Peninsula Bible Church Forum Class, May 21, 2006
Does Christ Commend a Crook or "The Sting" (Luke 16:1-13)
When I was growing up, my father and I hitchhiked to Portland, Oregon, where we hoped to buy a used pickup, cheap. We were grateful to catch a ride with a very interesting fellow. He, like my father, was a school teacher, or at least he had been one. From the skills which he had developed in the classroom, he had moved into the world of industry. His new job was to “get rid of trouble-makers,” but in a way that would not violate any laws or arouse the anger of the unions. He would simply be placed alongside a trouble-maker on the job, and then would make the fellow so miserable he would quit, of his own free will.
That is another story. What was of great interest to me and my father was to hear of this fellow’s experiences in the classroom, which had made him such an expert in handling trouble-makers. He told us that he had taught school in New York City. The situation was so bad that there were policemen stationed in the halls. Teachers were routinely assaulted and intimidated. He learned the realities of life quickly.
On his first day of class, things seemed to start off well. The students all sat relatively quietly in their seats and gave some attention to him. But, at a pre-determined time, the entire class got up out of their seats and went to the back of the classroom, where they proceeded to “shoot craps.” This teacher did not react. But the next day he came prepared. He had taken note of the fact that at the place where they “shot craps” there was a metal plate. (This plate seemed to give them the right surface on which to carry on.) He wired the plate, and the next day, when the class went to the back to carry on their game, he charged the plate. Things happened quickly, as you would expect. One extremely large fellow walked up to the teacher and said, “Nice touch, professor. Nice touch.”
I think you can tell that, on the one hand, the fellow did not appreciate getting zapped with electricity. And yet, on the other hand, he had a kind of admiration for the way in which this teacher had handled things. The teacher was shrewd in dealing with this difficulty. I guess that I should go on to tell you that someone in that class invited him “out back” after school, to “have it out.” This teacher was also a golden gloves boxing champion in his weight class. After the principle informed him that he was “on his own,” the teacher went “out back” and whipped the toughest fellows in class. That was when the real education began.
My point in telling you this story is that it is possible for one shrewd person to appreciate the shrewdness of another, even though he has suffered from it. The student did not really appreciate getting zapped, but he could not help but appreciate the motivational methods of the teacher. Perhaps this young thug wasn’t uninterested in winning friends, but he did have an interest in influencing people. To see the teacher do a masterful job at influencing his class was, in one sense, an inspiration.
The same can be said for the rich man in our text in Luke chapter 16. He surely did not appreciate being “ripped off” by his steward, but he did at least have an appreciation for the skill, the shrewdness, of the steward in making provisions for his future. The steward, who was about to lose his position, had used his position and his master’s possessions in such a way as to “make friends” and thus to prepare for his own future. Even the master had to agree that the steward was shrewd. Perhaps, in the words of that young thug, the master could have said to his steward, “Nice touch!”
The Tension of the Text
The tension of our text should not be difficult to identify. While it is not so hard to see how the rich man might commend his steward, is it possible that Jesus actually commended this crook? Can our Lord, who hates sin, commend a crook? The question is a legitimate one. As you read through the commentaries you will find many creative efforts to “get our Lord off the hook,” by somehow qualifying the steward’s actions and thus minimizing his treachery.9 I believe that our text resolves this tension, in a very interesting way, but let us hold this issue in suspension until after we have studied our text more carefully.
The Structure of the Text
The parable of the unjust steward is but one part of a larger whole. The entire 16th chapter of Luke revolves about the central theme of material possessions. Let me begin by briefly outlining the structure of the entire chapter:
(1) The Unjust Steward—Vv. 1-13
(2) The Pharisees’ (who loved money) Protest & Jesus’ Response—Vv. 14-18
(3) The Rich Man and Lazarus—Vv. 19-31
The entire chapter, then, revolves about one’s attitude toward and use of material possessions. Our story, the parable of the unjust steward, is not the sum and substance of Jesus’ teaching on the subject. It is just one part of the piece of chapter 16. Beyond this, chapter 16 is but a part of the much broader teaching of our Lord on the subject of possessions throughout the entire gospel of Luke (followed up by Acts).
With this overall structure in mind, let us now give attention to the structure of our passage, which is as follows:
(1) The Parable of the Unjust Steward—Verses 1-8a
(2) Jesus’ Interpretation and Application of the Parable—Verses 8b-13
The subject of money and material possessions is one that Luke has been speaking to throughout the book of Luke. What we find in chapter 16 is not the final word on the subject, but it is more specific in its application than previous references, in my opinion. Let us briefly review what Luke has reported Jesus to have said on the subject thus far in this gospel:
John the Baptist is beginning his public ministry of preparing the people for the coming of Christ. He tells them to prepare the way of the Lord. He tells the multitudes that they need not only to repent, but to, “bring forth fruits in keeping with your repentance” (v. 8). In other words, they must practice what they profess. When pressed by the crowds as to what they must do, John gave three specific applications for three different groups.
(1) Those who had material goods (clothes & food) were to share with those who did not have them (v. 11).
(2) Tax-gatherers were not to collect more than was due (v. 12).
(3) Soldiers were to be content with their wages and not to extort money from others through a misuse of their power (v. 13).
NOTE: EVERY ONE OF THESE THREE SPECIFIC APPLICATIONS HAS MATERIAL POSSESSIONS IN VIEW.
Jesus introduced His ministry by citing Isaiah’s prophecy, which spoke of the good news being proclaimed to the poor and the oppressed, in the terminology of the Old Testament year of jubilee, at which time Israelites were released from their debts (cf. vv. 18-19).
Before Jesus called the twelve to be His disciples (chapter 6), He commanded them to launch out and to make a great catch, which served as a promise of His provision—of men who would believe (disciples), but perhaps also of the material needs of those who would follow Him as His disciples.
In Luke’s account of the “Sermon on the Mount” (here, more clearly than in Matthew 5) Jesus stressed the blessings which came to the poor (not “poor in spirit,” as in Matthew), and the woes which were to come upon the rich (cf. 6:20-26).
Later on, Jesus taught His disciples to give to those who would not likely repay, promising that God would repay them in return (vv. 34-38).
Jesus Himself was “poor” and was provided for by a group of women, who followed along, providing for Jesus and the rest from their own means (vv. 1-3).
Jesus sent out the 12 to preach, but without any provisions. They were to prove themselves worthy of their hire by their preaching and ministry (vv. 3-6). In other words, the disciples had to trust God to empower their ministry, and thus their material provisions would result from the gratitude of men for their ministry.
In verse 25 Jesus asked what good it would do a man to “gain the whole world, but lose his own soul.”
Jesus sent out the 70 to preach, again without taking provisions (vv. 1-12).
In the so-called Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught the disciples to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” (v. 3).
In response to the Pharisees fetish about ceremonial cleanness Jesus told them, “… give that which is within as charity, and then all things are clean for you” (v. 41).
Verses 13ff. Jesus is asked by one brother to tell the other to divide the inheritance, to which Jesus replies, in part,
“Beware, and be on your guard against every form of greed; for not even when one has an abundance does his life consist of his possessions” (v. 15).
“For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. For life is more than food, and the body than clothing” (vv. 22-23).
“But if God so arrays the grass in the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, how much more will He clothe you, O men of little faith! And do not seek what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, and do not keep worrying. For all these things the nations of the world eagerly seek; but your Father knows that you need these things. But seek for His kingdom and these things shall be added to you. Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has chosen gladly to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give to charity; make your selves purses which do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near, nor moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (vv. 28-34).
Jesus told His audience that when they have a banquet, they should not invite those who can pay them back, but those who can’t, so that God will pay them back (vv. 12-14).
In the story of the banquet which was given, and to which many in the end declined from coming, material acquisitions were prominent in the excuses (bought a field, a yoke of oxen, vv. 15-24).
“So therefore no one of you can be My disciple who does not give up all his own possessions” (v. 33).
The prodigal son squandered all his possessions; the older brother saved his, but both were preoccupied with possessions.
All of this is simply to remind ourselves that thus far in Luke’s gospel Jesus has had a great deal to say about material possessions. What Jesus says about possessions in chapter 16 is thus built upon the foundation laid in the previous chapters. We can, I believe, summarize Jesus’ teaching up to this point with the following principles:
(1) Jesus turned the way men should view money upside-down.
(2) True repentance and faith will dramatically change the way a follower of Christ thinks and acts with regard to material possessions—from getting it and keeping it (e.g. “bigger barns”), to giving it away.
