"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The History/Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

I will sometimes look at the metrics of Blogger and be surprised at the number of hits certain blogposts receive. In 2014 I wrote a post entitled The Rich Man and Lazarus: A Warning to Preachers and was recently surprised at the large number of unique "hits" this post has received. I've gone back and read this post and realized it is also one of my favorites.

In an effort to connect with some folks who may have missed this post when first published, I'm re-posting with a couple of edits. My hope is that those who are truly interested in Scripture will consider the caution Jesus gives to the professionally religious from this parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus didn't intend this parable as a doctrinal dissertation on the nature of hell. Rather, He was issuing a strong warning to the religious leaders of His day who used their positions of "authority" to fleece and abuse God’s people.

Here is the parable from Luke 16:19-31. I have emphasized in italicized bold the words deserving of your special attention:
"(19) Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (20) And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, (21) and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (22) Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. (23) and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (25) But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (26) And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (27) And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— (28) for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (29) But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (30) But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (31) 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 16:19-31)
It is a given that those who seek diamonds must be experts at moving dirt. Digging in dirt is never enjoyable, but the anticipation of reward makes the effort bearable. So it is with Bible study. If you wish to find a diamond, you must work. So, bear with me, and let's do just a little work. It's worth it, I promise.

To understand the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus you must be familiar with a very obscure passage of Scripture that mentions seven political and religious leaders of Jesus day. It's found in Luke 3:1-2.
"Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was tetrarch of Galilee, and his brother Philip was tetrarch of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias was tetrarch of Abilene,  in the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John, the son of Zacharias, in the wilderness." (Luke 3:1-2).
Luke is introducing two Roman rulers, three Hebrew political leaders, and two Jewish religious leaders who were the chief antagonists of Jesus Christ throughout His earthly ministry. One cannot understand the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus without an understanding that Jesus tells this parable in order to rebuke the religious leaders of His day while at the same ignoring the political leaders. Frankly, we would be wise to model ourselves after Christ.

Principle: Quit worrying over the character and the abuse of power of our political leaders (they will always be corrupt), but never hesitate to rebuke those religious leaders who fleece God's people (they should not be corrupt).

(A). The Roman Rulers: Tiberius was the adopted son and sole heir of Augustus Caesar. He was the emperor of Rome (Caesar) throughout Jesus ministry. He became co-regent of the Roman Empire in AD 12 when his ailing adoptive father (Augustus)  became bedridden and could no longer function as emperor. Luke gives the date for the beginning of John the Baptist's ministry as 'the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar' (AD 26/27). Jesus once answered a question about paying taxes to Rome by saying, "Render to Caesar what is Caesar's." The Caesar to whom He referred was this Tiberius in Luke 3. Augustus Caesar was emperor over the Roman empire when Christ was born at Bethlehem. Augustus' son, Tiberius Caesar, was emperor over the Roman empire when Christ was crucified. The second Roman official named in this text is the infamous Pontius Pilate, governor of Judea. He is the Roman official who presides over the trial and execution of Jesus Christ. The American modern equivalent to Tiberius Caesar would be the President of the United States, and Pontius Pilate would be a state governor.

(B). The Hebrew Political Leaders: Luke then names three Hebrew political officials who ruled during Jesus' ministry in Judea - Herod, Philip the Tetrarch (Herod's brother), and Lysanias. Who are these three men? They are the 'leaders' of the ethnic Jews in Jesus day. They were also the sons and political heirs of Herod the Great, the former 'king of the Jews' who died in 4 BC. Herod the Great went ballistic when the wise men asked him "Where is He who is born king of the Jews?" because he (Herod the Great) was already king of the Jews. Herod died shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ. His political kingdom was then divided into regional fourths (Greek: tetrarchys) and distributed among his surviving sons to rule (tetrarchs). Leaders of the Judean tetrarchy mentioned in Luke 3 included Herod (nicknamed Antipas), Philip (often called Philip the Tetrarch), and Lysanias. These men were powerful among the Jews, but they couldn't do anything without Rome's permission

At the birth of Jesus, we read in Matthew 2 that Herod the Great was 'king of the Jews.' Thirty-three years later when Jesus is crucified, we read in Luke 23 that Herod orders soldiers to beat Christ and take him to Pilate. This 'Herod' at Christ's crucifixion is the Herod mentioned in Luke 3. He is the son of Herod the Great and is sometimes called Herod Antipas. The quarter of the region Herod was given to 'rule' as tetrarch included Galilee, the land where both John and Jesus based their ministries.  Herod Antipas is the one who had John the Baptist beheaded (picture).

