Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg
with Tom Fuller
Life and After Life Lessons
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is unique and very powerful. It reveals in story format the decisions facing us all, and more importantly, the consequences of those decisions in eternity. I wanted to focus on only this passage today in order to show what it reveals about the nature of reality and the nature of the human heart.
Let’s read the entire story then come back and comment on it section by section.
19 – 21 Life here
Two characters are introduced. The rich man is not identified by name, and thus could represent anyone who has a position of wealth. Remember, money itself is not evil, but what it does to us. As we saw last time, you can use money for God’s kingdom, or it can use you, own you, and enslave you (Luke 16:13).
The two problems with money owning you is that
1) Wealth can corrode your character:
Matthew 6:19 (HCSB) “Don’t collect for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal.”
2) Wealth can lead you away from God unless you are careful:
1 Timothy 6:10 (HCSB) For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and by craving it, some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.
As signs of his wealth we know three things about this man.
- He dressed in clothing dyed purple, which was a sign of luxury in that age, and he wore linen—a description of the quality of his undergarments.
- He lived in a house behind a gate, a clear sign of extreme wealth.
- He ate “lavishly” every day. It comes from the Greek word where we get “lamp” and means “brilliantly”. So you might say his menu was so good it made the cover of “Bon Appetite”.
He lives safely inside his gated community and no one else can get in. Lazarus is named, which leads some to believe that this is a real person. It could be, since Jesus doesn’t normally name characters in parables. But there are other features of this story that are more parabolic. It doesn’t change the truth of it, however.
Lazarus, in direct contrast to the rich man, is cast outside the gate, left there, apparently, by someone—perhaps his family and is likely very sick. He longs to eat a morsel from the master’s table. Instead he is covered in ulcers—a medical term used only here in the New Testament and probably coming from Luke’s background as a physician. Instead of being comforted, dogs come and lick the sores. These are not cute puppies either but wild dogs that would kill Lazarus if they could. This, by the way, makes Lazarus ceremonially unclean.
22 – 24 Life there
Both men die. Lazarus is carried off by the angels to “Abraham’s Bosom” which is a place of comfort as referred to in the Talmud—something the man lacked in this life. The rich man, on the other hand, is simply buried. He finds himself in a place called Sheol, or place of the dead. Here the Greek word “Hades” is used.
It’s obviously a place of torment, partly because of the realization that he has been kept out of heaven, but also because of the “flame” which could be a reference to the Lake of Fire in Matthew 25:41, Revelation 19:20 and Revelation 20:10 – the final place designed for Satan, his demons, and anyone who belongs to him.
So in death the roles are reversed. Lazarus was tormented in life while the rich man lived and dined in comfort and in safety. Now Lazarus receives comfort and the rich man is in torment.
It’s interesting that he can actually see Abraham and Lazarus, but even more telling that despite his dire situation, his heart attitude towards Lazarus has not changed. He still sees him as beneath him and commands that he bring him a drink of cool water. He knew who Lazarus was, knew his condition, yet did nothing to help. Now there is nothing Lazarus can do in reverse, even if he wanted to.
I’d like to point out here that Jesus is not saying that helping the poor earns us a spot in heaven any more than being rich condemns you to Hades. But the rich man’s lack of actions indicates something about his heart. The Lord said “Love the Lord your God with all your heart soul mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27). Loving our neighbor in need is often an outgrowth of our love for God.
I also want to point out two words Jesus uses of the rich man: torment and agony. Jesus said that in hell there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. It’s a place where the fire is not quenched nor does the agony cease (“their worm does not die” – Mark 9:43). We may not know exactly what hell is like, but we do know that it is not a place of comfort, and as we’ll see, escape from there is not possible.
