The Rich man and Lazarus

State of Dead

The Rich man and Lazarus

When all else fails, our opponents go strait to the story of the Rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19:31 in an attempt to show that there is consciousness right after death and before the Second coming of Christ either in heaven, like Lazarus, or in Hell, like the Rich man. Here they also show that people will be eternally tormented in a burning Hell.

There are some important lessons one can learn from this story, if only people would understand it as what it really is, a parable. We will demonstrate first why it must be a parable below, then we will show the important lesson being taught therein, along with the reason why Jesus spoke this story.

First of all…

What does the word “parable” mean?

We’ll inquire of Strong’s Hebrew and Greek Definitions. The greek word is “parabole” and the definition is:

From G3846; a similitude (“parable”), that is, (symbolically) fictitious narrative (of common life conveying a moral), apoth gm or adage: – comparison, figure, parable, proverb.

Here we understand a parable to be a story, or narrative. It can be fictitious, but as we examine some of those parables, like the story of the prodigal son, or the story of the Good Samaritan, we can obviously expect a parable to use common, realistic objects or scenarios. A parable is not just a story. It is meant to teach truths and convey important moral lessons.

As an example of a fictitious parable, that is, a story that is not necessarily true, or true to reality, we consider the story of the talking trees:

Judges 9:8-15
(8) The trees went forth on a time to anoint a king over them; and they said unto the olive tree, Reign thou over us.
(9) But the olive tree said unto them, Should I leave my fatness, wherewith by me they honour God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
(10) And the trees said to the fig tree, Come thou, and reign over us.
(11) But the fig tree said unto them, Should I forsake my sweetness, and my good fruit, and go to be promoted over the trees?
(12) Then said the trees unto the vine, Come thou, and reign over us.
(13) And the vine said unto them, Should I leave my wine, which cheereth God and man, and go to be promoted over the trees?
(14) Then said all the trees unto the bramble, Come thou, and reign over us.
(15) And the bramble said unto the trees, If in truth ye anoint me king over you, then come and put your trust in my shadow: and if not, let fire come out of the bramble, and devour the cedars of Lebanon.

Obviously trees don’t talk. Yet trees were used in the story to point not only to the lesson that people sometimes settle for the worst, as when the men of Shechem chose Abimelech for their king, a man who killed his brothers, Jerubbaals sons, who before had fought for them (verse 17); but also includes a prediction of a future event (compare verse 15 with verses 49 and 54), two elements which were often included in Jesus’ parables.

A parable, therefore, can be:

(1) a true story
(2) an untrue story with common reality objects and scenarios
(3) a fictitious story with unrealistic scenarios

All conveying a lesson and sometimes a prophecy.

Now let’s go to the gospel of Luke. We begin our examination by first noticing…

The surrounding context first.

Just prior to this story, and the ones before it, we read:

Luke 14:25
(25) And there went great multitudes with him: and he turned, and said unto them,

Note first that in his presence were great “multitudes.” Following the construction and flow of the following verses up to the end of the story of the Rich man and Lazarus, we find no indication that theses people departed from him. In fact, the groups seemed to have enlarged:

Luke 15:1-2
(1) Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
(2) And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

After speaking to the first multitude that came to him (Luke 14:26-35), his audience is enlarged to include what Luke describes as “publicans and sinners.” It’s important to note this point, for we read in Matthew that:

Matthew 13:34-35
(34) All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables; and without a parable spake he not unto them:
(35) That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet, saying, I will open my mouth in parables; I will utter things which have been kept secret from the foundation of the world.

To his disciples in privet he often spoke plainly (Mark 4:10), but when it came to multitudes he spoke in parables (Mark 4:11). This is the first indication that this was a parable.

Between Luke 15 verse 1 and the end of Luke 16 we have a consecutive flow of stories, five of them to be exact, which began with these words:

Luke 15:3
(3) And he spake this parable unto them, saying,

Here’s the second indication that it was a parable. There is no break between stories. Jesus did not move off to another location; he did not yet rest from teaching, nor did the multitude, to which he always spake in parables, yet depart. In fact, just before he speaks the story of the Rich man Lazarus, we read that the Pharisees were still present (Luke 16:14), a group which was a part of that great multitude (Luke 15:2). Note that they were still angry at his words, perhaps even more at this point.

So far, by the surrounding context alone, we find clues that the story of the Rich man and Lazarus is a parable. Now we will proceed by…

Examining the story itself.

Beginning in Luke 16:19, we read:

Luke 16:19-22
(19) There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
(20) 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.
(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;

So far the story seems like it might have actually happened, until we reached verse 22. Of this verse we note two points:

point 1: They were rewarded right after they died.
point 2: Lazarus was carried “into” Abraham’s bosom.

Point 1 is biblically inaccurate, point 2 is logically false. In point one, the rich man is immediately punished right after death, but the bible teaches that there is an event which must first take place between death and punishment which is absent here… the judgment:

Hebrews 9:27
(27) And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.

