We last left the poor beggar winging his way to heaven, where he now resides, at Abraham's side. Abraham is the father of the Jewish nation. Abraham, a pagan, heard God's voice. He followed in faith and it was "credited to him as righteousness." He became the founder of the Jewish people, and he stands tall in the Hall of Faith.
So, a beggar, unnoticed in life, is given an honored place with Abraham after his death. Jesus doesn't add any more detail here--being seated next to Abraham is enough.
Jesus immediately switches to the rich man. He dies and goes to his reward: Hell.
No sugarcoating here: a man who lived for himself, whose money was his god, and whose life was spent in material pursuits finds a different set of values in the afterlife. As Jesus explains in another passage: "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of
the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority
over them. It is not this way among you, but whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave…" (Matt. 20:26)
The Kingdom of God is a reflection of God's rule, on Earth as well as in Heaven. So, if you want to be a leader, you must lead with love. If you desire to be first, you must allow others to go before you.
This is the Kingdom way.
This is His way.
Why? His way is an antidote to our pride, which needs little encouragement. Our sinful nature is all too ready to jump in, demand more and have the best of everything.
Sounds like our rich man, huh?
So, our rich man, now residing in hell, sees Lazarus far away, next to Abraham.
Now, the rich man calls out: "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus
to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am
in agony in this fire."
Hmmm...interesting. A man who could not have been bothered to relieve suffering in his lifetime, now requests relief for his suffering.
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received
your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is
comforted here and you are in agony."
The afterlife is real. Judgment is real. God's ways are real. You lived, Mr. Rich Man, as if all of this was untrue, or simply didn't apply to people like you. Wrong.
Dead wrong: "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so
Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will
appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those
who eagerly await Him." (Heb. 9:27)
Abraham also reminds Mr. Rich Man that an uncrossable chasm separates Hell from Heaven.
Then the rich man, suddenly realizing the finality of all this, says, “Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment."
Interesting. Mr. Rich Man didn't even notice nor care about Lazarus when he had a chance; why would his brothers? Would they take Lazarus seriously?
Lazarus who? Oh right. You came back from the dead, huh? Is this a new ruse to get us to give you more money? Hell and Heaven are real? Yeah. Yeah. We know, but we've got too much going on. Sorry, gotta go, Mr. Lizard, or whatever your name is. My broker's on the phone...
Abraham goes on to suggest that they have "Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them." Remember who has a front row seat to this parable? The Pharisees and religious leaders. They probably perked up at this point.
You bet we have Moses and the Prophets. We stand on that foundation with pride and knowledge. We are educated. This puts you, Rabbi Jesus from Nazareth, at odds with us. What are your credentials? Who appointed you to waltz in and start teaching the masses about God? We do that. We are qualified to do that. You, while you might be sincere, are sincerely wrong. The people need us. Not some storyteller from Galilee. What we do in our off-hours is none of your business. We lead and they follow. It is as simple as that.
Jesus knew their hearts. Jesus knew how they pursued worldly wealth and the status it brought. How they wanted to be first in line, revered and respected, and if they let slip a sneering look at the unwashed masses, so be it. The masses deserved it.
So, the parable ends on a rather pointed note. The rich man responds, "'No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ He
said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they
will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
This must have caused the Pharisees to startle a little bit. The murderous rage they nursed in their hearts towards Jesus was still probably only thinking at this point. But Jesus knew all too well where this jealous thinking would lead them: to collude with the Roman government and seek His death.
The ironic thing here is, despite the admirable knowledge the Pharisees possessed, they missed a fundamental element: Moses and the Prophets spoke of Jesus. He pointed this out to them: "Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me...And ye will not come to me, that ye might have life...Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?" (John 5:39-40; 45-7).
So, they missed the boat on seeing how the scriptures point to the Messiah, and how that very Messiah was standing right in front of them.
But Abraham has quite the response to the rich man: "And he said unto him, 'If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.'"
So, turning this parable around, could you argue that Jesus is Lazarus? He is poor, lowly, not of high status and He lingers at the gates, waiting for those who think they have it all to come and acknowledge Him. They don't listen to His words. They continue to "dine" in their pride and arrogant knowledge of who God is, and all the while, they ignore the Beggar at the gate.
This Beggar will rise from the dead.
He will rise for the dead. Death will lose it sting.
He will rise to the dead. He will rise to bring eternal life to those who seek Him with heart and soul.
But these dead, sneering at Him while He finishes His story, are not listening.
They won't be listening in the future either.