By Ian D’Souza
[It is suggested that you view the video first and then read the article that follows below for a detailed explanation]
In (Luke 16:19-31), Jesus shares the story of Lazarus (Meaning: “God is my help”) and Dives (Dives: Latin for “Rich Man”).
Today, it is customary perhaps for the Rich to be listed in some Fortune Magazine and hailed as heroes of society, alongside a summary of their total net-worth. However, in this parable, God the owner and creator of all wealth does not project the rich man as an example to be followed; rather it appears that the case of Lazarus is being highlighted. It must be noted that Lazarus was not poor because he was immoral, nor was he under judgment for any crime committed. Neither of these men represented in the parable gained their moral state, nor received their everlasting reward, based on their physical earthly condition. The Scriptures remind us that God sees the disposition of the heart always (cf.1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Peter 3:4). The heart of man is independent of one’s earthly possessions, though it must be said that earthly possessions can certainly influence one’s heart condition for the better or the worse, as the parable reveals.
Dives – The Rich Man lived a life of luxury and self-indulgence. He was not the typical evil villain we see in the movies. He was merely a commonplace wealthy man of the world, self-centred, and the sin for which he was condemned to hell for, was his sin of unbelief in God. This resulted in self-centredness and providing for himself only, neglecting to share with those in need. He lavished his wealth upon himself and fed his appetites unrestrainedly. His wealth, instead of being a useful servant, served only to harden his heart and make him more covetous. The rich man was not bound to go out and hunt for poor people. However, we see here that Lazarus was at Dives’ gate, and therefore thrust before Dives’ very eyes and yet received no help. Sometimes God sends the poor onto our doorsteps to rescue us from our riches and luxuries, lest we be bound by them. This parable in no way states that the primary focus of the gospel is giving alms to the poor, for that would make it a gospel of works. The entire thrust of this passage is stewardship and its necessary detachment from wealth. Jesus goes to great lengths to explain that if we are not careful stewards, then we will fall prey to covetousness and greed, like this rich man. The primary thrust of the gospel is the salvation of souls and will always remain that. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10). The natural outflow of salvation would result in good works such as feeding the poor, which is the effect and not the cause.
Dives (a Jew) never paid any attention to Moses and the Prophets which plainly stated how to look after the poor and the widow [See Leviticus 25; Exodus 23:11; Deuteronomy 14:28-29]. Clearly, he had no concept of stewardship and possibly only allowed Lazarus to lie at his gate so that some of his other rich friends might give him help. None of them paid attention to the Scriptures which spoke about care to the poor (See Proverbs 14:21; 19:17; 21:13; 28:27).
Then came the inevitable, that which comes to both the poor and the rich alike. They both died, Lazarus first and then the Rich Man. “The rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all” (Proverbs 22:2). Note; the rich man died in spite of his wealth and was buried with an expensive funeral, no doubt. But when Lazarus died, he was carried to Paradise, to Abraham’s bosom. What a difference! Both went to a place called Hades, which from our Lord’s description has two sections: a paradise section called “Abraham’s bosom” and a punishment section. All those who have believed in God and His Christ (before the Cross) go to the paradise section. It was this place that Jesus went down to after His death on the cross and preached to; emptying it of all the believing souls (cf. 1 Peter 3:19). After Jesus’ resurrection, the way was opened for all believers to go directly to their real eternal paradise – heaven. Whereas, those in the punishment section will finally be cast into their eternal abode – the lake of Fire, also called Hell (Revelations 20:10).
There is no indication in Scripture that souls in heaven can communicate with people in hades or with people on earth. However, interestingly, the rich man in hades begins to pray! He first prays for himself, once again revealing his self-centredness. He asks Abraham to have mercy on him in his place of torment and send Lazarus with a drop of water to cool his tongue (Luke 16:23-26). How different from the sumptuous feasts he was used to. The word torment [Gk: Basanois = torment; examination by torture] used here speaks of definite pain. In Mark 5:7, the demons recognizing that this place called hell was to be their final destination and knowing that it was a place of pain and eternal torment, pleaded with the Son of God not to send them there before time.
On a side-note; many people often ask: How can a loving God send people to hell? God does not send people to hell, He came into this world for this reason to save man (see John 3:17,18). Men send themselves to Hell when they refuse to heed His call and believe on His Son.
In reply, Abraham gave two reasons why Lazarus could not bring comfort to the rich man as requested. The rich man had lived for the “good things” of this life and had experienced his share of blessings and in a sense and had received his reward. He had determined his own destiny by leaving God out of his life and now neither his character nor his destiny could be changed. Lazarus could not leave his place of comfort to make even a brief visit to the place of torment. God had fixed a huge chasm between the two places that could not be bridged in any way.
