Hey everyone, Josh Hawkins here, this is episode 103 of Opening Up the Gospels. Since episode 100 we’ve been looking at one of Jesus' extended teaching segments in Bethany Beyond the Jordan. We saw how the Pharisees were complaining because tax collectors and sinners were all coming to Jesus, and He was receiving them. Jesus goes on to give a series of stories that are recorded in Luke 15 and 16, including the parable of the lost sheep, the parable of the lost coin, and the parable of the prodigal son. Through each of these stories, Jesus shows His commitment to minister to the outcasts and the outwardly unrighteous, those who are actually bearing the fruits of repentance. The stories also indict the Pharisees for their hardness of heart and refusal to repent. In the last episode we looked at the story of the dishonest manager, and today we are going to continue in Luke 16 and look at the story of the rich man and Lazarus. But before we get to that parable, let’s review just for a second what Jesus said in the parable of the dishonest manager. He told the tax collectors and sinners about a man who had been fired because he was accused of wasting his master’s wealth. In an attempt to retain favor with his master’s clients to avoid living as a poor beggar, he acts prudently and is subsequently commended by his master. Jesus tells the tax collectors and sinners that in the same way that the manager prudently used his position and the wealth to “gain friends” so that he would be provided for in the future, that they should prudently use the wealth they gained in unrighteousness to “gain friends”, metaphorically speaking, so that when the wealth comes to an end and they die, they can be confident that their deeds would have honored God and they would have a rich welcome in the resurrection and kingdom in the age to come. It’s really important for them to understand this lesson, because as Jesus would go on to say, it is impossible to serve or give one’s loyalty to money and to God at the same time. Now with this in mind, let’s look at today’s text starting in Luke 16 verse 14:
"The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. “Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery."
(Luke 16:14–18 ESV)
So the Pharisees who were there heard what Jesus had said to the tax collectors and sinners, and they began to mock Jesus as their deeply rooted covetousness broke through the soil to the surface of their hearts. They were ones who justified themselves before God and other people and undoubtedly in their mocking were comparing themselves to the crowd of tax collectors and sinners around Jesus. They were ones who boasted in their righteousness according to the Law as they stood above all the others. God knew their hearts, though. The outward lifestyle, while praised by men, was an abomination before God and was nothing but a pretense, a way to make themselves look more righteous than others and to seek their praise. Yet Jesus says that since John the Baptist came preaching the need to bear the fruit of repentance, wicked men like the Pharisees have been forcefully refusing to hear the message and have actually been distorting and twisting it altogether. That same message of the need for a repentant heart before God is what the Law and the Prophets were saying as well. Yet the Pharisees, under the pretense of obedience to the Law, were constantly and openly breaking it and leading men to do the same. This is why Jesus mentions adultery and divorce, because what the Pharisees taught was actually a breach of the seventh commandment, which says that they should not commit adultery. That verse isn’t just randomly put in there by Luke… Jesus is really making sure to address the pleas of the Pharisees one by one, taking them up and showing them to be untenable.
Now the Greek word used in verse 16 is “baizo”, which means “to suffer violence”. The ESV translates that particular sentence as “forces his way into it”, which seems to give some sort of picture of a crowd of people trying to cram through a small door or something. I don’t think what’s being spoken of here is a positive thing, as the context seems to make clear. “Forcing our way" into something might be positive today in the Western culture, but in the East, it is actually the complete opposite. Ezekiel uses this same language, saying that “violence” was being done to the Law by the unfaithful priests in his day:
"The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured human lives; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made many widows in her midst. Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them."
