Luke 16 verses 22-23. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.”
Jesus often referred to money and riches in his teaching and here we have such a reference again. In v 14, the Pharisees who heard Jesus are described as those “who loved money”. There is no evidence that they were rich people in and of themselves, and we should be careful to note the difference. Rich men are not condemned because they are rich. Some of the greatest characters in the Old Testament were men of great riches, like Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So Jesus does not condemn riches. Rather he talks about the “love of money”, which is a different thing. The love of money is such a dangerous thing that Jesus addresses it again in this story of the man who “lived in luxury every day” (v 19), but when he died, he found himself in hell.
Like the people referred to in our Lord’s parable in chapter 13 verses 25-30 this rich man missed heaven unintentionally. He certainly did not set out saying to himself, “I don’t care about Heaven”. He simply did not expect to find himself on the wrong side of the great fixed gulf (v 26). Like those in verses 13 -25 who did not go in through the narrow door, and pleaded to be let in, so he pleads for alleviation of his suffering. But his pleas were refused, as theirs were refused and at this point we must ask why it was that he missed heaven.
We must be careful in reading this story not to jump to the conclusion that this man was in hell simply because he was not generous enough with his money. He had no compassion on the poor and that is why he was lost. If we come to that conclusion then the opposite is also true, that is, that if we are generous enough we will get to heaven. But we know that is also not true because the scriptures teach that salvation is not by works, but by faith through grace (Ephesians 2 verse 8-9, Titus 3 verse 5).
On the other hand we should also bear in mind that although it is absolutely true that salvation is not gained by love or compassion or good works, it always leads to these very actions of love and good works. If it does not do so, then it is spurious. A person who professes faith in Christ but does not exemplify it by a life of compassion is not genuine (James 2 verses 14 – 24).
So this rich man in Jesus’ parable never really believed what he professed to believe. Like the Pharisees he thought he was saved but his actions showed otherwise. The man would not have been an atheist. He probably would have claimed to believe the scriptures and admitted that after death there was a judgement. His problem was that he never got round to taking it seriously. And Lazarus, the beggar at his door was the daily proof that he never took seriously the command: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself“.
But there is a day of “crossing over” for each of us, and so it was for this man in Christ’s parable.
And that is when all spiritual reality will be seen, and what a shock that will be for some.