In the story of the rich man and the beggar Lazarus, there is much to consider. When Jesus taught, He often used parables. And many want to argue about the story of Lazarus and the unnamed rich man, as to whether they were real people, or fictional ones created just for use in a lesson. Well, for the record, Jesus never said it was a made-up story. Jesus said there was a certain rich man, and that there was also a particular man named Lazarus. This seems that the people were very much real, but, whether they were or not, Jesus told about them for a reason. It is the message that Jesus was conveying that matters, and I pray we do not miss it.
It is oftentimes important, to understand what precedes something in the Bible, in order to grasp the full understanding of a matter. In the case of Lazarus and the unnamed rich man, it seems significantly important. The account is only told of, once in the Gospels, and that is in the Book of Luke. The Lord had previously been sharing in a mixed crowd (tax collectors, sinners, Pharisees, scribes, disciples and others) about the value and importance of people, to God. He told of the lost sheep (Luke 15:4-7), the lost coin (Luke 15:8-10) and the prodigal son (Luke 16:1-13). And then He told His disciples (but within the hearing of the others) about the unjust steward (Luke 16:1-13). The unjust steward got caught being a slack manager. And he quickly got many of his master’s debtors to pay off their accounts with discounts, in the hopes of finding favor, as he was becoming unemployed. While the master disapproved of the poor job he had been doing, he commended the unjust manager’s shrewdness. And then the Lord said that it would behoove the sons of light, to learn something from the sons of this world, about their shrewdness. Jesus said, “So the master commended the unjust steward because he had dealt shrewdly. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in their generation than the sons of light.” He followed it, by advising them to use the mammon of this world to build up treasure in heaven. He said it in a unique way, but I believe that is what He was saying. He then said the following.
Luke 16:10-13 “He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much. Therefore if you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in what is another man's, who will give you what is your own? No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon."
This greatly disturbed the Pharisees. And Jesus taught more.
Luke 16:14-18 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it. And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail. Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.”
It should also be noted, that there are many that want to discount the story of the beggar Lazarus and the unnamed rich man, because it goes against their beliefs. For those who believe in spiritual limbo, purgatory, annihilation, soul sleep, or reincarnation, this parable is troublesome. In this account, there are only two destinations when one dies: eternal life, or eternal torment and separation, also known as, eternal death.
The verses with commentary.
Luke 16:19 "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.”
Consider the financial status of the man. We see that the rich man dressed extremely well and “fared sumptuously” every day. The Amplified Version says that “There was a certain rich man who [habitually] clothed himself in purple and fine linen and reveled and feasted and made merry in splendor every day.” To say that the rich man was wealthy and Lazarus was poor is an understatement. The rich man was extremely well-to-do. Back then he was probably part of the top one percent and living in a gated compound. He regularly wore incredibly expensive clothes as purple dye was typically worn by lords. A finely-woven linen tunic was considered to be the height of luxury. Fine linen was a reference to the brilliantly white fabric made by the laborious “fulling” of cotton with clay. Both worn together were a sign of luxury. The gate to the rich man's mansion, written in Greek, was pylōn, meaning "gateway, entrance, gate." This word was especially used for the large, impressive gateways at the entrance of temples and palaces. The rich man’s gate was no small thing.
Consider the social attitude and recognition of the rich man. People in those times, often thought of wealth as a sign of God’s favor. Although Jesus mentions nothing at this point about the rich man’s character, they would have assumed that he was a righteous man, who gained his wealth by God’s very provision.
What does the rich man’s financial status have to do withhis eternal destiny? Though he was rich, we can know that wealth does not keep anyone from heaven. Jesus said that it is hard for a rich man to get to heaven, but with God all things are possible. Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, David (a man after God's own heart), were all rich. Job, was the richest man in all the East (Job 1:3). So what was the rich man’s sin? Is his sin the point of this story?
Luke 16:20-21 “But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”
Consider the poor financial status and health of the beggar. We find that a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, was laid at his gate, hoping for crumbs from the rich man's table. Dogs came and licked this poor man’s sores. The Amplified Version says, that at the rich man’s gate, “a certain utterly destitute man named Lazarus, [reduced to begging alms and] covered with [ulcerated] sores” was left. And additionally it says that “dogs even came and licked his sores.”
Lazarus is described as a beggar. In the original language of the Bible, the word used here means "the poorest of the poor." It is quite possible that Lazarus was also crippled, since he was laid, perhaps even dumped, at the rich man's gate. And Lazarus is described as hungry. He longed to eat even the bread that would drop from the rich man's table. These “crumbs” were not what was left after eating. In those times, well-to-do people used bread for napkins, and then discarded the soiled bread under the table. Lazarus was longing to eat the used “bread napkins” from under the rich man's table.
Consider the social attitude and recognition of the Lazarus. Many might have viewed the beggar, as one who was not only sick, but must have been despised by God. They viewed poverty and illness as condemnation from God. People might have very well look at him and wondered to themselves about what sin he must have committed or why his family was not helping him. Even today, people often have distinctive attitudes about the poor or needy on the street.
It is particularly interesting that this beggar had a name. The rich man, who no doubt had quite a name during his life, was unnamed by Jesus. Yet the beggar, who was probably unknown to many, has a name in this story. “Lazarus” which was the Greek version of the Hebrew name, “Eleazar,” which means, “who God supports” or “God helps.”
What does Lazarus’ financial status have to do with his eternal destiny? The beggar, who was sickly and destitute in life, and seemed God-forsaken, turned out to be a favored son of Abraham after all. Poverty and illness do not necessarily indicate the punishment of God.
Luke 16:22 “So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.”
