Suppositional stories can be parables, but I
do not believe that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable.
However, I would at this point repudiate the many foolish arguments that are
advanced by some who also insist that this is not a parable. There is a
marginal note in the Scofield Reference Bible (page 1098)
that declares this is not a parable because, "In
no parable is an individual named." Yet as a chapter heading for Ezekiel 23
the Scofield Bible gives, "The parable of Aholah and Aholibah." If there is
any single passage in the Word that is manifestly a parable it is Ezekiel
23:1-4, and yet two names are given in it. "Thus were their names; Samaria is
Aholah, and Jerusalem Aholibah." I think it would be well for all to read this
portion, then cease forever the puerile argument that Luke 16:19-31 cannot be
a parable because a man is named in it.
I have carefully considered the position, set
forth by many teachers, that this story is a parable. Some have corresponded
with me concerning this, and I have ever been sympathetic to their arguments.
It is evident that they are seeking some honest method of understanding this
story. They cannot accept this narrative as literal history, since this
conception throws it into conflict with the entire Old Testament revelation
concerning death, sheol, and the state of men between death and resurrection.
However, many of them err in their attitude that if this is not literal
history, then it must be a parable. They assume that there are only two
literary forms in the Word of God.
Those who declare that this is a parable are
forced to interpret it as a parable. Every attempt that has been made to do
this has been wholly unsatisfactory. In many cases doctrines and manufactured
to fit the things set forth. The Greek word parabole means to cast
alongside, that is, a placing beside for the purpose of comparison. The story
in a parable must be in all main points parallel to that which it is
illustrating. Not everything in a parable needs to be a representation, and
some things are inserted for the purpose of carrying along the story and
linking together the points that do represent. This can be seen in the parable
of the tares among the wheat where the men who slept, and the servants who
inquired about the tares are passed over in the interpretation given by our
In seeking to interpret the story of the rich
man and Lazarus as a parable, a great number of meanings have been set forth
for the figures and actions in it. A composite of these interpretations would
seem to be that the rich man represents faithless and selfish Israel; the fine
clothing and sumptuous living is made to represent God's great provision for
that people, and Lazarus is made to stand for the publicans and sinners who
were thrust outside of Israel's blessing by those in control. The deaths of
these two men is regarded as being Israel's national death which affected
alike all classes of the nation. The flames and torments are regarded as
representations of Israel's present sufferings.
Other interpretations follow different lines or
differ in details. I have tried to consider all of these in my study of this
portion, but find them to be inadequate, incomplete, forced, and quite often
contrary to divine revelation. It is my conviction that to treat Luke
16:19-31 as a parable will only increase our difficulties, leave all our
questions unanswered, and all our problems unsolved. It forces upon us the
task of trying to show what each main character, event, action, and place
represents. This is utterly impossible, especially when we come to the
conversation between Abraham and the rich man, and the "five brethren" who
were still on earth and not being tormented.
Again let it be said that if we reject the idea
that this story is literal history, and also reject the idea that it is a
parable, we have not yet exhausted all methods of interpreting it. There are
many other rhetorical devices used in the Word of God.
Is Luke 16:19-31 A Satire
The word satire is a broad term and its
meaning is hard to encompass in a brief definition. As used in this study
satire means a literary form or rhetorical device, a type of writing or
speaking, wherein a suppositional story is told the object of which is to hold
up vices, follies, ideas, abuses or shortcomings to censure by means or
ridicule. It is a literary form which is by most feebly understood, and it has
fallen into disrepute due to those who have grossly abused the use of it.
Nevertheless there are excellent examples of satire in its most exalted form
in the Bible, and our knowledge of this rhetorical form can be greatly
advanced by examining several of these. [My own interest in the satirical method
in literature was greatly quickened in 1946 when my daughter Jane was
approaching her final year in college and was casting about for a theme upon
which to write her graduation thesis. I suggested that she write on "The
Satirical Method of Lewis Carroll", an idea which she adopted. Later her
faculty advisor suggested that she enlarge the subject to "The Satirical
Method in Literature." It was at this time that I began a study of satire in
literature for my own purposes, especially in the Bible]
The Satirical Fable in Judges 9:8-15
In order to appreciate any satire one must
be completely familiar with the thing that is being satirized. This is a
simple matter in the case of Jotham's satire, for the actual event that caused
it to be spoken as well as the background for the event is given in detail in
The man Gideon had placed the people of Israel
forever in debt to him because of his deliverance of them from the bitter
bondage of the Midianites. His grateful countrymen offered to make him king
but he declined. Nevertheless, he served Israel as captain and judge
throughout his life. At the time of his death he had forty sons for he had
many wives, also one son, Abimelech, by a concubine. After his death his good
works were quickly forgotten and his house and family were sorely neglected.
