Summary: We need to learn to see Lazarus before it’s too late!
We continue with our study of the book of Luke, arriving now in chapter 16, verse 19. With the parable that we’re going to look at day, we see the final episode in a series of events that began in the first part of chapter 15, when a group of “sinners” and people of ill repute went to hear Jesus. The Pharisees were shocked that Jesus would receive such a group of people, and they did not hesitate to express their disapproval. So Jesus told them three parables about how to deal with lost people: the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin and the parable of the Prodigal Son. He then taught his disciples about the proper use of money, which brought even more ridicule and scorn from the Pharisees. And that’s what set up the parable of the Rich Man & Lazarus.
This parable is a parable of contrasts, contrasts between the Rich Man and Lazarus. Now Lazarus bears the distinction of being the only character in any parable that was given a name. Does that mean that this is a true story? Not necessarily. It’s quite possible that Jesus named Lazarus to emphasize his point: the name Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means “God is my helper.” We’ll see in this parable that God is the only helper that Lazarus has, yet that is more than enough help. Let’s read the first part of the parable, verses 19 and 20.
The first contrasts we see are between Lazarus and the Rich Man here on earth. The first thing we see is obvious: The Rich Man was very rich, while Lazarus was extremely poor. The Rich Man lived his life clothed in purple, wearing fine clothes day in and day out. Not only would this have been an incredible expense, similar to wearing thousand dollar suits every day, but this was also a sign that the Rich Man had no intention of working. You don’t wear your Sunday best to work, at least they didn’t in those days. Lazarus, on the other hand, was not covered in fine clothes; he was covered with sores. We also see that the rich man “made merry” each day. Jesus uses the same word here that he used to describe the banquet for the prodigal’s return. As these parties went on, Lazarus lay outside longing for crumbs, hoping for just a bit of what the partygoers had. The text implies that he got nothing, nothing that is but trouble from a bunch of dogs. Were these the rich man’s dogs? Was it they that ate the scraps that Lazarus longed for? Possibly. We see that Jesus is painting a picture in black and white, a picture of contrasts between poor Lazarus and the Rich Man.
Jesus continues his story, painting the contrasts between Lazarus and the Rich Man in death. Let’s read verses 22-26. The Rich Man died and probably had an exquisite funeral, with nothing but the best, mourners by the hundreds and a memorable eulogy. Lazarus died alone, yet his funeral topped that of the Rich Man, for Lazarus, the Bible says, was carried away by the angels. The Rich Man is described as being in Hades. If you have the NIV or the King James, it says “hell” here. The Greek says H-A-D-E-S, so I think we’re better off following the other translations in saying he was in Hades. Hades, for the Greeks, is the place of the dead. It is a neutral place, neither good nor bad. Lazarus is described as being “in the bosom of Abraham,” which gives us the idea of Lazarus reclining at a banquet table next to Abraham. The Rich Man was in torment, while Lazarus was being comforted.
Some people can use this passage and other scriptures to draw up a detailed description of what happens to us after we die. My poor old brain can’t seem to tie it all together into such a neat package. I don’t even know if Jesus was meaning to tell how things are or if he was merely using the images that the Jews would be familiar with. It makes me think of a story, though, of a doctor that went to visit a very sick man, back in the days when doctors made house calls. The doctor took his dog along with him, and the animal waited outside, barking every once and a while to remind his master that he was there. The man said, “Doc, I’m scared. What can you tell me about death? What’s on the other side?” The doctor said, “I can’t tell you much.” Then he got up and opened the door. His dog bounded inside, leaping gratefully all over his master. The doctor continued, “My dog has never been here. He had no idea what was on the other side of this door. All he knew was that his master was on the other side. I can’t tell you, friend, exactly what’s on the other side. But I know that my master is waiting there.” That’s my view. I don’t know exactly what is waiting. But I do know WHO is waiting.