Lazarus and the Rich Man
[A Scriptural Journey Through the Intriguing Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man]
L. Ray Smith
(Edited by Jeremy Moritz — condensed to 27% of its original length)
Before reading my opening statement there will be many who will find fault with this paper. "What parable?" they will ask. Contrary to all the Scriptural proof that Luke 16:19-31 is indeed a classic example of a parable, there are many who deny this fact. The reason for so many desiring to take this parable literally is an attempt to add credence to the heretical teaching that God Almighty is going to torture the vast majority of all humanity who has ever lived by burning their flesh with real fire in a hellhole of insane pain for all eternity. But even if we take this parable literally, it still does not support such an absurd and evil teaching. When the truth is seen, the Rich man is overcome with great emotional torment by whatever "this flame" represents, but he is not physically being burned or barbecued in this flame..
That the Rich man is in a most distressful situation, there is no argument. But he is not "burning in eternal hell fire." That Lazarus is being comforted, there is also no argument, but neither is he presently basking in the sunshine of heaven. The two main figures in this parable represent whole nations of people who are either being shown the spiritual things of God or are being blinded to the spiritual things of God.
Unfortunately, the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man has become a sort of theological passport to the annihilation of hundreds of plain and exact verses of Scripture. Next to the gross error in translating the Greek aion (a period of time with a beginning and an end) into an English eternity (no time at all, neither having a beginning nor an ending), I know of no greater misrepresentation of any section of Scripture than this parable. I will be using both the KJV and the Concordant Literal New Testament when quoting Scripture in this paper.
Can those who teach that Luke 16 is not a parable, prove their position? No, they can not. Can it then be proved by the Scriptures that this is a parable? Yes, it can. Quite easily, I might add.
Let me give you a technical definition of a parable followed by a more simple definition: (1) "Parable: [Greek, para bole'= BESIDE CAST]--A statement 'cast beside' or parallel to its real spiritual significance, a figure of likeness in action." GREEK-ENGLISH KEYWORD CONCORDANCE p. 216. (2) "A short and simple tale based on familiar things meant to convey a much deeper and profound moral or spiritual truth," WEBSTER'S DICTIONARY. In Old English it was called a "near-story."
Jesus spoke in parables throughout His whole ministry. In Matthew chapter 13 we are given seven different parables. No parable is literal or historical. The second we make a parable literal, it ceases to be a parable. Jesus spoke ONLY in parables (not true life or historical stories) among the masses of people who followed Him wherever He went.
I am going to some length to demonstrate the absolute absurdity of teaching this parable of Lazarus or any other parable as a literal and historical event.
JESUS SPEAKS TO THE MASSES IN PARABLES ONLY
Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables ONLY:
"All these things Jesus speaks in parables to the throngs, and apart from a parable He spoke nothing to them..." (Mat. 13:34).
The fact that Jesus spoke to the masses in parables only, ought to be sufficient Scriptural evidence to anyone that Lazarus and the Rich man is indeed a parable. There are, however, many many more proofs.
A FIVE-PART PARABLE
What is the setting of this Lazarus parable? Actually it is the last of a five-part parable beginning in Chapter 15 of Luke.
These are ALL parables and most scholars recognize them as parables.
PARABLES MUST ALWAYS BE INTERPRETED
Parables are not to be taken literally. They are to be understood "figuratively." The real meaning is not in what they literally say, but in what the symbols and figurative language represent. That's why they are called "parables." This is axiomatic!
If the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is both literal and an historical fact, then it contradicts not only the laws of physics and logic, but also literally hundreds of plain verses of Scripture.
THE PARABLE OF LAZARUS AND THE RICH MAN
According to the popular teaching of this parable, the Rich man is in an eternal Hell of torture and Lazarus is in eternal Heavenly bliss. Well let's be sure then to pay special attention to those traits of character that have separated these two individuals into two entirely different realms.
