The words of Jesus are rich and powerful. They are full of wonder and wisdom. When He spoke, people were either transfixed or offended. Why? Because His are the Words of Life!
And when He spoke, He more often than not used parables. Only those open to the truth were able to understand. Others, because of their unbelief, could not comprehend. Here is one such parable.
The Rich Man and Lazarus
The parable of The Rich Man (Luke 16:19-31) is one of the most popular in scripture. It is also one of the most controversial.
It is often taken literally. Its most popular interpretation is to describe man’s final state. One goes to Heaven and the other to Hell.
But you would be surprised what message Jesus was really expounding to the people. It is a story of contrasts. It is a story of rejection and acceptance. To begin, let’s take a look at the differences between these two men…
One is rich, the other is poor.
One lives in luxury, the other lives in poverty.
One dresses in fine garments, the other is clothed in rags.
One dines on the finest of fare, the other starving, would be grateful for crumbs.
One enjoys health, the other is plagued with sores.
One has servants to attend his needs, the other has only dogs willing to lick his sores.
One is buried at death, the other is likely thrown into the Valley of Hinnom (Gehenna).
Despite their differences, the two men had a couple of things in common. One, they are unique in that they each represent a class of people. The other is whether rich or poor, all of us share the same beginning (birth) and the same end (death)! What happens in between makes all the difference.
Who do the Men Represent?
Let’s look closely at the Rich Man. He was blessed with prosperity. He lives on the finer things life can offer.
To Jesus, the Rich Man represents the Jewish Nation. Where does this idea come from? Let’s look at the context.
“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God: the LORD thy God hath chosen thee to be a special people unto himself, above all people that are upon the face of the earth.” Deuteronomy 7:6
They are the Chosen People. God selected them through Abraham to be God’s Ambassadors to the world. They are cared for and preserved to fulfill this purpose. The wealth represents God’s Message of love and hope to the world.
The Jewish people, through their leaders, have access to the wealth of God’s Word as it was at the time. They have the Law of God, of Moses, and the words of the Prophets. Truth can be considered wealth when used as it is intended.
Yet they take the gift for granted. The Rich Man passes in and out of the gate taking no regard for Lazarus. He offers him no relief, no comfort, not even a crumb.
Lazarus on the other hand is the world born in sin. He is the Gentile world. While we may look well to do on the surface, mankind inherited poverty of spirit and sickness of mind. He represents man’s true unregenerate state.
But he has hope. Of all the places he could be, he is at the gate of the Rich Man. He is looking, hoping with expectation for at least some crumbs of truth, a morsel of that life-giving bread. He believes. He has faith…
Does the Context Confirm This?
Jesus went to the home of a chief Pharisee on the Sabbath for a meal. While talking with those in the house, publicans (tax collectors) and sinners passing by wanted to listen. It disgusted the Pharisees and scribes that He would take the time to talk to them, let alone eat with them.
“Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.” Luke 15:1-2
Jesus spoke to the scribes and Pharisees about their behavior and conduct. When He began the Rich Man parable, He continued the discourse by illustrating their reaction to the publicans and sinners.
A Direct Comparison – The Rich Man
As God’s people, they are a royal and priestly nation. They experience the blessings of heaven and have the Word of God. This is the description of the Rich Man.
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:” Luke 16:19
Purple and fine linen is the raiment of Kings and Priests (Exodus 28:1-6, Esther 8:15). Jesus Himself wore a purple robe during His time with Pilate as the soldiers mocked Him as King of the Jews (John 19:2-3).
They also fared sumptuously everyday on the law of God!
“So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading.” Nehemiah 8:8
They have Jesus with them as well. He is the Bread of Life and the Living Water. They listened and had access to the Table of Life.
“I was daily with you in the temple teaching,…” Mark 14:49
“And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst.” John 6:35
“He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water.” John 7:38
In the natural, there is nothing sumptuous about bread and water. Yet it contains the basic building blocks of life. And spiritually, it holds the building blocks of eternal life!
A Direct Comparison – Lazarus
The Gentile Nations were viewed as castaways by the Jews. The “dogs outside the gate” have no direct scriptural reference, but some transgressors of God’s law were described as dogs. This applies to both Jew and Gentile.
“For dogs have compassed me: the assembly of the wicked have enclosed me: they pierced my hands and my feet.” Psalms 22:16 (Gentile Nations)
“His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter.” Isaiah 56:10-11 (Jewish Leaders)
To be clear, dogs is a term used to illustrate their behavior, not because God thinks sinners are dogs. Paul used the reference when speaking to the Church in Philippi (Philippians 3:2) and John while writing the Revelation of Jesus Christ (Revelation 22:15).
