The Rich Man and Lazarus in Torment and Abraham's Bosom (Luke 16:19-31)

The Rich Man and Lazarus in Torment and Abraham’s Bosom (Luke 16:19-31)

In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus taught the account of the rich man and Lazarus, who went to Hades. The rich man went to a place of torment. Lazarus went to a place of comfort, also called Abraham’s bosom (or Abraham’s side in the ESV). We can learn much from these two and what happened with them.

Family Worship Guide

Directions: Read the following verses and then answer the questions:

  1. Day 1: Luke 8:4, 12:16, 13:6, 14:7 cf. 16:19, Matthew 12:40, John 20:17, Acts 2:27, John 3:13: why is the rich man and Lazarus more than likely an actual account versus a parable? Where was Jesus between His death and resurrection? Where does it seem like the prophet Samuel went when he died?
  2. Day 2: Luke 6:20, 24, 16:19-23, Matthew 5:3, Proverbs 22:2: what reveals the rich man’s selfishness? How do we know wealth and poverty are not signs of God’s favor or disfavor? Explain Luke 6:20 and 24.
  3. Day 3: James 5:5, 2 Corinthians 4:17-18: how do the rich man and Lazarus both encourage us to focus on the next life? Why are all our trials called light momentary afflictions? What allows us to view our trials as light momentary afflictions?

Sermon Notes

The title of this morning’s sermon is, “Learning from the Rich Man and Lazarus.”

On Sunday mornings we’re working our way through Luke’s gospel verse by verse and we find ourselves at Luke 16:19.

A few things before we get into the verses…

First, last week’s sermon on Hades laid the foundation for these verses, so let me review a few points:

  • Hades and Sheol are the same. Hades is the Greek word for the Hebrew word Sheol.
  • Hades is the temporary abode of the dead and it contains two compartments:
    • Believers find themselves in the place of comfort also called Abraham’s bosom or in the ESV Abraham’s side
  • Believers were removed from Abraham’s bosom, the place of comfort, at Christ’ ascension
  • Unbelievers will be removed from the place of torment to appear before the great White throne judgment before the new heavens and the new earth are established

If any of this sounds confusing, please go back and listen to last week’s sermon.

Second, you might remember a few weeks ago I told you that money is one of the themes of this chapter. This sets up the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Notice the theme:

  • In verse 11 Jesus said, “If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?” Unrighteous wealth is not immoral or sinful, but it is called unrighteous because it is earthly.
  • In verse 13 Jesus said, “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.”
  • In verse 14 Jesus says the Pharisees, were lovers of money.
  • Then in verse 15 Jesus said they justify themselves before men.

Verses 14 and 15 can look unrelated: Jesus condemns the Pharisees for loving money and then condemns them for justifying themselves.

But the criticisms are related because the Pharisees used money to justify themselves. They taught that money was a sign of divine favor and poverty was a sign of divine disfavor.

So, the wealthier they looked, the better they looked. This caused them to flaunt their money and act extravagantly. They would say…

“We have so much money, because we have been so good, and God has rewarded us. Why would God give us so much if He wasn’t pleased with us?”

They also used this view to criticize poor people…

“God must not be pleased with poor people or they wouldn’t be poor. Clearly, poor people are unrighteous and on their way to hell.”

This was the thinking of the day, so what did Jesus teach?

The account of the rich man and Lazarus:

  • A rich man on his way to hell
  • A poor man on his way to heaven

Third, you might have noticed that I called this an account versus a parable…and this brings us to lesson one…

Lesson One: The Rich Man and Lazarus were actual people versus a parable.

There are five reasons to believe this was an actual account and not a parable…

First, the account is never called a parable…even though most of Jesus’s other parables in Luke are called parables:

  • Luke 8:4 HE SAID IN A PARABLE, 5 “A sower went out to sow his seed…
  • Luke 12:16 HE TOLD THEM A PARABLE…“The land of a rich man produced plentifully
  • Luke 13:6 HE TOLD THIS PARABLE: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard.
  • Luke 14:7 HE TOLD A PARABLE to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor

But in this account there’s no mention of it being a parable.

