Tuesday, May 30th, 2023
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
Pett's Commentary on the Bible Pett's Commentary
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Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 16". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ pet/ luke-16.html. 2013.
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 16". "Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://studylight.org/
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‘And he said also to the disciples, “There was a certain rich man, who had a steward, and the same was accused to him that he was wasting his goods.” ’
Note that the direct recipients of the parable are the disciples. The message it contains is therefore primarily for them. The story opens with the case of an absentee landlord whose steward or estate manager has been reported for mismanagement which has been to the lord’s financial disadvantage.
The Parable of The Astute Steward (16:1-13).
Jesus now tells a parable about an astute but careless estate manager who is failing to do his job properly. It is reported that he is ‘wasting’ his lord’s goods by his carelessness, not misappropriating them. When he is told that he is to be replaced, and must render up his stewardship accounts, he hits on a scheme which will put him in a good light in the eyes of others who might employ him, and at the same time will impress his lord. He will clear off some of the longstanding debts by means of what in modern times we call a Deed of Voluntary Arrangement. This will please the debtors and at the same time bring the money flowing in.
Under such a scheme both parties benefit. It is achieved by giving the equivalent of a large discount on condition of immediate payment. By giving the large discounts he will win the favour of possible future employers, and at the same time persuade them to pay up, and by clearing the debts, which might possibly never otherwise have been paid, he will at the same time please his lord, for it will reduce amounts owing to him in his balance sheet to reasonable proportions and will mean that he does actually receive some of what was due. To the debtors the manager and his lord will appear generous (although they will recognise to whom they really owe the benefit), to the lord he will appear efficient because unexpectedly the money is rolling in. It was a skilful piece of financial management, but at the same time may only have been necessary because of his previous failure to be efficient. That is partly why he is called an ‘unrighteous’ steward, not because of blatant dishonesty, but because of the margins he charges, the penalties he imposes and because of his carelessness and laziness in collecting debts. It is true that outwardly this has caused his lord ‘a loss’, that is a lower profit than he would otherwise have received. But it would ensure that the cash was rolling in and the lord would not be aware of the whole situation. Indeed he was rather impressed by his estate manager’s efficiency. (But not sufficiently to retain him in his job).
Coming to such an arrangement may well have been easier because of the margins the estate manager was making on the sale of the produce, especially if payment was being made late and large penalties were being imposed in lieu of ‘interest’. Such large penalties were a feature of ancient trade. He is thus cutting his lord’s profits, not actually making a loss. The lord may not even have been aware of this. All he would know was what was ‘in stock’, what in general had been owed last time accounts had been rendered, and how much money was rolling in. And the sudden increase in the latter had clearly impressed him. Another alternative suggested is that the estate manager had built a commission into the prices and was foregoing his commission.
One of these explanations is required because of the unlikelihood of the lord commending someone who had blatantly swindled him.
a He said also to the disciples, “There was a certain rich man, who had a steward, and the same was accused to him that he was wasting his goods” (Luke 16:1).
b He called him, and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Render the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward’ (Luke 16:2).
c The steward said within himself, What shall I do, seeing that my lord is taking away the stewardship from me? I do not have the strength to dig, to beg I am ashamed” (Luke 16:3).
d “I am resolved what to do, so that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses” (Luke 16:4).
e Calling to him each one of his lord’s debtors, he said to the first, “How much do you owe to my lord?” And he said, “A hundred measures of oil.” And he said to him, “Take your bond, and sit down quickly and write fifty” (Luke 16:5-6).
e Then he said to another, “And how much do you owe?” And he said, “A hundred measures of wheat.” He says to him, Take your bond, and write fourscore” (Luke 16:7).
d And his lord commended the unrighteous steward because he had done wisely, for the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light (Luke 16:8).
c And I say to you, “Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings ( tabernacles)” (Luke 16:9).
“He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much,
And he who is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.
If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon,
Who will commit to your trust the true riches,
And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s,
Who will give you that which is your own?”(Luke 16:10-12).
a “No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Luke 16:13).
In ‘a’ the steward professed to be serving his master but was serving mammon, and in the parallel Jesus declares that it is not possible to serve two masters. In ‘b’ the steward is called to render his account, and in the parallel it is by his account that a man’s faithfulness will be tested. In ‘c’ the steward asks himself what he should do, and in the parallel a good steward should use his wealth to make friends in the right place, in the eternal dwellings/tabernacles. In ‘d’ the steward decides what course he will take and in the parallel his lord commends him for it. In ‘e’ we have the steward’s solution, get the debts in by giving big discounts which will please everyone.
Men Must Live In The Light Of The Coming Of The Son of Man In His Glory (15:1-19:28).
Having established in Section 1 that Jesus was born in Bethlehem in the city of David where He was proclaimed ‘Saviour’ and ‘Lord Messiah’; and in Section 2 that as ‘the Son of God’ Jesus had faced His temptations as to what His Messiahship would involve and defeated the Tempter; and that in Section 3 He had proclaimed in parables the secrets of ‘the Kingly Rule of God’; and had in Section 4 taught His Disciples the Lord’s Prayer for the establishment of that Kingly Rule and for their deliverance from the trial to come; and having in Section 5 seen in the healing of the crooked woman on the Sabbath a picture of the deliverance of God’s people from Satan’s power; this section now centres on His coming revelation in glory as the glorious Son of Man (compare Daniel 7:13-14).
(For the evidence that these points are central to the narrative see Introduction).
Section 6 follows the chiastic pattern that we have already seen abounds in Luke. It may be analysed in detail as follows:
a Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear Him (Luke 15:1).
b The parables concerning the seeking Shepherd who goes out into the wilderness, the woman with the coins, and the three, the father and the two young men, who each make their choice as to what they will do, and Heaven’s rejoicing when tax collectors and sinners repent (Luke 15:2-32).
c The steward who used his lord’s wealth wisely, and thoughts on using money wisely in preparation for the eternal future in the everlasting dwellings (Luke 16:1-13).
d The Pharisees are blind to the truth about Jesus and cavil at His teaching, but all who see the truth press into the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 16:14-18).
e The story of the rich man, and the beggar Lazarus, is a pointer to the wrong use of wealth in the light of the eternal future and to the unwillingness of many even solid Jews to truly listen to the Law of God, which will result in their being lost for ever (Luke 16:19-31).
f The danger of putting stumblingblocks in the way of others, especially of children, in the light of the eternal future (Luke 17:1-5).
g The servant who only does his duty in the expansion of the Kingly Rule of God does not expect a reward, for that is his duty (Luke 17:6-10).
