Lazarus And The Rich Man
The account given by Jesus in Luke 16, of a rich and poor man playing out a scene in the “hereafter”; is taken by most people and teachers as a Parable, and as fact! The rich man is being tormented for being rich and privileged when alive, and the poor man is in a state of bliss!
The implication is supporting the “eternal soul” concept, taught by much of ‘Christendom’, and the deceptive lie of Satan to Eve in Eden; “surely thou shalt not die”, Gen. 3:4. See: Eternal Soul Myth and Eve and Adam.
Many sermons are preached on this ‘parable’, and are often slanted by the speakers and Vicars towards a good contribution to the Collection Plate!
The simple fact is that the interpretation given above is false, and, when compared with the message in Old and New Testament, is in conflict!
The fact that our Lord spoke the words are used by most advocates as sacrosanct, and not to be questioned; but that often is for devious reasons of control, and ignores the exhortation by the Apostle Paul to “work at the Scripture” and to “rightly divide” them, (2Tim. 2:15).
The fact is that our Lord was at war with the Pharisees and their ilk, and when His Ministry started after His baptism, they were in constant verbal embattlement over the Pharisees Teachings, which they had wrenched away from the Priests; who had been given that responsibility by Moses, under the instructions of Jehovah God after the Exodus.
John the Baptist, Jesus and the Apostle Paul berated the Jewish Hierarchy of the day for adhering to the Pharisaic writings, instead of the Originals given to Moses etc. It is recorded and well known by the Jews that the Pharisees in particular were "very flexible" in their interpretations of Torah, and this is confirmed by the Qumran Scrolls. Of the main 'schools', or Groups of the day, the Pharisees, the Sadducees and the Essens; the Pharisees became dominant, and at the time of the destruction of the Temple in AD 70, only the "Judaism of the Pharisees", known as "Rabbinic Judaism" prevailed!
The Scrolls record that at the very time of the visitation by Jesus, the religion of the Jews was in transition from the Judaism of the Bible, to that of the Judaism of the Rabbi's, as expounded in the "Mishnah", a 3rd cent. AD compilation of Jewish laws and customs, on which modern Judaism is based!
To get a flavour of the enmity between Jesus and the ruling Pharisees, which reflects the disfavour of God to the corruption evident in Jesus’ day, the following are some of the comments by Jesus:
Jesus said "Woe to the Pharisees, for they are like a dog in a manger of oxen, for neither does he eat nor does he (let) the oxen".
The meaning of this hard statement by Jesus is that the Pharisees (the dog) would not let the people (the oxen) eat of His words; which is the true food!
The following are other of the utterances by John the Baptist and Jesus against the Scribes and Pharisees of their day:
Matt. 3:7, 12:34, 23:33, Luke 3:7, Matt. 23:13-29, Luke 11:42-44 & Matt. 23:16.
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell"?
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men's faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to".
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are".
"Woe to you, blind guides! You say, 'If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.' You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred? You also say, 'If anyone swears by the altar, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gift on it, he is bound by his oath.' You blind men! Which is greater: the gift, or the altar that makes the gift sacred? Therefore, he who swears by the altar swears by it and by everything on it. And he who swears by the temple swears by it and by the one who dwells in it. And he who swears by heaven swears by God's throne and by the one who sits on it".
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel".
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean".
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness".
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, 'If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets’. So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers"!
Jesus’ purpose was to expose their falsehood and hypocrisy. To achieve that purpose He used sarcasm and satire. When he spoke to His disciples He explained to them the meanings of His parables, but to the Pharisees He did not need to, as they knew the cutting force of His words, and their guilt in wrong teaching for selfish motives!
The late Bible student and teacher Otis Sellers handles this particular satire so well, that it is partly reproduced below, with permission of his Organisation, TWTM, USA.
Of the three sects in Judaism at the time of Christ, the Pharisees were the most powerful. The actual group is believed to have numbered only about six thousand, but this was the inner circle. In the Gospels the scribes and Pharisees are constantly mentioned in the same connection, and in such manner as to imply that they formed the same parts. The strength of this influence was such that they dominated everything in Israel. They controlled the Sanhedrin, the priesthood, the civil courts, and all Jewish society. The Sadducees opposed them, but their opposition was so weak that the Pharisees tolerated it, knowing that the conservative Sadducees would not push it too far, and that they had sufficient power to crush it at any time.
The Pharisees had arrogated to their party all the right and authority that God had vested in the kings of Israel. They were a plutocratic oligarchy exercising all the kingly powers. This explains why the royal family was so insignificant when Christ was born in the household of Joseph. The Pharisees had taken to themselves the real work of the priest, that of teaching the people, leaving the priests to carry on the empty ritual, which without true instruction was devoid of any meaning.
The inspired record in the four Gospels tells us about the Pharisaic character. They were described by John the Baptist as being a generation of vipers (Matt. 3:7); they made use of calumny in dealing with those whom they opposed (Matt. 9:34); they did not hesitate to murder to accomplish their ends and maintain their power (Matt. 12:14); they rejected all signs given by the Lord then demanded a special sign be given to them (Matt. 12:38); they transgressed the commandments of God by their traditions (Matt. 15:2); they were hypocrites (Matt. 23:3); all their works were done to be seen of men (Matt. 23:5); they devoured widow’s houses, then made long prayers in pretence (Matt. 23:14); they were lovers of money (Luke 16:14); and they rejected the commandments of God in order that they might maintain their own traditions (Mark 7:9).
