This parable represents a strong and often overlooked New Testament teaching, which we could call “the reversal doctrine.” It teaches that in eternity many of us will find ourselves in opposite conditions from our current situation on Earth.
In this life, the rich man “lived in luxury every day,” while Lazarus begged at his gate, living in misery. At the moment of death, their situations reversed—the rich man suffered Hell’s torment and misery, and the poor man enjoyed Heaven’s comfort and happiness.
It would be both simplistic and theologically inaccurate to conclude that Heaven is earned by poverty and Hell is earned by wealth. But this parable is not isolated—it corroborates a host of other teachings by Jesus and the apostles.
“Happy are the poor,” Jesus said, and “Woe to the rich,” precisely because their status will one day be reversed (see Luke 6:20-25). The poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and are persecuted will be relieved and fulfilled and have a great reward in Heaven (see Matthew 5:3-12). Those who are exalted in this life will often be humbled in the next; those who are humbled here on Earth will be exalted in Heaven (see Matthew 23:12). Those who are poor in this world will often be rich in the next, and those who are rich in this world will often be poor in the next (see James 1:9-12).
Even the lower middle class in America are among the wealthiest people who have ever lived in human history. Our temporal sacrifices will pay off in eternity and temporal indulgences, at others’ expense, will cost us in eternity. This is why Jesus said, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth” and “store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven” (Matthew 6:19-21). And why Paul said, “As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life” (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Through generously helping others, we can break the hold of the false god of materialism.
Jesus promised that someday this upside-down world will be turned right-side-up. Nothing in all eternity will turn it back again.
If we are wise, we will spend our brief lives on earth positioning ourselves for the turn.