Luke 16 - The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16 – July 19

There are multiple parables in Luke 16 that are exclusive to this gospel account. Today we are going to set our attention on the parable of ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus’ found in verses 19-31. For our purposes today, I want us to consider five main aspects of this story so that we might apply what Jesus is teaching us.

The Context

Many parables in the synoptic gospels are intentionally placed either directly before or directly after an event in the narrative that will serve as a parallel to the parable. This is not one of those cases. We are currently in a portion of the book that is a collection of the sermons Jesus taught during this phase of His ministry. We have heard parables and teachings since Luke 14:25, and we will continue to hear them until Luke 19:14. It is highly unlikely that these were all spoken at the same time. So, we have no idea what was going on except this: In verse 14 we read, “The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.” It is possible, maybe even likely that this parable about a “rich man” is being directed at these scoffing Pharisees.

The Setting

Parables are generally set in a fictionalized setting that could easily be imagined by the listener as their own experience: a kingdom, a field, a farm, a house, etc. Like old movies that were set in “Anytown, USA,” these parables were designed to have minimal detail regarding their setting. On very rare occasions Jesus would use a geographical marker to make a point. For example, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus starts by saying that man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho. He used that road because it was notoriously dangerous and known for crawling with robbers. In our text today, we have the most interesting of all the settings for a parable. The first part takes place at the gate of the rich man’s home. The second part takes place in Hades. 

There are two distinct ways to understand what is taking place here. Some scholars believe that Jesus’ description of Hades is not a genuine description of the afterlife as it was experienced before the cross. Others believe that this is what people experienced in death before Jesus’ death. I personally believe the latter. Hades is not the same thing as hell. Hades means death. Both believers and non-believers are described as going there before the resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus descended to the dead, He led them out in glorious procession to the reward that He had procured at the cross. Ephesians 4:7-10 describes Jesus’ descent into the earth and says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives…” 1 Peter 3:18-20 speaks of Jesus going to speak to the spirits that were imprisoned since the time of Noah.

If you have ever read or recited the Apostle’s Creed, you will note that it translates into English as, “He descended into hell.” That is not true. Jesus never experienced the wrath of God in hell. He experienced that wrath at the cross. When He went into the grave, He went there victoriously. He had already won. He had already declared, “It is finished.” It was there that He retrieved His OT saints and led them victoriously to the place He called Paradise. (Luke 23:43, 2 Cor. 12:3, Rev. 2:7)

Not The Point

There are many who have co-opted this parable to be about generosity, social justice, and income inequality. Although the Bible does have something to say about those issues, that is not what is in view here. There has been a strong push by academics in the last two centuries to define poverty as a virtue. That belief has trickled down into our society, nearly permeating everyone in our country to at least some extent. But, Jesus does not glorify poverty and demonize wealth. He does teach that to whom much is given, much is required. He does condemn the wealthy who are selfish or who come by their riches through unjust gains. But He does not teach us that this rich man is suffering because he was rich and that Lazarus experienced grace because he was poor.

As I will present later, the clear identity of the rich man is intended to be understood as a Jewish religious leader. It was their job to give spiritual bread to the people through the teaching of the Word. Once there was a Canaanite woman who approached Jesus for healing. He said to her, “It is not right to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs.” She said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table.” Then Jesus answered her, “O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed instantly. – Matthew 15:26-28. These are the kinds of crumbs Lazarus was hoping for in this parabolic illustration. This parable is NOT about what you have.

The Point

This parable IS about what you believe. The point is that if someone does not hear the Word of God, there is no other miracle that would ever convince them to believe. The Pharisees had more proof than anyone in the history of the world. They had the Scriptures, yet they rejected the Messiah to whom those words pointed.

Remember how I said that sometimes Jesus used specific details in rare instances to prove a point? Why does Jesus use the name Lazarus? This is literally the ONLY time that Jesus ever gives any character a name in any of the parables. It is because the name Lazarus has become, to this day, synonymous with resurrection. Luke does not include the miracle of Jesus calling Lazarus out of the grave, but it would have occurred roughly this time in His ministry.

So, the rich man pleads with Abraham to send someone back as a messenger. He asks if someone could be raised from the dead so that his brothers will trust and obey. He is asking Abraham to do what only God can do. But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And 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 hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.”

Amazingly, God did raise someone named Lazarus from the grave. He did give evidence. And what happened? John 12:9-11 tells us. “When the large crowd of the Jews learned that Jesus was there, they came, not only on account of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to put Lazarus to death as well because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and believing in Jesus.”

This is instructive for us. Why is it that our teaching, preaching, and evangelizing are centered on the Word of God and not on anything else? Even if I could perform miracles (which I can’t) I would never be able to convince someone to follow Christ. You have in your hands a power greater than any miracle ever performed by man. The gospel is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes. Trust God’s Word in this life and you will not be disappointed in the next.

The Rich Man

Everything I have said so far in these notes are truths of which I am certain. What I am about to share with you is something that I think is a persuasive argument. There are some who believe that the identity of this rich man would have been known and understood by Jesus’ original audience. His name was Caiaphas.

Caiaphas was the high priest in Israel when Jesus was crucified. Much like the role of the pope in the RC church, the position of high priest had taken on a highly political position in Jewish life. During the life of Christ, there was no higher office held by a Jew anywhere in the world. Annas was the high priest before Caiaphas. Caiaphas married Leah, the daughter of Annas. He then purchased the position of high priest from Annas, which made his position of authority completely illegitimate. This is why the trial of Jesus included a trial before both Caiaphas, and a separate trial before Annas – in order to make sure that regardless of who the Israelites followed, they ensured that both of these religious leaders signed off on Jesus’ death. 

Here is the evidence that the parable we have read is about Caiaphas.

  • He was known to be one of the wealthiest men in Israel. He spent a portion of his wealth to buy his position, then used his position to regain his wealth.
  • In his official priestly ‘ministry’ he wore purple, just like the rich man in the parable.
  • He was supposed to provide spiritual nourishment for the people, but he didn’t even give them crumbs.
  • Caiaphas married into the family of Annas. Annas had six total sons / sons-in-law. At first, he decided just to let each of them have a turn taking on the mantle. Then, in order to gain and retain the title, Caiaphas bought him off. It is those five brothers that the rich man was trying to warn.
  • Consider how Caiaphas responded to the resurrection. He didn’t deny it. He didn’t investigate it. He instead paid the guards to lie about it as a way to cover up what he knew to be true. (Matthew 28:11-15)

So, my friends, do not be like Caiaphas. Whether this parable has him in view or not, he stands as a bleak warning of what happens when you have the Word of God but you do not trust Christ. Look to Jesus, listen to Jesus, love Jesus.




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