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The Truth about Lazarus and the Rich Man

by Bill Wong

 

 

 

It is a parable

 

Many who believe in the existence of hell as an eternal place of torment, and that we continue to exist as spirits after we die like to use the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 to prove their position.  They cite it and say it is not a parable even though the Bible says repeatedly that the Lord Jesus spoke in parables. 

 

Indeed, the Bible says all Jesus ever spoke to the multitudes was in parables:

 

Matthew 13:

10   The disciples came, and said to him, "Why do you speak to them in parables?"

11   He answered them, "To you it is given to know the mysteries of the Kingdom of Heaven, but it is not given to them.

12   For whoever has, to him will be given, and he will have abundance, but whoever doesn't have,

     from him will be taken away even that which he has.

13   Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they don't see, and hearing, they don't hear, neither do they understand.

14   In them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says, 'By hearing you will hear, and will in no way understand;

     Seeing you will see, and will in no way perceive:

15   for this people's heart has grown callous, their ears are dull of hearing, they have closed their eyes;

     or else perhaps they might perceive with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their heart,

     and should turn again; and I would heal them.'

16   "But blessed are your eyes, for they see; and your ears, for they hear.

17   For most certainly I tell you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see the things which you see,

     and didn't see them; and to hear the things which you hear, and didn't hear them.

 

Matthew 13:

34   Jesus spoke all these things in parables to the multitudes; and without a parable, he didn't speak to them,

35   that it might be fulfilled which was spoken through the prophet, saying, "I will open my mouth in parables;

     I will utter things hidden from the foundation of the world." (WEB)

 

 

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is no different; it is a parable. This can be seen by the context of the chapter which first mentions another parable, then the Lord Jesus’ words to the Pharisees, and finally to the story of the rich man and Lazarus. We will review Luke 16 in its entirety so we can see how all that happens before gives proper context and sets up the story of the rich man and Lazarus.

 

This is the first parable in Luke 16:

 

Luke 16:

1     Now He was also saying to the disciples, "There was a rich man who had a manager,

     and this manager was reported to him as squandering his possessions.

2     "And he called him and said to him, 'What is this I hear about you? Give an accounting of your management,

      for you can no longer be manager.'

3     "The manager said to himself, 'What shall I do, since my master is taking the management away from me?

      I am not strong enough to dig; I am ashamed to beg.

4     'I know what I shall do, so that when I am removed from the management people will welcome me into their homes.'

5     "And he summoned each one of his master's debtors, and he began saying to the first, 'How much do you owe my master?'

6     "And he said, 'A hundred measures of oil.' And he said to him, 'Take your bill, and sit down quickly and write fifty.'

7     "Then he said to another, 'And how much do you owe?' And he said, 'A hundred measures of wheat.' He said to him,

      'Take your bill, and write eighty.'

8     "And his master praised the unrighteous manager because he had acted shrewdly;

      for the sons of this age are more shrewd in relation to their own kind than the sons of light.

9     "And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails,

      they will receive you into the eternal dwellings.

10   "He who is faithful in a very little thing is faithful also in much;

      and he who is unrighteous in a very little thing is unrighteous also in much.

11   "Therefore if you have not been faithful in the use of unrighteous wealth, who will entrust the true riches to you?

12   "And if you have not been faithful in the use of that which is another's, who will give you that which is your own?

13   "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other,

      or else he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

 

 

Comment:

This parable opens with the Lord Jesus saying “There was a certain rich man” in verse 1. The subject

matter is about wealth and it closes with the well known saying that no man can serve two masters and

he must choose one or the other. In this case, one must choose between God or wealth.

 

 

Then the Bible tells us that the Pharisees heard this parable. They loved money and showed contempt

toward Jesus at what He said and Jesus responds by chastising them:

 

14   Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him.

15   And He said to them, "You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts;

     for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.

16   "The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached,

      and everyone is forcing his way into it.

17   "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.

18   "Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery,

      and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.

 

 

Comment:

Note what the Lord Jesus says in verse 15. He said that the Pharisees, who loved money, liked to look

good in front of others, but God knows what they really are inside; what men highly prizes, God

detests. He then speaks of the Law and the Prophets and how the Pharisees apparently did not really

obey the Law of God.

 

 

Then immediately after this chastisement of the Pharisees, the Lord Jesus tells the story of the rich man

and Lazarus:

 

19   "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day.

20   "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores,

21   and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides,

     even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.

22   "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried.

23   "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.

24   "And he cried out 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 off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.'

25   "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things;

      but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony.

26   'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed,

      so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.'

27   "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house--

28   for I have five brothers--in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

29   "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.'

