The Parable of Lazarus & the Rich Man

Parable Defined

par·a·ble (părə-bəl) – From  American Heritage Dictionary

 n. A simple story illustrating a moral or religious lesson.

[Middle English, from Old French, from Late Latin parabola, from Greek parabolē, from paraballein, to compare : para-, beside ; see para-1 + ballein, to throw; see gwelə- in Indo-European roots.]

Parable – From  Strong’s Concordance

H4912. mashal, maw-shawl'; appar. from H4910 in some orig. sense of superiority in mental action; prop. a pithy maxim, usually of a metaphorical nature; hence a simile (as an adage, poem, discourse):--byword, like, parable, proverb.

G3850. parabole, par-ab-ol-ay'; from G3846; a similitude ("parable"), i.e. (symbol.) fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral), apothegm or adage:--comparison, figure, parable, proverb.

met·a·phor (mĕtə-fôr′, -fər) – From  American Heritage Dictionary

 n. 1. A figure of speech in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one thing is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison, as in "a sea of troubles" or "All the world's a stage" (Shakespeare).

sim·i·le (sĭmə-lē)

 n. A figure of speech in which two essentially unlike things are compared, often in a phrase introduced by like or as, as in "How like the winter hath my absence been" or "So are you to my thoughts as food to life" (Shakespeare).

sto·ry

 n. 1. An account or recital of an event or a series of events, either true or fictitious

 

According to Ralph: A parable uses a story to illustrate a moral or religious lesson by assigning symbolic meaning to the story elements. Sometimes the parable symbols are explicitly defined for us and sometimes it remains for us to figure it out for ourselves. Take the parable of the Farmer’s Seed for an example of how the symbolism is explained explicitly.

 

(Mat 13:3-23 NIV)  Then he told them many things in parables, saying: "A farmer went out to sow his seed. {4} As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. {5} Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. {6} But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. {7} Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. {8} Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop--a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. {9} He who has ears, let him hear." {10} The disciples came to him and asked, "Why do you speak to the people in parables?" {11} He replied, "The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. {12} Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him. {13} This is why I speak to them in parables: "Though seeing, they do not see; though hearing, they do not hear or understand. {14} In them is fulfilled the prophecy of Isaiah: "'You will be ever hearing but never understanding; you will be ever seeing but never perceiving. {15} For this people's heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.' {16} But blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear. {17} For I tell you the truth, many prophets and righteous men longed to see what you see but did not see it, and to hear what you hear but did not hear it. {18} "Listen then to what the parable of the sower means: {19} When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path. {20} The one who received the seed that fell on rocky places is the man who hears the word and at once receives it with joy. {21} But since he has no root, he lasts only a short time. When trouble or persecution comes because of the word, he quickly falls away. {22} The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful. {23} But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown."

 

So here we have a parable with four symbolic elements. It really doesn’t matter if the story is true or not: The message is true! Now let’s look at the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. But first a little context is in order.

 

Lazarus and the Rich Man is actually the fifth in a series of consecutive parables told by Jesus. The first (Lost Sheep) starts at Luke 15: 1, the second (Lost Coin) starts at Luke 15:8, the third (Lost Son) starts at Luke 13:11, the fourth (Shrewd Manager) starts at Luke 16:1. Finally, at Luke 16:19 we come to Lazarus and the Rich Man.

 

The first three parables are clearly about the joy of finding things that had been lost. The things lost were all symbolically, sinners! The parables were in response to the mutterings of the Pharisees and teachers of the Law about Jesus associating with sinners. The Pharisees thought Jesus associating with sinners was terrible, but Jesus through the parables showed that it made sense for Him to go find the lost. But the self-righteous Pharisees remained unconvinced.

 

The fourth parable deals with money, which we are told the Pharisees loved. When they heard this parable the Pharisees sneered at Jesus. But, Jesus gave them a brief reprimand and then continued with the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man. First we will see the parable in its entirety and then we will break it down into its symbolic elements.

 

(Luke 16:19-31 NIV)  "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. {20} At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores {21} and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. {22} "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. {23} In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. {24} So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' {25} "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. {26} And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.' {27} "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, {28} for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' {29} "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' {30} "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' {31} "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"

 

Now, let’s look at the elements and the symbols.