(3) The reason for this radical change in one’s thinking about money is that the true disciple comes to realize that money cannot get him the things that are really important, but that Christ can.
Š The Christian ceases to trust in money and trusts in God.
Š The Christian ceases to serve money, and to serve God.
(4) Money and material things are temporal—they don’t last. The best that we can do with money is to use it now to produce those things which will last. By using money on earth as God instructs us we lay up lasting treasure in heaven. One of the ways to invest money on earth to gain eternal blessings is to help the poor and needy.
With this backdrop, let us press on to the parable of the “unjust steward,” seeking to learn the lessons which God has for us in it.
The Parable of the Unjust Steward (16:1-8a)
1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions. 2 So he called him in and asked him, ‘What is this I hear about you? Give an account of your management, because you cannot be manager any longer.’ 3 “The manager said to himself, ‘What shall I do now? My master is taking away my job. I’m not strong enough to dig, and I’m ashamed to beg— 4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’ 5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’ 6 “‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied. “The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’ 7 “Then he asked the second, ‘And how much do you owe?’ “‘A thousand bushels of wheat,’ he replied. “He told him, ‘Take your bill and make it eight hundred.’ 8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.
A certain rich man had a steward working for him who squandered10 his possessions. I take it that this means he must have helped himself to too much that belonged to his master. I can imagine that in our culture this would mean padded expense accounts, lavish meals and accommodations, a limousine, and the like. This man was consuming much of his master’s wealth, but producing very little. He was not working for his master, but for himself. Unlike Joseph, who saw his stewardship as a sacred trust, and who thus refused to “use” his master’s wife, this steward seems to have helped himself to everything that was within his reach.
Word got to the steward’s master,11 who fired the man, effective at a future date. During this short time, the steward was expected to get his master’s accounts in order so that he could be replaced. This short period of time was not intended for the steward’s benefit, but for the master’s. The steward, however, was highly motivated. He was too old to “dig ditches” and he was too proud to beg. He must think of some way that he can make use of his master’s goods during this short time to prepare for his own future.
Like a flash,12 it came to him. He would make use of his position and his master’s possessions in the little time that was left, in such a way as to provide for his needs far into the future. While his position and his master’s possessions would be taken from him, he could make friends who would take care of him. And so he set out to do it. He called in each and every one13 of his master’s debtors. Each seems to have been a party to this “scam,” but each is benefited by a significant reduction in their obligation to the steward’s master. Thus, all are indebted to the steward.
Before we consider the master’s response to being “ripped off” or our Lord’s commentary on this parable, let us take note of the wickedness of the steward, as seen in his deeds. The steward was unrighteous, both at the beginning of the parable, and at the end. The steward was not just unrighteous as a person, he was unfaithful as a steward. He was unfaithful to his task and to his master. This unfaithfulness is what necessitated his shrewdness in preparing for his future. Every indication points to the fact that the allegations against the steward (squandering his possessions) were accurate. The steward did not change for the good, he only became more shrewd in doing evil. The steward’s attitudes and actions were all motivated by self-interest. He involved others in his sinful “scam.” It is inconceivable that the rich man’s debtors were not co-conspirators with the steward. They knew what they were doing. The steward, then, appealed to their greed.
In the telling of this parable, Jesus did not minimize the evil this man did, nor did He in any way commend him for doing evil, but His master did commend him. Probably, the biggest surprise of the parable is that the master, who has just been “ripped off” by his steward, is able to praise his steward. This praise is not for the good that he has done his master, nor for the ethical aspects of his deed, but simply for the shrewdness which he displayed.
The critical question here is this: Why can a man who has just been “ripped off” by his employee, a man who has suffered a substantial and irretrievable loss, commend a crooked employee? The answer to this question is given by our Lord in verse 8. Jesus’ answer is the key to the interpretation of this passage, so let us consider it very carefully.
“And his master praised the unrighteous steward because he had acted shrewdly; for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind [literally, “their own generation”] than the sons of light” (Luke 16:8).
The first part of verse 8 is the conclusion of the parable. The story concludes with the account of the master’s praise of his steward’s shrewdness. In the second half of verse 8 our Lord begins His commentary on the parable. How are we to understand and apply this parable? What does it mean? The answer comes from our Lord, who begins to interpret this story in the second half of verse 8 with an explanation of why the master can praise the shrewdness of his unrighteous steward. That there is an explanation coming is indicated by the “for” (both in the NIV and the NASB), which precedes the statement, “the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.”
Our Lord’s words here indicate several important realities. (1) Both the unrighteous steward and his master appreciated (valued) the same thing—shrewdness. You don’t commend a man for something you disdain. (2) Both the unrighteous steward and his master were members of the group which our Lord characterized as “the sons of this age.” The contemporary expression, “it takes one to know one” fits here. The master could recognize and appreciate “shrewdness” because he valued it and he practiced it, and as such he was “one” with his steward. (3) Neither the master nor his steward were members of the group identified as the “sons of light.” I take it that this means neither of them knew God—they were unbelievers.
I do not think that I am going too far afield to say, then, that the master commended his steward’s shrewdness because he knew that he would have done the same thing in the same circumstances. You do not praise what you would not do, or wish you could have done.
Now, the critical question: Did Jesus praise the steward for his shrewdness? We can easily see that the master praised his steward’s shrewdness, and we can even understand why he would do so. But would Jesus join with the master in his praise of this man’s shrewdness? The answer is a dogmatic, No! This answer, in my opinion is clear, even though few commentators have accepted it, choosing rather to see this parable as teaching Christians to be more shrewd, more like the world in the way we handle money.14 Let me enumerate the reasons why this conclusion is an inescapable one.
(1) Jesus never commended nor advocated shrewdness to His disciples here. The word “shrewd” or “shrewdly” is found twice in the parable (v. 8), but not in the Lord’s interpretation and application of it (vv. 9-13). Never does our Lord imply or state that Christians should be shrewd, in any way that approximates the shrewdness of this “unrighteous” steward.
(2) The concept that is most frequently found in our Lord’s interpretation and application of the parable is FAITHFULNESS. Faithfulness and shrewdness are, in this text, diametrically opposed. The steward “had to” be shrewd because he had been unfaithful. Disciples that are faithful do not need to be shrewd.
(3) Shrewdness does characterize Satan (Genesis 3:1) and the unbelieving world (Luke 16:8), but it should not characterize the Christian. The steward and his master are both identified by Jesus as unbelievers. Does the Bible ever teach us to act like the world? Does it not teach us the exact opposite? We are to be “wise as serpents” and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16), but we are not to be shrewd as this steward was. More about this later.
(4)Since the steward is unrighteous and his master, like he, is one of those known as the “sons of this age,” in contrast to the “sons of light,” how can we possibly conclude that the master symbolizes God and the steward, the saint? This, to me is one of the most critical points. The only way that we can really conclude that Jesus was commending shrewdness is to see the master as typifying God. But I would challenge you to prove that Luke would be trying to picture God as a rich man after all that he has already written about wealth and poverty (e.g. the Sermon on the Mount in chapter 6). How can God be typified by an unbelieving rich man, and the Christian by a crooked steward? Jesus told us instead that both these men are typical of the values, conduct, and commendation of an unbelieving generation.
(5) Jesus’ words of explanation are a description of how wicked men think and act, but not a commendation of this nor a recommendation of it to the saints. In the book of Proverbs, we can find a number of statements which describe the wicked “ways” of evil men, but in none of these instances do we find their conduct being recommended to us as that which we should imitate, but rather that of which we should be aware, and which we should avoid:
The rich man’s wealth is his fortress, The ruin of the poor is their poverty (10:15).
A bribe is a charm in the sight of its owner; Wherever he turns, he prospers (17:8).
A wicked man receives a bribe from the bosom To pervert the ways of justice (17:23).
A gift in the secret subdues anger, And a bribe in the bosom, strong wrath (21:14).
In each of these cases, life is being described as it is, not as it should be. So it is in the parable of the unjust steward. Jesus is telling a story which describes the skill which unbelievers have of working within their generation to make money, and to look out for themselves.
(6) As in all other areas of Christian living, God’s blessing in the area of finances is not based upon man’s skill or shrewdness, but on His faithfulness to His promises. If the responsibility of man is to be found here, it is to be found in the area of faithfulness, which our Lord commended, not shrewdness, which he characterized as typical of unbelievers.
(7) “The things which are highly esteemed by men are detestable to God.” In verse 15 below, where Jesus will interpret this parable, He tells us that God’s values contradict man’s. He said that the things men commend, God condemns. The unbelieving master and his steward may commend shrewdness, but God condemns it. What God condemns, He does not commend. The parable, then, does not teach shrewdness as God’s way for His followers, but a way to be avoided by His followers.