In the ethnic melting pot we call the United States, it is difficult to find a modern equivalent to the tetrarchy positions held by Herod, Philip, and Lysanias. The closest equivalent might be those men who rule over individual political parties, major corporations, unions, and other powerful economic, political, and cultural entities within America. These positions aren't the highest of authority, for they must answer to 'Caesar,' but they have a great deal of influence over a specific category of people.

(C). The Jewish Religious Leaders: Two Wealthy, Powerful Priests. The final two men named by Luke in Luke 3:1-3 are  religious leaders who served as high priests of Israel.  Their names are Annas and Caiaphas. Modern Christians know very little about these two men. Annas was high priest over Israel for ten years (AD 6-15), until at the age of 36, he was removed by the Roman governor Guratus, the predecessor to Pontius Pilate. The other man, Caiaphas, served as high priest over Israel from AD 18 to AD 36, a time period that encompassed all of Jesus adult life and public ministry.

Annas had five sons and one daughter. His daughter married Caiaphas. Interestingly, every one of Annas five sons--as well as his son-in-law Caiaphas--served as the high priest of Israel during Annas' lifetime. Though Caiaphas was high priest during the time of Jesus, Luke names both Annas and Caiaphas because Annas was the power behind the high priest of Israel. It was said that "Annas ruled the religious world," even though his own children were the chief priests of Israel and each had their turn as 'high priest.' It was to Annas that the people first brought Jesus after our Lord's arrest. Only after being questioned by Annas was Jesus sent to Caiaphas for official trial by the Sanhedrin. Modern religious leaders, like Annas, have a tendency to want to control and run things 'behind the scenes.'

Annas and Caiaphas hated everything to do with Christ. Caiaphas particularly was the chief antagonist of our Lord. Caiaphas lived in a palatial mansion inside the walls of Jerusalem. He served as President of the Sanhedrin. If you saw Caiaphas walking around the streets of Jerusalem, he would always have his servants and attendants around him, and he would be dressed in the finest purple and fine linen. He ate the most sumptuous meals, drank the finest wines, always traveled first class, and lived better than the 'common Jew.' The modern equivalent of Caiaphas would be the wealthy religious leaders in America who take a spiritual position of authority and power over the common people of the land.

Jesus Condemns the Religious Leaders and Ignores the Political Leaders

It is striking to discover that Jesus says very little about the corrupt Roman and Judean political leaders of His day. These leaders--men like Tiberius Caesar, Herod Antipas, and Pontius Pilate--were all evil men. Yet, Jesus says very little publicly about any of them. In fact, when questioned about the supreme political leader (Caesar), Jesus simply says "Give back to Caesar what belongs to Caesar." Jesus is also completely silent before Herod during His trial. Instead of railing against Herod's abuse of political power, Jesus says nothing. It seems Jesus had little to say about politics.

Yet, Jesus boldly and soundly condemned Annas and Caiaphas, the 'rich' religious leaders of His day.

Ironic, is it not, that modern evangelicals often rail against political leaders, but there is an appalling silence when it comes to religious leaders who become rich off the money given by God's people?

Notice the anger and greed of the religiously rich in Jesus' day. The Bible tells us in John 12 that after Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, Caiaphas and Annas sought to kill Lazarus 'because many people were going away and were believing in Jesus.' These people 'going away' from the religious institutions--entities governed by Annas and Caiaphas--did so because they had seen Lazarus, a former dead man, walking around regenerated and enlivened by the power of Christ. These people had seen the power of Christ, and they were now uninterested in institutional religion. John the Apostle puts it like this:
"The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus' sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. But the chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; because on account of him many of the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11)
There are many places that Jesus condemns the religiously rich (i.e. 'the chief priests')  throughout the New Testament, but the most striking example is found in this parable that is more than a parable. Let's read the parable again and see the High Priest of the Jews (Caiaphas) is the Rich Man Jesus is condemning:

 "The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus."
“(19) Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. (20) And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, (21) and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. (22) Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. (23) and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. (24) And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ (25) But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. (26) And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (27) And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— (28) for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ (29) But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ (30) But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ (31) 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.’”
Caiaphas, the High Priest of Israel, is the rich man in Jesus parable. Caiaphas is the man "who lifted up his eyes in hell."  Caiaphas, the equivalent to a modern religious leader who becomes rich through his religious service, is the man condemned by Jesus Christ. How do we know this to be true?


