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Two Rich Men

Luke 16:19 -- 31

Lesson audio


(The reader on the web will please note that there is a longer treatment of this subject in our study on Wealth and Poverty.)

The passage is a familiar one:

"Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. "And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "But Abraham *said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' "But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'"

(Luk 16:19-31 NASB)


Those listening to Jesus that day would have had great respect for Abraham. A significant part of Scripture is devoted to telling of his life. So we will spend a few lines on the character, action and reward of Abraham.


What sort of a fellow was this Abraham? First, he was a pious man[1]. He is frequently presented to us as offering various sacrifices to God. When God told him to pack up and move, he packed up and moved. Anyone in his time would certainly have noticed it.

That connects very well with the fact that he is also a faithful man[2]. What he says he will do, he does. This is a man of upright integrity.


We have a wealth of material on Abraham; here are four of his acts which show his pious, faithful character:

  • He is a defender of the righteous. When God was about to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah, [3] It is an act of boldness. When the Almighty intends to destroy a city, most of us would check our insurance coverage before heading out in our RV to a safe distance. Abraham brings before God the possibility of destroying the righteous with the wicked. In fact, God does send an angel to the only righteous man in town (Lot). But see that the defense of the righteous requires a relationship with God which is very close. It also requires a certain boldness.
  • He is unselfish. Recall the time that his flocks and herds grew so large that he and Lot had to part company.[4] It’s pretty clear that one choice will give you a well watered valley, the other a climate much drier. The choice might have caused friction and fighting; Abraham settles it by telling Lot he may pick which direction he’d like; Abraham will take the second choice.
  • Abraham practiced hospitality.[5] Indeed, he practiced it to angels without knowing that fact. In those times travel meant danger; only the homes of the hospitable were safe. Despite whatever risk there might have been from such hospitality, Abraham was gracious about it. It is a great virtue for one reason: the traveler is rarely able to pay you back.
  • Finally, Abraham gave us the greatest display of faith in the Old Testament. God ordered him to sacrifice his own son – his only son – on a fiery altar. His faith was so strong that his son, Isaac, submitted to being bound and placed on the altar.[6] It is a grand picture of the Crucifixion, where God sacrificed his only begotten son.

It sometimes comes as a surprise to people in our time that God actually rewards righteousness – that is, in the here and now. A gold-plated harp for eternity seems plausible, but in this world it’s dog eat dog. But see what God did for this man of faith:

  • He gave him all the material blessings he could handle.[7] We sometimes picture God as preferring us to be ascetic and poor. Actually, those who live the life of ordinary holiness are usually blessed this way. Some see it as divine providence; others see it as the natural result of hard work. It’s likely enough both.
  • Abraham is also raised to the highest honor in the Old Testament: he is called the friend of God. This is one reason we are called to pray for those in authority over us; we’re the friends of God.[8]

The Rich Man

The rich man – we will call him by the traditional name, Dives – has character too. We may make the comparison as we go.


It’s easy to say that Dives must have been a rotten character, given what happened to him in the end. But we can some virtue in him:

  • There is no sense that he is the Prodigal Son. He probably was a hard working man, at least in his younger days.
  • His primary character flaw seems to stem from one thing: he never had enough misfortune to cause him to look at himself. He was not a man of self-examination.
  • One thing is sure: he enjoyed his wealth – with the emphasis on the word “his.”

A man is known by the work he does. How does Dives look in this department?

  • He partied. Today, he would be known as a fraternity brother grown old; the parties were his life.
  • He was likely enough hospitable – to the rich. There is no sense here of him being a miser; on the contrary, he likely used his wealth to curry favor among the rich.
  • But one thing we do know for certain: he was ostentatious. Today he would be the guy with the solid gold chains around his neck, the big house with the Mercedes in the driveway who invites folks over for a barbeque now and then.

Simply put, Dives went to hell. The word used here is the Greek Hades, which is usually translated as “the grave.” There is another word used to denote hell. So this man is not in the worst possible place – yet. So he’s not in hell; but he’s sure not in heaven.

The Dialogue

It is interesting that Lazarus says nothing in this story. The conversation is between Dives and Abraham. So let’s walk through the conversation and see what results.


Dives doesn’t get a speaking part until he reaches Hades. What he does there is rather pitiable:

  • Note first that Dives can see Lazarus. He ignored him at his own gate; now he sees. It is a form of justice.
  • Now it is Dives who begs (and the last shall be first). He indeed does not have the courage to beg Lazarus directly; he goes to Abraham. With him, he begs for mercy.
  • But note one thing: it’s still “me first.” First fix my predicament. When that fails, send to my brothers.

Abraham, it seems, has no desire to assist Dives. Indeed, he makes three cogent points which are still relevant today:

  • First, this punishment is righteous. God sends no one to hell; they’re all volunteers.
  • Second, this punishment is eternal. There is no possibility of rescue.
  • Finally, he tells us that the witness of the Law and the Prophets is sufficient to move men to be righteous.

That last is most important. How often have you heard. “If I saw even one miracle, I would…” Here Abraham tells us: you have the evidence you need. Now what are you going to do with it?

One from the grave

The fool has said in his heart, there is no God. Our world today would make Dives right at home. Money still counts in this world. The world will urge you to “be reasonable” about this religion thing.

After all, the only evidence we have says it only happened once. Since it isn’t happening now, in my lifetime, that probably means it’s mythical. So I don’t have to worry about it. It’s much better to be ‘an atheist who understands and pursues reason instead of supernatural non-entities’ (as one critic of this web site expressed it).

The truth is much simpler. You have the recorded witness of God’s actions among men

Which brings us to the point of self-examination – that which Dives never did, apparently.

  • Do you allow God to mold you by giving you misfortune? Does his word mold you in handling that misfortune?
  • Are you “living richly” or living eternally?
  • What do you do for the Lazarus you can see?

[1] Genesis 12:7-8, for example.

[2] Hebrews 11:8-10

[3] Genesis 18:23-32

[4] Genesis 13:5-12

[5] Genesis 18:1-16

[6] Genesis 22:1-19

[7] Genesis 13:2

[8] John 15:15

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