Luke 16 Part 2
13. “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
The Lord reveals a truth to which we would all do well to take heed. No servant can serve two masters. It seems a common thing today for those who seek to serve God to seek to serve money as well. Our society teaches us that getting ahead, making a larger income, living in a bigger house, having more possessions…all these things should be the goal of every person. The idea of making it big or winning the lottery holds men in wonder, as if by this all their problems could be solved. Thus, we too are called to join the rat race and run after the things of this world that can never bring satisfaction.
What is the person of God to think of such things? The Lord knows that we have need of food, clothing, and shelter. He does not begrudge us the time we have to take to procure these things. Yet neither should we be like the world, and live our lives serving money. Our service is to be to God, and God alone. We do not have to be like the world around us and be desperate for more things. Ultimately, we cannot serve two masters. If we try to serve God and money, we will end up like Christ says, hating one and loving the other, or being loyal to the one and despising the other. Service to God and service to money are diametrically opposed.
Most people probably think that “mammon” is just an antiquated word for money in the King James. Yet this is not actually the case. “Mammon” was the Syrian god of wealth. Thus what the Lord is saying here is that you cannot serve the true God and the “god” Mammon. The two are opposed to each other.
Though this is a good lesson for us today, remember that the Lord was speaking these words in the hearing of the Pharisees. Though they were addressed to the disciples, they were pointed at the religious leaders. These Pharisees did love money and they were serving money, and so they certainly could not be serving God. They were either loving money and hating God, or else being loyal to money and despising God. This was not the attitude that they should have had, but it was the attitude they did have. Thus, this was a rebuke against them.
14. Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.
As I just pointed out, in spite of the fact that these things were spoken to His disciples, Christ was speaking of the Pharisees in their hearing, and they do not fail to grasp the point of His barbed comments. These men loved money more than God, friends, or relatives, and it seems that nothing could get them to untie their purse strings to help their fellow men.
A great Biblical example of this is giving in Mark 7:9-13. There, the Lord accuses the Pharisees and scribes, saying,
“All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. 10. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 11. But you say, ‘If a man says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban”—’ (that is, a gift to God), 12. then you no longer let him do anything for his father or his mother, 13. making the word of God of no effect through your tradition which you have handed down. And many such things you do.”
Even when it came to their own father and mother, these men had created a tradition that excused them from having to care for them. If their father or mother were in want and came to their son for help, he might claim great loyalty to them and desire to help if he could, but he would tell them that his money is Corban. This word meant “dedicated.” These Pharisees taught that their money was dedicated to God, and they would use this as an excuse to keep from having to give money charitably to those in need, even their own father and mother. Of course, this did not stop them from actually spending the money on things to please themselves, or in ways that would advance their own power and position. This was allowable with their money, but obeying the commandment of God through Moses with their money was not. Thus, as Christ said, they had made the word of God of no effect through the selfish tradition they had handed down.
This is a great example of their greed and hypocrisy, but it is not the only one, as Christ testifies in Mark 7, for He says, “Many such things you do.” Thus, the deceitful teachings they had crafted to justify their greed were many. They truly were lovers of money.
Now these Pharisees are well aware of their own actions and traditions. They could not deny the truth either of His satire of the unjust steward, nor His plain teaching against them. Thus they act as men often do when they cannot answer a righteous accusation, and resort to ridiculing the One accusing them. The Greek is that they were turning up their noses at Him. This did not change Christ’s words, of course, but only caused Him to turn from His disciples to address His rebuke directly to the ones He was speaking against.
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.
Having been interrupted in His teaching by their mocking outburst, Christ turns back to the Pharisees and is now speaking to them directly again rather than indirectly by addressing His disciples in their presence.
The Lord well knew that, though they might ridicule Him, they could not deny the truth and righteous judgment of what He was saying. His words were based on the truth of God, which they had so sorely neglected. They had managed by their learned exterior and smooth words to justify their unfaithfulness to God’s law before men. Yet God knew their hearts, and He was not fooled by their self-righteous exterior. Men might have been taken in by them, and they were highly regarded by the common people who surrounded them on every hand. This actually assured them that God must think of them the same way. Yet Christ reveals the reality of the matter to them. Their false teaching, so highly esteemed by men, was nothing but an abomination in God’s sight. To them, the Lord’s words may have been contemptible, but in God’s perspective, it was their actions that were abominable. He detested their teachings and practices.
16. “The law and the prophets were until John. Since that time the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is pressing into it.
Christ is now preparing to show how the Pharisees had negated the law and the prophets by their false teachings. The law and the prophets were God’s means of dealing with people until John the Identifier had appeared on the scene. Yet the Pharisees had not heeded either the law or the prophets, but had negated what they taught by their own traditions. Since John had appeared, a new order of the day came into effect, and the Kingdom of God had been the subject of God’s message and dealings with men. Many people were excitedly pressing to get into the kingdom that was being offered. But not the Pharisees! They were rejecting the kingdom of God as well, and anyone who listened to them they were turning away from it. Thus, they showed that no matter what God’s method of dealing with them might be, they were unwilling to yield to it. Whether it was through the Scriptures or by His direct action, they were going to oppose it at every turn.
