This story is a scathing rebuke of – riches and notoriety are sure signs of the blessing and favor of God.
By Dr. Donald Whitchard
“Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now it came about that the poor man died and he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, and the rich man also died, and he was buried.”
“And in hades (hell) he lifted his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things and likewise Lazarus bad things, but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”
“And he said, ‘Then I beg you, Father, that you send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may warn them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, Father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”
- Luke 16:19-31 (NASB)
The topic that the Lord Jesus spoke of the most in the Scriptures is ignored or denied in this day of rampant apostasy and reprobate preaching where people want to be entertained and made to feel content with themselves. I have not heard many sermons on the topic over the years, and if it were preached more often by ministers with a backbone, we would not have the society we see now that is falling apart and heading to a horrendous end. What is this topic? It is the reality and terror of a literal, actual hell created for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41), and is the final destination for anyone who refuses to bow the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord (John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4;12; Romans 10:9-10; Philippians 2:9-11). He did not give anyone a third option as to where to spend eternity. It is either heaven or hell, and all the fame, riches, mockery, and denial in this world will not change that reality.
This story is a scathing rebuke of the mindset both in Jesus’ day and today that riches and notoriety are sure signs of the blessing and favor of God upon someone. I hear that quite a bit from the personalities that dominate religious television and media in general today. Their siren song of promised heaven-sent prosperity draws the weak, naïve, gullible, and desperate to their poisonous embrace. These smiling, articulate agents of deception end up fleecing them, and they conveniently distance themselves from the aftermath when these promises tend to evade their audience, bringing about the curse of unbelief and hatred for the name of God as a result. The belief in riches as a visible blessing from God was part of the thinking of the Pharisees in the time of Jesus’ ministry. This story will end up shattering that mindset and bring up the issue of what happens after you are gone and that you cannot take anything with you.
This story shows that life can end at any time without warning and that we need to be prepared for that day, because, the rapture not withstanding (John 14:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:51-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18; Revelation 3:10), we will die in one way or another, and that cannot be avoided or ignored. None of us have any guarantee of tomorrow (Luke 12: 13-21; James 4:13-15). We may go to sleep tonight and wake up in the presence of God, or the horrors of hell. Age and health are irrelevant. I have lost loved ones and friends, from birth to old age in a variety of ways and have had to perform many of their funerals. Because of the saving grace of Christ in which they all confessed and believed, I know that I shall see them again, and I feel that day is not too far off.
However, if you take some time to do some research and reading on the topic of “last words of atheists/infidels”, which can easily be found on the internet, there are some terrifying accounts of the final moments of dying unbelievers. Some die saying that they feel the flames of hell, or that they see the demonic forces approaching them as they breathe their last and react with horror, or they lament that they refused to surrender to Christ, and now there is nothing in them except a hardened heart doomed to eternal misery. Many of them had been blasphemers, skeptics, haters of Christianity, and mockers of God during their lives, and realized too late that it was not going to end well for any of them.
There are also many people who thought that they were “good”, “moral”, and said they “believed in God” who ended up in hell because their conceived “goodness” could not in any way, shape, or form redeem them from their sins and wickedness. They trusted in themselves to reach heaven and rejected God’s sole way for anyone to receive salvation, and that is only through the finished work of the Lord Jesus Christ for the remission of our sins (John 14:6; Romans 5:6-11, 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; James 2:19).
The tragedy of the rich man had nothing to do with his wealth or status, but his negligence of preparing his soul for eternity plunged him headfirst into a place that he did not expect to be, as are a lot of people today who are blissfully heading in the same terrifying direction.
This story, which I believe to be a real account, as do many other ministers and scholars, now points out that this man, suffering in the flames, showed no observable evidence of repentance or sorrow concerning the state of his soul. He still sees Lazarus, now in the portals of paradise with the redeemed, as nothing more than a servant that he can order to do his bidding, such as giving him a bit of water, and tells Abraham to send Lazarus down to hell and fulfill his demand, to no avail. He is rather self-centered and now listens to Abraham telling him that his life on earth did not mean much of anything because it was all focused on him and not the obvious needs of people like Lazarus. He did nothing for anyone but himself and his immediate family and ended up neglecting his accountability before God.