Below is listed in each column the exact "literal" facts regarding each man's character, virtue and deeds that is the reason for a supposed fate of either eternal Hell or eternal Heaven:
THE RICH MAN
He was RICH ... Ver 19
He was POOR ... Ver 20
He wore PURPLE & CAMBRIC ... Ver 19
He made MERRY (Gk: cheerful, & glad) SPLENDIDLY [like Angels-Acts ] DAILY ... Ver 19
Probably CRIPPLED ("was laid") Ver 20
DISEASED ("full of sores") Ver 20
He had a nice HOUSE ("his gate") Ver 20
He gave Lazarus FOOD [Gk. psichion, "a particle of food left over"-scraps] Ver 21
HUNGRY ("desiring to be fed") Ver 21
He DIED and was [Gk. entombed] Ver 22
He DIED Ver 22
He lifts up his eyes in [Gk. hades "the UNSEEN or IMPERCEPTIBLE] Ver 23
Is "carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom" Ver 22
He is in TORMENTS ... Ver 22
He's ALIVE with a BODY, "eyes,' Ver 23
He's ALIVE with a BODY, "finger "Ver 24
He desires a drop of WATER ... Ver 24
In life he got GOOD things ... Ver 25
In life he got EVIL things ... Ver 25
He is respectful toward authority ("FATHER Abraham") Ver 24
He was TORMENTED ... Ver 25
Was COMFORTED [Gk. parakaleo = "to comfort when in distress"] Ver. 25
He could not cross the GULF ... Ver 26
He could not cross the GULF ... Ver 26
Exhibits LOVE toward his family even while in torment ("I have five brothers") Ver 28
PLEADS for their welfare ("Nay..") Ver 30
Examine these two columns closely. Is it not obvious that what is literally revealed here does not lend itself to an eternal life of torture for the Rich man or an eternal life of heavenly bliss for the poor man? Where else in Scripture do the character traits in the left column come under eternal condemnation? And where else in Scripture do the character traits in the right column bring a promise of salvation in Heaven? Seriously, WHERE?
From what is literally stated about these two individuals it is hard to find condemnation or praise for either party. We know for sure that the Rich man is in a state of condemnation and that Lazarus is in a state of consolement, but there is nothing in the narrative to tell us why this is so.
If taken literally, this parable consists of statements that are illogical, unscriptural, contradictory, and impossible. But, when we understand the symbolism of this parable, it opens up our understanding to God's dealing with all peoples on earth! We must know the real identity of these two individuals before we can know that their treatment is a just treatment based on their lives and based on God's grace.
The Rich man received "good things" in life and Lazarus received "evil things" in life. That is obviously true. However, neither of those is Scriptural grounds for either being rewarded or condemned. Where? Present a Scripture. Christ said that it is difficult for a rich man to inherit the Kingdom, for example, and that certainly is true. But it is not the fact of being rich that makes this so, but rather the power that wealth has over the soul to keep one from pursuing spiritual things. Some people are "rich" and are right with God. Other people are "rich" and are not right with God. But the bottom line is how God has constituted the person himself that makes the difference, not the fact that he is wealthy.
Don't suppose that I am siding with the Rich man at the expense of Lazarus. I am not. I am merely showing how ludicrous it is to insist that this parable is "literal."
A VERSE BY VERSE ANALYSIS
Verse by verse now we will see if this parable can possibly be taken literally. Luke 16:19:
DOES A WELL-DRESSED WEALTHY MAN SPELL SIN?
"Now a certain man was rich..."
Many reading these words immediately conclude that being rich must be a sin. This is the one outstanding feature of this man--he is RICH. Is that a sin? Abraham, just talking distance away here, was very rich (Gen. 13:2). Isaac was rich, Jacob was rich, Joseph was rich, David (a man after God's own heart) was rich. Job was the richest man in all the East (Job. 1:3). And it was God Who blessed them, that's why they were rich. Being rich is no character flaw or sin.
"...he dressed in purple and fine linen (cambric)
What does that have to do with a man's character, virtue, or deeds? If taken "literally," nothing. But since this is "symbolic" it then is THE KEY TO UNDERSTANDING THE WHOLE PARABLE!
The description of the Rich man's clothing and the position of Lazarus in Abraham's bosom are the two vital keys in understanding this whole parable.
IS POVERTY AND SICKNESS A VIRTUE?
"Now there was a certain poor man..."
Being poor is no virtue!
"...named Lazarus..." [Heb: helpless]
Why should we know his name if this is literal? Lazarus was a common name. And who would ever want to be named "Helpless?"