  1. {19} There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.

a.       Purple and fine linen are representative of royalty and priests. E.g., (Exo 28:6 KJV)  And they shall make the ephod of gold, of blue, and of purple, of scarlet, and fine twined linen, with cunning work. Or, (Est 8:15 KJV)  And Mordecai went out from the presence of the king in royal apparel of blue and white, and with a great crown of gold, and with a garment of fine linen and purple: and the city of Shushan rejoiced and was glad.

b.      Many other examples can be found.

  1. {20} At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores {21} and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
    1. The name Lazarus has a Hebrew equivalent, Elazar. See Strong’s definitions.

*   G2976. Lazaros, lad'-zar-os; prob. of Heb. or. [H499]; Lazarus (i.e. Elazar), the name of two Isr. (one imaginary):--Lazarus.

*   G499. 'El'azar, el-aw-zawr'; from H410 and H5826; God (is) helper; Elazar, the name of seven Isr.:--Eleazar.

*   H461. 'Eliy'ezer, el-ee-eh'-zer; from H410 and H5828; God of help; Eliezer, the name of a Damascene and often Isr.:--Eliezer.

    1. Now in the Old Testament there is a “Lazarus” associated with Abraham, Abram at the time.

*   (Gen 15:2-3 KJV)  And Abram said, Lord GOD, what wilt thou give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer (Lazarus) of Damascus? {3} And Abram said, Behold, to me thou hast given no seed: and, lo, one born in my house is mine heir.

  1. {22a} "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side.
    1. This clearly is not literal. When you die you know nothing, it is as if you were asleep. As with Job, you wait for the resurrection. (Job 14:11-14)
    2. Also note there is no mention of heaven here. No one has ascended to heaven except He who came from heaven, Jesus. (John 3:13)
    3. Abraham’s side would be in the grave where Abraham was buried.
  2. {22b} The rich man also died and was buried.
    1. The same fate happened to both men. Both men, literally speaking would be dead, buried, “Sleeping,” not aware of anything. (Psalms 6:5)
    2. But this is a story, obviously a fictitious one. Yet, it is a story that will illustrate a moral or religious lesson that is true.
  3. {23} In hell (Hades, the grave, unseen place), where he was in torment (Torture), he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. {24} So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony (Grieving, sorrow) in this fire.'
    1. Again, this is not literal. In fact it is the telling of a story with which the Jews are quite familiar. The story has its origins in paganism and is contained in Jewish writings. Here is a commentary from an article found on the Web. It’s titled, “The Bible Hell-Part 4, HADEES IN THE NEW TESTAMENT

*   The Jews have a book, written during the Babylonish Captivity, entitled Gemara Babylonicum, containing doctrines entertained by Pagans concerning the future state not recognized by the followers of Moses. This story is founded on heathen views. They were not obtained from the Bible, for the Old Testament contains nothing resembling them. They were among those traditions which our Savior condemned when he told the Scribes and Pharisees, "You make the word of God of none effect through your traditions," and when he said to his disciples, "Beware of the leaven, or doctrine of the Pharisees." Our Savior seized the imagery of this story, not to endorse its truth, but just as we now relate any other fable. He related it as found in the Gemara, not for the story's sake, but to convey a moral to his hearers; and the Scribes and Pharisees to whom he addressed this and the five preceding stories, felt - as we shall see - the force of its application to them.

