For an introduction to this series, click here.
March 22, 2007
Well, this has been a crazy week, and it's probably going to get crazier, since I'm planning on going home this weekend, but I am so far behind at work I'm not sure if I can or not.
Anyway, to me this is one of the most interesting chapters in the Bible. It starts out with a parable that hardly anyone ever preaches from (at least it seems like) but it has an amazing message. The story begins with a man who works as a manager at a rich man's estate. The rich man accuses him of stealing from him. The manager figures he is done for, so he calls his boss's creditors and makes deals with them, writing off part of their debts in exchange for favors. Then Jesus presents an interesting twist: "The master commended the dishonest manager for his shrewdness. For the sons of this world are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light. And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings." (16:8-9)
Here we have a man who used something that wasn't his to gain something in the future. Actually, the King James is clearer on this point: "Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations." (16:9) Jesus explains His parable in the verses that follow: "If then you have not been faithful in the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches? And if you have not been faithful in that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?" (16:11-12)
Here is the lesson: God gives us the opportunity to invest our material goods on earth to gain eternal rewards in heaven. What a deal we have as servants of God! He gives us the power, the will and the means to do His will on earth, and then He rewards us for doing what we were supposed to do! The people of this world are wiser because they invest all their resources for advancement in this world, and that is the best they can do. How many times are we guilty of the same thing the lost world does, spending all of our lives and resources working out the best for ourselves in this life, and never concerned about our eternal home?
I could go on, but let's finish this chapter. This chapter concludes with the story of the rich man and Lazarus. I have heard lots of preachers teach that this is a true story, but that can hardly be the case. The point of this story is not the torments of hell, which is what most preachers use this passage to say. Not that hell isn't real, but to put so much stock in the details of this story is unfair to the context, and there are plenty of other scriptures which speak of the horrors of hell.
Others say this is not a parable because Luke doesn't call it a parable. Well, none of the parables in this section, including the Prodigal Son and the parable we just discussed above, are introduced by name as parables. I have yet to hear anyone claim that the Prodigal Son is a true story, even though it seems way more plausible than this one.
The point of this parable is riches: temporal vs. eternal. The previous parable was about riches, and in between Jesus criticizes the Pharisees: "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God." (16:15) The Pharisees equated riches and popularity among men with God's blessing. Jesus tells this parable to show them they are wrong.
Why else would Jesus quote Abraham as saying, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish."? (16:25) You don't get to heaven by being poor, nor do you go to hell because you are rich. The message of this parable is not how to avoid hell and go to heaven. Instead, Jesus is telling them there is more to receiving God's blessings, especially eternal blessings, than just being rich. You have to believe.
Some folks try to build up an entire body of belief about the eternal state of Old Testament saints from this parable. That is very dangerous way to handle Scripture. I don't have a specific chapter and verse I can point to, other than "I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever" in Psalm 23, that says that the OT saints were in heaven, but I believe it until proven otherwise. There is no other passage that indicates that there may have been in a "holding place" in hell.
As far as the phrase "Abraham's bosom" is concerned, the ESV is more explanatory. It says "Abraham's side." This is the same word picture as when John is described at the Last Supper as being in Jesus' bosom. It just means Lazarus was reclining next to Abraham in the place of honor at the heavenly banquet, which reinforces the whole point of the story anyway: that poor Lazarus, afflicted with a terrible disease, which the Jews looked on as a sure sign of God's judgment, was the guest of honor at the banquet in heaven.