New King James Version
The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “Then 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.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”
Luther’s Explanatory Notes:
Lazarus and Dives. In this gospel the Lord shows an example of faith in Lazarus, and of unbelief, or the godless state in Dives, in order that we may the more diligently cleave to the faith and the love; for here we see a judgment of the Lord on the faithful and the unfaithful, which is terrible to the latter and comforting to the former. Faith makes us pious before God, love makes us pious before men and also before God. In all other things God can overlook; but in these two he insists upon their being literally and strictly held; these two things he demands most strictly. But it is not necessary to dispute, whether this is a history, or only a parable.
The fruits of faith. This gospel is one of those which speak of the fruits of faith and of the right works of a Christian, what a pious man and a right Christian ought to do. Yet at the same time it shows that the whole world is full of avarice and runs to hell, although none will acknowledge his avarice. Therefore Christ says in verse 15: You Pharisees justify yourselves as though you were pious, because you have enough, and regard other people who suffer want, as accursed, and adorn your avarice, so that your mammon must be called the blessing of God, and you must have the appearance, as if you kept God’s commandment (Deut. xxviii. 1-6.) But listen, I will give you an other example.
Why Dives was punished. We must not look upon the rich man according to his outward behavior. For the the gospel does not accuse him of any wrong which the world or reason might reprove. Also he is not punished because he made use of excellent meats and wore splendid garments, since many saints, such as Solomon, Esther, David and others, also wore splendid garments; but because his heart was set upon these things. Christ indicates this by the words, “every day.” Faith does not seek its enjoyment in worldly goods. But where unbelief is, there man falls upon worldly good, cleaves to it, seeks after it, and has no rest until he finds it.
Love to the neighbor. From this follows the other sin, (verses 20, 21;) namely, that he neglects his love to the neighbor. As he feels no good in God, so he also feels no pleasure in doing good to his neighbor. Poor Lazarus lies before the door of the rich man. Therefore he cannot ex cuse himself by saying, I did not know it.
The dogs licked his sores. The irrational animals, the dogs, come and pity the poor man. They would also have given him bread, if they had had any. They do what they can. They take the best member of their body; namely, their healing tongue, with which they lick his sores. How easily the rich man could have done this; it would hardly have cost him a guilder, and would not have caused a deficiency in his goods. Here you see that there is not a more blind and unmerciful thing than unbelief: for here the dogs, that are otherwise the most angry animals, are more merciful than this rich man. In short (summa summarum) what is not of faith is worse than a dog.
Lazarus was carried by the angels to Abraham’ s bosom. Poor Lazarus lies at the door of the rich man, and there is no one to care for him. But the dear holy angels sit there and look upon him, whilst the rich man does not wish to look upon him. The text says that not one, but many angels waited upon Lazarus, till his soul was released from the body. He has no one on earth to give him a decent burial, but he is carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. I should also like to have my soul carried to heaven by such nurse maids.
The rich man also died and was buried, doubtless in the most splendid manner. Around his bed stand his servants, who wait upon him; behind him a whole apothecary shop is in readiness for him. All around him, above him, under him and on all sides are one, twenty or thirty devils, waiting for the separation of his soul to carry it into hell. These are a very different kind of nurse-maids from those who waited on the soul of poor Lazarus.
Lazarus’s faith and love. It is evident that Lazarus lived in faith and love. None can come into Abraham’s bosom, but by faith. He was conscious that God loved him. Even in the midst of such poverty and misery, he expected every good thing from God, he cheerfully trusted on him and endured all things with a patient spirit, insomuch that nothing was too heavy or too much to suffer and to do. He did not murmur on account of his condition; he did not curse the rich man and wish that his house might burn down, but he prayed for him.
From his faith flows another virtue: the love of his neighbor, by which he was ready and willing to serve every body; but because he was poor and miserable, he had nothing wherewith to serve. But this want of a bodily service he richly supplies by a spiritual service. For now, after his death, he serves the whole world with his sores, hunger and misery, whereby he comforts us by his example, how God is pleased with us when we fare badly on earth, if we have faith: and he also warns us, that God is angry with us when we fare well in unbelief.
