The rich man and Lazarus

2024-03-06A

Please read Luk. 16:19-31

A. AFTER DEATH THERE ARE ONLY TWO WORLDS.

In this passage of Scripture, the Lord first of all reveals to us what we can expect when we die. It tells us that God has as much control over the spirits of the dead as over us who are still in the flesh. He established two eternal destinies for the spirits of mankind. The first He calls Hades. This is where the lost await their later transfer to hell as is explained in another study guide. We can therefor see it as part of the eternal prison for the lost; those who did not enter into God’s Kingdom through the Door He provided, namely Jesus. The other eternal home that God created, is referred to in this passage as the “Bosom of Abraham.” Elsewhere it is also called “Paradise”. We may see it as the entrance portral to heaven, the wonderful place of glory where God and His angels dwell. There is therefore only one of two destinations for the spirit of man after death.

B. CHOOSE NOW.

The moment a person dies, his spirit is transferred to one of these two places. He has no further chance of getting right with God after death. This is confirmed in Heb 9:27 which states:

“And just as men are destined to die once and after that the judgment.” 

God appointed a moment when each person will die. After that he is immediately judged according to whether he belongs to Christ or not. If not, he is there and then moved to the eternal abode of the lost.

C. THE SPIRITS OF THE DEAD ARE NO THREAT TO THE LIVING.

The first conclusion we can draw from this is that there is therefore no reason to fear the spirits of the deceased. Consequently there is so no reason, as some people do, to push a hollowed-out reed into the soil of the grave of a deceased person so that his spirit can breathe or escape through it. When a person dies, God immediately removes his spirit. By the time he is buried, it is already long gone and present either in Hades (hell) or in Paradise (heaven). Only the body, the flesh, remains here on earth and it will decompose in the grave or be cremated. It also makes no sense to bury a person’s clothes with him or to leave food at the grave of a deceased relative for him to eat. By then that person’s spirit is very far removed from his grave and knows absolutely nothing of what is going on down here on earth at the time of his burial.

D. THE STATE OF THE DOOMED.

Now let us look at one or two passages of Scripture that deal with hell before we continue with the present story. Even in the Old Testament, we find references to the eternal punishment of the unjust. We read e.g. in Isa 66:24:

“And they will go out and see the corpses of the people who rose up against Me; for their worm shall not die, and their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abomination to all flesh.”

Then we also quote from the New Testament, Mark 9:43,44:

And if your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off.” It is better for you to enter life maimed, than to have two hands and go into hell in the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”.

(How painful for me to quote these verses, but as a faithful teacher of God’s Word, I cannot hide this from the eyes of those that have not yet turned to Christ, lest I beprave them of the opportunity to give themselves to the Lord Jesus while heaven’s door is still open.)

E. HEAVEN AND IT’S JOYS.

Let us now take a look at Scripture that depicts some of the glory, the pleasures and joys we will experience in heaven. We read from 2 Cor 5:1:

For we know that if our earthly tent is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal, in the heavens.” 

We also read from Revelation 21:3,4:

“And I heard a great voice from heaven saying: Behold, the tabernacle of God is with the people, and He will dwell with them, and they will be His people; and God himself will be with them as their God. And God will wipe away all the tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death; neither shall there be any more sorrow and weeping and toil, for the first things have passed away.”

Later we will learn more from Scripture about these two eternal places: the place of glory and the place of suffering.

F. WHAT DETERMINES MAN’S ETERNAL DESTINY?

Now let us take a closer look at our main Scripture. Why did the rich man end up in Hades and Lazarus in Paradise? The answer is that the one was focussed on every enjoyable thing this world has to offer and the other one, having nothing good in this life, had focussed on and lived for God.

G. THE PLEASURES OF WEALTH.

Regarding the rich man: we are not told what his name was. Perhaps this is because his name was not written in God’s Book of Life. He was not one of God’s children, so God did not name him. Jesus said that he was rich, lived lavishly, had the best clothes to wear and enjoyed a very pleasant life. He must also have had a large house as well as a wall around it and a security gate that could be locked at night or when he and his people were threatened by danger. When he was sick, he could afford the best physician and nursing. On his sickbed he would be comforted by his family and friends and served by his servants. He was never lonely because his wealth would ensure that everyone would like to be counted among his friends. He truly was a blessed man who enjoyed a great deal of God’s favour, because every good thing that befalls us, comes from Above; comes from God.