Second, Jesus doesn’t begin with the phrase the kingdom of God is like as He did with most parables.

Third, the characters in Jesus’s parables are never named, but in this account there are Lazarus and Abraham. It implies they were real people.

Fourth, the account doesn’t fit the definition of a parable. The word parable is related to our word parallel because Jesus placed an earthly story alongside a heavenly reality. Parables contain metaphors that illustrate spiritual truths. For example, if you think about the parable of the sower:

  • The sower represents Jesus
  • The seed represents the Word of God
  • The soil represents people’s hearts

But in this account, there are no metaphors. The rich man, Lazarus, Hades, and Abraham don’t represent anything other than what they are. We don’t have to look for any deeper meaning behind the individuals or elements.

Finally, some people disagree with my two-compartment view of Hades. John MacArthur, one of my spiritual heroes, is one of those people.

Interestingly, he makes an argument for this to be an actual account, but then says it shouldn’t be taken literally.

Knowing many of you have his Bible, and because he captures the main arguments against the two-compartment theory, let me share and comment on what he wrote…

“The imagery Jesus used paralleled the erroneous rabbinical idea that Sheol had two parts, one for the souls of the righteous and the other for the souls of the wickedseparated by an impassable gulf.”

If I am understanding him, he is saying that Jesus taught this, not because it’s true, but because it is the false teaching of the rabbis. That makes no sense to me. Why would Jesus repeat a false teaching without any indication that the teaching is false? Wouldn’t He instead teach the truth to contradict the false teaching?

He goes on…

“But there is no reason to suppose, as some do, that ‘Abraham’s bosom’ spoke of a temporary prison for the souls of Old Testament saints, who were brought to heaven only after He had actually atoned for their sins.”

If you were here last week, you know this is exactly what I believe.

“Scripture consistently teaches that the spirits of the righteous dead go immediately into the presence of God (Luke 23:43, 2 Cor 5:8, Phil 1:23).”

I would like to briefly address the three verses he provided to support his point. The first verse is…

Luke 23:43 [Jesus] said to [the thief on the cross], “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

We talked about this verse last week. I am surprised John mentioned it, because he knows Jesus did not go to heaven immediately after He died.

Jesus said…

Matthew 12:40 As Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights IN THE HEART OF THE EARTH. 

He was in the earth for the next three days and nights.

John 20:17 Jesus said to her, “Do not cling to Me, for I HAVE NOT YET ASCENDED TO MY FATHER.’”

Or, I have not yet been to heaven! Jesus didn’t ascend to heaven until His ascension 43 days later.

Jesus also said…

Acts 2:27 For YOU WILL NOT ABANDON MY SOUL TO HADES, or let your Holy One see corruption.

Jesus Himself said He was in Hades versus heaven.

The other two verses he quotes are similar:

  • 2 Corinthians 5:8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
  • Philippians 1:23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

These verses don’t argue against the two-compartment theory. They simply make the point that when believers die, they go straight to heaven, which harmonizes with the two-compartment theory. Last week, this is what I taught happens after the cross. The veil has been torn and the way into God’s presence has been open for us.

John didn’t provide any verses about Old Testament saints going straight to heaven.

The other reason I don’t believe people could go to heaven before Jesus went to heaven, is Jesus said they didn’t…

John 3:13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man

John MacArthur concludes…

“The presence of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration belies the notion that they were confined in a compartment of Sheol until Christ finished his work (Luke 9:30).”

