Exploring The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus | Bible Study #12

Parables Bible Study #12 – The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Pastor Duke Taber

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Introduction

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, found in the Gospel of Luke, is a powerful story that Jesus tells to illustrate the consequences of living a life focused on wealth and self-indulgence, while neglecting the needs of others. This parable comes as part of a series of teachings that Jesus gives on the dangers of materialism and the importance of using worldly resources for eternal purposes.

Through this parable, Jesus contrasts the earthly lives and eternal destinies of two men: a rich man who lives in luxury and a poor man named Lazarus who suffers at his gate. In doing so, Jesus challenges our assumptions about wealth, poverty, and what it means to be blessed by God.

As we study this parable, may we be reminded of the fleeting nature of earthly riches and the eternal value of compassion and generosity. May we be challenged to examine our own lives and priorities, and to use the resources God has given us to bless others and invest in eternity. And may we find our ultimate hope and security not in wealth, but in the promises of God’s word and the grace of His Son.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What comes to mind when you think of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?
  2. Have you ever struggled with the tension between material wealth and spiritual priorities? What was that experience like?
Parables Bible Study #12 - The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

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The Context

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus appears in a section of Luke’s Gospel where Jesus is teaching about the right use of money and possessions. This section, sometimes called the “Travel Narrative” (Luke 9:51-19:27), describes Jesus’ journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, where He will face His crucifixion.

Immediately preceding the parable, Jesus tells the Parable of the Dishonest Manager (Luke 16:1-13), which teaches the importance of using worldly wealth shrewdly for eternal purposes. He concludes that parable by saying, “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Luke 16:13).

The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, ridiculed Jesus for this teaching (Luke 16:14). Jesus responds by saying, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight” (Luke 16:15).

It is in this context of confronting the Pharisees’ love of money and self-justification that Jesus tells the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The parable serves as a vivid illustration of the eternal consequences of living for wealth and self while neglecting the needs of others.

The parable also reflects a theme that is prominent throughout Luke’s Gospel: the reversal of fortunes in God’s Kingdom. Throughout Luke, Jesus emphasizes that the Kingdom of God often inverts worldly standards of success and status. The poor, the hungry, and the persecuted are blessed, while the rich, the well-fed, and the popular face woe (e.g., Luke 6:20-26).

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus illustrates this reversal in stark terms. The rich man, who had everything in life, finds himself in torment in Hades, while Lazarus, who had nothing, is comforted in Abraham’s bosom. Their earthly statuses are completely inverted in eternity.

As we study this parable, it’s important to keep in mind this broader context of Jesus’ teaching on wealth and the values of God’s Kingdom. The parable is not just a lesson about the afterlife but a challenge to our earthly priorities and a call to align our lives with God’s eternal perspective.

Reflection Questions:

  1. Why do you think Jesus told this parable in the context of confronting the Pharisees’ love of money?
  2. How does the theme of reversal in Luke’s Gospel shed light on the meaning of the parable?

The Story

The parable begins by introducing two characters: a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus. The rich man is described as dressing in purple and fine linen and living in luxury every day. Lazarus, on the other hand, is a beggar who is laid at the rich man’s gate, covered with sores. He longs to eat what falls from the rich man’s table, and even the dogs come and lick his sores.

The scene then shifts to the afterlife. Lazarus dies and is carried by the angels to

Abraham’s side (literally, Abraham’s bosom). The rich man also dies and is buried. In Hades, where he is in torment, he looks up and sees Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

The rich man calls out, “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). But Abraham replies, “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. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:25-26).

The rich man then pleads with Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his five brothers, so that they will not also come to this place of torment. But Abraham says, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them” (Luke 16:29).

The rich man insists, saying, “No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent” (Luke 16:30). But Abraham replies, “If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31).

The parable ends here, leaving the rich man in torment and Lazarus comforted in Abraham’s bosom. The reversal of their earthly situations is complete and permanent, and the rich man’s plea for his brothers is denied.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What details in the parable stand out to you, and why?
  2. How does the dialogue between the rich man and Abraham in the afterlife add to the meaning of the parable?

The Characters

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus features two main characters whose earthly lives and eternal destinies are contrasted. By examining these characters, we can gain insight into the spiritual principles that Jesus is teaching.

The Rich Man

The rich man in the parable is not given a name, but he is described in terms of his wealth and luxury. He wears purple and fine linen, expensive materials that were associated with royalty and nobility. He feasts sumptuously every day, indicating a lifestyle of indulgence and excess.

Notably, the rich man is not described as wicked or evil. There is no mention of him acquiring his wealth through dishonest means or actively oppressing the poor. His fault seems to be not in his wealth itself, but in his indifference to the suffering of Lazarus at his gate.