Having made void the Word of God, the Pharisees had adopted most of the platonic philosophy concerning the nature of man. From a mixture of Greek ideas the old Egyptian and Babylonian myths they had developed a doctrine of purgatory and of prayers for the dead. Josephus declared that the Pharisees taught that every soul is incorruptible, that, only the souls of good men pass over into another body, while those of the wicked are punished with eternal suffering. They held that there is an immortal vigour in souls, and that under earth there are rewards and punishments for those who have lived virtuously or viciously in this life.
Their shameful treatment of the poor in Israel shows that they loved only themselves and not the people or the country of Israel. Long before the time of Christ the wealthy and ruling classes were taken to task by the prophets for their cruel and unjust treatment of the poor. The Pharisees held that the distinctions between poor and rich were part of God’s plan, and they made poverty to be a virtue that would be rewarded with wealth in the life to come. The Sadducees on the other hand had worked into their beliefs the idea that poverty was a crime, and that to be poor was evidence of the displeasure of God.
One of the worst features of the Pharisaic system was the expulsion or excommunication from the life of Israel of those who had transgressed. At times their acts may have had some justification, but the Pharisees had carried it so far that once a man came under their strictures, there was no possible way for him to get back again into the life of Israel. These were the “sinners”, so often mentioned in the gospel records. As a rule they were guilty of nothing more than refusal to bow down to the despotic power exercised by the ruling clique of the Pharisees.
Once a man brought down upon himself the wrath of the Pharisees, there was no hope of pardon. They never forgave him. Once excluded and branded as a sinner, no one dared to help him, or to do business with him. The testimony of “sinners” was not valid in courts, and if any one wronged them they had no recourse to law. They stood, in their miserable condition, as examples of what happened to any who challenged the position or claims of the Pharisees.
In their distress many of them were forced to do business with or collaborate with Roman occupation forces. This paid them well, especially if they became tax-collectors (publicans). This explains why publicans and sinners are often linked together in one group. They were shunned as traitors in Israel. Nevertheless, their real character is seen in the fact that many of them became the first disciples of John the Baptist and of Jesus Christ.
When Christ came and started to teach the people, He, in so doing, challenged the Pharisees assumption that they alone were the teachers in Israel. When He presented His credentials, which were the gracious miracles He performed, they stepped into the arena to challenge Him. They could not match His wisdom so they plotted to destroy Him (Matt. 12:14). They refused to yield to anyone even one grain of the authority they had gathered to themselves. Their attitude toward Him was summed up in the words spoken by Christ:
But those husbandmen said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours, Mark 12:7.
When the Pharisees appeared at the baptism of John, he wasted no time trying to change them, but branded them immediately as a “generation of vipers”. Jesus Christ called them whitewashed graves, hypocrites, serpents, children of Gehenna, thieves and murderers.
One important principle that must be kept in mind in studying the story of the rich man and Lazarus is that these words were spoken to the implacable enemies of Christ, the Pharisees. They were spoken to men whose doom was sealed when they charged that Christ performed His miracles by the power by Beelzebub the prince of devils. In doing this they blasphemed the Holy Spirit and committed the sin that had no forgiveness (Matt. 12:22-32). These words were spoken to men who were rigidly set against the will of God therefore, no revelation of truth was given to them (John 7:16-17). And since this story is not a revelation of God’s truth, it has to be an answer to, a rebuke, an expose of the Pharisees. In other words, it is not a revelation of truth about future life, of the state of the dead, of future punishment of future bliss; but it is an expose of the base and warped ideas, principles, and practices of the Pharisees. Since satire is a type of writing or speaking, the object of which is to hold up vices and follies for ridicule and reprobation, then this is satire pure and simple. With these facts in mind we are ready to resume consideration of the story spoken by our Lord in the presence of the Pharisees.
The Occasion of the Story
It has been said that this story has always erroneously been considered “as a sort of an island in the Lucan narrative, cut off from the mainland of the Gospel, and having no necessary connection with its surroundings”. Those who regard it as such exclude all light that the context may throw upon the passage. The key to the character of this story and to its meaning and purpose is found in the material that precedes it.
We must eliminate all man-made fences, such as chapter divisions and paragraph headings, from this portion of Scripture and begin our studies at the point where the Lord began to speak, then follow through to His last word on this occasion. The record begins at Luke 14:25 and continues without interruption to Luke 17:10. Every word spoken has a baring upon the meaning, character and purpose of the story. It is evident that our Lord never moved out of His place while He spoke the words recorded between the two references just mentioned. It was the longest battle our Lord ever fought with the Pharisees.
As the scene opens in Luke 14:25-35 our Lord is seen speaking to the multitude that followed Him. His words to them consisted of one dark saying and three parables.
