Living the Good News in the Gospel of Luke
Study 7

Rich or poor, God knocks on every door
Luke 16:19-31

There was a popular belief in Jesus’ time that a righteous person suffered in this life for the few unrighteous things he had done, but in the life to come would enjoy the blessings for the many righteous deeds performed. Conversely, the unrighteous person would experience blessings in this life for the few good deeds done, but would suffer in eternity for the many unrighteous deeds committed while living. This story of the rich man and poor Lazarus appears at first to be just such a story of a dramatic and inevitable reversal of fortunes. Cf. Luke 6:20, 24.

Read Luke 16:19-31 carefully.

1. What does it say about the moral attributes of either person? Does Jesus say why Lazarus is carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom? Is any reason given why the rich man finished up in Hades in torment? Is it because one is poor and the other rich?

Let us examine further and discuss how these two types are described.

The rich man
He is clothed in purple and fine linen, symbols of royalty and wealth. Cf. 7:25; Amos 6:4-7.

He feasted sumptuously every day. “Feasted sumptuously” is the same word which is translated as “be merry” in 12:19 and 15:23-32. Compare and contrast the story of the rich man in 12:16-21 with the father in 15:23-30.
2. What implications can you draw? He addressed Abraham as “father.” Cf. 3:7-9.

3. What does the Baptist’s message tell us about the rich man?

He has five brothers who are like him—they do not “hear” Moses and the prophets. See what they say about the rich in Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 14:28-29; 15:1-11; Amos 2:6-8; Micah 3:1-3; Jeremiah 5:25-29; Isaiah 58:6-12.

4. What is the significance of v. 31, particularly the phrase, “if someone should rise from the dead”? What does it indicate in relation to the rich man?

He finished up in Hades in torment.

The poor man
He is named “Lazarus,” the Greek rendering of a shortened form of the Hebrew “Eliezer,” meaning “my God helps.”
He lay at the gate of the rich man, literally, he was ‘put down’ at the gate, signifying he was crippled and left there specifically for the purpose of begging. This was to take advantage of one of the “acts of righteousness,” almsgiving, required by the Pharisees (cf Matthew 6:1-4).
He desired to be fed from what fell from the rich man’s table, cf. Matthew 15:21-28. Note that both “Canaanite” and “dog” were pejorative terms for “outsiders.”
Dogs came and licked his sores—a sign of his being utterly rejected and outcast. For dogs and those associated with them were unclean. Cf. Exodus 22:31; 1 Kings 21:19, 23-24; 22:38.
In the afterlife he is seen reclining in the “bosom of Abraham.” Cf. 13:25-29. Keep in mind that people at a banquet in those days reclined, cf. John 13:23. Lazarus is now feasting in the Kingdom of God.
After discussing the significance of the various points about each, we can respond to the following questions:

5. What does this story really say about the rich and the poor?

6. What are some of the implications for our society today?

7. Where do we fit into this picture?

8. What does it say to us about reaching out to others?

9. What are some of the ways?

10. What is always our motivation?

Remember, we are the body of Christ who says: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come to him and eat with him and he with me” (Revelation 3:20)