Luke 16:19 - 31
ESV - 19 There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores.
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In the parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus was not talking about the afterlife; instead, He was addressing the Pharisees (Luke 16:14) and their unfaithfulness in regards to their responsibility. They had a special message of truth and failed to share it with the Gentiles, who were eager to hear it. And we clearly know this is a parable because of the many allegoric elements of the story. In Luke 16:22 the NKJV says "....that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom." This is the first clue: there's no other Scripture that says that the saved go to the bosom of Abraham. Second, Jesus uses the word Hades, a mythological Greek place. Jesus did not believe in Greek mythology and is undoubtedly using here a figure of speech that the audience understood. Third, both (Lazarus and the rich man) are being taken to their respective places of reward. Their bodies apparently came along, for we find the rich man desires to have his tongue cooled by a drop of water from the finger of Lazarus who is resting in Abraham’s bosom. Are we to believe that the graves of these two people are now empty? It would make no sense to take the story literally. Also, there is no other place in Bible where people in heaven are communicating with people in hell. The lesson is that the rich man, who symbolizes God's people and who have the truth are not sharing their food with the poor, the lost, and that they may find that in the Judgment the poor are saved and the rich are lost. Jesus thus rebuked the Pharisees for their disregard of the Scriptures, foreseeing that even a supernatural event would not change the hearts of those who persistently rejected the teachings of “Moses and the prophets.”
In my view the parable told by Jesus here had absolutely no bearing or meaning on the age old question - What happens after we die? I think this attention that is given to "hell" and "Abraham's bosom" diverts attention away from some important and eternal truths that are quite relevant to our time. Every Christian ought to listen to the real message that Jesus was passing to his audience. I am convinced that the message is as relevant as it was during the time Jesus said it. The starting point in understanding this parable is actually 2 verses earlier. It is here that we begin to understand the back ground to this parable and we ask the question why did Jesus tell the parable at this particular moment? To whom is it addressed? I am going to direct our attention Jesus’s audience in Luke 16:19-31. In verse 14 just above it tells us that the Pharisees heard Him and derided Him. Jesus was talking to a class of people who sincerely believed themselves superior and privileged from God by being born Jews, children of Abraham. There was nothing in the world more precious more coveted than to be called the children of “our father Abraham” John 8:39. Clearly the proud Jews represented by the Pharisees were the “rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen”. Jesus used the symbolism of poor Lazarus infested with sores and living on scraps from the rich man’s table. In Isaiah 49:6 we are told that Jews were supposed to take the light from God and pass it on to the gentiles, instead they despised the gentiles and hoarded the truth. The Jews regarded the gentiles as dogs Mat 15:26 and Mark 7:27. Jesus was telling the “rich” and powerful Jews that they were still accountable for the riches (the gospel) which they received from God. The riches are only valuable if they are used and passed on. Otherwise the reality is that the Jews weren’t as rich as they thought they were. In other words the greatest riches was to inherit eternal life, of which they weren’t destined if they didn’t change course. Rev 3:17 You say, 'I am rich and well off; I have all I need.' But you do not know how miserable and pitiful you are! You are poor, naked, and blind. I advise you, then, to buy gold from me, pure gold, in order to be rich. Buy also white clothing to dress yourself and cover up your shameful nakedness. Buy also some ointment to put on your eyes, so that you may see. I rebuke and punish all whom I love. Be in earnest, then, and turn from your sins. Listen! I stand at the door and knock; if any hear my voice and open the door, I will come into their house and eat with them, and they will eat with me. The attitude of the Jews and Pharisees still haunts the church today. We still want to keep the truth to ourselves instead of sharing it with the poor. Jesus said one day if the He stopped the children from singing Hosanna the stones would cry out! That appears to be the case with Lazarus. Somehow with the “crumbs” that fall from our table they are somehow redeemed into heaven. The little truth that they are able to get, they utilize diligently. We the custodians of the truth on the other hand are negligent with the truth.
Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, so he used a popular traditional story they would have been familiar with. Unfortunately, the Jewish teachings of the day had absorbed much of the Greek afterlife mythology into their thinking, hence this mishmash of Jewish and Greek concepts. Lazarus (Eliazar in Greek) means God who helps, and it would have stung the listeners, who Jesus linked to the rich man in his purple finery, that they missed out and were condemned while the beggar was blessed by God. All manner of pictures come through this parable which aren't held up by scripture and simply because Jesus used the storyline does not equate to it being literal. Like the 'souls under the altar' in Rev 6, we are to grasp the meaning of the message not assume the picture actually exists. Otherwise Jesus has a sword in his mouth (Rev 1:16) and death and hades can ride a horse and walk (Rev 6:8) Finally, Jesus was prophesying that even though someone (him) would rise from the dead, they (the Pharisees) would not believe in him.
The whole chapter is devoted to the truth about earthly riches and about the word of God. These are the two masters that rival for the devotion of humans (vs. 13-15). The earthly riches is defined by three phrases: it is 'least', it is 'unrighteous' and it is "another man's" (vs. 10-12 NKJV). The right use of earthly riches can be beneficial in after life, which is highlighted in the story of the unfaithful steward and stated in v. 9. On the other side the preciousness of the word of God is stated in three ways: it is very precious and requires wholehearted diligence to benefit from it (v. 16), for God it is more precious than the whole universe (v. 17), and for God His words are like marriage vows and He cannot be unfaithful (v. 18). Now comes the parable. Two questions arise: What was wrong with the rich man that he ended up in the place of torment? What was good about Lazarus that he ended up in the place of eternal happiness? For the first question two facts can be gleaned: The rich man's happiness and desires were limited to earthly life only. He did not care at all about afterlife happiness (v. 25), and he had knowingly rejected God's word (29-31). The answer to the second question can be gleaned from the name Lazarus. This is the only time that Jesus named any person in His parables. The name Lazarus is Greek form for the Old Testament Hebrew name Eliezer (Gen. 15:2), which means 'my God is help'. So this poor man had all his life trusted God for help. The Pharisees were lovers of money and their whole religiosity was focused to serve riches and not God (v.14). This chapter should be read along with 18:15-30 and 19:1-10. It is impossible for people trusting their riches to enter the kingdom of God (18:25), but even such people can enter the kingdom of God if they turn to Him and forsake their earthly riches (19:8-9). So earthly riches are good if rightly used, let them not be our master. It is only God and His word that deserve our wholehearted devotion and service.
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