Soon after his death Abimelech went to his
mother's brethren in Shechem and intimated that the forty sons of Gideon were
going to take over the government of Israel. And, as is so often the case, he
had a prearranged solution for the false alarm he had raised. He asked if it
were better to be reigned over by forty or by one, and at the same time he
suggested himself as the one who should be sale ruler in Israel.
His words that accompanied this suggestion -
"remember also that I am your bone and your flesh" - were nothing more than a
promise that they would all enrich themselves at public expense when he became
So the men of Shechem supplied him with money
with which he hired some worthless and reckless followers, and in true
dictatorial fashion he went to his father's house at Ophrah and killed
thirty-nine of his brethren upon one stone. Only one, Jotham by name, was able
to hide himself and escape. Following this the men of Shechem made Abimelech
king, and a report of this was brought to Jotham.
Upon hearing it Jotham went and stood in the top
of mount Gerizim and cried aloud, "Hearken unto me, ye men of Shechem, that
God may hearken unto you." This man had something to say. His purpose was to
hold up their sin to exposure, ridicule, and condemnation. The method he chose
to do this resulted in one of the oldest and one of the finest satirical
fables to be found in all literature. Consider his words:
trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the
olive tree, Reign thou over us.
But the olive tree said unto them, Should I
leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honor God and man, and go to be
promoted over the trees?
And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou,
and reign over us.
But the fig tree said unto them, Should I
forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Then said the trees unto the vine. Come thou,
and reign over us.
And the vine said unto them, Should I leave
my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
Then said all the trees unto the bramble,
Come thou, and reign over us.
And the bramble said unto the trees, If in a
truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow:
and if not, let fire come out of the bramble and devour the cedars of Lebanon.
It can be seen that if this satirical fable is
treated as a parable, then we would need to find parallels for each symbol in
it, the olive tree, the fig tree, the grape vine, and the bramble. Of course
we will have no problem concerning the bramble as it points powerfully and
directly to Abimelech, but the rest of this fable fits nothing in history as
far as is known. However, if we consider this to be a suppositional story!
told in a satirical manner then we are not required to find parallels for the
leading actors and events in the story.
In fact this story in no way fits the course of
Abimelech. The men of Shechem had not gone out looking for a strong and good
man to be king over them, then upon being refused by three such men, offer the
kingship to an incompetent as a final resort. It was Abimelech that sought the
position; the position did not seek him. It was not a case of the bramble
being asked by the trees, but just the reverse. Therefore, we cannot treat
this as a parable, as Scofield suggests in his marginal notes; it must be
recognized as a satiric fable. Some will even be able to detect a humorous
strain in it when the bramble bush is made to say to the trees, "then come and
put your trust in my shadow." Imagine, if you can, a cedar of Lebanon finding
refuge from the hot sun in the shade of a bramble.
Nathan's Satirical Narration We read of this
is 2 Samuel 12:1-4:
And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came
unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and
the other poor. The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds; but the poor
man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had brought up and
nourished up: and it grew together with him, and with his children; it did eat
of his own meat, and drank of his own
cup, and lay in his
bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. And. there came a traveler unto the
rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress
for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man's lamb,
and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
This story is mild satire, told to expose and
rebuke King David. It is not harsh like Jotham's fable as its purpose is to
correct and bring about improvement. Scofield states that this also is a
parable, but such a conception creates impossible difficulties. In this story
the outstanding event is the killing of the poor man's lamb. Without
this there would be no story, but there is nothing in the great sin of
David that is parallel to this. It is a simple matter to say as some do that
the rich man represents David, the poor man represents Uriah, the "exceeding
many flocks" of the rich man represents David's numerous wives, and that the
one little ewe lamb represents Bathsheba, the only wife of Uriah. However, at
this point in the story all representations go awry since it was Uriah (the
poor man) who was killed, and Bathsheba (the little ewe lamb) became the wife
of David. 1£ this were a parable then the story would probably have been that
the rich man murdered the poor man, stole his lamb and added it to his
A very important principle is seen in this.
