19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ 27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house,
28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
– Luke 16:19-30
I have heard the parable taught for so many times by road-side and bus evangelists. My major concern was the fact that wealthy people were being seen as closer to hell than the poor men. I remember a time in our nation when it was being taught if you were a born again Christian, you would have to get rid of your material possessions. We saw people destroying their TV set and all sorts of gadgets.
It seemed that the poorer you were you holier you really were. Many Christians had a critical attitude towards anyone who was successful. They just believed that their prosperity must have been through rituals or compromise. But over time the church in Nigeria is learning better and is unlearning wrong doctrines. Many of them pointed their reference to this particular parable. But one thing we failed to do then was to understand scriptures in context.
First of all, we have to understand that Jesus started using parables to talk to the religious leaders who were resisting him, tempting him and was making every effort to refute Him as the expected Messiah. That rejection was going to come as a cost. All they were concerned about was how they could shut Jesus up. On one of such occasions Jesus then told them this story.
To begin we must know the characters. We start from the Richman. Who is he? He said “rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day”
In Exodus 28:2,5 we see a perfect description of that person.
2 And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for glory and for beauty. 3 So you shall speak to all who are gifted artisans, whom I have filled with the spirit of wisdom, that they may make Aaron’s garments, to consecrate him, that he may minister to Me as priest. 5 “They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, 6 and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked.
Jesus was literally describing the High Priest was dressed in purple and was well fed because of the continuous sacrifice that was being offered at the temple daily. His wealth was based on the sinfulness of the people who needed redemption. Interestingly the High Priest back then was Caiaphas and he fits the bill.
The richman told Abraham “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
Caiaphas was the son in law of Annas (also called Ananus) the son of Seth. Annas was deposed, but had five sons who served as high priest after him. Jesus was speaking about the High Priest and how the religious leaders were insensitive to the people.
In Matthew 23:13 he said “13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.
So was Lazarus? It is also striking to note that this is the first time that Jesus names a character in His parable. It is not just to complete the story. Lazarus is the Greek pronunciation of Eliezer. We find in Genesis that Eleazar was the servant of Abraham before Isaac was conceived. In Genesis 15, Abram seeing he had no son said; “Lord God, what wilt Thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus?”
He was concerned that Eliezer would inherit his possessions but God gave him Isaac. Now the sons of Isaac, the Jews were about to loose their place to the outcasts and servants. Who are the outcasts? The gentiles, they are the ones considered as Dogs who would eat the crumbs that fall off the table.
What was Jesus saying?
He was telling them that they had lost their place and that the kingdom was being taken from them and given to the gentiles. He was saying that were already in flames. In Matthew 24 he gave his disciples the full prophetic description of how the city and temple would be burnt down and that ended the Levitical priesthood.
The most interesting thing about this story is that this rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to life to warn his brothers. Abraham replied that they still wouldn’t believe even he was raised from death. Do you think that it’s a coincidence that some days later Jesus raised a man called Lazarus from the dead. This further infuriates the Jewish leaders the more because they could not handle the implication.
45 Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.
– – John 11:45-54
We also see in John 12:
1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him.
9 Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.
They wanted to stop the people from believing in Jesus and so they also plotted to kill his exhibit Lazaus as well. It was not long from there that Jesus was crucified and they declared before Pontious Pilate “Let his blood be upon our heads and our children”. In 70AD, forty years later, the city of Jerusalem and entire magnificent temple was burnt together with all the records for the priesthood to function.
The parable is not heaven and hell for the man who is successful financially. It’s about the death of an old system of religion that denied you access to God’s blessing. Now Jesus is our faithful High Priest who forever lives to make intercession for us. His ministry for us is an endless ministry and he is one who can be touched with the feelings of our infirmities.