The closing words of His last parable spoken to the multitude were, “men cast it out”. While these words were spoken of the savour less salt, they seem to have caught the ear and made an impression upon the publicans and sinners, for this was what the despotic aristocracy in Israel had done to them. And since these words were followed by an invitation to those who had ears to make use of them, all the publicans and sinners drew near to Him in order to hear.
This scandalized and enraged the Pharisees since Jesus was receiving men whom they rejected and ostracised. They had assumed all the rights of kings and priests in Israel, but in no way did they accept the responsibilities toward others that were set forth in the shepherd and mediator character of kings and priests. The Pharisees never sought a sinner, and never brought one back to God. Between the aristocracy and sinners there was a vast chasm that none of the people could cross and none of the Pharisees would cross. They maintained this irrevocable separation by their teachings. They insisted God had given them their place and only God could take it away. Our Lord ignored this caste system and went to the aid of those they had branded as sinners. This brought out their deepest hatred. They could not tolerate anyone alleviating the harsh punishments they had imposed upon certain men. They justified their lack of mercy by claiming that God was harsh, therefore they had to be.
When the publicans and sinners drew near to hear the Lord, the Pharisees and scribes began to murmur and to hurl their accusations (Luke 15:1-2). And it seems that the publicans and sinners, long used to deferring to the Pharisees and desiring to spare the Lord any embarrassment that their nearness might cause, began to withdraw themselves from His presence. But His great love for the lost could not permit this, so our Lord spoke a parable to the Pharisees in the hearing of the publicans and sinners. This parable had two purposes – to rebuke and expose the Pharisees and to offer encouragement and hope to the publicans and sinners.
This parable is in three parts. There is a story about a lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and a lost son (Luke 15:12-32). Each part rebukes and exposes the Pharisees and offers encouragement and hope to the sinners in Israel.
While the story of the lost sheep is a parable, we should not miss the fact that the story is satirical. Many will never see this, since this parable is usually treated in a superficial manner. Hundreds of ideas have been preached into this passage, resulting in the most astounding importations. Every statement and every word has been loaded with extravagant fancies, many of which have their origin in Dr. Sankey’s well-known hymn about the “ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of the fold”. This line has no real foundation in this parable. The importation of such ideas blinds the minds to the satirical character of this story which so effectually exposes the sordid miserliness of the Pharisees. To expose and rebuke their inordinate love for material possessions is the purpose of this parable. The word shepherd does not occur in it.
The question, “What man of you having an hundred sheep”? is directed at the Pharisees. When faced with the loss of one sheep their greed is so aroused that they leave the ninety-nine shepherdless in the wilderness and open to the attacks of wild beasts. Sheep were common in Israel. They were an article of commerce, and any man that risked ninety-nine to get back one that had strayed revealed a cupidity that cannot tolerate the thought of losing one bit of anything already possessed. Furthermore, the idea of a man calling together his friends and neighbours to rejoice with him over the recovery of a lost sheep is amusing to say the least. Such actions would be quite proper if a child had been lost and found, but they are preposterous in the case of sheep. A covetous man would think that all should respond to his invitation to rejoice, but there must have been one who said, “If that is all the party is about, I’m not going”.
Our Lord used a parable somewhat like this in Matthew 18:11-14, and it is to this that we should go for a great picture of the seeking Saviour. In this parable all satirical elements are omitted. This was spoken to His disciples, not the Pharisees.
However, in Luke 15 the statement about “ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance” is pure satire which borders on sarcasm. There was no such thing in Israel as a just person who needed no repentance, but the Pharisees regarded themselves as such. The Lord Jesus took their assumed position, put it into words, then used these words in His satire against them.
The story of the lost coin is a further rebuke the Pharisees (Luke 15:8-10). It emphasises what He has already said. Their attitude towards a lost animal or a lost coin was one thing. Their attitude towards a lost sinner was something quite different. The addition of the story about the lost coin demonstrates that their search for the lost sheep was not due to their love for dumb animals since they showed the same care towards a piece of money. It was preposterous for a woman in this story to invite her friends and neighbours to rejoice with her over the recovery of a last coin. It is normal for anyone to seek a lost coin, even to seek for it diligently if the value warrants it, but to call for people to rejoice over it is absurd. But it is only by a preposterous story that preposterous acts and attitudes can be satirised.
There could be no joy among the Pharisees over a sinner that repented, but there was joy in the presence of the angels of God. The Pharisees made diligent search for lost animals or lost coins, but never for men.
The story of the prodigal son portrayed the sinners in Israel. In it there is no condoning or excusing of their sins. All satire and sarcasm is let out, as it would be out of harmony with His expressed attitude toward them. His statement about the prodigal “joining himself to a citizen of that country” in order to avoid starving is probably a veiled reference to the fact that some in Israel were forced by want to take the demeaning labour of collecting the burdensome taxes imposed by the Romans. No greater or more positive words of encouragement could have been given to the publicans and sinners than those contained in the story of the prodigal son.
The record of the elder son (Luke 15:25-32) sets forth the attitude of the Pharisees. The younger son was lost in the far country but this one is lost in his own father’s house. The reception given the younger son caused all the hardness of the self-righteous brother to boil to the surface. From boasting about himself he turns to blame for his father.