The flow of a parable must always be in harmony with that to which it is
parallel, but in satire there is no such need.
A satire is more free since it is not illustrating. Since it points to things
but does not represent, it is at liberty to take off in any direction. It does
not need to run parallel with that which it is exposing. Once we recognize
that in the story of the rich man and Lazarus our Lord was speaking
satirically, all difficulties will disappear. However, before we give this
detailed consideration, several other principles related to our Lord's words
must be established.
Elijah on Mount Carmel, 1 Kings 18:17-41
An important principle in divine revelation
can be found in the record of Elijah and the prophets of Baal on Mount
Carmel. Elijah seems to have been amused at the great physical efforts put
forth by the prophets of Baal in order to stir up their god and cause him to
act. He taunted them with these words of mockery and sarcasm:
And it came to pass at noon that Elijah
mocked them, and said, Cry aloud: for he is a god; either he is talking, or he
is pursuing, or he is in a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be
awakened. 1 Kings 18:27.
Would anyone care to say that Elijah was serious
in this advice, that he actually believed that Baal may have been in
conference, on a hunting trip, or taking a journey? Could his statements be
used to show that he believed that a god called Baal actually existed, and
that he would answer if he were aroused from his preoccupation? Of course not!
These are words spoken in mockery, and they
demonstrate that one of the greatest of all God's prophets made effective use
of this sharp weapon to cut down the pretensions of those who worshipped Baal
and who rejected the true God. And since it is true that Elijah used the
verbal weapons of sarcasm and mockery to demolish these false prophets, then
it presents no problem when we find that our Lord used weapons like these
against those who loved money, who served mammon, and who made the Word of God
void by their traditions. Correct handling of the Word of God means that we
must recognize the true character of Elijah's statements. How unjust to him
it would be to label his words, "Elijah's conception of BaaL"
Careful study of the rhetorical devices used in
the Word of God will show that when men deal in sarcasm, irony, or satire they
may say things which are not at all expressions of what they believe.
The Ironical Statements of Christ
In the words of Christ we find certain
statements that are sarcastic, ironical, and satirical and should not be
regarded as expressions of what He believed or taught. [Irony is a kind of humor or light sarcasm
in which the intended implication is the opposite of the literal sense
of the words used. The distinguishing feature of irony is that the meaning
intended is contrary to that seemingly expressed.]
For example, the Pharisees came to the Lord in
Perea, Herod's country east of Jordan, and said: "Get thee out and depart from
thence for Herod will kill you." (Luke 13: 31). They represented this
information as coming straight from Herod, and their purpose was to frighten
Him from Galilee into Judea where He would be more in the power of the
Sanhedrin which they controlled. In reply He told them to go tell that fox
that He had three days of beneficent works yet to do and would remain in
Perea until His purpose had come to a full end. Then He added:
For it cannot be that a prophet should perish
anywhere except in Jerusalem. Luke 13 :33.
This statement is ironical. Its humorous sarcasm
should not be missed. Actually a prophet could perish anywhere if people
turned against him. But so many prophets had been slain in Jerusalem, that our
Lord infers that this city has a virtual monopoly on killing prophets. Thus
our Lord states that He feels safe as long as He is in Herod's country, since
prophets have a place where they perish, namely Jerusalem. How it must have
stung the self-righteous Pharisees who controlled everything in Jerusalem for
our Lord to say He felt secure in Herod's country since the only place a
prophet could perish was in a city controlled by them
[ Other examples of ironical statements from the lips of our Lord will be
found in Matt. 23:32 and Mark 7:9. Of Matthew 23:32, A. T. Robertson says:
"The keenest irony in this command has been softened in some MSS. to the
future indicative (plerosete). Fill up the measure of your fathers; crown
their misdeeds by kil1ing the prophet God has sent to you, Do at last what has
long been in your hearts. The hour is come! (Bruce)." Concerning Mark 7:9,
Robertson again says: "One can almost see the scribes withering under this
terrible arraignment. It was biting sarcasm that cut to the bone, The evident
irony should prevent literal interpretation as commendation of
Pharaisaic pervasion of God's Word,"]
conceptions of Christ, based mostly upon the stylized character depicted in
stained-glass windows and religious pictures, have caused many to feel that He
was a listless man who never showed real physical or mental energy. But He who
lashed the money changers with a scourge or cords, lashed the Pharisees again
and again with a scourge of words.
