And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. (Luke 16:23)
A popular idea going around these days suggests that anyone can go to heaven, if he or she is a “good” person. That sounds good, but by what standard does one measure “goodness”? The fornicator may say, “I’m not so bad; I won’t cheat on my wife.” The adulterer might say, “I’m not so bad; I’ve never molested a child.” The child molester could say, “I’m not so bad; I’ve never murdered anyone.” The murderer excuses himself, “I’m not so bad; the one I killed had it coming.” He would also add, “I am not a mass murderer,” and so on. Each one is not as bad as the other person is; by their own standard, they qualify for heaven. However, heaven’s standards exceed those we place on ourselves.
Jesus recounts the death of two men. The account is often mistaken as one of Jesus’ parables; however, the matter-of-fact telling of the account carries no alternative meaning, as do the regular parables of Jesus. In this instance, Jesus gives the proper name of one of the characters, Lazarus. He refers to the second man simply as “a rich man.” In this account, Jesus gives the impression that He has firsthand knowledge of the parties involved, so it makes one wonder why the rich man remains unnamed. The Bible tells us that “when the roll is called up yonder,” those who have died without Christ will be judged by their works recorded in “the books” (Revelation 20:12-13). When their “works” fail to meet heavenly standards, those being judged will be looked up in the Book of Life, and when their names are not found there, they will be cast into “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Perhaps this is why Jesus does not name the rich man. On the other hand, Jesus knows Lazarus by name. Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand” (John 10:27-28, emphasis mine). Apparently, Jesus did not know the rich man meaning that the rich man was not one of His sheep.
As Jesus relates the account, the worst thing said about the rich man is that he “was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). Is there anything sinful about being rich? Surely, that cannot be the reason for his eternal life sentence! Indeed, “in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off,” (Luke 16:23, emphasis mine). Abraham was one of the richest men recorded in the Bible, yet there he is in paradise, so wealth was not the man’s problem.
Jesus tells us that Lazarus, a beggar, “was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table” (Luke 16:20-21). The account implies that the rich man took no notice of the beggar’s plight, although Jesus does not explicitly say so. Very possibly the rich man tossed a few coins to the beggar from time to time as might be expected of a man of his status. Even here, we find no “sin” worthy of an eternal sentence to hell.
One characteristic about the rich man that clearly comes through in Jesus’ account is his self-centeredness or self-focus, especially upon his arrival in hell. “And 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” (Luke 16:24, emphasis mine). Even in his circumstance, he considered himself superior to Lazarus so that Lazarus should serve him. His request denied and realizing that his fate is permanent, he suddenly becomes evangelistic. “Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:27-28, emphasis mine). Notice his concern is not for a lost world, but only for his family.
We see that the rich man was self-indulgent – “But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things” (Luke 16:25) – and egocentric. So what! Did that make him an evil person deserving hell? My guess is that the rich man was probably a pretty good guy over all. Jesus does not say that he mistreated Lazarus in any way, only that Lazarus desired “to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table” (Luke 16:21). That only means that the rich man took no real notice of the beggar’s plight. If such neglect condemns one to hell, then I plead guilty as charged. Not a day goes by that I do not see someone begging on some street corner of Dallas, and I drive on by. No, that was not the rich man’s problem.
The unnamed rich man’s problem was his ignorance of the Good Shepherd. The rich man was not one of Jesus’ sheep; Lazarus was, though. Jesus knew his name, and he gained entry into the presence of God. The rich man did not go to hell because he was some kind of great sinner; he went to hell because his name was not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Heaven – the New Jerusalem – is an exclusive place. “And there shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth, neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 21:27, emphasis mine). The rich man’s name was not recorded in that book, but Lazarus’ name was recorded there, which is why Jesus knew his name.
How about you, Reader? Is your name recorded in the Lamb’s Book of Life? If not, you will end up with that nameless rich man, and humanly speaking, you may even be a better person than the rich man. You may consider yourself to be a good person, but at the Great White Throne Judgment, when the books are brought out (Revelation 20:12-13) (one of which is the Word of God, the Bible), your good deeds will be judged according to the standard of God’s Word. Prepare yourself. You will not measure up. “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Your only hope is for your name to be listed in the Lamb’s Book of Life. Ask Jesus to write your name in His book today. “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Romans 10:13). “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9). Good guys go to hell, but those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be saved. Do it today!
Jesus’ account of the rich man and Lazarus is recorded in Luke 16:19-31.