The Rich Man and Lazarus

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. “And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house–for I have five brothers–in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ “But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” (Luke 16:10-31)

This week we find ourselves reading the familiar Parable of “The Rich Man and Lazarus.” There is some question if this is a Parable or a true event. The Parable itself mentions the names of actual people such as Abraham and Lazarus. None of the Parables before have named the players in the story. Certainly Abraham was a real life person. Even as there are actual persons named in the story it fits the criteria of a Parable. As the Parables of Jesus related to true to life events. All of the Parables illustrations are actually possible events. This is the significance of the Parables of Jesus that they can be applied to real life.

There is also some relationship between this Parable and the Parable of the “Unrighteous Steward.” Both Parables start with the indemnification of a rich man. In the previous Parable the proper use of wealth was stressed and in this Parable and the Rich Man did not make friends by his unrighteous mammon. The friends being the Father and Jesus.

The Parable first looks at the lives of the Rich Man and Lazarus in life. The Rich Man was clothed in fine linen the color of purple. Purple was the color of royalty or wealth. The Rich Man was well fed as he feasted every day. Lazarus was a poor beggar who was filled with soars on his skin. He would sit and hope to be fed from the crumbs of the Rich Man’s table. Dogs would come and like his sores which may have added to his misery or may have provided some relief.

Both the Rich Man and Lazarus die. Lazarus is carried away by the angels to Hades and rested in Abraham’s bosom. The Rich Man was buried in the grave to return to the dust. What a contrast of the fate of each! The Rich Man also went to Hades to a place called Tartarus.

First we must define Hades. In classical Greek Hades is the proper name of the “god of the underworld.” In other literature it is known as the underworld and is the abode of the dead. Hades is divided into two parts. One part is for the righteous known as the “Elysian fields.” The other part is called “Tartarus” and is for the unrighteous. Tartarus is a place for the punishment of the wicked. We see the word Hades used eleven times in the New Testament and its Hebrew counterpart in the Old Testament is Sheol.

In the New Testament Hades is a state where the dead exist in a disembodied existence. Jesus after His death on the cross entered into Hades. This was prophesied by David in Psalm 16:10. “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.” (Psalm 16:10) The Apostle Peter saw the resurrection of Jesus as a deliverance from Hades. (Acts 2:27; Acts 2:31) Jesus said that the Son of man would be delivered from the heart of the earth just as God delivered Jonah from the big fish. “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (Matthew 12:40)

There are some who believe that Hades is only a place for the wicked. It is not clear in our text if there are two divisions in Hades or just a wide gulf between the two Tartarus and the Elysian Fields. In the book of Acts Hades is used as the grave and that God would not allow Jesus to remain there while His body would decay. “Because You will not abandon my soul to Hades, Nor allow Your Holy One to undergo decay. ‘You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of gladness with Your presence.” (Acts 2:27-28)

In other places in the New Testament Hades is used as a place for torment of the wicked. “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:23) Hades is a temporary place of existence for the unrighteous until the judgment and then the “Lake of fire,” the second death. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:13-14)

The Rich Man seeing Abraham from afar off pleads from him a cool drop of water to cool his tongue. Abraham reminds the Rich Man that the conditions of his previous life have now been reversed. Then the Rich Man pleads with Abraham for the sake of his five brothers. He wishes Abraham to send Lazarus to tell them of this place that they might repent. But Abraham reminds the Rich Man that they have Moses and the prophets to give them the Word of God. The Rich Man fears that this would not be enough to convince them of the truth. Abraham tells them that if they would not listen to Moses and the prophets neither would they listen to one from the dead.

The main point of this Parable is the importance of heeding the Word of God while we are in this present life. “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” Only by taking the Word of God and obeying can one escape the torments of Hades. The Rich Man had not done so and for his brothers it is their only hope. If the Word of God does not move one to repent, then a miracle will not either. “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”

Some say they would believe if they saw a miracle but many saw the miracles of Jesus and did not believe. Many saw the resurrection of Jesus and still they did not believe in Him. The Apostles who were with Jesus for three years and witnessed the mighty works that He did still relied on the Scriptures as part of their testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ. “Now when they had traveled through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a synagogue of the Jews. And according to Paul’s custom, he went to them, and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and giving evidence that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus whom I am proclaiming to you is the Christ.” (Acts 17:1-3)

There are some other points we can glean from this Parable. One may be rich in this world but not rich towards God. “So is the man who stores up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21) One may be poor in this world but be rich in faith. “Listen, my beloved brethren: did not God choose the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promised to those who love Him?” (James 2:5) The rich and the poor will suffer death in this world. “The wise man’s eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I know that one fate befalls them both.” (Ecclesiastes 2:14) The souls of the believers are especially cared for by God in the hour of death. “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.” (Luke 16:22)

We also learn that the wicked do not cease to exist after death. “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.” (Luke 16:23) The wicked are aware of where they are and what is going on around them. “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” (Luke 16:24) They are able to recognize others. And they remember those who will follow them in death. “For I have five brothers–in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.” (Luke 16:28) And they learn the value of the soul after death. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:28)

This Parable serves to remind us the reality of the punishment prepared for the unrighteous, the importance of preparing for eternity and the place the Word of God has in that preparation. “Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.” (James 1:21-22)

Thomas N Kirkpatrick

First Baptist Church of Durant, April 28, 2017

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