The Parable of the Shrewd Manager, 1-15

Lk 16:1 Jesus told his disciples: “There was a rich man whose manager was accused of wasting his possessions.”

‘The use of wealth is the major topic of Luke 16. Wealth can be a blessing or a curse, depending on whether it is used as a means to exercise power, a tool of self-indulgence or a resource to serve others. Wealth’s danger is that it can turn our focus toward our own enjoyment, as the rich fool showed in Lk 12:13-21 and as the rich man of Lk 16:19-31 will show. Money is a tool. It is an excellent resource when put to the right use. It can help to build many things of use to others. But to possess money is also to hold a sacred stewardship. Our resources are not to be privately held and consumed but are to be used as a means of generosity, as a way of showing care for our neighbor, as the good Samaritan showed in Lk 10:25-37 and as a restored Zacchaeus will show in Lk 19:1-10.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

‘We mistake if we imagine that the design of Christ’s doctrine and holy religion was either to amuse us with notions of divine mysteries or to entertain us with notions of divine mercies. No, the divine revelation of both these in the gospel is intended to engage and quicken us to the practice of Christian duties, and, as much as any one thing, to the duty of beneficence and doing good to those who stand in need of any thing that either we have or can do for them. This our Saviour is here pressing us to, by reminding us that we are but stewards of the manifold grace of God; and since we have in divers instances been unfaithful, and have forfeited the favour of our Lord, it is our wisdom to think how we may, some other way, make what we have in the world turn to a good account.’ (M. Henry)

‘If we would act wisely, we must be diligent and industrious to employ our riches in the acts of piety and charity, in order to promote our future and eternal welfare, as worldly men are in laying them out to the greatest temporal profit, in making to themselves friends with them, and securing other secular interests.’ (M. Henry)

Jesus told his disciples – The context of this parable is instruction to the disciples, rather than controversy with opponents. ‘But, as is evident from the application of it made to themselves by the Pharisees, in the fourteenth verse, the design of our Lord was not only to warn his followers against that which was evil in the Pharisees, but also to get at the Pharisees through his address to them, if haply they might thereby be led to repentance. The two evil qualities by which that class of the people was distinguished were pride and covetousness; and just as, in the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord passes from the exposure of the one of these directly and immediately to that of the other; so here the transition is equally rapid from the reproof of the exclusiveness which sneered at him for receiving sinners, and eating with them, to the condemnation of the worldliness which insisted on keeping to itself that with which it had been intrusted for the good of others.’ (Taylor)

“Manager” – Reluctant as we must be to press the details of parables, it is worth recalling that we are all ‘managers’ or ‘stewards’ in this world. How faithful are we as stewards of all things that God has entrusted to us? ‘Rabbi Kimchi, quoted by Dr. Lightfoot, says, “This world is a house; heaven the roof; the stars the lights; the earth, with its fruits, a table spread; the Master of the house is the holy and blessed God; man is the steward, into whose hands the goods of this house are delivered; if he behave himself well, he shall find favour in the eyes of his Lord; if not, he shall be turned out of his stewardship.”‘ (M. Henry)

Lk 16:2 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.’

“What is this I hear about you?” – we must all give an account before our Master.

“You cannot be manager any longer” – On the withdrawal of privileges, see Mt 21:43; 25:28; Mk 6:11; Lk 19:24; 20:16; Rev 2:5.

Lk 16:3 “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-“

He was too lazy to dig, too proud to beg.

Lk 16:4 I know what I’ll do so that, when I lose my job here, people will welcome me into their houses.’

The basis for this confidence is the ‘reciprocity ethic that was so important in Creco-Roman culture’ (WBC)

Luke 16:5 “So he called in each one of his master’s debtors. He asked the first, ‘How much do you owe my master?’

Lk 16:6 “‘Eight hundred gallons of olive oil,’ he replied.”The manager told him, ‘Take your bill, sit down quickly, and make it four hundred.’

The amount of olive oil owed is huge – representing the annual yield of a very large olive grove (WBC).

The contract would have been written in the hand of the debtor, although held in the possession of the creditor (or, as here, his steward).

The manager acted with haste, as well as shrewdness.

