The Rich Man and Lazarus


Luke 16:19–26

“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” (v. 26).


At the beginning of our study of Luke 16, we noted that wealth and possessions were a common thread that runs through the various teachings of Jesus that Luke records. In today’s passage, the theme of wealth comes to the fore once again as Jesus tells us about the rich man and Lazarus (vv. 19–31).

This account is often seen as a parable, but it is sometimes viewed more literally, as an actual depiction of a real historical event. While it has much in common with the parables of Jesus, it also stands out from them. For instance, we are told the names of several characters, such as Lazarus (v. 20), which would make it the only parable to feature the personal names of its characters. Jesus also tells the story with more details than are found in many of His parables. Consequently, many Christians have thought that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is not a parable but an actual depiction of the afterlife. Yet arriving at certainty regarding whether this story is a parable is unnecessary for interpreting it. Moreover, even if it is a parable, it could be giving us some real details about life after death. Details in the account, such as that Hades is an actual place (v. 23), are found in other biblical teachings on hell (2 Peter 2:4), and the presence of an unbridgeable chasm between the place of the blessed and the place of the damned is in keeping with Scripture’s teaching that after death, God unalterably sends people either to eternal life or to eternal death (Dan. 12:1–2; Rev. 20:11–15).

Essentially, the account of the rich man and Lazarus shows us that our response to the poor reveals the state of our hearts. In first-century Jewish culture, many people believed that wealth and righteousness always go together, with riches being a reward for those who lived markedly holy lives. Jesus’ story exposes the falsity of that belief by giving us a wealthy man who nevertheless ends up in hell (Luke 16:19–23). Of course, the rich man is there not simply because he has great wealth but because of his neglect of the poor man Lazarus. If the rich man had been in a right relationship with God, he would have understood God’s own generosity (James 1:5; 2:14–26), and that would have been evident in his own generous character. The rich man’s lack of generosity revealed a heart that does not really know the character of God at all, and such a person can by no means have been reconciled to Him. Truly righteous people seek to be generous and to give to help the destitute.



Coram Deo Living before the face of God

Generosity in itself does not prove that one is in a right relationship to the Lord, but a lack of generosity is a key indicator that a person’s heart is far from God. Whether we have much or little, let us seek to be generous with what we have, all in imitation of our perfectly generous Creator.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

Fairfield Church, PCA

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