The rich man and Lazarus : two lives and two eternally opposed destinies

(Luke 16.19-31)

Arnaud Weulassagou

Today we’re continuing our series in Luke, in Luke 16.19-31.

This is the story of the rich man and Lazarus. As we have read, the text tells the story of two men with different destinies on earth, then in Eternity.

The first man is named Lazarus, a very poor man on earth: he lacks the bare minimum. He dies one day, he finds himself in the afterlife, and there he is comforted. He knows neither poverty nor suffering.

The second man is very rich. He has a good life on earth. In the text he is known simply as “the rich man”. But he dies one day, he passes into the hereafter, and there he finds himself in total denouement and suffering.

Two individuals, will two very different destinies. One will go from a state where he was rich and comfortable to a state where he will be in destitution and suffering; and the other passes from a state where he was poor and in suffering to a state where he knows no more suffering or poverty.

To understand the meaning of this story, and the reason why Luke relates this parable of Jesus now, it is necessary to situate the history in its context.

We started the study of chapter 16 two weeks ago.

And as we saw two weeks ago, Jesus was talking about the management of money. In particular, it showed that it was wiser for a man to use his money for eternal purposes. rather than for ephemeral purposes.

The story the Lord is telling today is in the same vein. He continues His teaching on material wealth, emphasizing eternal life.

The story told by the Lord Jesus is not meant to show that one must be charitable with one's goods and share with the poor (even if it is true), but the story told by the Lord is meant to show that it is completely useless to possess all the goods of the world and to lose one's soul.

I suggest we go through the text to understand the teaching of Jesus through this story.

Life on earth: Joy and abundance for the rich, sufferings for the poor

19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

This man has everything a human being needs in this life: material comfort, probably the recognition of society: his everyday life is described as joyous.

When I look at the people who are in our church, even if we do not define ourselves as rich, the vast majority of us, from a material point of view, are closer to the rich than to the poor.

We live in Île-de-France, some of us in Paris. A city where the emphasis is on academic excellence, professional success and pleasure. Paris is its big schools, its big companies, and also its bars, its good restaurants and its beautiful apartments.

I think that in the city where we live, the average person leads a “joyous” life. I come from another culture, from another country. And I can say that here in Paris we are in contact with great comfort and luxury. On a daily basis, from an earthly point of view, we are in contact every day with a life that could be described as happy.

Joyful because of your studies, your jobs, the recognition you receive from people, etc.

And another common point with the rich person of this story is that every day in Paris, on our way, we meet poor people.

20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.

Lazarus is described as a man who lives in total destitution. He is so hungry that he just wants the crumbs of the rich. He knows the end and the disease, his body is covered with ulcers.

The men who pass by him no longer feel compassion for him. And it is the dogs who have compassion on him and come to try to heal his wounds, licking his ulcers.

One commentator noted that in the style with which Jesus tells this story, it may be a parable, but it may be a true story.

Lazarus will finally die, probably his life shortened by his suffering. But the rich man will die too.

death: for the rich and the poor

22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried…

Jesus tells us about the death of the poor man first.

The poor nearly always die before the rich. According to an INSEE statistic, those who are among the 5% of the richest people in France live an average of 13 years longer than those who belong to the 5% of the poorest people.

Once I bought a cheap mattress, because I had no money. Then I experienced sleeping on a more comfortable mattress of good quality. I just felt a difference when I woke up, I felt better. This mattress was destroying my back and I did not even know it. I was in a better mood after sleeping in comfort. I thought to myself,   For sure the first mattress has shortened my life by a few weeks. 

The truth is that when you live in financial ease, you can improve your quality of life (sleep, quality food, medical care, etc.) and it has an impact on the duration of your life, according to statistics ...

Poor Lazarus is very far from having the means to eat properly, or to go to the doctor in case of illness.

And so he probably dies before the rich man.

22   [...] The rich man also died and was buried.

The money and material comfort of the rich man may have allowed him to live longer than Lazarus, but in the end he can not extend his life indefinitely. Even with a lot of money every man is called to die one day.

And that's what happens to the rich man: he dies, just like everyone else.

The Lord specifies that the rich man was buried. This was not the case of poor Lazarus, which probably indicates that he (the rich man) was entitled to a ceremony for his death.

Because of his social status, he probably had a great reputation and many friends who did his funeral.

