The Stubborn Trap: Luke 16:19-31

Focus Passage: Luke 16:19-31 (NIrV)

19 “Once there was a rich man. He was dressed in purple cloth and fine linen. He lived an easy life every day. 20 A man named Lazarus was placed at his gate. Lazarus was a beggar. His body was covered with sores. 21 Even dogs came and licked his sores. All he wanted was to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.

22 “The time came when the beggar died. The angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In the place of the dead, the rich man was suffering terribly. He looked up and saw Abraham far away. Lazarus was by his side. 24 So the rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham! Have pity on me! Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water. Then he can cool my tongue with it. I am in terrible pain in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember what happened in your lifetime. You received your good things. Lazarus received bad things. Now he is comforted here, and you are in terrible pain. 26 Besides, a wide space has been placed between us and you. So those who want to go from here to you can’t go. And no one can cross over from there to us.’

27 “The rich man answered, ‘Then I beg you, father Abraham. Send Lazarus to my family. 28 I have five brothers. Let Lazarus warn them. Then they will not come to this place of terrible suffering.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have the teachings of Moses and the Prophets. Let your brothers listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said. ‘But if someone from the dead goes to them, they will turn away from their sins.’

31 “Abraham said to him, ‘They do not listen to Moses and the Prophets. So they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Read Luke 16:19-31 in context and/or in other translations on!

There are a few of Jesus’ teachings that are debated over. Well, probably most of them are argued over to some degree or another, but there are a few that people wonder if Jesus was sharing about an actual event that happened, or whether He was creating a story to use as a parable or an illustration.

One such story is that of the Good Samaritan that is found in Luke 10:25-37, but this journal entry’s passage is not on the Good Samaritan, but on another highly debated illustration: The Rich Man and Lazarus.

Since this illustration has no real clear introduction, we don’t have a good context for when/where it was shared. It is possible that it was shared to the disciples and the Pharisees who were standing around listening during the earlier verses in chapter 16, but both this passage and verse 18, the one immediately before this illustration, don’t have a clear transition to help frame what Jesus wants to teach. Verse 18, which talks about divorce and adultery can be linked to Matthew 5:32, where it does have context, but everything about the illustration of the Rich Man and Lazarus has no clear context.

This has lead to debate over what Jesus was teaching about. Is this a parable about the afterlife, or a challenge to be more caring/loving in the present life? Is this Jesus’ description of hell, or simply drawing from the broad, dualistic culture of the time and using it as just a setting to help people see the truth in a new way? Is this Jesus turning a popular Pharisee proverb on its head, and for the readers of the time, it would need no context, or is He creating a new illustration to support a broader point?

Without any context, we are left to look at the details and internal themes to uncover what Jesus is saying. When reading this parable, we should look for words, phrases, ideas, and themes that stand out and use these things to help us discover what Jesus was trying to tell us.

As I read through this passage, and as the illustration-storyline reaches its climax, we read the following verse, “They do not listen to Moses and the Prophets. So they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” (Verse 31)

The rich man is trying to do something to warn his brothers who are still alive to turn from their selfish, sinful lives, and we read the bleak reality that not even a dead person coming back to life is enough to convince a stubborn person to change their ways.

The big truth I see Jesus teaching me in just this one verse is to be open to the ways God speaks to us through His Word. It is as though God is telling me to never discount anything in any portion of the Bible as being insignificant. The Bible shares the story of God – His-Story — and God’s story is one filled with opportunities for redemption.

The truth I see Jesus teaching me is to never fall into the trap of thinking that I have reached the place where there is nothing more God can teach me. If that happens, I will have closed off all ways for God to reach me.

This thought was inspired by studying the Walking With Jesus "Reflective Bible Study" package. To discover insights like this in your own study time, click here and give Reflective Bible Study a try today!

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