(8) The Lord’s application of the parable in verses 9-13 is characterized more by contrast with the world than comparison to it. The only area of comparison, in which the disciple is clearly urged to be “like” the steward is in the matter of making friends with unrighteous mammon, and even in this there are many differences between the way the steward acted and the way in which disciples are to act.
One problem could easily, and correctly be raised: Why does Jesus elsewhere teach His disciples that they were to be “shrewd”:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; therefore be shrewd as serpents, and innocent as doves” (Matthew 10”:16).
The term rendered “shrewd” here in the NASB is the same term that Luke employed in our text. Doesn’t this challenge the interpretation I have proposed? I think not.
The same Greek or Hebrew term does not always convey the same meaning. For example, the same term that is sometimes rendered “tempt” is also rendered “test.” We know that God does not “tempt” anyone (James 1:12), but we also know that He does “test” us (John 6:6), and we are told to “test” ourselves (2 Corinthians 13:5). The same term is used in each case, but its meaning is dictated by the context.
The term adjective “shrewd” and the adverb “shrewdly” are both found in our text, with the adverb appearing only here. The adjective, however, is used more frequently. It is interesting to note that when Matthew used the term, it tended to have a positive connotation (“wise”). When the apostle Paul used the term, it was mostly in a negative vein (roughly equivalent to “arrogantly wise” or “falsely wise”). Luke, in this text, has clearly indicated by the context that we are to understand “shrewdness” in a negative way, as a vice, rather than as a virtue. We are, I believe, to be wise, even shrewd, like serpents, but we are not to be shrewd like the steward. His shrewdness was intrinsically evil, in motive and in method. The serpent’s shrewdness is not so in my opinion.
Thus, Jesus’ intent is not to teach disciples to be wise. If wisdom were the ideal to strive for, He would not have made the model a crook, nor would He have had his master commend him. Jesus is here teaching His disciple to beware of a shrewdness which uses people for one’s own selfish interests, rather than a sacrificial simplicity which serves. It is interesting, by the way, that in the New Testament, those who give are instructed to do so “with simplicity,” with singleness of motive, and not with the hope of gain (cf. Romans 12:8, giving attention to the marginal note in the NASB).
But why does Jesus spend so much time telling us about the steward, if we are not to be like him in being shrewd? This is an excellent question, with some fascinating answers. First, Jesus is teaching by contrast. He has told this story so that we can see, in very practical terms, what we are not to be like. Second, this steward’s shrewdness was (and is) typical of the way unbelievers act. If Christians are to put off worldliness—worldly ways of thinking and acting—then we must be clear on what worldliness is. This story gives us a very clear picture of one dimension of worldly thinking. Third, in this parable Jesus exposes the hypocrisy and wickedness of the Pharisees.
The Pharisees, we will be told shortly, were “lovers of money.” As such, they greatly valued having it, and thus they resorted to some very unscrupulous means of obtaining it. They were “shrewd” in the matter of making money, and they were also proud of it. Thus, when Jesus began to tell this story, the Pharisees must have thought to themselves that when it came to the skill of making money, they were the epitome of astuteness, of skillfulness, of shrewdness.
It was undoubtedly with some misgivings that they listened to Jesus as He told of the cunning shrewdness of this steward. His shrewdness was pressing the line of ethics very hard. But the real shock came when Jesus spoke those final words of explanation in verse 8. Jesus here characterized shrewdness as sinful, as typical of the way unbelievers (sons of this age) think and act. If they thought themselves to be shrewd (and surely they did), then if Jesus’ explanation were allowed to stand their shrewdness was proof, not of their spirituality, but of their sinful secularity. Their shrewdness Jesus used as an indication of their unbelief. This story of the unjust steward is thus an expos� of Pharisaism. No wonder the Pharisees were upset as these words (v. 14).
Jesus’ Commentary of the Parable of the Unjust Steward (16:9-13)
9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. 10 “Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. 11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? 12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? 13 “No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
There are lessons to be learned in contrast with the unjust steward and his master. These, Jesus will teach us in the following verses. But when Jesus begins, He begins with a point of commonality. The unjust steward “made friends” by the use of his master’s money, or we might better say, through “unrighteous mammon.” He had used that which was his master’s, which was in his care, to make friends for himself. Christians can practice what initially looks similar, but when carefully considered is vastly different. Let us look at our Lord’s words of commentary on the parable, to learn what it was He intended us to gain from it:
(1) Make friends for yourselves by the use of material possessions, v. 13. In verse 13, Jesus carried over from the parable of the unjust steward, a parallel to what Christians should practice. The unjust steward saw that his days were numbered, and that he would not be able to take his master’s money with him. He then began to use his master’s money in such a way as to make friends, because they would outlast his master’s money. He used his master’s money to make friends.
Christians should act similarly, but not the same. We, like the unjust steward, are stewards. We do not own anything, but we are given custody of certain resources by God for a time. We need to understand that our Lord’s return is at hand (or that our death will come), and that we cannot take money with us. Money will not last, but we will last for all eternity. The way we can use money so that it will last forever is to “make friends” of men, who will gratefully receive us in heaven. I know of no other application of this more important than evangelism. By using our money in ways that manifest Christ to men and which draw men to Christ in faith, we “make friends,” we invest in men’s souls, so that they will await us in heaven. Thus, though money will not last, investments in men’s souls will last. In this way, we can imitate, in a measure, the unjust steward. He at least can to see that friends outlast money.
In this verse (9), note that Jesus represented money as having two characteristics: (1) it would not last—it would fail; and (2) it was, in some measure, unrighteous. Jesus called it the “mammon of unrighteousness.” Money is not intrinsically evil, but it is often associated with evil. It has a kind of taint, but even so it can be used so as to produce a righteous end—the salvation and edification of men. I think the expression, “mammon of unrighteousness,” was aimed at the Pharisees, who tended to equate righteousness with money. Did they view money to be a righteous thing; Jesus called it the mammon of unrighteousness, because the love of material things is often at the root of various kinds of sin. As the apostle Paul put it:
But those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil, and some by longing for it have wandered away from the faith, and pierced themselves with many of pang (1 Timothy 6:9-10).
(2) Jesus did not advocate shrewdness to his disciples, but faithfulness. Jesus never uses the word “shrewd” when applying this parable. He does use the word faithful, however. The unrighteous steward was certainly “shrewd” in relationship to his master, but he was not “faithful” to him or to his stewardship. Jesus seems to link the “making of friends” with being faithful stewards. Unlike the unjust steward, we are to be faithful stewards.
(3) Jesus indicates that being faithful stewards serves God’s interests, man’s interests, and our own, and all at the same time. Take note of the fact that the steward “got ahead” by “using men” and by abusing his master and his money. Faithful stewards gain, but not at the expense of anyone. Faithful stewards are obedient and honoring to God, they pursue the best interest of their fellow men (what is more in men’s best interest than their eternal salvation?), and at the same time they prepare heaven for themselves. Everybody wins. What a difference!
(4) Jesus indicates here that money, in and of itself, is not a very important thing. To be precise, Jesus tells us that money (or perhaps more broadly and accurately, material things) is (are) a “little thing.” “Unrighteous mammon” is contrasted, by our Lord, with “true riches” (v. 11). And while money is not our own, the “true riches” will be (v. 12).
(5) Jesus teaches us that while money is a “little thing” it has an important function of serving as a proving ground, testing our ability to handle more important things. Thus, the faithful steward, who uses unrighteous mammon to achieve righteous ends, will exchange what is temporary for what is eternal, and what is unrighteous mammon for what is true riches.
All of these principles which Jesus taught were intended to encourage His disciples to be “faithful stewards,” rather than shrewd, unjust, stewards. In the last verse of this paragraph, Jesus sums up the matter of mammon by saying that one must choose whether or not money will be his god:
“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.”
We may wonder how it would be that one would ever have to choose between two “masters,” one of which is money. This is precisely the temptation which would confront the steward, for he must either be faithful to his master, using his master’s money to further his master’s interests, or he can choose to serve his master’s money, therefore using his master and his money as a means to his own, self-serving interests. Such was exactly what the unjust steward did.
As we will see in the next verses, one reason why the Pharisees could not love God (although that asserted that they did) was because they loved money. The Pharisees loved money, and thus they were devoted to it. They were so devoted to it that they became shrewd, as the “sons of this age.” One who would truly love God and men cannot love money.