We are not given the name of the Rich man. What does it matter one way or the other what his name is if this is a literal story and we don't know which Lazarus this was anyway. Ah, but since this is a "parable" it does matter, and we CAN know which Lazarus this really is and who the rich man really is.
"...who had been cast at his portal (gate)..."
Being thrown out into the street is no virtue.
"...having sores [Gk. elkos = DRAWER] (ulcers)..."
Being sick and diseased is not a virtue.
"...yearning to be satisfied from the scraps (not crumbs)
[Gk. psichion = SCRAPS--A particle of food which is left over after eating] which are falling from the rich man's table."
It is no virtue to be begging for bread.
Besides, if Lazarus is a godly man why is he begging food? Read Psa. 37:25:
There is absolutely nothing in the description of Lazarus that would indicate he was a godly man. But when we identify him, there is much to show that he was a godly man, and that his poverty and sickness was not that of a literally diseased beggar in the street.
"Now the poor man came to die and he is carried away by messengers into Abraham's bosom."
Impossible. This statement if taken literally is neither historical nor Scriptural. Many say this represents Lazarus in Heaven. How, pray tell, could Lazarus be in Heaven while his Lord was still on the earth?
"Yet now Christ has been roused from among the dead, the firstfruit of those who are reposing." (I Cor. 15:20).
"NO MAN has ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven."(John 3:13).
Teaching that this parable is a literal historical fact makes Christ out to be a liar. When our Lord was alive on this earth giving us this parable, He said: "...NO MAN HAS ASCENDED UP TO HEAVEN..." So how can it be said that at the same time our Lord was telling us that no man has ascended up to heaven, that Lazarus and Abraham are already up in heaven? This is not just an interesting sidelight or opinion of Ray Smith. This is absolute, infallible scriptural proof that when Jesus gave this parable there was no man named Lazarus living in heaven with Abraham or anyone else!! So here then is just one of the hundreds of problems with the Scriptures if we insist this parable is literal.
Lazarus was carried (in the parable) into Abraham's bosom. Abraham's bosom is not the reward of the saved. Abraham's bosom is not Heaven. Furthermore, no more than one person could fit into Abraham's bosom. It's a parable.
By the way, where do we read of "heaven" in this parable? There is not the slightest hint of the word heaven in this parable! Abraham's "bosom" is no more heaven than my bosom is heaven.
NOT ALL PAIN IS PHYSICAL
"...being in torments..."
What are these "torments" that the Rich man is experiencing? Is it physical pain from having his skin burned off of his body by real flames of fire?
Though the Rich man may, indeed, be suffering discomfort or pain, it is not from fire burning his flesh, but rather from being tested and proved through chastisement. .
It is an interesting fact of Scripture that except for Paul "punishing" the church, there is only ONE SCRIPTURE in the whole new testament that uses the word "punishment." All others use the word "chastisement" which always carries the connotation of correction and bringing things back to what is right again. Chastisement by it's very definition CANNOT be eternal. There is always a purpose and goal in mind with the use of the word chastise.
In Verses 24 and 25 we will likewise see that the word translated "tormented" does by no means carry a meaning of being physical pained or physically tortured.
"...he is seeing Abraham from afar..."
Impossible. The man is enveloped in "flames" and can clearly identify two personalities from "afar" across a great chasm? Not with human eyes.
"And he shouting, said 'Send Lazarus that he should be dipping the tip of his finger in water and cooling my tongue..."
Impossible. If someone were in a literal fire they would not be asking for a drop of water for their tongue. Their skin and eyes would be in much greater pain than their tongue! Besides a drop on the tip of one's finger would be less than useless. It's a parable. This language is figurative.
"...I am tormented [pained] in this flame."
Impossible. Yes, it is possible to be "tormented [pained] in flame," however, it is impossible to calmly talk about it while it is happening! I mean really, these are things that people completely unversed in the Scriptures understand. It is not literal fire that is causing him this pain or torment.
"Now Abraham said, Child, be reminded that you got your good thing in your life, and Lazarus likewise evil things."