Perhaps he simply lowered an inflated price, showing just what a shark his master was. Or maybe he removed the interest (which on commodity loans was often 50%). Or, again, he may have cut out his own commission (Evans, following Fitzmyer, etc). Most probably, however, in the light of his dubious history, he simply falsified the entries in the books (Taylor). ‘Caught in his squandering of the masters goods, the steward retrieves the situation by means of yet further squandering.’ (WBC)

Lk 16:7 “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.'”

This quantity of wheat is similarly large.

Lk 16:8 “The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly. For the people of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own kind than are the people of the light.”

Luke appears to attach no less than four applications to the preceding parable:-

  1. Those who belong to Christ should use as much ingenuity in pursuing their godly way of life and the people of the world use in pursuing an ungodly life-style, v8.
  2. Material possessions should be used to influence people for good,
    v9.
  3. Trustworthiness in fulfilling a small task in this life is a good sign that one can be trusted to fulfil a large one in the life to come, vv10f.
  4. Only those belong to God who belong to him totally, v13.

Blomberg’s summary of the lessons in v8a, 8b & 9 is: ‘Taken in the sequence of the parable and using the familiar allegorical referents for master, servant and debtors, these lessons might be rephrased as: (1) All of God’s people will be called to give a reckoning of the nature of their service to him. (2) Preparation for that reckoning should involve a prudent use of all our resources, especially in the area of finances. (3) Such prudence, demonstrating a life of true discipleship, will be rewarded with eternal life and joy.’

“The master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly” – he called, him, no doubt, a ‘clever rascal’. The man is commended not for his dishonesty, but for his shrewdness. The morality of the manager is a secondary detail within the parable, and as such has no relevance in determining the overall practical message, which is that people should prepare themselves for the future. How wisely, then, do we use our present opportunities to prepare for the future?

‘The singling out of one quality in a man for special commendation is very different from the laudation of his character or conduct as a whole. When the Saviour said to his followers, “Be ye as wise as serpents,” he did not thereby commend the other qualities of malignity and venomousness which are generally ascribed to these reptiles. He desired them only to imitate their wisdom.’ (Taylor)

Interpreting the Parables

‘We should not expect to find the whole of the gospel in any given parable: ‘It is, for example, misleading to say that the parable of the prodigal son contains “the gospel within the Gospels” and to deduce from it that no doctrine of atonement is vital to Christianity; or to suppose from the story of the good Samaritan that practical service to our fellow men is the be-all and end-all of Christianity’ (R. V G. Tasker, The Nature and Purpose of the Gospels, 1957, pp. 57f.). Nor should we attempt to bring ethical and economic considerations to bear upon the interpretation of the parables when these are in fact irrelevant. The parable of the unjust steward (Lk 16:1-9) teaches that men must prepare themselves for the future; but the morality of the steward (if he was in fact acting immorally) has no bearing on this lesson. It is futile to suggest that the parable of the labourers in the vineyard (Mt 20:1-16) is meant to throw light on the problem of wages; it illustrates the goodness of God, who deals with men generously and not strictly in accordance with their merits.’ (NBD)

The second part of the verse (‘For the people of this world…’) is held by some to be an editorial comment on the part of Luke.

“The people of this world” – lit. the children of this world. Cf. Lk 20:34; Eph 2:3; Eph 5:6; Col 3:6. They are people whose only frame of reference is this world, its goals and standards.

“The people of the light” – lit. the children of light. Cf. Jn 12:36; Eph 5:8; 1 Thess 5:5. ‘Sons of light are in the Lukan setting illuminati who are, through a knowledge of God given in this eschatological period, aware of the larger shape of reality, its moral texture, and its orientation to the future judgment.’ (WBC)

“More shrewd” – They save, they invest, they acrue interest, in order to gain future advantage. How much more should the children of the kingdom so arrange their affairs in this life, as to gain advantage in the life to come. ‘”The children of this world” are experts at seizing opportunities for making money and friends and getting ahead. God’s people should take heed and be just as wise when it comes to managing the spiritual affairs of life. “The children of this world” are wiser only “in their generation;” they see the things of time, but not the things of eternity. Because the child of God lives “with eternity’s values in view,” he should be able to make far better use of his opportunities.’ (Wiersbe)