A Point made for a Beggar’s Hope
It could be that Jesus named the beggar Lazarus because the Lazarus in the Greek means, “God is my help”. So here we find the Gentiles sickly and full of the disease of sin, condemned to die without hope. They lay outside the gate, the door to salvation from desolation.
At the same time, they have a desire for more. They hope for something better. If they can only have a taste of this hope, they would relish it.
Yet as stated before, they are passed over, offered no hope or comfort by the Jews. The only help they receive is referenced by the “dogs licking his sores”. (By the way, a dog’s saliva is antibacterial, but read this before leaning in for that sloppy kiss!)
“And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.” Matthew 15:22-23
Oh how the tables turn…
One day, death comes to both the Rich Man and Lazarus. Even in death, the Jewish Nation is believed to be favored. They bury the Rich Man, no doubt believing he will live in similar splendor. With no one to help him or claim his body, Lazarus dies not knowing his fate, thinking only darkness awaits him. (Luke 16:22)
But then, the Rich Man, expecting to be united with Father Abraham, finds himself cast into outer darkness and torment, begging for a drop of water! And angels carry Lazarus to Abraham and comfort. As an aside, this is where they end up is according to Jewish tradition, not biblical fact.
- Since when do spirits need water? He had to have a physical body to thirst, right? For what the bible says actually happens when we die, read my article here.
Jesus Himself says the dead are in the grave when he returns…
“Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,” John 5:28
Paul also tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and 1 Corinthians 15:12-23, 42-44, 51-54 that the dead remain in the grave until the resurrection.
Because the Rich Man took the riches of the Kingdom for granted, trusted in his own righteousness, he was lost. Because he trusted more in the messengers of hope than in the Life Giver Himself, he did not share the wealth. Because Lazarus hoped for the crumbs of life, he was received into the Kingdom (Luke 16:25). Here are a couple of examples.
“And when Jesus was entered into Capernaum, there came unto him a centurion, beseeching him, And saying, Lord, my servant lieth at home sick of the palsy, grievously tormented. And Jesus saith unto him, I will come and heal him. The centurion answered and said, Lord, I am not worthy that thou shouldest come under my roof: but speak the word only, and my servant shall be healed. For I am a man under authority, having soldiers under me: and I say to this man, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it. When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Matthew 8:5-12
“But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me. But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs. And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.” Matthew 15:24-28
Lastly, what did Jesus tell them about their relationship with and faith in Abraham?
“Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.” Luke 3:8
Not Even the Redeemer Can Help Them
The Jewish Nation now find themselves shut out of the Kingdom with no way back according to Luke 16:26. And the Gentiles cannot help them. See Matthew 8:11-12.
They have the law of Moses and the Prophets. They did not take heed (Luke 16:27-29). Click the link for Proverbs 1:20-33. You will get an idea what Jesus was referring to.
When Jesus told them of the Rich Man’s house not hearing even if one rose from the dead (Luke 16:30-31), guess who He was speaking of… Himself! Jesus came and gave them the Word. He walked and talked with them. He taught them in the Temple.
Because He showed them their sin, they hated Him for it. He claimed to be the Son of God and the Messiah. He told them He would die for their sins and rise again. They turned on Him and slew Him! And after He rose and showed proof, they rejected Him still.
“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him; he was despised, and we esteemed him not.” Isaiah 53:3
“But first must he suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation.” Luke 17:25
Hope Now Springs Forth to All
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Hosea 4:6
When did God rejected Israel? Read Acts 7:1-60. This is God’s final plea with Israel. And the message comes through Stephen. When they stone him to death, his murder closes the door and the gospel goes to the Gentiles. Read Paul’s words…
“And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him. And he said unto me, Depart: for I will send thee far hence unto the Gentiles.” Acts 22:21
The Truth is Often Stranger…
The parable outlines what appears to be images of Heaven and Hell. Yet the context give a different view. It’s a view of Jesus warning the Jewish people of their impending loss if they do not heed the gospel themselves.
“My people hath been lost sheep: their shepherds have caused them to go astray, they have turned them away on the mountains: they have gone from mountain to hill, they have forgotten their resting place.” Jeremiah 50:6
“These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not: But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” Matthew 10:5-6
Jesus came to save the lost. Israel was lost! He came to save them but they trusted in their own righteous. If they only knew they were the ones wearing filthy rags!
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” Isaiah 64:6
Because God saw the desire of a people once rejected and without hope, they were grafted in and became the Children of God (Romans 11:11-17). And Israel would need salvation through confessing the Lord Jesus and believing he was raised from the dead (Romans 10:1-13). Now all nations, both Jew and Gentile, can rejoice in hope of the Redeemer who came and is to come!
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