25 – 26 Life & Death Lessons
There are several important things we learn from this section. The rich man calls out to the patriarch of the Jewish faith: Abraham. Abraham represents the faithful here and lets the man know some vital things:
First: Heaven is not like earth. On earth the rich man had everything and Lazarus had apparently nothing. But what he did have was faith in the Messiah (implied) and now has everything he needs. Abraham wants him to remember that he got all he is going to get in this life. That begs the question – are you investing in eternity or just here? You invest here by buying into this age’s mentality of wealth, power, and beauty to satisfy your fleshly desires. You invest in heaven by seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness through Jesus Christ—finding satisfaction of your desires in Him and in His ways.
Secondly, Abraham tells the man that there is a “great chasm” that “has been fixed between us and you.” There are no do-overs. We get one chance and in heaven you can’t change what you have chosen as your destiny. Now notice that the rich man is not changing his ways or his mind—he is not repentant, he merely wants to stop suffering and wants the former beggar Lazarus to provide the comfort.
So next the man realizes the finality of his situation and at least wants his brothers warned.
27 – 31
So now instead of having Lazarus fetch water, now he wants Abraham to dispatch him to tell his brothers to warn them. Again, his attitude of superiority hasn’t changed a bit. Abraham replies that the warnings from the Scriptures should be enough. But the man argues the point—again showing his arrogance. He claims that if someone from the dead shows up, they’ll listen.
So in an interesting ironic twist here: Abraham says that “they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.” This is ironic for two reasons. 1) A man named Lazarus will rise from the dead at the command of Jesus—and this will lead to the religious leaders finally deciding to have Jesus executed. 2) Even though Jesus Himself will rise from the dead, not many Jews will believe—and in fact, Jesus said that it apparently not many rich will believe either. He said it is difficult for a rich man to believe because wealth acts as an insulator to any need and thus our need for a savior (Matthew 19:24).
So another thing for us today is that we also need to listen to the Scriptures. Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection were foretold and proclaimed by the Scriptures. We don’t need other miracles or to hear from angels—there is enough proof from what eye-witnesses and the prophets have written.
So why did Luke record this story here? I think it goes right along with the narrative we’ve been seeing over the past few weeks—that is that the Pharisees and Scribes were thinking they were so holy and wonderful, but in fact were full of evil.
Last time Luke said they were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14) and suggests that they only followed the law when it suited them, but in the case of marriage and divorce, they used the Law as a way to make money by finding fault with their wives and thus keeping the dowry.
I think it’s quite possible that the “rich” man in this story represents these religious leaders, who ignore or step right over those beneath them that are in need and arrogantly ignore what the Scriptures are really telling them: that is to believe in Jesus as the Messiah and act on what they hard by repenting of their sin.
Next time He’ll suggest that their willful ignorance and purposeful twisting of the Scriptures to feed the flesh will have dire consequences.
For us, there are some things we need to glean from this section:
- Our attitudes and actions toward the weak and powerless can be an indication of the state of our relationship to God.
I’m reminded of what the Apostle James said: James 2:14-18 (HCSB) What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can his faith save him?
15 If a brother or sister is without clothes and lacks daily food 16 and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, keep warm, and eat well,” but you don’t give them what the body needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way faith, if it doesn’t have works, is dead by itself. 18 But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without works, and I will show you faith from my works.
It’s not faith or works, it’s faith that works. If we have no compassion, we are not reflecting the self-giving nature of God. It doesn’t mean we are perfect—but if there are no acts associated with your faith, I would question whether that faith is real.
- Heaven and hell are real but not interchangeable. Don’t figure you’ll sort out this Jesus thing after you’ve wrung all you can out of this life. If you reject Him here, you won’t be able to accept Him there. I don’t mean to use scare tactics to frighten you into salvation. But the sad reality is we are all destined for a place of torment and not comfort apart from the rescuing work of Jesus at the cross.
- The strongest thing I get out of this text is the importance of having a listening ear and open heart to the Scriptures. Jesus said: John 5:39-40 (HCSB) “You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, yet they testify about Me.
40 And you are not willing to come to Me so that you may have life.”
Listen to Jesus and bow your life to Him. Admit your failings and ask Him to forgive you and cleanse you by His sacrifice. Then no matter how bad things get here, you can look forward, as Lazarus did, to eternal comfort.