It’s the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus – or is it even a parable? Neither Jesus nor Luke described it as a parable, which is not that unusual, but crucially, Jesus identified an individual in the story by name, and that is unusual, even unique. Of course, Bible teachers argue about it; is it a parable or isn’t it? For me whether or not it is a parable is not the important thing, it’s a bit like the debates they used to have in the middle ages, ‘how many angels can stand on the head of a pin?’ What matters, is that Jesus was talking about a reality. He believed in hell, in fact he spoke about it more than anyone else in the Bible. His life and death was a rescue mission to prevent people from going there. The passage can be read here.
In life, the two men could not have been more different. The rich man lived in luxury, he is dressed in the best clothes money can buy and good food was plentiful. As the Amplified Bible puts it; “There was a certain rich man who [habitually] clothed himself in purple and fine linen and revelled and feasted and made merry in splendour every day.” Lazarus’ life was very different. The way the beggar was ‘laid’ and that he longed for the table scraps suggest Lazarus was staving and was unable walk. Even at the rich man’s gate, and as far as we know he died there, there was no dignity; “Even the dogs came and licked his sores”. It seems Lazarus was forgotten and worthless, except for one thing, Jesus knew his name. It tells us that Lazarus was more highly regarded in God’s sight than the rich man. It tells us too, that every abused child, every widow in a refugee camp and every desperate father trying to provide for his family, is known to God – he knows each name.
I’m sure Lazarus’ death was no surprise to anyone but perhaps the death of the rich man raised a few eyebrows. It serves as another reminder of the truth that death is a certainty. It would be wrong to extract too much in the way of doctrine here, but there is a second truth that stands out sharply; death is not the end. The angels carried Lazarus to Abraham’s side. I’m sure his body would have been dealt with, buried in all probability, but Lazarus’ essence, his soul, lived on. The same goes for the rich man, his body was buried, but his soul was tormented in flames. There had been a complete reversal, for Lazarus the suffering of life could be forgotten as he was comforted but for the rich man there was only torment. It’s important to note, that Lazarus was not rewarded because he was poor, any more than the rich man was punished because he was rich. Lazarus must have lived in faith.
The third lesson here is that for the rich man, it was too late. Whatever influence he had wielded in life counted for nothing. Notice, he knew Lazarus’ name. The worthless beggar who had died starving at his gate was someone he knew! He asked for some relief but there was none, it was too late. Abraham lovingly reminded him of his life when he had opportunity to repent but he had given no thought towards God. For those who choose to live without God, he gives them what they want, an eternity without him and it is a terrifying prospect.
The final lesson that I would point out, is that when the rich man was confronted with the reality of hell, he became desperate that those he knew should not end up as he had. Abraham’s response; “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them” is completely valid (of course). He was referring to the Jewish scriptures and everyone in Israel would have known them and their own heritage. God has made himself known, he reveals himself to human beings and that is even more the case for us as we have the accounts of Jesus. Abraham’s comment; “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” is sadly prophetic. Jesus rose from the dead and people still did not believe.
There are big issues raised here. If you are not a Christian, I would think God is speaking to you now. Give your life to Jesus, make contact through the comments option or ask a Christian to help you. I would urge you not to delay.
For Christians, this passage is a wakeup call. Jesus was serious about hell, the rich man was desperate for his brothers not to go there, why then are we so complacent? C.T. Studd was a great Christian man who spent his life sharing the good news of Jesus. When asked about his strategy for mission he replied;
“Some want to live within the sound of church or chapel bell; I want to run a rescue shop within a yard of hell.”
Lord this is too big for us. Guide and empower us by your Spirit to proclaim your truth in our generation.