If this Rich man is really being pictured literally in a hellhole of eternal torture, why then didn't Abraham say to him something like this: "Scoundrel, be reminded that you were a liar, cheat, robber, blasphemer, drunkard, murderer, ungodly, unholy, unrepentant, incorrigible, piece of slime in your life, so burn in Hell for ever." But no, the Rich man is accused of no such things.
Most governments do not sentence people to cruel and unusual punishment for minor crimes. Christian theologians would sentence this Rich man to all eternity in Hell fire and I don't see where according to what this parable "literally says" he did anything bad. He lived a life of "good things!" In the literal language of this parable no sin is attributed to him. Not ONE! The rich man got good things, and for that we are told he will have his flesh barbecued with real fire in an eternal hellhole of insane torture? Lazarus got evil things, and for that we are told he will spend eternity in Heaven? Is anyone in this parable said to be literally good or bad?
THE RICH MAN
By all appearances and descriptions, the Rich man was an educated, well-mannered person who gave food to the poor.
By all appearances and descriptions, Lazarus was a poor, diseased, hungry homeless person in the streets.
And notice carefully what this parable does not say:
It doesn't say Lazarus was good, kind, faithful, righteous, or loved God.
It doesn't say that he was an evil man, ever hurt anyone, stole, murdered, cursed God, didn't believe in God, or ever did anything bad. It says nothing negative about the Rich man.
In fact, it really doesn't say one, single, positive, anything about him what--so--ever!
So we are to take this parable literally? As an historical fact? Okay then, what does it "literally" say? Not what we might think it means but what it actually SAYS:
1. If one is healthy, happy, prosperous, gives to the poor, is respectful of authority, loves his family, is concerned for the welfare of others and is enormously blessed of God, and has a life of "good" things, he will go to Hades and be tormented in flames of fire without water and without mercy.
2. If one is poor, diseased, homeless, a beggar, shows no thanks for even the little he does receive, and is not blessed of God, but only has a life of evil things, he will go to Abraham's bosom where he is consoled and comforted in his distress [Gk: parakaleo].
Quite frankly neither one is a pretty picture. That's because this is figurative and symbolic language, so of course it doesn't make sense literally! It's a parable.
Here then is the bottom line of the Christian interpretation of this parable:
Live a life of good things now, blessed of God, and you'll burn in the flames of Hell forever.
Live a life of evil things now, cursed of God, and you'll live forever in Heaven.
Doesn't make much sense when we look at it literally, does it? You know, if this parable is literal, Abraham is on the wrong side! Abraham possessed many more of the qualities of the rich man than he did of Lazarus (not actually, but if we take this parable literally)! Abraham was very rich, loved his family, was concerned for the welfare of others, provided for his servants, was respectful of authority (especially of God), was tremendously blessed of God and had a life of many good things.
DOES GOD SENTENCE BEFORE HE JUDGES?
When theologians insist that this is a literal story, they place a huge blotch on the character of God! According to the Christian interpretation, this man is spending eternity in Hell fire, but has never had his day in court. He has been sentenced without being judged! This man could not have been judged, because when our Lord spoke this parable, "The Judgment" was yet future.
"Verily, I am saying to you, More tolerable
will it be for the
DID THE RICH MAN EVEN KNOW WHO MOSES WAS?
"Yet Abraham is saying to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets. Let them hear them!'"
Impossible. The rich man recognized Abraham on sight. Even called him "Father." How could someone who knows Abraham "...hear Moses...?" Moses didn't live until hundreds of years after Abraham? How could the rich man's "brothers" hear Moses? Moses didn't live until far into their future?
You see these are just some of the dozens of problems and contradictions we face when someone insists that this parable be taken literally!
Like most parables, it was prophecy not history!
THE PARABLE OF LAZARUS AND
THE RICH MAN
(A Scriptural explanation)
Before I go into the explanation of Lazarus and the Rich man, I feel a certain amount of background information is essential.
Biblically speaking there are two broad categories of people in the world--The Children of Israel and the Other nations. Later this designation was shortened to "The Jews and The Gentiles."
HEBREWS, ISRAELITES, AND JEWS
At the time of our Lord, Judah (the Jews) dominated to the extent that all
non-Gentiles were referred to as Jews, although "Israel" as their
historical origin was still used. The name "
Christ is not telling us about some "one" individual rich man and some "one" insignificant beggar in the street.