The parable ends abruptly, and rightly so. No application is made. It is left to the Pharisees to make their own application. One is prone to wish they had asked the Lord, “What did that brother do in answer to his father’s appeal”?
All these words were spoken to the Pharisees in the hearing of the publicans and sinners. But our Lord is not yet through with the Pharisees. Without leaving His place He turned to His disciples and spoke to them in the presence of the Pharisees. The story He told them is one of the strangest to be found in the Bible, but it is the real key to the character of the story of the rich man and Lazarus which follows it. Therefore, it must be examined with care.
1 And He said also unto His disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.
2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? Give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.
3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? For my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.
4 I am resolved what to do, that when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.
5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?
6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil, And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.
7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measure of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.
8 And the Lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
This strange story has perplexed Bible students throughout the entire Christian era. It is quite reasonable and believable as far as the seventh verse, but when the eight verse is added, it becomes unbelievable, preposterous, and absurd. However, this is what our Lord intended it to be since absurd ideas and principles can be satirised only by means of an absurd story. The absurdity is all the more glaring if the story is paraphrased so that it appears in modern dress.
A certain man of great wealth and many holdings had a business manager who was in charge of all his affairs, and a report was brought to him that this manager was wasting his possessions. So he summoned him, questioned him concerning this, and finally told him to prepare a complete audit of his dealings, as he did not consider him fit to manage his affairs any longer. This greatly troubled the manager, for he did not know what he would do for future employment. His record of dishonesty would follow him and bar him from a like position, he was not physically able to do hard labour, and he was too proud to beg. The future seemed entirely black.
Thinking it over he hit upon a scheme to make quickly some friends and put them under obligation to him, all at his employer’s expense, so that when he was discharged, they would have to find a place for him in their establishments.
Putting his plan into action, he called in every one that owed his employer money. The first one who came owed them ten thousand dollars, so the manager told him to take his contract and write a new one for five thousand. The second one owed four thousand, so he told him to take his contract in exchange for a new one showing an indebtedness of two thousand, and so on down the entire list. They were very glad to do this, and they thanked the manager for it, telling him that they would be glad to return the favour if they could ever do so.
When the wealthy man discovered what his crooked manager had done, he commended him for acting so shrewdly in looking after his own interests and continued him in his position at a good increase in salary.
Whether we read it in the Kings James Version or recast it into modern language, the story is still absurd. Such a thing never happened, and it never will happen. This steward worked these creditors into a position where he would be able to blackmail them into supplying all his needs when his position was gone. They are parties to a crime, a conspiracy to defraud, to illegally enrich themselves at the expense of another. No employer will ever commend a man for such crooked dealings. A man of the world would never believe that such a thing would happen. Nevertheless, there were some who were supposed to be “the children of light” who were actually believing that such a thing was going to happen in their dealings with God. How true it is that the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.
The Lord’s story about the dishonest steward was told in order to expose the preposterous and absurd position of the scribes and the Pharisees. They controlled everything in Israel, but they used their position and power to bring gain to themselves. They discounted every requirement of God in order to make friends for themselves and to perpetuate their own systems and powers. They looked with pride and satisfaction upon their accomplishments, and actually thought they were commended by God since they were commended by men. They were out of favour with God, so they used the things of God to secure favour with men.
Our Lord laid bare their ridiculous position by telling a ridiculous story. It is a masterpiece of satire. No stronger rebuke could have been spoken. He summed it all up by calling to their attention the obvious fact that even men of the world would not believe that an employer, who planned to discharge a man for unfaithfulness, would change his mind and commend him when he became guilty of still greater unfaithfulness. No man of the world would ever believe this, but the scribes and Pharisees, who regarded themselves as children of light (John 9:41), acted as if they believed it. He put their principles into words and lashed them with this story.
This is then followed by one of the most ironic statements in the Bible.
And I say unto you, make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations, Luke 16:9.
Many and varied have been the attempts to explain these words. Ingenious translations have been worked out in order to try to bring this statement of our Lord into harmony with His later statement, “Ye cannot serve God and mammon".
There is no need to do this. The difficulty here is man-made. This passage does not set forth a moral precept. Failure to recognise that the mode of expression here is irony has caused much confusion. In irony the meaning of the words are directly opposite to that which is literally stated. These words are parallel in character with the declaration of God found in Judges 10:14.
Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.
The disciples did not take His words as a moral precept. They knew they had already made friends of the One who alone could receive them into everlasting habitations (John 6:68).
The Lord continues speaking to His disciples, but the character of His words change to literal truth. All satire and irony is dropped, but every statement is barbed shaft pointed at the Pharisees. They are to hear what He literally taught His disciples. This is what He says to them.
He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much. If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to you trust the true riches? And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own? No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon, Luke 16:10-13.
Luke informs us that “the Pharisees also, who were covetous heard all these things”, (Luke 16:14). He was not even speaking to them, yet they got the meaning of His satirical and ironical remarks. They knew better than anyone else the things He was satirising. They could not deny the truth of His words so they sought vain relief in bitter derision of the One who spoke to them.
