On April 2, 2018 we published a blog I wrote about the rich man’s preaching in hell as found in Luke 16:19-31. See here.
Since then two major questions have arisen.
First, several people have suggested that the account is a parable and not an historical event as I suggested.
Second, one person suggests that the account sure sounds like it is teaching works salvation.
Concerning the first question, it is true that many call this account a parable. They point to the fact that it is preceded by four parables (Luke 15:1–16:13). In addition, many think it sounds like a parable.
I believe it is an actual historical event for several reasons. A) The four parables starting in 15:4 are preceded by the statement, “So He spoke this parable to them” (Luke 15:3). There is no break until after the fourth parable. B) None of the four parables mention a proper name. In fact, nothing which is called a parable ever mentions a proper name. C) Luke 16:19-31 has two proper names, Lazarus and Abraham. D) There is a break between the fourth parable and the account of the rich man and Lazarus. Luke 16:14-18 is non-parabolic teaching by the Lord. E) The material after Luke 16:19-31 is more non-parabolic teaching (Luke 17:1-10). F) It sounds like an actual historical account.
However, whether it is a parable or not does not change the fact that the Lord is teaching something here which we need to understand, believe, and apply.
Here is the second question as it was related to me via email:
These passages have always perplexed me. It seems like Lazarus went to paradise because he was sick and old and it seems like the rich man went to torments because he didn’t feed Lazarus and because he was rich. There are many poor sick old people in the world who are not going to heaven when they die and there are plenty of nice kind wealthy folks who care for the sick and needy who are not going to heaven. What if the rich man did feed Lazarus? Would he have gone to heaven then? There is nothing in the passages that suggest Lazarus had trusted Christ for salvation. Only that he was sick and full of sores. What are your thoughts?
I love that question because it is grappling with the text.
I have a theory. God intentionally made His Word so that it can be easily understood if we diligently search (Acts 17:11; Heb 11:6) and so that it can be wildly misunderstood if we follow tradition (John 5:39-40). Why didn’t God give us a hundred pages debunking all of the major cults which He knew were coming? Why didn’t God give a hundred pages showing the flaws in Lordship Salvation? Why didn’t the Lord interpret every parable and each of His teachings for us? The answer is that Lord wants us to prayerfully and diligently seek the truth.
Now let’s deal with the particulars of the question.
It may seem like the reason Lazarus went to Paradise was because he got the short straw in this life, and that the rich man went to the bad part of Hades because he had all the luxuries in this life. But as the questioner says, we know that is not true. Scripture clearly says that the sole condition of everlasting life is faith in Christ, not works (e.g., John 3:16; 5:39-40; 6:28-29; Eph 2:8-9).
But what evidence is there that Lazarus believed in Messiah for his salvation?
Well, he went to Paradise and only believers go there. So he must have been a believer.
In addition, Abraham indicates that the problem the rich man had and his brothers were having then was that they did not believe “Moses and the prophets” in their writings about Christ: “They have Moses and the prophets: let them hear them” (Luke 16:29). “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded [concerning Messiah] though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Implicitly Abraham is saying that the reason that he and Lazarus are in Paradise is because they were persuaded concerning Messiah. Of course, in Abraham’s case, his persuasion came from the greatest of the prophets, Jesus Himself, who met with him on many occasions (Genesis 12-22). While Abraham was before Moses and most of the prophets, there were prophets in his day, including the Lord Jesus Himself during pre-incarnate appearances.
Keep in mind that Luke-Acts are not evangelistic books. They are written to a believer named Theophilus (lover of God). Luke expects his reader (including other believers beyond Theophilus who would later read it) to understand the promise of everlasting life and not to need explanations of texts such as this one. I would argue that even if a person only had Luke-Acts, or even just Luke, he could discern the promise of everlasting life to the believer if he was open (see, for example, Luke 16:29, 31; 18:9-14, 17; 23:42-43; Acts 13:46, 48; 16:31; 22:19). Of course, even without a single verse in the Bible in his possession, a person could come to faith by means of the witness of believers sharing the words of Jesus with them. Today we have Moses and the prophets, Luke-Acts, John, Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and the rest of the Bible. And there are millions of believers who are ready to share the promise of everlasting life with those who will listen.
The reason the rich man missed Paradise was not that he did not feed Lazarus. He missed Paradise because he did not believe what Moses and the prophets wrote about Jesus Christ.
See another rich man in Luke who comes to faith in Christ in Luke 19:1-10, and still another rich man who fails to come to faith in Luke 18:18-30 (though he might have come to faith later).
Believing in Jesus is the issue every person today faces as well. If we do not believe in Jesus, then our names are not in the Book of Life and we will end up being cast into the lake of fire (Rev 20:15). But once we believe in Him for everlasting life, then our names are in the Book of Life once and for all (Luke 10:20; Phil 4:3). Because of Jesus’ finished work at Calvary, there is no work we must do to be born again or to retain everlasting life. He paid it all. The moment we believe in Him we have an irrevocable relationship with Him that is independent of the works we do. (Of course, he holds us accountable both in this life and at the Judgment Seat of Christ. But that is a separate discussion. See here and here.)