h Ten lepers come seeking deliverance and are healed - but there is only one, a Samaritan, who afterwards seeks out Jesus with gratitude so as to give thanks. Among the many the one stands out. He alone finally seeks Jesus in faith and is abundantly vindicated. Jesus asks, ‘where there not ten cleansed, where are the nine?’ and stresses his faith (Luke 17:11-19).
i The Kingly Rule of God does not come with signs (Luke 17:20-21)
j After first being rejected the Son of Man, when He comes, will come in His glory (Luke 17:22-24), men must therefore beware of false Messiahs. After this we have a cluster of Son of Man sayings (Luke 17:26; Luke 17:30; Luke 18:8; Luke 18:31; Luke 19:10).
i The coming of the Son of Man will be unexpected (and thus without signs) (Luke 17:25-37).
h In parable there is an unrighteous judge, (who represents God), and he is faced by one who comes to him seeking for vindication, a picture of God’s elect seeking vindication. God’s elect must persevere in prayer and seek Him with faith that they too might find vindication. Among the many, the few stand out. Jesus asks, ‘when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on earth?’ (Luke 18:1-8).
g The Pharisee who thinks he does his duty and expects thanks for it, is contrasted with the one who comes humbly and is justified (Luke 18:9-14).
f The Kingly Rule of God must be received as a little child (Luke 18:15-17).
e The approach of the rich young ruler and the difficulty of entering under the Kingly Rule of God, stressing the wise use of wealth for the sake of the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 18:18-30).
d While the Apostles remain partially blind to the truth about Jesus, (the fact that what is written about the Son of Man must be accomplished), the blind man at Jericho recognises Him as the Son of David and insists on being brought to Jesus and his eyes are opened, He insistently presses into the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 18:31-43).
c The chief tax collector Zacchaeus uses his wealth wisely and yields it to the Lord, demonstrating that the Son of Man has successfully come to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:1-10).
b The king goes to a far country to receive Kingly Rule, he gives coins to his servants to trade with, and his three servants have each to make their choice (Luke 19:11-27).
a ‘And when He had said thus He went on before, going up to Jerusalem’ (Luke 19:28).
Note how in ‘a’ the section opens with the tax collectors and sinners drawing near ‘to hear Him’, and ends with Him ‘concluding His words’ before moving on towards His death in Jerusalem. In ‘b’ the shepherd goes into the wilderness, the woman looks after her coins, and a father and his two sons make their choices, while in the parallel a king goes into a far country, he dispenses coins to be looked after, and three servants make their choices. In ‘c’ the steward uses money wisely and in the parallel Zacchaeus uses his money wisely. In ‘d’ The Pharisees are ‘blind’ to the truth about Jesus and cavil at His teaching, while those who see the truth press into the Kingly Rule of God, and in the parallel the disciples are ‘blind’ to Jesus’ teaching, while the blind man presses insistently into seeing Jesus. In ‘e’ we have the rich man who used his wealth wrongly and in the parallel the rich young ruler who refused to use his wealth rightly. In ‘f’ we are told of the danger of putting stumblingblocks in the way of others, especially of children, while in the parallel the Kingly Rule of God must be received as a little child. In ‘g’ the servant who only does his duty does not expect a reward, while in the parallel the Pharisee is confident that he has done his duty and boasts about it, but is seen as lacking. In ‘h’ ten men cry out for deliverance, but one man stands out as seeking Jesus and is commended and his faith alone is emphasised, in the parallel one woman seeks to a judge (God) and His elect are to seek out God for deliverance and are commended but lack of faith on earth is feared. In ‘i’ the Kingly Rule of God does not come with signs, and in the parallel His coming will be unexpected (and thus without signs). In ‘j’, and centrally, the rejected Son of Man is to come in His glory and false Messiahs are to be avoided (Luke 17:22-24).
“And he called him, and said to him, ‘What is this that I hear about you? Render the account of your stewardship, for you can no longer be steward.’ ”
The landlord thus calls for him to come to see him and explains what he has heard about him. Then he tells him that he is intending to replace him and that he should therefore prepare accounts revealing the details of his stewardship. The impression given is that he is simply being replaced for mismanagement, not for open dishonesty. There is no suggestion of any action being taken against him, but the estate manager’s silence indicates that he is aware that there is truth in the charges.
“And the steward said within himself, What shall I do, seeing that my lord is taking away the stewardship from me? I do not have the strength to dig, to beg I am ashamed.”
This makes the estate manager consider his position. He realises that he is not capable of manual work, and he certainly does not like the idea of begging. Thus he engages in deep thought. The question is, how can he find compatible employment elsewhere?
“I am resolved what to do, so that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.”
And then the brainwave hits him. He feels that he has discovered a way out of his dilemma. We should note that the circumstances are very much against what follows being seen as actually dishonest. Dishonesty would hardly make him a likely contender for a job, however pleased the customers were, it would rather render him liable to prosecution, and it would certainly not earn him commendation from his lord. Nor is there any reason for seeing it in that way, for what he is following is in fact good business practise, even though the circumstances are a little unfortunate. The only dishonesty is in the reasons for the discounts, and, however much suspected, that would be difficult to prove
“And calling to him each one of his lord’s debtors, he said to the first, ‘How much do you owe to my lord?’ And he said, ‘A hundred measures of oil.’ And he said to him, ‘Take your bond, and sit down quickly and write fifty’.”
The first debtor he approaches admits to owing a hundred measures of oil. The measure would be between five and ten gallons. Thus the debt is considerable. So he suggests a fifty percent discount on condition he pays immediately. To the debtor such an opportunity appears too good to miss, so he agrees. Both appear to be satisfied, the one because of his discount, and the other because he has obtained immediate payment. And the estate manager no doubt makes it clear as to whom he really owes this generosity. It should be noted that as the estate manager he would almost certainly have the right to allow such discounts, especially if large late payment penalties had been added to the amount due, and it is clear that there was a large mark up on oil.
The listening crowds might not know much about business, but they would know enough to recognise that this was an astute bit of business which indicated exceptionally high margins which had been reduced, and the cancellation of large penalties, not the making of a huge loss. The rogue had simply become more reasonable. (We can almost see them looking at each other and nodding knowingly. All would have suffered under such treatment, or have known someone who had).
“Then said he to another, And how much do you owe? And he said, A hundred baths of wheat. He says to him, Take your bond, and write fourscore.”
The next debtor admits to owing a hundred kors of wheat, another large quantity, so the estate manager takes the same tack and on this occasion only offers a twenty per cent discount. The margins on oil were probably a lot larger than the margins on wheat, or it may be that in this case there had not been such large penalties. The debtor is equally pleased at the idea and also pays up immediately.
So now the steward is able to present his accounts demonstrating that all payments are up to date, and is able at the same time to give his lord a substantial amount of cash or goods which he had not been expecting. It gives him every impression of efficiency, and everyone is pleased. The lord because he has received payment, the debtors because they have had big discounts, and the estate manager because he knows that he has impressed everyone by his efficiency and that he has made friends in the right places.