There were times when our Lord took the very
words of men, even though false, and turned them back upon them. If men are to
be held responsible for their words, then He who will hold them responsible
has the right to use these words against them.[
He took false positions and principles as well as words and turned them back
against them, He did this by putting their principles and positions into
words, It is easy to find a hundred men holding false positions and acting on
false principles which not one of them would dare to put into words.]
This is seen in one of His parables.
Parable of the Pounds - Luke 19 :11-27
As the Lord traveled toward Jerusalem, His
disciples knew that His presence in that city would create a major crisis.
Hopefully they supposed among themselves that the kingdom of God would
immediately be manifested, solving all their problems. In view of this He
spoke a parable about a certain nobleman who went into a far country to
receive for himself a kingdom and then return. Upon his departure he called
his ten slaves and delivered to them equal sums of money with the instruction
that they should engage in some business enterprise until he returned.
There can be no doubt but that this nobleman
represents the Lord Jesus. Passing over some of the details in this parable,
let us consider the case of the slave who kept his pound wrapped in a
handkerchief. His explanation of his failure to transact any business with the
money trusted to him was:
For I feared thee, because thou are an
austere (harsh) man: thou takest up that thou layest not down and reapest that
thou didst not sow. (Luke 19:21)
The slave's estimate of his lord was that he was
mean and grasping, also a thief; for he who picks up what he did not lay down
or reaps what he did not sow ignores the simplest requirements of honesty.
His lord did not deny the accusation or bother
to refute it. He accepted the slave's declared estimate of his character and
Out of thine own mouth will I judge thee,
thou wicked slave. Thou knewest that I was a harsh man, taking up that I laid
not down, and reaping what I did not sow: Wherefore then gavest not thou my
money into the bank, that at my coming I might have required my own with
usury? Luke 19 :22, 23.
It is evident that we can build no doctrine
concerning the character of Christ upon this statement. Even though the
nobleman in this parable is a representation of our Lord, we repudiate any
conception of Him that might be based upon these words. Did He not declare in
another place that He was meek and lowly in heart? Did He not instruct His own
disciples to "lend, hoping for nothing again" (Luke 6:35)? Did He not say that
He came not to get but to give? It is from statements such as these that we
form our conceptions of His character, not from Luke 19:22, 23.
These words were not spoken for teaching. They
were spoken to reveal the utter falsity of the wicked slave's position. His
master was not this kind of man, and the slave did not believe him to be. He
claimed he acted out of fear, but the truth is that he was lazy. If he had
really believed his lord to be grasping and dishonest, he would have felt
assured that he would welcome the opportunity to get some exorbitant interest.
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. [I remember as a boy reading and
delighting in "Gulliver's Travels" because of its fantasy, never once knowing
that it is a satire on man and his institutions. This was to be expected since
I knew nothing about the things being satirized by Jonathan Swift. However, I
did think he must have been poking fun at someone when he described the
scientists on Lagado trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers.]
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 thesesame 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.
Of the three sects in Judaism at the time
of Christ, the Pharisees were the most powerful. The actual group is
believed to have numbered only about six thousand, but this was the inner
circle. In the Gospels the scribes and Pharisees are constantly mentioned in
the same connection, and in such manner as to imply that they formed the same
party. The strength of their influence was such that they dominated everything
in Israel. They controlled the Sanhedrin, the priesthood, the civil courts,
and all Jewish society. The Sadducees opposed them, but their
opposition was so weak that the Pharisees tolerated it, knowing that
the conservative Sadducees would not push it too far, and that they
had sufficient power to crush it at any time.
The Pharisees had arrogated to their party all
the right and authority that God had vested in the kings of Israel. They were
a plutocratic oligarchy exercising all the kingly powers. This explains why
the royal family was so insignificant when Christ was born in the household of
Joseph. The Pharisees had taken to themselves the real work of the priests,
that of teaching the people, leaving the priests to carry on the empty ritual,
which without true instruction was devoid of any meaning.
