THE RICH MAN AND THE POOR MAN
Luke 16: 19-31
In Luke 15-16, the Pharisees have been observing Jesus and listening to His parables.
They are not at all pleased with what they have seen and heard from Jesus. In 15:2, they grumbled against Jesus for receiving sinners and even eating with them. In response to this, Jesus told three parables, all of which dealt with the finding of something lost. After hearing these parables, the Pharisees still could not rejoice in the return of a repentant sinner, even though all of heaven did so. In 16:1-13, Jesus told the parable of the dishonest or shrewd manager to His disciples. Furthermore, Jesus closed this parable by declaring, “You cannot serve God and money” (16:13). Upon hearing these words, the grumbling of the Pharisees turned to scoffing or ridiculing (16:14). “14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.” They scoffed at Jesus, defending their love of money. They had made God and money to be one, and they loved the union. The Pharisees had interpreted their accumulation of wealth as a sign of righteousness. What they forgot was that God looks on the heart, rather than the wallet. The things people highly esteem (such as health, wealth, and position) mean nothing to God, and may be detestable (16:16).
Finally, this brings us to Luke 16:19-31, where Jesus tells a parable that is directed toward the now hostile Pharisees.
1. The Rich Man (Luke 16:19)
19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.
Jesus wastes no time in describing this rich man. He gives us a couple of important details: notice first, this man was clothed in purple and fine linen. His clothing was the best money could buy. The rich loved to be clothed in purple; it was the color of royalty.
Fine linen was a woolen garment worn as a status symbol.
Next, Jesus mentions that this man feasted every day. In other words, to feast every day would almost stop the celebration from being a feast, but a normal meal. To this man, his feasting was so common he hardly even thought of it as feasting. Compare this to the Father who when his son was restored to him, killed the fattened calf and began to celebrate. The rich man had a daily supply of fattened calves.
2. The Poor Man (Luke 16:20-21)
20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.
Jesus reports that this poor man was in very close proximity to the rich man. While in this life, the rich man had ample time to tend to the needs of Lazarus but never gave him a second thought.
Many scholars believe that because Lazarus was lying at the rich man’s gate that he was crippled. This may or may not be the case.
Lazarus, as Jesus says, was covered with sores, whereas the rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen. Do you see the imagery and contrast Jesus is picturing before us? One man clothed in fine linen and costly purple the other clothed in sores.
Surely, the Pharisees would have viewed Lazarus as unclean and suffering Divine judgment. Much like Job’s friends who wondered what great evil Job must have secretly done for God to curse him so severely.
Was the rich man blessed because he was rich? Was Lazarus under divine judgment because he was suffering so?
Just as the prodigal son longed to eat the pods that were fed to the pigs, so Lazarus longed to just eat the crumbs that fell from this rich man’s table.
Jesus tells us that he was covered with sores, possibly due to malnutrition. In his hunger, this poor beggar craved even the crumbs that would fall from the rich man’s table.
No doubt, he must have been just as hungry for human interaction, yet the only attention he received was from dogs, but they weren’t dropping anything in his beggar’s can. Far from it, the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
When we hear the term “dogs,” it is natural to think of our own beautiful, well groomed, and affectionate pet. If you don’t have a dog, you may imagine a dog that you have seen on a TV commercial for dog food. However, these are not the dogs that Jesus refers to. In Jesus’ day, dogs were not pets;
They were scavengers who fed on garbage and dead animals.
Dogs were viewed as if they were rats or other unhealthy creatures.
They were repulsive to the Jewish people.
With this understanding, Jesus graphically states that dogs would come and continually lick this poor man’s sores. He is infected from the top of his head to the bottom of his feet. Every lick from these unclean animals severely stung the poor man’s sores.
The poor man is disabled, begging, diseased, hungry, unclean, and despised. What a miserable existence!
From the above description, it seems fairly clear that Lazarus was not capable of working or even helping himself. He was truly at the mercy of his fellow human beings. He was desperate for someone to show him mercy and grace in a very tangible way. Sadly, this never happened. Although it was within the means of the rich man to offer assistance he refused.
The point is obvious: The rich man ignored the Old Testament Scriptures that commanded him to care for the needs of the poor.
