Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Resolved 2008: Session #10

John MacArthur

Luke 16:19-31

The Pharisees are the audience that drew Jesus’ attention in telling this story (v.14). The Pharisees and all who followed them were in grave danger of being thrown into hell.

This is another warning passage to those who were part of the false religion of apostate Judaism. Hell is for religious people. Most people in the world are religious. Therefore, hell is mostly populated by religious people.

The Pharisees were religious and they believed in hell yet they didn’t think they were in danger of being sent there. They keep asking Jesus for signs while they reject the truth that He reveals.

This is a story of contrasts and reversals with many nuances. The poor man becomes rich and the rich man becomes horribly poor. There is a poor man on the outside and a rich man on the inside. There is a poor man who is hungry and a rich man who is well fed.

Lazarus never speaks in this story. It is not a story about heaven. Lazarus is only in this story for contrast. This is a story about hell.

There is no occasion in Scripture in which someone goes to hell and comes back. This seems to be a parable.

Jesus gives the poor man the name Lazarus, meaning “the one God helps,” which is clearly illustrated in the story.

The rich man lived life in a lavish way in which every day was a party. Whatever the man wanted each day, he had the resources to make sure that each day he got it. The Pharisees would have heard of this rich man and considered him to be blessed by God. They were the inventors of the prosperity gospel. They were lovers of money (v.14).

The poor man was covered with sores. The text indicates that the man had a crippling disease because it speaks of him being passively laid at the rich man’s gate (v.20).

The rich man is like the Pharisees, serving money rather than serving God. He gives the poor man no help even though he is almost certainly aware of his great need. He probably did not offer help because he figured that this was God’s curse against this man for some sin he committed.

And then an event happens to both of them that changes everything: death. The Pharisees would have been shocked to hear that the poor man went to heaven because they were expecting this man who was “obviously” cursed by God due to the circumstances of his life to be sent to hell. And they would have expected the rich man to go to heaven. But the opposite of what they expect occurs. The great reversal now occurs.

This upsets the simplistic (prosperity gospel) theology of the Pharisees that if you suffer in life you are cursed by God and if you prosper in life you are blessed by God. They knew that Abraham was not in hell, since this was their father and the friend of God. The point Jesus is making is that the poor man went to be in the same place that Abraham is. This would have blasted the sensibility and theology of the Pharisees. The poor man becomes the guest of honor at the table of Abraham.

The rich man, in Hades (hell), is fully conscious of where he is and what he’s experiencing. He is immediately transported there just as the poor man is immediately transported to Abraham’s bosom (heaven).

The merciless one now pleads for mercy. He now requests for himself what he was unwilling to give to the poor man who requested it from him. And even now he still thinks that Lazarus is his servant. He requests mercy to be shown to him by the very one whom he refused to show mercy to. Hell doesn’t change us in any way. It only punishes us.

The fact that the rich man asks for only a drip of water (and not a bucket or a hose) is an indicator that the soles of the damned suffer so profoundly that one tiny drop of relief would mean everything to them but it never comes. He is in agony. And no physical water will help him because this is spiritual thirst and suffering.

The good things that the rich man received in life, instead of using them to help others, used them on himself. The poor man, having received bad things in life, is now comforted. And there is a chasm that is set such that there conditions from this point forward are forever fixed.

The rich man at this point has compassion on his family. If the rich man had any redeeming value, this was it. He cared about his brothers. And he knew that, just like him, his brothers were on their way to hell. He is basically saying that if he knew before death what he now knows then he would have done anything to prevent being sent to hell. So he wants his brothers to have this opportunity to change. But their problem wasn’t that they didn’t have enough knowledge. Their problem was that they didn’t listen to the Scriptures. Salvation comes only through hearing the Word.

The rich man’s request for someone to rise from the dead to warn his brothers parallels the Pharisees’ demand for a sign instead of listening to the Scriptures that they had.

Christ rose from the dead and yet many still did not believe.

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