We see that both men died. The unnamed rich man was buried (and probably with quite a funeral) but not a word was said about Lazarus’ burial. Was he cast into a pauper’s grave? No matter what happened to his destitute body, we know that he was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom.
Luke 16:23 “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
We find that the rich man went to the realm of the dead called Hades. “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” He had obviously died but was alive in some kind of way, and in torment. He could visually see and could even see Abraham and Lazarus far away. He recognized Lazarus, and even though Abraham had been dead for more than 1500 years, he somehow “knew” that Abraham was who he was.
This confirms that death is a “continuation of our life choices, but in a greater measure.” If we chose God in life, we are with Him afterward, and in an even greater way (eternal life). If we chose separation from God in life, then we are even more separated from Him afterward (eternal death). Jesus is life and when we come to Him, it is just the beginning. As for the other way, we are born in sin (humans with a sinful nature) and darkness, and unless we choose the Lord, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life, then in death, it just continues but then with the penalty of sin because of rejecting the pardon of the Lord.
Luke 16:24 “Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'”
We find that the former rich man, was now the one crying out for mercy. He obviously was a Jew, because he called him “Father Abraham.” Once again, we see that though his human body had been dead and buried, the rich man, still had some type of form, that could feel pain from the flames, and including heat and thirst. Personally, it amazes me that he did not ask for Lazarus’s help directly, but he asked for Lazarus to be ordered by Abraham to be sent with a dab of water.
Luke 16:25 “But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.’”
Another version of the Bible put it this way, “Remember, my child, that you had a life filled with good times, while Lazarus' life was filled with misery. Now he has peace here, while you suffer.” It is interesting that in their lifetimes, the rich man could have made a difference for Lazarus, but afterward, no exchanges would be allowed.
The merciless rich man’s unrepentant attitude is clear. In his torment, the rich man revealed that he learned nothing in life or death. Hestill thought he couldhave Lazarus ordered to serve him, to cool his tongue.
Luke 16:26 “’And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’”
From these verses, we see that “they could not pass from one place to another.” Hades is a prison place, not a come and go place. There were two realms of the dead, with a fixed chasm in between.
Some people seem to think that people can, come and go, from heaven and hell, and get tricked into thinking that they were visited by deceased loved ones and others. It is not possible. This is not to say that God does not give comforting dreams and encouragement to people, but people need to realize that there are demons that impersonate the dead. They know the personal history of people and easily fool people (hence the term: familiar spirits). God expressly says to not try to communicate with the dead (Deuteronomy 18:10-11, Leviticus 19:31, 20:5-7, Isaiah 8:19-20).
Luke 16:27-28 “Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’”
These verses are very telling. The unnamed rich man still knew who his family was. He had feelings. He was living his fate and did not want them to end up in the “place of torment” also. He had it good in his day, but he was the crier and beggar now. And it was too late. He was very much dead and yet very much alive. No sleeping, no partying with friends, as some imagine the afterlife to be about. He was in misery and torment. For the ones who do not believe people actually go to hell, or, that hell is real and a place of torment, these verses are really disturbing.
Luke 16:29 “Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.”
God spoke through His prophets and His Word. Those who seek the Lord will find Him.
Luke 16:30 “And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.'”
In verse 30, the rich man tried to argue with Abraham. “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” There is no doubt he got his way plenty when he lived his life. Some people think they can always make a deal. I believe he did not accept "no" for an answer, anymore than he did when he was doing business on earth. But it never pays to argue with God or His will. Never.
Luke 16:31 “But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"
The rich man had loved darkness more than the light, and Abraham was saying, that for those “who will not hear Moses and the prophets,” that “neither will they be persuaded, though one rise from the dead.” Notice he did not say, that no one would ever be persuaded by someone risen from the dead. When father Abraham was saying that, if they “would not hear Moses and the prophets,” he was really saying that, if they refused to hear those who God sent to speak already, then they would refuse to believe even one risen from the dead.
In conclusion, what is the message the Lord has wanted conveyed through the story of Lazarus and the unnamed rich man?
I believe that when Jesus said, “For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God,” in Luke 16:15, that He wasspeaking a powerful truth and He was also foretelling the importance, of what He was about to teach about. God does not merit salvation based upon riches and power, but to the poor and humble of heart. God does not reward those who seek their own gain, but those who seek the gain of others. Wealth and power are not an indication that one is saved and blessed by God. And suffering does not indicate that one is condemned by God. The Lord rewards humility and repentance.
Wealth, without active mercy for the poor, is great wickedness. Wealth, has the ability to “calcify our hearts,” therefore, we must always keep a close check on our hearts.
1 Timothy 6:17-19 Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but in the living God, who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.
Surely, many of the treasures that are stored up in heaven, will come from giving with the right heart. And those that give deeply with the right heart, surely will be rewarded accordingly. Jesus never said Lazarus ever received even a crumb from the rich man’s table.
The Lord has used this teaching, to show that the values of the world, are the opposite of the kingdom of God, and to call His people, to abandon their worldly ways of thinking and judging.
Freely we have received God’s grace and mercy, and freely we are to give it too.
We can also see, that all people, truly are eternal. Humans are created by God and are eternal. When our lives here are over, each one’s life still continues, “with God,” or, “apart from God.” We can also see, that no amount of regret a person has once they are in hell, will change their circumstances. The period of time we have to get right with God and stay right with Him, is between the birth and death of our physical bodies.
The Bible Verses of Lazarus And The Unnamed Rich Man
Luke 16:19-22"There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.”
Luke 16:23-25“And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.Then he cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.”
Luke 16:26-31“And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.' Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.'Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' But he said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.'"