The story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus has generated a great deal of controversy. The dividing lines are drawn as to whether the story should be read literally or taken as conjecture. Many use the story to describe life after death; and still others teach a sort of works-related determination of our fate, irrespective of Faith in Christ. A person’s interpretation of the narrative is usually a defense of their doctrinal position in any one of these areas.
But the controversy surrounding the interpretation of the familiar passage tends to over-shadow the message of the narrative itself. At the story’s climax, we find Abraham telling the rich man, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (verse 31). We understand then that the thrust of the story relates to people’s rejection of the Gospel Message – the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
The story reminds us of the situation Jesus faced throughout the Gospel of Luke: He was received by the poor, wretched sinners; but was rejected and scorned by the rich, powerful religionists. Jesus came to save the helpless; in so doing the mighty would be condemned by their rejection of Him. While they received “good things” in life (Luke 16:25), they were haughty in spirit; in contrast to the humility seen in Lazarus. Those who are humble will be exalted by God.
In an interesting note, it is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead that serves as the climax of the Gospels. The narrative of the rich man and Lazarus then serves as a summary of the Gospel of Luke. The parallel of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection reveals to us the primary message of the narrative.
Many of those who, like the rich man and his five brothers (verse 28), have a thorough knowledge of Moses and the Prophets, search the Scriptures in hopes of finding Eternal Life (John 5:39) – yet they reject the Message of the Gospel. While the lowly, persecuted soul follows Christ in simple Faith, and is ultimately rewarded by God. The Message of the rich man and Lazarus is the Message of Faith – Christ plus nothing.
Reader, take note: whatever an individual’s personal interpretation may be as to the story of the rich man and Lazarus; we all must come to the central Message contained therein. If our life is so characterized by worldliness, and we have a self-satisfied contentment in religiosity – we go to church, we sing in the choir, we live right; but we trust in those things to earn the blessings of God – we are denying the Grace of God that is ours in Christ. To reject Him is to reject all the “good things” of God.