‘You see, said Jesus, worldly people, with no thoughts beyond this present life, will sometimes behave more sensibly and providently than other-worldly people, the4 children of light. They will use material wealth to prepare for their earthly future; why cannot the children of light use it to prepare for their eternal future? Use the unrighteous5 mammon to win yourselves friends in the world to come.’ (HSB)

The manager’s foresight in providing for himself in this world, shames our lack of preparation for the next. ‘The wisdom of worldly people in the concerns of this world is to be imitated by us in the concerns of our souls: it is their principle to improve their opportunities, to do that first which is most needful, in summer and harvest to lay up for winter, to take a good bargain when it is offered them, to trust the faithful and not the false. O that we were thus wise in our spiritual affairs!’ (M. Henry)

‘As the children of the world aim steadily at their selfish objects, and with ever-watchful prudence saize upon the means necessary to secure them, so the children of light are to keep constantly before their eyes the relations of life to the Divine kingdom, and to press every thing into their service on its behalf.’ (Neander)

‘The Christian professes that his great life-aim is the formation of a holy character through faith in Jesus Christ and obedience unto him. He admits also that every thing ought to be made and kept subordinate thereto; but alas! he does not always act on that admission. Those things which in theory he calls secondary, he very often allows to become primary; and very frequently he loses sight of the interests of eternity, in his devotion to those of time. Hence the singleness of purpose with which the unscrupulous man pursues his object may well be commended to his study, and he may be taught thereby to concentrate himself and his life upon the “one thing” of pressing on toward the mark “for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”‘ (Taylor)

So, let us seek to equal, if not to surpass, the children of this world in using wisely all means to achieve our righteous end.

Lk 16:9 I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings.

“Worldly wealth” – lit. ‘unrighteous mammon’, suggesting wealth gained by dishonest means, or through selfish motives. Some writers go so as to infer from this that money is basically evil. Thus Wiersbe: ‘It is significant that both Paul and Peter called money “filthy lucre.” (1 Tim 3:3,8; Tit 1:7,11; 1 Pet 5:2) Apparently by its very nature, money defiles and debases those who love it and let it control their lives. “We cannot safely use mammon,” writes Richard Foster, “until we are absolutely clear that we are dealing, not just with mammon, but with unrighteous mammon” (Money, Sex and Power, Harper & Row, p. 57).’

But recent discoveries at Qumran indicate that this expression is simply a standard idiom for all money, whether gained honestly or dishonestly. It therefore corresponds to our semi-jocular term ‘filthy lucre’. (Blomberg) ‘The probable meaning is that such money, used for others, may be transformed thereby into true riches in the coming age.’ (Lk 16:12) (E.E. Ellis, NBD). Cf. 1 Tim 6:17-19.

‘In Luke there is certainly no sense that the wealth is ill-gotten or so intrinsically contaminated that one ought to have nothing to do with it (cf. v 11). Rather the wealth is part of the present world system and as such has seductive qualities that Luke is keen to warn against.’ (WBC)

To gain friends for yourselves – Luke will shortly record the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. ‘In it we meet a man who had plenty of the unrighteous1 mammon and used it all to secure comfort and good cheer for himself in this life, giving no thought to the life to come. The time came when he would have been very glad to have even one friend to welcome him into the eternal2 habitations, but he found none. Yet he had every opportunity of securing such a friend. There at his gate lay Lazarus, destitute and covered with sores, only too glad to catch and eat the pieces of bread which the rich man and his guests used to wipe their fingers at table and then threw to the dogs outside. If the rich man had used a little of his wealth to help Lazarus, he would have had a friend to speak up for him on the other side. This3 man, Lazarus might have said to Abraham, showed4 me the kindness of God on earth. But Lazarus had been given no ground to say any such thing. The rich man in Hades found himself without a friend when he needed one mostand5 he had no one to blame but himself.’ (HSB)

‘Money cannot come with us to heaven. Its value is limited when it comes to everlasting life. So recognize its limits and use it for others, not selfishly. To gain friends by means of mammon is to use money in such a way that others appreciate you for your exercise of stewardship, your kindness and generosity.’ (IVP NT Commentary)

‘Jesus encourages his disciples to match worldly persons’ ingenuity in using their resources to further their goals, but he specifies that their proper goals have to do not with earthly security but with heavenly glory’ (J.I Packer, Concise Theology)

Here, then, is an important but neglect motive for consecrating our worldly wealth with something like the shrewdness and promptness that the dishonest manager showed. ‘Use your resources – especialy your financially resources – wisely, to sustain God’s people and advance the Church’s mission. When these resources are gone, and earthly life is finished, there will be a welcome for you in heaven.’

