3 Therefore the sisters sent to Him, saying, “Lord, behold, he whom You love is sick.” 4 When Jesus heard that, He said, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it.” (John 11:3–4, NKJV)
The sisters of Lazarus, the beloved friend of Jesus, sent Him word that their brother was seriously ill (Jno. 11:1-2). John’s narrative goes on to tell of Lazarus’ death, and that Jesus raised him from the dead (Jno. 11:17-44). Jesus knew the outcome of the sickness would not be death, it would be to the glory of the Father and the Son. Although Lazarus died physically, his resurrection affirmed Christ’s power over death (Jno. 11:25). Jesus also has power over the spiritual death caused by sin (“whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die,” Jno. 11:26). When sickness comes to us or to our loved ones, may we have the faith to see and use the opportunity it gives us to trust in God and to give Him glory. May we follow the example of Paul, whose physical ailment became an occasion for him to more fully trust the grace and power of the Lord (2 Cor. 12:8-10). Physical death awaits us all (Heb. 9:27). But, by living and believing in Christ we have spiritual life now, and eternal life beyond the grave (Jno. 5:28-29).
30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:30–31, NKJV)
It is the devil’s deception that suggests only an extraordinary experience can persuade a sinner to repent. The rich man thought it would take a miraculous visitation from the dead of Lazarus to convince his brothers to repent and thus avoid the torment in which he was engulfed. But, Abraham reminded him they had Moses and the prophets to persuade them. The person who will not believe God’s message in the inspired Scriptures will not be persuaded to repent even if one arises from the dead. After all, that is exactly what Jesus would later do. Yet still, in spite of His empty tomb, most people refuse to believe in Him. Why? Because they do not love the truth, and prefer the pleasures of sin (2 Thess. 2:10-12). The word of God amply persuades the person with a good and honest heart to repent (Lk. 8:15; Acts 17:11-12). The hindrance to repentance and salvation is not for lack of a miraculous visitation. The problem is a hardened, closed heart that refuses to receive God’s truth (read Acts 28:23-28). And so, the question comes to each of us. Will we be persuaded by the gospel of Christ to repent, so we can join Lazarus after death? Or, will we refuse to be persuaded, keep living in sin, and find ourselves in torment with the rich man? We answer that question every day.
27 Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ (Luke 16:27–29, NKJV)
Previously, the rich man had called out to Abraham to send Lazarus to him with a drop of water to relieve his torment (Lk. 16:24). Now, he begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers to bear witness of the torment awaiting them unless they repent (Lk. 16:28, 30). It is important for us to hear Abraham’s answer. The answer was “no,” he would not send Lazarus to them. The man’s brothers had God’s Scriptures to persuade them to live according to God’s will. The same principle is true today. The present truth – the gospel of Christ – is how God persuades sinners to repent and be saved. God does not send messages from the dead to the living. The living word of God, the inspired Scriptures, testify of the “place of torment” and of the place of comfort that awaits beyond the grave. We must hear and follow the word of God that was spoken and written by the apostles and prophets of Christ. This is how God speaks to us today (Heb. 1:1-2). This is how God persuades us to live so as to reap rest, not torment, when we die.
And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. (Luke 16:26, NKJV)
Abraham continued his explanation to the rich man why it would be impossible for Lazarus to relieve him of the tormenting flame in which he found himself. Not only was the man’s torment the just outcome of his greedy life, but also there could be no passing back and forth between the flame and the place of comfort. A great gulf is fixed (set fast) in Hades between Abraham’s bosom and the flame of torments that prevents any such passage. The truth is unmistakable – there are no second chances after death. Whether it is 1) The Catholic concept of purgatory (cleansing to allow for passage into the presence of God), or 2) The Hindu and Buddhist concept of reincarnation and the transmigration of souls, or 3) The Latter-day Saints’ belief that the gospel will be preached and received in the next life – all these doctrines are refuted by what Jesus said in Luke 16:26. Death comes once, then judgment (Heb. 9:27). God will judge what we did in the body in this life on Judgment Day (2 Cor. 5:10). We must not live as if we will have another chance to do God’s will after we die – we will not. Now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never be. Therefore, today is the day God gives you the opportunity to trust and follow Him (Matt. 6:33-34; Jas. 4:13-17).
24 Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.’ (Luke 16:24–25, NKJV)
Death does not end our existence. That is clearly implied here. Furthermore, we learn here that salvation is not universal. The rich man’s plea for mercy is understandable. Even momentary relief from the torturous flame would be better than nothing. But, not even a drop of water would come. How many billions of souls believe eternal bliss awaits all who pass from this life?! Yet, Jesus told of something very different. After death, each man received according to how he had lived on earth. We must take to heart this important, timeless truth, “Do not be deceived. God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” (Gal. 6:7-8). For Lazarus, the pain was past. For the rich man, it had only just begun. How terrible it is to be lost! How comforting it is to be saved! The gospel will save you from your sins and show you how to live to be ready to die (Rom. 1:16-17; 6:17-18; Gal. 2:20; 2 Tim. 4:6-8). The rich man loved his money, and lost everything. Choose to love and follow Jesus. Live by His truth, and death will bring you blessed comfort.
22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:22–23, NKJV)
The daily deprivations Lazarus experienced are difficult to grasp. Begging for one’s very survival, being treated as persona non grata (an unwelcome person), and battling the pain of ulcerated, unattended sores – these were his day-to-day realities. Such would surely tempt a person to bitterly resent those who indulged themselves without thought of giving aid, as well as God Himself (Lk. 16:19-21; Job 2:8-9). It takes a mighty faith to resist such trials of body and soul (Job 2:10). Death does not end our existence. Death was Lazarus’ great release. Although the beggar’s body would be dumped into an obscure grave, his soul was ushered by angels to Abraham’s bosom (a place of perpetual comfort and embracing bliss). The rich man also died and was buried. Leaving the ease of his riches, he found himself “in torments in Hades.” Hades is the realm of departed spirits in which both Paradise and torments exist (Lk. 23:43; Acts 2:27). The tables have now turned. The man’s wealth did not prevent his death and could not save his soul. The lesson is obvious: “For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26) For what are you exchanging your soul? What a terrible transaction it is to exchange your soul for fortune and easy instead of being rich toward God (Lk. 12:20-21).
19 There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:19–23, NKJV)
Jesus told “the Pharisees, who were lovers of money,” about two men in life and after death (Lk. 16:14). The unnamed rich man lived in luxury, while failing to give even the leftovers of his table to the poor man who was laid at his gate. Infected with sores, Lazarus endured disease, humiliation, poverty, and the lack of common decency every day. There are important lessons here for us to learn and live. First, wealth does not define one’s value, nor does it prevent one’s death. Whether rich or poor, death comes to us all (Eccl. 9:2-3). Second, the sin of selfish indulgence ignores the needs of others, but it is not ignored by God. Thirdly, God sees the injustices and suffering of the righteous (2 Thess. 1:4-7). Fourth, we must not trust in riches, but lay up heavenly treasures (Matt. 6:19-21). Riches are uncertain, so trust in the living God and use your material blessings to be “rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share,” that you may lay hold of eternal life (1 Tim. 6:17-19).