Here’s the verse…

Luke 9:30 And behold, two men were talking with him, Moses and Elijah,

Again, if I am understanding John, he is saying that Elijah and Moses must not have been in Hades, because they appeared at the Transfiguration. Two thoughts:

  1. First, I read all three accounts of the Transfiguration and there is nothing saying they came down from heaven to appear with Christ. It simply says they were there.
  2. Second, I don’t know why they couldn’t leave Hades to join Jesus at the transfiguration, but they could leave heaven to join Jesus at the Transfiguration. I would almost think it would be easier to leave Hades than heaven to join Jesus.

John’s main point against the two-compartment theory is Old Testament saints went straight to heaven.

Wouldn’t it be great if we could see even Old Testament saint after he died to see where he went? Wouldn’t that solve this for us, because then we could see if he went up to heaven or down to Hades?

I am glad you thought of this, because there is one Old Testament saint we can see after death…any guesses?

The prophet Samuel!

Here’s the context. During one of Saul’s worst moments, he visited a medium so that he could communicate with Samuel. Listen to where Samuel came from…

1 Samuel 28:11 The [medium] said, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” [Saul] said, “Bring up Samuel for me…13 “What do you see?” [She] said, “I see a [spirit NKJV] COMING UP OUT OF THE EARTH.” 14 [Saul] said, “What is his appearance?” And she said, “An old man is COMING UP, and he is wrapped in a robe.”…15 Then Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me by BRINGING ME UP?”

The words COMING UP OUT OF THE EARTH, COMING UP, and BRINGING ME UP mean Samuel came up from Hades versus coming down from heaven.

The main point is, I think this is a literal account, and I’m going to treat it that way.

With that in mind, look at verse 19

Luke 16:19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

The rich man is the lover of money Jesus condemned in verse 14. Two things are highlighted: his clothing and his food.

First, his clothing…

People can be rich and modest. I think we have all met people and we had no idea they were wealthy, because of the way they lived.

But other people are rich and they want everyone to know it, so they dress extravagantly. That’s this man. He clothed himself in purple and fine linen, which were the most delicate and expensive fabrics in the ancient world.

Purple cloth was expensive, because it was made with a special dye extracted from a kind of snail.

Second, his food. He feasted sumptuously. The Greek word for feasted refers to a gourmet meal of exotic and costly dishes. It’s a reflection of the excess of his lifestyle. Most people in Jesus’s day might eat like this once in a lifetime, but he ate this way daily.

Now the poor man…

Luke 16:20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.

Not far from the rich man is Lazarus.

This is not the Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead. Instead, he is a beggar, and Jesus described his misery in strong, nauseating detail.

The fact that he was laid at the gate means he was handicapped and could not walk, which was probably the cause of the bedsores that not just spotted his body but it says covered it.

Lazarus’s destitution was great, but he did not desire much:

  • He did not expect to live in the rich man’s house, or even eat at his table.
  • He simply wanted to eat the crumbs or whatever was left over after the rich man himself had eaten. He almost looks like the prodigal son who only wanted to eat the pods that the pigs were eating.

Considering that he had this longing implies the rich man never gave him so much as a crumb.

Notice the distance between them. They’re close because Lazarus is at the rich man’s gate.

Morrison said, “Here are two men, and day after day there is not the space of twenty yards between them, yet a distance like the sea divides the two.”

This makes the rich man look worse, because Lazarus is close and the rich easily could have helped him, but here’s no indication he gave him anything.

He is an incredibly selfish man. He is like the priest and the Levite in the parable of the good Samaritan who walked past the needy, injured man without offering any help.

It says dogs came and licked his sores. It makes it look like the dogs were more concerned for Lazarus than the rich man. The dogs ministered to him while the rich man ignored him.

The rich man and Lazarus couldn’t be presented more oppositely of each other:

  • The rich man is wealthy and opulent.
  • Lazarus is poor, starving, and diseased.

But listen to this verse…

Proverbs 22:2a The rich and the poor meet together.

Where do the rich and the poor meet together?

In death!

Maybe you have heard before that death is the great equalizer.

And that’s the case here. Look what happens when they die…

Luke 16:22a The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.