“Eternal dwellings” – cf. Jn 14:2; 2 Cor 5:1.

Lk 16:10 “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.”

Dodd famously described verses 9-13 as ‘notes for three separate sermons on the parable as text’, although others (see WBC) find this misleading, suggesting that vv 10-13 have no connection with the parable.

Verse 11 will make clear that the ‘very little’ referred to here is money. Such an estimate is, of course, contrary to usual human estimates.

‘One of the most difficult tests of integrity is wealth. Our integrity often meets its match in money matters. God calls us to be honest even in small details we could easily rationalize away. Heaven’s riches are far more valuable than earthly wealth. But if we are not trustworthy with our money here (no matter how much or how little we have), we will be unfit to handle the vast riches of God’s kingdom. Don’t let your integrity slip in small matters, and it will not fail you in crucial decisions either.’ (Handbook of Bible Application)

Dishonesty and injustice are condemned in Deut 16:19; 24:17; Ps 82:2; Pr 29:27; 31:4,5; Ec 3:16.

Faithfulness and trustworthiness are neglected qualities today, but are much prized in Scripture, Mt 24:45; 25:21; Rev 2:10.

Lk 16:11 So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches?

‘If the followers of Jesus cannot properly handle worldly wealth, then they cannot expect to be trusted with true riches. That is, if Christians cannot manage their money, property, and other possessions properly (such as supporting the poor and the ministry), they cannot expect to be entrusted with the rewards and wealth that last forever. (cf. Mt 6:25-34) Implicitly, one’s stewardship in this life will form the basis for future reward and responsibility in heaven.’ (see Mt 25:14-30) (Evans)

Luke 16:12 And if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own?

Lk 16:13 “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.”

“You cannot serve both God and Money” – on the idea of greed as idolatry, see Mt 6:24 Col 3:5 Eph 5:5. Let us so live, that even in our use of money and possessions we are serving God, and not them. Note, its doesn’t say, ‘You must not…’ but, ‘You cannot…’.

‘Herein lies a grave danger for many Christians. What often passes for “good stewardship” or “God’s blessing” is really nothing short of greed and materialism.’ (Evans)

No neutrality is possible in relation to spiritual things. Cf. Mt 12:30; Mk 9:40; Lk 11:23.

Scripture contains many warnings against double-mindedness, 2 Kings 17:33; 1 Chron 12:33; Zep 1:4,5; 1 Cor 10:21; Jas 1:8; 4:8.

Undivided service is required by the Lord, 1 Sam 7:3; 2 Chron 15:15; Mt 4:10.

‘They cannot serve two masters God and the world. You know men will condemn you, if you be true to God: if, therefore, you must needs have the favour of men, you must take it alone without God’s favour. A man-pleaser cannot be true to God, because he is a servant to the enemies of his service; the wind of a man’s mouth will drive him about as the chaff, from any duty, and to any sin. How servile a person is a man-pleaser! How many masters hath he, and how mean ones! It perverteth the course of your hearts and lives, and turneth all from God to this unprofitable way.’ (Richard Baxter)

John Wesley’s word to his preachers and society members was, ‘Gain all you can, save all you can, give all you can…Money never stays with me. It would burn me if it did. I throw it out of my hands as soon as possible, lest it find its way into my heart.’

‘A history of commentary on the parable reveals that it has received two main interpretations. Some take it to teach shrewdness in the use of our money; others, prudence in the time of crisis. It seems unnecessary to choose between these. Each by itself seems somewhat truncated and together they yield good sense. Jesus exhorts his disciples to prepare for the Day of Judgment by wisely using everything God has given them, especially their money. If it is true that we cannot serve both God and mammon, (Lk 16:13) in the sense of making an ultimate commitment to both at the same time, then what more telling test of true discipleship than in the use of our finances. Verse 13 seems very apropos here, and the previous verses restate the same lesson in three parallel ways. One who is faithful in little will be faithful also in much. (Lk 16:10) This proverb is then translated in verses 11 and 12 by replacing “little” with “unrighteous mammon” (i.e., earthly riches) and “another’s” (that which is loaned from God) and by replacing “much” with “true i.e., heavenly riches” and “one’s own” (that which will last into eternity).’ (Blomberg)

Luke 16:14 The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus.

