The Rich Man and Lazarus – Part 5Otis Sellers
In this parable the nobleman is made to speak with sarcastic irony. From it we learn that we can expect Christ to take the words of others, even though they be false, and turn them back upon the one who uttered them. There is much of this very thing in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.
Prolonged study of this portion which has extended over a period of many years, during which I have read and considered most of the available material that has been written on this portion, has resulted in the following three convictions:
1.This story is not a record of literal history, not even of literal history couched in figurative language.
2.This story is not a parable. My reasons for this conviction have already been stated.
3.This is a suppositional story. The events set forth here never happened. The literary device used by our Lord here is pure satire. In fact we have in this story one of the finest pieces of satirical speaking to be found in all literature. Furthermore, it is a scrupulously fair satire-something which can hardly be found, if at all, in secular writings.
As suggested before, a basic necessity for successful satire is that the reader or hearer be familiar with that which is being satirized. This satire of our Lord was instantly intelligible to His hearers in the days when these words were spoken. They were quite familiar with their own wicked principles and purposes even though these were hidden from others. They knew they were being scourged with their own rods. Yet any objection they might have raised or any answer they might have given would have served only to show openly that they understood what the Lord was rebuking and that the truth had reached its goal.
However, while this satire was instantly intelligible to those at whom it was directed, it is not at all intelligible to the average reader today. His complete unfamiliarity with and misunderstandings about the conditions that existed and the things taught by the Pharisees in that day will mislead him into thinking that this story is a historical narrative, or a parable.
Since appreciation of any satire depends upon some degree of familiarity with the thing being satirized, it is evident that the satirical story about the rich man and Lazarus cannot be understood by those who are ignorant of the situations and conditions that caused these words to be spoken. Steps must be taken to correct the ignorance that exists concerning these. Since many of these same conditions still exist today, this satire has not lost its message of exposure and rebuke.
It will be helpful if we fix in our minds certain well defined groups to whom the words of Christ were spoken. These can be listed on the basis of their nearness to (or, distance from) Christ.
1. THE THREE. This group was made up of Peter, James, and John. It was to them that the Lord granted the most intimate revelation and visions. See Luke 9:28.
2. THE TWELVE. These were His disciples who became apostles. They represent all who were learners in the school of Christ. To these he gave revelations that were simple and expedient. If He used a parable in teaching them, He gladly explained it at their request.
3. THE PEOPLE. As described by Luke, this group was made up of those who listened to His words and considered them diligently. They were taught by Him, and they heard Him gladly, but they were never given as much as were the disciples. Further light for them depended upon them taking their place as disciples.
4. THE MULTITUDE. This was the careless, confused mob. They were the sensation seekers of their day. They trailed after Christ to see His miracles, to be with the crowd, to get a meal, or just to see what might happen.
They accepted no teaching, they rejected no teaching. They did not know what they desired. To them our Lord never spoke without a parable (Matt. 13:34).
This does not mean that every word spoken to them was a parable, but that in speaking to them He always included a parable in the message. It is as if we should say of a speaker: “He always uses illustrations, and never fails to use an illustration when speaking.”
5. THE PHARISEES. This party dominated and controlled a group in Israel which included the Sadducees, scribes, and priests. They formed the aristocracy in Israel. This group controlled all life and thought in Israel. The Pharisees and the Sadducees were doctrinally opposed to each other, but they were united in their enmity toward Christ. Since the story of the rich man and Lazarus was pointed at the Pharisees and their associates, it is essential that consideration be given to their beliefs, practices, and character if we expect to understand this satire.