“And the lord commended the unrighteous steward because he had done wisely, for the sons of this world are for their own generation wiser than the sons of the light.”
It is impossible to be certain whether ‘the lord’ refers to his master (as it does in Luke 16:3), or to Jesus (see Luke 18:6 for support for it meaning Jesus, and Luke 14:23 ff. for support for it being the lord in the parable). The fact that in Luke 16:3; Luke 16:5 ‘the lord of me’ means his master must be seen as confirming the probability that ‘the lord’ means the same here. It does, however make little difference, for certainly the second part must be referred to Jesus, and the point is simply that the steward’s action, involved as he is in the murky world of business, has demonstrated his efficiency and has thus shown how men of the world are wiser in business matters than the people of God.
‘The unrighteous steward.’ The estate manager has probably done nothing that could land him up in court. What he has done is make large margins, charge high penalties for late payment, and then make reductions to suit his own purposes. His lord may well still be looking at fat profits (even if not as fat as they might have been), and is certainly looking at a good deal more in terms of real cash than he was expecting. He may well not have seen him as unrighteous (that is Jesus’ description). He may rather have been impressed by his manager’s explanation of how he had got the debtors to pay up. (The estate manager was no doubt as slick in his explanations as in his dealings, as such people usually are).
‘Unrighteous’ is Jesus’ term for him because of his harsh and unscrupulous business methods, methods probably very familiar to some in the crowds who had suffered under them. From the world’s point of view they were not necessarily dishonest. He overcharged (although had in fact charge the right to charge what he liked, as long as it was compatible with market prices generally, or even more if he had cornered the market), added on large penalties, and gave large discounts, the last not in order to benefit the business but for his own benefit. But what cannot be disputed is his shrewdness and ability, and probably the large profits obtained for his master. From the world’s point of view he was the picture of success. Thus Jesus commends his application of business astuteness to the task in hand, but not his morals. Indeed ‘unrighteous’ is deliberately put in for the very purpose of deprecating his morals.
By it Jesus is also quite probably saying that such slick business methods are not really compatible with being a Christian even though they are not dishonest and have achieved their purpose. Christians should neither overcharge, nor charge heavy penalties (in the case of Jews it was contrary to the law against usury), even if such tactics are seen by other businessmen as legitimate, nor should they offer discounts which were mainly to obtain favours for themselves rather than for the estate’s advantage. But He is also saying that it does demonstrate how shrewd non-Christian businessmen can be, and that Christians should strive to be equally as shrewd in dealing with heavenly affairs, while of course avoiding the sharp practises.
‘The sons of this world (age).’ ‘Sons of’ is normal Jewish phraseology for depicting people of a particular class (compare Luke 10:6), and ‘sons of the age to come’ and ‘sons of the age’ are both found in Jewish literature. While ‘sons of this age’ is not found, it is the comparative equivalent of ‘sons of the age to come’ in terms of this age. It is thus typically Jewish, and very much emphasises the worldly nature of those so described. The point is that they are totally taken up with this age and have no thought for the future. ‘The sons of light’ is a phrase found at Qumran, where it indicates initiated believers. Compare John 12:36 where ‘sons of light’ (without the article) are those who have believed in the One Who is the Light. Compare also Paul’s ‘children of light’ (Ephesians 5:8) and ‘sons of light’ (1 Thessalonians 5:5).
‘For their own generation.’ This compares the sons of this world with the present generation of worldly people to which they belong.
“And I say to you, Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”
Jesus then presses home the point that like the estate manager they should use wealth at their disposal to make friends, but in their case it should be friends whom they will one day meet in ‘Heaven’, that is, ‘in eternal dwellings’. They can do this by providing funds for the spreading of the Good News, and by benefiting the Christian poor, both of which will earn eternal gratitude. Then when they reach Heaven they will be rapturously received by those whom they have helped. (This might serve to confirm the idea of recognition of each other in Heaven). It should be noted that it would hardly achieve this if it was obtained or used dishonestly.
Alternately ‘they’ might refer to God and the angelic court (as with ‘we’ in Genesis 1:26), but, as it parallels the estate manager making friends by his efforts, we are probably intended to see the same idea here.
‘The mammon of unrighteousness.’ This simply means the money normally used by an unrighteous world, indicating that it is what the world in its sinfulness holds as of most importance. It might be seen as confirming that the ‘unrighteous steward’ was described as such mainly because he mingled with and traded in an unrighteous world, using that world’s methods. It does not mean money obtained by dishonest methods. It is rather worldly money sought for in a sinful world, in contrast with heavenly treasure which those whose hearts are pure seek after.
‘When it shall fail.’ One day it will come to an end and it will be useless. Indeed no one can take it with them through death. There are no pockets in a shroud. Thus all its benefits can only apply to this life and for the individual cease as soon as this life is over, as the rich man discovers in the next parable.
a “He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much,
b And he who is unrighteous in a very little is unrighteous also in much.
b If therefore you have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon,
c Who will commit to your trust the true riches?”
b And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s,
c Who will give you that which is your own?”
Jesus then adds a general comment, applying the lesson. His statement is made on the basis of the facts that have previously been presented, that of someone looking after someone else’s possessions, and His point is that how we deal with such will determine whether we can be trusted with what is most important.
Note the slightly complicated pattern here which emphasises the unity of these verses. It commences with a positive initial statement about being faithful, which is clearly true, that someone who proves faithful in a smallish thing will be likely to prove faithful in something bigger. This is then followed by a negative initial statement about being unrighteous which contrasts with that, and makes the point that someone who fails to be faithful (is unrighteous) in a smallish thing will most like prove faithless in bigger things. This is then applied to the situation in hand. Someone who has not been faithful in dealing with unrighteous mammon can hardly be trusted with heavenly things, wit the true riches. And the further point is then made that someone who has not been faithful with someone else’s possessions can clearly not be trusted with being given things for themselves. They have proved both their untrustworthiness and their lack of capableness.
So on the basis of the parable it is made clear that the using of wealth wisely and honestly is an evidence of faithfulness and trustworthiness, but with the warning of what using it unrighteously will result in. Those who are faithful in what is accounted little (the use of worldly wealth), will be faithful in what is much (dealings with heavenly things). They will have proved their reliability and that they can be trusted with greater things. In contrast those who, like the estate manager, are unrighteous when dealing with what is little (worldly wealth), will also be unrighteous in what counts most (dealing with heavenly things). Thus how we treat our ‘unrighteous wealth’ is an indicator of whether we can be trusted with more important things. It is a barometer which shows whether we can be trusted in God’s service.
