The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

The Story of Lazarus and Dives, Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis, (c1035-1040),  National Museum, Nuremburg
The Story of Lazarus and Dives, Meister des Codex Aureus Epternacensis, (c1035-1040), National Museum, Nuremburg | Source
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Introduction

In my opinion, many scholars misapply the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in an attempt to validate their doctrine of ‘Eternal Torment in Hell’. Thereby, ambiguity has eclipsed the simplicity of the narrative. Most Christians believe its purpose was to illustrate the final state of believers and unbelievers after physical death, but was that really Jesus' intention.

If we establish exactly to whom Jesus was speaking, we will have a clearer understanding.

  • Luk 16:14-15 KJV And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. 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 recounted this story in response to the greed and contempt exhibited by the Pharisees. He exposed the hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders of His generation.

Jesus brought the Kingdom of God to the Jew first, thereby fulfilling God’s promises to Old Covenant Israel. During His ministry, He constantly warned the Jewish religious leaders of impending judgement; this encounter was one of those occasions.

If this was about the modern day concept of 'Heaven and Hell', how do we account for the following?

The Rich Man

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

Why would a rich man represent the unbeliever?

It is ‘the love of money that is the root of all evil’, not the possession of wealth…1 Timothy 6:10.

  • Mat 27:57 KJV When the even was come, there came a rich man of Arimathaea, named Joseph, who also himself was Jesus' disciple:

Joseph of Arimathaea would rest on Abraham’s bosom, even although he was wealthy. The difference being that he managed his wealth honourably.

Luke 16:19 was a description of the self-indulgent lifestyle of the Pharisees; Jesus warned them that by their mistreatment of the poor in body and spirit they would reap what was sown.

Lazarus at the Rich Man's House

Lazarus at the Rich Man's House, Gustave Doré (1832-1883)
Lazarus at the Rich Man's House, Gustave Doré (1832-1883) | Source

Lazarus

  • Luk 16:20-21 KJV And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 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.

‘full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table’ Why would a beggar be chosen to represent the believer?

  • Psa 37:25 KJV I have been young, and now am old; yet have I not seen the righteous forsaken, nor his seed begging bread.

Why would a child of God desire the crumbs from the rich man’s table, rather than look to God and His people to meet his need?

Was Jesus really teaching eternal torment in Hell in this parable?

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Abraham

  • Luk 16:22 KJV 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;

Jewish tradition taught the righteous dead went to Abraham’s bosom in Sheol. Josephus during the 1st century AD confirmed this in his writings.

Luke 16:22 'Abraham's bosom - A Rabbinical phrase, equivalent to being with Abraham in Paradise. “To the Israelite Abraham seems the personal centre and meeting-point of Paradise” (Goebel).'

— Vincent's Word Studies

The Rich Man in Hades

The Rich Man in Hades, James Tissot (1836-1902)
The Rich Man in Hades, James Tissot (1836-1902) | Source
  • Luk 16:23-24 KJV And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 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.

Babylonian and Greek mythology influenced Jewish tradition. Jesus did not teach or correct the Pharisees’ understanding of the doctrine of 'Hell', many were rebellious and beyond instruction. Instead, He used Jewish tradition popular at the time, to accentuate the moral of His parable.

A Quote from Andrew MacLaren

Luke 16:19-31 'II. In the second part of the narrative, our Lord follows the two, who had been so near each other and yet so separated, into the land beyond the grave.

It is to be especially noticed that, in doing so, He adopts the familiar Rabbinical teaching as to Hades. He does not thereby stamp these conceptions of the state of the dead with His assent; for the purpose of the narrative is not to reveal the secrets of that land, but to impress the truth of retribution for the sin in question. It would not be to a group of Pharisaic listeners that He would have unveiled that world.

He takes their own notions of it-angel bearers, Abraham’s bosom, the two divisions in Hades, the separation, and yet communication, between them. These are Rabbis’ fancies, not Christ’s revelations. The truths which He wished to force home lie in the highly imaginative conversation between the rich man and Abraham, which also has its likeness in many a Rabbinical legend.'

The rich man saw Lazarus and Abraham in bliss and they could see him in torment. Do you think Abraham and Lazarus could watch a man in eternal torment and be at peace and happy?

  • Luk 16:25 KJV 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.

  • Mat 3:8-9 KJV Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: 9 And think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.

Why did Abraham say to the rich man 'Son'? The Jews proudly boasted that Abraham was their father. Again, audience relevance is important; Jesus was speaking to Jews in a narrative they could understand.

  • Luk 16:28-31 KJV For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 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.

‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them’ Old Covenant Israel was a privileged nation; the Gentiles did not have Moses and the Prophets to instruct them. Due to the Pharisees lack of spiritual discernment their faith was lacking to such an extent, they would not have received someone raised from the dead.

Instead, they preferred to teach the traditions of men.

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Conclusion

This parable does not describe the outcome of mankind.

The moral of the story is simply this:

The hypocrisy of the Jewish leaders had led astray the nation of Israel. Without conviction of their evil ways along with sincere repentance, judgement was about to come upon them, and it ultimately did in AD 70.

What do you think?

