In Luke 16:19-31,
Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. It would be
good to read these verses carefully. The account is not
identified by Christ as a parable. It tells the story of two
men, of how they lived on earth, and of how they fared after
death as a result of their earthly conduct.
This passage condemns certain PRACTICES.
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in
purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.” The
marginal reading is “living in mirth and splendor every day.” It
is evident that God intended for people to be happy here on
earth because in the beginning he gave to man a paradise in
which to live. Jesus said to his disciples, “These things have I
spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your
joy might be full” (John 15:11). Paul wrote to
Christians, “Rejoice in the Lord always: and again I say,
Rejoice” (Philippians. 4:4). True joy comes in serving
Christ and not in “the pleasures of sin for a season.”
The rich man in this passage was condemned not
necessarily because he was rich, but because he used his riches
selfishly in living in mirth and splendor. Warnings are given to
the rich. “But woe unto you that are rich! for ye have received
your consolation.” (Luke 6:24). “How hardly shall they
that have riches enter into the kingdom of God!” (Luke
18:24). “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and
a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown
men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the
root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have
erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many
sorrows” (1Timothy 6:9,10).
This passage then condemns a lack of concern
about the physical well-being of others. If the poor man
received any help from the rich man, it was only the unwanted
crumbs which fell from his table. Yet, the rich man lived under
the law of Moses which said, “If there be among you a poor man
of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which
the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart,
nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother: But thou shalt open
thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient
for his need, in that which he wanteth” (Deuteronomy 15:7,8).
The rich man failed to obey this law.
In the New Testament Paul shows that one has the
responsibility of working to support himself—”if any would not
work, neither should he eat” (2Thessalonians 3:10). When
one is not able to do this, others have a responsibility toward
him. “But whoso hath this world’s goods, and seeth his brother
have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him,
how dwelleth the love of God in him?” (1John 3:17).
This passage also condemns waiting too long to be
concerned about the spiritual well-being of others. In the place
of torment the rich man became concerned about the destiny of
his five brothers and begged Abraham to send Lazarus that he
might testify to his brothers, lest they also come to that
dreadful place of torment. He had waited too long. He failed to
meet his responsibility toward his brothers in the days when he
had opportunity. How many now are letting days of golden
opportunity pass by without trying to save others from an
Further, this passage also condemns waiting too
long to be concerned about our own spiritual welfare. After the
rich man had fared sumptuously every day, after he had lived in
mirth and splendor without concern for doing God’s will, he now
begs for relief from his dreadful suffering, begs for even a
drop of water. He had waited too long to become concerned. “It
is appointed unto man once to die, but after this the judgment”
(Hebrews 9:27). Many may have in mind, “Lord, I will obey
thee, but not yet, not today.” That “not today” becomes not
tomorrow, and not the next day, until death comes when there is
no day of grace left.
This passage condemns certain DOCTRINES.
It repudiates the Christian Science doctrine
which denies the existence of pain and suffering. The sores of
Lazarus must have been real, for the dogs came and licked them.
The suffering of the rich man must have been real, for he cried,
“Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may
dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am
tormented in this flame.”
It repudiates the doctrine of Spiritualism which
proposes communication between the living and the dead. The rich
man proposed that Lazarus be sent back to his father’s house
that he might testify to his five brothers to help prevent their
coming to that place of torment. Abraham said that if they were
not willing to hear God’s word, Moses’ and the prophets’
communication from the dead would be of no benefit to them.
It repudiates the Jehovah’s Witness doctrine of
soul-sleeping. Both the rich man and Lazarus died, and neither
was in a state of sleep after death. The rich man lifted up his
eyes; he felt; he saw; he spoke, he remembered. All of this he
could hardly do while asleep. If it is said that this passage is
only a parable, and that it, therefore, represents something
else. This argument is without the support of the passage
itself. The passage does not refer to the story as a parable. A
parable makes use of well-known facts to teach spiritual
lessons. In the story of the rich man and Lazarus Jesus is
revealing unknown facts of conditions after death. If this
passage is a parable, and Christ is making use of these
unfamiliar facts to teach a spiritual lesson, what lesson is he
teaching? The true lesson is to be found in the factual
revelation of conditions after death and not in some parabolic
projection of these conditions.
It repudiates the doctrine of Universalism—that
all will be saved. Even if one person should be lost, this
doctrine falls, for it declares that all will be saved.
Certainly the rich man was not saved. Further, Jesus said,
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad
is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which
go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the
way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it”
(Matthew 7:13,14). In the great judgment Jesus will say to
those on the left hand, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into
everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels”
It repudiates the doctrine of Purgatory. The rich
man could not do anything for his brothers; nor could his
brothers do anything to relieve him from his endless suffering.
It repudiates ancestor or family worship.
Sometimes people now say, “If I obeyed the gospel, I would be
condemning my father” (or my mother, or my husband, as the case
may be). A woman said, “If my father is lost, I want to be
lost.” The rich man had an entirely different idea. He wanted
his brothers to do God’s will in order that they might not come
to that terrible place of suffering.
It repudiates the doctrine of the second chance.
He prayed. He begged for relief, and no relief was given or
promised. One who rebels against God in this life, and expects
another chance after death, will find that he has made an
unalterable mistake, for “it is appointed unto men once to die,
but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27).