Luke Chapter 16 Parable of Unjust Steward, Divorce, Rich Man and Lazarus

Jul 2nd, 2009 | By | Category: Luke, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Luke Chapter 16 Parable of Unjust Steward, Divorce, Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:1 And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods.

The Parable of the Unjust Steward, which was addressed to the disciples, covers verses 1-13. At the First Advent, the “rich man” (God) accused the “steward” (the scribes and Pharisees) of wasting His goods. As stewards, they had the Law and the prophets as well as positions of honor. The application of “steward” today would be the nominal Church leaders. In principle, the unjust steward can also apply to unfaithful Christians—and even to leaders in the present truth movement, for they are in a responsible position.

Luke 16:2 And he called him, and said unto him, How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward.

The rich man called the steward to give an account of his stewardship, saying he could no longer be steward. In other words, “If what I hear is true, you are not worthy to remain as my steward.” The fact that the steward was about to lose his stewardship puts the setting of the parable in the Harvest of both the Jewish and the Gospel ages.

Luke 16:3 Then the steward said within himself, What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.

Luke 16:4 I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.

The steward was worried: “What shall I do now that God is taking away my stewardship? I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed.” The scribes and Pharisees were neither farmers nor businessmen, just as the clergy today are generally not trained for other work. With their titles (Reverend, Rabbi, etc.), menial work would require humility. The steward wanted the debtors to think well of him when he was put out of office.

Luke 16:5 So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him, and said unto the first, How much owest thou unto my lord?

The steward was shrewd. Having a little time before he was deposed, he called all of the rich man’s debtors and asked how much each man owed.

Luke 16:6 And he said, An hundred measures of oil. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.

Luke 16:7 Then said he to another, And how much owest thou? And he said, An hundred measures of wheat. And he said unto him, Take thy bill, and write fourscore.

The unjust steward now tried to make the best out of the situation. Using wise psychology, he devised a way to get as much return for the rich man as each debtor could pay. The first debtor owed 100 measures of oil, so the steward said, “Sit down quickly and write [or pay] me 50 measures”—a 50 percent reduction. Not only did he have the debtor do the writing, but he implied that if the debtor did not pay quickly, then the next steward might require the full 100 measures. The second debtor also owed 100 measures—100 measures of wheat. This time the steward said, “Take your bill and write 80”—a 20 percent reduction.

The point is that each debtor had to pay according to his ability. The same is true with us. The robe of Christ’s righteousness makes up for our deficiencies. Some need more covering than others. Each Christian is to do his best. Then God (through Jesus) makes up the difference.

Luke 16:8 And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.

The rich man commended the steward for doing wisely, “for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light.” The scribes and Pharisees had more “light” than ordinary Jews who did not have access to the Old Testament scrolls (the Law).

As a class, the scribes and Pharisees did not take this constructive advice. Jesus offered a solution, but they ignored it. Had they listened, they would have been more merciful, but instead they continued to bind the people with traditions and burdens.

The same advice applies to leaders in the nominal system. When confronted with present truth, the clergy realize they will lose their positions if they accept it or deal kindly with its exponents.

Luke 16:9 And I say unto you, Make to yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail, they may receive you into everlasting habitations.

Remember, Jesus was addressing his disciples when he gave this parable. He said to them, “Make friends of the mammon of unrighteousness so that, when you fail, they may receive [take] you into everlasting habitations.” One lesson: We are to learn how to use the temporal things of this life so that, when we die, we will have laid up treasures in heaven and be taken into the heavenly reward. “Mammon” would be this world’s goods, earthly riches. Our stewardship now has a bearing on our future. Galatians 6:10 is a pertinent text: “As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith.” 1 Timothy 6:17-19 also gives advice for the Christian to follow: “Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.”

Luke 16:10 He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.

Luke 16:11 If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?