It was their love of money that prompted this derision of Him. In fact the love of money was behind most of their acts. Their love of praise was strong, their love of attention was stronger (Matt. 23:5), but their love of money was strongest of all. Love of God, love of parents, or love of mankind would never move them, but love of money would cause them to act every time. There were no appeals that could cause them to untie the strings of their purses. Many of the teachings were devised for the purpose of getting more money or holding on to what they had. A Scriptural example will illustrate this.
The law said “Honour they father and thy mother; and who so curseth (dishonours) father and mother, let them die the death”. In view of this it would seem that if the parents of a Pharisee were in want that parental love would rise above their love of money. But this was not so. To keep from supporting their parents they had promulgated a teaching were all they had to do was say to their parents “It is Corban”, this is, that all their money was dedicated to God and therefore could not be used to relieve destitute parents. According to their teaching this freed them from all obligation to their parents, see Mark 7:9-13.
This derision of Him by the Pharisees as stated in Luke 16:14, caused the Lord to interrupt His message and to speak directly to them. Luke records His words which I will paraphrase in order to expand them. This is what I believe He meant (Luke 16:15-17).
You deride Me and scoff at Me, but you cannot deny the absurdity of your teachings, neither can you deny the charges I have brought against you. You have perverted the Word of God in order to justify yourselves and your acts before men, but God knows your hearts. By dealing unjustly with the oracles of God you have gained the esteem of men, but your acts which are highly esteemed among men are detestable in the sight of God. The law and the prophets were God’s means of dealing with Israel until John, but you have made the commandments of God ineffective by your traditions. Since John the Baptist the kingdom of God has been proclaimed, and everyone is showing great enthusiasm for it, but not you. You lock the doors of the kingdom of God against men. You will not go in yourselves, neither will you allow those who purpose to enter to go in (Matt. 23:13). But I tell you it is easier for heaven and earth to pass than for the minutest part of the law to fail. Consider this one example. It is true that God through Moses permitted divorce and gave the grounds for it. But you have degraded this in order to fulfil your own desires. You have worked out a system to get around God’s law and in your own eyes be free from the sin of adultery. Nevertheless the law stands and all who accept your teachings concerning divorce, then enters into relationship with another woman is guilty of adultery.
The interruption caused by their sneerings did not bring an end to His message. His words to His disciples are only momentarily suspended. After His direct rebuke to the Pharisees the onward flow is resumed. Other things are yet to be exposed and rebuked.
By the preposterous story about the unjust steward our Lord exposed the ridiculous practices of the Pharisees who discounted the righteous claims requirements of God. They did this in order to make friends for themselves and to perpetuate their own system. But this was only one of their absurd actions. Our Lord referred to these when He said in Mark 7:13: “And many such like things ye do”. In continuing His discourse our Lord exposes and lays bare a number of these things. They are quite evident in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Some of these are:
1. Their assumption of the position and rights that God had ordained for the king in Israel.
2. Their intrusion into the priest’s office. They had taken over the chief work of the priests --- that of teaching --- leaving the priests to perform the empty ritual.
3. The luxurious and magnificent style in which they lived at a time when most of Israel was suffering great hardship due to the Roman occupation.
4. Their shameful neglect of the poor in Israel in direct violation of God’s instructions in Deut. 15:7-11. They justified this by their teachings.
5. Their harsh treatment of sinners in Israel.
6. Their teaching that at death certain angels carried good men to a place which they called “Abraham’s bosom”, while others were taken to a place where “temporary punishments” were meted out to them “agreeable to everyone's behaviour and manners". They held that poverty and hunger were God’s punishment upon men while they were on earth, and if men accepted their punishment without complaint they would not need to pay for those sins in the future. They held that riches were a sign of God’s favour, and that poverty was evidence of His displeasure. They claimed that if they helped the poor they would be acting contrary to God.
7. The caste system which they had established in Israel and which they rigidly maintained.
8. Their idea that God would speak to them in a special way, and not in the manner in which He spoke to the common people. They were so exalted in their own minds that they rejected the idea of God speaking to them in the same signs He gave to others. This is seen in their actions of demanding a sign from heaven immediately after the Lord had fed four thousand people from a supply that was hardly enough for one man.
9. Their teaching that if a man received evil things in this life, he would receive good things in the life to come. This teaching was concocted by the rich rulers in order to keep the poor in subjection. It was a “pie in the sky” sort of doctrine which was intended to keep the hungry from demanding bread here and now. The Pharisees never followed this teaching out to all its conclusions. Our Lord in His satire made this teaching a “two way street”.
These are some of the things taught and (whenever convenient) practiced by the Pharisees. They are woven throughout the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud. Many of them will be found in the history written by Josephus. Many of them will be seen in the things censured and condemned by our Lord. These are things exposed, ridiculed, and rebuked by our Lord in the satirical story of the rich man and Lazarus.
The Rich Man and Lazarus.
Their was a certain rich man.
This character in the Lord’s story points to the aristocratic ruling class in Israel. This was composed of Pharisees, Sadducees, priests, and scribes. The word rich in Scripture does not refer exclusively to those who had money. It described a class of men, a definite caste. A place in it was usually hereditary. An idea of the general character of those in this caste can be gained from such passages as James 2:5-6 and 5:1-6. This caste system was rigidly maintained in Israel. The gulf between rich and poor had no bridges, and the rich would permit non to be built.
