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The Rich Man and Lazarus

The Passage:
Luke 16:19-31

The Parameters:

Jesus had just given a parable about wealth and taught that you cannot serve both God and money. The Pharisees were lovers of money (Luke 16:14) and scoffed at Jesus. So He tells them another parable about trusting in money. He even begins it the same way he began the last parable - with the phrase, there was a certain rich man...

Jesus had also taught that while the Pharisees looked at the outside, God looks at the heart. (Luke 6:15)

Jesus made a comment in verse 16 about the law and the prophets being proclaimed until John.

Although most people think of future things when they think of the prophets, what the prophets primarily did was condemn Israel for oppressing the innocent and the poor. They proclaimed the importance of loving ones neighbor. This parable will portray one who does not do that.

Jesus also says he is preaching the gospel of the kingdom and makes a comment that everyone is forcing his way into it. This means that everyone is trying to get in. What we will see is examples of someone who gets in and someone who doesn’t. Jesus condemns the wrongful love of money in the Pharisees who thought that riches were synonymous with righteousness.

The Problem

We always talk about the attitude and question that Jesus is dealing with in his parables. In this one the attitude he is dealing with is the Pharisees attitude towards their wealth. They thought wealth was a sign of spirituality and blessing from God. They also thought that poverty was a result of sinfulness and cursing from God. They were sure that poor people were not going to go to heaven.

What is Gods attitude towards the Pharisees who were devoted to money and took great pride that they had it? Would they enter the kingdom of God? What does it take to enter the kingdom (i.e. go to heaven)?

The Progression

Chronological or Logical - there are contrasts between the two characters in their earthly life and the after-life.

    Earthly Life

Rich Man - Dressed nice, ate well, lived it up every day. He was on the inside.

Lazarus - dressed in rags, hungry, struggled to survive, oozing sores -- therefore unclean, too weak to fight off the dogs. He is on the outside.

    After-Life

Lazarus - In Abraham’s bosom - in heaven - happy - banqueting imagery (reclining next to Abraham at a banquet). He is on the inside.

Rich Man - In Hades - tormented - on the outside.

Note the reversal of the earthly situation. Notice also that the eternal situation is irreversible. There is no second chance. What does this say about the Catholic doctrine of purgatory? The rich man is in Hades which is a place of torment - a holding tank for hell. Death and Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire. Rev... But you can’t get out.

Notice in vs. 24 that the rich man is still trying to order Lazarus around. He wants God to send the poor man to minister to him. His attitude hasn’t changed. I wonder what that says about repentance after death? Will there be any? Or will people in hell also burn with anger?

The Point

Social status and material possessions are no guarantee of ones standing with God. The only thing that matters is a right response to the Word of God.

The Relation of the Parable to the Kingdom of God

Entrance into the kingdom is dependent on ones faith in Jesus to whom the Scriptures point, not on ones relationship to Abraham.

The Pharisee did not listen to what the prophets said about the coming Messiah nor about how to treat their neighbors. It was the lack of love that illustrated he had no regard for the prophets. He was counting on his relationship to Abraham.

The Particulars

  • In present life there was no chasm between Lazarus and the rich man. In fact Lazarus was begging just outside the rich man’s gate. The rich man could have gone out and helped Lazarus any time he felt like it. But in eternal life there is a great chasm separating heaven and hell. Jesus uses space to emphasize that this gap is uncrossable and permanent. Notice also that it prevents those who want to go from heaven to hell (to show mercy) can’t.
  • Lazarus “laid at the man’s gate” which indicates he was crippled or lame. He was also poor. According to the Pharisees, people were poor, lame, sick, etc. because they were wicked. It proved not to be the case.
  • The rich man was not with father Abraham in paradise like he thought he would be. Jews - and especially the Pharisees - thought they were guaranteed entrance into heaven because of their physical relationship to Abraham.
  • The rich man did not listen to the law and the prophets which taught about how to love one’s neighbor (Micah 6:8). He did not love his neighbor. We know from the parable of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10 that loving one’s neighbor involved helping one who was down and out like Lazarus was.
  • The prophets also predicted that Messiah would be born in Bethlehem, be the friend of outcasts, etc. (cf. Micah 5:2f; 4:6, Isa 61:1-2). This was also emphasized in Luke 14: and 15:1. The rich man rejected that truth also. He was too good to be the friend of outcasts.
  • The rich man knew his brothers weren’t paying attention to the OT scriptures either and thought they would be convinced if Lazarus came back from the grave. In fact, there was a man named Lazarus who was raised from the dead in John’s gospel. (This is the only parable in which a character is named and I’m certain Jesus did so because he knew he would raise Lazarus.4) It did not convince them. They wanted to kill him again. Jesus was also raised from the dead, and they were not convinced.
  • Rich man knew Lazarus in real life (we know that because he knew his name in heaven) but he ignored him.
  • Treatment of Lazarus on earth revealed the rich man’s true relationship to God.

