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Rich Man & Lazarus

The Life of Jesus  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Introduction

Luke just finished telling his readers about how Jesus told the Pharisees that they highly admire the things that are revolting in God’s sight, like the love of money. In fact, He had just spoken about the love of money versus the love of God in the previous pericope. The Pharisees scoffed at Jesus’ statements regarding these things because they were lovers of money. This is all taking place in or near Jerusalem on the Jesus’ final trip there.

Luke 16:19–21 CSB
19 “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was lying at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores.
Jesus begins to tell a parable of a rich man and a poor man. The rich man is not named, but He starts out by telling us that he would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day.
Now, purple was the most expensive color as the dye was extracted from mollusks gathered in the Mediterranean near Tyre. We could say that what drove up the price was cost of labor. On top of that, linen was the second most expensive fabric made in the ancient world, with silk still being the most expensive, even like today. The poorest people wore goat hair fabric and the average person wore wool fabric.
This rich man dressed in purple and fine linen, constantly, showing off his richness. While he was dressed in this manner, he feasted lavishly every single day. This man was living the life, as we would say. He had the best of the best of everything and he wasn’t afraid to show it. He lived for the pleasures and treasures of this life.
On the other hand, there was a poor man named Lazarus (derived from Eleazar, meaning “God has helped”), covered with sores, lying at his gate. Sores are pretty disgusting. They are red bumps or circles that turn into lesions on the skin and get infected. They look like little volcanoes on the skin. Lazarus was covered with them. He was lying at the gate of the rich man. This tells us a few things. First of all, he probably had some sort of disability, as he was lying there. In fact, this is probably why he had sores, because he couldn’t move much. Secondly, he was there because he was begging. The rich man was wealthy and feasted every day, which meant that there were rich people coming in and out of his house daily. There was a higher likelihood that he would get somebody to give him some money here. Thirdly, the rich man’s house was so large that it had its own gate, just like a city or the temple did. It was probably a small complex of buildings.
Lazarus strongly desired to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. This verse actually shows us that Lazarus was not sitting at the gate of the rich man because he wanted money, but because he wanted food. There was bound to be some kind of leftovers from the feasts that this man had every day. Lazarus actually didn’t even want the leftovers; he only wanted what fell to the ground from the table that was not going to be eaten anymore. What he got instead was dogs coming and licking his sores. Dogs and other animals have a natural instinct to lick wounds. Some people may think that this actually can heal someone, but the negatives and possibilities of infection far outweigh any possibility of healing. It seems that the rich man actually sent out his dogs to come and do this to Lazarus, so that he would want to leave. Lazarus was a nuisance to the rich man, so he didn’t even give him the food that fell to the ground, but instead sent his dogs to sick’em.

Luke 16:22–24 CSB
22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’
One day, the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. Now, people have made much of “Abraham’s bosom” and developed whole theologies of heaven and compartmentalization in hell and many other things. I love the CSB translation here as it shows that Jesus was simply saying that Lazarus was carried off by the angels to the side of Abraham. In other words, he was taken to be close to the side of the most revered patriarch in the ancestry of Israel - Abraham. Lightfoot gives some excellent references to the Talmud (which I have in my clippings for this) which make a case that the Jews of that time would have seen Abraham’s bosom as paradise. A certain holy Rabbi Judah and a woman’s innocent child were said to be with Abraham when they died. They were in his embrace at his table. There also seems to have been some understanding of the great feast in heaven to which Jesus later referred to by Jesus (). This is very interesting, for Lazarus never got to partake even of the scraps of the feasts of the rich man on earth, but he was now taking part of the feast with Abraham in the kingdom of heaven. We know from other passages that the angels are the ones who usher people to heaven, and that is exactly what happens here.
The rich man also died and he was buried. There is a bit of a contrast here. Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to the feast with Abraham in the kingdom of heaven. The rich man died and was buried. There were no angels and there was no feast. All that he experienced was death. He was being tormented in Hades. Torment here is “severe pain occasioned by punitive torture, torture, torment.” Hades had come to mean death, the place where the dead go, or specifically the place where the wicked dead go, as is seen here. It originally was the name of the Greek god of the underworld, but this is the meaning it had taken on by this point in the ancient world. It is synonymous with Sheol in the OT. Being in this state of torment, he looked up (showing that paradise is higher than him) and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. Now, I am not going to be dogmatic and say that this is not a parable and that this describes the ontology of heaven and hell. We just don’t know as Jesus does not specify here, and it is not the main point of the story. The point is that the rich man is able to look up from his torment in Hades and sees Abraham and Lazarus at his side at the feast in the kingdom of heaven.
The rich man then called out, “Father Abraham! Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!”. The tides have turned completely. What happened on earth between Lazarus and the rich man has now been reversed and multiplied exponentially in the afterlife. Where Lazarus wanted the food that fell from the table, the rich man now just wants a drop of water on his tongue. The pain he feels in hell is exponentially more than that which Lazarus felt on earth. He begs for Abraham to have mercy and send Lazarus to do this. He is now the one pleading and begging for mercy, just as Lazarus had done on earth.