H. ALL OF MAN’S STEPS ON EARTH ARE BUT ONE STEP INTO ETERNITY.

However, man is immortal, in the sense that he exists forever. So we cannot measure the quality of his life only by what he experiences on earth. At birth, a unique being is brought into existence. He is in the image of God and will continue to exist for all eternity. He is not like a sheep or an ox that has no spirit. It lives only for a few years. When it dies, its flesh eventually returns to be part of the dust of the earth. Since it has no spirit, it then ceases to exist. Not so with man. So, in order to judge whether a person’s life should be seen as desirable or not, we must take into account his full life span. We must must judge it from his birth to the distant no-end of eternity.

I. A FLIGHT OF IMAGINATION TO THE ETERNAL PRISON.

Let us therefore walk with the Lord Jesus in our imagination, and on the basis of his teaching through the door of death. Let us see what the quality of this rich man’s life was after his spirit had left his body. We enter the vast realm of damnation and feel the searing heat of the flames; we smell the odour of rotting bodies consumed by worms and hear the wailing cries of millions of souls. They have no rest, not even the escape of a night’s sleep. No one ever pays any attention to them, no one comforts them. They who had been drinking and partying together, now blame and curse each other because one seduced the other into a life of sin. The whole endless pit is shrouded in semi-darkness because these people had rejected the Light of God. The worst of all is that God never visits this place of eternal torment because there are no people here who belong to Him.

J. THE RICH MAN IN HIS ETERNAL PRISON.

And now, as we walk among these damned prisoners, the Lord Jesus shows us the rich man who had lived in so much luxury and pleasure. He is crying out in pain, he claws at the walls to get out but keeps falling back into the pit of flames and worms. Then he sees us and exclaims: “Oh, what a fool I was. My life on earth was so very, very short. It went by so fast and now I will suffer here forever and ever. Many times people sent by God pleaded with me that I should repent. I laughed at them and now I will chew my tongue forever in regret for my words.”

K. THE RICH MAN’S PLEAS FOR A DROP OF MERCY.

Then he looks upwards and in the distance he sees Abraham sitting relaxed, with Lazarus leaning against him. Suddenly he gets an idea and cries out in a loud voice: “Father, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip his finger in water and touch my tongue with it because I am suffering in this flame.” But Abraham answers: “Son, just remember that during your lifetime you received your good things and Lazarus the bad, but now he is comforted, while you are in pain. And besides, a great gulf has been established between us and you, so that those of us who want to cross over to you cannot do so and likewise no one from your side can cross over to us.”

Added to his physical misery, the rich man was now tormented by his thoughts of how he had treated Lazarus. How many times did he walk through the gate of his home, see Lazarus hungry, thirsty and in pain and just looked away and maybe cursed him for disgrasing his property.

L. HIS CONCERN AND PRAYER FOR HIS BROTHERS.

Now he has time to think. He looks back on his life on earth and also remembers something else. He remembers his five brothers. He realizes that they are still continuing in the same life in which he had been living for so long. So they too would end up in this terrible place of eternal torment unless they repent. Therefore he intercedes for them with Abraham: “Then I plead with you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house because I have five brothers. Let him warn them so that they do not also end up in this place of torment.” But Abraham answered: “They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.” “No father,” he says, “but if someone rises from the dead and appears to them, then they will repent.” To this Abraham answered: “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” 

We have heard and seen it all. We turn around and return from that terrible place called hell; and we leave the rich man there, alone in his misery.

M. LAZARUS’ LIFE ON EARTH.

Let us now look at the life of Lazarus. He always lay by the rich man’s gate, hungry, covered with sores, and with no one to comfort him. When he died he probably had no proper burial. Indeed, his was a hard life that none of us would desire. A person standing at the rich man’s gate, looking at him might have thought to himself that this man was cursed and abandoned by God. But no, when he died everything suddenly changed.

