The Rich Man and Lazarus

Joshua West

“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,  who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried,  and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 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.’  

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—  for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’  But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’  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.’” Luke 16:19-31 (ESV

In this parable Jesus talks about a rich man who is left unnamed and a poor beggar who is named Lazarus. In the story the rich man lives an extravagant life where he wants for nothing. The NIV Bible says that he lived in luxury every day. But Lazarus, on the other hand, suffered and starved and begged for crumbs from the rich man’s table. 

The indictment against the rich man was obviously that he had more than enough to feed this poor beggar who he must have known because it says that he sat outside the gate of his house every day. Feeding the poor and doing good deeds isn’t what saves us, but it is evidence that your heart has been transformed by salvation. 

Jesus said that the entire law and prophets could be summed up with two commands: love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37-38). Also, in the Gospel of Matthew Jesus talks about separating his sheep from the goats who will be cast into the lake of fire (Matthew 25:31-41). 

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’ 

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,  I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’  Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Matthew 25:40-46 (ESV) 

The rich man had lived for himself in wealth and privilege, and he wasn’t compassionate to his neighbor when it was in his power to do so. It wouldn’t change his life one bit to help Lazarus, but his heart was hard and selfish, which is evidence that he had not responded to the gospel in repentance for his sin. 

His lack of love and compassion toward Lazarus showed that the love of God wasn't in him. When they both died Lazarus went to paradise where he found comfort and peace, but the rich man went to hell where he was tormented continuously.  

Now their fortunes have shifted, and the tables have turned, and it is the rich man who begs. He cries out and asks Father Abraham to have Lazarus just put some water on his tongue to soothe his pain and give him just a second of relief, but this is impossible because there is an unbridgeable chasm between heaven and hell. 

In the end, realizing that there was no hope for him, still selfish and entitled, he asks Father Abraham to send Lazarus on an errand back to the world of the living. He asks that Lazarus might go and warn his brothers of what awaits them if they don’t repent and change their ways. What Jesus says of Abraham’s reply is so very interesting and so very profound.

Abraham says “They have Moses and the prophets, let them listen to them”. The phrase “Moses and the prophets” or the “the law and the prophets” would have been a very familiar phrase to the Jews listening to this parable. This is just another way of saying the Scripture. “Moses and the prophets” are referring to the Old Testament, they didn’t have the New Testament yet because they were still living it out. 

Jesus was saying that the Scriptures are sufficient. No need to send Lazarus because they are without excuse because they already have a sure witness. We don’t reject God because of a lack of evidence or lack of miracles, we reject God because our hearts are hard, and we love sin. Everything we need for salvation and life and godliness is revealed in Scripture.  

The rich man didn’t see the value of God’s Word, he didn’t see it in his lifetime and still didn’t in his judgement. Those who reject God will never see the value of his Word, even when they are being judged according to it in eternal condemnation. The rich man, not seeing the sufficiency and authority of Scripture instead asks for a miracle. He says, “but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.” 

But Father Abraham says, “If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, they won’t listen even if someone rises from the dead”. Jesus is saying in this parable that the Scriptures are sufficient all on their own and even if someone rises from the dead they will not be convinced if the Scriptures don’t convince them. 

The idea of this is foreign to most people because they reject even what the Scripture says about the heart of a sinful man that suppresses the knowledge of God for the sake of their own wickedness. This is the law of God. It’s in the perfect law of the Lord that we see our need for a savior and through the prophets we are called to repent and weep and mourn over our sin. 

But there is one who has risen from the dead, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. We not only have the law and prophets, but we also have the One who has risen from the dead revealed in the Gospels, explained in the epistles and promised to return in his revelation. We are without excuse.  

The Word of God is a gift that brings either condemnation or freedom, that pronounces death or leads us to life. The Scripture is perfect because God is perfect. It reveals to us the law by which we are judged and the gospel by which we are saved, but most importantly the Bible reveals to us the image of the invisible God, our savior Jesus Christ. 

Scripture is timeless, lacking nothing, uniquely equipped to help us correct, rebuke and encourage. On it we weigh all things and by it we judge all things and by it and according to it all will be judged. God-breathed, inerrant and pure, the sacred words of God as revealed in the Scripture are ultimately and supremely authoritative and fully sufficient.  

“The grass withers, the flower fades when the breath of the LORD blows on it; surely the people are grass. The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” Isaiah 40:7-8 (ESV) 

In Christ,

Pastor Joshua

Joshua West is a pastor, evangelist, and author. He is also director of the World Challenge Pastors Network.