Luke 16 – The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Reading Time: 7 Minutes

At the end of the parable of the Dishonest Manager, Jesus said: “And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth so that when it is gone, they may welcome you into the eternal homes” (Luke 16.9).

The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus tells the story of what happens to people who use their wealth only for themselves and not for God and other people.

The Parable and Notes

As in other blog articles, we will study the parable in sections and consider a few notes along the way to help us better understand it.

Verses 19-21“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.”

To be dressed in purple was a sign of great wealth. Purple garments were dyed with sea snails and were quite expensive.

The rich man and his friends ate with their hands. They used bread to wipe their hands, like people use napkins today, then discarded the bread by throwing it under the table.

The gate of the rich man’s estate was closed to Lazarus. It pictured the closed heart of the rich man to the needs of a poor man.

The common belief was that the rich were blessed of God and the poor were cursed because of some sin that they had committed.

Lazarus was considered ritually unclean because of the running sores on his body. In addition, he was so weak that he couldn’t fend off scavenger dogs who licked his sores.

Lazarus literally means, “God cares.” Lazarus may have been poor and miserable, but God cared for him. His poverty was not a curse.

Verses 22-23“The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.”

The parable pictures Lazarus being welcomed “into the eternal homes” (Luke 16.9) as in the previous parable. He was carried by the angels to be with Abraham.

In a clear reversal of fortunes, the rich man found himself in Hades, the realm of the dead.

Some older translations refer to Hades as “hell.” That is an unfortunate translation and may give the wrong idea to the reader.

Hell translates the word, “Gehenna,” and refers to a dump outside of Jerusalem where garbage was burned. Hades is the realm of the dead.

Verses 24-26 “He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

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

“‘Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.'”

The purpose of this parable is not to give a complete picture of what happens after death. Jesus told the parable to shock and confront, so that people will change their attitudes and actions toward life.

Even though we cannot formulate a picture of heaven and hell from these verses, they should alert and warn us that judgment is real and our behavior is important.

The reversal of fortunes is evident. A gate kept Lazarus from the presence of the rich man and a “great chasm” kept the rich man from the comfort of Lazarus’ eternal home.

Lazarus would have gladly eaten the bread that was used by the rich man to wipe his hands. Now, the rich man would be happy with a drop of water.

What Jesus pictured by the parable was similar to what he said earlier in plain language. Following the parable of the Dishonest Manager, Luke records this exchange between Jesus and the Pharisees.

“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. So he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God'” (Luke 16.14-15).

Both parables in this chapter and Jesus’ confrontation with the Pharisees lets us know that what humans value so highly – money and luxurious living – is an abomination to God.

Our investment in the poor is a good investment, one that has eternal benefits.

Verses 27-31“He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house — for I have five brothers — that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

“Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

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 listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

The rich man recognized his wrong, but it was too late. Building on the parable of the Dishonest Manager, he was not wise nor quick-thinking with regard to his wealth and he suffered for it.

The dialogue with Abraham adds another insight from the parable. It is important to respond to the message of the Scriptures.

In the rich man’s case, he had ample evidence of the right behavior from Moses and the prophets to not horde money or live in the self-centered consumption of goods.

Application to Today

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) lived in an area of France that was on the border of Germany and Switzerland. He was a gifted organist, professor, and theologian.

At the age of 30 in 1905, he began a study of medicine in order to go to Africa as a missionary doctor. When Schweitzer was asked why he changed his career as an academic and musician, he pointed to the parable we have studied today.

Schweitzer was convinced that people in what we call today, “third world nations,” were the “Lazarus” outside the gates of “first world nations.” He made it his life’s work to open the “gate” and care for the people whom God cares for.

All of us are called to open the “gate” of our closed hearts and realize that possessions are not for our own use. God has entrusted them to us as his managers, who are to use them wisely according to his purposes.

About This Blog

Klyne Snodgrass has devoted 12 years of study to produce the book, Stories With Intent. His book is recognized as the best book on the parables in print. I am indebted to Dr. Snodrass’ work that helps shape my articles.

If you have a prayer request, please email me at bsprad49@gmail.com or private message me on Facebook. I will pray for you and so will the prayer team at Maywood Baptist Church.

2 Comments

  1. It is poignant that the rich man is told that even if his family saw someone rise from the dead, they would not be convinced. Just as the truth that Jesus rose from the grave will not bring everyone to saving faith.

    The Scriptures seem so clear to me….but there are so many who won’t accept Truth until the chasm between is permanent. How tragic!

    Liked by 1 person

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