Lk 16:15 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.”

Cf. 1 Sam 16:7; Ps 7:9; Jer 11:20.

Additional Teachings, 16-18

Luke 16:16 “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.

Everyone is forcing his way into it

This may mean:-

‘Everyone is treating it violently’

‘Everyone who enters the kingdom must do so with the same energy and determination as those who seek to bring it about by force.’

Luke 16:17 It is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the least stroke of a pen to drop out of the Law.

Lk 16:18 “Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”

‘Jewish law permitted men the right of divorce for almost any reason, although many rabbis disapproved of divorcing on slight grounds. Jesus’ statement, however, declares that divorce is invalid in God’s sight, so that a subsequent marriage is adulterous. Here Jesus articulates a stronger view of the marriage bond than anyone else we know of in antiquity, and his statement thus intensifies the law of Moses. Like most other statements of general principle in the ancient world (e.g., Pr 18:22 with Pr 11:22; 12:4; 21:9; or Pr 10:15; 13:8; 14:20 with 10:2, 11:4; or 14:24; 16:6 with 15:16; 16:8; 30:7-9; or 11:8; 12:13, 21 with principles such as 2 Tim 3:12), this one does not exclude exceptions (for the innocent party who had no say in the matter, cf. Mt 5:32; 19:9; 1 Cor 7:15); Jesus’ purpose is to protect an innocent party from being divorced, not to punish the party who has been so betrayed. His statement addresses especially the wife because in Jewish Palestine (in contrast to Roman custom) only the husband had full rights to divorce.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)

The Rich Man and Lazarus, 19-31

Lk 16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.”

This story is very probably a parable, although not explicitly announced as such. The opening (lit. ‘A certain man…’) functions rather like our ‘Once upon a time’.  Bock, however, calls it an ‘example story’.

The story presents two men who were worlds apart in everything except geography.

‘The parable remains unique in several respects. It is the only one which does not limit its action to events in this world but carries over into the next. It is the only one in which characters have names. Its characters do not seem to symbolize “spiritual counter-parts” but simply represent other people in identical situations-certain rich men, certain poor men, and those who dwell in the presence of God. Thus the parable has been called an example story rather than a parable proper.’ (Blomberg)

Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God), however, counsels against supposing that the parable describes the afterlife, or that Jesus’ intention is to warn people to be sure of their ultimate destiny.  In that case, says Wright, it would not be a parable at all.  It is, rather, a traditional tale with an unexpected ending.  A big part of the surprise is the realisation that the welcome afforded to the beggar in the life to come is already being extended to the poor and needy, in this life, by Jesus himself.  God’s future kingdom is breaking in, right now.  The rich man, who represents ‘the rich, the Pharisees, the grumblers’, now need to repent if they are to share in the same blessing; and that message has already been made plain in the writings of Moses and the prophets.

A rich man – traditionally named as ‘Dives’.

Lk 16:20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores

“Lazarus” – The name means ‘God helps’ (from the Heb. Eliezer), which probably explains its inclusion in the story. (Blomberg)

‘It is not poor and rich men per se whom Lazarus and his heartless neighbor depict, but those who demonstrate by their attitudes to material possessions a proper or improper relationship with God. After all, Abraham too was rich.’ (Blomberg)

Lk 16:21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

‘We are all tempted to use the enormous complexity of international economies as an excuse to do nothing. Yet this was the sin of Dives. There is no suggestion that Dives was responsible for the poverty of Lazarus either by robbing or by exploiting him. The reason for Dives’ guilt is that he ignored the beggar at his gate and did precisely nothing to relieve his destitution. He acquiesced in a situation of gross economic inequality, which had rendered Lazarus less than fully human and which he could have relieved. The pariah dogs that licked Lazarus’s sores showed more compassion that Dives did. Dives went to hell because of his indifference.’ (Stott, Authentic Christianity, 362)

Lk 16:22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.”

