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Bible Commentaries
Luke 16

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

The linguistic connection that ties this parable with its preceding context is the word "squander" (Gr. diaskorpizo, cf. Luke 15:13). This is the clue to the thematic connection, namely, the prudent use of money. The younger son in the parable of the lost son who represented the sinners whom Jesus received did not manage his inheritance well. He squandered, wasted, and dissipated it. The story that follows gives an example of a wise use of some money that a master entrusted to his prodigal servant.

As the story opens, the steward or agent (Gr. oikonomos) is in trouble for unwisely using his master’s money. He was behaving as the younger son in the previous parable. In Jesus’ day wealthy landowners often turned over the management of some of their money to an agent whose responsibility was to invest it to make more money for the master. Today a stockbroker, a banker, or an investment counselor serves his or her clients in a similar way.

Verses 1-9

The parable of the shrewd manager 16:1-9

"Luke 16:1-8 contains probably the most difficult parable in Luke." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 418.]

Verses 1-13

1. Discipleship as stewardship 16:1-13

Jesus instructed His disciples about their use of material possessions. He taught them to be prudent in the use of wealth and to beware of the danger of loving it (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10).

Verse 2

There is no indication in the parable whether the agent failed his master innocently or deliberately. That is unimportant. For whatever reason his boss fired him and asked him to turn in his account books that would show what he had done (cf. Matthew 12:36; Acts 19:40; Hebrews 13:17; 1 Peter 4:5).

Verses 3-4

Before doing so the agent decided to do something that would enable him to get another job with one of the people who owed his master money. He realized that he had to use his head since he was not strong enough for manual labor, and he was too proud to resort to begging to earn a living. His plan of action would guarantee him a job and respectability, but immediate action was imperative.

Verses 5-7

The agent’s plan involved discounting the debts of the people who owed his master money, probably by canceling the interest they owed. The fact that he dealt in commodities rather than cash is inconsequential since many traders dealt on these terms in Jesus’ day, as they do in ours. The amounts these debtors owed were quite large. Therefore the discount each one received represented a significant amount of money and drew the goodwill of the debtors to the manager. The debtors were probably people who had received goods from the master’s estate and had given the agent a promissory note rather than cash. This was and is a standard accepted way of doing business.

Did the manager dishonestly cheat his master out of what others owed him, or did he deduct the interest that would have come to him as the agent for each transaction? The first alternative is a real possibility. [Note: Derrett, Law in . . ., pp. 72-73.] However it seems unlikely that Jesus would have proceeded to commend the manager and hold him up to the disciples as an example to follow if he was that dishonest (Luke 16:9). Furthermore if the agent had chosen to cheat his employer further he probably would have ended up in jail rather than in the good graces of his master’s debtors. The second alternative is possible and probable. [Note: J. A. Fitzmyer, Essays on the Semitic Background of the New Testament, pp. 175-76; idem, "The Story of the Dishonest Manager," Theological Studies 25 (1964):23-42. See also Edersheim, 2:267; and J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, 4:317-19.] The agent could well have received a commission for each of the transactions that he had negotiated for his employer and deducted these commissions from the debtors’ costs. Even a 100 percent commission (Luke 16:6) was not unknown in Jesus’ culture. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 619.] Probably the commission was part of the original bill. [Note: J. D. M. Derrett, "’Take thy Bond . . . and Write Fifty’ (Luke xvi. 6) The nature of the Bond," Journal of New Testament Studies NS23 (1972):438-40.] Another possibility is that the steward eliminated his fee plus illegal interest that had been charged. [Note: Inrig, p. 112.] It appears that the steward cancelled the interest due that would have come to him as a commission. Whatever the sum that the servant discounted, it must have come out of his own pocket rather than that of his employer.

Verse 8

Jesus commended the agent’s shrewdness or prudence (Gr. phronimos, i.e., practical wisdom) in spending his (the steward’s) wealth (his commission) to secure his future (cf. Luke 12:42). He commended him for his wise use of opportunity. He did not, of course, approve of his squandering his master’s money earlier through incompetence or dishonesty (Luke 16:1), whichever option may have characterized him. That simply marked him as an unrighteous man. The fact that he had not been shrewd at first sets off his later shrewdness as even more commendable.