Through symbolism and personification, God often uses one some thing or person to represent many or even multitudes and whole nations of people:
In the parable of "Lazarus and the Rich man," surely they understood who it was that Christ was speaking of. In "Lazarus and the rich man" there are more hints and more identifiable symbols and facts given than in any other parable in the Gospels.
The Pharisees may have been hypocrites, but they, nonetheless, were highly educated and familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures. They knew what "Purple and Fine Linen" symbolized. The name "Lazarus" wouldn't necessarily have meant too much to them (it was a common name) until we find him "in the bosom of Abraham." Now they knew for sure which Lazarus our Lord was making reference to. And when they were told that the rich man had "Moses and the Prophets" there was little doubt left. And this rich man had "five brothers." That clinched it. Surely they knew for certain who these men are.
And although they probably hadn't a clue as to the real meaning of the parable, there was no doubt that our Lord did not portray the rich man in a very favorable light.
I firmly believe that the "who" of this parable is just as important or even more important than the "what" of the parable. Without knowing "who" is spoken of, the "what" makes almost no sense at all! Just as in Luke 20 the Pharisees knew Christ was speaking about them, I believe they also knew full well the identity of this rich man and Lazarus.
THE RICH MAN IDENTIFIED
There is only one man who Scripturally fits all the descriptions of the "rich man" in this parable. Only one person who "personifies" all of the symbols and identifying clues given of this rich man. And that man is:
But not just
God bestowed on Judah His very word, and through
Judah the very salvation of the world. Who but
"...and he dressed in purple..."
Imagine Christ asking His disciples: "Oh, by the way, would you fellows be interested in knowing what color clothing this Rich man was wearing just before he went to Hell?" Ridiculous nonsense!
But what is nonsense in the literal is the symbolic sign of this man's real identity!
Purple was worn by Kings (Judges 8:26). Even the Caesars of Rome wore Purple as a symbol of their royalty.
And who was to carry the royal line in
"...and cambric (fine linen)..."
The Rich man didn't just dress in "Purple," but "Purple and Cambric." He wore both. Cambric or Fine Linen is symbolic of the clothing that the priests wore (Ex. 28:5, 25:4). And of the interior decorations of the Tabernacle itself (Ex. 26:1).
Our Lord would not have told us that the Rich man wore these two specific types of garments except that they have great symbolic value in identifying who this man personifies.
In Judah were both the Royal Scepter (purple) and the Priesthood (fine linen). And that's the reason Christ took the time to tell us what the Rich man was wearing! And no other personality in Scripture has both these designations along with all the other identifying features attributed to the Rich man!
Father Abraham "...Child, be reminded..."
"They have Moses and the Prophets..."
The Rich man said: "I have five brothers..."
At first glance, you might think Judah can't be this "Rich man."
So who had five brothers?
That Judah (the Jews), is here personified in this Rich man, there can be little doubt!
But who then is this "Lazarus?"
The answer is not far to find when we see where he is: "in Abraham's bosom." Being in someone's bosom shows a very close emotional relationship and position of honor.
The Jews coveted that relationship with Abraham. They were so proud of their Father Abraham. However, they did not come even close to qualifying for such an honor. As Christ told them, they didn't do the works of faith that their Father Abraham did.
Eliezer was so faithful a steward to Abraham that he was planning to make him his heir and give Eliezer all his possessions and inheritance. Eliezer would have been wealthy. He would have inherited the "promised land." He would have received the "oracles of God" Ah, but no, God had different plans. Abraham would have a son Isaac who would continue the Abrahamic line.
It appears that either Eliezer becomes Abraham's heir, or he receives nothing. Absolutely no spiritual promises or possessions were ever made by God to Eliezer If he is not to get Abraham's inheritance, which included all that Abraham already had plus all that God is about to bless him with on top of all his other possessions, then Eliezer is going to be poor as far as spiritual blessings are concerned. As a Gentile, all he can ever hope for are the spiritual "crumbs" that fall from the Rich man's table. Not to fear: Through faith God works many miracles.
"LAZARUS" IS "ELIEZER"!!