The beggar died…The rich man also died – ‘The rich man died and was buried, and we can assume he had a lavish funeral appropriate for a man of his social class. As a rich man, he may have been buried in an elaborate tomb. What could be expected for Lazarus? There is no mention of a burial. He was destined for a pauper’s grave at best, but, contrary to all expectations, Jesus says that he was carried away to the bosom of Abraham by angels. God is never explicitly mentioned in the story, but the readers of Luke know that these angels are God’s angels (see 1:11; 2:9; 12:8; Acts 5:19; 8:26; 12:7, 23) and are sent by God (Luke 1:26; Acts 12:11).’ (Garland)

Death – the mighty leveler

‘The rich man in the parable died, and Lazarus died too. Different and divided as they were in their lives, they had both to drink of the same cup at the end. Both went to the grave. Both went to that place where rich and poor meet together. Dust they were, and unto dust they returned. (Gen 3:19)

This is the lot of all men. It will be our own, unless the Lord shall first return in glory. After all our scheming, and contriving, and planning, and studying-after all our inventions, and discoveries, and scientific attainments, there remains one enemy we cannot conquer and disarm, and that is death. The chapter in Genesis which records the long lives of Methuselah and the rest who lived before the flood, winds up the simple story of each by two expressive words: “he died.” And now, after 4,800 years, what more can be said of the greatest among ourselves? The histories of Marlborough, and Washington, and Napoleon, and Wellington, arrive at just the same humbling conclusion. The end of each, after all his greatness is just this-“he died.”

Death is a mighty leveler. He spares none and he waits for none. He will not wait till you are ready. Doors, and bars, and locks will not keep him out.’ (J.C. Ryle)

Abraham’s side – Or, ‘Abraham’s bosom’ which is ‘a figure of speech used by Jesus in the parable of Lazarus and Dives, (Lk 16:22-23) illustrating the ‘great gulf fixed’ between the bliss of paradise and the misery of Hades. (cf. Mt 8:11-12) The dead Lazarus is portrayed as reclining next to Abraham at the feast of the blessed, after the Jewish manner, which brought the head of one person almost into the bosom of the one who sat above him, and placed the most favoured guest in such a relation to his host. (e.g. Jn 13:23) To sit in Abraham’s bosom, in Talmudic language, was to enter Paradise. (cf. /APC 4Ma 13:17) Such Oriental imagery should not be regarded as evidence of Jewish belief in an interim state. J.D.D.’

‘True Israelites and especially martyrs were expected to share with Abraham in the world to come. The most honored seat in a banquet would be nearest the host, reclining in such a way that one’s head was near his bosom.’ (NT Background Cmt’y)

Luke 16:23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

Hell – lit. ‘hades’.  This term would normally denote the intermediate state for both the righteous and the unrighteous.  Edwards agrees that the interim state is meant here: ‘Neither Lazarus nor the rich man is experiencing his final state, although both experience a foretaste or anticipation of it.’  Morris, however, notes that the term is never used of the abode of the righteous.  Noting further that the man was in ‘torment’, Morris concludes that Gehenna (the final state of the wicked) is indicated.  Stein agrees that the term is ‘probably’ synonymous with ‘Gehenna’ here.

Stott thinks that ‘the natural interpretation would be that Jesus was referring to the so-called “intermediate (or interim) state” between death and resurrection. I myself believe that this will be the time (if indeed we shall be aware of the passage of time) when the lost will come to the unimaginably painful realization of their fate. This is not incompatible, however, with their final annihilation.’  (In Christopher M. Date, Gregory G. Stump, Joshua W. Anderson. Rethinking Hell: Readings in Evangelical Conditionalism (p. 53). Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.)

Lk 16:24 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.’

“‘Father Abraham'” – Abraham, as father of the Jewish nation, speaks on behalf of God.

“Cool my tongue” – ‘The New Testament speaks of the departed after an anthropomorphic fashion as though they were still possessed of bodily organs. (Lk 16:23,14; Rev 6:11; 7:9) That no inference can be drawn from this in favor of the hypothesis of an intermediate body appears from the fact that God and angels are spoken of in the same manner, and also from passages which more precisely refer to the dead as “souls,” “spirits”.’ (Lk 23:46; Acts 7:59; Heb 12:23; 1 Pet 3:19; Rev 6:9; 20:4) (Vos, in ISBE).