The Principles

    Catholic principles

There is an immediate consciousness after death.

Post death destinies are irreversible. There is no purgatory where you wait until your relatives bail you out.

    Charismatic principles:

Signs are never a guaranteed cure for unbelief. If your heart is not open to the word of God now, a supernatural experience won’t help. That is what John Wimber and those in the signs and wonders movement are looking for - signs to make people believe. They have actually said, “If we can only get someone to come back from the dead...” My question is how many do we need? If it did happen, even true believers would be skeptical.

Faith comes by hearing and believing the word of God. Not from seeing miracles. Jesus said, “They have the law and the prophets...”

    Christian Principles

  • True religion demands social compassion. We need to evaluate our attitudes towards those in need. It reveals our status and relationship with God. The problem with most evangelicals is that they have over reacted against the liberal “social gospel.”
  • The realities of the after-life include torment and blessing. Not annihilation or neutrality. Some people today are teaching a doctrine of annihilation.
  • Disappointment and disease are not necessarily a sign of God’s displeasure.
  • We need to evaluate our attitude towards wealth. What are we depending on? Do we think being rich means we are right with God? We need to worry more about eternity.
  • God’s word is our source of information. It is enough, don’t look for supernatural signs.
  • The decisions of this life are final and determinative. There are no second chances where heaven is concerned.
  • Luke 16 is not just about money or wealth. That is what everyone labels it. But when you really understand the chapter the key element in both the parables is personal relationships. With the parable of the steward the issue was making friends for eternity which would fall under the heading of evangelism. With this philosophy one of the most worthwhile things you can give to is missions. When you give a donation to sending Bibles to India or China or sending missionaries out, you are making friends for eternity. I have to wonder if when we all get to heaven if people saved through the ministry of some missionary are going to find the ones who supported the missionaries financially and say thank you. Ray Boltz has a song entitled Thank You where this guy gets to heaven and all these people come up to him and thank him for the time he took to teach Sunday school where they first heard the gospel.... Maybe God will give us the knowledge of all who contributed to our salvation so we can thank those that allowed themselves to be used by God. Think of the joy that will bring to you when someone comes to you and says, I wouldn’t be here without your help. Thank you so much!
  • In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the rich man should have used his money to help Lazarus. But he only used his money for his own enjoyment. It says in vs. 19 that he dressed in the latest and best fashions and spent all his money on partying and buying expensive things for himself. Since Lazarus was the righteous one in the story, it is not about evangelism, it is about edification. It is about what the rich man should have done to build Lazarus up. He should have tried to help Lazarus.
  • If you remember the summary of the parabolic sayings, the last two were about the dragnet and the householder. Those two parabolic sayings emphasized the disciple’s responsibility for evangelism and edification. We see the same theme repeated here.
  • Both stories are really about whether or not we love others. One of the barometers of how we love is how we spend our money. The question to ask ourselves is - Who do I love? The answer can be found by going through our check register.

4 Some argue that this is not a parable because a character is named. But those who argue thus do not understand that minor variations from the literary motif do not mean it is not a parable. The variation is there to emphasize something. In this case it draws attention to Lazarus who was raised.

Related Topics: Finance