As I was thinking through this passage, something suddenly occurred to me, which, in our day and time is unusual: WHEN JESUS TALKED ABOUT MONEY, HE DIDN’T TAKE AN OFFERING.
Did you ever think of this? Preachers today talk a great deal about money. Some seem to talk of nothing else. Jesus also talked a lot about money, but he never took an offering afterwards. Too many who talk about money today are quick to “pass the plate.” They would love to rid us both of our materialism and of our money. Watch out for such folks.
Having gotten this matter out of my craw, let us press on to see what our Lord’s words have to teach us about money and material possessions.
First, our text provides us with the proper motivation for good stewardship. Prophecy is designed to motivate godly living, and this has much to do with being faithful stewards in terms of our material possessions. The unrighteous steward was motivated to give up his squandering ways and to begin to be shrewd, because he knew that his days were numbered, he could not take his master’s money with him, and he was going to give account. Prophecy indicates that we must leave money behind, that time is short, and that we will give account. Most of us, if we were honest, would admit that we are squanderers. This is not better than being a swindler, for both are misappropriations of the Master’s money. Let us consider the nearness of our Lord’s return and let it motivate us to better stewardship.
Second, I find that our text causes us to see the relationship between “heaven” and “friends.” The unjust steward not only used his master, he also used his friends. There was no selflessness, no sacrifice, no taking up of his cross, but only self-interest evident in the steward’s actions. The “friends” of the steward were of an inferior type.
Notice how Jesus speaks of heaven here. He is speaking to a materialistic society, but He does not describe it in terms of its “golden streets,” as we see in the last chapters of the book of Revelation? Why? Can’t you just see heaven if Jesus let in those who loved money? They would all be out with their little miner’s picks and assaying the value of the gold in the streets of heaven. But Jesus chose to describe heaven as a place where one’s friends would be. Evangelism is many things, but one of these is the process of making friends. One of the blessings of heaven will not be its streets of gold, but its saints, especially if we have used our lives and our “mammon” to win men and women to Christ, to pave their way, as it were, to heaven, where they will await our arrival. This was the viewpoint of the apostle Paul:
But we, brethren, having been bereft of you for a short while—in person, not in spirit—were all the more eager with great desire to see your face. For we wanted to come to you—I, Paul, more than once—and yet Satan thwarted us. For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy (1 Thessalonians 2:17-20).
Third, our predisposition to accept shrewdness as a virtue which God commends us should serve to instruct us that shrewdness is more a appealing “virtue” than other, more godly, options. Why are we so ready to find our Lord commending a crook? Why are we so willing to accept shrewdness as a virtue? Because, I fear, we find shrewdness more appealing than its biblical opposite—sacrifice. For someone to see us a shrewd would be viewed as a compliment. But it is not so with our Lord. Shrewdness in material things presupposes too much priority and emphasis being placed on material things. We would prefer to spend more time and effort in trying to be shrewd, for this would serve to camouflage our own greed and love for money.
Fourth, if shrewdness wins men’s commendation, sacrifice does not. It took a while to realize it, but Jesus did not advocate shrewdness in the use of material things. To a large degree, He advocated stupidity, at least so far as the “sons of this age” are concerned. How wise do you think unbelievers would think us for giving away our possessions, for not pursuing wealth, but God, for selling our possessions, rather than saving them, for loaning money to those who may likely not be able to repay us? There is absolutely no way that we can obey our Lord’s teaching and commands concerning material goods without looking absolutely stupid to the “sons of this age.” Do not expect to be considered shrewd by unbelievers. They may well look on the unjust steward as shrewd. They may even compliment this crook. But do not think that they will compliment you.
And why, my friend, should we expect it to be any other way. God’s ways are not man’s ways. The message of the cross is not regarded as “wisdom” by unbelieving men, but foolishness. We should not expect our ways to be hailed by men as wise and shrewd. If wicked men are regarded as shrewd by their own kind, we should not be surprised, nor should we expect them to commend the “sons of light.”
This is Easter Sunday. This has not been an Easter message, as you well know. But this text does relate to Easter. Easter is, for the Christian, the celebration of the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is our assurance of the righteousness of Christ, and of the satisfaction of God toward Christ and His work of redemption (forgiving of sins) on the cross of Calvary. It is God’s approval on all that the Lord Jesus said and did while on the earth. It is also the Christian’s assurance of his own resurrection. This certainty of life after death, the hope of heaven, is that which motivates us to live our lives distinctly from that of unbelievers in this age. It is what motivates us to use material possessions very differently, so that we will indeed lay up treasures in heaven, rather than on the earth.
But all of this is foolishness to the unbeliever. We readily acknowledge this. If you are reading this message and thinking to yourself, “This is foolishness,” that is precisely what one would believe, apart from faith in God, in heaven and hell, and in His word. I cannot convince you, my friend. I would not try. That is the task of God’s Spirit, who convinces men of the truth (cf. John 16:8-11). May He do so in your life today.
9 One of the more ingenious explanations found in Morris’ commentary. He has a very clever explanation of the transaction here and of the steward’s shrewdness. There was a prohibition of charging interest of a fellow-Israelite in the Law (Exod. 22:25; Lev. 25:36; Deut. 23:19). There was the feeling that translating dealings in terms of wheat and/or oil made it possible to justify that the man being dealt with was not impoverished (everybody had a little of each) and thus that interest could be charged by simply increasing the total debt, in terms of oil or grain. Thus, the steward did not really cheat his master out of what he loaned, but only out of the interest he should not have charged. The master commends the steward because he does not wish his own sin to be exposed, and this is the easiest way out for him. Leon Morris, The Gospel According To St. Luke, The Tyndale Bible Commentary Series, R. V. G. Tasker, General Editor (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), pp. 245-246.
The problem I have with all of this is that none of this information comes to us from our text, but from reasoning based upon conjecture or undocumented historical research. Would the average reader, over the centuries, have understood this? And did it really matter? If the steward was a crook, why try to justify his actions?
10 The same term is used here, of the unjust steward’s “squandering” his master’s goods as was used above for the “squandering” of the prodigal son.
11 It is interesting to note that the term “friends” has been used several times in the surrounding context of Luke. The prodigal tried to make “friends” of those in a foreign land, but in the end his only companions were the swine. The older brother wanted a fatted calf to share with his friends. The unjust steward later seeks to make friends. But at this point, the squandering steward, who has spent much, has made few friends, it would seem. The people he dealt with seem to be the ones who told the man’s master about his waste.
12 “I have decided renders an aorist with a meaning like ‘I’ve got it!’ There is the thought of a sudden inspiration.” Morris, p. 247.
13 Our Lord gives us but two specific illustrations of how it worked, but He also informs us that each debtor was called in and dealt with in the same way. No need to repeat every case. From the two cases, we know that these two debtors were handled in the same way, but not exactly the same way. One was given a 20% discount, the other a 50% discount. The reason for this difference may be this:
“The steward varied his rate of discount perhaps because of the difference in the commodities. It was comparatively easy to adulterate olive oil, so the rate of interest on transactions involving oil was high. Derrett points out that ‘where a debtor has nothing left to offer, short of his self and family as slaves, but an amount of natural produce, and where this is a fluid like olive-oil, he must pay dearly for the risks to which he submits his creditor.’ It was much more difficult to adulterate wheat and the interest was correspondingly lower.” Morris, pp. 247-248.
14 A. T. Robertson is typical in this, citing Plummer, and then pressing his point further: “‘This is the moral of the whole parable. Men of the world in their dealings with men like themselves are more prudent than the children of light in their intercourse with one another’ (Plummer). We all know how stupid Christians can be in their co-operative work in the kingdom of God, to go no further.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: The Broadman Press, 1930), pp. 217-218.
The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:14-31)
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. 15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight. 16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. 18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery. 19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’ “
A long time ago, I made the statement from the pulpit that I would rather conduct two funerals than conduct one wedding. The reason is simple. At weddings, everyone is happy. It is a joyous occasion. Two people, very much in love, are joining together. It is a time long awaited. Everyone can feel the excitement and share in the joy of it all. Quite frankly, the mood is such that one could say almost anything and people would leave delighted. I can just hear someone saying, “Good word,” at the end of the ceremony, even if a nursery rhyme had been recited.
It is not so at a funeral. People are not happy at all. Someone they loved has been snatched away by death, never again to be seen or heard in this life. And not only is there the painful reality of the loss of a loved one, but also the frightening reminder that we, too, must die. What one says on such an occasion is of great moment. This is why it is so sad when the gospel is not preached, for there is no hope apart from the good news that Jesus has died and has risen, so that we, too, might be forgiven of our sins and live eternally in fellowship with God.