The statement about everyone pressing into it seems cryptic. The word in Greek indicates an unusual and almost drastic action. He could be speaking of the eagerness with which some men were accepting His message of the government of God that was coming. Though they might just be simple fishermen who had previously been all but uninterested in politics, now these men were eagerly entering the government that God held out to them. Indeed, many who are sick of the governments of this world and want nothing to do with them might find in God’s government when it comes a pearl of great price that they have long been seeking, even without knowing just what they were looking for. That is what men were doing at this time. Yet not, of course, the Pharisees.
17. “And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one tittle of the law to fail.
Christ first proclaims the truth about the law: that heaven and earth could sooner pass away than that one tittle of the law should fail. A tittle was the smallest of marks in the Hebrew alphabet, and yet it was very important, as it could change one letter into another and therefore totally change the meaning of a word. Yet not even one little mark of the law would fail! This is how God viewed His word contained in the law. Yet the Pharisees were making that law void by their own traditions, and were acting and living in contradiction to it, as the Lord is about to show.
18. “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Now Christ shows how little care the Pharisees took with the law. Moses had allowed men who found some uncleanness in their wives to write her a certificate of divorce and send her away. This was really to protect the woman, for there could be no doubt then that she was legally divorced, and if she remarried her first husband could not come back to her and claim that he had some claim on her, or call her an adulteress. All had to be done legally. Yet the law that God put in place to protect women, the Pharisees had twisted to create an abominable power in men. They would allow any man who wanted to get divorced to do so. In fact, they even had a rule that if a man said “I divorce you” three times to his wife, they were then officially divorced! We can certainly imagine how this power could be misused. Imagine a man holding this over his wife, that if she did the least thing he didn’t like, he would divorce her on the spot! Or imagine a man being tempted by an adulteress just saying “I divorce you” three times, and then having relations with the adulterous woman and figuring that he was free from the law of adultery! This perversion that these Pharisees had worked out corrupted everything God intended by enacting the law of divorce.
This teaching of the Pharisees was contrary to the law, and Christ demonstrates this by revealing what the law actually taught about marriage. Marriage was not something to be put away for any reason, and those who divorced and remarried the way the Pharisees taught it, under the law committed adultery, and anyone who married a woman divorced in this way committed adultery. This was the truth of the law, and this truth was ignored and maligned by the Pharisees. This was their attitude toward the law that Christ declared could not so much as lose one tittle!
I do not believe that this sets forth God’s law for today. God Himself instituted divorce in the Old Testament, and the law made provision for a man to divorce, and for a woman to remarry. It would be Christ negating the law, rather than the Pharisees, if what He said here denied this. Yet I believe Christ was showing the result of the teachings of the Pharisees, a teaching that negated what the law really said.
What is the rule regarding divorce today? In the books written after the dispensational dividing line, there is no updated rule regarding divorce mentioned. However, in Ephesians 5:22, wives are told to “submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord;” and in Ephesians 5:25, husbands are told to “love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her.” This is God’s standard for today. If we are following this standard, it is clear that divorce will be out of the question. No wife can submit to her husband as to the Lord while divorcing him, and no husband can love his wife as Christ loved the ekklesia while divorcing her. The rule today sets the bar far higher. If we are to attain to the worthy walk that God wants of us, divorce cannot be included.
THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS PART 1
The Lord has been interrupted in His satirical exposure of the Pharisees’ false doctrine by their murmuring against Him, as we saw it in verse 14. In verses 15-18, we have read His direct reply to them. Now, He goes back to His satire, yet directing His words towards the Pharisees in order to expose their false teaching and hypocrisy. He has dealt with their inordinate love for money, and the unfaithfulness of their actions in seeking to obtain a position for themselves. Now, He will go on to expose yet more of their false and self-serving teaching. According to Otis Q. Sellers in his audio message TL239, the teachings that the Lord was going to expose are as follows:
1. Their assumption of the position and rights that God had ordained for the king in Israel.
2. Their intrusion in the priests’ office. They had taken over the chief work of the priests, that is, of teaching, and they just left the priests to perform the empty ritual.
3. The luxurious and magnificent style in which they lived at a time when most of Israel was suffering great hardship due to the Roman occupation.
4. Their shameful neglect of the poor in Israel, in direct violation of God’s instruction in Deuteronomy 15:7-11.
5. Their harsh treatment of those called “sinners” in Israel.
6. Their teaching that, at death, certain angels carried good men to a place they called “Abraham’s bosom,” while others were taken to a place where temporary punishments “were meted out to them agreeable to everyone’s behavior and manners.” They held that poverty and hunger were God’s punishments upon men while they were upon earth, and if men accepted their punishment without complaint, they would not need to pay for these sins in the future. They held that riches were a sign of God’s favor, and that poverty was evidence of His disfavor. They claimed that if they helped the poor, they would be acting contrary to God.