Geisler (Baker’s Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, p23) states that ‘there is no hint of annihilation in this passage; he is suffering constant and conscious torment.’  This conclusion misses, however, the very real possibility that this parable is not about the final destiny of the righteous and the unrighteous.  If anything, it is about the intermediate state.

Luke 16:25 “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.

Luke 16:26 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.’

Lk 16:27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house,”

‘The rich man prayed for his brothers. (Lk 16:27-31) He did not say, “I’m glad my brothers will also come here. We’ll have a wonderful time together!” Occasionally you hear a lost person say, “Well, I don’t mind if I go to hell. I’ll have a lot of company!” But there is no friendship or “company” in hell! Hell is a place of torment and loneliness. It is not an eternal New Year’s Eve party at which sinners have a good time doing what they used to do on earth.’ (Wiersbe)

Luke 16:28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

Lk 16:29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'”

‘The reference to Moses and the prophets picks up on the affirmation of their continuing validity as a guide for ethical conduct (16:16–18). The prophets sound three themes related to wealth and charity:

• God desires that persons comfort the poor even more than offering sacrifices (Isa 58:6–10).
• The rich who abuse the poor are denounced (Isa 1:23; 3:13–15; 10:1–3; Ezek 22:29; Amos 6:4; 8:4–6; Mic 2:1–2).
• The rights of the poor will be respected in the eschatological future (Isa 11:1–4; 26:1–6; 61:1).

Had the rich man read the prophets, he would have known that his failure to meet the needs of the poor would provoke God’s wrath and bring retribution (Jer 5:26–29; 22:13–19; Amos 2:6–7; 4:1–3; 5:11–15). Reading Moses and the prophets also points to the coming of the Messiah and helps explain Jesus’ suffering and death (see Lk 24:27, 44).’ (Garland)

‘The argument that an appeal to signs and wonders is the way to commend the gospel to men has to face the story Jesus himself told of the rich but ungodly man and the godly beggar, Lk 16:19-31. It was the wisdom of hell that led the rich man after his death to appeal to heaven for the raising to life of the poor man. Surely, if Lazarus was restored to life such a stupendous miracle would stir his own surviving brothers to repentance, and so to the avoidance of his own place of torment. However, the reply from heaven, in Jesus’ story, is quite clear: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them,” Lk 16:29.’ (Herbert Carson, Spiritual Gifts for Today? 91)

Believe the Scripture

‘If the Scripture is of divine inspiration, believe it. The Romans, that they might gain credit to their laws, reported they were inspired by the gods of Rome. Oh give credence to the Word! It is breathed from God’s own mouth. Hence arises the profaneness of men, that they do not believe the Scripture. Isa 53:1:’who has believed our report?’ Did you believe the glorious rewards the Scripture speaks of, would you not give diligence to make your election sure? Did you believe the infernal torments the Scripture speaks of, would it not put you into a cold sweat, and cause a trembling at heart for sin? But people are in part atheists, they give but little credit to the Word, therefore they are so impious, and draw such dark shadows in their lives. Learn to realise Scripture, get your hearts wrought to a firm belief of it. Some think, if God should send an angel from heaven, and declare his mind, they would believe him; or, if he should send one from the damned, and preach the torments of hell all in flames, they would believe. But, ‘If they believe not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one arose from the dead.’ Lk 16:31. God is wise, and he thinks the fittest way to make his mind known to us is by writing; and such as shall not be convinced by the Word, shall be judged by the Word. The belief of Scripture is of high importance. It will enable us to resist temptation. 1 Jn 2:14. ‘The Word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one.’ It conduceth much to our sanctification; therefore sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth, are put together. 2 Thess 2:12. If the word written be not believed, it is like writing on water, which makes no impression.’ (Thomas Watson, A Body of Divinity)

Luke 16:30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

Lk 16:31 “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.'”