And that is where the estate manager had failed. He had not been faithful in the use of the wealth entrusted to him. Thus he had proved unworthy to be trusted with anything else. And the point is that the same applies to disciples of Jesus. If they cannot be trusted with ‘worldly wealth’, which is false riches, how can they possibly be trusted with more important things, with the true riches, with heavenly responsibilities? We should all take note of this as a warning. If we fail to cope properly and wisely with the wealth with which God has entrusted us, we will prove our unfitness to enjoy and have control over heavenly blessings. The widow at the Temple could be trusted with it (Luke 21:1-4), but the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-25) and the rich man in the next parable (Luke 16:19-31) could not. The rich young ruler departed sorrowfully for this very reason. He had proved himself unable to cope wisely with worldly possessions, how then could he be considered sufficiently trustworthy to cope with heavenly things? The Apostles, however, apart from Judas (John 12:6), had learned well to avoid and disdain worldly wealth, keeping it in its proper place. They were fitted therefore to deal with heavenly things as long as they maintained that attitude. The unrighteous mammon had not got them down and rendered them unfaithful and unrighteous.
“And if you have not been faithful in that which is another’s, who will give you that which is your own?” This idea arises directly from the parable, and demonstrates that these principles equally apply to having responsibility for the wealth of others. If we cannot be trusted to look well and honestly after another’s wealth, who will trust us with any of our own? (Perhaps Jesus is already here giving Judas something to think about).
The main idea is surely that all wealth is finally God’s, and that any wealth that we may possess for a time is not ours, but Another’s. So if we do not prove faithful in handling the wealth that God gives us control over, how can we be trusted with greater wealth given by God to those who prove faithful, the true benefits of a genuine spiritual life and the responsibility of powerfully declaring the Kingly Rule of God.
“No servant can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one, and love the other, or else he will hold to one, and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Jesus then caps His arguments with a final statement. All this is true because no one can serve two masters. Anyone who has two masters will not be able to serve them in balance. Always one must take precedence. Thus every man must choose Who or what will be his real master. It is not possible to serve God and Wealth at the same time. One will always be loved more than the other. One will be clung to and the other despised. Thus how we use the wealth entrusted to us actually brings out who is in control. It brings out whom or what we serve, just as the estate manager had served his own interests and not his lord’s.
Thus if we only use our worldly wealth under the direction of God, with no regard for it but as a tool to be used as God wills, then well. But if we allow it to deflect us from doing and being the very best for God, then it will have taken over the mastership, and our commitment will necessarily suffer. Whatever our protestations we are declaring that wealth is our master. We are treating God as though He were less important than possessions. We are thus despising God. That is what Jesus observed in the rich young ruler and why He made such a total demand on him. He knew that wealth had too much of a hold on him, as indeed his final decision proved. He loved wealth rather than God. He was exactly like the estate manager!
‘And the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him.’
The Pharisees scoffed at His ideas (literally ‘turned up their noses at Him’). When Luke says that it was because they were ‘lovers of money’ he does not necessarily mean that they were greedy, although no doubt some of them were. He means more that their view of money was very different from that of Jesus. They honoured and revered it. It was true that they did consider that wealth was one test of a man’s righteousness, but for the opposite reason to Jesus. In their case it was because they saw its possession in abundance as being a measure of God’s approval. Taking the opposite view to Jesus they saw prosperity as the reward for godliness. They thus gave possession of it a high place in their thinking, not recognising the harm that it did men. They would certainly have approved of charitable giving, but what they did not approve of was Jesus’ idea that money should be held on to lightly and not seen as good for its own sake. That was why they mocked. Jesus’ view went against all that men believed.
They would certainly have theoretically agreed that God was more important than money, but they fell into the trap of not recognising (as most people fail to recognise) that they actually allowed it to influence them more than they allowed God to do. They were not true ‘lovers of God’, they were ‘lovers of money’. In their practical lives they actually loved Mammon more than they loved God. They exemplified all the wrong aspects of Luke 16:13.
That this is true comes out in their history. Alexander Jannaeus in the previous century had warned his wife against the greediness and wickedness of men who ‘pretended to be Pharisees’ (i.e. were hypocritical Pharisees), and there is other evidence that proves that they were on occasions open to accepting bribes. While Jesus Himself spoke of the Scribes as ‘devouring widow’s houses’ (Luke 20:47), which probably refers to a tendency to sponge on them. So their reputation from this angle was certainly not blameless.
Jesus’ point is that what we love is demonstrated by how we behave. Those who truly love God hold lightly to the things of this world. But the very theology of the Pharisees made them take up the opposite viewpoint and see possession of wealth as highly desirable. And the result was that it then became loved for its own sake. They became lovers of Mammon even while they thought that they were lovers of God (see Luke 16:13).
Jesus Replies to The Mockery of the Pharisees Directed At His Ideas About Wealth (16:14-18).
The Pharisees had been listening in to his advice to His disciples and they derided Him. For in their eyes having wealth was a good thing. Some of them were wealthy, and others of them coveted wealth. But both were agreed that being wealthy and prospering was an evidence of being pleasing to God (compare Luke 20:47; Matthew 23:14; Matthew 23:16; Romans 7:7-8). They thus did not see mammon as ‘unrighteous’, for they failed to look at the motives that lay behind wealth gathering, and failed to see how selfish it made people.
In reply Jesus does not specifically argue about wealth. He goes deeper down to consider the more basic problem of their whole attitude to life, and replies by pointing out how many are the ways in which they are lacking because of the sin in their hearts. His point is that they hold most of the views that they do because their hearts are not genuinely pure. This is not only demonstrated by their views about wealth, but also by the fact that they have not recognised that the new age is present. Unlike His disciples, they are not pressing into the Kingly Rule of God and responding to Jesus’ teaching. They are blind to heavenly realities. Furthermore they are also not observing the genuine details of the God-given written Law in which they boast, and this is evidenced by the fact that some of them even have their eyes on other people’s wives, and are justifying their behaviour by manipulating the Law so as to be able to marry them. They may deride Him, but if they would but look into their hearts they would scoff at themselves.
In the chiasmus for the whole section this passage is paralleled with the blind man at Jericho who insistently pressed himself on Jesus until his eyes had been opened. Here it is the Pharisees who are spiritually blind, while the disciples (who had been spiritually blind) are pressing into the Kingly Rule of God.
a The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things; and they scoffed at him (Luke 16:14).
b And he said to them, “You are they who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts, for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15).
c “The law and the prophets were until John, from that time the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God is preached, and every man enters violently into it” (Luke 16:16).
b “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the law to fall” (Luke 16:17).
a “Every one who puts away his wife, and marries another, commits adultery, and he who marries one who is put away from a husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18).
