Note: Remember that the context here follows Jesus’ telling of the Parable of the Unjust Steward, in which He teaches that how we use money – what He calls “unrighteous mammon” – indicates where our hearts truly are. So, with this in mind, and in order to really get what is going on here, let’s begin reading in verse 9 and read all the way through verse 31, and then we will focus our attention upon the parable in verses 19-31. Notice especially Luke’s’ description of the Pharisees’ reaction to Jesus’ teaching in verse 14, where he says, “Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.”
Introduction: Richard De Haan relates the following story:
A bank in Binghamton, New York, had some flowers sent to a competitor who had recently moved into a new building. There was a mixup at the flower shop, and the card sent with the arrangement read, “With our deepest sympathy.”
The florist, who was greatly embarrassed, apologized. But he was even more embarrassed when he realized that the card intended for the bank was attached to a floral arrangement sent to a funeral home in honor of a deceased person. That card read, “Congratulations on your new location!” (Our Daily Bread, May 25, 1992)
Now, that card might not be such a bad one for the funeral of a believer in Christ, but it definitely wouldn’t be a good one for the funeral of an unbeliever. And today we will think about why this is so, as we examine the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. For one of them could have been congratulated on his new location, but the other could definitely not have been congratulated!
As we focus our attention on the parable today, we will see that our Lord Jesus essentially gives it a two part structure, so we will follow this structure and examine it under two primary headings. We we look first at the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus, and then at the rich man’s conversation with Abraham.
I. The Contrast Between the Rich Man and Lazarus
We find the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus in verses 19-23. As we look at the contrast between these two men, we will see that they are contrasted both in this life and in the afterlife.
1. They are contrasted in this life.
We find this contrast in verses 19-21.
The Rich Man: NKJ Luke 16:19 There was a certain rich man who was clothed [Impf. > ἐνδιδύσκω] in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.
Just how rich this man was is seen in the fact that he typically wore purple and fine linen, both of which were very expensive kinds of cloth for clothes. I say that he typically wore such extravagant clothing because of the tense of the Greek verb used. It is an imperfect tense, which here indicates an ongoing or repeated action in the past. In fact, the Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament identifies it here as a customary imperfect which should be understood to mean that “he customarily clothed himself” in purple and fine linen (p. 190). In other words, these clothes were not his best that he wore only on special occasions, but rather were his typical garb. He was so rich that he could dress this way every day if he wanted, a fact which seems to be verified by what else Jesus says about him.
We are also told that he “fared sumptuously every day.” Or, as the NASB says it, he was “joyously living in splendor every day.” Or, again, as the ESV translates it, he was a man “who feasted sumptuously every day.” Every day was like a party for this man, because he could afford to celebrate extravagantly every day.
As the NET Bible notes put it, this man “’celebrated with ostentation’ (L&N 88.255), that is, with showing off. Here was the original conspicuous consumer” (BibleWorks).
Lazarus: NKJ Luke 16:20-21 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus [Lázaros is the Greek form of the Hebrew ’el‛āzār, which means God has helped, probably the reason Jesus gives this name to this character], full of sores, who was laid at his [the rich man’s] gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
There are five facts we are given about Lazarus:
1) We are told that he was a “beggar.” He was so poor that he had to beg in order to live. Apparently he was unable to work, and we will see why as we look at the rest of Jesus’ description of him.
2) We are told that he was “full of sores.” Whatever sickness he had, it certainly wasn’t pleasant! This poor man must have been miserable! Such a condition would also have rendered him unclean so that most people would want to avoid him.
3) We are told that he was “laid at [the rich man’s] gate.” Apparently the man could not walk himself and had to be carried and laid at his gate. The reason for this would be obvious. Since the rich man was so incredibly wealthy, there would have been hope that he would have given alms to Lazarus to help him in his sickness and poverty.
4) We are told that he was “desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table.” As poor Lazarus laid at the gate – not welcomed into the house – he was so hungry that he could only dream about the kind of scraps that would fall onto the floor under the rich man’s table.
5) We are told that “the dogs came and licked his sores.” This must have been a painful nuisance, but it also tells us that Lazarus was so weak that he couldn’t keep the dogs away. And apparently there was no one to help him once he had been dropped there at the gate.
What we have here is a picture of a poor, hurting, hungry, lonely man. A man who apparently received no help at all from the rich man, even though he was laid at his gate where he would have walked past him whenever he came and went. What a vivid contrast Jesus portrays between the two earthly existences of these men! But that is not all, for we shall see that Jesus contrasts their existence after their deaths as well.
2. They are contrasted in the afterlife.
We find this contrast in verses 22-23, but the order is reversed, perhaps because of the reversal of their respective situations.
