A lot of people use the story of Lazarus and the rich man to support their belief in hell and eternal torment but the story teaches nothing of the sort. It doesn’t even have anything to do with physical death; therefore, has nothing to do with the “afterlife” and where one might spend it.
I guess the first thing we need to do is establish that the story is, indeed, a parable that is meant to be spiritually discerned, rather than the story of the fate of two literal men after physical death.
Some will say that this is not a parable because it is not introduced as a parable. However, not all parables are explicitly identified as such, not even several of the other parables which Jesus tells in this same text, a series of which begins in Luke 15:3, in which the introduction is made only at the beginning of the first story:
Luke 15:3 And He spoke this parable to them, saying:
There are several stories/parables which follow this introduction in Luke 15:3 and the story of Lazarus and the rich man is only one of them. There is the parable of the Lost Sheep starting at Luke 15:4; there is the parable of the Prodigal Son starting at Luke 15:11; there is the parable of the Unjust Steward starting at Luke 16:1; then after a brief exchange with the Pharisees and Jesus telling them that they are they which justify themselves before men and tells them: “Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery” (which many seem to skip over as even being a part of or relevant to the series of stories). Then we come to the story of Lazarus and the rich man at Luke 16:19. Then Jesus speaks of faith as a grain of mustard seed, forgiveness and those who serve a master. He then heads into Jerusalem and heals the ten lepers, etc.
So what about the story of Lazarus and the rich man? What does it mean and how does it fit into the other stories? Let’s start with just a high-level overview:
What do we know about the rich man?
1. He was clothed in purple and fine linen.
2. He has good things in his life.
3. He died and was buried and he found himself “tormented in this flame” while looking up from “hell”.
4. He, looking up from hell, sees Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom.
5. He calls Abraham “Father”.
6. He begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his house to save his five brothers, lest they come unto the same torment.
What do we know about Lazarus?
1. He was laid at the gate, full of sore, desiring to be fed crumbs from the rich man’s table.
2. He has “dogs” licking his sores.
3. He had evil things in his life.
4. He died and was carried into Abraham’s bosom.
So what does all of that mean? Let’s look at the story:
Luk 16:19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
Luk 16:20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
Luk 16:21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
Who is this “rich man”?
Others, like L Ray Smith and Bryan T. Huie, who have written on this story as a parable maintain that the rich man represents “Judah” and, therefore, all Israel. The reason being is that the color “purple” is symbolic of royalty and Judah carried the royal line of Israel and “fine linen” is symbolic of the priesthood. Also because Judah had 5 (full) brothers.
I think a good case can be made for that interpretation, but whether or not that evidence is sufficient enough to prove that this “rich man” represents “Judah” and therefore, all Israel, I do believe that this “rich man” represents Israel, or God’s chosen people, to whom Christ was addressing (and deriding) in this series of parables. Even Paul points out that the Jews had “an advantage” in that it was to them that the oracles of God were committed; therefore, “salvation is of the Jews” through “the faith of Abraham”.
Rom 3:1-2 What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of God.
So who is Lazarus?
Again, some believe that Lazarus represents Eliezer of Damascus, Abraham’s faithful servant and, as such, represents the Gentiles.
A case can certainly be made for that, but what I see as the main ‘identifier’ in this story of Lazarus are (1) his name, which means “whom God helps” and (2) his relationship to the “dogs” who are also mentioned in the story. This because the “Gentiles” were considered and identified as “dogs” in the scriptures, even by the Lord himself:
Refer to Mark:
Mar 7:24-30 And He arose from there and went into the borders of Tyre and Sidon. And He entered into a house and desired no one to know it. But He could not be hidden. For a woman, whose young daughter had an unclean spirit, heard of Him and came and fell at His feet. The woman was a Greek, a Syro-phoenician by race [a Gentile]. And she BEGGED Him that He would cast the demon out of her daughter. But Jesus said to her, LET THE CHILDREN [the Jews, whom He came to] FIRST BE FILLED. For it is not right to take the children’s loaves [take the ‘bread’ from their table] and to throw it TO THE DOGS [the Gentiles, those not chosen]. And she answered and said to Him, Yes, Lord, yet THE DOGS UNDER THE TABLE eat of the children’s CRUMBS. And He said to her, For this saying go [because of her faith and desire to have any crumbs that might fall from the table], the demon has gone out of your daughter. And when she had come to her house, she found the demon had gone out, and her daughter lay on the couch.