Note that in ‘a’ the Pharisees are seen as lovers of money and in the parallel they are seen as lovers of other men’s wives. In ‘b’ we are told of what is exalted among men and is an abomination to God (their own interpretation of the Law), and in the parallel we have what is exalted by God, the genuine written words of the Law. And in ‘c’ and centrally we have what has even surpassed what is exalted by God, the Kingly Rule of God itself which all whose hearts are right (which sadly excludes the Pharisees who are dedicated to their own teaching) press violently into.
‘And he said to them, “You are they who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts, for that which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”
Jesus recognises that their derision goes to the very heart of what is wrong with them. They have built up a theology to which they can point to demonstrate the ‘rightness’ of their behaviour, much of which is actually an abomination to God, for it makes idols of their ‘laws’ which in fact themselves fail to make them righteous. He wants them to recognise that God does not smile on their posturing, it makes Him sick. All their emphases are in the wrong place.
It is true they can thus justify themselves in men’s eyes. Indeed men, who have similar wrong ideas, actually admire them for it. They parade their asceticism (Matthew 6:16), they parade their phylacteries (Matthew 23:5), they parade their almsgiving (Matthew 6:2), they parade their praying (Matthew 6:5), they parade their excessive ‘cleanness’ (Matthew 23:25; Mark 7:3-5), they tithe more than is necessary so as to make a good impression (Matthew 23:23-24), they make a great fuss about the Sabbath (while at the same time providing ways of avoiding the strictness that they profess), and it makes them proud, and arrogant. And people think they are wonderful and exalt them (compare Luke 14:11; Romans 11:20; Romans 12:16) because it is far more than they do themselves, and accords with man’s false view of God as someone to be manipulated by such methods.
Yet they are at the same time cold, and heartless, and supercritical and lacking in compassion when dealing with people. They are missing out on ‘the weightier matters of the Law’, justice, faith and mercy (Matthew 23:23). Their whole way of life is thus an abomination in the sight of God because of their pride (compare Proverbs 16:5), their religious posturing (Isaiah 1:13), and their unjust dealings (Proverbs 11:1). This is because it all stems from the wrong motives, from the idea of bargaining with God to obtain His favour (if we obey the covenant you will give us eternal life and establish Israel), the desire to be approved of and admired by men, and an over-readiness to criticise anyone who fails to agree with and fit into their ideas. Men may esteem such ideas, but God abhors them. For while the first statement, that a satisfying life comes about through keeping the Law, is, if correctly stated, theoretically in accordance with Scripture (Leviticus 18:5), none of them can achieve it because they have already sinned, and sin constantly. Thus if it is seen as a bargaining counter they are seeking to achieve the impossible.
But what the Scripture was promising (Leviticus 18:5) was not some arduous way into Heaven, it was that by living in accordance with His Law they would enjoy a full life in fellowship with God. So God was not there speaking of achieving eternal life through it. That could only be through God’s gift (Romans 6:23). That could only be obtained through God’s mercy alone. Thus in doing what they were doing, they were striving to fulfil a goal that they had laid out for themselves, and were missing what was most important, the fact that the new age with its Good News was here, so that eternal life was being offered through faith in Him. Furthermore they had also by their methods distorted the written and infallible Law of God, which they had transformed into something unrecognisable.
‘That which is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’ We have seen above some of the things that men exalt in, but which God hates, but there are two actually mentioned in the passage. The first is their love of wealth. Most men agree with them and exalt in it, but how much God abominates it comes out in the parable that follows. For it stands between men and true goodness. In the parable Abraham, (surely an authority whom the Pharisees will recognise), is pictured as informing the rich man that ‘remember that you in your lifetime received your good things ---but now --- you are in anguish’. Here then is a warning of the danger of riches. Those who bask in good things now are in danger for the future unless they ensure that others more needy can bask in the good things too. But the second will be mentioned rather unexpectedly in Luke 16:18, for we must ask why does He in context bring up the question of divorce? We have already seen that the verse parallels Luke 16:14 in the chiasmus, which suggests that it speaks of something else which the Pharisees love. This suggests that while they were too chaste to engage in open adultery or involvement with prostitutes, they did not mind, or object to, indulging in adultery through marriage with divorced persons. (Perhaps some recent case was especially in Jesus’ mind). That too was esteemed among men, but was abomination in the sight of God.
“The law and the prophets were until John, from that time the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God is preached, and every man enters violently into it (or ‘every man is overpowered by it’).”
Their next major failure lay in their having failed to recognise God’s intervention in history. They professed to honour the Law and the Prophets, and that was good in so far as it was true, but they had failed to recognise that with the coming of John the Baptiser, and especially in His own coming, these were in process of fulfilment. Now as promised by Isaiah 61:1-2 the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 4:43; Luke 8:1; Acts 8:12) was being proclaimed, and men were ‘pressing into it with great violence’. They were ‘striving to enter in at the narrow door’ (Luke 13:24). They were ‘taking up their crosses and following Him’ (Luke 14:27; Luke 9:23). A great work of revival was taking place. The Pharisees themselves, on the other hand, having failed to recognise it, were failing to enter. That was their problem. They were so bound by their own teaching that they failed to recognise heavenly realities. And in the same way they also failed to recognise the dangers of wealth and divorce, which hit at the very root of men’s lives.
Alternately the verb can be translated as in the passive voice in which case it means ‘every man is overpowered by it’. Then we may see it as signifying that the fire of His word, which He has cast on the earth, has possessed them (Luke 12:49), the Kingly Rule of God has overpowered them and taken them captive.
Whichever is the case the ‘all’ refers to the disciples to whom He had spoken the previous parable. In contrast with the Pharisees they have revealed their determination to be under the Kingly Rule of God.
“But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one tittle of the law to fall.”
But all this does not mean that the Instruction of God (the Law) has been superseded, for nothing in that Instruction can fail. Heaven and earth will pass away before that can happen. Every last letter or part of letter is sacrosanct. The tittle (or ‘horn’) was the addition made to some Hebrew letters in order to differentiate them (compare Matthew 5:18 which has ‘not one iota or tittle’). We should note Jesus’ high view of Scripture.
And it is the Kingly Rule of God under which that true Instruction will be fulfilled. But the problem here is that the Pharisees, far from honouring God’s Instruction in this way, have woven it into a pattern of their own choosing. The result is that it means that they are failing to recognise its true meaning and its fulfilment in Him. For while it is their claim that they honour that Instruction, and would even die for it, they have in fact transformed it into something unrecognisable, as He will now evidence from one example, their teaching on divorce.
“Every one who puts away his wife, and marries another, commits adultery, and he who marries one who is put away from a husband commits adultery.”
