The Rich Man and Resurrection

12 Dec
Rich Man and Lazarus

from Google Images

In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The second character mentioned in this story, of course, is a beggar named Lazarus (Luke 16:20-21). According to the text, he is full of sores, which seems to represent the fact that he is a sinner (Luke 15:1-2), whom the Pharisees and other Jewish authorities would never entertain at their tables, where discussion of the word of God was made.

Jesus never named anyone in any of his parables, but the rabbis sometimes named the most important character, who was usually some kind of hero, an educated man or, perhaps, a rich man. Jesus, however, named the beggar in this story, showing that he intends to put his own twist on a story that would normally draw conclusions against the scriptures (cf. Matthew 15:4-6).

The beggar in the story (the sinner – Luke 15:1-2) longed for a few crumbs that might fall from the rich man’s table (Luke 16:21), implying that the sinner longed to hear the word of God taught in the synagogues or at the tables of men of understanding, who discussed its meaning. Yet, according to the Pharisees own argument against Jesus (Luke 15:1-2), the sinner would never have been taught the scriptures by any of the Jewish authorities at that time. Rather, it seems that the only comfort the beggar (sinner) received was from foreigners or gentiles, represented in the story by the dogs (Matthew 15:22, 25-27) who licked his sores.

Eventually, the beggar died, as did the rich man, but their fates in the story differ. As the rich man lay in the grave, he became aware that it was not in a place of his liking. He found himself in a flame and was in torment, but Lazarus was taken by angels and placed in the bosom of Abraham (Luke 16:22-23).

Ironically, while they were in the land of the living, the rich man fared well, but Lazarus was full of sores and begged at the rich man’s gate, hoping for some morsel to fall from his table. However, in Luke 16:24-27 the roles are reversed. Now, the rich man is in torment, while Lazarus is comforted, and the rich man is hoping for some benefit that might come from Lazarus.

Luke never mentions the sins of either the rich man or Lazarus. The sins of Lazarus are implied in his sores that cover his body, but nothing in Jesus’ presentation of the rich man points to even a small sin the rich man might have committed. Rather it seems to be the rich man’s own righteousness that is brought to bear upon the story. Jesus had just accused the Pharisees of being they who justify themselves (Luke 16:15), so there was no need to mention the sins of the rich man. It is his righteousness that is at the center stage of this story.

It is interesting that in the grave, the rich man merely wanted to have a few drops of water to moisten his tongue (Luke 16:24). If he were in an actual fire,[1] it would make more sense to get enough water to put out the fire itself. Rather, it seems that the flame represents a difficult situation or a trial that he wasn’t expecting, and he was tormented, while in the flame (trial), or one might say he was very anxious over what he saw to be his lot.

Notice how the rich man’s righteousness is made to bear on the story. In Luke 16:27-28 the rich man prayed a second time to have Lazarus rise from the dead in order to warn the man’s five brethren,[2] so they might escape the rich man’s fate. The implication is that, even in his tormented state, the rich man was more concerned over the fate of his brethren than God was, because God had not proved there was any such thing as a resurrection. Moreover, Abraham’s statement that the five men have Moses and the Prophets to teach them was met with the rich man saying: “No! A resurrection would be irrefutable proof that there was an afterlife” (Luke 16:30), so he continued in his own righteousness, implying the word of God was not irrefutable proof.

Nevertheless, Jesus added his own rebuttal in saying: “If they don’t believe Moses and the Prophets, neither would they believe, if one rose from the dead!” (Luke 16:31), and his words were borne out later when the Jewish authorities only dug in their heals in an effort to kill Jesus (John 11:47-53), once he raised Lazarus, who had been dead for four days (cf. John 11:43-44).


[1] This does not support the understanding of many that Jesus is speaking of eternal punishment in fire. The doctrine of an eternal hell cannot be supported with this scripture.

[2] The current high priest, Annas (Luke 3:2) had five sons who eventually attained to the high priesthood themselves. They were Eleazar (16-17 AD); Jonathan (36-37 AD); Theophilus (37-40 AD); Matthias (44 AD) and Ananias (62 AD). Annas’ son-in-law was the officiating high priest from 18-36 AD, and his grandson Matthias (son of Theophilus) reigned as high priest in 65 AD, until he was forced out of office by the rebels after war had broken out between Rome and Jerusalem. No other man had so many relatives who had attained to the high priesthood as Annas had in the first century AD [see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20.9.1]. He was the first high priest appointed by Rome in 6 AD [Antiquities 18.2.1]. He was high priest for 60 years before he was killed in 66 AD by the rebels on the 6th day of the 6th month of that year [see Josephus, Wars of the Jews 2.17.6-9]

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Posted by on December 12, 2017 in Gospel of Luke


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