Luke 16:19-31

What Jesus Taught about the Judgment of Hell
Luke 16:19-23
Intro: Many in the modern world either dismiss the doctrine of hell or seek to redefine it to match our consciences. Some say God is so loving that He would never send anyone to eternal, conscious torment for their sins. According to author Robert Benson, they are like the priest who was asked what his faith in the all-inclusive love of God did to his understanding of hell. “’Oh, I believe there is a hell alright,’ he said flashing a devious grin, as though he had heard this question before, ‘I just do not believe there is anyone in it.’”

Benson’s priest may not have believed there is anyone in hell, but Jesus certainly did. According to Christ, there is indeed a heaven and there is a hell, and everyone goes to either one place or the other, but never to both. Our next passage in Luke is a parable contrasting the two conditions in which people die. Although it is not a systematic treatment of the doctrine of eternal punishment, Jesus has lots of insight into the fate of those who die in unbelief. This will not be a “hellfire and brimstone” sermon. It is a two-part message explaining the point and application of this parable that has been called, “the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.” To describe it a little more accurately, we should call it “the parable of the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham,” since Abraham does much of the talking in the second half of the parable and Lazarus never says a word.

John Calvin says of this parable, “The Lord is painting a picture which represents the condition of the future life in a way that we can understand. The sum of it is that believing souls when they leave the body lead a joyful and blessed life outside the world, but that for the reprobate are prepared terrifying torments which can no more be conceived by our minds than can the infinite glory of God.”

Jesus paints this picture by telling us about two men (vv.19-21), two destinations (vv.22-23), and two desperate prayers that never get answered in hell (vv.24-31) in part two of the sermon.


Luke 16:19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.

This rich man had all he asked in life and lived in stress-free pleasure. There is no mention of any scandalous sin – only that he lived from himself. He indulged to the extreme. 

He went around each day wearing the most expensive clothing available in royal purple as if he fancied himself as royalty. Even his undergarments were imported all the way from Egypt!

He ate the finest foods among many companions, multiple meals per day, sparing no expense. In short, this rich man was a lover of money and the finer things in life money could buy. 

Recall that this section in Luke 16 began with the following description of the Pharisees…

Luke 16:14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. 
Luke 16:15 And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God.”

The aim of Luke 16 is not necessarily to teach the church a topical message about hell. Instead, it is Jesus appealing to His enemies to change their minds about Him and His Gospel. He is pleading for their souls. 

So, He tells yet another parable where they can easily determine which person in the story represents them. In this case, they are represented by the rich man. Whatever happens to him is a glimpse into their futures if they refuse to repent.

Those who are self-sufficient and proud

Christ means for us to compare this parable with the two previous ones: the Prodigal Son and the Dishonest Manager.

First, for all three, money is a problem. 

The rich man in our parable occupies the same position as the father of the lost son and the master of the dishonest manager. 

The father is generous in the first parable and the master is generous in the second. In the third parable, the rich man refuses to give up any of his funds, either by compassion or by coercion. He keeps his money, and he is damned.

If it seemed as if the rich man had everything going for him, the poor man seemed to have everything against him.

Those who are helpless and humble

Luke 16:20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,  
Luke 16:21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

He was sick. Instead of clothing, he was covered with sores all over his miserable body. He was disabled; the only way he could get from place to place was if someone carried him. 

He was also hungry – so desperately hungry that he longed for the scraps left over from another man’s table.

We have historical evidence that the term for scraps referred to small loaves of the cheapest kind of bread that served as napkins and were then tossed from the table as refuse.

Lazarus could not help himself in any notable way; he could only beg someone else to give him what he needed.

The rich man stands in direct contradiction to Jesus’ counsel to dine with people who are less fortunate and cannot repay you.

Luke 14:13 But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind.
Luke 14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you; for you shall be repaid at the resurrection of the just.

Day after day Lazarus hoped against hope that he could receive something – anything – from the rich man’s table.

But the only comfort he ever received came from the pack of wild dogs that licked his sores. 

Wounds need salve, and the rich man ignored this opportunity. A wild pack of canines showed more compassion than him.

Ironically, Lazarus’s name means “God has helped.” 

If he believed in the help of God, it was only by faith. His outward reality is that no one ever really helped him receive what he really needed. 

Where was God in his poverty? Where was God in his illness? Where was God in his disability?

We do not know how this poor man Lazarus learned to trust God for the answers to these important questions. 

What we do know is that the one human being in the whole world who was in the best position to help him refused to do it. 

And Lazarus was lain conspicuously at his very doorstep! There was more than enough wealth behind those gates to provide anything and everything this poor soul needed to survive, but only if the rich man opened his heart.

Now we can see how truly selfish the rich man was. Every time he went in and out of his house he saw Lazarus and was confronted with his need for care, but he refused to show any compassion. 

He neither invited the poor man to one of his many banquets (he was always feeding numerous people), nor even sent his servants to mercifully take him some leftovers.

He did not arrange for any medical care for this helpless sufferer (even though he would never miss the expense). In short, he did not help him in any way. Eventually, he became blind to this poor man’s plight. Lazarus was just another piece of furniture.

In other words, the rich man did not use his earthly wealth to make an eternal friend the way Jesus outlined earlier in the chapter.

Luke 16:9 And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by unrighteous mammon, that when you fail, they may receive you into an everlasting home.

His riches were not the problem. They were the test. 

Jesus does not say nor even imply that this man had no right to be rich. Christ is not a Marxist. As far as we know, he had gained his wealth legitimately. 

Neither does Jesus suggest that he should get rid of his wealth nor try to save the world with it – only that he should have helped the man who was plainly suffering in front of him every day.