Which was clothed in purple.
The word purple describes a cloth which was customarily worn by kings. The kingly claims of our Lord were mocked by clothing Him in purple (John 19:2). The statement that this rich man was clothed in purple points to the fact that an aristocratic class in Israel had assumed the place of kings. They had assumed the authority while disregarding altogether the responsibilities that God had laid upon rulers in Israel. “He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God”, 2Sam. 23:3. The ruling class in Israel was tyrannical and oppressive. They were not just, they did not rule in the fear of God, and they lacked entirely the shepherd character that God expected of those who governed His people.
And fine linen.
This was the garment worn by the priests in Israel. It points to the fact that a clique in Israel controlled the priesthood and had assumed the chief prerogative of the priests, that of teaching the people. “The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat” were the Lord’s words concerning them (Matt. 23:2). His words stated a fact, but they do not admit the right of these men to Moses’ seat. They were not called to this seat as Moses had been. He assumed the seat reluctantly, but these men had assumed his seat of their own accord and were determined to hold it. They were self-appointed usurpers and acted as though their pronouncements were as binding as the revelations God gave to Moses. They taught precepts and bound them upon others but would not apply them to themselves. “They say, and do not” (Matt. 23:3).
And fared sumptuously every day.
This points to the splendid manner in which the ruling class in Israel lived. Their position shielded them from the oppression and sufferings which most Israelites had to bear because of the Roman occupation.
And there was a certain beggar.
This character is brought into the story to point to the poor in Israel. In English the word poor is used to emphasise the poverty of the person or persons so described, but in the Hebrew and Greek the prominent idea is that of the ill-treatment or miserable. Even though the poor were often, no doubt, persons in need, they were primarily those suffering from some kind of social disability or distress. Passages such as Amos 8:4, Isa. 3:14-15, 10:1-2, 32:7, Ezek. 16:49 & 22:29, show the poor to be those oppressed by a high-handed and cruel aristocracy. In the writing of the prophets we find that the wealthy, ruling classes are constantly taken to task for their cruel and unjust treatment of the poor. This had not change in the least in our Lord’s day.
The fact that this name is used is a definite part of the Lord’s satire! This name means “God a help” and it has reference to a practice that seemed to be common in Israel----that of the rich referring to God all requests by the poor for help. They would answer all requests for food and clothing with the stock phrases “Go in peace, be ye warmed, and be ye filled” and yet do nothing to fulfil these needs (James 2:15-16). These words actually mean “God will warm you, God will fill you” but the word “God” does not appear due to the fact that the Jews would not use His name in ordinary conversation!
Was laid at his gate.
A gate in Scripture was the symbol of authority. The poor in Israel were the responsibility of the rich, but the rich threw the responsibility back upon God. They would devour a widow’s property, then make long prayers to God for her help!
Full of sores.
A further description of their miserable condition, as is ever the case of the poor in an occupied and oppressed country. They suffered many wounds from the tyrannical and oppressive Roman conquerors. They also suffered deprivation from tax gatherers and lawless neighbours, and heaped upon this were the wounds they suffered from the aristocratic class in Israel. Indeed they were full of sores.
And desired to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.
There is no record of a revolt of the poor in Israel against the rich. All they ever asked for was a little easing of their hard lot, a thing well within the power of the Pharisees to grant. But they refused to fulfil the directive of God as set forth in Deut. 15:7-8.
Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
There can be no doubt but that this statement points to the fact that many merciful acts were performed for the poor in Israel by individuals in the Roman army of occupation. Cornelius was one who gave much alms to the people (Acts 10:2).
Up to this point in His story our Lord has set the stage and placed the characters upon it. Now He is going to take these characters, move them about and cause them to speak, but in harmony with the principles and teaching of the Pharisees.
All teaching in Israel was rigidly controlled by the Pharisees. No one could teach without their authority. No matter how preposterous or unfair their teaching became, no one dared to question or criticise them. What they bound upon others, none dared to bind upon them! The scribes took their precepts and repeated them parrot like to the people. This is why they spoke as those having no authority (Matt. 7:29). The scribes did not believe what they taught, but they had to teach it or risk the anger of the Pharisees.
When the Lord appeared upon earth He took their doctrines and turned them back upon them. He exposed their principles by putting into words the things they practiced. By so doing He incurred their deepest hatred.
Among their teachings was one that implied that if a man was poor and needy in this life, he would be rich in the life to come. This kept many satisfied to be poor, helped maintain the gulf between rich and poor, and spared the Pharisees the task of helping them. They intimated that if this life was filled with evil things, the life to come would be filled with good things. But this was as far as it went. They never allowed this idea to go so far as to say that if a man enjoyed good things in this life, he would receive evil things in the life to come!
The motive behind their lopsided teaching is evident. No commands in the Word of God could be plainer than those which made it the duty of the rich in Israel to care for the poor. Even the crafty Pharisees would have difficulty in explaining away such plain statements as those found in Deut. 15:7-11. So they made these words void by a tradition that made poverty to be a virtue that carried a guarantee of great bliss in the next life! By getting the people to accept even gnawing hunger as being the will of God, they saved themselves from the unpleasant duty of untying their own purse strings!
