ILLUSTRATION OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
Jesus has been giving his disciples fine counsel about the use of material riches. But his disciples are not the only ones listening. Pharisees are also present, and they ought to take to heart Jesus’ counsel. Why? Because they are “money lovers.” On hearing what Jesus is saying, they ‘begin to sneer at him.’
That does not intimidate Jesus, though. He says to them: “You are those who declare yourselves righteous before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is considered exalted by men is a disgusting thing in God’s sight.”
The Pharisees have long been “exalted by men,” but this is a time of change, a time for the tables to turn. The highly exalted ones who are rich in worldly goods, political power, and religious influence are to be brought down. The common people who recognize their spiritual need are to be raised up. Jesus makes it clear that a major change is taking place, saying:
“The Law and the Prophets were until John. From then on, the Kingdom of God is being declared as good news, and every sort of person is pressing forward toward it. Indeed, it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to go unfulfilled.” (Luke 3:18; 16:16, 17) How do Jesus’ words indicate that a change is occurring?
The Jewish religious leaders proudly profess adherence to the Law of Moses. Recall that when Jesus restored sight to a man in Jerusalem, the Pharisees pridefully said: “We are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses.” (John 9:13, 28, 29) One purpose of the Law given through Moses was to lead humble ones to the Messiah, that is, to Jesus. John the Baptist identified Jesus as the Lamb of God. (John 1:29-34) Starting with John’s ministry, humble Jews, especially among the poor, have been hearing about “the Kingdom of God.” Yes, there is “good news” for all wanting to be subjects of God’s Kingdom and benefit from it.
The Mosaic Law is not going unfulfilled; rather, it has led to the Messiah. Moreover, the obligation to keep it is ending. For example, the Law allowed for divorce on various grounds, but now Jesus explains that “everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.” (Luke 16:18) How such pronouncements enrage the legalistically minded Pharisees!
Jesus now relates an illustration that underscores the magnitude of the change that is taking place. It features two men
“There was a rich man,” Jesus says, “who used to dress in purple and linen, enjoying himself day after day with magnificence. But a beggar named Lazarus used to be put at his gate, covered with ulcers and desiring to be filled with the things dropping from the table of the rich man. Yes, even the dogs would come and lick his ulcers.”
The Pharisees are money lovers, so is there any doubt whom Jesus is illustrating by this “rich man”? These Jewish religious leaders also like to deck themselves out in costly, fancy clothing. And beyond whatever actual wealth they might have, they seem rich in the privileges they enjoy and opportunities they have. Yes, illustrating them by a man clothed in royal purple reflects their favored position, and the white linen reflects their self-righteousness.
How do these rich, proud leaders view the poor, the common people? They contemptuously consider them ‛am ha·’aʹrets, or people of the land (earth), who neither know the Law nor deserve to be taught it. (John 7:49) That reflects the situation of the “beggar named Lazarus,” who hungers for even the meager “things dropping from the table of the rich man.” Like Lazarus covered with ulcers, the common people are looked down on, as if they are spiritually diseased.
That sad situation has existed for some time, but Jesus knows that the time has come for a great change in the condition of both those who are like the rich man and those who are like Lazarus.
THE CHANGE FOR THE RICH MAN AND FOR LAZARUS
Jesus goes on to describe this dramatic change in circumstances. “Now in the course of time,” he says, “the beggar died and was carried off by the angels to Abraham’s side. Also, the rich man died and was buried. And in the Grave he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and he saw Abraham from afar and Lazarus by his side.”
Those listening to Jesus know that Abraham is long dead and in the Grave. The Scriptures make it clear that no one in the Grave, or Sheol, can see or speak, including Abraham. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10) What, then, do these religious leaders think that Jesus means with this illustration? What might he be indicating about the common people and the money-loving religious leaders?
Jesus has just pointed to a change by saying that ‘the Law and the Prophets were until John the Baptist, but from then on the Kingdom of God is being declared as good news.’ Hence, it is with the preaching of John and Jesus Christ that both Lazarus and the rich man die to their former circumstances, or condition, and they experience new positions relative to God.
Specifically, those of the humble or poor class have long been spiritually deprived. But they are being helped by and are responding to the message about the Kingdom presented first by John the Baptist and then by Jesus. Formerly, they had to get by with what amounted to little ‘things dropped from the spiritual table’ of the religious leaders. Now they are being fed with essential Scriptural truths, particularly the wonderful things Jesus is explaining. It is as if they finally are in the favored position in the eyes of Jehovah God.
In contrast, those in the rich and influential class of religious leaders refuse to accept the Kingdom message that John proclaimed and that Jesus has been preaching throughout the land. (Matthew 3:1, 2; 4:17) In fact, they are angered, or tormented, by that message, which points to a coming fiery judgment from God. (Matthew 3:7-12) It would be a relief to the money-loving religious leaders if Jesus and his disciples would let up on declaring God’s message. Those leaders are like the rich man in the illustration, who says: “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this blazing fire.”
But that is not to happen. Most of the religious leaders will not change. They had refused to “listen to Moses and the Prophets,” which writings should have led them to accept Jesus as God’s Messiah and King. (Luke 16:29, 31; Galatians 3:24) Nor do they humble themselves and let themselves be persuaded by those poor ones who accept Jesus and now have divine favor. Jesus’ disciples, for their part, cannot compromise or water down the truth just to satisfy the religious leaders or give them relief. In his illustration, Jesus describes this reality in the words uttered by “Father Abraham” to the rich man:
“Child, remember that you had your fill of good things in your lifetime, but Lazarus for his part received bad things. Now, however, he is being comforted here, but you are in anguish. And besides all these things, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you, so that those who want to go over from here to you cannot, neither may people cross over from there to us.”
How just and fitting it is that such a dramatic change takes place! It amounts to a reversal of position between the proud religious leaders and the humble ones who accept Jesus’ yoke and are finally being refreshed and fed spiritually. (Matthew 11:28-30) This change will be even more evident in a few months when the Law covenant is replaced by the new covenant. (Jeremiah 31:31-33; Colossians 2:14; Hebrews 8:7-13) When God pours out holy spirit on the day of Pentecost 33 C.E., it will be unmistakably clear that, rather than the Pharisees and their religious allies, Jesus’ disciples have God’s favor.