There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 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.’
25 “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.’Luke 16:19-26 (NIV)
I have been thinking about this account recently, and am struck by how much it has for us to learn. I suspect my thoughts on this will stretch to more than one post, but we shall see how we get on!
This account occurs during Luke 16, where Jesus is teaching the people through parables and other means. The first thing we need to ask ourselves is – is this a parable or a true account?
This passage clearly has many similarities to some of Jesus’ other parables, and yet has a few differences which may suggest it is a real account of what happened to some real people.
We have a named person – Lazarus. Few, if any, of Jesus’ parables contained the names of actual people in them. Think of the Prodigal Son, the Lost Coin or Sheep, or the Parables of the Vineyard or Sower. None of them had named individuals and spoke only of people in general terms. Here we have a beggar who we are told is named Lazarus, and it is interesting to me that the rich man is not named…
Whether a parable or not, this account has some important, and let’s be honest – terrifying – lessons for us all to take heed of.
A Stark Contrast
Verses 19-21 set the scene for us, and paint a very stark contrast between two men. One is extremely wealthy, living in luxury and having all that he ever wanted. The other had nothing, living in extreme poverty at the rich man’s gate. The latter clearly had health issues with troubling sores all over him and perhaps even lacked the strength to chase away the dogs which licked at him.
The point of this story is not to condemn the rich. The rich man is not bad because he is wealthy, but we will see later that having such riches is a clear danger. It is not the wealth which is the problem, but what this man does with it – or in fact, what he does not do with it.
There is not even the merest hint that this rich man used one penny of his wealth to help Lazarus. Instead, he lived in luxury while Lazarus laid at his gate. Could he have done something to help? I think the point of this story is that he could and should have.
A Time and a Place
Verse 22 tells us that “The time came…” for Lazarus to die, and likewise, the rich man also faced death. We learn that they did not end up in the same place however. Lazarus was taken to Abraham’s side and the rich man to Hades. Hades should not be confused with “hell” which is distinctly different. Hades or Sheol were the same place and can be described as the abode of the dead. The abode had two compartments, one for the good known as “Abraham’s Bosom,” and one for the bad. Hell is a different Greek word altogether, and is described in Revelation as the Lake of Fire. Revelation tells us that Death and Hades will be swallowed up, and ultimately cast into the fiery lake.
So, Lazarus ends up with Abraham and the rich man in Hades in torment. The torment is not simply the fire he is burning in, but also the fact that he is conscious. “He looked up…” and he could see Abraham and Lazarus far away. Imagine being trapped in eternity, not just in agony, but able to see those not suffering. What a truly terrible thing!
The Rich Man’s Request
I want to focus on the rich man’s request for a moment, asked in verse 24.
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.’Luke 16:24 (NIV)
The rich man, having seen Abraham and Lazarus far off, calls out to them. Have pity on me, he cries! Certainly, there will be many (if not all) crying for pity and mercy should they find themselves in such a place.
Then, the rich man makes a request. Before considering it, let me ask you – what would be your request if you were in such a situation?
He does not ask for release from the torment. He does not ask forgiveness. Rather, he asks for Lazarus to serve him. Don’t miss this point. Whatever hell or Hades is in reality, it will somehow emphasise our self-centredness. Even now in death, imprisoned in torment, this rich man still believes that he is better than Lazarus and that the poor beggar ought to serve him.
We will study Abraham’s answer next time, but before I close, I really want to emphasise the importance of this account. Jesus taught a great deal about the afterlife and was extremely clear that this life is not all there is. There is an eternity beyond the grave, and only two destinations. Although Jesus is speaking to first century Jews here, there is much we must learn from it. Abraham’s answer will tell us why the rich man ended up where he did.
For you and I though, we read this passage in light of the cross of Christ. Our eternal destination is not determined in the same way as the men described here. Instead, our eternity is determined by our response to Jesus Christ crucified. If we put our faith and trust in Him, then we can be assured of a place in heaven, and hell holds no fear for us. For those who do not know Christ and His sacrifice, this passage should certainly move you into finding out more about what Jesus did for you.
Please do not wait. If you are unsure of your place in heaven, do not delay! Place your trust in Jesus right now, turn away from your sin and ask His forgiveness. None of us know when our time is up, and tomorrow may be too late!
If you want to put your faith in Jesus and don’t know what to do, or if you have determined to trust Christ but now find yourself unsure of the next steps, please do get in touch or comment below. I would be glad to support you in your new found faith in Jesus Christ.