N. DEATH; GATEWAY TO HEAVEN.

God sent his special heavenly messangers, his angels, to fetch Lazarus’s spirit; the spirit of the man that belonged to God the Father. They carried him up into the heavens and gave him into the loving arms of Abraham who welcomed and comforted him. The tears he had so often shed because of his pain and suffering, were wiped away. A life of enjoyment and glory now began for him and it would continue for all eternity. Now he was with God and the holy angels and all the good people who through the ages were converted and followed Jesus. He was now safe, would never again be tempted to sin and never again experience the attacks of the devil.

O. WHO?

Now decide, now that you have seen the lives of both men: decide which of these two really was the blessed one?

P. THREE REASONS WHY THE BLESSING OF WEALTH CAN KEEP YOU FROM HEAVEN.

  1. Accumulating and managing wealth leaves little time to reflect on life after death. A rich man usually has very little time at his disposal to think of God and serve Him. His many possessions take up all his time. He has to take care of his cattle, goats, sheep, lands, houses, cars, etc.. He will undertake many business trips. He must pay his workers, provide for their other needs and settle their disputes.  The result is that he has very little time for God.
  2. The many pleasures that wealth offers makes the present life all the more enjoyable. These pleasures further rob him of the time that belongs to God. He holds parties to entertain his multitude of friends and they in turn will invite him to their parties. In some cultures, rich men marry several women, father many children and these all need his attention. The result of such a busy life, is that by the end of day, he will be dog tired and will have no time or desire left to spend with God.
  3. Money allows a person  to buy almost  everything he needs, so why search for God? A rich man may feel that he has no need of God. He will have sufficient food, a lovely house to live in, a soft bed in which to sleep, abundance of food, a good doctor, hospital and medical benefits. He will be protected by security guards. Therefore he will reason that he has no need of God to protect him, to heal him, or to provide for him in any other way. The result will be that he will not think about what will happen to him after this life. If someone were to talk to him about this, he would laugh at him or decide to postpone this matter until a later date, until he is nearer to the end of his life.

Q. LAZARUS MAY HAVE HAD A BETTER CHANCE OF GETTING SAVED THAN THE RICH MAN.

Let us again look at Lazarus. Why was he prepared for eternity? He had no material things to worry about, and therefore had plenty of time to meditate on God and to commune with Him in prayer. He had to abandon himself entirely to God to keep himself alive from day to day.

R. RATHER POOR THAN RICH?

Add up their earthly and afterlife blessings: who was the most blessed? The logical answer to the question is that, in the light of eternity, Lazarus’ life had infinitely more advantages for him and he therefore, all things considered, experienced a more blessed existence. Of course, this goes against our whole concept of a high quality of life, but we cannot escape the logic of Jesus’ comparison. 

What conclusion should we then come to? Should we all be poor so that we can go to heaven? No, we can enjoy whatever the Lord blesses us with, but we must put God above all our possessions, above our friends and family. Like Abraham, we must rely on Him and serve Him with all our hearts. Be merciful and tenderhearted to the less privileged. That is why God could bless him with so much wealth. God knew that he would not stop loving Him and serving Him because of his wealth.

S. IF A PERSON HAS NO DESIRE TO SERVE GOD, NOTHING WILL MOVE HIM TO DO SO.

Finally, let us turn our attention to Abraham’s last answer. He said that if a person does not heed the warnings recorded in the books of Moses and the writings of the prophets, that is, in the Old Testament Word of God, that person will not repent, even if someone from the dead would return to earth to speak with him. The reason why a person does not give his life to the Lord is not because the Word of God is unclear on this subject or difficult to understand, but because the person does not want to do it. It is because he wants to live his life independent of God. He wants to be his own god, ruling his own life, making his own decisions, loving himself above all else.

T. GOD CAN CHANGE THE HEART OF THE MOST HARDENED SINNER.

Eze 36:26,27  And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit within you. And I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you shall keep My judgments and do them. 

So let us preach the Word of God to both rich and poor for God delights in saving all sinners alike.

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