An older woman and her daughter-in-law happened to be in the audience on this particular occasion, when I spoke of my preference for funerals. To my knowledge, I never met this woman. Nevertheless, on that day she turned to her daughter-in-law and said, “When I die, I want you to call that man to preach at my funeral.” She did die, years later, and I received a call from the daughter-in-law. She told me that she and her mother-in-law were Gypsies. She told of her mother’s death, and of her request of years back that I deliver the funeral message. I did so, gladly. I delivered the funeral message from our text in Luke chapter 16. There was, to my knowledge, just one or two Christians. It was a tragic funeral because so few shared the hope of the gospel which this woman had found.
At the end of the service, I walked to the rear of the little chapel, virtually ignored by most of the people who had come. A young woman came up to me, a woman whom I doubt was saved. She said something very encouraging to me, however. Her comment on the message was this: “What you preached was what my grandmother believed.” I believe that it was.
When I preach a funeral message, I have always done so with the knowledge that I represented Jesus Christ, and with a sense of responsibility to proclaim the gospel, the good news of forgiveness and salvation in Him, which is the only basis for hope in the face of death. In addition to this, I also have the sense that I am speaking not only for God, but also for the one who has died, even if that person is not a Christian. I say with full assurance that the message I am bringing is that message which the one who has died would want me to proclaim. I say this, based upon the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We shall see why this is so.
This account of the rich man and Lazarus is of very great importance to every one of us. In recent years, there have been many who have died and then been revived, reporting their “after-life” experiences. I do not wish to doubt or to debate each and every experience. I do wish to say, however, that none of these experiences are inspired, inerrant, and authoritative, as this account is. Even the apostle Paul refrained from describing what seems to have been his “life after death experience” (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:1-5). This story of the rich man and Lazarus is, I believe, a parable, but its description of the fate of men after death is both true and unchanging. Let us listen very carefully to these words. If the rich man was not able to warn his brothers, he can warn us, if we will listen.
The Lord Jesus has been speaking to the crowds, among whom are Pharisees. They are not at all pleased with what they have seen and heard from Jesus. They grumbled against Jesus for receiving sinners and even eating with them (Luke 15:2). In response to this, Jesus told three parables, all of which dealt with the finding of something lost. While the Pharisees could identify with the rejoicing of one who found something material (a lost sheep or a coin), they could not rejoice in the return of a repentant sinner, even though all of heaven did so. This is because they hated grace. They did not believe they needed grace, and they did not appreciate it being manifested to anyone else, especially the undeserving (which are always the recipients of grace). If Jesus was out of step with the Pharisees, they were out of step with God and with heaven.
In chapter 16, the grumbling of the Pharisees turned sour—to scoffing. This scoffing was the result of yet another parable, the parable of the shrewd steward. This steward was unrighteous. He had been squandering his master’s possessions, but when he learned that he was soon to be unemployed, he became very shrewd, using his master’s money to gain friends, who would minister to him in the future. While the master commended his wicked steward for his shrewdness, Jesus did not. Jesus taught that His disciples should, like the steward, make friends for the future, but in an entirely different way. The watchword for disciples was not shrewdness but faithfulness. In verses 9-13, Jesus laid down the principles which should govern the way in which the disciples viewed and used material possessions.
What especially angered the Pharisees, however, was something else. Jesus had identified this evil man as a shrewd man, when it came to money. The Pharisees, whom Luke now tells us were “lovers of money” (v. 14), were very shrewd in their use of money, in such an evil way as to make the unjust steward look like a saint. The steward ripped off a rich (and evil) master. The Pharisees were “ripping off” little old ladies, as Jesus put it in Matthew’s gospel, they were robbing widows’ houses (Matthew 23:14). That for which the Pharisees prided themselves, Jesus viewed as wicked. In His parable of the unjust steward, Jesus identified the shrewd as unbelievers, contrasting them with saints. Now, the Pharisees, who were proud of their skill in making money were mad. That did it! Grumbling turned to scoffing.
The Structure of our Text15
Jesus’ teaching in verses 14-18 is in response to the scoffing of the money-loving Pharisees (v. 14). He deals first with their fundamental (root) problem in principle (vv. 15-18). He then illustrated the problem with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (vv. 19-31).
The unity of the entire chapter is evident in many ways. The thread which unifies the chapter is money. The unjust steward used his master’s money to serve his own interests, rather than to serve his master. The rich man will also use his money for his own interests, ignoring the needs of Lazarus, who lay at his gate. Both parables begin with virtually the same expression: “There was a certain rich man … ” (vv. 1, 19). Verses 14-18 enable us to understand the evil of these two rich men, which was descriptive of the wickedness of the Pharisees, by showing the source of their sin.
The Scoffing of the Pharisees (16:14)
14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.
The Pharisees, it would seem, had previously been mumbling and grumbling to and among themselves (cf. 15:2). Now, however, they seem more vocal and more public. Their reaction has turned from discontent to disruption. They kept on scoffing,16 so as to become “hecklers” of Jesus. His words on the subject of money had proven to be too much. Luke tells his readers here that the Pharisees were “lovers of money,” an expression which is found only elsewhere in the New Testament in 2 Timothy 3:2. Luke tells us this fact because it helps us to understand why the Pharisees would be so distressed by Jesus’ teaching on money in the previous parable and its interpretation. They loved money and they were shrewd in the ways they found to gain it, to keep it, and to use it to indulge themselves.
But what, specifically, were the Pharisees scoffing about? The text does not tell us exactly, and perhaps we would do best to leave it at that. Given the Lord’s words in response to their scoffing, we might conjecture what they would be scoffing about. They judged on appearances. Jesus was talking a great deal about money, and how to use it. They could well have said to themselves and others, “Who is this expert on money, anyway? Who does He think He is? How much money does He possess? He is so poor that He has to have women of means accompany Him, to provide for His needs!” They may very well have mocked Jesus’ teaching, based upon His poverty.
But you see, Jesus’ poverty was that which proved His qualification to teach on money. Jesus did not have money because He did not take money. He had no vested interest. He had no desire to get rich and to live luxuriously. Thus, Jesus could speak as one who was disinterested, rather than as one who was preoccupied with money and material things.
The Wrong Judge and the Wrong Standard (16:15)
In response to these scoffers, Jesus did not bother pointing out that the Pharisees were really “lovers of money.” The reason is, I believe, that Jesus was interested in the source of their problem, not just in symptoms. Loving money was a serious problem, but it was not the root of their problem. In verses 15 Jesus exposed the root problem—The Pharisees sought approval from the wrong person, on the wrong basis:
15 He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable17 in God’s sight.
The underlying problem of the Pharisees was that they were seeking their approval from the wrong source, and they were seeking to be judged according to the wrong standard. They were striving to be justified by men, and their standard had to be that which men could see and evaluate—outward appearances.
This simple observation explains the actions of the Pharisees and also their reactions to Jesus. Because the Pharisees wanted the approval of men they acted in a way that would attract attention to themselves, in a way that would make them look righteous, as men might judge it. The Pharisees were into long prayers, they visibly fasted, and made contributions, and took the places of prominence at banquets and the like. Their clothing, too, was ostentatious—they lengthened their phylacteries. The Pharisees were repulsed by the fact that Jesus associated with sinners, and even ate with them. They were proud of the fact that they kept their distance. No defilement for them! They meticulously washed themselves ceremonially, and they observed Sabbath regulations. In all of this, Jesus said, they were hypocrites, because their hearts were wicked, because they were not really righteous at all.
It is God, however who justifies, and not men. God does not judge on the basis of outward appearance, but He knows and bases His judgment on what is in man’s heart:
But the LORD said to Samuel, “Do no look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him [Eliab, cf. v. 6]; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7).
God’s standards differ greatly from man’s, indeed, they are the exact opposite. Those things which men highly esteem, Jesus said, are an abomination to God (Luke 16:15).
What were some of the things which men esteemed in Jesus’ day, which God abhorred? I believe that there are many things which could be listed under these two contrasting categories, but to simplify matters, let me simply outline the two categories which we find in the Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:20-26):18
Blessed are …
Woe to …
Those persecuted as evil
Those respected as “good”
In the context of our passage, there is a very clear illustration of what our Lord was talking about when He said that God detests the things which men highly esteem (v. 15). The Pharisees, and, according to Jesus’ words, the “sons of this age” esteem shrewdness, and thus the master could commend his steward, even though he had ripped him off. God’s values are not man’s values, just as His ways are not man’s ways (cf. Isaiah 55:8).
