Jesus’ Life and Ministry
The Rich Man and Lazarus
JESUS has been talking to his disciples about the proper use of material riches, explaining that we cannot be slaves to these and at the same time be slaves to God. The Pharisees are also listening, and they begin to sneer at Jesus because they are money lovers. So he says to them: “You are those who declare yourselves righteous before men, but God knows your hearts; because what is lofty among men is a disgusting thing in God’s sight.”
The time has come for the tables to be turned on people who are rich in worldly goods, political power, and religious control and influence. They are to be put down, and those who recognize their spiritual need are to be lifted up. Jesus points to such a change when he goes on to say to the Pharisees:
“The Law and the Prophets were until John [the Baptizer]. From then on the kingdom of God is being declared as good news, and every sort of person is pressing forward toward it. Indeed, it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one particle of a letter of the Law to go unfulfilled.”
The scribes and the Pharisees are proud of their professed adherence to the Law of Moses. Recall that when Jesus miraculously gave sight to a certain man in Jerusalem, they boasted: “We are disciples of Moses. We know that God has spoken to Moses.” But now the Law of Moses has fulfilled its intended purpose of leading humble ones to God’s designated King, Jesus Christ. So with the beginning of John’s ministry, all kinds of persons, especially the humble and the poor, are exerting themselves to become subjects of God’s Kingdom.
Since the Mosaic Law is now being fulfilled, the obligation to keep it is to be removed. The Law permits divorce on various grounds, but Jesus now says: “Everyone that divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he that marries a woman divorced from a husband commits adultery.” How such pronouncements must irritate the Pharisees, especially since they permit divorce on many grounds!
Continuing his remarks to the Pharisees, Jesus relates an illustration that features two men whose status, or situation, is eventually changed dramatically. Can you determine who the men represent and what the reversal of their situations means?
“But a certain man was rich,” Jesus explains, “and he used to deck himself with purple and linen, enjoying himself from day to day with magnificence. But a certain beggar named Lazarus used to be put at his gate, full of ulcers and desiring to be filled with the things dropping from the table of the rich man. Yes, too, the dogs would come and lick his ulcers.”
Jesus here uses the rich man to represent the Jewish religious leaders, including not only the Pharisees and the scribes but the Sadducees and the chief priests as well. They are rich in spiritual privileges and opportunities, and they conduct themselves as the rich man did. Their clothing of royal purple represents their favored position, and the white linen pictures their self-righteousness.
This proud rich-man class views the poor, common people with utter contempt, calling them ‛am ha·’aʹrets, or people of the earth. The beggar Lazarus thus represents these people to whom the religious leaders deny proper spiritual nourishment and privileges. Hence, like Lazarus covered with ulcers, the common people are looked down upon as spiritually diseased and fit only to associate with dogs. Yet, those of the Lazarus class hunger and thirst for spiritual nourishment and so are at the gate seeking to receive whatever meager morsels of spiritual food may drop from the rich man’s table.
Jesus now goes on to describe changes in the condition of the rich man and Lazarus. What are these changes, and what do they represent? These questions will be considered in the next issue of our magazine. Luke 16:14-21; John 9:28, 29; Matthew 19:3-9; Galatians 3:24; Colossians 2:14.
◆ With the beginning of John’s ministry, what change does Jesus indicate takes place?
◆ What is to be removed after Jesus’ death, and how will this affect the matter of divorce?
◆ In Jesus’ illustration, who are represented by the rich man and by Lazarus?
◆ What information may we anticipate in the next issue of this magazine?