(Ezekiel 22:25–26 ESV)
So the priests in Israel were doing “violence” to the Law by breaking it and teaching people to do the same by not making a distinction between the holy and the common. We use this same kind of language today when somebody dishonors something sacred to us. For example, someone might say “you are doing violence to that song!”. The idea is that they are perverting and violating the pure, original, and true. Does that make sense? That’s exactly what the Pharisees were doing. I hope this section between the two stories in Luke 16 is clearer to you now, because it really sets up the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. So let’s keep reading from Luke 16:
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried,and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish.And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’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.’ ”
(Luke 16:19–31 ESV)
Alright, so in this story we see two people - one who is finely clothed and eats pretty much anything and everything he wants every day. Then in contrast, at the gate of his house we see a poor and sick man named Lazarus who just wished he could eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Both men die and the rich man is in Hades, looking up and seeing Abraham and Lazarus far off. He asks if Lazarus would come down to where he is and take a little water to cool his tongue. But in the tale, Abraham says to the rich man that in his lifetime he received the good while Lazarus received the bad. The rich man then requested that Abraham send Lazarus to his father’s house to warn his five brothers so that they don’t end up in the same situation as him. However, Abraham says that the Law and the Prophets are enough and that Lazarus does not need to be raised from the dead to go and encourage them to repent, because if they aren’t convinced of the need for repentance from Moses and the Prophets, they won’t be convinced of the need for repentance if someone rises from the dead. So for a few of the main points here: Jesus tells this story to show the difference between how man sees and how God sees. In this age, the Pharisees seem righteous and prosperous before men, but in the age to come, their self-righteousness will be exposed before God as unrighteousness. Second, the story shows the way the Pharisees separated themselves from the poor and the sick was actually an abomination before God. They were not using their position to shepherd the people toward faithfulness to the covenant and true repentance - instead they were using their knowledge and possession of the Law to distance themselves from those who didn’t know it as well. And the third object of this story is to highlight how the Pharisees use their possessions and money to unrighteously serve themselves. Just note how these themes are all in line with what Jesus has been saying and teaching so far throughout His ministry. He once again has made a division among the people, causing those who are blind to see, and causing those who think they see to become blind.
I want to close this episode today by making a point about these parables we’ve looked at recently, and about all of the parables in the Gospels in general. I don’t believe the specific details in these stories should be exploited and used to derive any kind of doctrine that isn’t already mentioned by the Law and the Prophets, the Jewish scriptures. With the context in mind in this particular parable, I don’t think we have sufficient evidence to be able to say that Jesus either affirms or denies any specific view of what happens when someone dies, particularly what final punishment looks like or how long it lasts, or if someone can have a second chance at repentance in Hades. That’s not at all what Jesus is trying to talk about here. Jesus is telling a story, and it’s like me telling you a fairy tale to make a point about something different from the content of the fairy tale itself. For example, if I told you a story about a man who was more jolly than Santa Claus, and how I wish I was like him too, the point of my story was not to affirm or deny the existence of Santa Claus and flying reindeer and a big toy factory on the north pole. We know the story of Santa to be just that - a story. Though there are elements in the story common to our lives like humans and reindeers and sleds and Christmas morning, the story is just a story. If we were to look at some Jewish writings from around the time of Jesus, some of those say that conversations could be held with the dead, but there is nothing in any of those stories about a wide and impassible chasm between Abraham’s bosom and Hades that dead people can communicate across. Some other Jewish writings say that the wicked would be afflicted with thirst. The righteous were pictured beside a cool spring of water and the wicked were pictured as by the brink of a river with the waves constantly receding from them. Ironically, though, in that particular Jewish story, the righteous one was a Pharisee, and the wicked one afflicted with thirst was a tax collector. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is only intended as an example or illustration to show the Pharisees that they need to repent in order to inherit what God has promised. Because this parable is addressed to the Pharisees, we also cannot forget that on many other occasions throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus refusing to teach them or tell them details about Himself, because they were refusing to repent. So again, I don’t think we can use this parable to say definitively that Jesus was affirming or denying any particular view of what happens when somebody dies.
Well, I’m out of time but I hope today’s episode brings some clarity to you about this story and its purpose in the ministry of Jesus. In the next episode, we’ll continue looking at some of the final events of this late Judean and Perean period. As always, you can find all the past episodes in this series on my website, www.joshuahawkins.com/gospels. God bless, come back next time.