But both are now in the afterlife.

The Hereafter, or the eternal home

The Rich Man: Torment and Suffering

23 …and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

The rich man is dead, he was buried, and the continuation of his existence is in hell.

What is happening in hell? He was tormented.

The Lord takes advantage of this story to recall what happens to those who have died.

In verse 24, it says   : "   

24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’

As I pondered this passage, I often thought of several passages in the Bible that describe the fact that the earth is filled with God, or the glory of God.

In Isaiah 6.3, the earth is filled with the glory of God. in Psalm 33.5, the goodness of God fills the earth. The goodness of God is the generosity of God, the good things God gives.

The glory of God is seen in all beautiful things in nature. In Genesis, it is said that he created the sun, he saw that it was good, the same for water, marine animals, mammals and so on.

But now the rich man is in Hell!

Hell is the place where the goodness of God is absent. No more light, no more greenery...not even a drop of water.

In general, the deeper your need is, the less you need to satisfy yourself. The rich man in hell does not ask for a glass of water, but just a drop.

The Lord showing us how deep his need is: TOTAL separation from God, in which there is no longer any enjoyment of the good things He gives.

The rich man has benefited from the goodness of God on earth ... But now he will never benefit from it again ... not even a drop of water.

... that's what Abraham tells him when he asks for a drop of water.

25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 

We understand that the rich man is not alone in the place where he is.

But we also understand that he and those who are in this place will have no savior, no one will come to their rescue. Nobody will even come to relieve their suffering.

27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ” 

Seeing that there is no hope for him anymore, the rich man tries to plead the cause of his family. He wants to send them an emissary from beyond.

But Abraham is adamant ... The only way to escape hell is by listening to the Word of God revealed through the prophets and by believing in them.

Lazarus: Comfort and Joy

22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side.

Like the rich, poor Lazarus also dies.

But unlike the rich, a special event occurs. As he passes to the immaterial and invisible side of existence, angels come to carry him... He does not descend directly into the grave, but while he goes down angels come to carry him off.

A bit like in a superhero movie, there is an innocent citizen who falls several floors, and the last tenth of a second before landing, when he is only 10 cm from the ground, the superhero flies to save him, and catches him with one arm.

23  [...] he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

All who are saved are blessed in Abraham. It is in a certain way through Abraham that God made a covenant with all men. It is in the seed of Abraham that God has promised to send a messiah to men.

The rich man went daily to Lazarus.

It turns out that Lazarus was a believer, a son of God.

And if the rich man had a little humility, he could have with his wealth become a friend of this son of God, and who knows if he too would not have believed in God, and if he would not have been welcomed by Abraham.


For the Rich

A few verses before this story, two weeks ago, we read this:

Luke 16.9:

"And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. 

The insight that the rich man did not have, and that men do not have a natural way, was to consider that he was mortal. The rich man was blinded by his temporal comfort.

And this is the danger against which the Lord Jesus wants to warn his audience, which included his disciples.

At no place does the Lord ask people to give up their riches if they have any, but rather to serve God with their wealth, as opposed to devoting their life to seeking wealth.

In Luke 16.13:

No servant can serve two masters, for 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 God and money.” 

Everything is good, as long as it is done / received with thanksgiving (1Tim. 4.4); whether we eat or drink, we must do all things for the glory of God. (Gratefully receive, consider our ways to walk in obedience to His Word, keep our hearts in what He has done for us to love him more than anything).

Priority: evangelism or social action?

The Word of God does indeed call us to be generous and to help the needy around us.

John Piper said that to really love someone is to try to find a solution to their problem—their immediate, material problem, yes, but most especially, their real, eternal problem. If we really love men, we must try to find a solution to their most urgent and serious problem: the salvation of their souls.

Even the rich man in hell understands what the priority for his family on earth should be: that they change their attitude towards God:

30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

To have Jesus and nothing else is to have everything.

The moral of the story is not that the poor will go to heaven ... Being poor is not a condition to go to heaven. The poor will not go to heaven simply because they are poor.

Proverbs 6: 30-31 :  30  People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, 31 but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house. 

If poor Lazarus is in Paradise, it is because he went there in the only way: by faith in Jesus.

But the Lord took the case of this poor man to the extreme to better highlight the contrast and show how much the fact of owning wealth on earth is ultimately little compared to the blessing of knowing Christ.