For God’s Instruction says that every man who puts away his wife and marries another commits adultery. And that anyone who marries a divorced person commits adultery. This is because, as Genesis 2:23-24 makes clear, when a man and a woman marry they become ‘one flesh’. That is why Jesus elsewhere declares, ‘what God has joined together let not man put asunder’ (Mark 10:9; Matthew 19:6). So having become one flesh they are inseparable, and to break that oneness in any way can only bring them under the displeasure of God. This means that when a man puts away his wife and marries another he commits adultery. He falsely breaks the tie that binds him to his first wife.
The particular addition of the second part of the verse, ‘he who marries one who is put away from a husband commits adultery’, may indicate a propensity on the part of Pharisees to marry wives who have been divorced. Perhaps they saw themselves as obtaining merit through it, or perhaps there were particularly outstanding cases that Jesus has in mind.
This particular example was a good one to use as easy divorce caused such clear and open distress to innocent women. It very much revealed the worst side of the Pharisees who had a contempt for women. All listening would recognise the point, for on the whole the Rabbis had watered this Law down so much that divorce was allowed for the most trivial of reasons. By a misuse of Deuteronomy 24:1-4 they had made void the Law through their traditions. Hillel allowed a man to divorce his wife if she burned the dinner, or if she talked to a strange man, or if she talked disrespectfully about his relations in his presence, and Akiba allowed it if a man found someone prettier than his wife. Thus was the sacredness of marriage, established at creation (Genesis 2:24), treated with mockery. On the other hand a woman was not allowed to initiate divorce for any reason whatsoever. All this was a scandalous treatment of the Law and made a mockery of it. But it epitomised the whole Pharisaic attitude to the Law and to women. In one sense they treated the Law very reverently, but by their manipulation of it they often made a fool of it.
So the Pharisees, having mocked Jesus because of His teaching on riches, have suddenly had the tables turned on them. He has demonstrated not only that they cannot ‘see the Kingly Rule of God’ (compare John 3:2), but also how they misuse the Law in even what is most basic to a satisfactory family life. They are seen as totally unreliable guides, and as destroying what lies at the very root of a stable society. Rather than simply argue with them about riches He has totally laid bare the bankruptcy of their whole lives and teaching.
The dual thoughts of the use of riches, and the validity of the Law and the prophets now lead into the story of the rich man and Lazarus. This commences with the false behaviour of a rich man and ends with an appeal to the Law and the prophets, that Law which, if given its Scriptural interpretation (‘the prophets’) rather than its Pharisaic interpretation, will, if men heed it, prevent them taking the downward path. But, as he has already stressed, the Pharisees have manipulated that Law to suit their own ideas, and it has therefore for them lost its effectiveness. And He will now also make clear that it is precisely because the rich man, like the Pharisees, has manipulated the Law of Moses and the prophets, and has in his case withheld help from the poor, that he ends up as he does.
‘Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day,’
The story opens with the picture of a man who according to Pharisaic teaching was a man blessed by God. He was wealthy, he dressed in the most sumptuous of clothing, he ate at a well-filled table. He saw himself as ‘almost royalty’. He would have been admired and respected, and have been seen as a good example by all, for nothing bad was known about him. And all thought how fortunate he was. He was shielded from the problems of life that faced most people, a picture of total (but selfish and self-satisfied) contentment. His clothing, if not his life, was modelled on the woman in Proverbs 31:22. But whereas for her it was a sign of her industry, for him it was a sign of his total self-sufficiency and selfishness.
The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31).
This story deals with two aspects of what has gone before, the danger of possessing riches and not using them rightly, and the danger of ignoring God’s true Instruction. Jesus will point out that if only the rich man had heeded the Instruction given by Moses and the prophets he would not have ended up in Hades, and it is equally open to his brothers (and by implication the Pharisees) to hear it too. If they do not then the fault lies with them. It illustrates the fact the one who is highly exalted among men may well be an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15).
The story is closely connected with what has gone before. Had the rich man recognised that his wealth was entrusted to him by God for the purpose of using it in God’s service, and had he sought friends in eternal dwellings by having a heart right towards God, so that he used his wealth properly, he would not have ended up where he did (Luke 16:9). But his attitude was like that of the Pharisees (Luke 16:14-15). He considered that his wealth demonstrated how good he was, and did not realise what it had turned him into. It was a warning to the Pharisees, who had jeered at His teaching about wealth, of what their attitude to wealth could result in. In contrast Lazarus did have friends in eternal dwellings, because by being named he is revealed as one whose name was written in Heaven (Luke 10:20). It was further a warning to the Pharisees that they should listen to Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:16; Luke 16:29; Luke 16:31), and not to traditions that were not genuinely the word of God (Mark 7:13).
Some claim that this is not a parable but a true story, partly on the grounds that the idea of it being a parable is not mentioned, and partly because Jesus does not usually include names in parables. However there are certainly other parables where they are clearly parables and yet are not so described, and it may be argued that the name is given to the beggar in order specifically to indicate his relationship with God. For it is by naming him that Jesus is able to convey the fact that he is a godly man. This is revealed by the fact that his name means ‘God has helped’. Jesus did not want to give the impression that all poor men automatically went to ‘Heaven’, but it was only those with a relationship with God. (Lazarus, or Eleazar, was a highly popular name at this period and there is absolutely no reason why we should connect this Lazarus with the one described in John 11:0). In fact fictional stories of people going into the afterworld and returning to give details of the afterworld were popular in the ancient world, and the characters were regularly named. So thus it was here. (However, it should be recognised that Jesus actually makes clear here that returning from the afterlife is something that is not allowed to happen).
Furthermore we must recognise that most of the details in the story must be metaphorical whether it is a parable or not. They cannot be taken as a genuinely physical description of what lies beyond the grave if for no other reason than that this is before the resurrection so that those in question have no bodies. The vivid detail is in order to convey ideas, not in order to give us the geography of the afterworld, and of the state of those who had passed on, except in the most general terms.
a There was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day (Luke 16:19 a).
b And a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores (Luke 16:20-21).
c And it came about that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom, and the rich man also died, and was buried, and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom (Luke 16:22-23).
d And he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame” (Luke 16:24).
e But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in the same way evil things, but now here he is comforted, and you are in anguish, and besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:25-26).
d And he said, “I pray you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28).
c But Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them” (Luke 16:29).
b And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent” (Luke 16:30).
a And he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Note that in ‘a’ there is a rich man with great wealth (who manifestly does not hear God’s Law through Moses), and in the parallel if his brothers who are also rich do not hear Moses then no other method will be sufficient to move them. In ‘b’ there is a certain Lazarus living in misery, and in the parallel the rich man desires that this Lazarus whom he had left to live in misery go to his wealthy brothers to warn them of the danger that they are in. In ‘c’ Abraham comes on the scene in the afterlife, and in the parallel it is Abraham who points to Moses and the prophets and gives the important message of the story. In ‘d’ the rich man pleads for help for himself, and in the parallel he pleads for help for his brothers. And centrally in ‘e’ is the fact that no message can go to those who are in Hades awaiting final judgment, for none can go there to take it.
