The Rich Man And Lazarus
January 26, 2020 | Randy Smith
The Rich Man And Lazarus
Sunday, January 26, 2020
Pastor Randy Smith
Without a doubt, the most important truth is to know is that there is salvation available in Jesus Christ. When we come to Christ by faith, all of our sins are removed, and we enter into a relationship with the living God. Due to His work on the cross, we can be forgiven and promised hope both now and after death.
This story we are about to cover in Luke 16 infers this truth but does not mention it directly. However, this story in Luke 16 does answer two other important questions that are essential for all humans to understand.
Number one is this: If we are saved by faith in Christ and in His work alone, what is the responsibility upon us to do “good works?” In other words, if salvation is grace alone, how does my responsibility to follow God’s commandments come into play?
And number two is this: Where do people go when they die? Is there an eternal destination? Are there many eternal destinations? And if so, how are these eternal destinations described in the Bible?
One more point of clarification before we begin. Is this a true story or another parable invented by Jesus? Much debate has occurred over the years. Most stand on the side that it is a fictitious parable with biblical truths. After my study this week, I tend to agree with that assessment. And while I lean to the understanding that it is a parable, I do agree that in many ways it is unlike all the other parables Jesus taught.
So here we go. Three simple subpoints that follow the outline of our text if you are taking notes. Verses 19-21 – “Life” Verse 22 – “Death.” Verses 23-31 – “Life After Death.” Main Point – Who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
Life (verses 19–21)
Let’s begin with “life,” verses 19–21.
These verses give us some background on the two key players. One is mentioned by name, Lazarus. The other is simply called a “rich man.” The rich man will be the main figure of the two.
The rich man is described in verse 19. “He habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.”
In these few words, Jesus is making His point very clear. Purple clothes were made from dye extracted from shellfish. It was the color of royalty. Fine linen (his undergarment) was fabric exported from Egypt, like first century (My Pillow Guy) “Giza Dream Sheets.” This guy had money to burn. And this guy made his investments entirely for his own comfort. Words in verse 19, “habitually dressed” and “joyously living in splendor every day.” “Even a “gate” (verse 20) in front of his house.
Then Lazarus is described in verses 20-21. His name in Hebrew is Eleazar, “God is my help.” It was a total contrast. The text says he was poor. It says he was “laid [thrown] at [the rich man’s] gate.” In other words, someone threw him there in some type of mercy hoping the rich man would see him when he pulled in and out every day in his Maserati and toss him a couple bucks. Thus, we can assume he was paralyzed to some degree.
It says he was “covered in sores.” It says he was “longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table.” Most believe this was the bread the rich man and his associates used to wipe their hands after a feast that would be left for the stray dogs. It does not say the rich man gave him this wasted bread. It just says he longed for it. And finally, it says, “The dogs were coming and licking his sores.” Again, these were not compassionate house pets. These were wild dogs using this man as a snack to add more injury and insult. And in all this, he was totally ignored by the rich man who was padding his life in the fast lane of luxury.
Could our Lord have established a greater contrast between someone who has everything and someone who has nothing? So, there this man was thrown, suffering for his life a stone’s throw from the rich man’s excess.
Death (verse 22)
Let’s move to the second point, “Death.”
Verse 22, “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.”
The inevitable strikes both men, no different than it will strike all of us. Both of these men died. No information about a funeral for Lazarus. Most likely he was thrown on the garbage heap. The verse does say the rich man was “buried” and I can imagine it was a phenomenal service – flowers, impressive testimonies, emotional video display, an ornamental casket, a big tomb and definitely a preacher who assured everyone that “he is now in a better place.”
We see that these two men who were unequal in life were also unequal in death. And here is where the story takes a shocking twist. Let’s now go to the third point, “Life After Death.” Once again, they are unequal.
Life After Death (verses 23–31)
According to verse 22, where is Lazarus? The text says he was “carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.” Where is that? Well, this is the only time in the Bible where we hear see term. Some believe “Abraham’s boson” was a holding tank for the redeemed that was emptied into heaven proper after Jesus ascended. Possibly. It’s just another way to say that Lazarus went to heaven. But I believe the main point is Jesus just affirming that Lazarus when to where Abraham is. Abraham was arguably the most revered Jewish saint. And here is where our Lord’s opponents would have been outraged.
You see, they believed that wealth was a sign of God’s favor. No doubt the rich man was being blessed by God. And Lazarus, well, his poverty and physical affliction was a clear indication that he was outside of God’s favor, being cursed by God. Remember back 16:14? The Pharisees were “lovers of money” and they were there listening to Jesus this day. The religious leaders of the day were among the first false teachers that promoted the prosperity gospel. Moreover, if anybody is in heaven, it’s Abraham. And the thought of Lazarus at Abraham’s side was outright repulsive.
Another quick clarification. This story reinforces the fact that there is no “soul sleeping.” What is clear here and elsewhere in the Bible is that upon death it is immediate heaven (verse 22 called, “Abraham’s bosom”) or immediate hell (verse 23 called, “Hades”). All of us will die and all of us will instantaneously wake-up in heaven or hell. We’ll come back to that.
So, we see where Lazarus went after death. How about the rich man? In verse 23 it says, “In Hades he lifted up his eyes.” Hades (Greek, Hebrew is Sheol) is used two ways in the Bible. It is either a generic term for the grave, the place of death all people experience. Or it is used of an eternal place that is opposite of heaven. Here it is clearly the later. Hades is also a holding tank. This is the destination for those who die without Christ. These people will stand before God at the final judgment. They will be guilty because of their unforgiven sins. Then at that time Hades will be thrown into hell, also known as the “lake of fire.”