We must be faithful and just even in little things if we would be faithful and just in greater things. If we are not faithful—if we unwisely use and love the mammon (riches) of unrighteousness—we will not receive the heavenly reward.

Luke 16:12 And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man’s, who shall give you that which is your own?

“If you have not been faithful in that which is another man’s [God’s or Jesus’], who shall give you that which is your own [crown]?”

Luke 16:13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.

Why is this principle stated two ways? “No servant can serve two masters: for [1] either he will hate the one, and love the other; or [2] else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve [both] God and mammon.” Mammon should be subordinate to the interests of the new creature. Part of a hymn contains the words “Touch lightly the things of this earth”— they must be touched to a certain extent, but touch them lightly. James 4:4 says, “Know ye not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.” The principle is one of decisiveness: whether we serve God or mammon (the world, worldly friendships, etc.). Esau “despised his birthright” (Gen. 25:34). He did not really hate the birthright, but he put a higher premium on the temporal and thus did not value it enough. By holding to the temporal, he “despised” or loved less the spiritual. He did cry later and want the birthright back, but he had already lost it.

But why does verse 13 state the principle two ways? A reversal is shown: Hate versus love, and hold versus despise. Esau despised his birthright and held to the mammon. Jacob held to (or treasured) the birthright and loved less the temporal. “Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matt. 6:33). Jacob did this and later ended up materially wealthy.

Luke 16:14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.

The Pharisees had listened to the Parable of the Unjust Steward, and now they ridiculed Jesus because they valued money. Some of the Pharisees would have been rightly exercised, however.

Luke 16:15 And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.

Jesus replied strongly: “You justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. That which men highly esteem is an abomination to God.” Not only were his words instructive, but he was trying to wake up the scribes and Pharisees, who were highly respected by the people. Their thinking influenced many. Some would accept Jesus only if their leaders did. (The same is true today in regard to the Second Advent and present truth.)

Luke 16:16 The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

Jesus was saying, “The Law and the prophets were recognized until John the Baptist. Since that time, the Kingdom is being preached, and every man should press into it.” Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that the Kingdom was in their presence: “I am the very embodiment of Kingdom hopes, and I am in your midst” (Luke 17:21 paraphrase). “I am wiser than Solomon” (Matt. 12:42 paraphrase). The failure of the scribes and Pharisees to see that a dispensational change was taking place ties in with the steward’s losing his stewardship in the parable.

Comment: A secondary application pertains to the nominal spiritual leaders during the Harvest. Just as John the Baptist announced Messiah at the First Advent, so the Pastor announced the Harvest message and the Second Presence. When the Harvest began, the Kingdom was preached with a new fervency, but Christendom’s leaders would not hear it.

Reply: At one time Babylon was a golden cup in God’s hand, but the privilege has since been lost.

Luke 16:17 And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than one tittle of the law to fail.

Verse 17 shows the importance of God’s Law—it cannot go unfulfilled; it cannot fail (compare Matt. 5:17,18). The comprehensive Law of Moses, which is spiritual as well as material, includes judgment and prophecy. The Apostle Paul said that the visible is more transitory than the unseen, and the principles of the Law are unseen (2 Cor. 4:18). The tables of the Law remained in the Ark of the Covenant, whereas the golden pot of manna and Aaron’s rod that budded were removed.

Luke 16:18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Matthew 5:32 gives fornication as the only condition or grounds for divorce, and it applies equally to both brothers and sisters. If either party commits fornication, the other is Scripturally free to remarry. (Of course death also dissolves a marriage.)

This literal lesson or “commandment” was also a dispensational lesson for the scribes and Pharisees. The Law covenant dispensation was being changed to the gospel dispensation. Therefore, a Jew was not committing “adultery” to leave the Law of Moses and be transferred over to Christ.

