In Job 14:14, Job asked the question, “If a man die, shall he live again?” The Lord Jesus answered that question for us in Luke 16 with the story of the “Rich Man and Lazarus.”
Jesus often used parables in His earthly ministry to answer His critics or illustrate some truth. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus, in Luke 16, is the only instance where the Lord gave us a glimpse of both this world and the hereafter. In this parable, He lets us see what’s beyond this life for the believer as well as for those who don’t believe in Him, and that is an issue of utmost concern to everyone. Yes, if a man dies, he will live again.
This parable was given because of the reaction of the Pharisees to the parable of the dishonest steward in the earlier verses of chapter 16. The Lord made reference to loving money more than God. He said that man must love God and use money, not use God and love money. The Pharisees, knowing they were guilty, retaliated by ridiculing Him.
Luke 16:14. “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.”
Along with their love of money there were other sins in their lives including divorce, and they tried to justify that also. As He quite often did, the Lord set the scene by answering them with another parable in Luke 16.
Luke 16:15-18: And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God. 16: The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone is pressing into it. 17: And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail. 18: Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.”
They evidently considered themselves above the Law and the Ten Commandments, so after these incriminating statements by the Lord, He continued to warn them with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
Luke 16:19-21: There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21: And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”
Jesus pointed to the contrast between the rich man and Lazarus. Lazarus is the only person in any of His parables who is given a name. I believe the Lord did this to indicate that Lazarus was a real person and a man who believed in God. This wasn’t just some story to illustrate a point.
Lazarus might have been poor in this world but he was rich in eternal things. His name means "God is my helper," and truly, “God was his helper.”
You may have heard this rich man referred to by the name of Dives, but dives is simply Latin for "rich man." Jesus didn’t call him by that or any other name. He’s called “a rich man,” totally anonymous. God’s people have a name.
Everything about this man was of this world, external and temporary. He wore purple and fine linen clothing and set a very fine table every day. Obviously, he enjoyed the best of everything in this life with no thought of the future or of sharing his blessings with the less fortunate. Many people are like that in the world today.
The rich man probably had the best chariot on the block and ate the best food, but his life must have been empty and without any thought of God or where he would spend eternity.
Sometimes, as Christians, we get to feeling sorry for ourselves in this life and we neglect to think of what we have to look forward to. We may not understand God’s every day plan for our lives but we can be like the lady who always saved back her fork after a church dinner because she knew the best was yet to come, the desert. Christians can rest assured that the best is yet to come.
We’re not told why Lazarus was in this condition. It may have been to convey a message to the Pharisees similar the one in John 9:13. “And as Jesus passed by, he saw a man which was blind from his birth. 2: And his disciples asked him, saying, Master, who did sin, this man, or his parents, that he was born blind? 3: Jesus answered, Neither hath this man sinned, nor his parents: but that the works of God should be made manifest in him.”
Picture this. Here is a man, laying at the rich man’s gate sick and hungry, his body covered with sores, waiting for scraps of food left over from the rich man's table. The only relief he could expect, if you can call it that, was when the dogs would come and lick his sores. That was his only comfort and you think you have troubles! The rich man, who could easily have helped him, came and went every day and just ignored him lying there.
In verses 22-26, Jesus changes the scene completely. “And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23: And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24: And 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. 25: But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26: And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
I’m sure people have different reactions to this story. One might be that it kind of pleases the old Adam nature in us to see this rich man get his just rewards in the next life. It seems fitting that he is already in torment before his big funeral is held on earth. His funeral was probably well attended, as is the custom yet today when a rich and famous person is buried, but nothing is said about the poor man having a funeral or even being buried. The bodies of beggars were customarily thrown in the city dump and burned. But in the next life Lazarus is comforted and the rich man is burning in the torments of hell.
People often think "That's the way it should be." They feel that this is what heaven and hell are for, to compensate for what we go through here.
That’s not true, the rich man wasn’t in hell because he was rich any more than Lazarus was in heaven because he was poor. Heaven and hell are not compensation for what you go through here on earth. Later in the story we’ll see that there is only one thing that determines who goes where.
The second reaction might be to reject the fact of hell, that it couldn’t really be what Jesus would teach. But that is wrong. There is absolutely no question that Jesus taught there is a literal hell because these words were spoken by the Lord Jesus himself.
I know a lady who would, if she could, take all mention of blood out of Scripture. If that were the case, hell would be overflowing and heaven would be empty. Jesus said; Matthew 26:28: "For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins." Hebrews 9:22b: "and without the shedding of blood is no remission of sin."
Jesus used some figurative language or symbols in His parables. There are symbols in this story like "Abraham's bosom." Obviously we can’t take them literally, they’re used to illustrate a point. The righteous dead don’t go and rest on Abraham's bosom, there wouldn’t be room for them all. It pictures the fact that where Abraham, the father of the faithful is, the righteous dead also go. Believers are called "sons of Abraham" and so they go to heaven where Abraham is.
