New Testament · Parables · Simple Truths

Parable Surprises – The Rich Man and Lazarus

The “go to” parable to learn of the terrors of hell.

How often I have been under preaching and teaching that has used this passage to scare the living out of the congregation. Many preachers/teachers consider this to be the stellar passages that describe, from the lips of Jesus, the eternal fate of the lost and the bliss of the redeemed. Let’s take a few moments to consider.

Luke 16:19-31

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, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house– 28 for I have five brothers–so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.'”

Questions to Consider

Who were the audience?

Luke 16 begins with teaching directed to the disciples, yet the Word informs us that the Pharisees were within ear shot, listening to every word that came out of the mouth of Jesus.

For this parable, it seems obvious that the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, became the intended audience. Hopefully, it landed on a few willing ears that turned to Him, and rejected the love of money in their life. It appears in Acts 15, a number of Pharisees turned to the Lord, and this parable, among many others directed to the Pharisees may have been instrumental in that turning.

When did the Lord give this parable?

This parable was given within three months of the passion week. For a helpful document, providing a list of all the events in Jesus Life, check out the following download.

Where did the Lord teach the parable?

During the last three months of the Lord’s time in Israel, much of it was spent in Perea, on the eastern side of the Jordan, and finally in Jerusalem.

Why did the Lord give this message?

For what purpose would the Lord provide this parable? Why did he provide this story?

Did Jesus give this teaching for future Christians to know of eternal conscious suffering of the wicked in the lake of fire?

Many times when I have heard a message on this passage, the teaching goes directly to the portion describing the condition of the rich man, and of his suffering. Rarely do I hear of the “set up” of the parable, how Luke provides a context of verses 14 through 18 to introduce the parable.

Let’s take a minute to review.

Luke 16:14 – 18

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.

Why did the Lord gave a message of a rich man and a beggar? What does the text say? Remember, this is your faith that you are seeking to develop, and to grow into. Forget about all the teaching you have heard on the subject and simply allow verse 14 – 18 to introduce the story.

Let me describe my thinking when I considered the introductory verses above. Some of my questions were…

  • Did Luke introduce this story by speaking of resurrection?
  • Did Luke introduce this parable by talking of the rapture and the end times?
  • Did Luke mention the Lake of Fire, the false prophet, the anti-Christ, the judgement seat of Christ, the Great White Throne…..

Need I go on?

Reread verse 14 and tell me (in the comment section below) why the Lord gave this parable to his intended audience.

What was the message for the original audience?

This is tough! Nevertheless, I shall take a stab at my understanding of the message to the original audience for your consideration. And as usual, a raft of questions flooded my mind, that may not at first seem apparent.

  • Why does the rich man have a dialog with Abraham rather than with God?
    • Did the Pharisees equate Abraham with God?
  • Why is Lazarus brought to Abraham rather than to God?
    • Didn’t the Jews consider God to be the judge of all mankind?
  • Why ask Abraham rather than God to have pity on him?
    • Was Abraham the Jewish equivalent of St Peter for Christians? (I am being waggish in this statement, for St Peter doesn’t have “pity pardons” for believers either!)
  • Does living in luxury make you liable to hell?
    • This is extremely bad news for all in America (and any other first world country), for we live at a level of luxury 90% of the world does not enjoy.
  • Does the rich man ignoring the existence of the beggar seal his fate?
    • This again is extremely bad news for most of us in America, and any other first world country.
  • Does being poor in this life entitle you to enter Heaven?
    • Where does the work of Christ enter into this? If being poor allows entrance to heaven, Christ died unnecessarily.
  • Why do we assume that Lazarus is buried when the story states the poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abrahams side.
    • This last point shows how we insert our assumptions – that Lazarus was buried, therefore in hades. The rich man was in hades. Lazarus was “afar off”, with Abraham.

All of these questions lead me to think that the Lord was not giving doctrinal teaching on the hell or the lake of fire, but used a common story that pagans recited, (and that had become Jewish lore).

What? What heresy are you pushing now Carl?

I don’t often refer to commentaries, but in this instance I would direct the reader to the New International Greek Testament Commentary, on the Gospel of Luke, by I. Howard Marshall. I have highlighted a discussion in the pdf available below (pg 730 – 731 of 1095, or “alt” and click on link in table of contents), and provided a link for your further research.

Was the Lord using a commonly accepted story amongst the Jews to bring home a moral lesson on the love of money? Or was he teaching on the subject of hell, precepts in the story that would be in conflict with Biblical revelation, as in the ability to enter heaven based on personal wealth. It seems to me that this parable/story is not a passage we should depend on for soteriological doctrine, but for life teaching on God’s attitude on our love of money.

Given this background to the story of Luke 16, I would like to suggest a number of parallels in the Word that Jesus may have intended to make the story directly applicable to those within ear shot.

Parallels, Hints and Connections

Looking at the larger context of this parable/story, we find interesting parallels to the Jewish nation and it’s leadership

  • Judah (father of the remaining tribe composing the nation Israel) had exactly five brothers through his mother, Leah.
  • Abraham’s servant was named Eliezer.
    • Lazarus in the Greek!
  • Eliezer had no blood ties to Abraham.
    • The Jewish religion depended heavily on blood lines to justify their religious exclusivity!
  • Eliezer was a “foreigner” from Damascus (Gen. 15:2).
    • An intended parallel to the gentiles of the day?
  • The final statement of Jesus in this parable actually is prophetic
    • The Ones (the Pharisees!) who boasted in trusting Moses and the prophets refused to be convinced though Lazarus was raised from the dead.
    • Jesus summary statement condemns the ones who boasted of trusting in Moses by way of a sign – the rejection of a resurrection! He spoke the truth that would give the Pharisees ample warning of their true condition – that is they did not trust God and love Him

Could this parable be aimed at two parties that Jesus taught on often? The Jewish ruling class, the Pharisees, the “rich man” in the story, and the rejected unclean gentile represented by Lazarus?

What is the message for us today?

First, I would like to mention is that I fear this passage, if used for eschatological teaching (information on hell) may provide more information on the topic than was intended. This passage implies entry into heaven by being poor, and subjection to suffering by being rich. Is there any other passage in the Bible that justifies this teaching?

Luke tells us the end game of the parable, noting that the Pharisees who loved money – they were “rich men” – were in ear shot of the story.

Two messages occur to me for our modern lives.

Message 1 for us today – Don’t love money! Love God. Loving the moolah, the coin, the buck in this passage is associated with ridiculing the Messiah. Not a good thing for the one who says they love the Master!

Jesus summary statement (verse 31) needs to be taken as the purpose of the story, and that even resurrection from the dead will not convince those who do not trust the Old Testament Scriptures. For us today, the same can be said. The Word of God is sufficient for conversion and salvation of our “5 brothers” How often have you heard of some that depend on miracles or signs to convince the lost?

The Lord told the leaders of the religious elite that the great miracle of resurrection would not convince some, and that the lost should “hear Moses and the Prophets”. A resurrection only hardened the leaders resolve to eliminate the One they ridiculed!

Message 2 – Depend on the Word of God, not miracles or signs!


Are our religious leaders depending on miracles, signs or such to warn the lost, or to preach to the believer?

When you share the grace of God to your neighbor, do you depend on miracles or signs in your life or on the promise of God provided in the Word of God?

Thanks again for coming to visit. I hope you found something of interest in this post and would appreciate a comment, to begin a discussion.

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