While it is only surmise it may have been that by some such teaching as this the Pharisees had committed some grave offence against one whose name was Lazarus, and this could be another reason why our Lord gave this name to the character in His story. There may have been a man who was wretchedly poor and pitifully sick. Day after day he lay upon the streets, too weak to help himself in any manner. His condition may have touched the hearts of many, but they were in no condition to help. Their sympathy and pity for him called for something to be done----but what could be done? Someone may have suggested that in view of this man’s desperate need, his case should be brought to the attention of the rulers in Israel. Certainly in view of their wealth and power they would not refuse the few crumbs required to relieve this poor man’s distress!
It may have been that a committee was sent to the Pharisees. We can imagine the fear and hesitancy that accompanied such a task, but their sympathies drove them on. So this man’s case was laid before the Pharisees.
This placed them in a difficult position. They could not deny that the poor man needed help, and they could not say they lacked the means to help him. If they bluntly refused, it would hurt them in the eyes of the people. It appeared that for once they would have to open their purses.
But, the Pharisees were masters of every situation, always ready with some teaching that would relieve them of their obligations. They probably expressed their deep compassion for the poor man, wiped away a few tears as they did so. This always made a good impression. They recounted with sorrow how his whole life had been one of poverty, filled with evil things. But, said they, better times were sure to come soon for him. He had received his evil things in life, and this signified that he would get his good things in the life to come. Why, then, should they go against God, and change the wretched state of this man when that very state presaged a better state in the next life!
If the people saw the contradictions in teaching such as this, they dared not state it, for the Pharisees were in authority and the common people never questioned or answered back. They may have reasoned within themselves that if evil things were the guarantee of good things in the future life, then good things in this life must signify evil things in the future life. However, if they did reason after this manner they never expressed it. Few there were who dared to brave the wrath of a Pharisee (see John 12:42-43). Thus the Pharisees protected their wealth and position by leading the people to believe that poverty was a cardinal virtue. But it was a virtue which no Pharisee cared to possess!
When the greatest of all teachers appeared on earth, He was not afraid of them. They demanded to know of His authority to teach them, but He refused to tell them. In His censure of them He took their own teachings, held them accountable for their idle words, judged them out of their own mouths, and bound upon them what they had laid upon others! He, by means of satirical stories, developed their teaching to all its logical conclusions and forced upon them all its consequences. If one position was to be reversed in the life to come, then all positions were to be reversed. If the poor were to be rich, then rich should be poor. If a man on the good side of a great gulf in this life, then he should be on the evil side in the life to come. This is the situation we find in the second part of the story of the rich man and Lazarus. Our Lord caused all actors to move and be in complete harmony with the teachings and principles of the Pharisees. The result is most startling, especially so when dead men begin to act and talk!
And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.
This is the way it would take place according to the traditions held by the Pharisees. To keep this idea from being preposterous, men have been forced to insert here the idea of a disembodied soul or a disembodied spirit. But such things are unknown to the Word of God. There is no hint of soul or spirit in the words of our Lord. That which lived died, and that which died was carried by the angels. Our Lord was not revealing here what happens at death. He is exposing a teaching of the Pharisees about the angels carrying the dead to a place they called Abraham’s bosom. This is a thing and place that is unknown in the Word of God. But, it was not unknown to the traditions of the Pharisees, as the Talmud and the writings of Josephus give abundant witness.
The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell (Hades) he lifted up his eyes being in torments.
The one who died was buried, and the one who was buried is set forth as being tormented in Hades. Since no one has been able to tell us how he got out of the grave and into a place of torment, men are forced to insert here some vague idea about a soul. This statement makes no more sense than if I should say “that a certain man died, and was buried, and in the penitentiary he was found in solitary confinement”. This cannot be true. Our Lord is not presenting the story of the rich man in harmony with the truth, but in full harmony with the traditions of the Pharisees about the transmigration of souls. From Genesis 1 to Luke 16 there is no Biblical record anywhere of a man being anywhere after death except in the tomb, God’s word to Adam was:
In the sweat of your face shall you eat bread, until you return to the ground; for out of it were you taken; for you are dust, and unto dust you shall return, Gen. 3:19.
In view of these words anyone who believes that Adam is anywhere except in the dust of the earth does not believe this declaration of God!
And seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
This is the way it would be according to the teaching of the Pharisees, so this is the way the Lord presents it in His story.
And he cried and said, 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.
This presents a conclusion which the Pharisees never included in their teaching. Since on earth Lazarus begged for crumbs, then in Hades the rich man is seen begging for a drop of water. The ideas about Abraham’s bosom, the rich man’s eyes, Lazarus’ finger, the rich man’s tongue all serve to heighten the satirical story told by our Lord!
But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things: and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, what would come from thence.
