been called the waiting chamber for those who believed and looked forward to the Messiah with redeeming faith, but nonetheless died before the messiah came. Therefore, they needed to remain in an in-between state that was neither in heaven nor in hell. That is, until redemption was accomplished by Jesus. After the cross they were freed to pass on to heaven. It’s an interesting hypothesis. But is Abraham’s bosom a holding place for the Old Testament saints (Luke 16:22)? We should consider a few points here before we jump to that conclusion.
Firstly, we have cases like Enoch and Elijah who were taken by the Lord in a sudden nature, Elijah in particular being carried away into heaven in a very spectacular manner (Genesis 5:24; 2 Kings 2:11). It would seem rather odd and without basis however, if they were carried away only to be placed into a “holding tank.”
Now someone might speculate that these were exceptions and the Lord chose to bypass the chronological need for the cross to happen. But this presents a serious, twofold problem. For one, this would not be consistent in the very argument made by those who declare that the cross had to be accomplished before the faith of Old Testament saints could be honored. Secondly, and more importantly, it fails to reflect the just nature of the Lord. Why would a few individuals be taken to heaven while others needed to await Calvary? Were these cases just worthier while others were not? Again, not the message we derive from the Bible.
Another point I’d like to make is that if Abraham’s bosom held any theological importance to salvation, or the afterlife, I believe the Bible would discuss it more than just the one isolated reference given in parabolic form (Luke 16:22). Therefore, if we promulgate Abraham’s bosom as a place somewhere between heaven and hell, being neither in actuality, then we are as guilty as those who teach purgatory based on the brief mention of fire (1 Cor 3:15) in the context of a believer’s judgment. Purgatory was not Paul’s point there either, rather the ‘burning up’ was a metaphorical description of the closeness to the total loss one may have in a fire. All possessions could be lost (in this passage the rewards of the believer) but the life of the individual survives (the eternal life of the believer). In the case of Jesus referencing Abraham’s bosom, this is first of all a parable, not intended to be foundational in building the doctrine of atonement before or after the cross.
Generally speaking, Abraham’s side was descriptive among Jews as the place of rest, comfort and joy, i.e. heaven. And Jesus’ discourse in Luke 16 was intended to communicate justice and retribution in the judgment that will be served to all after death, even the rich and powerful will be helpless before the Lord. For more of a Messianic, Jewish perspective on New Testament studies, the Jewish New Testament Commentary: A Companion Volume to the Jewish New Testament is excellent!
Some of you may disagree with me, and I would sincerely like to hear your thoughts on this subject in either case. But my position is that Abraham’s bosom simply refers to paradise. Consider this verse where Jesus says Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are in the kingdom of heaven:
“I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 8:11)
I further retain that the Old Testament “believers” were saved in the same manner that we are. By faith. Indeed, Abraham is called the father of all believers, for he believed the promise of ‘his seed’ and it was accounted to him as righteousness (Rom 4:3). This was long before the cross happened in time. And faith in God and His work is the only requirement the Lord ever places on man.
Take it from this perspective. The cross stands at a central point on the time-line of history. All believers since the cross look backwards to that moment. But the men and women of the Old Testament had to look forward into the future. Nevertheless it is the same event for both and the looking is done in faith (chronological direction bears no weight in the consequence). I might even argue that Old Testament faith of this nature was greater, for the event hadn’t even happened yet. We on the other hand, are able to stand on an historical moment in time, looking back in the knowledge that it has already happened. Nonetheless, we all look by faith. Click here for part two.
What do uThink?