“They will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead” – Although it is possible that Jesus is anticipating his own resurrection here, Blomberg thinks it this unlikely. The word anistemi is not the usual one for his resurrection, and means ‘to arise’; ‘to raise up’; ‘to stand up’. The reference may be to the resuscitations that Jesus had already performed, but which had left the Jewish leaders unconvinced. ‘Still, as an application, if not as the interpretation, the picture fits the resurrection of Christ and the disbelieving response of many of the Jews so perfectly that it seems appropriate to reapply it in light of later events, as an example of the later significance of the original meaning. One is tempted to generalize the third point of the parable even further and agree with Cadoux that the passage illustrates how often “conscience is not convinced nor the spiritual world vindicated by signs.”‘ (Blomberg)

Blomberg suggests the following main lessons from the parable: ‘(1) Like Lazarus, those whom God helps will be borne after their death into God’s presence. (2) Like the rich man, the unrepentant will experience irreversible punishment. (3) Through Abraham, Moses, and the prophets, God reveals himself and his will so that none who neglect it can legitimately protest their subsequent fate. In keeping with the amount of attention paid to each character, Jesus was probably emphasizing (2) and (3) more than (1), but all three points nevertheless seem present. The parable overturns conventional Jewish wisdom which saw the rich as blessed by God and the poor as punished for their wickedness.’ (Blomberg)

How much does this parable tell us about the afterlife?

Robert Yarbrough: ‘It is widely accepted that this story is parabolic and not intended to furnish a detailed geography of hell. Yet the picture of an impious sinner tortured by unquenchable thirst, with painful but unmitigated anxiety about his brothers who may end up in the same place, is far from irreconcilable with other allusions and images used by Christ in Matthew’s Gospel.’  (in Morgan, Christopher W. Hell Under Fire: Modern Scholarship Reinvents Eternal Punishment (Kindle Locations 1630-1632). Zondervan. Kindle Edition.)

Blomberg, however, cautions: ‘The restrictions against unlimited allegorizing and the fact that the source for much of the imagery of the parable probably was popular folklore should warn against viewing the details of this narrative as a realistic description of the afterlife. Attempts to limit those details to teaching about the “intermediate state” of the believer (after death and before the final resurrection) or to the situation of Old Testament saints (before Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection) do not alter this fact. Nevertheless even the most sober of commentators continues to squeeze more out of this parable than is defensible, probably because there are so few passages in Scripture which clearly teach about the details of life after death. Thus Murray Harris, for example, can at first agree that “the parable of the rich man and Lazarus was told to illustrate the danger of wealth and the necessity of repentance, not to satisfy our natural curiosity about man’s anthropological condition after death,” and yet immediately seem to ignore this salutary warning by adding, “it is not illegitimate to deduce from the setting of the story the basic characteristics of the post mortem state of believers and unbelievers.” Among these he includes consciousness of surroundings, memory of one’s past, capacity to reason, and acuteness of perception. If these are true aspects of the afterlife, they will be derived from other passages of Scripture, not from this one. Otherwise one might just as well conclude that it will be possible to talk to those “on the other side,” that Abraham will be God’s spokesman in meting out final judgment, and that some from “heaven” will apparently want to be able to travel to “hell” (“those who want to go from here to you”-v. 26)!’ (Blomberg)

Hunter (Interpreting the Parables) summarises the main point of the story as follows: ‘If a man cannot be humane with the Old Testament in his hand and Lazarus on his doorstep, nothing—neither a visitant from the other world nor a revelation of the horrors of hell—will teach him otherwise.’

McKnight (commenting on Mt 6:25-34): ‘I was speaking at Fuller Theological Seminary in their chapel, and I spoke on the “Parable from Hell” (Luke 16:19–31). The point of my talk was that we want to know who will go to heaven and how long hell will last, but Jesus used hell language not to satisfy our curiosity but to urge us to see the Lazaruses at our gate.’

‘There is no infidelity, skepticism, or unbelief after death.  Hell is truth known too late.’ (Ryle)

Why did Abraham refuse the rich man’s request?  ‘It was not that God was determined to give the brothers no more evidence in order to bring them to repentance. It was that they needed to see that their neglect of God’s law was neglect of the evidence they had already been given – a neglect so serious that it would exclude them from God’s presence for ever.  “And that was a moral issue, and ultimately a question of God’s moral character. The highest possible evidence in the matter therefore was the plain statement of his Word directed to the brothers’ moral conscience and judgment. And so it is with us. If our moral judgment is so irresponsible that it can make light of the Bible’s warnings of our guilt before God … no amount of seeing of apparitions would convince us that we personally were in danger of perdition unless we repented.”‘  (Lennox, John C. Against the Flow: The inspiration of Daniel in an age of relativism (pp. 190-191). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition. (Quoting David Gooding))

 

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