The word “krisis” translated “judgment” here is the type of judgment that involves a kind of tribunal, where a decision is given concerning the person(s) involved, resulting the type of reward that will be given, according to Strong’s and Thayer’s Greek Definitions. This must take place before a reward for or against is given.

Second, rewards for or against are given at the second coming, not before

Revelation 22:12-13
(12) And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.
(13) I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last.

Concerning the reward of the wicked, Jesus once again tells us when they will be rewarded:

Matthew 13:40-43
(40) As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
(41) The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
(42) And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
(43) Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.

Here we find when both the righteous and the wicked will be rewarded… in the “in of the world,” not when they die. Here we find fire and punishment, which we also read in the parable. Also verse 43 tells us that it is “then” when the righteous will be rewarded in the kingdom of their father with shining as the sun.

Job offers some interesting insight as well:

Job 14:10-12
(10) But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he?
(11) As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up:
(12) So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.

Until “the heavens be no more” man shall not “awake, nor be raised out of their sleep.” When will the heavens be “no more?” When Jesus comes at the end of the world:

2 Peter 3:10
(10) But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.

Only then will man receive his reward, for anytime before that he is unconscious (Psalm 146:4) and can’t like that receive a reward.

Point 2 further reveals how they must be a parable, for the verse says Lazarus was placed into the bosom of Abraham. Can you imagine if this were not a parable, the people saved that would today supposedly be in his bosom? Would these all fit?

We continue:

Luke 16:23
(23) And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

Here we collect point 3. By looking upward and by acknowledging Abraham and Lazarus, we know his mind is working and his thoughts are active. But the bible tells us that when a person dies, before the resurrection of course, they’re “thoughts perish.” –Psalm 146:4. In the grave, where we all go when we die, there is neither work “nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom…” –Ecclesiastes 8:10. “The living” said the wise king” know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything…” –Ecclesiastes 9:5.

Next comes verses 24 and 25:

Luke 16:24-25
(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.
(25) 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.

From these verses we can gather more points that tells us this is a parable:

point 4: Asks for a drop of water
point 5: Communicates with those in heaven
point 6: Those in heaven are able to view the activities of those burning in hell

In a true story; one would ask for far more then a drop of water. Then we have two worlds contacting each other, something similar to spiritualism, the belief that the dead can contact the living, or vise versa. This of course can’t be the case, for such is prohibited (see Deuteronomy 18:10-11, Revelation 21:8). If Abraham were really communicating with the dead then he is violating scripture while he is in heaven. And with point 6, how can it truly be said that all tears will be wiped away from every eye (Revelation 21:4), if a believer in heaven will throughout eternity be able to see a lost loved one burning in hell?

It’s become abundantly clear through our examination of the surrounding context of the parable, and the context of the parable itself, that this must be a parable. Otherwise it would contradict the rest of scripture. Furthermore it would contradict Jesus, who himself said that it is in the “end of the world” that the wicked will be rewarded with fire.

Similar to the parable of the trees, this story must also be fictional. Heaven is not Abraham’s bosom, nor is it realistic to believe that someone burning all around from head to toe would simply ask for a finger dip of water. The idea that people in heaven can communicate with people in Hell is itself fictional, and is found in ancient pagan beliefs which were prohibited by God.

Having concluded that the story of the Rich man and Lazarus must be a parable, our next step is to find…

The meaning of the parable.

Note that verse 14 tells us that the Pharisees were within the audience. In this verse we read that the Pharisees were “covetous.” It seems fitting; therefore, that Jesus would give a parable about a covetous rich man. As the rich man was abundantly rich, so were the Jews. They not only had riches in materials, despite their Roman bondage (Deuteronomy 28:11), but more importantly, they were rich in the knowledge of the mysteries of God, for “unto them was committed the oracles of God” –Romans 3:2.

Then we find how the Rich man addresses Abraham as his father (Luke 16:24). This was something the Jews held claim to:

John 8:39
(39) 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.

John 8:53
(53) Art thou greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: whom makest thou thyself?

This Parable was directed towards them. The rich man represented the greedy Jews.

As we see from the attitude the Jews had against Jesus healings on the Sabbath, and against his teaching the truth, even though they had the ability to be just as gentle and truthful as he was, they held back their truths for pride and greed. Like the rich man, when they had an opportunity to help those in need, they would not. The story Jesus shared on the good Samaritan sheds more light on this. The Levite walked by. The priest walked by. It was one of another land that helped the helpless man.

Matthew 23:13-14
(13) But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in.
(14) Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye devour widows’ houses, and for a pretence make long prayer: therefore ye shall receive the greater damnation.

Poor Lazarus, therefore, must represent the other side of the coin, those neglected of the words of truth which the Jews had. To these Jesus was reaching out towards, but the Jews tried hard to hinder his work. The pride and love of money stopped them from both helping them, and helping themselves. The parable was necessary to show them the error of their ways.