Lazarus in Abraham’ s bosom. Abraham’s bosom is not the bodily bosom; for Abraham’s body is buried and turned to curruption in the land of Canaan; but the soul has no bosom. Therefore this bosom is the gospel; the promise given to Abraham is called Abraham’s bosom, because it was first given to him. Into this we must all enter when we die; for the spirit of man has no rest or place in which to remain, except in the word of God, until at the last day he comes to the clear vision of God.
Lazarus in his bosom. Before this Dives saw nothing in the poor man, but running sores, mockery and scorn; but now he sees in him pure glory and loveliness. The hellish fire must have felt doubly hot to him, when he had to see Lazarus, whom he had previously derided, now in such great honor. And Abraham also contributes to the misery of Dives by showing him nothing but Lazarus; for wherewith one sins, therewith he is also plagued. This will also be the case at the last day; our Lord God will confront the poor orphans with the rich misers and usurers.
Dip his finger in water and cool my tongue. This is a terrible picture. Christ intensely hates the shameful, cursed avarice.
Lazarus comforted. Dives tormented. Abraham’s answer is as much as to say, You wanted your heaven on earth, gold and goods and pleasure; now let your guilders and dollars and your worldly pleasures help you.
A great gulf fixed. That is, we act not according to our will; for we are bound to do the will of God; according to our ability we cannot do it.
The real hell can not be in this place, which will begin on the last day; the conversation also can not have been a bodily conversation, since both of their bodies are lying buried in the earth. Therefore we think this hell is the evil conscience, and all that has taken place in the evil conscience.
But whether Dives still suffers daily and without intermission until the last day, or if the eyes of the unbelievers are opened only for an instant after death, is not easily answered; for here we must not think of time, because in the future world all is an eternal moment. 2 Peter iii. 8.
Send Lazarus to my father’s house. This is nevertheless a pious condemned man, who envies others the damnation and torment which he endures. But it is not written, because the damned are thus minded, but because Christ wished to make it very plain to the people, in order to warn them.
They have Moses and the prophets. What do Moses and the prophets preach? Especially these two things; First, They point to the seed promised to the woman. Secondly, that after we have placed our righteousness only on the promised seed, we are also obedient to God. This means that the office of the ministry is highly extolled, and the people are exhorted to hear the preaching.
If they hear not Moses and the prophets, etc. The person induces no man to accept the true faith, but the word of God must so far prevail with him, that he shall certainly know that God’s word is the highest person. He who is so obdurate as to despise God’s word, whilst he is convinced that it is God’s word, why should he not also despise the word of an angel or a dead man. If, indeed, all the dead should rise and preach, it would still be in vain; yea, we could not depend on the preaching of the dead at all, for they could also preach lies.
It might be asked, should we pray for the dead, since those in Abraham’s bosom do not need it, and those who are in hell would not be benefited thereby? Answer: We have no command from God to pray for the dead; therefore no one commits a sin who does not pray for them. Yet on the other hand, because God has not revealed to us what is the condition of the departed souls, we will not and do not hinder those who wish to pray for them; for we can not yet be certain that any dead person has received his final sentence.
Notes on Prayers for the Dead:
What Luther wrote about here was not the invocation of saints.
The last paragraph of Luther’s notes is echoed in the Apology to the Augsburg Confession XXIV (XII): Of the Mass (sec. 94 and 96):
94] Now, as regards the adversaries’ citing the Fathers concerning the offering for the dead, we know that the ancients speak of prayer for the dead, which we do not prohibit;
96] The adversaries also falsely cite against us the condemnation of Aerius, who, they say, was condemned for the reason that he denied that in the Mass an offering is made for the living and the dead. They frequently use this dexterous turn, cite the ancient heresies, and falsely compare our cause with these in order by this comparison to crush us. [The asses are not ashamed of any lies. Nor do they know who Aerius was and what he taught.] Epiphanius testifies that Aerius held that prayers for the dead are useless. With this he finds fault. Neither do we favor Aerius….