  • The rich man wears the robes the color of the High Priest (purple and fine linen).
  • The rich man mistreats the poor man named Lazarus (just as Caiaphas sought to kill Lazarus).
  • The rich man asks a messenger to go to his 'father's house' (Annas' house).
  • The rich man had five brothers (Annas had five sons, Caiaphas was his son-in-law and considered his brothers-in-law to be his brothers).
  • The rich man desires a warning to be given to his five brothers about their behavior (all five of Caiaphas' brothers--the sons of Annas--followed him as 'chief priest' of Israel).
  • The rich man is told that they will not believe "even if someone rises from the dead" (just as Caiaphas, his father Annas, and his five brothers refused to believe in Jesus after Lazarus had been raised from the dead).

If you are a topical preacher you might pick the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and wax eloquent on the subject of 'hell.' You might say something like (1). Hell is real, (2). Hell is rough. (3). Hell is ready. Then you might give the following application: "If you don't let go of your riches and willingly give your tithes and offerings to the church, you may find yourself waking up one day in hell, wanting to warn others to 'repent' and let go of their riches. Don't wait until it is too late! Give to the Kingdom of God today by giving your tithes and offerings!"

That, my friend, is the sorry state of evangelical preaching today. It's taking a text (the Rich Man and Lazarus) out of its context (the resurrection of Lazarus and the chief priests desire to kill Lazarus and stop others from believing on Christ) and turning it into a pretext (a false conclusion).

The lessons of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus are only obtained when you systematically and intentionally learn the Scriptures, take texts in their contexts, and focus on the life transforming truth from God's word. The lessons of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus are as follows:

(1). Any of us who are working in professional religious ministry in order to become rich through our religious services may wake up one day in hell, facing the holy judgment of God.
(2). Instead of railing against the world and our American culture--be it politics, business, Hollywood or some other segment of society--we preachers ought to reserve our harshest words for the religious who seek to become rich by abusing God's people, and focus more on giving the Bread of Life to those who are hungry, regardless of the cost.
(3). We do our Sunday morning crowd a favor when we teach the Scriptures verse by verse because we create a safeguard from misapplications which arrive out of false conclusions of a text, and we will give our hearer a better appreciation of the Person of Jesus Christ and His power to transform lives.

Those, in my opinion, are the lessons of the Rich Man and Lazarus.

The Official End of Paige Patterson's Control and Domination of the Southern Baptist Convention

Photo: Matt Miller of Baptist Press
United States President Donald Trump has sent Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to ask direct questions about the disappearance and presumed murder of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi.

In the Saudi world, opposition to the absolute power and authority of the royals means imprisonment or death.

In the Southern Baptist world, at least for the past forty years (1978 - 2018), opposition to Paige Patterson meant occupational, personal, and vocational banishment.

The forty years of wandering in a spiritual desert are officially over for the Southern Baptist Convention. The trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary will open the doors to their first plenary session since the historic 2018 Southern Baptist Convention.

They will have to answer some questions of their alleged "oversight" of former President Paige Patterson while he served as President of their institution, all the while seeking to control every other institution in the SBC world.

I started this blog in 2005 when I saw for myself how Patterson lackeys fawned over him and did his bidding in banishing opposition from positions of leadership. For nearly 15 years I've been writing of the travesty of what our Convention has become.

Finally, people have listened.

I have heard that there is now freedom among entity heads to speak freely. No more intimidation. No more power plays. No more control.

He's gone.

But now, SWBTS trustees, you must be prepared to answer some tough questions. Rather than comment on the questions that must be answered, I'd encourage readers to peruse the documentation attached to the links and formulate your own opinions.

And listen closely to the answers given by SWBTS trustees.

1. How could you allow your former President to have 18 full-time employees in the "President's Office" tasked with hospitality, transportation, and assisting the President and 'First Lady"?

2. How could you approve either directly or indirectly (by your non-action) the astronomical decrease in enrollment and millions of dollars in 'pet-projects' and creature comforts for the President and 'First Lady' which had no direct bearing on the purpose and mission of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary?

3. Where were you when female professors were fired for their gender?

4. Where was your oversight when bylaws were violated and student admissions to SWBTS by Presidential fiat occurred, allowing students to enroll at Southwestern when they couldn't even give a profession of faith in Jesus Christ?

5. How could you ignore the financial crisis that has been building for at least a decade, approving capital investment in new buildings, while not even able to fund the retirement accounts of current employees?

6. Will you do your due diligence and prevent institutional files from being removed by the Pattersons, or will you fall back to bad habits of either ignoring or allowing harmful actions to occur at the very institution you are tasked to oversee?

7. What are you going to do with the stained glass windows you allowed to be installed at a chapel allegedly devoted to the worship of Christ?

8. What are you going to do with the  "amateurish imitations" (Dr. Arstein Justnes' phrase) of Dead Sea Scrolls your institution purchased and placed on display?