Alexander Gibb

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Comments 9 comments

Disappearinghead profile image

Disappearinghead 5 years ago from Wales, UK

Good alternative explanation.

I see you have noticed that when Jesus spoke He often didn't correct people's superstitious views, but goes along with them if it gets His point across or if He can correct them on a more significant point. Unfortunately most of the Church seems unable to recognise this thus it believes in a literal hellfire torment for eternity.


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 5 years ago from UK Author

Disappearinghead

Thank you for your comment.

In my opinion, the Pharisees had forsaken the Torah and taught the 'Traditions of Men' which were influenced by Babylonian and Greek mythology.

Jesus did not come to hold seminars, He came with the Gospel of the Kingdom.


ruffridyer 5 years ago from Dayton, ohio

I don't believe the rich man was in hell because he was rich, He was in hell i.e. torment, Because he neglected to help his fellow man, represented by Lazarus. The rich man showed concern for his brothers meaning he was not totally corrupt nor completely evil.


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 5 years ago from UK Author

ruffridyer

Thanks for your comment.


SwordofManticorE profile image

SwordofManticorE 4 years ago from Burlington

I have known this truth now for about a year. The divine wisdom of the parable freed me from the fears of hell, but it wasn't till about a year ago that I could connect it with Matt3:10 and A.D.70. Well done friend.


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 4 years ago from UK Author

SwordofManticorE

Thank you for your comment.

In my opinion 'audience relevance' is essential when studying the New Testament and this Parable is an excellent example.


Chris 2 years ago

In Luke 16:19-31 is the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Basically, Lazarus is a poor man who suffers during life. The rich man is, of course, rich. They both die. The rich man goes to Hades. Lazarus goes to Abraham's bosom, another term for paradise. In Hades, the rich man lifts up his eyes and sees Lazarus far off. He cries out to Abraham and asks for mercy because he is in agony in flame. Abraham says no. Then the rich man asks if someone from the dead were to rise and go tell his brothers not to come to this terrible place. Abraham teaches him that that will not be done either.

Some say that this is a parable. However, if it is, it is unique because no other parable actually names a person. The name Lazarus is translated in Hebrew as "God has helped". The rich man is identified as a "certain person", a real not a fictitious person to illustrate a truth. The story also states that when Lazarus died that the angels carried him to Abraham's bosom, but intimates that the rich man was buried. It isn't a story. It is history. It really happened. But many who believe in no consciousness after death will say it is still a parable. The question is then, if it is a parable what is it teaching? If hell fire is false and if self-awareness after death is also false, then Jesus is using false doctrines to teach a truth. Parables illustrate truth. If it is a parable, what does the consciousness after death symbolize? Also, what does the agony in flame symbolize? Are they not real? Of course they are.


SwordofManticorE profile image

SwordofManticorE 2 years ago from Burlington

@Chris...John 3:13 "No man hath ascended up to heaven but he that came down from heaven, ... the Son of Man."

Ecc 9:5For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even their name is forgotten.

If what you says is true, than every man or woman with wealth will go to hell for only being rich and the poor will go to heaven for only being poor. This is not a historic story, and there are other parables close to this one.

Mark 4:15

Mentions Satan

Matt. 13:37

Mentions The Son of man

Matt. 13:39

Mentions The devil

Matt. 15:13

Mentions God the Father

So there you have it. Other parables with names. There was no one in paradise before Christ ascended to heaven.

II Sam. 12:7

Is said to be King David

Ezek. 23:1-4

Mentions Aholah and Aholibah

Luke 4:23

Jesus applies ‘Physician’ to HIMSELF


searchinsany profile image

searchinsany 2 years ago from UK Author

Chris

Thank you for your comment. You raise some good points.

Quote: 'The name Lazarus is translated in Hebrew as "God has helped".'

A Quote from Albert Barnes' Notes on the Bible

'Named Lazarus - The word Lazarus is Hebrew, and means a man destitute of help, a needy, poor man. It is a name given, therefore, to denote his needy condition.'

Quote: 'The rich man is identified as a "certain person", a real not a fictitious person to illustrate a truth.'

In Luke 15:11; Luke 16:1 Jesus spoke of a 'certain man' in these parables and there is nothing to suggest they were real people, why should Luke 16:19 be any different? The phrase a 'certain man' doesn't necessarily mean a real person in Scripture.

Quote: 'The story also states that when Lazarus died that the angels carried him to Abraham's bosom, but intimates that the rich man was buried.'

Are you suggesting that Lazarus was not buried? Surely his soul was carried to Abraham's bosom.

Quote: 'If it is a parable, what does the consciousness after death symbolize?'

This Hub was not written to promote the theory of unconsciousness after death.

Quote: Also, what does the agony in flame symbolize?

Perhaps you might read my Hub 'Did Jesus Really Teach Eternal Torment in Hell?', to answer this question.

I expressed my understanding of the meaning of this parable in the 'Conclusion' section:

'The moral of the story is simply this: The hypocrisy and misconceptions of the Jewish leaders had led astray the nation of Israel. Without the realization of their evil ways along with sincere repentance, judgement was about to come upon them and it ultimately did in AD 70.'

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