Before diving in, a bit of background for this passage: Spoken to the Pharisees, whom Jesus accuses of being lovers of money and scoffers. He just spoke to them about how you could only serve one master: money, or God. Jesus then tells the Pharisees they love money. Jesus is speaking in very black and white, either/or language. We are not always comfortable with that, but when Jesus speaks this way we ought not to correct Him. Rather we seek understanding.
“You cannot serve God and wealth.”
Luke 16:13 tells us we cannot serve two masters, we cannot compartmentalize our lives so as to serve both. Jesus follows the parable of the servant forgiven of his debt (who does not forgive others) with the plain spoken words: “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
We must not justify the Pharisees. We must not seek out ways to justify anyone based on appearences; making much of our image, making others feel like Christians when inwardly… Well, Jesus knows what is in the heart of man.
We will return to verses 16-17 later. For now, the parable at hand.
The Rich Man and Lazarus.
Remember, this is a parable. We understand it literally when we read it as a parable, a story illustrating an eternal truth; used to help His own followers understand while others remain in the dark. Usually, those addressed by the parable took offense.
This parable illustrates the vast difference between the Kingdom of God, and that of Satan; or the Kingdom Jesus preaches about, and the kingdom the world tries to build up. As we ponder this week, holy week, about Jesus going to the cross–remember that as He was celebrating the Passover with His disciples for the last time, He told them He was about to be glorified. With the glory He’d had before the world began. This parable illustrates the difference between seeking your glory here (i.e. your “best life now”), and seeking first the Kingdom of God which entails suffering with Jesus, and enjoying eternal glory with Him after.
Verses 19-20, this was a common sight, a common practice, in that culture, in that era. People would often beg in this manner, and barely survive. Not a very “full” life in many ways.
Verse 21–covered with sores, and the dogs often come to lick them. Aside: My elderly neighbor (now departed) used to get scratches on her legs from her dachshund jumping up on her lap. That dog would spend the next couple weeks licking the sores, which got worse and infected from the dog’s lick. The sandpapery tongue did nothing to bring comfort. Yes perhaps Lazerus enjoyed the company of the dogs, perhaps he felt inwardly comforted–but most likely, his sores were worsened.
Lazerus had no comfort in this life.
His suffering was physical, social, mental, nutritional (is that a proper use of the word?). Imagine the dailyness of his suffering. Hunger. Loneliness. Pain with open sores. Pain from the licking. And he was laid at the gate. So, he had no choice to seek another place. At the whim of others he was laid before a house of a man who cared not for the poor. He was most likely lame.
Verse 22-24, remember this is a parable. Abraham’s bosom, Paradise, the language used of our soul’s abode with God after death. The rich man, however, goes to Hades, or Hell. He suffers at last. His suffering is too much to bear. In this parable, not a historical event but a story, the suffering rich man looks up and sees into Heaven, or Paradise, or Abraham’s bosom. This is not teaching us that those in Hell can watch us in Heaven. Rather this is illustrating a truth about the experience of those in Hell. They wish they were not there. They really suffer. They want comfort and find none.
Verse 25-26 None can travel back and forth. Each has received. He received what he earned. Earthly glory and eternal suffering. Lazerus experienced earthly suffering and now enjoys eternal glory. Verses 27-28 He then implores that someone warn his family.
Verse 29-31 The Law and Prophets
Moses and the prophets have written, and it is enough. Return to Verse 16-Jesus said not one part of the Law will pass away, it will be fulfilled. God has spoken, it will not pass away. “If they do not listen to Moses and Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” Jump ahead to Luke 24:13-33, but especially verse 27. When Jesus is raised from the dead, He teaches about Himself from Moses and the Prophets! The hearers said their hearts burned within them as they listened.
O that our hearts would yearn for Him, and seek Him where and how He has revealed Himself. Abide in Him. In His truth, in His love. But the hearts of these hearers, these Pharisees who loved money and scoffed at Jesus, their hearts did not burn with desire to know Him more. When Jesus closes the story saying “they would not believe even if someone was raised from the dead” it was a foreshadowing of the Pharisees’ own disbelief, and reaction to His own resurrection.
In his masterpiece “Glory of Christ” John Owen says this:
First sufferings, then glory (2 Timothy 2:12). They only deceive themselves who design any other method of these things… But the members of the mystical Body must be conformed to the Head. In Him, suffering went before glory, and so they must in them.John Owen, The Glory of Christ, (Pavlik Press, 2012). Loc 1435
This passage intimates that those in God’s Kingdom will suffer now. We know several New Testament passages explain this. Suffering does not indicate which Kingdom you are in. But if you do serve God, you will on some level experience suffering. What passages come to mind? (1 Peter 2:21-25 & 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 4; Romans 8:17; Romans 5:1-5; Philippians 3; Hebrews 12). The farewell discourse of Jesus included much of the future the disciples could anticipate, including tribulation–but also the promised Spirit, we are never alone in our suffering. We have comfort, we have the Comforter dwelling in us.
What is our comfort in this world? He has record of every tear! He is preparing for us an eternal glory that far outweighs the empty promises of the world. Our God is the God of all comfort; time spent slowly meditating on 2 Corinthians 1will be refreshing for your soul.
2 Timothy 4:18 “The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed, and will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom; to Him be the glory forever and ever. Amen”