The sons of this age are unrighteous unbelievers who live simply by the principles that govern most people in the present age. Sons of the light are people who live in the light of God’s revelation and are therefore believers (cf. Luke 11:33-36; Ephesians 5:8). The implication is that they are believers who are in fellowship with God (cf. 1 John 1:7). Jesus’ point was that prudent dealings characterize unbelievers more than believers. Disciples can do well by learning from them as we anticipate the future. People of the light should be as shrewd in their kingdom investments for God as people of the darkness are in their business investments for themselves.

Verse 9

Jesus next explained the application of the parable for His disciples. They should spend their money to make friends who would welcome them into the kingdom and heaven when the disciples died. In other words, disciples should sacrifice their money to bring others to faith in Jesus and so secure a warm reception into heaven. Jesus pictured the converts as dying before the disciples and welcoming them into heaven when the disciples arrived. Disciples should use our money to lead people to Jesus Christ. We should not consume it all on ourselves or pass it all on to our heirs or hoard it, but invest it in "the Lord’s work."

The word "mammon" is a transliteration of the Aramaic word mamon meaning "what one trusts" and therefore "wealth." "Mammon of unrighteousness" means worldly or material wealth, wealth associated with unrighteous living contrasted with heavenly treasure (cf. Luke 12:21). The phrase does not mean wealth acquired by dishonest means. "When money fails" is another way of saying "when you die." Money no longer supports a person after he or she dies. Even though money will fail us when we die, those whom we have led to salvation will not die. They will welcome us into eternal, in contrast to temporal, dwellings. Thus Jesus contrasted the temporary nature of money with the eternal value of saved lives.

"A foolish person lives only for the present and uses personal wealth only for the present. A wise person considers the future and uses personal wealth to reap benefits in the future . . ." [Note: Pentecost, The Parables . . ., p. 110.]

The reason Jesus taught this lesson appears to have been the Pharisees’ money-grabbing reputation (cf. Luke 16:14; Luke 20:47). This should not characterize His disciples.

Verses 10-12

Trustworthiness does not depend on the amount for which one is responsible but on character (cf. 1 Timothy 3:5). Faithfulness in the use of money now demonstrates a trustworthy character that God will reward with responsibility for greater riches in the kingdom. Unfaithfulness does not just demonstrate untrustworthiness but unrighteousness. By using the word "mammon" Jesus probably intended the disciples to include all the worldly things in which people trust, not just money. These would include one’s time and talents as well as his or her treasure. If disciples squander what God has entrusted to their care on the earth, who will give them their own things to manage in heaven, such as authority over others in the kingdom (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:17)? The rhetorical question answers itself. God will not.

Verses 10-13

The implications of heavenly stewardship 16:10-13

Jesus proceeded to draw two more lessons from the parable He had just told. One was the importance of faithfulness for Jesus’ agents. The other was the importance of undivided loyalty to Jesus.

Verse 13

Even though one may have both God and mammon, namely, be a believer and have earthly resources, it is impossible to serve them both. They both demand total allegiance (cf. Matthew 6:24). Love for God will result in mammon taking second place in life. Conversely if one puts mammon first, God can have only second place (cf. 1 Timothy 6:10). This fact should serve as a warning against unfaithfulness to God and as a warning against enslavement by mammon. Jesus’ personified mammon to picture it as God’s rival. Disciples obviously can serve God and mammon, but they cannot be the servant, in the true sense of that word, of both God and mammon. They can only be the servant of one. [Note: See Dave L. Mathewson, "The Parable of the Unjust Steward (Luke 16:1-13): A Reexamination of the Traditional View in Light of Recent Challenges," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 38:1 (March 1995):29-39.]

Verses 14-15

Jesus rebuked His critics for their hypocrisy. They were able to explain their covetous practices to the Jews to their own satisfaction. Probably they reasoned that any wealth that they could accumulate was a sign of God’s blessing on them. This was a common misinterpretation of the law in Jesus’ day, as it is in ours. Their ostentatious display when giving alms may have been part of this hypocrisy too (cf. Matthew 6:2-4), but God was their real judge, and He knew their greedy hearts (cf. 1 Samuel 16:7; 1 Chronicles 28:9; Psalms 7:10).

What many people esteem highly is the pursuit of money. That is detestable to God because it is idolatry. It robs people of their future, and it insults God who alone is worthy of our supreme devotion. Jesus illustrated this point with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that follows (Luke 16:19-31). The Pharisees’ values were wrong. What really mattered and what they should have concentrated on was the kingdom and God’s Word.