Seeing no hope for himself and realising that hell was not a party-place after all, the rich man then prayed for his five brothers still on earth. He asks Abraham to send Lazarus to them to warn them of their similar destinies. Note: People who land up in Hades have a concern for the lost, but they cannot do anything about it. All the six brothers had a live witness in Lazarus all along. Daily opportunities were provided to repent and turn around from their wanton, selfish lifestyles, but they did not. Abraham replies to the rich man by saying that the only thing that could save his brothers was if they paid heed to the Word of God and responded to it in faith. Moses and the prophets were replete with warnings of how sinners should repent and be saved.
But the rich man wanted them to have the miracle of sending a dead man back to tell them. Though miracles may often validate the preacher, they almost never produce saving faith (needed for salvation) in the hearer. They have the remarkable tendency however, to produce sensationalism leaving the soul of a man unaffected. Faith unto salvation on the other hand comes by hearing the Word of God preached (cf. Romans 1:16; 10:17), and Abraham was pointing out that the salvation of his brothers depended upon how much they believed in God’s Word that has been preached throughout the Scriptures. If they could not believe that which was written, neither would they believe in a miraculous appearance of a dead person from the grave.
The world today is saturated with life-after-death stories of people having come back from the dead, after a brief visit to either heaven or hell. Besides creating plenty of sensationalism for book sales, we need to remember that God is not in the business of sending people back to earth to warn anyone of the dangers ahead. They would never listen to it anyway and it had no way of producing the saving faith needed to make the difference. It is a matter of evil, fleshly desire to seek sensational signs as the Jews of Jesus’ day demanded when they asked “Give us a sign” (Mathew 16:1). But Jesus replied: “A wicked and adulterous generation seeks after a sign, and no sign shall be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah.” (Mathew 16:4). Only a wicked and perverse people would seek signs other than those already given. God had already given them mighty signs of His undying love for them in the way He chose to unconditionally love them (Israel) in spite of their forsaking Him (adultery) all the time. [See the book of Hosea]. The only sign that the world needs has been already given. The sign of Jonah, lying in the belly of the whale for three days. This elucidates the undying, unconditional, steadfast love of God, who because He so loved the world, gave Himself up to die on the cross, be buried in a grave for three days and then rise again, as death could not hold Him (cf. John 3:16; Romans 6:23). This great love in the crucified Christ was to be the only sign ever needed.
Ironically, even when Jesus rose from the grave, they did not believe. Even when He appeared to them back from the dead, some disciples had difficulty believing (eg: Thomas). Of such obstinate unbelief, is the heart of man. How could the five brothers of the rich man believe if Lazarus was sent back to them? And so, Abraham replies to the rich man: If they will not listen to Moses and the Prophets; or in other words if they will not listen to the Word of God which alone has power to stir up faith in the hearer (cf. Luke 16:31; Romans 10:17), faith that leads to salvation; then it is no use sending to them someone back from the dead which has no power to stir their faith unto salvation.
Death-to-life cases have no power of the Holy Spirit in them to convince us about heaven or hell. They are usually centred on the human being and not on Christ. Only God’s Word has the inherent power to elicit the necessary faith necessary for salvation. Hence, the answer received by the rich man is NO! Secondly, the parable clearly shows that once a person is in hell, there is no second chance to come back. The fact that one is there, is because of refusal to believe in the only Son of God and His redeeming sacrifice on Calvary. God gives every man a chance to hear this gospel before we can ever reach hell. Once there, the case is closed as it were. All the chances are received while still here on earth, and there will be a multitude of them according to the grace of God. He gives us a long, long rope, of many chances, many wooings, many warnings, many opportunities, before the curtain finally falls. We are clearly shown the huge, unbridgeable chasm that God has created that forms a boundary for those held there. There is no one, not even God who permits any more chances to come back here on earth and make changes. Clearly the Scriptures do not entertain such re-appearances of people back from the dead. Hence do not wait for the next sensation or the next crisis. The time is clearly NOW! “Therefore, just as the Holy Spirit says, Today if you hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts” (Hebrews 3:7,8a).
It may be noted that the rich man was not condemned because he was rich, nor was Lazarus saved because he was poor. Abraham was a very wealthy man, yet he was not in torment in Hades. The rich man trusted in his riches and did not trust in the Lord. “For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?” (Mark 8:36).