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The parable of the rich man and Lazarus (16:19-31)
by J.C. Ryle (1816-1900) 
from his Commentary on The Gospel according to St. Luke
In one respect this parable stands alone in the Bible.  It is the only passage of Scripture which describes the feelings of the unconverted after death.  For this reason, as well as for many others, the parable deserves special attention. 

1. A person’s standing in the world is no test of his standing in God’s sight 
We learn, first, from this parable that a person’s standing in the world is no test of his standing in God’s sight.  The Lord Jesus describes two people.  One was very rich and the other very poor.  One “lived in luxury every day” (verse 19); the other was a mere “beggar” (verse 20) who possessed nothing.  And yet, of these two, the poor man had grace, and the rich man did not have grace.  The poor man lived by faith and walked in the steps of Abraham, while the rich man was a selfish man, dead in his trespasses and sins. 

Let us never give into the popular notion that men are valued according to their income and that the person who has the most money is to be most esteemed.  There is no authority for this idea in the Bible.  The general teaching of the Bible is opposed to it.  See 1 Corinthians 1:26; Jeremiah 9:23-24.  Wealth is not a sign of God’s favor; poverty is not a sign of God’s displeasure.  God rarely justifies and glorifies those who are rich in this world.  To see men as God sees them, we must value them according to their grace. 

2.  Death comes to everyone 
We learn, second, from this parable that death comes to all classes of people.  The trials of the beggar and the luxurious living of the rich man both came to an end.  There came a time when they both died. 

Death is a great fact that everyone acknowledges but very few people take into account.  Most people eat and drink and talk and plan as if they were going to live forever.  The true Christian must be on his guard against this spirit.  “He that would live well,” said a great divine, “should often think of his last day, and make it his company-keeper.” There are few better antidotes to grumbling, envy, and prideful possession of wealth than thinking about death.  The beggar died, and his bodily needs were at an end.  The rich man died, and his feasting stopped forever. 

3. God cares for believers’ souls as they die 
We learn, third, from this parable that the souls of believers are specially cared for by God in the hour of death.  The Lord Jesus tells us that when the beggar died, he was “carried…to Abraham’s side” (verse 22). 

There is something very comforting in this expression.  We know little or nothing about the state and feelings of the dead.  When our own last hour comes and we lie down to die, we will be like those who journey into an unknown country.  But we may be glad to know that all who fall asleep in Jesus are taken good care of.  They are not homeless wanderers between the hour of death and the day of resurrection.  They are at rest with friends, with all who have had the same faith as Abraham.  They do not lack anything.  And best of all, St. Paul tells us, they are “with Christ” (Philippians 1:23). 

4. The reality and eternity of hell 
We learn, fourth, from this parable the reality and eternity of hell.  The Lord Jesus tells us plainly that after death the rich man was “in hell, where he was in torment” (verse 23).  Our Lord gives us a fearful picture of his longing for a drop of water to cool his tongue, and also a great chasm fixed between him and Lazarus which nobody could cross over (verses 24-26).  There are perhaps few more awful passages in the Bible than this.  And remember that the person who spoke these words was the one who delighted in mercy. 

5. Unconverted people discover the value of a soul—after death 
We learn, fifth, from this parable that unconverted people find out the value of a soul—after death, when it is too late.  We read how the rich man wanted Lazarus to be sent back to his five living brothers to warn them so they would not go to that “‘place of torment’” (verses 27-28).  While he lived, he had never done anything to help them spiritually.  They had probably been his companions in worldliness and, like him, had neglected their souls entirely.  When he is dead, he finds out too late the folly they were guilty of and desires that, if possible, they might be called to repentance. 

6. Miracles do not help people who disbelieve in God’s Word 
We learn, lastly, from this parable that the greatest miracles would have no effect on men’s hearts if they will not believe God’s Word.  The rich man thought that if someone from the dead went to his brothers they would listen to him (verse 28).  He argued that seeing someone from another world would have an effect on them, even if the old familiar words of Moses and the prophets had been heard in vain.  Abraham’s reply is solemn and instructive: “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’” (verse 31). 

Faith, simple faith in the Scriptures, is the first thing needed for salvation.  The person who has the Bible and can read it and yet waits for more evidence before he becomes a convinced Christian is deceiving himself.  Unless he wakes up from his delusion he will die in his sins. 

Notes on 16:19-31 
19.  I believe the parable was specially intended by our Lord for the benefit of the Pharisees, to whom he was speaking when he delivered it.  I believe that our Lord’s main aim was to rebuke the selfishness, worldliness, lack of charity, and general forgetfulness of responsibilities of which the Pharisees were guilty and to expose the fearful end to which their unbelief and neglect of their own Scriptures were rapidly bringing them. 

“Dressed in purple.” Purple was a particularly rich and expensive dye, and clothes dyed with it were only worn by the rich and noble.  Lydia was a “dealer in purple cloth” (Acts 16:14). 

21. “The dogs came and licked his sores.”  Some have thought that this increased Lazarus’ misery; and the dogs made his suffering worse.  I cannot see this.  To me it implies that the dogs cared for Lazarus more than men did.  It was an act of kindness. 

22. “To Abraham’s side” (KJV: “bosom”).  This is most probably a proverbial expression.  It signifies the place of rest and safety to which all believing Jews were carried after death.  Abraham was the father of the faithful and the head of the whole Jewish family, and to be with him after death implied happiness.  See Matthew 8:11. 

23.  “In hell, where he was in torment.”  In interpreting this and several of the following verses, we must take care to remember that we are reading a parabolic narrative. 

26. “‘A great chasm has been fixed.’”  This verse clearly teaches, if words mean anything, that there is no hope of deliverance from hell for those who die in sin.  Once in hell, men are in hell forever.  The doctrines of purgatory or of a limited duration of punishment cannot be reconciled with this text. 

31. “‘If someone rises from the dead.’”  Let the striking fact be noted that another man called Lazarus did rise from the dead, and yet the Jews stayed unbelieving.  Above all, remember that Christ himself rose from the dead, and yet the Jewish nation would not believe.