Jesus continued to bolster the premise of the Unjust Steward Parable. Verses 16-18 refer to the Law and the prophets. When John the Baptist came, the last of the Law and the prophets, he pointed to Jesus as the new way. In other words, a new dispensation was opening up and every man would have to press into it—would have to exercise energy in order to secure the spiritual promise or prize. The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, which follows, somewhat pictures this change of death to the Law and being made alive to the new condition. As a people, the Gentiles responded more favorably than the Jews.

The Parable of the Unjust Steward brought out the principle that no man can serve two masters. One cannot mix the Law dispensation of works with the gospel dispensation of faith.

It is dangerous for a Christian to feel he is being justified under the Law. We study the Law to know God’s thinking, but we do not expect to get life by obeying it to the letter. Therefore, a change in dispensations was pending at the First Advent, as shown in the parable by the steward’s losing his stewardship. Those Jews who were wise handled the change properly and got a far greater blessing.

The parables of Luke 15 and 16 all center around a lost stewardship, coin, sheep, etc. In each case, whatever was lost was found, restored. Luke chapter 17 is tied in too in another way.

Luke 16:19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

Luke 16:20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

The two chief characters are the rich man (the nation of Israel) and Lazarus, a beggar full of sores (Gentiles). The rich man was clothed in purple (kingly attire), for if faithful, the nation of Israel would have inherited the chief Kingdom promises. “Fine linen” signifies the typical justification that the nation received through the Day of Atonement sacrifices under the Law. (Incidentally, if the parable is considered on another level, the rich man represents the scribes and Pharisees, and the beggar pictures the publicans and sinners or the Samaritans.)

The beggar Lazarus was laid at the gate, full of sores and desiring favor—spiritual favor. He pictures an extreme condition of one who, unable to help himself, craves divine help, hoping for a crumb of favor from the rich man. There is a double lesson in this parable. Of the two, the Gospel Age application is easier to trace than the more parochial lesson about the Jewish nation in the first century. Another name for Lazarus is Dives.

Luke 16:21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

Lazarus desired to be fed with crumbs from the rich man’s table. In his pitiful state, dogs came and licked his sores. In Matthew 15:25-27, a Syrophoenician woman importuned Jesus for a blessing, suggesting that even dogs got crumbs from the master’s table, and all she was asking for was a crumb. Jesus commended her faith.

If the dogs represent Gentiles, how did they lick Lazarus’ sores? The principle is shown with Elijah’s being fed by ravens, which in antitype picture a sympathetic unconsecrated element. For example, if we say that Lazarus represented the Samaritans, then the dogs would be Gentiles who gave the Samaritans more consideration than their own people, the Jews, did. The name Lazarus means “without help,” and the definition fits not only the beggar in the parable but also the Lazarus whom Jesus raised. Both were unable to help themselves. The rich man’s “table” was the Law. We similarly say the Harvest table is filled with food (new and old), with all kinds of spiritual goodies.

Luke 16:22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

The sequence is significant. The beggar died in AD 36, when Gentiles could die to their former condition and thus be accepted under the gospel of Jesus. “Abraham’s bosom” is a condition of favor, the Abrahamic promise, being of the Isaac seed, inheriting the chief blessing. In AD 33, national favor ended for Israel; in AD 36, exclusive (or individual) favor ended for the Jews; and in AD 69-70, national polity ended. Stated another way, the rich man died in AD 69-70 and went into Diaspora, national oblivion.

The “angels” are the apostles. While exclusive favor to Israel ended in AD 36, the nation was still favored in that the apostles were Jews and they preached first in the synagogues of each city. The word “died” is used here as in Revelation 8:9 to signify dying to a former condition.

Luke 16:23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

In “hell,” the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom. When the Jews were in Diaspora, they could see that the Gentiles were being favored. The Jews were surprised that Gentiles were being nurtured and taught in the promises made to Abraham and that they were searching for meaning and instruction in the Hebrew Old Testament.

Q: Could Abraham, who speaks as the parable continues, also be considered as representing the Heavenly Father? Jesus was in the Father’s bosom. He was the Son of God’s love, and the Gentiles were carried to Jesus.