The inspired record in the four Gospels tells us
much about the Pharasaic character. They were described by John the Baptist as
being a generation of vipers (Matt. 3:7); they made use of calumny in dealing
with those whom they opposed (Matt. 9:34); they did not hesitate to murder to
accomplish their ends and maintain their power (Matt. 12:14); they rejected
all signs given by the Lord then demanded a special sign be given to them
(Matt. 12:38); they transgressed the commandments of God by their traditions
(Matt. 15:2); they were hypocrites (Matt. 23:3); all their works were done to
be seen of men (Matt. 23: 5); they devoured widow's houses, then made long
prayers in pretence (Matt. 23:14); they were lovers of money (Luke 16:14); and
they rejected the commandments of God in order that they might maintain their
own traditions (Mark 7:9).
Having made void the Word of God, the Pharisees
had adopted most of the platonic philosophy concerning the nature of man. From
a mixture of Greek ideas and old Egyptian and Babylonian myths they had
developed a doctrine of purgatory and of prayers for the dead. Josephus
declares that the Pharisees taught that every soul is incorruptible, that only
the souls of good men pass over into another body, while those of the wicked
are punished with eternal suffering. They held that there is an immortal vigor
in souls, and that under the earth there are rewards and punishments for
those who have lived virtuously or viciously in this life.
Their shameful treatment of the poor in Israel
shows that they loved only themselves and not the people or the country of
Israel. Long before the time of Christ the wealthy and ruling classes were
taken to task by the prophets for their cruel and unjust treatment of the
poor. The Pharisees held that the distinctions between poor and rich were
part of God's plan, and they made poverty to be a virtue that would' be
rewarded with wealth in the life to come. The Sadducees on the other hand had
worked into their beliefs the idea that poverty was a crime, and that to be
poor was evidence of the displeasure of God.
One of the worst features of the Pharasaic
system was the expulsion or excommunication from the life of Israel of those
who had transgressed. At times their acts may have had some justification, but
the Pharisees had carried it so far that once a man came under their
strictures, there was no possible way for him to get back again into the life
of Israel. These were the "sinners", so often mentioned in the gospel
record's. As a rule they were guilty of nothing more than refusal to bow down
to the despotic power exercised by the ruling clique of the Pharisees.
Once a man brought down upon himself the wrath
of the Pharisees, there was no hope of pardon. They never forgave him. Once
excluded and branded as a sinner, no one dared to help him, or to do business
with him. The testimony of "sinners" was not valid in courts, and if anyone
wronged them, they had no recourse to law. They stood, in their miserable
condition, as examples of what happened to any who challenged the position or
claims of the Pharisees.
their distress many of them were forced to do business with or collaborate
with the Roman occupation forces. This paid them well, especially if they
became tax-collectors (publicans). This explains why publicans and sinners are
often linked together in one group. They were shunned as traitors in Israel.
Nevertheless, their real character is seen in the fact that many of them
became the first disciples of John the Baptist and of. Jesus Christ.
When Christ came and started to teach the
people, He, in so doing, challenged the Pharisees assumption that they alone
were the teachers in Israel. When He presented His credentials, which were the
gracious miracles He performed, they stepped into the arena to challenge Him.
They could not match His wisdom so they plotted to destroy Him (Matt. 12:14).
They refused to yield to anyone even one grain of the authority they had
gathered to themselves. Their attitude toward Him was summed up in the words
spoken by Christ:
But those husbandmen said among themselves,
This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and the inheritance shall be ours.
Mark 12 :7.
When the Pharisees appeared at the baptism of
John, he wasted no time trying to change them, but branded them immediately as
a "generation of vipers." Jesus Christ called them whitewashed graves,
hypocrites, serpents, children of Gehenna, thieves and murderers.
One important principle that must be kept in
mind in studying the story of the rich man and Lazarus is that these words
were spoken to the implacable enemies of Christ, the Pharisees.
They were spoken to men whose doom was sealed when they charged that Christ
performed His miracles by the power by Beelzebub the prince of devils. In
doing this they blasphemed the Holy Spirit and committed the sin that had no
forgiveness (Matt. 12: 2232) . These words were spoken to men who were
rigidly set against the will of God. Therefore, no revelation of truth was
given to them (John 7:16, 17). And since this story is not a revelation of
God's truth, it has to be an answer to, a rebuke, an expose of the Pharisees.
