The Context of Luke 16
In the passage of the rich man and Lazarus (a sickly beggar) given in Luke 16:19–31, Jesus is responding to the scorn of the Pharisees after he told them that “you cannot serve God and money” (Luke 16:13–14). The scene takes place in Abraham’s bosom after the rich man’s and Lazarus’ death. The rich man is portrayed as someone who loved money and pampered himself but took no care for others while alive. His wealth (which was a blessing granted by God) should have been used, in part, for charitable purposes to help others who were poor or sick. Both the Old and New Testaments mention this several times (Leviticus 19:10, Deuteronomy 15:7-8, Psalms 82:3-4, Zechariah 7:10, Romans 15:26, Galatians 2:10, 1 Timothy 6:17–19), so the rich man, (knowing the O.T. passages) could not claim ignorance. But this rich man had not been “ready to give” and “willing to share”; instead, he showed no concern for his fellow man. Indeed, the text seems to indicate that he deliberately ignored Lazarus’ plight (Luke 16:20–21). Several passages in Proverbs state that ignoring one’s poor neighbor was the same as if they reproached God. In these passages God promised to judge them with the same contempt they showed for their neighbor, but bless them if they were generous with those in need (Proverbs 14:31, 17:5, 19:17, 21:13, 28:27 and 31:9) In the passage in question, Abraham reiterating what the O.T. clearly taught about loving your neighbor, tells the rich man who wanted to warn his living brethren, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
Jesus (using the words of Abraham) does not say that “no one” will be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.
We notice right away that there is a qualifier right here. Jesus (using the words of Abraham) does not say that “no one” will be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead. He states that those who do not hear (and by this he means believe and obey) Scripture (at the time, the completed O.T. canon) would not be persuaded. The Pharisees knew the O.T. Scriptures better than almost anyone else (with the possible exception of the Scribes). They knew it but ignored the spirit of the text and instead externalized the letter of the law (Matthew 23:23–25; Luke 11:42). Jesus is saying that these types of people—the self-righteous—would not be persuaded by someone rising from the dead to warn them.
The Context of John 11
By contrast, in John 11 Jesus is speaking to the 12 Disciples (John 11:14–15) and then to Mary, Martha, and other friends of Lazarus (not the Lazarus of the other passage), who were gathered near Lazarus’ tomb (John 11:41–42). Many of these people knew and believed in Jesus and knew that he had the power to raise the dead (John 11:36–37). They were not like the self-righteous Pharisees. They believed the Scriptures and, like Martha, were probably looking forward to the promise of the coming Messiah, the son of God (John 11:27). Yes, there were unbelievers there as well, most notably Judas Iscariot, but we can see the distinction later in the text. For now though, Jesus is addressing his Father in prayer, knowing that the ones who truly believed the Scriptures would believe even more fervently once they saw the resurrection of the dead.
Once Lazarus is raised from the dead (John 11:43–44), we see the mixed reaction of the people. Many of those present were further (and fully) convinced that Jesus was the son of God, and they believed in him (John 11:45). But the text also notes that some went and reported what had happened to the Pharisees. Although the text doesn’t explicitly state this, it seems most likely that these people did not believe in Jesus and sided with the Pharisees. At the very least, the text declines to say that they “believed,” and we know that Judas did not believe in Jesus. The reaction of Jesus in John 11:54 seems to indicate that those who saw the resurrection of the dead and then went to the Pharisees did not believe in Jesus as the son of God, opposed him, and likely wanted to curry favor with the Pharisees.
The Contrite Versus Contrary Heart
When comparing the two passages, we quickly notice that there are two categories of people.
When comparing the two passages, we quickly notice that there are two categories of people. One category consists of those who believed the Scriptures (Genesis 49:10; Isaiah 7:14, 9:6–7, 11:1–5, and 53:1–12) and looked forward to the Messiah. These did not have a spirit of self-righteousness but of a contrite heart—of which God approves (Psalms 51:17, Isaiah 66:2). By contrast, there were those who were more interested in the praise of men, money, and prestige. These are the type of people Jesus spoke against in Luke 16:29-31. Their hearts are hardened to the things of God, they do not honor God’s Word, and they would not be persuaded to change their attitude and behavior even if they were warned by someone who rose from the dead. There is no contradiction between these passages in Luke 16 and John 11 because there are two types of people being discussed—those who are receptive to God’s Word and those who harden their hearts against it. The author of the book of Hebrews lays out this distinction perfectly in the passage below:
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end, while it is said: “Today, if you will hear His voice, Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.” (Hebrews 3:12–15).