The Rich Man & Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity 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 fire. ’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us. ’
“He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment. ’
“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them. ’
“‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent. ’
“He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead. ’” © New International Version


Money is the most common theme in the Bible, followed closely by how we care for the “poor and the widow”. Jesus Himself speaks more about the topic of money than any other in the scriptures. The same can be said about the Old Testaments.
This whole paragrah (Luke 16: 1-31) is about instruction concerning wealth.
God has promised that He would bless His people if they obeyed Him (Deut. 29:1-14). The Pharisees taught that material possessions were a sure sign of God’s favour. This perversion of the principle is unfortunately repeated today from the pulpit with the prosperity gospel messages making this parable very relevant to us in the 21st Century.
On the other hand, this parable is not about the “evil of money” as there is no such warning in the bible, it is about those who have and do not share with those who have not. I Timothee 6:10 warns about those who have wandered from the faith because of their love of money being greater than their love of their neighbour or thier lvoe of God Himself.
This verse and this parable are not about the posession of wealth but how we use it…

1. Setting

a. Jesus had been telling a number of parables to his disciples with the Pharisees and others listening in (Luke 16:1ff). He now directs his attention specifically to the Pharisees. The Pharisees were fond of money and regarded prosperity as the right reward for their faithful observance of the law.
b. This parable seems to complement the previous parable of the unjust steward. This one seems to bring into sharper focus the truth of the previous parable and the consequence of one’s neglect of the realm of the spiritual. Jesus calls attention to the errors of the Pharisees exposing the hidden motives of their hearts.
c. This is the only one of Jesus’ parables where any of the characters is given a name, for Lazarus is named. Lazarus means ‘God is my help’. Lazarus is the brother of Martha and Mary, and was the one raised from the dead by Jesus (John 11:1-48, 12:9-10).

2. Cultural Background

a. Stress is placed upon the luxurious wealth of the rich man and the poverty of Lazarus. Purple and fine linen were the most costly of clothing.
b. It might be noted that the rich man didn’t seem to work. This was a breaking of the law which stated, “Six days you shall labor and rest on the sabbath.” The commandment to work on the six days was as binding as to refrain from work on the sabbath.
c. There were no knives, forks or spoons during the time of Jesus in Palestine; hands were used in eating. When the hands were soiled, it was the custom in rich homes to use pieces of bread to wipe one’s hands and then the bread was flung away for the birds or dogs. Lazarus waited for these crumbs of bread for his existence.
d. It was a common Jewish belief that Paradise and Hell were in sight of each other, so the sight of the blessed might intensify the suffering of the wicked.
e. It must be noted that in Jewish thinking the enjoyment or lack of enjoyment of comfort and good fortune in this life were evidences of God’s approval or disapproval.

3. Central Truth

This parable teaches that death is conclusive, and it is futile to expect any result beyond what is earned in this life; therefore, it is important to heed the teachings and warnings of God’s Word (Moses and the prophets).
Instructions is given in the scriptures of the need not only for repentance but for rendering service to God in the way we manage our gifts, talents and money.
This parable is not about whether one can come back from the dead and speak to the living, but about the fact that it is unlikely that even if someone came back from the dead to warn others in a effort to change their sinful ways, they would not change.

4. Interpretations

a. The purpose of this parable is not to present a literal description of the existence beyond the grave. Its purpose is to show the finality of individual responsibility in the life which results in the determination of one’s future destination.
b. The condemnation of the rich man, traditionally named Dives, was not his possession of wealth but his neglect to heed the revelation of God in the scriptures; failure to use his possessions for God’s service and his unconcern for those in need.
c. The plea of ignorance is unwarranted, for God gives to every man enough light for the performance of the duties which he requires. Responsibility is for each man proportioned to his opportunity.
d. It is not possible for our present speech to portray what the future state will be, but his parable may convey some truthful impressions which seem verified by other scriptural teachings:

  1. The anguish of the unrighteous
  2. The eternal duration of punishment
  3. God’s awareness of the plight and heart attitude of each person.

5. Application

a. We will usually get what we want but we must always pay the price. Enjoy wealth selfishly today and pay the price later.
b. If we understand the meaning of God’s compassion toward us we will see the responsibility we have toward others.
c. One’s eternal goal has a bearing upon one’s attitude and direction for living now.


The Rich Man & Lazarus — 2 Comments

  1. Thank you for this interpretation and truth. It is a very interesting thing to think about as we use our god-given resources.

  2. This interpretation is spot on. I was always taught that this parable was to prove that rich people & bad people go to hell after death. Something about that never set quite right with me. I’ve known many with money who were very generous , and some people who did bad things that had very deep remorse about their actions. It seemed as though the church was telling me that these people don’t have a chance for God’s forgiveness or love. After reading this interpretation , I now have what I believe to be the truth – so I can challenge the other version. Thank you.

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