The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus
My exhortation this morning is about one of the most difficult parables in the Bible. This is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Many religions use this parable to support their beliefs that we all will go to heaven and hell. They are, however, taking one of his parables literally. But none of Jesus’ parables can be taken literally. In this way they may be proving the fact that their own beliefs are not based on Bible truths.
This parable is found in Luke 16:19-31 and it reads as follows, “There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 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. 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. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
If we are to take this entire parable literally, then we must take the following a literal as well: The passage speaks about bodies and not souls including eyes, bosom, and tip of the finger and tongue. Souls are said to be immaterial, how then could Lazarus be carried by angels? The passage states that there was a great gulf fixed between Abraham and the rich man, yet they could both see and converse with each other. Is the great gulf to be taken literally? Is heaven literally a place where conversations can be carried on between those enjoying bliss and those agonizing in hell? How could Lazarus go literally to Abraham’s bosom? Abraham was unquestionably dead and without his reward according to Hebrews chapter 11.
The book A Life of Jesus says the following about the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, “The scribes and Pharisees, stung by his words, curled their lips in sneers. But Jesus reminded them that however much they sought to justify themselves before men, God knew their hearts. That was the final test. To bring home its force he told them the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. In doing so he used their own conceptions of the after life, not because they were literally true, but because they forcibly illustrated the lesson he was teaching them. In the eyes of men the condition of Lazarus could not bear comparison with the comfort and opulence of the rich man. Yet when their relative positions in the sight of God were revealed, the situation was exactly reversed. The rich man had become the beggar in dire straits, longing for the simple gift of a drop of water from the hand of him who had once desired the crumbs from his table. The beggar had become the rich man enjoying comfort and plenty. In his wonderful way, Jesus used the occasion to bring home a further lesson which the Pharisees needed. Having drawn the pictures in colours which compelled their attention, he represented the tormented man pleading that someone may be sent to warn his brethren of this completely different standard of values. Thus, repenting of their ways, they might be saved from bitter disillusionment. But the ways of God have been revealed. The relationship between God and man, and the standards God requires, have been fully shown. His constant warnings against hypocrisy were clear and forceful. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”
When one reads the works of Josephus, it is obvious that Jesus was using the false ideas of the Pharisees concerning Hades to make a story. The following is found in the Josephus Complete Works, page 637.“Now as to Hades, wherein the souls of the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it. Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, where the light of this world does not shine...This region is allowed as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them...the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light...with whom there is not place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold...while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham. But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand, by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good will...Now those angels that are set over these souls, drag them into the neighborhood of hell itself; who when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapor itself; but when they have a nearer view of this spectacle, as of a terrible and exceeding great prospect of fire, they are struck with a fearful expectation of a future judgment, and in effect punished thereby...even hereby are they punished; for a chasm deep and large is fixed between them; insomuch that a just man that hath compassion upon them, cannot be admitted, nor can one that is unjust, if they were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it.” Why would Jesus use an obviously false teaching to make a parable. This passage from Josephus describes a place called the bosom of Abraham and of a chasm between the just and the unjust. The parable describes the bosom of Abraham and a gulf between the just and the unjust.
A parable is just a story. Jesus may have been using the parable to make a point to the Pharisees using their own false beliefs. Jesus did this on another occasion. He makes reference to Beelzebub in Mathew 12:27 even though Beelzebub was an obvious false figure and lord. “And if I by Beelzebub cast out devils, by whom do your children cast [them] out? therefore they shall be your judges.” In the parable the rich man calls Abraham father and prays to him.
Of course, parables were meant to hide the truth from those who didn’t have the desire to search out the truth in Jesus’ teachings. Mark 4:11,12, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand...” We read in Mark 4:34, “But without a parable spoke he not unto them: and when they were alone, he expounded all things to his disciples.”
It is possible that Jesus used the name Lazarus because he was using the name of his friend that died and the people in the audience knew him. This parable may have been uttered after Jesus received news of the death of his friend. The parable was given at Pereae, east of the Jordan at Bethabura (where news of Lazarus’ death came to him). We read in John 10:40 concerning this region, “And went away again beyond Jordan into the place where John at first baptized; and there he abode.” We read a little later in John 11:6 concerning Lazarus, “When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” So apparently this is the same area were the parable of the of the rich man and Lazarus was given.
In the book Wrested Scriptures, the rich man is thought to represent Caiaphas the high priest. In the parable the rich man asks Abraham to warn his five brothers. The five brothers may have been the five brothers-in-law of Caiaphas, the Sadducean high priest. Josephus records, “Now the report goes, that this elder Ananus [Annas] proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons, who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and he had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests...” The Sadducees did not believe in Moses and the prophets. In the parable Jesus said, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”
In the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees in John 8 similar language is used. John 8:39 reads, “They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham's children, ye would do the works of Abraham.” Four verses before Jesus gives the parable he says that we cannot serve God and Mammon and then we read that the Pharisees derided him because they were covetous. We read in Luke 16:14-15, “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.” The Pharisees were materialistic. Jesus gives a parable about a rich man and a beggar to condemn them using a false belief that the Pharisees had.
In conclusion, we discussed one of Jesus’ more difficult parables. We learned that we have to analyze every verse in the Bible to determine the true meaning. We must put our trust in the riches that come from God. If we put too much emphasis in on the pleasures of this life we will lose the riches of God that include the Kingdom. As the Bible says in Mathew 6:20 and 21, “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through and steal: For where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” We should take more pleasure in helping others that being like the rich man who let the poor eat from the crumbs of his table.