The only other thing we are told about this beggar is that his name is “Lazarus.” Nowhere else in Jesus’ parables are any of the characters named, therefore, it is significant that Lazarus means “God helps.” While the rich man did not help, God helped Lazarus because He loves the poor and knows their names.
The question is: Do you and I? In what ways have we as individuals cared for those who are legitimately poor and downtrodden?
3. The Rich Man and the Poor Man in the Life to Come (Luke 16:22-23)
22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
Was the rich man blessed because he was rich? Was Lazarus under divine judgment because he was suffering so? Not at all!
We see both of them have died. Notice the change in their circumstances.
Lazarus no longer suffered. He no longer was hungry and needy. He now had a home and rather than being mocked as he lay at the rich man’s gate, he was cared for and it was he who now feasted. In life his only companions were the scavenger wild dogs roaming the country, but now he is in the presence of Abraham and the angels. As soon as Lazarus breathed his last breath, he was whisked up by the angels and transported in a split second to heaven or as Jesus symbolically explains, Abraham’s side, which depicts a place of the beloved. So, Lazarus is receiving his eternal inheritance and the rich man eternal suffering.
The rich man was now in terrible need. His suffering was unfathomable. In Hades or Hell, as some translations call it, he suffered great pain. Jesus declares, “and the rich man also died and was buried.” Thus, the moment the rich man died, he opened his eyes in hell. There is no purgatory, no soul sleep, and no second chance.
The rich man had all that this life has to offer, but ended up in hell. This would have shocked the Pharisees and the rest of Jesus’ audience (including the disciples). They all believed that wealth was next to godliness (18:26-27).
In the end, time has a way of killing off everybody. That’s why I need to remind you that you are going to die. It doesn’t matter how much you jog, how nutritionally minded you are, or who your doctor is. You’re going to die! That’s why Eccl 7:2 says, “It is better to go to a funeral than a feast. For death is the destiny of every person, and the living should take this to heart” (NET). May we follow this sage wisdom and prepare for our death.
The tables have now turned. The one who suffered greatly in this life now feasts daily at the side of Abraham and the other who in this life enjoyed many pleasures now is the one suffering for all eternity.
Example: A Sunday school teacher told his class the story of the rich man and Lazarus and then asked, “Now, which would you rather be, boys—the rich man or Lazarus?” One boy replied, “I’d like to be the rich man while I’m living and Lazarus when I die.”
This little child put into words what many adults are thinking, but are too pious to express. However, we must make sure we understand that the rich man did not go to hell because he was rich. Nor did the poor man go to heaven because he was poor or because he suffered so much in this life. No, Lazarus (“God helps”) called out to God for mercy, and God had delivered him in an eternal sense. If you and I are going to see God’s heaven, we must call out to God for mercy and receive His promise of eternal life.
I want to examine the logic of the rich man in the next few verses to see the misconception or dilution of his thinking. I really believe if we can understand where this man was gravely mistaken, it may just help us eternally.
4. Five Wrong Assumptions (Luke 16:24-28)
Wrong Assumption #1: Abraham Was His Father
The rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me…
As kindly and as fatherly as Abraham’s response was, he was not the rich man’s father. To be a child of Abraham is to be a child of God. All the rich man had was a Jewish lineage not saving faith. All he could claim was to be a physical descendant of Abraham not a spiritual descendant. It is true, Abraham addressed him as a child but this indicates a kind Jewish address not an indication of faith. He is not a child of God.
Wrong Assumption #2: His Status in This Life Continued in the Life to Come
V. 24: “send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’
Even in torture, the rich man’s arrogance is seen. Who does he think he is that he could ask Lazarus to enter the tortures of hell to give him some relief? He assumes that Lazarus should still be low in the status department and he should be high. He is viewing the circumstances as if Lazarus is still covered in sores and he is covered in purple and fine linen.
Perhaps we may experience times of suffering in this life. We must never think that sorrow and grief in this life means sorrow and grief in the life to come. Like Lazarus, who experienced pain and suffering here went on to be highly exalted in the life to come.
Wrong Assumption #3: The Great Gulf Between Heaven and Hell Can Be Crossed
26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
Do you understand how eternity works? Jesus tells us very clearly. Wherever you end up after death whether it’s heaven or hell, your position is forever fixed. Once you’re in heaven you are there forever. Once you’re in hell, you’re there forever. There will be no second chances. No try - again.