Now we can see why the Pharisees valued money so highly. Money, to the Pharisee, was one of the external proofs of piety. After all, had God not promised to prosper His people Israel if they kept His laws (cf. Deuteronomy 28:1-14), and to bring them great poverty and adversity if they disobeyed (Deuteronomy 28:15ff.)? Money was the proof of piety that would cause an externalist to love. The Pharisees’ love of money was an indication of their attachment to external standards and appearances, so that they could obtain the praise of men. In the process of seeking men’s praise, they also obtained God’s condemnation.
The Keepers of the Law are its Corrupters (16:16-18)
In verse 15, Jesus indicted His opponents as playing before the wrong audience, according to the wrong standards or rules. In verses 16-18, Jesus accuses those who prided themselves as the “custodians of the Law” as being its corrupters:
16 “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. 17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law. 18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
Jesus began by referring to the fact that the former dispensation had ended with John the Baptist, and that at His appearance there was inaugurated a new age, a new dispensation (v. 16). This new dispensation was welcomed by many, in fact, Jesus said, men were pushing and shoving to get into this kingdom. Men were violently trying to force their way in. This, then, was regarded as a welcome change.
But the coming of the new dispensation did not do away with everything that had to do with the old. The Old Testament did not terminate with the coming of Christ. As Jesus said elsewhere, He did not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17). The two commandments which Jesus taught simply summed up the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12; 22:40). Paul, who rigorously held the line for grace, rather than law, said that the salvation which was accomplished in Christ was that which was that “to which the Law and the Prophets testify” (Romans 3:21).
There is a vast difference between the Mosaic Covenant, which was but a temporary solution (a putting off, a buying of time) to the problem of sin, and the New Covenant. With the coming of Christ and His death, burial, and resurrection, the Mosaic Covenant was put away, replaced by a new, better, covenant, as the book of Hebrews forcefully argues. The expression, “the Law and the Prophets” was one that summed up the entire Old Testament revelation, and not just the Law given through Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Law and the Prophets was that revelation which provided men with a divine standard of righteousness, a standard to which no man could attain, and thus all men are condemned as sinners. The Old Testament, the “Law and the Prophets,” still serves this same role as a divine declaration of the standards of righteousness. Thus, the apostle Paul can say that the one who “walks in the Spirit” will fulfill the requirement of the Law (Romans 8:4).
This Old Testament revelation is that which the Pharisees prided themselves for preserving. They, unlike the “sinners” of their time, “loved the law,” and sought to preserve it, or so they thought. But the exact opposite was the case. Once again the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is evident. Jesus, like the Pharisees, was committed to the preservation of the “Law and the Prophets,” the Old Testament revelation, despite the change of dispensation that occurred as a result of His incarnation. Thus, He insists that “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the law to fail.” Here is something to which the Pharisees could say, “Amen!” But could they?
The Pharisees were adamant about their fidelity to the “law,” but this was heavily weighted in the direction of the Law of Moses, and thus of that old covenant.19 Jesus persistently spoke of the “Law and the Prophets,” for this was the sum total of the Old Testament revelation, not just a portion of it. While the Pharisees focused on the outward aspects of religion, the Old Testament prophets persistently called Israel’s attention to the “heart issues” of the Law. No wonder the prophets were all persecuted and put to death. Note these words of the prophet Isaiah, as they bear upon the Pharisees and the text which is to follow. Notice how the outward appearance is hypocritical in the preceding context of Isaiah, but the heart of the nation is corrupt:
1 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. 2 For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. 3 ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. 4 Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. 5 Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? 6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? 7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? 8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. 9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, 10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. 11 The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail (Isaiah 58:1-11).
The Old Testament prophets thus had much to say about the “heart issues” of life. God’s revelation in the Old Testament was not seeking mere outward conformity, but inward conformity to the will of God. No one portrays this “heart” better than David, and David confessed that the source of his “heart for God” was the Law of God (cf. Psalm 119).
On the surface, the Pharisees and the Savior seemed, for once, to agree, on the importance of the Old Testament revelation, except that for our Lord it was the Old Testament as a whole, including the prophets, and for our Lord it was a matter of the heart, and not merely of outward conformity to the Law (cf. Matthew 5-7).
The final verse of this section, verse 18, is a biblical (Old Testament) indictment of the Pharisees’ disregard for the Law and the Prophets. While they claimed to obey and to seek to promote and preserve the Law, the Pharisees actually set it aside. A case in point was the matter of divorce. Jesus thus lays down the Old Testament standard concerning divorce, which stood in dramatic contrast to the stand taken by the Pharisees:
“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.
To my knowledge, this is the only reference to divorce in the gospel of Luke. Elsewhere in the gospels, we know that the Pharisees questioned Jesus about His position on divorce (cf. Matthew 19:3). We can rather easily imply that the Pharisees were much more liberal on the conditions under which divorce was permissible than our Lord. Jesus contrasts the “liberal” view they held with the biblical view consistently held to in the Bible. The bottom line is this: God hates divorce; divorce is sinful; divorce causes sin.
Men had come to accept divorce, to take it very lightly. There were conditions under which divorce was permissible, but men always sought to expand them. While men wished to talk about the exceptions which permitted divorce, Jesus insisted in stressing the rule, in holding to the divine standard. He expresses that standard again. God’s ideal for marriage is that one man and one woman should remain married so long as they live.
Verse 18 is a specific illustration of the charge Jesus made against the Pharisees: The Pharisees had capitulated to the standards of men, and had set aside the Law and the Prophets. They had come to live in accordance with what men approved. Jesus challenged them, showing that they had turned their backs on what God approved and disapproved. Men had come to “highly esteem” the freedom to change wives; to God, this was an abomination. The so-called custodians of the law were really its corrupters.
I must take a momentary aside at this point, for surely those who have experienced the ravages of divorce are feeling especially uneasy. Does divorce categorically condemn one to being a sinner? I am inclined to say yes. But, lest the divorced somehow feel that they are the focus of attention, the object of scorn, let me remind you that the purpose of the law was to prove every man a sinner. Thus, those who have experienced divorce must also be joined by those who have had an immoral thought (and who can be excluded here), for Jesus taught that immoral thoughts constitute adultery, too (Matthew 5:31-32). Anger constitutes murder. On and on the list of sins and sinners goes and grows.
The purpose of the Law was to prove men sinners, and to promise them a provision for sins—the Lamb of God. If the revealed Word of God proves us sinners and pointed us to Christ, it serves us well. Regardless of what our sins may be, the shed blood of Christ covers them all, for all who believe. Let the divorced not feel singled out by our Lord’s words. They were chosen because this was one place where the conservative Pharisees had become far too liberal, and where they had set aside the standards of the Word of God for those of their culture. They had thus sought justification by men, in accordance with appearances, rather than justification from God, based upon a clean heart.
The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31)
Two very important charges have been laid down against the scoffing Pharisees in verses 15-18:
(1) They have sought the approval of men (based upon what men can see—appearances), not of God (based upon the heart).
(2) They have set aside the revelation of God, which exposes the heart.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus graphically illustrates both of these points:
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ 30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
In dealing with this passage, I will divide it into three sections: (1) the rich man and Lazarus in life—vv. 19-21; (2) the rich man and Lazarus after death—vv. 22-23; (3) the rich man’s requests—vv. 24-31.
The Rich Man and Lazarus in Life (vs. 19-21)
Verse 19 begins almost identically with verse 1: “There was a certain rich man … ” This rich man “had it made.” Jesus’ description of his life is incredibly similar to the fate of the one on whom Jesus pronounced woes in his Sermon on the Mount (Luke 6:20-26). So, too, with Lazarus. He epitomized all that Jesus called “blessed.” Failing to name the rich man is typical of parables, and the naming of Lazarus is unique. This name means “the one God helps.”20
The rich man was wealthy, and enjoyed all the benefits of his wealth. He was magnificently dressed. We get the impression that his wardrobe was filled with expensive garments. He ate well, and he lived happily. Life was good to this man. From all appearances, and from a superficial reading of Deuteronomy 28, this man, the Pharisees would have supposed, was a righteous man. Surely he would go to heaven when he died.
Lazarus was the exact opposite. He was a poor man, a virtual beggar. He was placed21 by the gate to the rich man’s house. His clothing is not described, but we can well imagine how bad it was. His food was whatever scraps he might get from the rich man’s garbage—fighting off the dogs to beat them to the food. He had sores and these the dogs licked. He was precisely the kind of person that the Pharisees would brand a “sinner,” a man whom, in their minds, was worthy of hell.