Lazarus: NKJ Luke 16:22a So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.
Whereas Lazarus had been carried and placed in front of the rich man’s gate when alive, left out of the party only to dream of the scraps from the table, now we are told that, after he died, the angels carried him to “Abraham’s bosom.” This is a reference to his being where Abraham is and his being close to Abraham, which would be a place of honor.
The picture is of a feast where people are reclining at a table. They would all be reclining on their left side, leaning on their lefts arms, and Lazarus is right in front of Abraham so that, when he leans back, he leans right against Abraham’s chest. The situation is similar to that of the Apostle John when he reclined at the table with Jesus in the Upper Room and later told us that “there was leaning on Jesus’ bosom one of His disciples, whom Jesus loved” (John 13:33) At any rate, the point is that Lazarus isn’t missing the party any more!
The Rich Man: NKJ Luke 16:22b-23 The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Notice again the vivid contrast between these two men, except that in the afterlife there is a great reversal! Now Lazarus is celebrating rather than the rich man. And, whereas Lazarus had been tormented by his illness and the dogs who licked his sores, now the rich man is being tormented in Hades.
The rich man is also said to be “afar off” from where Abraham and Lazarus are, although not so far that he cannot somehow see them. But, seeing them there, we will discover that the rich man also cries out to Abraham, and this leads us to or next major heading.
II. The Rich Man’s Conversation With Abraham
We find the conversation of the rich man with Abraham in verses 24-31. In this section of the parable we are told about two requests made to Abraham by the rich man, along with Abraham’s two responses. This is then followed by an objection made by the rich man and Abraham’s response to that objection.
The Rich Man’s First Request
We see the rich ma’s first request in verse 24.
NKJ Luke 16:24 Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”
Several observations need to be made here:
1) Notice that the rich man now wants to be shown the “mercy” that he never showed Lazarus when he had the chance. Still he thinks only of himself and has no concern for the welfare of Lazarus.
2) Notice also that the rich man’s arrogance has not been altered by his situation. He still sees Lazarus as being inferior to himself when he requests that Abraham will “send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.”
3) Notice finally that the rich man is said to be tormented “in this flame.” What more horrible and painful fate could we possibly imagine?!
Often we are tempted to think that when people die and end up in a place of torment they will somehow finally be sorry for what they have done, and thus we might be tempted to think it doesn’t seem fair that they should continue to suffer so horribly. But this parable indicates that those who are hardhearted in this life will only continue to be so in the afterlife. Thus they will most definitely continue to deserve the punishment they receive. After all, they won’t cease to be sinners just because they are being tormented.
But the fact still remains that what the rich man did while he was alive was in itself enough to warrant all the suffering he experienced after his death, as Abraham goes on to make clear to him.
Abraham’s First Response
We see Abraham’s response in verses 25-26.
NKJ Luke 16:25 But Abraham said, “Son [τέκνον, child], remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”
Abraham isn’t simply rubbing it in that the rich man is suffering so much. He is reminding him that it is his own fault. And when he says to the rich man that “in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things,” he is implying that it didn’t have to be that way. The rich man could have helped Lazarus, but he didn’t. So he cannot receive help from Lazarus now.
Here I think that the rich man is intended to stand for the one who chose to serve mammon in his life rather than to serve God. He could have loved God rather than money and made friends in his earthly life by means of unrighteous mammon, and now Lazarus might have been among those who would have received him into an everlasting home (vs. 9). But his idolatry is seen in his selfishness and his lack of mercy toward others, such as Lazarus. And his idolatry has gotten him what he deserved – a terrible punishment indeed!
But notice also that Lazarus must have been among the righteous who served God. He must have been a believer who trusted in God despite his terrible circumstances. And now he receives a reward far greater than the rich man could ever have dreamed of!
NKJ Luke 16:26 “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.”
If I may paraphrase in order to bring out the point, Abraham basically says to the rich man, “Not only are you getting what you deserve, but we couldn’t help you anyway, because once your earthly life is over your fate is fixed.”
This is the point Jesus is making here. There are no second chances after this life has been squandered. Or as the author of Hebrews puts it, “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (9:27). We need, then, to take advantage of the opportunity that God has given us now. And this means – as we shall see further on – that we need to hear what God has to say to us now.
The Rich Man’s Second Request
We see the rich man’s second request in verses 27-28.
NKJ Luke 16:27-28 Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him [Lazarus] to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.”