Lazarus was so poor there’s no mention of him receiving a burial, which was a horrible fate for Jews.

You might be quick to say, “Perhaps he received a burial, but the verses don’t mention it?”

That is unlikely because the rich man’s burial is mentioned when he dies.

But there are two ways Lazarus is shown to be honored in this verse:

  1. First, he was carried by the angels. This is not said of the rich man when he goes to the place of torment.
  2. Second, he is brought to Abraham’s side, but most other translations say Abraham’s bosom.

One other reason I take this account literally is some of the details are supported by other verses in Scripture…

Matthew 8:11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven,

In other words, when Jesus described the next life elsewhere, he said believers would be reclining with Abraham…like Lazarus is doing.

The phrase Abraham’s bosom or Abraham’s side only occurs here, but it creates a strong visual metaphor. The imagery is of Lazarus reclining at a table leaning on Abraham’s chest, like John with Jesus at the Last Supper…

John 13:23 One of his disciples, whom Jesus loved (referring to John), was reclining at table at Jesus’ side (or most translations say bosom).

And the same is said of Jesus with His Father…

John 1:18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side (or bosom), he has made him known.

Having the position at someone’s bosom or side is having the place of honor like Jesus with His Father.

In other words, Lazarus is brought to the place of honor at Abraham’s bosom. He didn’t receive a burial or honor in this life, but he’s honored in the next life.

The idea that a poor man, like Lazarus, would be honored in the next life would have sounded outrageous to the religious leaders.

Now Jesus is about to make his second outrageous statement…a rich man is dishonored in the next life…

Luke 16:22b The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

Let me remind you of something from last Sunday’s sermon…

Revelation 20:13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done.

I told you this verse is about the location of people’s physical bodies and souls when they die.

Hades is the location of their souls after they die, but not the location of their bodies. In other words, Hades is the location of the immaterial part of their being, but their bodies would be somewhere else.

So, in this morning’s account, we know the rich man’s body was buried, and we are not told what happened with Lazarus’s body. But we do know that neither of their bodies were in Hades at this time.

It was the same with Jesus. We read last week that He went Hades. That means His soul went to Hades, but His physical body remained in the tomb until His resurrection when His soul left Hades and returned to His physical body and then He exited the tomb.

Now back to the account…

The rich man finds himself separated from Lazarus, which is what he wanted during his earthly life, so it’s fitting.

Although his location is said to be far off from Lazarus, he weas still able to [lift] up his eyes and see [him]. The next verse says he was even close enough to converse with Abraham himself.

But they were a world apart regarding their experience. There was a complete reversal:

  • The rich man immediately went from a life of comfort and pleasure to misery and suffering
  • Lazarus immediately went from a life of misery and suffering to comfort and pleasure in Abraham’s bosom

Also, keep two things in mind:

First, the poorer people were, the more unrighteous they looked to the Pharisees. And it is hard to imagine anyone looking poorer than Lazarus…which means it is hard to imagine anyone looking more deserving of hell than him…

“If God favored Lazarus, why would He allow him to live such a miserable life?”

Second, the wealthier people were, the more righteous they looked to the Pharisees. And it is hard to imagine anyone looking richer than Lazarus…which means it is hard to imagine anyone looking more deserving of heaven than him…

“If God favored the rich man, why did He allow him to live such a pleasurable life?”

And this brings us to lesson two…

Lesson Two: Wealth and poverty are not signs of God’s favor or disfavor.

It is possible to look at this account and draw unbiblical lessons that it was never intended to teach. For example, it would be easy to look at this account and say:

  • Lazarus will go to heaven, because he was poor and God felt sorry for him.
  • The rich man will go to hell because he was rich and selfish.

I don’t want us to do that, so briefly turn a few chapters to the left to Luke 6:20

Luke 6:20 And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples, and said: “Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

You could look at this verse and what happened to Lazarus and say, “Yes, poor people are blessed, because they get to go to heaven.”

