By Sam E. Stone
The parable we study today follows directly the story that Jesus told about the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-15). J. W. McGarvey suggested, “If the parable of the unjust steward teaches how riches are to be used, this parable sets forth the terrible consequences of a failure to so use them.”
Rich and Poor
Luke explains that it was the rich man’s habit to wear costly and well-made clothing. He was literally “making merry brilliantly,” enjoying unprecedented luxury every day. This parable may have been intended especially for the Pharisees, who were lovers of money (v. 14). In contrast to the rich man, Jesus introduced a beggar. This term is used 34 times in the New Testament and is translated “poor” in every verse except here (v. 20) and Galatians 4:9.
The beggar was named Lazarus. This is the only occasion when a person is named in one of Jesus’ parables. The name is derived from Eleazar which means “God a help.” His body was covered with sores. Unable to work, he longed to eat the leftovers and scraps which fell from the rich man’s table. (Compare him with the prodigal son in Luke 15:16 and the Syrophoenician woman in Mark 7:28.) The wild dogs (who also ate scraps from the rich man’s table) licked his sores. A. T. Robertson noted, “It is not clear whether the licking of the sores by the dogs added to the misery of Lazarus or gave a measure of comfort, as he lay in his helpless condition.”
Paradise and Torment
Death eventually came to both men. Note that only Lazarus is reported to have been carried to Abraham’s side by the angels. Nothing is said about the rich man’s journey. “Abraham’s side” describes paradise, where Jesus went at his death (Luke 23:43). The King James Version says Lazarus was “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.” The picture is of a person reclining at a meal where the head of one lay on the bosom of another, denoting intimacy and friendship (see John 13:23; 21:20). The rich man, on the contrary, was in Hades, where he was in torment.
The rich man called, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue.” Without God, the person who dies faces only pain and anguish. The rich man was punished, not for having been rich, but for refusing to use his riches nobly. In addition, Abraham reminded the rich man that a great chasm separates the two parts of the spirit world. No one can go from one to the other.
Return and Rescue
When he could find no relief available for himself, the rich man thought of his family members who were still alive. “Send Lazarus to warn them so they won’t end up here,” he begged. Scripture clearly affirms that there is no communication between those who have died and those who are still living on the earth, as in Spiritualism. Neither is there a “second chance” after death, as the Roman Catholics teach in their doctrine of Purgatory. Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.” A. T. Robertson pointed out, “Even the heathen have the evidence of nature to show the existence of God as Paul argues in Romans so that they are without excuse (Romans 1:20-23).”
The rich man learns that repentance is what is lacking. Not wealth, not poverty, not alms, not influence, but repentance is needed. Moses and the Prophets taught that it is the obligation of the rich to care for the poor (see Deuteronomy 15:7; Amos 4:1; Zechariah 7:9, 10). The Scriptures are a sufficient guide to godliness (2 Timothy 3:16, 17), and a failure to live rightly when possessing them is due to lack of will, not lack of knowledge.
The rich man argued, “But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” Abraham had the last word: “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” The resurrection of Jesus confirmed this truth!
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.