The rich man failed the wealth-test spectacularly, showing that his heart was greedy and unconverted.

This sin is common in contemporary culture. 

illus: Recently, students in the MBA program at Harvard University were asked to create a strategic plan for their lives under the title “What Do I Hope to Achieve in Life after Graduation?” The top 3 answers were: wealth, notoriety, and status. Not a single one mentioned serving the community in any way. 

But the Bible asks…

1 John 3:17 But whoever has this world's goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him?

What an excellent test of our own godliness! Do we use what we have only for ourselves, or do we ever use it for people who are in greater need than we are? I wonder who God has placed at our doorsteps?

illus: One caution we learn from the plight of this rich man is to cease going through life being oblivious and thoughtless to the suffering around us. However, let’s not make social compassion a substitute for declaring the gospel. Let’s not get “sermon application jitters” over this point. Someone says, “We need to study the needs of the homeless in our community and do something about it…” Well, maybe. Another suggests, “We need to form a blue ribbon committee to see whether our church can start a program to meet these kinds of needs.” No, please don’t. Let’s not. Let’s forget the program and the committee. We don’t need to go looking for some outstanding examples of human wretchedness and suffering. We may have been walking past Lazaruses all along. It’s probably not a beggar in the driveway, but more like a neglected spouse or an ignored child or that lonely next-door neighbor. Who needs programs and committees for these?

There were two men, one on each side of the gate. One was rich, and the other poor. But both men died, and that changed everything, because they ended up on two different sides of eternity.

Luke 16:22 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.  
Luke 16:23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 

In Jewish tradition, to be refused burial, to be left exposed as food for animals, was tantamount to bearing the curse of God.

It is not by chance that Jesus observes that the rich man received a burial but provides no such detail for Lazarus.

The rich man was honored even in death, while the poor beggar receives the final disgrace.

Following death, however, the one whose only companions in life were wild dogs is relocated by angels into the presence of holiness.


Death is the great equalizer. 

As wealthy as he was, the rich man was just as likely to die as Lazarus, because whether we are rich or poor, none of us can escape the cold hand of the grave.

No matter how much money we have, it will never completely save our lives. Worldly wealth cannot prevent our own inevitable demise. And when it finally happens, the only thing that will matter is our relationship to God. 

Can you imagine how pathetic Lazarus’ death must have seemed to the community?

The rich man received a proper burial, and undoubtedly it was an elaborate affair – it was a funeral fit for the wealthy.

But nothing is said about the poor man’s burial at all. We are left to conclude that his emaciated corpse was simply tossed onto the town garbage heap that constantly burned just outside the city (Gehenna!).

But this is only the earthly perspective. 

Luke 6:20 Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 
Luke 6:21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh. 
Luke 6:22 Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you, and revile you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of Man's sake. 
Luke 6:23 Rejoice in that day and leap for joy! For indeed your reward is great in heaven, for in like manner their fathers did to the prophets. 
Luke 6:24 But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.

At the very moment Lazarus died, he received an angelic transport immediately into the glorious and comforting presence of God!

Angels came for Lazarus. His name finally made sense. When there was no one else to offer any assistance, God had helped him after all. The Lord rescued him from all his troubles and healed every wound of his broken body.

Everyone else may have forgotten Lazarus, but he was remembered by God. 

Augustine observed: “Jesus kept quiet about the rich man’s name and mentioned the name of the poor man. The rich man’s name was thrown around, but God kept quiet about it. The other’s name was lost in silence, and God spoke it…You see, God who lives in heaven kept quiet about the rich man’s name, because He did not find it written in heaven. He spoke the poor man’s name because He found it written there, indeed He gave instructions for it to be written there.”

Since Lazarus’s name was written in heaven, the angels came for him when he died. 

What a moving picture of the love that God has for His people at the time of death of death. 

Psalm 116:15 Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.

By nature, we are afraid of death and all the unknowns of eternity. But in His kindness and compassion God will send the fairest creatures in heaven to receive us.

Converted, trusting solely in someone other than yourself

Because he trusted in God through nearly intolerable suffering, Lazarus was carried by angels to a place called “Abraham’s bosom.” 

Remember that Abraham is “the father of all who believe” (Rom 4:11). It makes sense for believers to be with him when they die. 

Connecting the dots from the parable, it is clear that Lazarus was a believer. 

He was not saved because he was poor. Earthly suffering is no guarantee of eternal reward. 

Lazarus was saved by His trust in God. 

Although being poor does not save a person any more than being rich condemns one, it is still a great encouragement to see what riches the poor may receive by faith. 

When Lazarus died, the torment of his earthly troubles was over. Immediately he went to be with all the saints at Abraham’s side. 

Abraham’s bosom is a symbol of the blessed joy every believer has after they die. There is close fellowship with the Lord and His people in the glorious afterlife, even before the eternal state. 

When we die, the angels will carry us to Christ. We will wait there in paradise until the day that Christ will give us new bodies like His resurrected body.


Unconverted, keeping all your pride

Neither the rich man’s wealth nor his influence could protect him from the certainty of death. 

How different his transition was! He had always assumed he would go to heaven, but when he died he found himself in Hades!

“Hades” represents the OT word “Sheol,” the realm of the dead. In the NT, Hades is never used as the destiny of believers.

He has always scoffed at the very idea of hell. He certainly never expected to end up there. This was the worse surprise ever. 

After death, he found himself in utter torment. 

Commentators continue to refer to this fellow who is damned as “the rich man,” even though at this point in the narrative, he is anything but rich. He has nothing left but the judgment he earned.