9. Will the retirement house you were building for the Pattersons on the campus of SWBTS now be used for educational purposes?

10. Will you now hold accountable the gentleman you allowed Dr. Patterson to place in a faculty position of authority and oversight, ensuring all things were done according to his wishes?

These are serious questions.

And thankfully, we live in a country where those who ask them aren't murdered.

But the era of blackballing opposition to Fundamentalist SBC Leaders is officially over.


The 3 Attitudes that Transform Any Organization

Years ago my father, Paul Burleson, taught me three principles that he required his church staff to follow. I have found these principles to be invaluable in keeping working relationships healthy, whether it be in business, personal relationships, or ministry.

The reasons I value them is because, in hindsight, I can see how implementing these principles have enabled me to avoid many pitfalls. In addition, any organization will thrive in its mission where these principles guide the attitudes and actions of its employees. There may be some who wrongly think these principles apply only to Christian people, but I would propose that because they are principles, they'll work for anyone. 

Principle #1 - A Positive Spirit

"I will always be positive about life because I know that no matter how difficult or dark things seem to be,  God is in control. Further, because God's nature is good (e.g. "His name God is an abbreviation of Good), God is working all things for my good through current circumstances.

It is amazing what a deep understanding of God's goodness and sovereignty will do for someone when problems arise.

Principle #2 - A Servant's Heart

"I will work my hardest and do my best to make sure that those around me succeed in life and are viewed by others in the best possible light. For when I esteem others and value others more than I do myself, I live as my Creator designed me to live, and when I don't, I bring dysfunction upon my organization by destroying my purpose in life." 

This selfless attitude prevents "turf wars" where people take ownership and protect all things "mine" or "about me." Being a servant is the opposite of self-absorption. Self-absorption is where someone does what they do for personal identity, promotion, or self-worth. Ironically, God will always ultimately exalt the servant, but He will always ultimately bring low the proud. 

Principle #3 - A Loyal Spirit

"I will neither give nor receive a negative word about you unless you are aware of that which is being said or heard by me."

When someone talks about others rather to others, it breeds disloyalty to, dysfunction in, and destruction of common goals. This little principle, if NOT followed, reveals more about the person who gossips than the one gossiped about. 

An organization with employees who put into practice these principles will find itself transformed for the better. 

Oklahoma's Football Coach a Pulitzer Prize Winner

This Saturday, October 6, 2018, the #7 ranked Oklahoma Sooners will play the #19 Texas Longhorns in the Red River Rivalry Game at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, Texas.

I've been attending this game since 1974, and Rachelle and I will be going again this year. I've written about my familial connection to it before, and if one loves football (as I do), the game is a highlight of the collegiate season.

Invariably, Texas fans will make jokes about the ignorant Sooner fans, and the Texas band will stop just long enough in their marching to chant "Beat the hell out of OU," so Oklahoma fans should anticipate another weekend of sarcasm from Texas fans as they berate their biggest rival.

But for all our Texas friends and family members, I'd like to share a piece of Oklahoma football trivia with you that should at least cause you pause before you question the intellect of Oklahoma Sooners players, fans, and coaches.

V.L. Parrington


Oklahoma University head football coach Vernon L. Parrington won the Pulitzer Prize (1928) for his epic historical work Main Currents in American Thought, Bruce Brown, in his new introduction to Parrington's Pulitzer Prize classic writes of Oklahoma's ground-breaking football coach:
VERNON LOUIS PARRINGTON was a truly great American -- this nation's seminal intellectual historian, the inventor American literary criticism, the founder of the Oklahoma Sooner football and still one of the winningest coaches in the history of University of Oklahoma's storied football program, perhaps the greatest classroom teacher of the 20th century at the University of Washington in Seattle, where he spent most of his mature years, and the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for history.
For a fuller biographical sketch of Parrington, read Brown's full essay here.

Next time you are on the campus of the University of Oklahoma and spend a little time at historic Campus Corner, look straight across Boyd Street at the Parrington Oval. The football coach with an 80% winning record during his three-year tenure (1897-1900) is honored with his name on the campus' north oval.

I'm writing a paper on Coach Parrington entitled Transformation of a Tory: V.L. Parrington and the Progressive Populism of America’s Seminal Intellectual Historian.

As I walk the fairgrounds of the Cotton Bowl and hear the Texas taunts, I'll not respond out of cool confidence that Oklahoma football has had the only Pulitzer Prize coach in NCAA Divison I history.

Oklahoma University's South Oval
Portrait of Gate at Parrington Oval (North Oval)