‘And a certain beggar named Lazarus was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores.’
There was also a beggar. He was probably a semi-invalid for he was ‘laid’ (the root of the verb means ‘thrown’) at the gate of the rich man, with the hope that some pity might be shown to him. He was full of sores (and therefore ritually ‘unclean’), but the only ones who had any association with him were the dogs who licked his sores, and this only aggravated his sores. His misery was thus added to by the fact that scavenging dogs snuffled around him, and he could do nothing about it. No one else wanted even to touch him. But there is one other difference. He has a name, in Hebrew ‘Eleazar’ (Eliezer), ‘he whom God had helped’. It tells us that although no one else was willing to touch him, God was willing to do so. The world saw a man to be pitied, a man who had nothing. But he had all the riches in the world, because he had God. And his name is mentioned because it was written in Heaven (Luke 10:20), and would be used when he went there. It may well be that in choosing the name Jesus remembered Abraham’s faithful servant (Genesis 15:2). Here was one who was faithful to Abraham’s memory.
The story has in mind that in general it is the ‘poor’ who tend to seek God, and the rich who keep Him at a distance (see Luke 6:20-26, and compare the use of ‘poor’ in the Psalms e.g. Psalm 40:18; Psalms 72:2-4).
‘Gate.’ A large oriental gate leading into a city or a mansion (Matthew 26:71; Acts 10:17; Acts 12:13; Acts 14:13).
‘Desiring to be fed.’ All he wanted was a few crumbs, and he did not even get that. It is a picture of total lack of concern and utter callousness. (We can almost hear the rich man saying, “Don’t give him anything. It will only encourage him”).
‘The crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.’ All he wanted was what was thrown away. But they were not for him for he could not get near the table. Such ‘crumbs’ were regularly eaten by dogs (Mark 7:28). So the only taste of the crumbs he got was from the misery of the dogs licking his sores! (Compare here the vivid description in Judges 1:7. Even those poor souls were better off than he was).
Some have said that the rich man was condemned for being rich. But that is not strictly true. Abraham had been rich too. The stress is rather on the fact that he had the opportunity to show kindness and compassion on his doorstep and did nothing. He was totally callous. His sin was that he did nothing when much needed to be done. It was that that revealed the true state of his heart.
-23 ‘And the rich man also died, and was buried, and in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.’
The rich man also died, and was buried. What a splendid funeral he had. People probably talked about it for months afterwards. A sumptuous feast, a large funeral procession and a beautiful tomb. And he was respectfully and reverently placed in his tomb. What more could a man ask for in death? But there were no angels waiting for him there. He had no watching angel (Matthew 18:10; Hebrews 1:14). As far as Heaven was concerned he was anonymous. He had no name. That was the difference. Lazarus may not have been ‘buried’. He had been tossed into a beggar’s grave. But his name was known in Heaven.
But unknown to the world which had said its ‘goodbyes’ the rich man was in Hades in anguish. Hades was the Greek translation for the Hebrew Sheol, the world of the grave, the world of emptiness and of virtual nothingness (see Ezekiel 32:18-32; Isaiah 14:15-20), the outer darkness (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30), the other world apart from God. And as far as he was conscious he was in anguish. All was emptiness, all was darkness, all was distress, it was God forsaken.
It must be remembered that this was the intermediate state before the resurrection. Nor should we read from it too much of the details. They are there, not to tell us what the after world is like, but in order to get over the important point that follows.
‘Sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.’ This is a description provided for the purpose of getting over the points in the parable. It is not to be taken literally. We have no reason to think of those cast into the grave world as conscious of what is happening outside that world, nor that they can see what is outside it. Nor are we really to see that Lazarus was reclining next to Abraham. But, even if not literal, it is a true description of Lazarus’ joyous situation. The thought is rather that Abraham and Lazarus and all the multitude of the redeemed enjoyed wondrous and joyous fellowship in the presence of God.
We may note here that Abraham was an example of a rich man who was in Paradise, for he had recognised that his riches came from God (Genesis 14:23) and had used them accordingly.
‘And he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” ’
This anonymous rich man who had needed nothing on earth, now cried out because he had nothing, and was in a state of torment.
‘Father Abraham.’ Like the Pharisees he claimed kinship with Abraham. But it had done him no good. Consequences in the afterlife are not the result of who we are, they result from what we have become.
Notice how the tables have turned. The rich man has become the beggar. He has nothing. He had never thought in terms of storing up treasure in Heaven, or of making friends in eternal dwellings. That had been for fools. But now he, who had never given even a cup of water to a beggar, was, as a beggar, calling on Lazarus for just a spot of water on his tongue. Lazarus in his earthly misery had once depended on him for crumbs, and he had let him down badly. Now he saw in Lazarus his only hope of even a little alleviation from his misery by means of a drop of water (a liquid ‘crumb’). Again we must not take this literally. He had no tongue, there was no flame, he was rather a disembodied spirit in anguish. The point is in the contrast.
Note the assumption that where Lazarus is there will be plenty of water. To a Jew living in Palestine a Paradise without water was inconceivable (see Revelation 22:1-5). Water was the essence of life. All knew of the burning heat of the desert and how it could leave a man parched and desperate and on the point of death. And of the joy of coming across an oasis or a spring which could finally relieve the desperate need. But in the world of the grave where men are apart from God, in contrast with those who go to be with God, there are no springs, not even spiritual ones.
‘But Abraham said, “Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in the same way evil things, but now here he is comforted, and you are in anguish.” ’
‘Son.’ Abraham recognises his kinship. He is a son of Abraham, but it does him no good (compare Luke 3:8). The Pharisees also laid great stress on being sons of Abraham (John 8:33; John 8:39). The reply of Abraham to the rich man is the reply of Jesus to the taunts of the Pharisees (Luke 16:14). If in your life time you receive good things, and do not use them to the glory of God, in the afterlife you will receive bad things. Riches are a heavy responsibility which few can bear and survive, for they corrupt the soul.