Wrong Assumption #4: Some People are Entitled to Special Treatment
27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’
Here, the rich man may seem to finally be showing some compassion. But don’t be fooled. His heart is still only concerned about himself and a certain few people among the socially elite. If Lazarus cannot come here then send him to warn my people. He still does not care about the poor and needy. He doesn’t say, please send Lazarus to the rest of those lying at my gate and warn them. He simply cares for his own. The rich caring for the rich and no one else.
The only thing that would make his suffering worse, is to know that his family is also suffering eternal punishment. He still is thinking of himself.
Wrong Assumption #5: A Miracle Will Bring About Repentance (Luke 16:29-31)
29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’
It’s so important that we understand that the Law and the Prophets (Old Testament) teach us our need to repent. If we don’t read the OT and have our evil rebellious hearts exposed, there is nothing left for God to do. Do you understand this most important truth? There is no other place where God can show a human his or her need of repentance than in His written Word. No miracle will convince man to repent.
His Law brings forth repentance. There are no special cases and no exceptions. Our sin and need for a Savior is exposed within the pages of God’s Word and nowhere else. No miracle or sign will ever convince us we’re sinners in need of a Savior.
This rich man should have listened to the Prophets. His brothers should listen to them as well and so should the Pharisees and so should we. Do you have ears to hear?
5. The Greatest Miracle Will Have No Effect on Those Who Refuse God’s Word
Abraham’s answer is short and pointed. He does not accept that the problem of the rich man and his brothers is a lack of evidence. Their problem lay in their unwillingness to hear God’s Word.
Man’s failure to believe is not due to any lack of evidence, but due to a closed heart, determined to disbelieve any amount of evidence (cf. Rom 3:10-12). The problem, to put it differently, was not a lack of external evidence (appearances), but a willful rebellion of the heart against God. Though miracles can attest to the authority of the preacher, they cannot produce either conviction or conversion in the hearts of the lost. Only God’s Word can do so.
Strange as it may seem, people are not moved to repentance by miraculous acts of sensationalism. It just doesn’t happen.
Witness Pharaoh’s hardening his heart after the first Bible miracles performed by Moses; or
Ahab’s non-response to the miracles executed by Elijah; or
Israel’s non-response to the mighty miracles enacted by Jesus Himself.
To further drive home this truth, not long after this teaching Jesus did raise someone from the dead who bore witness to Jesus’ identity, another Lazarus. What was the reaction of the Pharisees? They refused to believe in Christ. Furthermore, the people who did not believe tried to kill both Jesus and Lazarus (John 11:45-53; 12:9-11).
Perhaps this is the key to why Jesus gave the poor man in this parable the name Lazarus. Perhaps He wanted the Pharisees to remember the lesson of the Lazarus in this parable when He raised the other Lazarus from the dead. The Lord Jesus and the disciples raised several people from the dead.
Indeed, Jesus Himself rose and appeared to 500 witnesses. Yet despite this, Israel was not persuaded about Jesus being the Messiah (John 1:11). The truth is, even a great sign like resurrection did not and will not persuade the hard of heart.
These verses should warn us against putting too much hope in signs and wonders as what will persuade people to believe in Jesus (cf. John 10:41-42). The Word of God is a more convincing witness to Him than any miracle. This does not mean that miracles are valueless. God used them to authenticate the testimony of Scripture in the past, and He may do so occasionally today, but Scripture is the Holy Spirit’s primary tool in bringing people to repentance (cf. John 16:7-15).
The Scriptures contain all we need in order to repent and be saved. They are utterly complete and lack nothing we need for salvation. They are perfect and if one will not hear them then even the greatest miracles will have no effect.
So, we learn that it is not more evidence that is needed to bring about repentance, but to hear what is already given.
Are you listening to God as He speaks from the Bible?
The Bible contains a message that means the difference between eternal life and death. Yet, for many of us, our commitment to the Bible is more verbal than actual. We affirm that the Bible is God’s Word, yet we do not read it or study it as if God was directly communicating to us.
Today, will you read and study what the Bible says about the afterlife? Will you heed the warnings of Jesus and the writers of Scripture? It’s a heavy responsibility to own a Bible. To ignore the Bible is to invite disaster.