A: The principle is the same.

Q: Do the Jews realize they lost favor?

A: Down through the Gospel Age, the Jews were persecuted, banned from employment, made to be scapegoats, called Christ killers, victimized in pogroms, burned at the stake, put in the arena with wild animals, tortured, etc. They had to be merchants because they could not own land. Of course they realized they were Jews, sons of Abraham, but they could not explain what was happening to them. They did not know why they had been dispersed in Gentile lands and why they were without hope, as pictured by the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37:1,2).

The “bones” represent the nation of Israel scattered throughout Europe. According to the Pentateuch, the Jews expected material blessings, but instead they were “in torments.” And while they were having hard experiences, the Gentiles were prospering with their religion. (Incidentally, there have been parallels between the experiences of natural and spiritual Israel down through the Gospel Age.)

Luke 16:24 And 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.

Fundamentalists use this verse to prove hellfire, but Luke 16:19-31 is a parable showing the condition of the Jew down through the Gospel Age. “Fire” indicates persecution, and in their extreme experiences, the Jews have wanted a figurative drop of water to cool their tongues. The valley of dry bones received heat and scorching under the sun.

Psa 63:1 A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, thou art my God; early will I seek thee: my soul thirsteth for thee, my flesh longeth for thee in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is;

Isa 1:30 For ye shall be as an oak whose leaf fadeth, and as a garden that hath no water.

Isa 1:31 And the strong shall be as tow, and the maker of it as a spark, and they shall both burn together, and none shall quench them.

Zec 9:11 As for thee also, by the blood of thy covenant I have sent forth thy prisoners out of the pit wherein is no water.

Luke 16:25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.

Luke 16:26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

The middle wall of partition, or separation, has been Christ. Blindness has happened in part to the nation of Israel “until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in,” that is, until the Church is complete (Rom. 11:25).

Luke 16:27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:

Luke 16:28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.

“Jeshurun,” a poetic nickname God gave to Israel, had to do with the nation’s “rich man” condition. If the Jews had known the Law and the prophets, they would have realized the rich  man in the parable was their own nation. “Jeshurun waxed fat and kicked”; that is, the richness did not profit Jeshurun because of disobedience and a wrong heart condition (Deut. 32:15).

Now let us consider the details of verses 27 and 28. The rich man said, “Father Abraham, send Lazarus to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, and Lazarus can testify to them lest they also come into this condition of torment.” The symbolism of the rich man representing Israel can be defined even further. Of the two divisions of the nation of Israel, the two-tribe kingdom of Judah was more favored. Moreover, the Israelites who returned from Babylonian captivity in 536 BC were almost all from the two tribes, as were the Pharisees and other Jews who heard Jesus give the parable and those who rejected and crucified Jesus. (The ten tribes had already been dispersed throughout Gentile lands centuries before.) Even most of the Levites at that time, who lived close to Jerusalem, were from Judah. Therefore, the rich man specifically represents Judah, the two-tribe kingdom. The chronology listing shows that Judah had five sons, and the rich man wanted to save them (1 Chron. 4:1).

Luke 16:29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.

Abraham said, “The five brothers have Moses and the prophets. Let the five brothers hear them.”

Luke 16:30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.

The rich man replied, “No, but if one went to them from the dead, they would repent.” One did actually go from the dead—Lazarus by name—but still they did not repent. In other words, the fact the beggar in the parable was named “Lazarus” is a reference to the Lazarus that Jesus would raise subsequently in the Jerusalem area. Jesus was on his way there now, so this parable would have been fresh in the Pharisees’ minds when the raising occurred. And even when Jesus himself was raised from the dead, the five brothers (Israel as a nation) did not believe.

Luke 16:31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.

Abraham said, “If the five would not hear Moses and the prophets, they would not be persuaded even if one did rise from the dead.”

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