Luke 16:25–26 CSB
25 “ ‘Son,’ Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’
What is Abraham’s response? He tells the rich man to remember that during his life he received his good things, just as Lazarus received his bad things. But now he is comforted in paradise, while he is in agony. In other words, you got everything you wanted when you lived on earth, while Lazarus only got what was bad. But now he is in agony and Lazarus is being comforted in paradise at the great feast. He is not really saying that he is getting what he deserved or that this is a punishment and reward for being rich and poor, respectively. Rather, he is alluding to the fact that the rich man got his treasures in his lifetime. This earth is where he found all of his good things. He focused everything on having a good life here, while Lazarus had a terrible life on earth. Lazarus does not deserve to spend even a moment in Hades, while the rich man does. This is the moral dilemma that Abraham is painting if it were even hypothetically possible for the rich man’s request to happen. In other words, the rich man is getting exactly what he deserves, and so is Lazarus.
On top of all this, there is a great chasm fixed between Abraham and Lazarus and the rich man, with the purpose that people can’t cross over from either side. Abraham is saying that it is literally impossible for this to actually happen. There is no way for people to go from heaven to hell and from hell to heaven. It will never happen.

Luke 16:27–31 CSB
27 “ ‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
Luke 16:17–31 CSB
17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter in the law to drop out. 18 “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and everyone who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. 19 “There was a rich man who would dress in purple and fine linen, feasting lavishly every day. 20 But a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, was lying at his gate. 21 He longed to be filled with what fell from the rich man’s table, but instead the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22 One day the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torment in Hades, he looked up and saw Abraham a long way off, with Lazarus at his side. 24 ‘Father Abraham!’ he called out, ‘Have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this flame!’ 25 “ ‘Son,’ Abraham said, ‘remember that during your life you received your good things, just as Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here, while you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to pass over from here to you cannot; neither can those from there cross over to us.’ 27 “ ‘Father,’ he said, ‘then I beg you to send him to my father’s house—28 because I have five brothers—to warn them, so they won’t also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 “ ‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “But he told him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
Luke 16:17-31
After Abraham says these things and the rich man realizes that it is impossible, he turns his attention to his family. He begs him to send Lazarus to his father’s house, to his five brothers, to warn them, so that they won’t also come to this place of torment (Hades). The rich man has the impression that his five brothers are going down the exact same path that he went in life, so they will probably end up in Hades as well. If he can’t be saved, he at least wants to spare his family, those he loves the most, from this. He wants Abraham to send Lazarus to them to warn them, as if they didn’t know. It almost seems that the rich man was shocked to find out about Hades. But I don’t think he was, and neither does Abraham.
Abraham replies that they have Moses and the prophets, and that they should listen to them. In other words, Abraham is telling the rich man that the Old Testament has all the warnings that they need to heed in order to keep from ending up in Hades. It speaks plainly of what happens to the righteous and what happens to the wicked. Furthermore, the OT has plenty of references to Sheol, which is what Hades was used to translate in the LXX. Sure, there were many passages in the Pentateuch that made it seem as though Sheol just referred to death. But as there was more and more progressive revelation, one easily sees that the writers began to see death as evil, and began to get and give hints of eternal life. Therefore, Moses and the prophets truly was more than enough for a man to be warned and kept from going to Hades.
The rich man responds that no, they will not listen to Moses and the prophets. He knows his own family well. He knows that they will not repent simply with hearing Moses and the prophets, for he too had heard them before. But he believes that if someone goes to them from the dead, i.e. Lazarus, then they will repent. The rich man thinks that the shock of seeing someone resurrected from the dead will cause them to believe. He knows that they will not listen to words, but he believes that they will believe if a miracle is given to them. Then they will turn from their pursuit of worldly treasure.
But Abraham replied that if they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. If someone is closed off to the Scriptures, they will still be closed off to someone rising from the dead because that person will only continue to give them what the Scriptures teach. There is nothing wrong with the message or the messenger. The only thing wrong is with the hearts of the people whom it is being given to.
Furthermore, this was prophetic of what would happen in the future as Jesus would rise from the dead, and they still would not be persuaded.
So, what was Jesus teaching through this parable? These are the main points:
The most important pleasures and sufferings are not those which occur here on earth, but in heaven and hell, respectively.
The Scriptures have everything we need to be warned about how to live and get to either one.
Riches and poverty on earth are not a sign of God’s blessing or punishment.
William Arndt et al., A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000), 168.
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