Here, we even see “dogs under the table” begging to eat “the children’s crumbs”. Shall we believe that this is mentioned for nothing?
So, as I see it, this parable depicts Lazarus [the Gentile nations] who is laid at the gate, full of sores, desiring to be fed by the crumbs from the table of the rich man [God’s chosen people].
Luke 16:22 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;
Luke 16:23 And IN HELL [hades] he lifted up his eyes, BEING IN TORMENTS, and saw Abraham AFAR OFF, and Lazarus in his bosom.
So what happens next is not that Lazarus is fed, or not, but that both men die.
Though both men died, Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom while the rich man was buried and found himself looking up from ‘hell’ [hades] being in torment in a flame and seeing Lazarus, afar off, in the bosom of Abraham.
Luke 16:24 And he cried and said, FATHER Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water AND COOL MY TONGUE, for I am tormented in this flame.
This “rich man” recognizes Abraham and even calls him “father”, further supporting the idea that the rich man in this story represents Israel or the Jews. But what is really worth noting is what it is that this rich man wants cooled. HIS TONGUE!!
What do we know about the tongue?
Jam 3:6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell [gehenna].
Here we see the tongue, a fire, and hell all mentioned together again!!
Luke 16:25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things [the wealth and riches of God; bless of God; God’s chosen], and likewise Lazarus evil things [not chosen of God]. But now he is COMFORTED [having been made a partaker of the commonwealth of Israel] and you are TORMENTED [having been judged unworthy and cast off].
Luke 16:26 And besides all this, there is a great chasm fixed between you and us; so that they desiring to pass from here to you CANNOT, nor can they pass over to us from there.
Here we see that there is “a great chasm” between the rich man and Abraham/Lazarus, one that is “fixed” and cannot be crossed.
Those who use this story to teach the doctrine of eternal torment, see this as a permanent condition for those who end up in hell/hades after death. However, Abraham did not say that this was a permanent condition, only that it was their present condition. Nor does this parable have anything to do with the physical death of any man.
If this story is, indeed, about the Jews and the Gentiles then what is this “great chasm” that is fixed between these two men?
Rom 11:25 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 fulness of the Gentiles be come in.
Israel did not stumble that they should fall, but that salvation could come to the Gentiles, to provoke them to jealousy. (Rom 11)
Luke 16:27-28 And he said, I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, so that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
Luke 16:29 Abraham said to him, They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them. [They have the Words of God through Moses and the prophets, let them hear THEM and listen so that they do not come under the same condemnation.]
Luke 16:30 And he said, No, father Abraham, but if one should go to them from the dead, they would repent.
Luke 16:31 And he said to him, If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded, even though one rose from the dead.
Here we have the rich man asking for Abraham to send Lazarus to his brothers so that on the testimony of one who was risen from the dead they might not come into this place of torment. However tells him that “they have Moses and the Prophets” and “if they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded, even though one rose from the dead”. And how true those words are!! They are even reminiscent of what Jesus, himself, said to the Jews:
Joh 5:45-47 Do not think that I will accuse you to the Father: there is one that accuseth you, even Moses, in whom ye trust. For had ye believed Moses, ye would have believed me: for he wrote of me. But if ye believe not his writings, how shall ye believe my words?
And neither were they persuaded when He rose from the dead!!!
This story is not one of “eternal torment” in hell for the wicked dead. It has nothing to do with the eternal fate of the wicked after they physically die. It is about the gospel and how it was brought to the Jews, wherein it was rejected so that the Gentiles could be grafted in, resulting in “the riches of the world”.
In order for that to happen ALL MEN (both Jew and Gentile) had to be gathered together IN ONE BODY, by being baptized INTO THE DEATH OF JESUS CHRIST (both ‘men’ died)!
The gospel has been given to the Gentiles, who now find themselves in the place of God’s chosen people, in the bosom of Abraham. So it is no longer the Gentiles begging for crumbs [perhaps ‘bread’ crumbs?] from the table of the Jews; but the Jews begging for a drop of water [living water, no doubt] from the Gentiles (spiritually speaking).