These two men lived in close proximity to each other. I believe that Lazarus was in close enough proximity to this rich man’s living quarters that he could see the entourage of people coming and going. He could hear the laughter. He could smell the aroma of the sumptuous meals being prepared in the kitchen. He knew what he was missing.
And if Lazarus was painfully aware of the bounty and blessings of the rich man, but evidently not a sharer in them, so, too, the rich man had to have been aware of the pathetic plight of Lazarus. He would have had to walk past Lazarus every time he left or entered his house. This means that he would have had to have consciously chosen to ignore his need. The rich man thus used his wealth to indulge himself, but not to minister to the needy. This was a clear violation of the Old Testament standard of righteousness.22
Based upon appearance alone, one could see how the Pharisees would have judged these two men. They would have justified the rich man and condemned Lazarus. The fate of these two men after their deaths shows man’s judgment to be wrong. Thus, their destiny after death will illustrate our Lord’s indictment against the Pharisees above, namely that they sought to be justified before men, according to appearances, rather than before God, based upon the heart.
The Rich Man and Lazarus in Eternity (vv. 22-23)
It was only after both men died that God’s judgment was evident. Here, the roles of the two men are almost exactly reversed. Now, it is the rich man who is in torment, and Lazarus who is blessed. The change occurred at the deaths of the two. On earth, one can imagine that the rich man had a very ostentatious funeral. Lazarus’ funeral would have been basic. It is even possible that his body may have been cast onto a dung or refuse heap. From a heavenly viewpoint it was decidedly different. We are told that the soul of Lazarus was escorted to “Abraham’s bosom.” Of the rich man we are simply (even tersely) told that he died and was buried.
The identification of the place of Lazarus’ above as “Abraham’s bosom” is both interesting and highly significant. In our parable, Lazarus is not said to be in the presence of God, but in the bosom of Abraham. We must remember that this parable is told to an Israelite, for an Old Testament point of view. I believe that in Old Testament times there was a kind of “holding place” for the souls of those who died. I believe this holding place had two separate compartments, so to speak. One was reserved for the righteous, the other for the unrighteous. Each compartment had its eternal counterpart. The above of the righteous had heaven as its eternal counterpart, while the place of the wicked was a prototype of hell. The rich man and Lazarus are thus each in their own place.
The place of Lazarus’ bliss was called “Abraham’s bosom.” From his place of torment, the rich man addresses Abraham as “Father Abraham.” I can almost see the faces of the Pharisees flinch as Jesus spoke the words “Father Abraham,” for this rich man thus addressed Abraham as his “father,” and Abraham called him “Child.” The Pharisees believed that all one needed to get into the kingdom of God was a birth certificate which proved they were a physical descendant of Abraham (cf. Luke 3:8). Here is a rich man, an offspring of Abraham, in hell (or rather, its prototype). What a striking way to remind the Jews that being a physical descendant of Abraham was not a guarantee of one’s salvation.
The place of bliss was “Abraham’s bosom.” I believe that we may find a clue to the meaning of this expression in Matthew 8:11:
“And I say to you, that many shall come from east and west, and recline at table with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of God” (Matthew 8:11; cp. Luke 13:29).
Lazarus was represented as reclining in Abraham’s bosom. The occasion when a man would lean on the bosom or breast of another was at the meal table, as John did with our Lord (cf. John 13:23, 25; 21:20). Thus, it may well be that Lazarus is being portrayed as reclining at a banquet meal with Abraham.
The circumstances of the rich man and Lazarus are thus almost exactly reversed after death. The rich man, who lived in luxury, now lived in agony. He was distant from Abraham’s bosom, but was aware of what was taking place there. Lazarus, who had suffered greatly in his life now was in bliss. While he had struggled in order to get the scraps from the rich man’s table, now he reclined at Abraham’s table, leaning on his bosom! While it was formerly Lazarus who looked upon the bounty of the rich man, but did not share in it, now it is the rich man who beholds Lazarus in bounty and blessing.
It would seem that the rich man’s “hell” is something like solitary confinement in a prison. There may be others there with you, but you are hardly aware of them, nor is there any real fellowship. What you are aware of is the bliss of the righteous. It is as though hell has a one-way picture window, and each resident of hell is given a pair of binoculars. The wicked are thus enabled to see the joy and bliss of the righteous, but it appears that the righteous are unaware of the suffering of the wicked. The wicked can see out, but the righteous cannot see in, so to speak.
The Rich Man’s Requests (vv. 24-31)
It would be easy to think that the bulk of the parable might be devoted to a description of the bliss of Lazarus and the agony of the rich man. In fact, the larger portion of the parable is devoted to two requests which are made by the rich man. Before we look more closely at these requests, take note of several observations. First, both requests were denied. Second, the first request of the rich man had to do with his personal comfort, while the second was for the eternal well-being of his immediate family (his five brothers). Third, both of his requests are that Abraham send Lazarus to do something. In my opinion, the rich man still looks down upon Lazarus, viewing him as a kind of servant, not as a superior.
The rich man’s first request was the result of his torment, his suffering. The flames were causing him great discomfort. He pled for mercy, asking that Lazarus be sent to him with the smallest quantity of water, to cool his tongue.
His petition was denied, based on two factors. First, the rich man’s fate was a just one. He had gotten just what he had deserved. He had his “good things” in life. Now, justice demanded that he get what he deserved. His suffering was a just penalty. Justice would not allow Abraham to diminish his suffering. Second, hell and heaven are divided, with no access between the two. There was, Abraham said, a great fixed chasm, located between the two abodes. The wicked could not cross over to the place of blessing, and the righteous could not (to show mercy, such as to take water to the suffering) cross over to the place of the wicked. Thus, the rich man’s petition must be denied. Hell is the irreversible destiny of some, with the choice of entering it being made in one’s life.
The rich man’s second request still involves the service of Lazarus, but this time he does not request that Lazarus ease his suffering, but that Lazarus go to his five brothers to warn them not to come to this place. The rich man now understands that men’s choices must be made before death, and that their decisions remain after their deaths.
Abraham responded negatively to the second request, as well as to the first. There was no need for someone to be sent from the grave to warn the lost. Moses and the Prophets served this purpose well. Let the lost listen to the Old Testament revelation. That, Abraham maintained, should serve as a sufficient warning.
The rich man protested, however. He insisted that while men may not heed the Old Testament Scriptures, they could not ignore the message of a man who had returned from death. They thought that “signs and wonders” could do more than the Word of God. This is but a continuation of the request that Jesus prove Himself by performing some miracle as a proof of His person and His power.
Abraham’s answer was short and pointed. He said that if his brothers refused to listen to Moses and the Prophets, they would not be convinced by a spectacular appearance from the grave. There is a very significant principle underlying this answer. Man’s failure to believe is not due to any lack of evidence, but due to a closed heart, determined to disbelieve any amount of evidence. The problem, to put it differently, was not a lack of external evidence (appearances), but a willful rebellion of the heart against God. The hearts of this man and his five brothers were unbelieving. Such unbelief was not solved by a preponderance of the evidence, but only by a change in the heart. Once again, the outward appearances are not the issue, but the heart is.
Jesus would soon be crucified, and He would soon rise from the dead. That empty tomb in Jerusalem did not result in a host of conversions, for it was not appearances which were the problem, but the closedness of men’s hearts. If men were to believe in Christ for Salvation, they would have to believe in the Christ of which the Old Testament Scriptures foretold. Thus, when Peter preached his Pentecost sermon, he grounded his preaching on the Old Testament Scriptures, on the “Law and the Prophets” (cf. Acts 2:16-36).
The Pharisees rejected Jesus for two principle reasons. First, they sought to win men’s approval, based upon outward appearances, rather than God’s, based upon the heart. Second, in so doing they had rejected the Old Testament Scriptures, the “Law and the Prophets,” exchanging the divine standard of righteousness for a human standard.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus dramatically illustrates these two errors. Based upon appearances, it would seem that the rich man would be pronounced righteous and enter into God’s kingdom, and Lazarus would be rejected and condemned. The outcome after these two men died was just the reverse. Appearances, Jesus proved, were deceptive. Men would “highly esteem” the rich man, but God rejected him. Men would despise Lazarus, but God justified him.
