Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: Luke 16:19-31
Jesus tells the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to illustrate the two points he just made, regarding 1) the love of money and 2) the "permanence" (permanent nature) of the law, in Luke 16:13-18.
Another parable that discusses a rich man is the Parable of the Rich Fool.
In context, Jesus is talking to a large crowd of sinners, tax collectors, Pharisees, scribes, and his disciples, as seen in Luke 15:1-2. Before telling this parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus has told several other parables regarding redemption and money.
Jesus then says, "No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth." (Luke 16:13)
The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. (Luke 16:14) Jesus then says that they rationalize and defend their actions, but that God knows their hearts and "what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God." (Luke 16:15)
Wealth, physical appearances, status, etc. are all things prized by humans, but to God these things are abominations. Instead, God values humility, generosity, and the heart. In the kingdom of God, it is more important to desire approval from God, rather than desiring the approval of others.
Jesus then makes his point about the permanence of the law, saying the law is still in effect and "it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped." (Luke 16:16-17)
Jesus gives an example of a part of the law that will remain forever, regarding divorce and adultery (Luke 16:18), and then Jesus illustrates both of these points by telling this parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
Jesus begins by contrasting two different people: 1) a rich man who is dressed very nicely and eats very well each day, and 2) the poor man named Lazarus who is lying down at the rich man's gate. (Luke 16:19-20)
Lazarus is covered with sores, and Jesus illustrates his tragic condition by saying Lazarus longed to eat whatever fell from the rich man's table and even the dogs licked his sores. (Luke 16:21)
Both of these men die. Just as it was in life, there is again a huge contrast between them after death. The poor man is carried off by angels to be with Abraham, whereas the rich man is buried and ends up in Hades. (Luke 16:22-23)
While being tormented, the rich man calls out to Abraham and Lazarus, who can both be seen far away. The rich man says that he is tormented in flames and he wants Lazarus to dip even just the tip of his finger in water, in order to cool his tongue. (Luke 16:24)
Abraham responds to the rich man saying that he lived in great comfort while on earth, while Lazarus lived in agony, so now the opposite is true and Lazarus is comforted. (Luke 16:25) Abraham then tells him that no one can cross between the two places, because a great chasm separates them. (Luke 16:26)
The rich man then begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth, so that he can warn the rich man's brothers in hopes that they will not have to come to the place of torment that the rich man is in. (Luke 16:27-28) However, Abraham responds by saying that the rich man's five brothers already have Moses and the prophets, and that the brothers should listen to them. (Luke 16:29)
The rich man still insists that his brothers will repent if someone comes back from the dead, but Abraham responds that if the five brothers "do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead." (Luke 16:30-31)
Based on the context of where this parable of the rich man and Lazarus is found, it is clear that Jesus is telling this parable to the Pharisees who are like the rich man.
Jesus has just been warning them about loving money, in Luke 16:13-15. In addition, Jesus contrasts their love of money to loving God, making the statement that the truth is that God's law is more permanent than even heaven and earth. It is for this reason, of illustrating these two points in a story, that Jesus tells this parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
In the parable, we can see how it turns out for those who love money and live well, while others remain poor and suffer. As Jesus tells the pharisees in Matthew 23:23, they love their money and neglect the important matters of the law, such as justice, mercy, and faith.
story also illustrates how God has already warned everyone through Moses and
all the prophets by: 1) giving us His law, and 2) Warning us to
obey it through the prophets, as well as Jesus Christ and the apostles.
According to the story, this evidence of the law and prophets is sufficient enough that: 1) Those who would listen, do listen, and 2) Those who don't listen, wouldn't listen even if someone was raised from the dead.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a story, and Jesus' primary reason for telling this story is to illustrate his statements about loving money and the permanent nature of the law. Jesus is not telling this story to teach a theology on heaven and hell.
It is possible that Jesus uses truths about the afterlife in this story, but it is also equally possible that Jesus uses elements that his listeners would best understand, even if those elements do not accurately depict reality since Jesus Speaks in Figures of Speech.
If we read this passage and obtain some belief about heaven and hell, then we have missed Jesus' point. The real points are much more significant:
Study the parables of Jesus in this easy-to-read 40 day devotional.
This devotional takes the unique approach of
understanding Jesus' parables by examining the genre, scriptural
context, and historical culture. Your life will be transformed by studying the parables of Jesus Christ.
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