Verses 14-31

2. Jesus’ rebuke of the Pharisees for their greed 16:14-31

The Pharisees, who where listening to Jesus’ instructions to His disciples, scoffed at Him, because they tried to serve both God and mammon (Luke 16:13). They tried to appear pious and at the same time accumulate all the wealth they could (cf. Luke 20:47). Jesus therefore addressed their greed (cf. 2 Timothy 3:2).

The importance of submission to God’s Word 16:14-18

Jesus’ began His response to the Pharisees’ rejection of His teaching by pointing out the importance of submitting to God’s Word.

Verse 16

The Hebrew Scriptures should have been of primary importance to the Pharisees. They pointed to the coming of Messiah. Since John the Baptist had come the message that he and Jesus had proclaimed had been that the Messiah was present and the kingdom was at hand. A new era had begun with John’s preaching, not the kingdom. The Pharisees had disregarded that preaching and in doing so had rejected the teaching of the Old Testament even though their fellow Jews were trying to get into the kingdom (cf. Luke 13:24; Luke 14:15; Mark 7:8-9).

The fact that Jesus said something similar about the kingdom on another occasion that Matthew recorded has raised questions about Jesus’ meaning here and there (cf. Matthew 11:12-13). In Matthew, Jesus’ point was this. The Jewish religious leaders were trying to bring in the kingdom in their own carnal way while refusing to accept God’s way that John and Jesus announced. In the different teaching situation that Luke recorded, Jesus said something similar but slightly different. His point here was that many of the Jews were eager to enter the kingdom, but the religious leaders were hindering them by rejecting John and Jesus’ ministries.

". . . those pressing into the kingdom must be at least as much in earnest as the violent men of Palestine who tried to bring in the kingdom by force of arms. In the context we may think of men like the astute steward." [Note: Morris, p. 251.]

Verse 17

Regardless of the Pharisees’ views the Old Testament would stand as the final authority. Luke 16:17 is a very strong attestation to God’s preservation of Scripture (cf. Matthew 5:18). The implication was that Jesus’ teachings would likewise endure.

Verse 18

Jesus next cited an example of the continuing validity of the Old Testament and the Pharisees’ disregard of it. God still expected and expects submission to His Word. The Pharisees did not condone adultery, though they permitted divorce (Deuteronomy 24:1-4). Some Pharisees permitted a man to divorce his wife and then remarry another woman, though most of them did not grant women the same privilege. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 631.] Jesus condemned such conduct as a violation of the seventh commandment. This was an example of the Pharisees justifying themselves in the eyes of men but not being just before God (Luke 16:15). Jesus both affirmed and clarified the Old Testament revelation. Therefore for the Pharisees to disregard His teaching about money was equivalent to rejecting other divine revelation.

This teaching on divorce supplements other statements that Jesus made on the same subject on other occasions (cf. Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:11). Matthew 19:9 and Mark 10:11 evidently record one teaching incident. Matthew 5:32 occurs in the context of the Sermon on the Mount. Luke’s reference reflects a third context. As in Mark 10:11, Jesus omitted the exception clause here (cf. Matthew 5:32; Matthew 19:9). He evidently did not want to draw attention to the exceptional case because to do so would weaken His main point, namely, that people should not divorce. Matthew included Jesus’ permission to divorce for fornication because the subject of how to deal with divorce cases involving marital unfaithfulness was of particular interest to the Jews.

"The basic application to this small unit is to respond with obedience to the kingdom demand for ethical integrity, whether it be in how we deal with our resources or how we approach our marriages." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 429.]

Verses 19-21

Jesus began the parable by introducing its two main characters. He presented the rich man as living selfishly in luxury and rejoicing in his present earthly prosperity (cf. Luke 16:1; Luke 16:13). Only the very wealthy of Jesus’ day could afford to dress in the expensive purple garments that kings wore. The rich man also possessed the best undergarments made of fine linen. Lazarus on the other hand was poor, incapacitated, begging, diseased, hungry, unclean, and despised. These descriptions prepare for the dramatic reversal in the conditions of these two men that follows (Luke 16:22-24). Obviously the rich man had disregarded the Old Testament teaching that the Israelites should care for the poor among them (cf. Proverbs 14:21; Proverbs 19:17; Proverbs 21:13; Proverbs 28:27).