There is regret and remorse in hell from the damned, but nowhere do we read of or hear of anyone repenting in hell. Repentance is the work of the Holy Spirit to convict individuals of sin and the need to turn their lives over to Jesus Christ for salvation and the only way to avoid the eternal misery and torment (not torture) that awaits those who reject God’s offer of mercy and grace. Once an unregenerate soul enters the domain of hell, all efforts of repentance vanish, and the act of continual sin and wickedness go on for all time, and the punishment for it never catches up. All one must look forward to in hell is continual misery, pain, and the lack of love, mercy, grace, compassion, empathy, sympathy, and concern. There will only be the eternal wrath of God abiding on the prisoners, both human and demonic, without pause or rest.
Lazarus looks on at the rich man’s predicament, and likewise the doomed man looks upon the paradise that he could have received and enjoyed by putting his faith in the Lord, but it is too late for any changes or revisions, nor is there mentioned in Scripture anyone returning from the afterlife to get another opportunity to make things right. There is no account of someone spending minutes or longer in heaven in Scripture, nor is there any solid description of what awaits us save for the vision John receives in the book of Revelation and the testimony of Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:1-6, and he was given a “thorn in the flesh” by God to keep him from boasting about the experience. No one spends minutes in hell and then comes back to with a story that is the product of a vivid imagination, as if the Scriptures were not enough. Doubtlessly, we will hear of more “Heavenly Tourism” as the days get more wicked and confusion spreads in the churches due to ignoring God’s sufficient, inerrant Word and embracing experiences, visions, personal revelation, signs and wonders instead as a substitute. God has said all He needs to say through the Scriptures. Anything else is a ruse and source of deception.
The plea by the rich man for the welfare of his brothers is that Lazarus be sent back to the land of the living as a sign to them to turn their lives over to God and avoid the eternal fate he now suffers. Abraham informs the man that the brothers have access to the Scriptures, and they can read what God says about being saved from sin and its consequences.
The rich man was adamant. He wanted his brothers to see a sign and wonder to convince them of God’s authority and power, but Abraham made it clear that this would in no way convince them or get them to change their ways. Did not the Pharisees continually ask Jesus for a sign to verify His divine claims? Would they have been satisfied and convinced? Read what they wanted to do with Lazarus, the friend of Jesus whom He raised from the dead after four days in the grave. This obvious work of the LORD turned their hearts further away from the Lord Jesus, and they wanted to kill Lazarus as well (John 12:1-11). The Pharisees wished to hold on to their power and turn people away from Jesus. This should be a strong warning against relying on “signs” or anything extrabiblical to convince someone of the truths of Christianity. It is the power of both the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit that the Lord uses to open blind eyes and brings any penitent heart to the foot of the cross for salvation and spiritual renewal. This was true for the brothers of the lost man, and it still holds true today.
There is a heaven to gain, and a hell to avoid. If you do not have a saving relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, I implore you to get that settled TODAY (2 Corinthians 6:2). Tomorrow is not certain, and I do not want you to end up as this poor soul did, lost forever, with the wicked and the devil and his angels sharing in the torment and misery that will never end. Please surrender your life to Christ this day. Eternity awaits, ready or not.
Don was born and raised in the true Cajun Country of Louisiana. He holds a Bachelors Degree in History from Louisiana College, a Masters Degree in Christian Education from the New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, and a Doctor of Ministry degree in Pastoral Theology from Andersonville Baptist Seminary in Georgia. Don has served as a pastor, interim pastor, high school teacher, and hospital chaplain over the past thirty years. He currently serves as a volunteer chaplain (2008-present) with St. Francis Hospital and also served as the pastor/teacher from 2013-2016 at the Gospel Rescue Mission, both of which are here in Muskogee. He was called to Meadowbrook in February 0f 2017 and began his ministry in March of that year. He has also served as President of the Muskogee Baptist Association’s Pastors Conference, which is a weekly meeting that presents speakers and ministry ideas and concepts to church leaders in the greater Muskogee area.
Don’s top priority is to see that the good news of Jesus Christ is shared with our lost and hurting world and that the people of God are taught sound doctrine and preparation for our Lord’s soon return.