The situation of the greedy is so bad, that Abraham in the parable tells the rich man that if they don’t believe the Moses and the prophets, “neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.” This turned out to be true of the unbelieving Jews. Lazarus and Jesus Christ himself were raised from the dead, they still didn’t believe. The whole parable is a warning both to give to the spiritually poor the heavenly blessings you have been imparted with, and to warn against the love of money… “for the love of money…

1 Timothy 6:10
(10) … is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

In a second sense the parable addressed the love of money by all people. Jesus could have used this story to teach those others who were present how we should not love material things over the knowledge of the mighty God. Elsewhere Jesus said:

Luke 9:25
(25) For what is a man advantaged, if he gain the whole world, and lose himself, or be cast away?
The time of repentance is now, while there is time. Love for the world must cease, while love for God must increase. During the rich man’s lifetime he had every opportunity to repent and do as he was commanded as a child of Israel, but he did not. The part that there is a great gulf fixed between paradise and hell fitly represents the fact that once a man dies, probation had ended. It is “impossible” to be saved anytime after that, because “they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” –Luke 16:26. All must be like the poor beggar, who longed for the crumbs, at least a small portion of the Word of God, which fell from the rich mans table.

Therefore the parable is in a second sense directed towards all. The message of Jesus, that “today is the day of salvation” was clearly understood by his listeners through this parable.

With the meaning of the parable understood, we must now answer an important question…

Why did Jesus teach this lesson in this manner?

It could be said of our critics, “Jesus would be confusing the public, who supposedly didn’t believe in an eternity in hell, if this story were a parable!”

The reason why Jesus taught it this way is simple. The parable, as seen before, is directed towards all people, rich and poor, free and bond, Jew and Gentile. Among that listening crowd were “publicans and sinners” –Luke 15:1. It was a common belief among these that there was consciousness after one dies. This was a heathen beliefs stemming back to the times of the Amorites, Canaanites and Hittites. Even among the Jews there were some who must have held certain unbiblical beliefs such as this one:

Psalms 106:35
(35) But [the Jews] were mingled among the heathen, and learned their works.

Jesus meet them where they were at, he reached out towards them at their own level. He understood very well what they already believed and through it inculcated this important lesson. He used the prevailing opinion to convey the idea He desired to make prominent to them all. He didn’t leave them believing in a conscience state of the dead, for later he would tell his audience that it is at the “end of the world” that the wicked will be punished (Matthew 13:40). He desired simply to reach out to them, and he did this by using language and figures that was familiar to them at that time.

Now we reach the final section of this article where we attempt to respond to what our opponents believe are…

Reasons to reject Luke 16 as a parable.

We will list the reasons we have found. The answers will follow below the list:

Objection #1: Parables usually start with a story from within the reservoir of human experience. The other parables Jesus taught were stories with realities that we can relate to, such as hidden treasure, pearls, and prodigal sons.
Objection #2: Jesus does not give the characters of his parables names, unlike in this story, where one of them is called “Lazarus.”
Objection #3: When about to speak a parable, the narrator normally tells the reader that this is what Jesus’ audience was at that point hearing, starting for example with words like, “and Jesus spake unto them this parable, saying…”

There is no need to be alarmed or discouraged at objections like these, for none can go against the heavy weight of evidence listed above. The first objection was already answered in the beginning of our article where we looked up the meaning of the greek word for “parable.” That definition included the words “fictitious narrative.” As in our talking trees story, parables can indeed be fictitious and yet be defined as a parable. It does not always have to include realities which we experience on a daily basis.

The second objection does not hurt our case. We can simply respond by saying that in this case, he did. There is no reason why this must mean it is not a parable. It could very well be that Jesus chose the name “Lazarus” along with the part of the story that people would still not believe “though one rose from the dead” (verse 31) because such was the case with the unbelieving Pharisees who were there present, which later rejected the resurrection of Lazarus of Bethany and thereby showed that Abraham in the story was right after all.

The third objection was also answered above. The parable of the Rich man and Lazarus was simply the fifth of five consecutive parables, which began right after the words… “And he spake this parable unto them, saying…” –Luke 15:3.

As we have seen, there are important lessons we can learn from this story if we don’t enwrap ourselves with the idea that it’s a true story. It’s obviously a parable, a fictitious story meant to convey a moral lesson, and it in no way proves neither that the dead are conscience before the resurrection nor that people will burn in hell fire throughout eternity.

For further study, see:

The Achilles Heel of the Eternal Torment Doctrine
Revelation 14:11: Eternal torment?
Ezekiel 28: The King of Tyrus? Or Satan?


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About The Author

Edwin Cotto

With years of experience in evangelism and youth directing, Edwin has worked with various ministries including Our Higher Calling and Spanish ministry El Ministerio Internacional Jesús es la Solución where he had the opportunity to travel conducting evangelistic meetings. Edwin has also appeared on 3ABN, worked as the main apologist at the Adventist Defense League, and is trained and certified with the Amazing Facts Center of Evangelism. He is also a Bible Worker for the Florida Conference of Seventh-day Adventists.

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