And it is not by calling on the name of “father Abraham” that the “great chasm” that is fixed between the two can be bridged. It is BY THE FAITH OF ABRAHAM that we are “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom”:
Mat 8:10-12 When Jesus heard it, he marvelled, and said to them that followed, Verily I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. And I say unto you, That many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
When comparing spiritual things with spiritual, how can we not see that this is exactly what the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is all about? Not about the physical death of two men and what awaits them on the other side of a physical grave in eternity but about the gathering together of two nations, wherein the one that was “afar off” and “without God in the world” is “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom” and those who were nigh, who rejected their Savior due to the veil of the flesh, have been “cast out of the kingdom”?
2Co 3:15-16 But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away.
Turn to the Lord!! Not Abraham! Believe Moses and the prophets who testified of Jesus Christ!! And walk in the same faith that Abraham walked in!
Pro 15:24 THE WAY of LIFE is ABOVE to the wise, that he may DEPART FROM HELL BENEATH.
The Greek word “hades” means “unseen” and those who are “dead and buried” are UNSEEN (because their life IS HID with Christ in God, until he who is there life SHALL APPEAR). They are prisoners of “the body of this death” that is “full of dead’s men’s bones” (likened to “a whited sepulcher”) whose THROAT is “an open sepulcher” and whose TONGUE is “set on fire of hell”
There is a spiritual truth to this, as it applies to those who are “dead” after a spiritual truth.
God was in Christ reconciling THE WORLD unto himself, making IN HIMSELF – ONE NEW MAN:
Eph 2:13-18 But NOW IN CHRIST JESUS ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace, WHO HATH MADE BOTH ONE, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make IN HIMSELF of twain ONE NEW MAN, so making peace; And that he might reconcile both unto God IN ONE BODY by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby: And came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh. For through him we BOTH have access BY ONE SPIRIT unto the Father.
So then it seems reasonable to assume that ALL have been baptized into His death, but not all have been resurrected into His life.
Rom 6:3-8 Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we HAVE BEEN planted together in the likeness of his death, we SHALL BE also in the likeness of his resurrection: Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we BE DEAD with Christ, we believe that we SHALL ALSO LIVE with him:
We have to remember how the Lord works:
Jud 1:5 I will therefore put you in remembrance, though ye once knew this, how that the Lord, having saved the people out of the land of Egypt, ~AFTERWARD~ destroyed them that believed not.
Which is exactly the way it is reflected in the parables about the kingdom of heaven:
Mat 13:47-50 Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind: Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away. ((So shall it be at the end of the world)): the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
We see it again in the parable of the wedding feast:
Mat 22:8-14 Then saith he to his servants, The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy. Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage. So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests. And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: And he saith unto him, Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment? And he was speechless. Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. For many are called, but few are chosen.
Jesus seems to indicate a connection or a common theme among “all parables”:
Mar 4:13 And he said unto them, Know ye not this parable? and how then will ye know all parables?
And do we not see those similarities?
The tares and the wheat are growing together until harvest; there is TREASURE HIDDEN in the FIELD; that which is LOST is FOUND; that which is SOWN falls on different ground with different results; laborers are hired to work in the field and they ALL receive the SAME PAY/REWARD no matter what time “of the day” they were hired.
When it comes to THE END OF THE WORLD and THE HARVEST, Christ made it very clear that THE FIELD WAS “WHITE, ALREADY TO HARVEST” and that “in the end of the world” he would send forth his angels TO REAP:
Jesus saith unto them, My meat is to do the will of him that sent me, and to finish his work. SAY NOT YE, THERE ARE YET FOUR MONTHS, AND THEN COMETH HARVEST?
BEHOLD, I say unto you, LIFT UP YOU EYES AND LOOK ON THE FIELDS; FOR THEY ARE WHITE ALREADY TO HARVEST.
And HE THAT REAPETH receiveth wages, and gathereth fruit UNTO LIFE ETERNAL: that both HE THAT SOWETH AND HE THAT REAPETH may rejoice TOGETHER.
And herein is that saying true, ONE SOWETH, and ANOTHER REAPETH.
I SENT YOU TO REAP
that whereon ye bestowed no labour: other men laboured, and YE ARE ENTERING INTO THEIR LABOURS.
So then THE FIELD IS WHITE, ALREADY TO HARVEST and Christ sent THEM (HIS DISCIPLES; THE ANGELS OF THE LORD) TO REAP to be LABORERS in the field and GATHER FRUIT UNTO LIFE ETERNAL. AMEN!!!!!!
THE REAPERS are THE ANGELS!
All blessings in Christ!