The fact that Jesus named the beggar and not the rich man hints at the ultimate greater importance of Lazarus. He was not the brother of Mary and Martha (John 11). This is the only parable that Jesus taught in which He named one of the characters. The fact that Jesus mentioned his name does not necessarily mean that he was a real person. However he could have been. [Note: R. Summers, Commentary on Luke.] Everything else about this story indicates that this was a typical invented parable.

"The naming of the poor man as Lazarus and the failure to name the rich man personalizes the level of concern for the poor man, while making clear that the rich man is a representative figure. God cares for each poor person and is fully aware of their plight. The rich man could be any rich individual." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 431.]

Lazarus was a common name, the equivalent of the Hebrew Eleazar, meaning "whom God has helped." Abraham, also mentioned in this parable, had a servant named Eleazar who was evidently a Gentile (Genesis 15:2). This fact has led some students of this passage to seek an interpretation that comes from Abraham’s experience. [Note: E.g., Derrett, Law in . . ., pp. 85-92; idem, "Fresh Light on St Luke xvi. II. Dives and Lazarus and the preceding Sayings," New Testament Studies, 7 (1960-61):364-80.] One such writer concluded that Jesus was teaching that severe judgment would come on the Jews if they failed to repent. [Note: C. H. Cave, "Lazarus and the Lucan Deuteronomy," New Testament Studies 15 (1968-67):319-25.] However the connections with Abraham’s history seem so obscure that Jesus’ hearers would have missed them. Tradition has given the name Dives, the Latin word for "rich," to the rich man, but there is no basis for this in the text. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., pp. 634-35.]

"Giving Lazarus a name helps to personalize him, and the description of his piteous condition encourages readers to sympathize with him and to condemn the rich man’s callousness. It is not simply being wealthy but this callousness toward the suffering poor which is condemned in the parable." [Note: Tannehill, The Narrative . . ., 1:131.]

That Lazarus lay among unclean dogs heightens his abject condition. The dogs that came and licked his sores would have aggravated them, not alleviated them. [Note: Edersheim, 2:279.]

Verses 19-31

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus 16:19-31

In this parable the rich man and his brothers who did not listen to Moses and the prophets (Luke 16:29-31) represent the Pharisees (Luke 16:16-17). The Pharisees believed in a future life and a coming judgment, but they, as the rich man, did not allow those beliefs to deter them from the pursuit of present wealth (Luke 16:14). Jesus announced that even His resurrection would not change them (Luke 16:31). This parable also affirmed Jesus’ teaching on a future reversal of fortunes (Luke 1:53; Luke 6:20-26; Luke 12:16-21; Luke 13:30; Luke 14:11) and the fact that present decisions affect future destiny for the saved and the unsaved.

The rabbinic story of how Abraham sent his steward Eleazar, of which Lazarus is the Greek form of the name, to Sodom to test the hospitality of its citizens may lie behind this parable. [Note: Derrett, Law in . . ., pp. 86-92.] Jesus may have built this parable on that story, which was extra-biblical but perhaps factual or merely fictional.

Verses 22-24

These verses describe the two destinies of the men, which were as different as their lives on earth had been. The angels assist God in caring for humans (Hebrews 1:14). They escorted Lazarus’ spirit to Abraham’s bosom whereas the rich man simply experienced burial without heavenly honors. The point is the care that God lavished on Lazarus. Jesus pictured Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom enjoying the future messianic banquet in the millennial kingdom (cf. Luke 13:28-29). Formerly the rich man had enjoyed banquets and Lazarus had begged for scraps from his table (Luke 16:21), but now the tables had turned.

The figure of Abraham’s bosom connotes a place of security, godly fellowship with other Old Testament believers, and honor. Hades is the general name for the place of departed spirits (cf. Luke 10:15), and it is the equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol. However in the New Testament, Hades always refers to the abode of the unsaved dead before their resurrection and condemnation at the great white throne judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). Gehenna is a different place, the lake of fire, which is the final destiny of all unbelievers following the great white throne judgment (Luke 12:5). At the beginning of the messianic kingdom only unbelievers will be in Hades since God will have resurrected all Old Testament saints including Lazarus (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2). "Paradise" (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 12:4) seems to be a euphemism for God’s presence, the place where all believers’ spirits go, regardless of when they die, until the resurrection of their bodies.

