In the Footsteps of Jesus

In the Steps of the Savior

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Harry Osborne


In Luke 16, Jesus first spoke a parable about an unjust steward. The point of the parable was plainly stated when Jesus concluded it: "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13). The word "mammon" signifies material goods or wealth.

The Pharisees who heard Him were said to be "lovers of money" (Luke 16:14). They "derided" Jesus for His teaching instead of listening to Him. Thus, Jesus rebuked them saying, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16:15).

Jesus went on to cite one example of their tendency towards self-justification as noted in their frivolous practice of divorce and remarriage. While they engaged in this evil practice, they claimed to be doing right (Luke 16:18). These Pharisees needed to be sobered up! They needed to understand that their ungodly desire to live for their own pleasure would bring punishment. Those who engage in or justify unlawful divorce and remarriage today need to see the same. God has never been fooled by the veneer of acceptability attached to conduct He declares ungodly. The Pharisees tried this tack and it failed miserably as Jesus consistently denounced their sinful actions with rousing denunciations.

The next story in the context was just such a wake up call to those Pharisees who took little thought of eternal consequences (Luke 16:19-31). Notice that Jesus does not present this as a parable or fable, but an actual account of what happened with two men. One was an unnamed rich man. No doubt the rich man was well known in his time, but he remains to readers of all time an anonymous fool whose name is unworthy of mention. The other was a poor man named Lazarus. Though he was likely unknown to many in his day, Lazarus was known of God and is the only one worthy of being remembered by name in the divine record. In our time, this story should still strike fear into those living callously in sin while attempting to justify themselves.

With this simple story, Jesus taught principles which all could understand and apply. Notice a few lessons taught by this story which were true then and are still true today.

First, punishment beyond this earthly life for the evil doer is a reality. Some try to escape this fact by saying the story is a parable. Jesus does not say it is a parable, nor does it follow the form of a parable. However, if it was a parable, parables relate real life occurrences to teach a lesson. The fact that punishment beyond this earthly life is a reality is plainly taught by the Bible (Matthew 25:41-46; Mark 9:43-48). Labeling a passage as "figurative" or "non-literal" language does not make it so, nor does it eliminate the impact of the passage. When it is clearly in harmony with other plain teaching of Scripture, we must accept the language as revealed rather than attempt any alteration. This is not just a lesson which needs to be learned by our so-called "Jehovah's Witnesses" friends.

Second, there is no second chance. Once the rich man was in torment, he desperately wanted a second chance, but none was available. At death, our fate is sealed and we go to Judgment (Hebrews 9:27). In that Judgment, we will all give answer for the things we did while in the body, not what we would do if we had a second chance (2 Corinthians 5:10).

Third, the value of personal evangelism will be seen by all one day. When the rich man realized he could do nothing about his own destiny, he wanted those he loved to be spared the torment. Countless lost souls surely have shared the same desire to impress the demands of righteousness on loved ones left behind. If a lost mother or father could contact the son or daughter following in their steps, they would certainly plead for that child to obey the Lord rather than following a parental example that would lead to destruction. One who understands the impact of the truth upon his own life must seek those he loves just as Andrew brought Peter unto Jesus (John 1:35-42). How sad it is that some who have obeyed the gospel today show such little regard for lost individuals that some soul suffering in torment longs to reach!

Fourth, if one is to be saved, he must listen to the simple revelation of God and obey it. The rich man knew his brothers would not listen to the word of God as recorded in the Bible, so he asked for the more sensational impact of a message from the dead. Abraham noted that one unwilling to heed the recorded word would not heed the same message if proclaimed by one who rose from the dead. This fact was confirmed when the resurrected Christ declared His will and the vast majority of humanity refused to obey. A sensational delivery does not insure an impact upon our attitudes and actions. The message itself is God's power to salvation today (Romans 1:16). The inspired Scripture is God's means of completely equipping man (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That is why the word itself must dwell within if we are to seek the Lord's will in all that we say and do (Colossians 3:16-17). Whenever the focus is taken away from the power and sufficiency of the word itself, we have a misguided search for understanding and guidance.

Fifth, if we want to avoid eternal punishment beyond, we must listen to God's word now and obey it. The will of God for the rich man at that time was the law of Moses. Christ took that law out of the way by His cross and replaced it with his Gospel (Ephesians 2:15; Colossians 2:14; 2 Corinthians 3:14). If we do not obey that Gospel, we will suffer the vengeance of God (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9). Thus, we must always seek to know God's will and put it into practice in our lives rather than justifying our present path.

As Jesus walked among men, He knew of the eternal realm and He knew the identity of the rich man and Lazarus. No mere man on time's side of eternity could testify of the life and destiny of these two, but Jesus could. As the omniscient and pre-existent Word, he knew of their earthly lives and their destiny in the spiritual realm. That knowledge was yet with Him as the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. In this story, Jesus warns us that we might live in such a way as to meet Lazarus in that eternal day and never need to know the rich man. One day, we will be joined with one or the other. Which will it be?

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