The reply is not saying that all who suffer in this life will have joy in the next life, and that all who have joy in this life will have sorrow in the next. That is to look at it superficially. The reply is particular to their situations. The one is the rich man who enjoyed his luxuries with thought or care for no one but his own family, who misused his riches and ignored God’s Instruction given in the Law of Moses. Who basically ignored God. He knew what the Instruction of God taught him, but the pleasure of sin and the delight in riches overrode it. His comforts anaesthetised him. He had thus rejected compassion and had chosen to enjoy ‘good things’. he had no doubt had compassion on those that he loved. But he had not looked outside his own circle. Thus the good things that he had enjoyed now witnessed against him, and cried out about his disobedience. The other is the man whose name was recorded in Heaven, who was the one whom God helped. In his life he had suffered lack, but because his heart was right towards God he had no lack in the next life. And the principle is that the joys or sorrows that they experienced in this life no longer matter, except to testify for or against what they were, for the next life sets all to rights for good or bad. (For was we discover at the end the condemnation of the rich man lay in the fact that he had ignored the Instruction of God).
“And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.”
The further point, vividly put, is that the moment that this life is over, destinies have been determined. There can be no changes beyond the grave. There is no intermingling of those who enjoy eternal life with those who have gone to eternal death, nor can be. There is no Purgatory. What separates them is impenetrable.
‘A great gulf fixed.’ The idea is of people on both sides of an unbridgeable chasm. It is a vivid physical picture portraying a spiritual reality. There is no thought of a Purgatory. It is one place or the other with no way of moving in between.
‘And he said, “I pray you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” ’
Again this is not to be taken literally. Talking about the rich man as still having some good about him because he is concerned for others is irrelevant, for this is simply putting over in vivid picture form the fact that if men will not listen to the word of God, they will heed nothing. (In fact if we press the detail he still sees Lazarus as someone who is there in order to do as he is told and to see to his desires). This is accomplished by means of a fictional conversation between Abraham (whose voice crosses the great gulf!) and the rich man (whose voice, that of a disembodied spirit, does the same).
Putting it less picturesquely it is Jesus’ way of making clear what the responsibility is, of the rich man’s still living brothers, and of the Pharisees, and of all men. It is to recognise that they will get no voice from the dead beyond the grave (apart from the One Who will rise from the dead) and that they must therefore take heed to the voices put in this world by God.
‘Five brothers.’ The number ‘five’ is the number of covenant. (Compare the feeding of the five thousand). These five brothers represented Israel who always sought signs. But God will give them no further signs, for they have already received them in the Law of Moses. Why do they need signs when that book contains signs galore, and they ignore them? Why do they need to be told what to do, when God has already told them what to do and they disobey Him?
‘But Abraham says, “They have Moses and the prophets, let them hear them.” ’
Abraham points him, and all who hear, to Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them. They are the means by which God speaks to the world. No reference is made to Jesus. The poignant emphasis is on the fact that the Pharisees, who claimed to honour Moses and the prophets, did not in fact even listen to them (see Luke 16:15-16). They had actually shielded themselves from them by their tradition. For had they listened to their deeper voice they would have known the truth about riches. Even more so would they know about them if they heeded the approach of the Kingly Rule of God which has now come (Luke 16:16).
For what the Law and the Prophets had to say consider the following, (Deuteronomy 15:1-3; Deuteronomy 15:7-12; Deuteronomy 22:1-2; Deuteronomy 23:19; Deuteronomy 24:7; Deuteronomy 24:14-15; Deuteronomy 24:19-21; Deuteronomy 25:13-14; Isaiah 3:14-15; Isaiah 5:7-8; Isaiah 10:1-3; Isaiah 32:6-7; Isaiah 58:3; Isaiah 58:6-7; Isaiah 58:10; Jeremiah 5:26-28; Jeremiah 7:5-6; Ezekiel 18:12-18; Ezekiel 33:15; Amos 2:6-8; Amos 5:11-12; Amos 8:4-6; Micah 2:1-2; Micah 3:1-3; Micah 6:10-11; Zechariah 7:9-10; Malachi 3:5). Their message was clear enough.
‘And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if one go to them from the dead, they will repent.” ’
The rich man was a typical Jew. He believed in being given wonderful signs. He was not alone. The Jews were always seeking signs. And the reason for this was because their past history had been full of signs that God was with them. They were like children wanting a repetition of the display. Yet the point is that if those signs from the past would not convince them, why should present signs? Interestingly enough God would shortly give the Jews the sign that they wanted in the raising of another Lazarus (God has a sense of what is apposite), and what did the Jews do? They planned to put him to death (John 12:10). Many people today are similar. They say that they would believe if only they saw signs. But Jesus is making clear that while that may be so, it would not be a belief worth having. Why, says the rich man, if one goes to them from the dead they will repent. No, says Jesus, not if they are the kind who do not listen to the word of God.
‘And he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead.” ’
So Jesus tells him that if they will not listen to the word of God through Moses and the prophets, they will not listen even if one rises from the dead. This was prophetic concerning His own resurrection, but it also contained an eternal truth. It is that those persuaded by wonders and signs, will just as quickly forget them when time has eradicated the impact from their minds. Those only can be expected to persevere, who believe because of the word of God, and especially the word of God as given through Jesus.
The Teaching Of The Passage On The Afterlife.
We will pause in order to consider what lessons about the Afterlife we may be able to gather from this account as connected with other Scriptures, although too much dogmatism would be foolish. The first point is that in death those who are Christ’s go to a different sphere than those who are not. Elsewhere we learn that they go to be ‘with Christ, which is far better’ than being on earth (Philippians 1:21). This must suggest consciousness and enjoyment. That ties in with here.
Unbelievers (revealed as such by their lives) go to a place of unpleasantness, of spiritual thirst and longing, of ‘anguish’. They have no joy in Christ. They lack what God made us for. How much of the anguish is positive (this flame) and how much is due to what is lacked (thirst) it is impossible and unnecessary to say. But while it is doubtful if we should take the idea of fire literally (it is chosen because it causes thirst and is destructive) it is clear that it is a place best avoided. It is a place of ‘outer darkness’ (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30), away from the true Light.
Both await the day of Christ’s appearing. At that stage the resurrection will take place. Then those who are truly His will rise in ‘spiritual bodies’ (1 Corinthians 15:44) and go into everlasting bliss into a new spiritual ‘earth’ ( Isa 35:10 ; 2 Peter 1:11; Revelation 21:1 to Revelation 22:5), while those who are not His will be cast in their bodies into Gehenna (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:47-48; Revelation 20:15). This is the equivalent of the ancient rubbish dump outside Jerusalem and is described in those terms, except that its fires never go out and its maggots never cease consuming (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48). But that it is largely spiritual comes out in that it is to receive the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10). A literal burning furnace and literal fire would be of no use there. Many would argue further that nowhere is eternal consciousness suggested, except for the Devil, and that the impression given is otherwise. Consider for example the contrast in Revelation 19:20-21. The people themselves are cast in dead along with Death and Hades (Luke 20:12-15). It is the Devil and his minions who are cast in alive. But it is certainly something that no one would wish to experience, and the fact of punishment will be real and best avoided. It is deliberately revealed as horrific.