2 Chronicles 1; 1 John 1; Micah 7; Luke 16
THE ACCOUNT OF THE RICH MAN and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31) stirs the imagination by its powerful reversal. The rich and powerful man ends up in hell; the poor man at his gate ends up by the side of Abraham. Some observations:
(1) The narrative does not make explicit the reason why Lazarus the beggar was received up into the presence of Abraham, or why the rich man was excluded from that blessedness and consigned to hell. But there are hints. Although the Bible is far from imagining that every poor person is automatically justified (read Proverbs) and every rich person automatically condemned (consider Solomon, Zacchaeus, and Philemon), nevertheless there is some kind of alignment. Elsewhere Jesus insists it is impossible to serve both God and money (Matt. 6:24). The narrative before us says that Lazarus lay ill and hungry outside the rich man’s gate, and was literally dying to receive scraps of food. The rich man provided nothing. He was therefore without compassion; he was contravening even the most elementary societal expectations of courtesy and hospitality; he would not even give alms. As for Lazarus, he belongs to a long tradition in Israel going back to the Wisdom Literature that often associates the poor and the despised with the contrite and the righteous. That is simply assumed here. The reversal follows. It would be shocking to those of Jesus’ hearers who were pursuing the almighty shekel.
(2) At least part of the description of the state after death must be symbolic (Is there a real chasm between Lazarus and the rich man? Can residents of the two domains converse back and forth at will?). Nevertheless some elements of this description have to be accepted at face value, or the entire account unravels. The rich man is in conscious torment (entirely in line with other passages of Scripture). Lazarus is in (literally) “Abraham’s bosom”—i.e., he is with Abraham, and wherever Abraham is, there must be peace and blessing. The fixed chasm ensures that no one may pass from one abode to the other—which rather discourages the view that some people may be converted after death.
(3) Abraham’s response to the rich man’s concern for his surviving brothers establishes two important points. First, they were without excuse because they had the Scriptures (“Moses and the Prophets,” Luke 16:29). We should not think that those who will not listen to what Scripture says will listen to anything else—so why resort to gimmickry? The assumption is that Scripture is the first recourse. Second, even the spectacularly miraculous is not more convincing than Scripture (Luke 16:31). Those who will not be convinced by Scripture “will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” (Luke 16:31). And someone has.