    1. Some of the symbolic elements of the pagan story have been changed by Jesus to make the parable fit His message.
    2. Note that Hell, Sheol, Hades, and the Grave all have literal meanings and are synonymous. They also have figurative meanings. Consider, (2 Sam 22:5-6 NIV)  "The waves of death swirled about me; the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me. {6} The cords of the grave (Sheol) coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me.
    3. The Pharisees certainly identified with the phrase, “Father Abraham.” For example, (John 8:39 KJV)  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.
    4. By the way, how do you suppose the Rich Man recognized Abraham or Lazarus? No videos, no cameras, few portraits if any and certainly none of poor Lazarus.
  1. {25} "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony (Grieving, sorrow).
    1. We have no idea what either man did to be where he is.
    2. We also don’t know what the good and bad things are. Could it be that knowing this would help us understand the parable?
    3. Is it a sin to be rich? If so then Abraham should be with the rich man. So should Job and David for that matter. And, many others as well.
    4. Is it righteous to be poor? The psalmist says, (Psa 37:25-26 NIV)  I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. {26} They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed. Or, (Prov 6:10-11 NIV)  A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest-- {11} and poverty will come on you like a bandit and scarcity like an armed man. Still another, pay attention to this one, (Prov 13:7 KJV)  There is that maketh himself rich, yet hath nothing: there is that maketh himself poor, yet hath great riches.
    5. The parable isn’t about being rich or poor. It’s about certain people or groups that are considered rich or poor. More about that later.
  2. {26} And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
    1. What is this great “Chasm”? Would a spirit body be unable to cross a chasm?
    2. Why would anyone in heaven want to go to hell? Heaven is supposed to be a place of joy: No more death, tears, or sorrow. Answer: They wouldn’t, but it’s a parable and it’s borrowed from Jewish paganism.
  3. {27} "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, {28} for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment (Torture).
    1. Five brothers? Why not 1 or 2 or 3? Why not simply, “Brothers”? We will consider this later. But it is definitely a clue.
  4. {29} "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
    1. Remember, Jesus is talking to those that have, “Moses and the Prophets.”
  5. {30} "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
    1. A nice thought but not true.
  6. {31} "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"
    1. Now this is way too easy. Who rose from the dead and who was not convinced?

 

OK. We’re about ready to put it all together. But first consider this quote from Josephus speaking of the Pharisees.

"They also believe that souls have an immortal vigor in them, and that, under the earth, there will be rewards and punishments, according as they lived virtuously or viciously in this life; and the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but that the former shall have power to revive and live again." (Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 1, Paragraph 3 as translated by William Whiston)

Clearly, the parable made sense to the Pharisees at the time of Jesus. And clearly, they were not in line with the beliefs of their father, Abraham. Jesus was right when he said, (John 8:39 NIV)  "Abraham is our father," they answered. "If you were Abraham's children," said Jesus, "then you would do the things Abraham did. And also, (John 8:42 NIV)  Jesus said to them, "If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and now am here. I have not come on my own; but he sent me.

 

Furthermore, Jesus declares, (Mat 15:6b KJV)  Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your tradition. And again, (Mat 16:11 RSV)  How is it that you fail to perceive that I did not speak about bread? Beware of the leaven (a figurative term for sin) of the Pharisees and Sadducees."

 

So we will see that this parable, like the previous parables, is to the Pharisees, about the Pharisees! Here is the meaning of the parable. The time is coming when the Pharisees will find themselves in a role reversal with the Gentiles. That is to say the Gentiles will be closer to God and more blessed than they are.

 

1.      The Rich Man is the Jewish people, particularly the Pharisees, but also Jews and Israel in a more general sense. We see this in the purple and fine linen, which is symbolic of royalty and the priestly class. The Pharisees would know the symbolic meaning and identify themselves as the priestly class and also richer than most. Remember, they loved money. Judah (Jews) was to be the tribe from which kings would come, the most famous, of course, being Jesus. (Gen 49:10 NIV)  The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler's staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.

2.      Lazarus symbolizes the Gentiles. A class of sinners, as seen by the Pharisees. We can surmise this because another Lazarus stood beside Abraham many years before. This too might not escape the notice of the Pharisees. Later in the parable Lazarus is actually seen at the side of Abraham. That is, he was in the bosom of Abraham, as the King James Bible puts it. You also will note the reference to a “Gate.” This is the gate outside the temple. The Gentiles were not allowed in the temple. Gentiles, figuratively, received only crumbs outside the gate. Finally, let me remind you of another case where Gentiles were referred to as “Dogs.” (Mat 15:26-28 NIV)  He replied, "It is not right to take the children's bread and toss it to their dogs." {27} "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table." {28} Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour. And thus a Gentile was rewarded by faith.