The rich man’s neglect of Lazarus is a violation of the command to love one’s neighbor as oneself (Leviticus 19:18), which Jesus identified as one of the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:39). It reveals a heart that is unmoved by the plight of others and unwilling to share the blessings of wealth.

In the afterlife, the rich man finds himself in Hades, a place of torment. His suffering is described in physical terms (he is in agony in the flames), but it also has a relational dimension. He is separated from Abraham and Lazarus by a great chasm that cannot be crossed.

The rich man’s request for Lazarus to cool his tongue with water is a striking reversal of their earthly relationship. On earth, the rich man gave Lazarus nothing, not even the crumbs from his table. In Hades, he desires even the smallest relief from Lazarus. But it is too late; his destiny is sealed.

The rich man’s concern for his brothers suggests that he now recognizes the error of his earthly life. He wants them to be warned so that they will not share his fate. However, Abraham’s response indicates that they have already been warned through the scriptures (Moses and the Prophets). If they have not heeded that warning, even someone rising from the dead would not convince them.

The rich man thus represents those who, in their earthly lives, are so focused on their own comfort and pleasure that they neglect the needs of others. He illustrates the danger of allowing wealth to blind us to the suffering around us and to harden our hearts to compassion. His fate is a sobering warning about the eternal consequences of such a life.

Lazarus

Lazarus, unlike the rich man, is given a name in the parable. His name means “God has helped,” which is significant given his destitute condition. Despite his suffering, his name suggests that God has not forgotten him.

Lazarus is described as a beggar who is laid at the rich man’s gate. He is covered with sores, suggesting disease or disability. He longs to eat even the crumbs that fall from the rich man’s table, indicating his desperate hunger. The dogs that lick his sores add to the picture of his misery and degradation.

Despite his physical proximity to the rich man, Lazarus is socially and economically far removed from him. The gate at which he lies represents the barrier between their worlds. Lazarus is dependent on the charity of others, but the rich man gives him nothing.

However, in the afterlife, Lazarus’ situation is reversed. He is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom, a place of comfort and rest. His earthly sufferings are over, and he is now in a position of intimacy and favor with Abraham, the father of the faithful.

When the rich man appeals to Abraham for relief, Abraham points to the reversal of their situations as a matter of justice. Lazarus received bad things in his earthly life, but now he is comforted. The rich man received good things, but now he is in agony.

Lazarus thus represents those who suffer in this life, whether from poverty, illness, or oppression. He embodies the Beatitude, “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God” (Luke 6:20). His reward in the afterlife is not a compensation for his earthly poverty but a vindication of his faith and a restoration of his dignity as a child of God.

At the same time, Lazarus’ story is not a glorification of poverty itself. It is not his poverty that saves him, but his faith. His name, “God has helped,” points to his reliance on God in the midst of his suffering. In this sense, he represents all who trust in God, regardless of their earthly circumstances.

Reflection Questions:

  1. In what ways can you identify with the rich man in the parable? In what ways can you identify with Lazarus?
  2. What do you think the great chasm between Lazarus and the rich man represents?

The Reversal of Fortune

One of the key themes in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is the reversal of fortune in the afterlife. The earthly situations of the two men are completely inverted in eternity: the rich man is in torment, while Lazarus is comforted.

This reversal is not arbitrary but is presented as a matter of divine justice. Abraham points out that the rich man received his good things in life, while Lazarus received bad things. Now, in the afterlife, Lazarus is comforted and the rich man is in agony.

This theme of reversal is prominent throughout Luke’s Gospel. In the Magnificat, Mary sings of God bringing down rulers from their thrones and lifting up the humble, filling the hungry with good things and sending the rich away empty (Luke 1:52-53). In the Sermon on the Plain, Jesus pronounces blessings on the poor, the hungry, and the mourning, and woes on the rich, the well-fed, and the laughing (Luke 6:20-26).

The reversal in the parable, then, is not just about the specific individuals involved but about the values and priorities of God’s Kingdom. It reveals that God’s perspective on wealth, poverty, and blessing is often very different from the world’s perspective.

In the world’s eyes, the rich man was blessed and successful. He had everything that people typically strive for: wealth, luxury, comfort. Lazarus, on the other hand, was a failure, a nobody. He had nothing in the world’s eyes, not even his health.

But in God’s eyes, it is Lazarus who is truly blessed. His poverty and suffering did not indicate God’s disfavor but were an opportunity for faith and reliance on God. In the end, it is Lazarus who is honored and comforted, while the rich man is in agony.

This does not mean that poverty itself is a virtue or that all who are wealthy are condemned. The Bible includes examples of righteous rich people, such as Abraham and Job. The issue is not wealth per se but the attitude towards wealth and the use of it.

The rich man’s fault was not in his wealth but in his indifference to the suffering of Lazarus. He used his wealth for his own pleasure and comfort, neglecting the opportunity to bless others. His wealth had become his god, blinding him to the needs of his neighbor.