Finally the rich man begins to think of someone other than himself, but notice that there is an implied excuse for his predicament in what he says to Abraham. He implies that he wouldn’t have ended up in this place of torment if there had been someone to warn him. You see, even when he is getting the punishment he deserves, and even after Abraham himself points this out to him, the rich man still wants to pass the buck. But Abraham doesn’t buy it, as we shall see.
Abraham’s Second Response
We see Abraham’s response in verse 29.
NKJ Luke 16:29 Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”
Here Abraham makes it clear that the rich man did have a warning. He had the Word of God! And his brothers also have this same Word. And Abraham clearly believes that this Word is sufficient! So here we can discern the reason Lazarus was with Abraham instead of with the rich man in torment. It was because he had heeded God’s Word. He must have heard “Moses and the prophets” and believed God’s Word, whereas the rich man clearly had not.
However, the rich man isn’t done defending himself, which we will see in next.
The Rich Man’s Objection
We see the rich man’s objection to what Abraham has said in verse 30.
NKJ Luke 16:30 And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”
Can you believe it?! This guy is so arrogant that he is arguing with Abraham! Just think of it. Abraham was the their greatest forefather – the greatest example of genuine faith and spirituality for the Jews – and this rich man is arguing with him! He actually tells Abraham that he is wrong! He thinks that God’s Word was not sufficient to let him know what he needed to know to be where Abraham is instead of in the place of torment where he now finds himself. And he thinks it will not be sufficient for his brothers either. What he and they needed was some really big miracle, like someone returning from the dead to warn them. They need to see a resurrection. That will do the trick! They will do what he should have done – they will “repent.”
But it is the rich man who is wrong, as Abraham will point out to him.
Abraham’s Final Response
We see Abraham’s final response to the rich man in verse 32.
NKJ Luke 16:31 But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
Abraham dispels the notion that so many unbelieving people seem to have today, namely that if they could only see a great miracle of some kind, then they would believe. But this just isn’t true. Those who refuse to believe the Scriptures will not believe even if they see someone raised from the dead.
The generation of hardhearted and unbelieving Israelites who perished in the wilderness and were not allowed into the promised land are examples of this very truth. They had seen all the plagues on Egypt, had experienced the first Passover when all the first born but their own were killed, saw the Red Sea parted and Pharaoh’s army destroyed, heard God’s voice from Mt. Sinai, ate manna from Heaven and drank water from a rock, but still they did not believe. They saw more miracles in their lives than perhaps any other generation, but it did them no good. And the author of Hebrews tells us why:
NKJ Hebrews 4:1-2 Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it. 2 For indeed the gospel was preached to us as well as to them; but the word which they heard did not profit them, not being mixed with faith in those who heard it.
No wonder Jesus said on another occasion that “An evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign” (Matt. 12:29). For it is truly an evil generation that refuses to believe God’s Word and thinks a sign will make all the difference!
Elsewhere Paul indicates that the Jews sought after signs because they thought it was foolishness to think God’s Word would really change anyone:
NKJ 1 Corinthians 1:21-24 For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
So, if you are among those who secretly think that if only God would do some great thing, then you would believe in Him, I must tell you that you are wrong. If you will not believe the Scriptures, then you won’t believe no matter how many miracles you might see. And believe you must because – as this parable makes clear – we only get the opportunity in this life to believe. And if we don’t believe in this life we can only expect an irrevocable judgment in the afterlife.
Conclusion: Mart De Haan illustrates the point well when he writes:
The driver of a hearse foolishly tried to warm himself on a rainy Saturday morning by drinking on the job. He didn’t get warm (alcohol actually lowers body temperature), but he did get lost on the way to the cemetery. The funeral procession waited in vain at the grave for hours.
Later that evening, police found the driver asleep in the hearse by the side of the road. By then it was too late for burial, and the cemetery wouldn’t accept the casket on Sunday.
On Monday, the newspaper reported that the body of the 62-year-old man “was finally laid to rest–2 days late for his final appointment.”
Actually, his final appointment was kept right on time. His tardy burial in no way altered the fact that his conscious soul had passed into eternity precisely at God’s appointed time.
Until Christ returns, this will be true for every one of us. For the child of God, death immediately lifts the spirit into the presence of the Savior (2 Cor. 5:8). But for the one who rejects Christ (Jn. 3:18), death instantly closes the door to heaven and opens another to a Christless eternity.
We all have an appointment with our Maker. Whether we’re ready for it or not depends on what we do with Jesus now. Are you ready for your final appointment? (Our Daily Bread, February 22, 1997)
That is a good question, isn’t it? Are you ready for what comes when you die? Have you believed God’s Word as revealed in the Scriptures? Have you trusted in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? If not, I pray that He may grant you faith and repentance today, for it may be your last opportunity to trust Him.