7. The caste system which they had established in Israel, and which they had rigidly maintained.
8. Their idea that God would speak to them in a special way, and not in the manner in which He spoke to the common people. They were so exalted in their own minds that they rejected the idea of God speaking to them in the same signs He gave to others, and this is seen in their actions in demanding a sign from heaven immediately after the Lord had fed four thousand from a supply that was hardly enough for one man, and yet they said, “Show us a sign from heaven.”
9. Their teaching that if a man received evil things in this life, he would receive good things in the life to come. This teaching was concocted by the rich rulers in order to keep the poor in subjection. It was a pie in the sky sort of doctrine which was intended to keep the hungry from demanding bread here and now. The Pharisees never followed this teaching out to its conclusions, and our Lord in His satire made this a two-way street.
These teachings of the Pharisees can be found in the Babylonian Talmud and the Jerusalem Talmud, in the writings of Josephus, and in the collected writings of John Lightfoot, particularly in volumes 11 and 12 of his work. In the following story of the rich man and Lazarus, we will see how the Lord exposes these teachings and actions of the hypocritical Pharisees.
Now the passage we are about to examine is one that is appealed to by men to support more doctrines than any other passage. The commonly held belief regarding man’s nature and destiny is, in the minds of most, entrenched in this passage, and thus this passage is appealed to again and again by those who hold the orthodox viewpoint. The idea of man having a soul that is a separable part of him and the idea that the soul is immortal are both based in large part upon this passage, and yet this passage does not even use the word soul! This passage is appealed to in order to support the idea that death is another form of life in another place. The support offered for the idea of “sudden death, sudden glory,” or that man is immediately ushered into bliss (or torment) upon the moment of death is almost entirely from this passage. This passage is used to show that punishment for the wicked begins at the moment one dies, and that the punishment is torment by fire for all eternity. It is used to show what punishment is like between death and resurrection and before one is judged, and is also used to demonstrate what punishment is like after resurrection and after the judgment takes place. It is used to prove that the dead are not really dead, but are alive and fully conscious. Ultimately, it is used to deny all that the Old Testament says about death.
This passage has been used to by some (though not as commonly today) to castigate the rich, and to laud the virtues of poverty. It has been used to keep the poor content, and to encourage them not to seek the pleasures enjoyed by the rich. Ultimately, it has been used to show that it is a great good to be poor, and a great evil to be rich.
This passage is appealed to in order to show that Hades is the place of disembodied souls. The theory that Hades is a place of two compartments, one for good souls and one for evil, is based on this passage. The idea that paradise and Abraham’s bosom are the same are based on this passage. This passage in fact is appealed to as the one primary place where we learn what goes on between death and resurrection. It is appealed to in order to demonstrate the kinds of things that go on and the conversations that actually take place between death and resurrection.
So if all these things are true, surely this must be among the very most important of all passages of Scripture. No passage that is appealed to in order to demonstrate this many things could be anything but a passage of primary importance. And yet if this is true, then this great body of truth was first revealed, not to the Lord’s disciples, but to the mocking and unbelieving Pharisees! This alone should call into serious question all that we have discussed above as commonly accepted ideas based upon this passage.
The most common idea regarding this passage is that this is a narration of actual events that really took place. The Lord is supposed to have seen these things taking place through His Divine knowledge, and to be repeating them to us for our learning. Thus we are expected to believe everything that this passage teaches us without question as being a great revelation of truth. And yet those who teach this are not willing to actually carry this teaching out to all its conclusions. When we carefully study this passage, we will find things that those who say this is a narration of actual events are completely unwilling to admit to some of the things it teaches as being the truth. For example, this passage clearly declares that entrance into future bliss is based totally upon poverty and receiving bad things in this life, and not upon faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that future punishment is based totally upon receiving riches and good things in this life, regardless of whether or not one was wicked or righteous, a believer or an unbeliever. These are things that every man who claims faith in the Lord Jesus will reject out of hand, and yet this is the clear teaching of this passage. Thus, those who claim to cling to this passage as being absolute truth are shown to be, in fact, hypocritical in this claim.
Another claim made about this passage is that this passage is a parable. Some reject this idea based upon the fact that a man Lazarus is named in this passage. Yet this is an inaccurate argument, for in Ezekiel 23, we read a story of two women named Oholah and Oholibah, and few would argue that Ezekiel 23 is not a parable. Thus, people can be named in a parable. Yet we do not believe this story to be a parable, for in a parable the elements of the parable must all have a corresponding element in the interpretation. Those who set this forth express what they think the symbolic meanings for all the elements up to the death of Lazarus are, though all do not agree as to what that meaning is. Yet those who claim this is a parable usually cannot tell us what the meaning of the events after this point are supposed to indicate. No matter what some might claim is the meaning of this as a parable, I believe that all such efforts are destined to failure, since this story is not a parable.
Before we consider what I do believe this passage is talking about, let us examine it first to see what facts we can glean from it. Therefore we will have the story, including all its problems and difficulties, before us before we attempt an interpretation, and an explanation of what the Lord Jesus Christ meant to teach when He set this story forth.