Lazarus, on the other hand, is not presented as righteous because of his poverty but because of his faith. Despite his suffering, he trusted in God. His reward in the afterlife is a vindication of that faith and a restoration of the dignity that was denied him on earth.

The reversal in the parable, then, is a warning against finding security and identity in earthly wealth and status. It is a call to use the resources we have been given to bless others and to store up treasures in heaven. It is a reminder that God’s view of success and blessing is often upside down from the world’s view.

At the same time, the reversal offers hope to those who suffer in this life. It assures them that God sees their plight and that their present sufferings are not the final word. It points to a future where all wrongs will be made right and where those who trust in God will be comforted and honored.

Ultimately, the reversal in the parable points to the great reversal that Jesus Himself would undergo. He who was rich became poor for our sake, humbling Himself to the point of death on a cross. But God raised Him up and exalted Him to the highest place, so that at His name every knee will bow (Philippians 2:5-11). In Christ, we see the ultimate reversal, the ultimate victory of God’s justice and grace.

Reflection Questions:

  1. How does the reversal in the parable challenge your own assumptions about wealth, poverty, and God’s blessing?
  2. In what practical ways can you use the resources God has given you to bless others and invest in eternity?

The Sufficiency of Scripture

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus thus affirms the primacy and sufficiency of scripture while also pointing forward to the central event of the gospel: the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It suggests that if we do not believe on the basis of God’s word, even the resurrection of the dead will not convince us.

This has significant implications for evangelism and apologetics. While it is certainly appropriate to use arguments and evidences to support the truth of the gospel, ultimately faith comes through the proclamation of the word of God and the work of the Holy Spirit. Our task is to faithfully declare the message of scripture, trusting that it has the power to convict and convert.

It also has implications for our own spiritual growth and maturity. We do not need to seek after spectacular experiences or direct revelations to know God and grow in our faith. We have been given the treasure of God’s word, which is able to make us wise for salvation and equip us for every good work. Our task is to diligently study, meditate on, and obey the scriptures, allowing them to shape our minds, hearts, and lives.

Of course, this does not mean that the scriptures are always easy to understand or apply. We need the illumination of the Holy Spirit and the guidance of the church to rightly interpret and apply God’s word. But it does mean that we can have confidence that the Bible contains all that we need for faith and life, and that it is the ultimate authority for the believer.

In a world that is often skeptical of the Bible’s authority and sufficiency, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a powerful reminder of the centrality of God’s word. It challenges us to base our lives on the solid foundation of scripture, trusting in its promises and obeying its commands. And it points us to the ultimate Word made flesh, Jesus Christ, in whom all the promises of God find their Yes and Amen (2 Corinthians 1:20).

Reflection Questions:

  1. How does the rich man’s plea for Lazarus to return from the dead reflect a misunderstanding of faith?
  2. In what ways can you grow in your confidence in the sufficiency and authority of scripture?

Conclusion

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a sobering and challenging story that confronts us with the realities of eternity and the consequences of our earthly choices. It reminds us that our ultimate destiny is not determined by our wealth, status, or comfort in this life, but by our response to God and our treatment of others.

The parable warns us against finding our security and identity in material abundance while neglecting the needs of those around us. It challenges us to use the resources God has given us not for our own indulgence but for the blessing of others and the advance of His Kingdom. It calls us to a generosity and compassion that reflects the heart of God.

At the same time, the parable offers hope to those who suffer and struggle in this life. It assures us that God sees our plight and that our present sufferings are not the final word. It points us to a future reversal, where those who trust in God will be comforted and vindicated, and where all wrongs will be made right.

Ultimately, the parable points us to Jesus Christ, the One who though He was rich, yet for our sake became poor, so that by His poverty we might become rich (2 Corinthians 8:9). In His life, death, and resurrection, Jesus embodied the great reversal, humbling Himself to the point of death on a cross, but then being exalted to the highest place. Through faith in Him, we can experience our own reversal, passing from death to life, from condemnation to justification, from poverty of spirit to the riches of His grace.

As we reflect on this parable, may we be challenged to examine our own lives and priorities in light of eternity. May we be moved to compassion and generosity towards those in need, using our earthly resources for eternal purposes. May we find our security and hope not in the fleeting riches of this world but in the unchanging promises of God’s word.

And may we cling ever closer to Jesus Christ, the true treasure, in whom are hidden all the riches of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3). May we hear and believe the good news of His death and resurrection, the ultimate proof of God’s love and the ultimate reversal of the world’s values. And may we live each day in the light of eternity, eagerly awaiting the full revelation of His glory and the final restoration of all things.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What is one key takeaway or insight you have gained from studying the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?
  2. How can you apply the truths of this parable to your own life and priorities this week?
  3. Take a moment to pray, asking God to give you a heart of compassion and generosity, and to help you live in light of eternity.

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