Revelation 20:13–15 is clear. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds [remember that word!]. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
What is Hades like? Verse 23 says the rich man was in “torment.” In verses 24 and 25 twice we see the word, “agony.” This is totally consistent with every description of hell we read from Jesus, who by the way, gave more descriptions of hell than anyone in the Bible. Hell is eternal suffering apart from the benevolence of God.
Let’s continue beginning in verse 23. “In Hades [the rich man] lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame. [he still thinks he can boss Lazarus around!]’ “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us’” (LK. 16:23-31).
What an extreme of contrasts that we’ve seen so far! The one poor in this life is rich in heaven and the one rich in this life is poor in hell. The one licked by dogs in this life is in Abraham’s bosom and the one living in luxury in this life is suffering in hell. The one humiliated in this life is honored in heaven and the one honored in this life is humiliated in hell. The one begging for crumbs in this life is enjoying a feast in heaven and the one feasting in this life is begging for a drop of water in hell. The nobody in this life is a somebody in heaven and the somebody in this life is a nobody in hell. The one who sought help in this life receives help in heaven and the one who needed no help in this life receives no help in heaven. And the contrasts continue. You get the point.
So, here is why I lean toward this being a parable, because I have trouble taking this section of the account literally. I can’t see anything in Scripture that would support a literal conversation between those in heaven and those hell.
However, I do see evidence in Scripture that there is a “great chasm fixed” between heaven and hell. In other words, once you are assigned to one, your destination is eternally permeant.
But let’s not miss the main point of these interesting and important theological truths. The goal of this story is not to teach us specifics about the afterlife. The goal is to teach us who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. And based upon what I just read, the poor man who had a miserable life goes to heaven and the rich man who had a great life goes to hell. With a quick reading and apart from general biblical context, we could easily make the conclusion that the poor go to heaven and the rich go to hell. The Pharisees wrongly had a problem with that. We should rightly have a problem with that.
Why? Because all of us in comparison to the world are rich. Why? Because Abraham is identified in the Bible as being wealthy. Why? Because salvation from cover to cover in the Bible is based upon grace, faith in Jesus Christ. In other words, what you do with Jesus determines your eternal destiny. It is not your wealth or the absence of it. Our Lord couldn’t be any clearer. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me’” (John 14:6). So, there will be both poor and rich people in both heaven and hell. So, what do we do with this account then?
I believe the answer is found in verse 20. “And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at [the rich man’s] gate.” There it is. Faith without works is dead. How did Revelation say people would be judged on the last day? By their deeds! When we come to Christ by faith and our Lord takes up residence in our lives, the Holy Spirit transforms us, and we will be different people. For example, we will have compassion on others. It is compassion that does not save us but rather gives evidence we are saved.
The rich man is not condemned here because he refused to feed the world. The rich man is condemned here because he refused to care for the need that was thrown at his feet. Thus, his lack of compassion (in such an obvious situation) toward Lazarus was evidence that he did not have the Lord.
So, what has the Lord thrown at your feet? There are so many good causes to get behind (which we should to some degree) and there is no way we should feel guilty for not saving every aborted baby or persecuted church member or starving individual across the world or woman dying of breast cancer. But what has the Lord thrown at your feet? And based upon your faith in Christ, how are you responding? If we just pamper ourselves with God’s resources and ignore the needs around us, how are we any different than this rich man?
Let’s continue starting in verse 27, “And he [the rich man] said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house – for I have five brothers – in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ “But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead’” (LK. 16:27-31).
So, the rich man doesn’t push his desire for relief, but still seeking to boss Lazarus around asks Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his five brothers about the need to avoid going to hell. The assumption is that his brothers were acting just like him.
Do people still have compassion for others in hell?
And what is Abraham’s response? No, there will be no one rising from the dead to warn those still living about hell. Why? Because those on earth have the Bible (referenced here as “Moses and the Prophets”) to read. It is sufficient. Everything they need to know is contained in that book.
But the rich man is adamant and argumentative. He boldly disagrees. Verse 30, “If someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!” And Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead” (Lk. 16:31).
Did you hear that? The greatest means people have to turn to Christ is the Bible. You say, come on, if someone rose from the dead and appeared to the world people would trust God. Really? Ironically, there was a different Lazarus that Christ publicly brought back from the dead (Jn. 11:43-46). And what happened? It just prompted our Lord’s opponents to desire His death more intensely (Jn. 12:10-11). After all, didn’t Jesus rise from the dead?
I’m glad this account ends with concern for the salvation of the lost. It comes indirectly through a rather unlikely preacher – a guy in hell who rejected Jesus and lived without any concern for others his entire life. He knew the reality to share truth, but it came at a time when it was too late for him when he was forever trapped in a place of torment held in by a great chasm.
The Lord throws many opportunities to be compassionate to others at our feet. But none of them are greater than to share the good news of Jesus Christ. None are more loving, and none are more compassionate than seeing souls saved from an eternal place of torment. And while we should be engaged for Christ in other causes, let’s remember to always do it with love and compassion and Gospel. Let’s give free food, but let’s do it with a gospel presentation. Let’s stand against abortion and the evil indoctrination of our children, but let’s do it with love and grace. May we consider this one truth as we go about being obedient to Christ. Is all that I am doing (even the good) adorning the Gospel of Jesus Christ or is it repelling people away from my Savior?