In other words, it is not a revelation of truth about future life, of
the state of the dead, of future punishment or future bliss; but
it is an expose of the base and warped ideas, principles, and practices of the
Pharisees. Since satire is a type of writing or speaking, the object of which
is to hold up vices and follies for ridicule and reprobation, then this
is satire pure and simple. With these facts in mind we are ready to resume
consideration of the story spoken by our Lord in the presence of the
The Occasion of the Story
It has been said that this story has always
erroneously been considered "as a sort of an island in the Lucan narrative,
cut off from the mainland of the Gospel, and having no necessary
connection with its surroundings." Those who regard it as such exclude all
light that the context may throw upon the passage.
The key to the character of this story and to
its meaning and purpose is found in the material that precedes it.
[When a speaker announces that the story of the
rich man and Lazarus is to be the text of his message, it would be well if
someone would arise and say, "Now that we know your .text, will you tell us
what your context will be," This story is as a rule placed in a context of
human opinion and traditions about heaven, hell, death, life, and future
punishment. It is seldom if ever left in the context that God has given
We must eliminate all man-made fences, such as
chapter divisions and paragraph headings, from this portion of Scripture and
begin our studies at the point where the Lord began to speak, then follow
through to His last word on this occasion. The record begins at Luke 14:25 and
continues without interruption to Luke 17: 10. Every word spoken has a bearing
upon the meaning, character and purpose of the story. It is evident that our
Lord never moved out of His place while He spoke the words recorded between
the two references just mentioned. It was the longest battle our Lord ever
fought with the Pharisees.
As the scene opens in Luke 14.:25-35 our Lord is
seen speaking to the multitude that followed Him. His words to them consisted
of one dark saying, I refer to this as a dark saying (or, enigma)
because a message about hating father,
mother, wife and children, also about bearing his cross is bound to be quite a
puzzle to any who hear it unless their minds have been enlightened by the
Spirit of God , and three parables.
The closing words of His last parable spoken to
the multitude were, "men cast it out." While these words were spoken of the
savorless salt, they seem to have caught the ear and made an impression upon
the publicans and sinners, for this was what the despotic aristocracy in
Israel had done to them. And since these words were followed by an invitation
to those who had ears to make use of them, all the publicans and sinners drew
near to Him in order to hear.
This scandalized and enraged the Pharisees since
Jesus was receiving men whom they rejected and ostracized. They had assumed
all the rights of kings and priests in Israel, but in no way did they accept
the responsibilities toward others that were set forth in the shepherd and
mediator character of kings and priests. The Pharisees never sought a sinner,
and never brought one back to God. Between the aristocracy and the sinners
there was a vast chasm that none of the people could cross and none of the
Pharisees would cross. They maintained this irrevocable separation by their
teachings. They insisted God had given them their place and only God could
take it away. Our Lord ignored this caste system and went to the aid of those
they had branded as sinners. This brought out their deepest hatred. They could
not tolerate anyone alleviating the harsh punishments they had imposed upon
certain men. They justified their lack of mercy by claiming that God was
harsh, therefore they had to be.
When the publicans and sinners drew near to hear
the Lord, the Pharisees and scribes began to murmur and to hurl their
accusations (Luke 15:1, 2). And it seems that the publicans and sinners, long
used to deferring to the Pharisees and desiring to spare the Lord any
embarrassment that their nearness might cause, began to withdraw themselves
from His presence. But His great love for the lost could not permit this, so
our Lord spoke a parable to the Pharisees in the hearing of the publicans and
sinners. This parable had two purposes -
to rebuke and expose the Pharisees and to
offer encouragement and hope to the publicans and sinners.
This parable is in three parts. There is a
story about a lost sheep (Luke 15:3-7), a lost coin (Luke 15:8-10), and a lost
son (Luke 15: 12- 32). Each part rebukes and exposes the Pharisees and offers
encouragement and hope to the sinners in Israel.
