The story of Lazarus and the Rich Man stands apart from others told by Jesus. The difference is in the details we read in Luke 16. This is the only account of its kind, and it has much to tell us about things unseen.
One significant aspect worth noting is the use of the proper name “Lazarus.” This man was a beggar who lived near the house of a wealthy man, a man who “fared sumptuously”; a man who had nothing, whose sores were licked by the dogs in the neighborhood, did his begging near to the man who had everything.
The name, however, is the thing here. In His parables, Jesus makes reference to certain men and to certain women doing certain things. Here, He is unusually and intentionally specific. The reference to Lazarus by name puts this discourse into another category. It is something beyond a parable; something more than an object lesson.
The passage suggests to me that this beggar was known by the Lord, whereas the rich man was “not known.” In Matthew 7, Jesus makes clear the importance of being known by God:
“Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them. Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:20-23)
“I never knew you, depart from Me.” These are strong words that come at the conclusion of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. Throughout the words of this sermon, the Savior speaks of a different kind of spiritual economy. Doing things the right way at the right time is no longer the issue. The matters of spirituality and the kingdom of heaven are really matters of the heart.
Apparently, it is very possible to do things “for” God rather than doing them “with” God in the power of the Spirit. This is what Jesus said. The account in Luke 16 shows the crushing consequences of not being known in the divine sense of the word.
Two places are described by Jesus for us. Both of these places are outside of the realm in which we live. Lazarus, Jesus said, was carried by angels to a place known as “Abraham’s bosom.” This was the destination for those known by God before the sacrifice and resurrection of Christ. Now, believers, at death, are caught up to be present with the Lord as a result of the offering of the Lamb of God, Jesus, for the sins of the world.
The place to which Lazarus went was a place of rest and fellowship. I find it interesting what we do not read in Luke 16. No mention is made of pleasures, riches, feasting, and things like that. All we see in the account is that Lazarus and Abraham were together. It was a company; a home it seems to me. These were people close to the heart of God, to His bosom. “For what saith the scripture? Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness” (Romans 4:3). Abraham embraced the promises made to him and it seems Lazarus did, too.
The place of the rich man was very different from Lazarus’ place. He was in torment. This word must be differentiated from torture. The latter word speaks of things that happen to us from the outside. These hurts are inflicted by people and circumstances. Torment, however, boils up from within the heart. What the rich man was experiencing were the consequences of wrong self-orientation.
Feeling the eternal affects of his choices, the rich man cries to Abraham. He wants Lazarus sent into his place to cool his tongue with a drop of water. The flame of self is fierce and this is essence of torment; it is what Hell is about, according this report from Jesus.
Abraham refers to the rich man as “son,” a title which indicates that the rich man had a connection to the father of Israel, the father of faith. This man, perhaps, heard the stories of Noah and Moses and David and the words of the prophets. He recognized Abraham from where he was sitting.
But the story, as Jesus tells it, doesn’t say that the rich man was looking for a way out of his place. He wanted Lazarus to come to him. He still thought he was in charge. We read no plea for rescue, for salvation, or for deliverance. The rich man only wants relief. He is not anxious for what he really needed – a relationship with the Lord.Wrath is something activated by human decisions; it is not something agitated into effect. Click To Tweet
Some take this account to say that many prayers are prayed in Hell. This man is not praying. Prayers go to God. He doesn’t know God; neither is he known by God. There is no indication that he wants to know God. As a result, the rich man became subject to wrath.
Near the end of John 3, John the Baptist said this: “He who believes on the Son has everlasting life; and he who believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36). Wrath is not an emotional outburst from the Lord. Rather, it is the reality that awaits those who refuse to call upon the name of Jesus Christ and be saved. Wrath is something activated by human decisions; it is not something agitated into effect.
C.S. Lewis wrote this: “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
Hearts for the Lost
These are sobering thoughts. I am known by God and yet surrounded by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of those “not known.” What will I do? It is an important question for me, for all of us. Our hearts should be moved as was the heart of the writer of Psalm 119: “Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law” (Psalm 119:136).
Jesus wept as He approached Jerusalem in Luke 19. Why? He knew that so few there would recognize Him as their Prince of Peace. He knew that so many would fail to recognize His day of visitation.
May my heart be broken as His was broken for people in such a case.
For more on the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man, listen to “A World More Than Material” preached by Thomas Schaller of Greater Grace Church of Baltimore.