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THE RICH MAN and LAZARUS
(This story is found in Luke 16:19-31)
Alfred Edersheim says of this teaching by Jesus,
"The Parable itself is strictly of the Pharisees and their relation to the 'publicans and sinners' whom they despised, and to whose stewardship they opposed thoughts of their own proprietorship. With infinite wisdom and depth the Parable tells in two directions: in regard to their selfish use of the literal riches – their covetousness – and in regard to their selfish use of the figurative riches: their Pharisaic righteousness, which left poor Lazarus at their door to the dogs and to famine, not bestowing on him aught from their supposed rich festive banquets" (The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Vol. II, Wm B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1953, p 277).
First, note that vs. 19 starts out in a similar way that Jesus' discourse does in 16:1, "Now there was a certain rich man..." I suggest that as vs. 1 begins a parable, so does vs. 19.
Now observe that in vs. 15 He is speaking to the Pharisees of vs. 14. In response to their deriding Him, "Consequently He said unto them..." So I concur that vs. 19 begins a parable directed at the Pharisees, as Edersheim asserts, above. Thus, we should consider this context: the Pharisees were still present and although it would seem that vs. 16-18 are not on the surface related to what goes before them or to what follows, a closer look will reveal that Jesus is still speaking about the Pharisees in these three verses, preparing the setting for His next parable. His last statement in vs. 13 evoked their reaction to Him in vs. 14. Verses 16-17 are building another case against them which climaxes in vs. 18 with a charge that what they were doing was in fact causing a part of the Law "to fall." Jesus is in vs. 18 condemning the then-current practices of the male-dominated marriage/divorce arrangements of those who followed the school of Hillel, which taught that a man could divorce his wife "for any reason." But now let us proceed to look at the features of this "story" of the rich man, and Lazarus.
The story has nothing to say about belief in Jesus as the Christ, or even about faith in God.
The story does not say the rich man was bad or evil, or that Lazarus was good or righteous.
Vs. 25 has Abraham saying,
"'Child (or: Born one; or: Descendant), be reminded that within your life (or: lifetime) you took away (or: received from; or: got in
full) your good things (or: the good things that pertain to you; the good things that had their source in you), and Lazarus likewise the bad things (the [experiences] of poor quality; the worthless things; the harmful and injurious [treatments]; the [conditions] as
they ought not to be). But at the present time, here he continues being called alongside and given relief, aid, comfort and consolation, yet you
yourself continue being given pain.'"
Is this "the plan of salvation"? Is this teaching a simple reversal of situations in the next life? Does it mean that
only the destitute and miserable get saved and the rich go to hell? Of course not! So let's consider these two figures. We see in vs. 24 that the rich man said,
"Father Abraham." Likewise, we saw that Abraham acknowledges him as his "child" in vs. 25. This identifies him as a Jew, and this is the figure he plays in this parable. The rich man is a figure of the Jews
(specifically, the Pharisees).
I suggest that Lazarus is a figure of either the "outcasts" (or: sinners) of Israel, as the Pharisees considered them – since they were considered to be unclean, and he was covered with sores and attended by dogs (figure of the Samaritans or pagans, in the eyes of the Pharisees) – or he is a figure of the non-Jews, to whom the Good News was soon to come. These two men are two classes of people, and they represent how the self-righteous viewed themselves, and the rest of the world. The Pharisees had it all:
"the placing in the condition of a son (or: the deposit of the Son; the setting in place which is the Son; the constituting as a son) and the glory (the things which call forth praise and bring a splendid reputation) and the arrangements (or: covenants) and the placing of the Law (or: the setting of custom and legislation by/as [Torah]) and the sacred service and the promises" (Rom. 9:4).
They were rich and increased with goods, having need of nothing. But their culture and religion was soon to perish, and they
would enter a time of testing after AD 70 (the word "tormented" in the KJV of vs. 23-24 is the Greek basanidzo which referred to the testing of metals with the touchstone, and figuratively
meant to be tested or to have a hard time – used of having a hard time with the waves, in Matt. 14:24 and Mk. 6:48 and of the pain of childbirth in Rev. 12:2).
But the outcasts, sinners, publicans, harlots, etc. would enter the kingdom before the Pharisees (Matt. 21:31). Lazarus represents these looked-down-upon folks. Abraham represents the place of God's acceptance, care and comfort – and Paul looks to him as a figure of God's chosen who would produce the Promise (figured in Isaac), the Messiah, who would inaugurate the new covenant, from which the old arrangement (represented by the scribes and Pharisees) was to be excluded.
Note also that the rich man's brothers had the Scriptures (vs. 29 & 31). But Jesus said that even if one went to them from the dead (a veiled reference to Himself) they would not believe. And, they didn't. But in the fire of God's dealings, the once rich man becomes aware of his need of the water of life, and realizes that the outcasts have it. He asks for mercy. But his condition and his time of judgment has placed a gulf between himself and those now being graced with God's favor (a gulf that only Christ can span). Still, we can see another change happening in him: he begins to think of others. He wants Lazarus to evangelize his brothers so that they will not have the same fate.
This is the only place where "hades" (the grave; the realm of the dead – vs. 23) is associated with fire, and it is within what many view as a parable. A study of the figure of fire, as used in Scripture, will show that it signifies God's judgments which bring purification – but that's a study all of its own. Cf Mal. 3:1-6; 1 Cor. 3:9-17
I suggest that since both of these men died they represent the end of the former situations of which each, respectively, are representative. Lazarus in the "bosom of Abraham" is a figure of those in Matt. 5:
3. "The destitute folks [are] happy in spirit and attitude, because the reign of the heavens is continually belonging to, and made up of, them
(or: Blessed [are] those dependent for support on the Spirit, for the kingdom from the sky and the atmosphere is continuing to pertain to them; The people who need to beg for sustenance [are made] happy by the Breath-effect because the effect of the sovereignty of the heavens is being a source in and for them; The financially poor folks [exist being] happy with an attitude that the sovereign influence and activity from the atmospheres continuously exists with reference to them)!
4. "Those constantly grieving and mourning [are] happy and blessed because they, themselves, will be called alongside to receive relief, aid, encouragement and comfort!”
The rich man in the grave (recall that he was buried – vs. 22) speaks of the death of the place and position of the Jewish leadership of that time, and of their exclusion from participation in the activities of God's reign, which Jesus initiated. I suggest that this story runs parallel to the metaphor of the olive tree in Rom. 11:16-24, where Paul had been speaking of Israel, and their "casting away" in vs. 15. It also compares to the allegory in Gal. 4. The rich man was a figure for the old covenant that could not be included in the blessings of Abraham.
To God be the glory,
ALL 5 OF JONATHAN'S
(Updated 2015 Edition)
JONATHAN'S 4TH COMMENTARY
Peter's Encore & Later Paul
Comments on 2 Peter & Ephesians
JONATHAN'S 3RD COMMENTARY
Comments on Romans
JONATHAN'S 2ND COMMENTARY
John, Judah, Paul & ?
Comments on 6 Epistles
JONATHAN'S 1ST COMMENTARY
Peter, Paul & Jacob
Comments on 9 Epistles
Jonathan's first four volumes in a series of New Testament commentaries
Great companions to:
The New Testament
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GOD'S MESSAGE OF
WHICH BRINGS GOD'S
GIFTS OF HIS SPIRIT,
HIS LIFE, HIS GRACE,
HIS POWER, HIS
FAIRNESS, HIS PEACE
AND HIS LOVE