For the rich man Hades was a place of torment. He could see the righteous far away but could not leave Hades to join them. This revelation by Jesus Christ refutes the doctrine of "soul sleep," the theory that when people die they become unconscious. The rich man appealed to Abraham to send Lazarus to extend him some mercy. His address, "Father Abraham," was typically respectful for a Jew (cf. Luke 3:8; John 8:39). However the rich man’s appeal to his racial connection with the father of the Jews was ineffective. This fact should have warned the listening Pharisees not to count on their Jewish heritage to admit them into the kingdom. [Note: See ibid., 1:271, for evidence that the Jews believed that their physical connection to Abraham guaranteed their salvation.] The rich man still viewed Lazarus as a servant who could help him rather than as an equal. His judgment had not led him to repent of his selfishness even in death. Obviously many modern ideas about hell are traceable to this parable.

Verses 25-26

The title "child" or "son" (Gr. teknon) is a tender one that expressed compassion for the rich man in his misery (cf. Luke 15:31). Abraham’s reminder of the rich man’s previous comfort was not an attempt to justify his present agony. God had not sentenced him to torment because he had previously been comfortable just to balance things out. It reminded the rich man of the reason he was now in torment. He had chosen a life of personal comfort rather than a life of allegiance to God’s Word (cf. Luke 12:21). Furthermore it was too late for repentance. Notice that there is no suggestion of a middle ground between Hades and Abraham’s bosom, no purgatory. Lazarus had been one of those poor and crippled that had responded to Jesus’ invitation and had become a believer (cf. Luke 4:18; Luke 14:13; Luke 14:21).

Verses 27-31

Clearly the testimony of the Old Testament (Luke 16:16) was more convincing than any testimony from a person who might return to the living with a message from Hades. This statement condemned the Pharisees who were listening to Jesus but had explained away the Old Testament revelation about Messiah and had asked Jesus for more signs (Luke 11:16). It also implied that they would not believe on Jesus even though Jesus would rise from the dead (cf. Luke 9:22; Luke 11:29-30; Luke 13:32). The testimony of the Scriptures is powerful because that is what God has chosen to use to bring conviction of spiritual need (cf. Hebrews 4:12). Angels had appeared to people in Old Testament times, but hardhearted people did not believe them either (Genesis 19:14). Evidently people in Hades have a concern for the lost on earth, but they can do nothing about it.

"There is an implication that the rich man’s unpleasant situation was due not to his riches (after all, Abraham had been rich), but to his neglect of Scripture and its teaching. But the rich man does not agree. He knows how he had reacted to the possession of the Bible." [Note: Morris, p. 154.]

Not long after this teaching Jesus did raise someone from the dead who bore witness to Jesus’ identity, another Lazarus. What was the reaction of the Pharisees? They tried to kill both Jesus and Lazarus (John 11:45-53; John 12:10-11). Perhaps this is the key to why Jesus gave the poor man in this parable the name Lazarus. Perhaps he wanted the Pharisees to remember the lesson of the Lazarus in this parable when He raised the other Lazarus from the dead.

These verses should warn us against putting too much hope in signs and wonders as what will persuade people to believe in Jesus (cf. John 10:41-42). The Word of God is a more convincing witness to Him than any miracle. This does not mean that miracles are valueless. God used them to corroborate the testimony of Scripture in the past, and He may do so occasionally today, but Scripture is the Holy Spirit’s primary tool in bringing people to repentance (cf. John 16:7-15).

This teaching concerning greed warned the disciples and the Pharisees. They should serve God as faithful servants rather than serving mammon. We should also beware of the possibility of disbelieving Scripture and explaining it away if we make mammon our god, as the Pharisees did.

"Two themes dominate: the idea of divine evaluation in the afterlife and the hardness of heart that cannot be overcome even by resurrection." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 432.]

"The dialogues from the afterlife in this passage reveal a series of vital truths that serve as correctives to some modern erroneous doctrines. (1) There is immediate consciousness after death; therefore soul sleep is not taught in the Bible. (2) Post-death destinies are irreversible; therefore there is no purgatory or second chance of salvation after death. (3) No one can lose or gain salvation after death. The decisions of this life are final and determinative. (4) The judgments that determine the eternal destinies of either torment or blessing are just. (5) Signs should never be sought as a substitute for the Word of God. The Word of God is the only adequate basis for faith (Luke 16:29; see Romans 10:17)." [Note: M. Bailey, p. 137.]

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 16". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-16.html. 2012.
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