What, then, was the basis of the rejection of the rich man and the justification of the beggar, Lazarus? We are immediately tempted to suppose that the answer is an external one—something we can judge by appearances. We are inclined to suppose that God judged these two men on appearances, only He did so with a reversed system of values. God condemned the rich man and justified the poor man. God must save the poor and send the rich to heaven. This conclusion would be the same kind of error that the Pharisees practiced, with a reversed system of external values.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus concludes in such a way as to indicate what really justifies a man. The rich man was not condemned because he was rich, any more than the poor man was justified for being poor. These outward conditions (riches and poverty) were fundamentally irrelevant to the eternal destiny of these men. A godly rich man would have used his wealth differently, but it was not his works that would have saved him. The real basis for justification or condemnation is to be found in the context of the rich man’s concern for his lost brothers. The issue was whether or not these men were rich or poor, but whether or not these men believed the Scriptures, Moses and the Prophets. It is not riches nor poverty which determines one’s destiny, but belief or unbelief.
Thus, the last portion of the parable illustrates the second charge of our Lord against the Pharisees—that they had exchanged the eternal, unchanging standards of the Law and the Prophets for the ever-changing standards of their society. The Pharisees, who saw themselves as the custodians, the guardians of the Law, were really its corrupters. In so-doing, they sealed their own fate. While they may appear to be righteous on the outside, while men may consider them to be righteous, their fate would be the same as the rich man, unless they believed and repented.
Belief and repentance was what the Old Testament revelation was given to produce. These Scriptures were not given to provide an external standard of righteousness which men, if they worked hard enough, could achieve. The Scriptures were given to convince all men that they were sinners, miserably and hopelessly lost. But these same Scriptures provided a temporary means of escape—the sacrificial system. Sins could thereby be put off for a time, like one might receive an extension on an unpaid debt. These same Scriptures spoke of an ultimate salvation which God would accomplish, based upon a new covenant, and upon the sacrificial death of Messiah, who would bear the penalty for a man’s sins, and on the basis of whose righteousness men could be declared righteous as well. Note Paul’s summation of all this as found in Romans chapter three:
19 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. 20 Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. 21 But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus. (Romans 3:19-26).
What an incentive our text is to unsaved men to turn to Christ and to be saved. The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches us several facts about hell which should be the source of great consternation to the lost:
(1) Hell is a real place. It comes after death, but it is a certainty.
(2) Hell is a real place, even though it seems fanciful now.
(3) Hell is the place which justice requires, for it is there and there only that the evils of life are made right. I often hear people protesting against hell, insisting that a loving God could not sent anyone to such a place. But God is also a just God, who cannot overlook evil. The love of God sent Jesus to the cross of Calvary, to bear God’s wrath on sin, to those who reject the love of God in Christ must bear the wrath of God in hell.
(4) Hell is that place where men suffer torment. That torment seems to include physical pain (the heat of the flames in our parable), as well as the mental anguish resulting from seeing the joy of heaven, but being removed from it, and the anguish of worrying about loved ones still living, who will share the same fate.
(5) Hell, once entered, is an irreversible fate. There was no passage possible between heaven and hell. Once a person is in hell, he or she is there forever.
(6) Hell is that place to which many go, thinking that they were going to heaven. The Bible teaches that there is a way which seems right to a man, but its ends are the ways of death. The self-righteous Pharisees never dreamed they would populate hell.
(7) Hell is that place to which men go because their hearts are not pure before God, and who have not believed the Scriptures, either regarding their sin, or God’s salvation in Christ.
There is certainly a strong message in this parable to those who may feel religious, but who are not really saved. Such was the case with the Pharisees. But there is a very grave danger of the errors of the Pharisees creeping into genuine Christianity.
We, like the Pharisees, are in danger of using external criteria by which to judge spirituality, both in ourselves and in others. When we do so, we, like the Pharisees, will place too great a value on money. We will, like them, become lovers of money. The “prosperity gospel” of recent times equates spirituality and prosperity. This is a most serious error, for in such cases, money becomes our master. As Jesus said above, man cannot serve two masters. When God is our Master, money becomes a means of serving Him. But when our god is money, God becomes the means of making money, of making us prosperous. The prosperity gospel has made God the means to riches, not riches a means of serving God.
There are many other ways in which we falsely measure spirituality by external standards appearances. Some, as I have indicated, measure spirituality by one’s wealth. Others change the labels, and equate spirituality with poverty. Others, with a particular spiritual gift, or a particular form of ministry (usually public, popular, and “successful”). Some measure spirituality by the way one’s children turn out, or by the number of days and nights one spends at the church, or in church-related activities.
This error of externalism is much more serious than we may initially recognize. I fear that the motivation for much that we do, or do not do, is a desire to win men’s approval, or to avoid their disapproval. Divorce, for example, was something which few Christians would have considered as an option, just a few years ago. Now it would seem that many Christians are not only considering it, but doing it. Why the change? I do not think it is because men’s understanding of the Scriptures have changed all that much, but because our culture (even our Christian culture the value system of the church and of our fellow Christians) has changed. Men and women may have refused to divorce in the past, not because it was displeasing to God (God hates it, you will recall Malachi 2:16), but because society would look down upon them for divorcing. Now, when society approves, Christians feel free to divorce. We see in this that we, too, are more eager for man’s approval, than for God’s.
And we do these things, all the while maintaining that we are biblicists. We believe that the Bible is inspired and inerrant, and applicable to our lives. We would oppose those who would say otherwise. But in the nitty gritty practice of the Word of God, we, like the Pharisees, often put God’s standards aside when they conflict with those of our culture. Let us seriously consider whom we are striving to please. The New Testament, like the old, has plenty to say about pleasing men (cf. Romans 2:29; 12:17; 14:18; 1 Corinthians 10:33; Galatians 1:10; Ephesians 6:7; 1 Thessalonians 2:4).
We would do well, I believe, to explore those things which our culture highly esteems, and then to consider whether or not these things are well pleasing in the sight of God. I fear that the values of our culture those values which may be an abomination to God have been adopted into our Christian culture without thought. Our secular culture, for example, highly values “a good self image,” which is dangerously close to, if not identical with, self love. Our culture values aggressiveness and assertiveness. God esteems meekness and humility. He teaches us to submit ourselves one to another. Let us carefully evaluate our values, and to consider the condition of our hearts. Only the Word of God can and will expose this (Hebrews 4:1213), so let us turn to the Scriptures, and not to our society, even as our Lord has taught.
15 “The section, which is an attack on the Pharisaic assumptions about wealth, is organized into a two-pronged group of sayings (vss. 14-18), followed by a double-edged parable (vss. 19-31). Verses 19-26 of the parable are an exposition of vss. 14-15, while vss. 27-31 serve as an illustration of vss. 16-18 (E. E. Ellis, The Gospel of Luke, p. 201, following a hint by John Calvin). This pattern gives unity to the section.” Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1984), p. 156.
16 The imperfect tense of the verbs “listening” and “scoffing,” accurately conveyed by the NASB’s “were listening” and “were scoffing,” indicates that the Pharisees had been listening to Jesus, just as they had also been scoffing. It was not a one-time kind of thing, but an on-going reaction and resistance to Jesus’ teaching. Incidentally, the term rendered “scoffing” is found elsewhere only in Luke 23:35.
17 A. T. Robertson reminds us that this term “detestable” is a strong one, use “… for a detestable thing as when Antiochus Epiphanes set up an altar to Zeus in place of that to Jehovah. There is withering scorn in the use of this phrase by Jesus to these pious pretenders.” A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville: Broadman Press, 1930), II, p. 220.
18 More and more I am inclined to see the parable of the rich man and Lazarus as a playing out of this passage in the Sermon on the Mount. The rich man of the parable personifies the one on whom Jesus pronounced woes. The poor man, Lazarus, portrays the blessedness of those whom Jesus called blessed in the sermon.
19 If I am correct in my view that the Pharisees majored on just one part of the Old Testament, namely the Law of Moses, then they were really not all that different from the Samaritans, whom they disdained. The Samaritans recognized only the Pentateuch as inspired revelation, with a few changes. The Pharisees revered the same portion, but their revisions did not require tampering with the text, but only the addition of their traditions and interpretations of it.
20 “The name Lazarus is from Eleazaros, ‘God a help,’ and was a common one. Lazar in English means one afflicted with a pestilential disease.” Robertson, II, p. 221.
21 “Past perfect passive of the common verb ballo. He had been flung there and was still there, ‘as if contemptuous roughness is implied’ (Plummer).” Robertson, II, p. 221.
22 Cf. Deuteronomy 15:4, 7-11; Proverbs 11:23-25; 14:21; 17:5; 21:26; 29:7.