Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel logo

God’s Word for You

Luke 16:19-22a poor Lazarus

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Tuesday, October 23, 2018

The Story of the Rich Man and Poor Lazarus

This story is perplexing. Often called a parable, it has none of the hallmarks of a parable except that it is a story with an application. But if a parable is “an earthly story with a heavenly meaning,” this is the opposite: A heavenly story an earthly meaning and application. In his excellent sermon (Church Postil, 1522-1523) on this text, Luther never once uses the word “parable.”

I almost want to call it an anti-parable, except that Jesus calls the beggar by name: Lazarus. Lazarus (Hebrew Eleazar) means “God has helped,” and was the name of Aaron’s oldest surviving son, the father of the line of High Priests (Exodus 6:23). This detail and many other make it seem as if this was an actual event which had recently occurred, and which was now used by our Savior to teach this lesson.

We will spend extra time on this account so that we can carefully note the details about heaven and hell and the afterlife in general, as well as Jesus’ magnificent application about our time of grace and the importance of the Word of God.

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who had splendid feasts every day.  20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus who was covered with sores. 21 He longed to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

We are introduced to this rich man without being told about any severe vices on his part. He wasn’t an atheist or an adulterer or a murderer. However, he had a beggar at his gate who longed to have something to eat, and he gave him nothing. This was a rich man who had the best clothes. Purple was reserved in most cases for royalty (Judges 8:26; Esther 8:15; Song of Solomon 3:10), and it made those who dealt in purple cloth quite well to do (Acts 16:14). This man’s home was so large that it had its own gate, like a small city. He could afford to throw lavish banquets, not just weekly, but every single day.

The beggar longed for food, for crumbs, but the rich man had nothing to do with him. Too often the rich think that they are rich because they are especially deserving, and that the poor are poor because they are undeserving. Truly God sometimes gives wealth to test us, to see whether we will help those who need help. And sometimes God withholds wealth to test us, to see whether we will trust God to care for us, or give up on God in frustration, anger, and despair, as Job’s wife nearly did (Job 2:9).

At the end of verse 21, the dogs come. Dogs were unclean and are rarely depicted in a friendly light in the Bible, although some seem to be pets or farm dogs (Job 30:1; Mark 7:27-28). These dogs were not necessarily showing Lazarus mercy, but showing to what depths his life sank before he died.

22 The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side.

The kolpon (κόλπον) of Abraham could be translated as Abraham’s bosom or even his lap. The meaning is that they were together in proximity to one another. If flesh, they could touch. If spirit, they were in one another’s presence. Since this took place before the resurrection, it was two spirits who are in the same state: Abraham and Lazarus (obviously this is not the same Lazarus who was Jesus’ dear friend in John 11).

From this sentence we learn these things about the death of a Christian:

  1. The manner of burial is immaterial. The burial of Lazarus is not even mentioned, and we have no idea of what became of his body. We live in a day when cremation is becoming more and more commonplace, because it is less expensive, and the remains take up less space. This is especially important in urban areas, but no one should have their conscience troubled about such things.
  2. Our souls are carried to heaven by angels. On the Last Day, those people who have not yet died will be taken up into heaven “in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (1 Thessalonians 4:17). Angels were also a part of Elijah’s ascension, “the horsemen of Israel” (2 Kings 2:12).
  3. We will meet the souls of people in heaven and be able to distinguish who they are. We will not be unaware of who they are, just as Lazarus and Abraham recognize one another for who they are.
  4. We will be able to converse with people (other souls) even before the resurrection of the body. This is proved here by the fact that Abraham and the rich man will speak of the rich man’s brothers who are still living on earth (Luke 16:27-31).
  5. Although souls have no physical presence, they have a spiritual presence and can be distinguished by other souls. Here Lazarus meets Abraham and is carried to his side or bosom, embracing the Patriarch, his own ancestor. We will be reunited with family members and other believers who have died before us. In Jesus’ account, he uses the language of the physical realm (finger, tongue, seeing, bosom, etc.).
  6. We will also be united and get acquainted with believers and family members who follow after us. We see this from the perspective of Abraham meeting the beggar, his descendant. The grandmother who dies years before her grandchildren are born will nevertheless embrace them and talk with them in Paradise even before the resurrection reunites their physical bodies.

No matter how we fared in life, Christians can die with confidence that we will immediately be brought to the presence of Jesus in heaven and also enjoy our reunion with those who came before us and those who come after. We will enjoy perfect bliss with them and with our Savior forever.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

Browse Devotion Archive