The Greek "Lazarus" is from Lazaros [Heb. HELPLESS].
But in Hebrew "Lazarus" is Elazar or "Eliezer" from el [God] and azar [HELP]!
Little could these Jews hearing this parable realize that in just a few short years all this would change.
For nearly two thousand years now God is calling primarily the Gentiles..
And so today, the Gentiles don't have to stand outside the gate, or be separated by a barrier, or stay in their own court, and wait for handouts. They have direct access to God.
And who has been preaching the Evangel for the past two thousand years? The Jews? Hardly. It has been the Gentiles that have translated the Scriptures into nearly every language on earth. It is those called of the Gentiles that are accepting Christ Jesus as their Savior, not the Jews. It is really a rare thing to find Jews accepting Christ as the Messiah. And that's why we find Lazarus [Eliezer--the Gentiles] in the bosom of Abraham, and the Rich man [the Jews] engulfed in flames of Anti-Semitism for the past two thousand years.
Lazarus doesn't represent materialistically poor Jews, but spiritually poor Gentiles.
"...Father Abraham, be merciful to me, and send Lazarus that he should be dipping the tip of his finger in water..."
So in the parable we find Lazarus (Eliezer--a Gentile) in the bosom of Abraham, and Judah, who should be there, on the other side asking for mercy. But Lazarus can't come over to the Rich man even if he wanted to, because of this "chasm."
"And in all this, between us and you a great chasm [gulf] has been established."
WHAT IS THE
Crossing "over Jordan" has always been used symbolically as a type of "salvation."
THE RICH MAN'S SIN
"And in the unseen [hades], lifting up his eyes, existing in torments..."
HISTORIC AND PROPHETIC JUDAH
According to a "literal" teaching of this parable, the Rich man did nothing to deserve his torment. But once we identify this Rich man, however, we find a mountain of sins and evils that are attributed to him.
And so we have the Rich man (Judah) "crying out from hades." Figuratively, it has great emotional power.
The Jews corrupted themselves. In the person of
The Jews were given so much by God, but showed ever so little appreciation to God! They have suffered like few races of people have ever suffered.
Little did these Jews know at the time that Christ spoke this parable, that
it would be only thirty some years future that their beloved Jerusalem would
once again be destroyed. But this time, God would also take from them the
For nearly two thousand years the Jews have been without the ark of the covenant or a
"Yet he said to him, 'If Moses and the prophets they are not hearing, neither will they be persuaded if someone should be rising from among the dead.'"
Well how could Abraham know that for a fact? Because it is really Christ who is speaking, and it's a parable, and it also is a prophecy of things to come, and Christ knows all.
Ironically, the only person ever resurrected from the dead that we know by "name" at this time was Martha's brother Lazarus. Did that miracle persuade the Jews? Actually, yes, many.
"Many of the Jews, then, who came to Mary and gaze at what Jesus does, believe in Him" (Jn ).
Yet when other Jews reported this miracle back to the Pharisees
"From that day, they [the Jewish leaders] consult that they should kill Him" (Jn. )!
It seems like it's always the religious leaders that have the most trouble believing!
This parable, however, is not speaking about Lazarus' resurrection, but Christ's resurrection from the dead. All of Judea did not know of the resurrection of Lazarus, but everyone heard about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
JEWS STILL REJECT JESUS
He commissioned his apostles to herald the good news of His resurrection and the coming Kingdom of God to them again, but again, as a nation, the Jews rejected Him.
Just as Christ prophesied
"...neither will they be persuaded if someone should be rising from among the dead."
Since the time that Paul said "From now on I shall go to the nations," the Jews have, except for rare and individual cases, rejected Christ risen from the dead. But millions of poor rejected people like Lazarus have been brought into Abraham's bosom, into a close and intimate relationship with God Himself.
This parable, like all the others, has great and enormous consequences. This is not the story of a single, nameless rich man and one poor beggar in the street named Lazarus.
Christ preached the
I am sure that there is much more that can and will be learned and understood regarding this unique parable of Lazarus and the Rich man. However, whatever we teach regarding it must at least stand on solid Scriptures and not contradict. The real truth of this parable is not nearly as morbid as it may appear at first glance.
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