In answer to his plea for a few drops of water, Abraham is presented as setting forth all the Pharisaic traditions about the poor becoming rich in the life to come. His answer is pure gibberish. It could have no possible bearing upon why the poor man was where he was or why the rich man was in his condition. It is completely foreign to the truth about the grace of God which alone fits a sinner for blessing in the life to come. And it denies the justice of God, since it presents a man suffering simply because in his lifetime he received good things. Yet it is all in harmony with Pharisaic teaching. Furthermore, if the caste system were God’s will for earth, it should continue after death. So, our Lord presented it in this manner, but He placed the rich on the evil side of the gulf. This is the way it would have been if the Pharisaic tradition about the reversal of positions in regard to the poor were true.
Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
This request by the rich man points to another attitude assumed by the Pharisees which also needs to be exposed and rebuked. Their place as a privileged class in Israel caused them to feel that they were not required to believe the evidences given to ordinary men. "A sign from heaven”, was the demand they made of the Lord Jesus (Matt. 16:1). They imply the signs He has hitherto wrought are insufficient, and their position requires that they be granted some special sign which in outward grandeur will exceed all other signs that He has wrought. This false attitude is exposed by the words the Lord puts upon the lips of Abraham.
Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
This was the divine provision for all in Israel, high and low, rich and poor. If men believe Moses, they would have believed Christ (John 5:46).
And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
The rich man declares that the written word is not sufficient, but if one comes to them from the dead, they will repent.
And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.
The Pharisees are here exposed for their superstitions. This man knows that while his brothers do not believe the Word of God, he is sure they will respond if one returned from the dead. There will always be those who will give credence to every strange portent, but refuse to give any credence to the sacred Scriptures. As in the case of a woman who attended a séance and claims her dead husband materialised as a bubble, telling her many wonderful things. She readily believed this bubble, but refuses to believe the Bible. There are many who would gladly listen to a ghost, but who will not listen to the Word of God. Superstition and unbelief always go hand in hand.
With the statement that since they had failed to hear the written Word, no miracle would persuade them to believe, our Lord ended His long battle with the Pharisees. His satirical story has reached its end. The Pharisees are stripped naked by it. Their exposure is complete. They can make no answer. Any attempt to reply will only reveal that His satire is understood, that it has reached its mark. Their sole hope now is to retire from the open field of battle, then seek more devious ways of silencing Him.
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a divinely inspired satire. Its study is a study of a satire that was spoken by God. It is as much the Word of God as any other portion of Scripture. It was not given for the purpose of teaching men about the ways and works of God. Its purpose was to turn the light upon the Pharisees. It is not the place to go to find what our Lord taught about death, the state of the dead, future punishment, or future bliss.
It Is Not the Gospel
An objection is anticipated. Some will say that to treat this portion as a satire is to offer an interpretation that is so complex that it puts it beyond the reach of the simple, unsophisticated seeker of God’s truth. But is not this also true when Luke 16 is treated as historical narrative?
This story is not “the Gospel”. The Gospel concerns “His Son Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 1:3) and Christ is not even referred to in this story. This is not the place to bring an honest seeker who is looking for the Saviour, neither is it the place to bring the simple believer who desires to learn more about God and Christ. The story was aimed at the sneering, unbeliving, self-righteous Pharisees. When handled rightly it still carries a powerful message to all such today.
From the above there is clearly wrong teaching on this subject worldwide. Almost every pulpit will expound this so called ‘Parable’ as the word of the Lord to mankind, and in its most severe and uncompromising form. It seems to confirm eternal punishment, the survival of the ‘soul’ after death, the existence of hell, punishment for being rich, eternal bliss for being poor etc!
Nothing is said about the person’s life behaviour, the focus of their heart, i.e. towards truth, God, and His Christ, and His Calvary Sacrifice for the Sin of the world.
It is clear from the Pharisees teachings that to be rich was sure condemnation, which put many of the great men of God in the Old Testament into hell, just by their birth; and most of the Pharisees!
The origin of their teachings is old Babylon, many of which have also been adopted by the Roman Church, and were always for the control of the populous, and the elevation and advantage of the ruling class.
It is clearly nonsense as our Lord was showing in His satire, and the comments by Otis Sellers, Dr. Bullinger and many other Bible commentators elucidate our Lord’s intentions in His satirization of this and other of the Pharisees teachings!
The fact that so many churches and groups teach that this story is proof of hell etc. says much about their motives, and/ or lack of quality of their leaders! The lies regarding the ‘eternal soul’, hell etc., all originate with our great enemy Satan, who started the ball rolling in Eden and his approach to Eve followed by Adam; he stated to Eve, “Ye shall not surely die”, Gen. 3:4.
There is severe warning for “shepherds”, i.e. those in charge of teaching and controlling congregations etc. In Ezk. 34 the punishments are manifest for false shepherds (teachers), as regarding Israel with many references also in Isa. and Jer. However; those same warnings apply to Christendom leaders, see also link below “The Gross Neglect By Church Leaders".
The antidote to this great invasion by Satan into the Creation of Eden is the Curse by God of Satan in Gen. 3:14-15, which has been undertaken by Jesus The Christ at Calvary 2000 years ago; and will find its fulfilment at the end of Millennial when He hands the finished work back to the Father. All that a person can do to find salvation and eternal life now, is to believe on Him who died for the sin of the world; John 3:16!
The following Links deal in more detail with the subjects mentioned.