But this verse is not about financial poverty. It is about spiritual poverty. Listen to how it’s worded in Matthew’s gospel…

Matthew 5:3 “Blessed are the POOR IN SPIRIT, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Everyone is spiritually poor in that we are all sinners and we have nothing of spiritual value that would allow us to receive the kingdom of God. But blessed are the people who recognize their spiritual poverty.

We always look at Scripture in light of Scripture. The rest of Scripture tells us that we are saved by grace though faith. So even though the account doesn’t tell us about Lazarus’s faith, the fact that he will be going to heaven tells us he had faith.

It is also implied in the account that he had faith because he’s with Abraham, the father of faith.

And to have suffered as much as he did yet have faith and continue to trust God is a great credit to him.

Now look at Luke 6:24

Luke 6:24 “But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

You could look at this verse and what happened to the rich man and say, “Yes, rich people are cursed, because they will suffer torment.”

But this is talking about self-righteous people who think they are spiritually rich, or think that they deserve to go to heaven because they have been good enough.

So even though the account doesn’t tell us the rich man lacked faith, the fact that he was brought to the place of torment tells us he was an unbeliever. Plus, his selfishness and the way he neglected Lazarus serves as evidence of his unbelief. It is hard to imagine a believer acting like this man.

Interestingly, one of the ways we know from this account that all rich people do not go to the place of torment is Abraham was a wealthy man and he was in the place of comfort. Abraham’s bosom is named after him!

So Lazarus was not saved by his poverty any more than the rich man was condemned by his wealth. Instead, Lazarus was a believer and the rich man was an unbeliever.

And this brings us to Lesson Three…

Lesson Three: The Rich Man and Lazarus encourage us to focus on the next life.

Please turn to 2 Corinthians 4. We won’t turn back to Luke.

The rich man and Lazarus are on opposite sides of the spectrum:

  • You have the rich man experiencing great prosperity
  • You have Lazarus experiencing misery

They can almost serve as bookends on human enjoyment, and whether prospering or suffering they still both encourage us to look forward to the next life…

If your life is good, like the rich man, make sure you think about eternity. The temptation is to let our prosperity distract us from preparing for heaven. Listen to this verse that describes the rich man…

James 5:5 You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence. You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter.

The rich man was like the rich fool in Luke 12 who lived only for this earthly, temporary life. He did not think about God or eternity, so he spent eternity in torment.

Perhaps you feel like you identify more with Lazarus. You are suffering, whether it is physical, emotional, mental, or spiritual. Look at 2 Corinthians 4:17

2 Corinthians 4:17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,

Did you catch what sounds like Paul is minimizing our suffering?

He said our trials are light momentary afflictions!

  • They’re not that bad.
  • They’re no big deal.

Could you imagine saying this to someone suffering?

“Hey, this trial you think is terrible and excruciating is only light and momentary.”

2 Corinthians 4:18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Notice the repetition of the word eternal: eternal weight of glory…things that are unseen are eternal.

The theme is having an eternal perspective. This is what allows every trial to be viewed as a light momentary affliction:

  • Dealing with suffering doesn’t have so much to do with how we view our suffering as it does how we view our future.
  • As we suffer it’s easy to focus on the pain in the present, but we should focus on the joy of the next life.

Let me conclude by having you look at verse 14

2 Corinthians 4:14 knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.

For believers, this is the beautiful hope of the next life. We have a glorious future with Christ. Like Lazarus, all our suffering will be over, and we will know peace and comfort.

For unbelievers, like the rich man, the sad reality is that their suffering is just beginning.

If you have never repented and put your faith in Christ, let today be the day of the salvation.

After the service, we will have a baptism, and after that if you have any questions or I can pray for you in any way, I will be up front.

Let’s pray.

Do you have a question or thought? If so, please let me know. I do my best to respond to each comment.

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