“But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”Luke 16:31
In Luke 16, Jesus tells a parable about two men: the Rich Man and Lazarus. Lazarus—whose name means “whom God has helped”—is a poor, homeless, and desperately sick man. He dies and is carried by angels into the presence of Abraham, or heaven. A lavishly wealthy man also died and was buried, and he found himself in the place of torment, or hell. In this parable, the rich man—who remains unnamed—is able to see into heaven where Lazarus is, and the rich man calls out to Abraham for mercy and relief for himself. He also wants to make sure his brothers who are still living are able to repent and do not join him in hell. So, he asks that Lazarus be sent to talk to his brothers.
Abraham explains that it cannot be done, but also says something very important for us to hear. In Luke 16:29-31, Abraham said, “‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
There are many times that we can be wrong without experiencing devastating consequences. For instance, we can be wrong about our neighbor’s name, and while embarrassing, it does not have any eternal consequences. We can also be wrong on our driving directions to a particular destination. While frustrating and time consuming, we can make an adjustment and get to our correct destination with a course correction. But the Rich Man was sincerely wrong about where he would spend eternity. He wanted to make a course correction, but it was too late.
Our belief about what happens when we die is not one of those times we want to hold onto a false belief. The two men in this parable could not have been more different in life or in death. Jesus uses this parable to teach some essential truths to help dispel the false beliefs that many “sincerely believe.” Wrong belief led the Rich Man to eternal separation from God in hell.
This parable also speaks to the false belief of religious leaders of Jesus’ day. There was a false belief that those who were of Abrahamic ancestry (except tax collectors and those who were irreligious sinners) would go to heaven, and those who were Gentiles would go to hell. Also popular was the belief that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing and poverty and sickness were signs of the curse of God. This parable rocked their belief system, as did Jesus’ previous teaching in this chapter of Luke.
Let’s take a look at the important truths that we can glean from this passage:
- It is possible to be religious and not go to heaven.
- Abraham told the Rich Man that Scripture was sufficient to lead his brothers to heaven.
- Believing in and acting on the truth is the most important decision we can make.
- Salvation throughout history has always been solely by God’s grace through faith.
The religious leaders knew about the scriptures—that is “Moses and the prophets”—yet they did not believe in and act on the scriptures. The Old Testament scriptures teach about God as the sovereign creator, ruler, and judge. They teach that God is compassionate, gracious, and forgiving. They teach that Abraham was justified by faith. They teach that a substitute was needed as a sacrifice for God’s justice to be satisfied. They also teach that the Messiah would come, and repentance was necessary. Scripture gave the religious leaders every tool they needed to know the truth. God’s Word was sufficient back then for them, and it is sufficient for us today. We can know about God and still be sincerely wrong about our eternal destination. Only knowing God personally secures our future.