While the story of the lost sheep is a parable,
we should not miss the fact that the story is satirical. Many will never see
this, since this parable is usually treated in a superficial manner. Hundreds
of ideas have been preached into this passage, resulting in the most
astounding importations. Every statement and every word has been loaded with
extravagant fancies, many of which have their origin in Dr. Sankey's
well-known hymn about the "ninety and nine that safely lay in the shelter of
the fold." This line has no real foundation in this parable. The importation
of such ideas blinds the minds to the satirical character of this story which
so effectually exposes the sordid miserliness of the Pharisees. To expose and
rebuke their inordinate love for material possessions is the purpose of this
parable. The word shepherd does not occur in it.
The question, "What man of you having an hundred
sheep?" is directed at the Pharisees. When faced with the loss of one sheep
their greed is so aroused that they leave the ninety-nine shepherdless in the
wilderness and open to the attacks of wild beasts. Sheep were common in
Israel. They were an article of commerce, and any man that risked ninety-nine
to get back one that had strayed revealed a cupidity that cannot tolerate the
thought of losing one bit of anything already possessed. Furthermore, the idea
of a man calling together his friends and neighbors to rejoice with him over
the recovery of a lost sheep is amusing, to say the least. Such actions would be quite proper if a
child had been lost and found, but they are preposterous in the case of sheep,
A covetous man would think that all should respond to his invitation to
rejoice, but there must have been one who said, "If that is all the party is
about, I'm not going,"
Our Lord used a parable somewhat like this in
Matthew 18: 11-14, and it is to this that we should go for a great picture of
the seeking Savior. In this parable all satirical elements are omitted, This
was spoken to His disciples, not to the Pharisees.
However, in Luke 15 the statement about "ninety
and nine just persons, which need no repentance" is pure satire which borders
an sarcasm. There was no such thing in Israel as a just person who needed no
repentance, but the Pharisees regarded themselves as such. The Lord Jesus
took their assumed position, put it into words, then used these words in His
satire against them.
The story of the last coin is a further rebuke
to the Pharisees (Luke 15:8-10). It emphasizes what He has already said. Their
attitude toward a lost animal or a lost coin was one thing, Their attitude
toward a lost sinner was something quite different. The addition of the story
about the lost coin demonstrates that their search for the lost sheep was not
due to their love for dumb animals since they showed the same care toward a
piece of money. It was preposterous far the woman in this story to invite her
friends and neighbors to rejoice with her over the recovery of a lost coin. It
is normal for anyone to seek a lost coin, even to seek for it diligently if
the value warrants it, but to call for people to rejoice over it is absurd.
But it is only by a preposterous story that preposterous acts and attitudes
can be satirized.
There could be no joy among the Pharisees over a
sinner that repented, but there was joy in the presence of the angels of God.
The Pharisees made diligent search for lost animals or lost coins, but never
for a man. They esteemed animals and coins to be of more value than men.
The story of the prodigal son portrayed the
sinners in Israel. In it there is no condoning or excusing of their sins. All
satire and sarcasm is left out, as it would be out of harmony with His
expressed attitude toward them. His statement about the prodigal "joining
himself to a citizen of that country" in order to avoid starving is probably a
veiled reference to the fact that some in Israel were forced by want to take
the demeaning labor of collecting the burdensome taxes imposed by the Romans.
No greater or more positive words of encouragement could have been
given to the publicans and sinners than those contained in the story of the
The record of the elder son (Luke
15:25-32) sets forth the attitude of the Pharisees. The younger son was
lost in the far country but this one is lost in his own father's house.
The reception given the younger son caused all the hardness of
the selfrighteous brother to boil to the surface. From boasting about himself
he turns to blame for his father.
The parable ends abruptly, and rightly so. No
application is made. It is left to the Pharisees to make their own
application. One is prone to wish they had asked the Lord, "What did that
brother do in answer to his father's appeal?"
All these words were spoken to the Pharisees in
the hearing of the publicans and sinners. But our Lord is not yet
through with the Pharisees. Without leaving His place He turned to His
disciples and spoke to them in the presence of the Pharisees. [ This is characteristic of the satirical method.
Satire is not as a rule addressed to those whose foibles it exposes. It is
pointed at them ]The story He told them
is one of the strangest to be found in the Bible, but it is the real key to
the character of the story of the rich man and Lazarus which follows
it. Therefore, it must be examined with care.