If you’re trying to pinpoint the location of hell, forget it. Don’t get hung up on geography in thinking about this. Hell may be down in the core of the earth or somewhere in space. But the point of this story isn’t it’s location, it’s the realities of hell. If we think of conditions there rather than location we’ll be more in line with what Jesus is telling us.
There’s a saying that the three most important things in real estate sales are location, location, and location. In eternity that could be conditions, conditions, conditions.
Check out these other figures of speech here, the flames, the water, the tongue, the great gulf that is fixed. We can’t look at them as being literal any more than we can some others in Scripture. Take for example when Jesus says, "I am the door," you don’t start looking for the doorknob. We take that figuratively. When He told His disciples, "You are the salt of the earth," we don’t think of them as being blocks of salt or salt-shakers.
When Paul speaks of believers being "sealed by the Holy Spirit" in Ephesians 1:13, he doesn’t mean that God puts us in a zip lock bag when the Holy Spirit seals us. It’s a figure of speech. We say stuff like that everyday. If you say. "I'm all shook up!" You don’t mean that somebody grabbed you and shook you. You mean you’re upset. Jesus used illustrations like that to help us understand what He was teaching.
However, these expressions definitely mean something. The flames refer to something that is like literal flames, something that torments our soul and maybe our body and we can’t get rid of it, or it may possibly be a burning regret like refusing to accept Christ as our Savior during this life. There are times in our lives when we feel bitter disappointment and the only thing we can compare it to is being burned with physical flames.
I don’t believe the torment here is physical as much as it is mental or spiritual, but it’s likened to physical torment and pain since we all understand those things.
However, the possibility exists that, since Christ did suffer physical and mental anguish, physical and mental pain may be included in the sinner’s punishment.
I’ve heard people say they won’t mind going to hell because all their friends will be there. They’ll never see them. God describes hell as a place of outer darkness with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. Jesus told us that in Matthew’s Gospel.
Water is a symbol of relief. The rich man wanted Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch the tip of his tongue to give him a little bit of relief but there was no relief forthcoming.
The great gulf is fixed, it’s impossible to change. This speaks of the impossibility of going from one place to the other after death. Some religions falsely teach that you can pray someone out of Purgatory. Nowhere is that found in the Scriptures.
I visualize hell as a place where all the lost are tormented as if they were in flames and it bothers me to think about this. I hate it that some of my friends and relatives that I loved are there but God loved them, too, and He hates that thought more than I do. That’s why He sent His Son to die for the sins of all of us so we wouldn’t have to go there but they refused it.
God’s will for all mankind is that everyone would be saved. 1 Timothy 2:4. “Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” But God has left that choice up to us.
The next verses in this chapter record a conversation between Abraham and the former rich man.
Verses 27-31: "Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: 28: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29: Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30: And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31: And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
For the first time in his existence, the rich man shows some concern for someone else, his five living brothers. This has got to torment him all the more because he can’t do anything about it. The dead can’t come back to warn the living.
On his retirement, the founder of the Salvation Army was asked, “If you could have one wish, what would it be? He answered, “I would that all men might spend five minutes in hell.” He knew that would be long enough that all men would repent.
God’s isn’t being unfair by not granting this man his request to warn his brothers. Abraham pointed out that if they didn’t heed God’s warning in the Scriptures, they wouldn’t be convinced if someone did rise from the dead.
Shortly after this, God raised another man named Lazarus from the dead and they still didn’t heed the Scriptures. In fact, they actually tried to put this man to death again! And when Jesus rose from the dead, men still don’t believe.
The rich man was in hell because he refused to believe what God said, not because he was rich. His life-style was just a reflection of that refusal.
Lazarus, on the other hand, is in heaven because he believed what God said through Moses and the prophets, not because of his suffering on earth. He was true to his name and made “God his helper” and trusted in Him.
The rich man’s five brothers may have thought, "I'll take one world at a time and enjoy life now, and when the next life comes along I'll handle it then." But the point here is that the “then,” which will be our condition in the next life, has to be determined in the "now." Those five brothers that were left behind could be a picture of you or me if we haven’t trusted Christ in this life, the “now.”
A carpenter friend of mine was having trouble fitting some windows in my house one day and he made the remark “Oh, well, this world and another one and we’ll be all through with it.” How true, but that next world is never going to end no matter where you spend it.
The big issue is that we are put here to learn the reality of God’s justice and God’s grace to all mankind. God has given us His written notice, the Scriptures. He used Moses and the prophets for this and especially His last and greatest prophet, the One telling us this story, Jesus Christ!
If you know Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, God wants you to make sure that those who are represented by your “five brothers,” and all those you come in contact with, know about Jesus and His saving grace.
Tell them how He guides and cares for you in this life if you accept Him as your Lord and Savior. Tell them how His Spirit will come and live within you, so you can live in the power and strength which He gives and not in your own strength. That is the whole point to this life. Anything else is a meaningless life.
Proverbs 3:5-6. “Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not unto your own understanding. 6: In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths."
The first and most important step is to trust Him for your salvation, then to walk in fellowship with Him and in obedience to His words. He’ll show you how, He’ll change your whole life from beginning to end and from inside out. Then He can use you for His glory.
Ephesians 2:10. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”