3.      The angels by the way are messengers. These angels are delivering a message to the Pharisees by taking Lazarus to Abraham’s side. Lazarus (Eliezer) would have been the heir of Abraham if God had not intervened. Now, the Pharisees have been superseded (for a time) by Lazarus. This would have made them angry, a pill hard to swallow.

4.      The Rich Man dies also. From what we know of the Rich Man we see this was a prophetic utterance about the fate of the Pharisees and Jews in General. The influence of the Pharisees was about to die with the destruction of the temple. The time of the Gentiles was about to begin.

5.      The “Hell” and “Torment” is indeed what the Jews have seen for about the last 2000 years. They didn’t have a place to call their own until 1948. They were tortured and burned in flames during World War Two.  They have survived mostly because of Gentiles and suffered mostly because of Gentiles. To a large extent it was by their words, the tongue,  that they came to be in the situation they are today. Whether it was lying about Jesus then or denying Him to this very day, it was their tongue that convicted them.

6.      Here are some of the good things the Jews and all of Israel, to some extent, received. These things were true wealth, worth more than silver or gold. Besides the things in the list, the Pharisees were rich in their society and ruled over people as well.

a.      They were chosen of God.

b.      They were given the oracles of God.

c.       They witnessed God’s mighty hand at work in their lives many times.

d.     The Christ, the savior of the world, Jesus was one of them!

7.      A chasm is an obstacle. This obstacle was “Fixed” or created/placed by someone. Blindness is the obstacle that has kept Jews from accepting Christ.

a.      Read this: (Rom 11:25 KJV)  For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.

b.      Also, (Rom 11:7-8 KJV)  What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for; but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded {8} (According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear;) unto this day.

c.       Blindness is an obstacle they cannot overcome until the time of the Gentiles be fulfilled!

8.      And now about the five brothers. You may recall the mother of Judah (the Jews) was Leah. Leah had five other sons besides Judah.

a.      (Gen 35:23 NIV)  The sons of Leah: Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun.

b.      These would be Judah’s full brothers, not half brothers!

c.       Could the Pharisees not realize the significance of the five brothers? Not likely!

d.     Would a warning from Lazarus (a Gentile) help them?

9.      The Jews, and Israel in total, had Moses and the Prophets. As we have seen, the Pharisees put on a good show. But as it is said: “They talked the talk, but they did not walk the walk.” In other words they didn’t “Listen” to them. Notice the Rich Man didn’t even try to argue the point!

a.      So if they wouldn’t listen to Moses and the Prophets they most certainly would pay no attention to Lazarus!

10.  Still worried for his brothers the Rich Man tries another idea. Send someone they know has died and been resurrected. Surely that would convince his brothers. Apparently the Rich man was not all that evil, he was at least concerned for his brothers.

11.  But Abraham understands that this wouldn’t work. Israel and the Jews had seen many miracles but that never kept them faithful for long.

a.      This statement was indeed prophetic. Because not long after this parable was told the Pharisees were responsible, in part, for the crucifixion of Christ. Still, when Jesus rose from the dead the Pharisees remained unconvinced.

 

Epilogue

Although the parable ends here there is more to the story. God has not forgotten Israel and the Jews and His promises still stand. Blindness will not last forever and the chasm will disappear. Remember what we read earlier, “blindness in part is happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in.”  Further more, the Book of Revelation is full of references to Israel and all the tribes.

 

Finally, (Rom 11:25-29 NIV)  I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. {26} And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: "The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. {27} And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins." {28} As far as the gospel is concerned, they are enemies on your account; but as far as election is concerned, they are loved on account of the patriarchs, {29} for God's gifts and his call are irrevocable.

 

Now if you think this approach is unique consider the following where Paul uses the beliefs of a group and retells it with his own spin. He may have learned the tactic from Jesus himself!

*   (Acts 17:22-32 NIV)  Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: "Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. {23} For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you. {24} "The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. {25} And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. {26} From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. {27} God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. {28} 'For in him we live and move and have our being.' As some of your own poets have said, 'We are his offspring.' {29} "Therefore since we are God's offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone--an image made by man's design and skill. {30} In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. {31} For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead." {32} When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, "We want to hear you again on this subject."