30   "But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!'

31   "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets,

      they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'"  (NASB)

 

 

Comment:

Besides the fact that the Bible tells us all Jesus ever spoke to the crowds were parables, the first thing we must notice is that this story of the rich man and Lazarus opens exactly as the previous parable did with Jesus stating “there was a rich man” in verse 19, which indicates this is also a parable.

 

Another indication it is a parable, is the figurative language the Lord Jesus uses, such as angels carrying the poor man to Abraham’s bosom and Abraham speaking.

 

We must also consider what it means that Jesus follows His scolding of the Pharisees with this story. This tells us that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is directed toward the Pharisees specifically, because He had the ear of the Pharisees. We know this also, because it is about the love of money and pride of this world again, and the Bible tells us directly that the Pharisees were lovers of money. Jesus also speaks of Moses (the Law) and the Prophets a second time, which is exactly what He last mentioned to the Pharisees. This shows clearly that it is a parable, because Jesus is using it to make a point to the Pharisees – all of Jesus’ parables have a point directed toward segments of the crowds to which He spoke.

 

 

All indications are that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable just like every other story the Lord Jesus told the people. There is no reason to believe otherwise.

 

This is the definition of a parable from MerriamWebster online:

 

Parable – a usually short fictitious story that illustrates a moral attitude or a religious principle

 

And this is exactly what this story is – a parable. The Lord Jesus is using a fictitious story to make a point. One cannot say it depicts heaven & hell and people continuing to live as spirits after they die, while completely ignoring the Bible’s testimony that the Lord Jesus only spoke in parables. To do so is to try to push an agenda, a doctrine, which the Bible simply does not teach at all.

 

 

What it really means

 

The Bible makes it very clear that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. But what does Abraham’s bosom, the chasm and the fire all mean? Is it based on something? Is it based on us going to heaven and hell after we die (where many believe we go immediately after we die, ignoring our resurrections and Judgment Day)?

 

And therein lies the huge problem which cannot be avoided by those who believe we live on as spirits right after we die and there is a hell where the wicked eternally dwell.  

 

The Bible does speak of fire and it does involve judgment – but the Bible does not teach a hell where bad people are tortured for eternity. The Bible does not teach hellfire, but it speaks about the ‘lake of fire’ connected to judgment and judgment does not happen instantaneously after we die. There is a day of judgment set in the future.

 

After the saints of God are raised in the 1st resurrection to rule with Christ for 1000 years (Revelation 20:1-6), there is a 2nd and final resurrection for judgment where everyone else is judged and those judged negatively will be thrown into the lake of fire and be destroyed. The Bible calls this the second death which is eternal, from which there is absolutely no more living at all (as spirits or anything) with no more resurrections to come. It is a complete cessation of any kind of life forever.

 

So what is the parable of the rich and Lazarus really about? In Luke 16, the Lord Jesus uses the parable about the rich man and Lazarus to loosely/fictitiously describe what will happen at the Great White Throne Judgment:

 

Revelation 20:

11   Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away,

     and no place was found for them.

12   And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened;

     and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were

     written in the books, according to their deeds.

13   And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them;

     and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.

14   Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

15   And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  (NASB)

 

 

Everyone not in the 1st resurrection will be raised in the 2nd resurrection to be judged according to what they had done in their lives.  Luke 16:25 refers to this judgment of one’s deeds by saying the rich man is now getting what he deserves for his behavior in life and Lazarus is likewise getting what he deserves – their roles are now switched upon God’s righteous judgment. 

 

Some who believe this is not a parable say the fact that it uses someone’s actual name must mean it is not a parable.  This is not so.  Actually, the reverse is true.  The truth is that there is a very good reason why this of all parables needs a name.  

 

Why?

 

It is because names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.  We see this in Revelation 20 verses 14-15 above which tells us that anyone whose name is not found in the Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of fire which is the second death.

 

Therefore, a parable about the Great White Throne Judgment and the Book of Life requires a name to be written in this book.  Lazarus’ name is in the Book of Life.  The rich man does not have a name in this parable and there is no need for it, because his role in this parable is the wrong one – his name is not in the Book of Life and he will be thrown into the lake of fire.  He is discarded and his memory will be gone forever as the Bible says. This is what the fire and the great chasm which separates the two men are: one will live because his name is in the Book of Life while the other will perish forever in the lake of fire.

 

An actual name is given in this parable only out of all of the Lord Jesus’ many parables, because the Lamb’s Book of Life demands a name.

 

Neither is it a coincidence that the name Lazarus is used here. 

Lazarus is the name of the Lord Jesus’ friend in John 11 who died and was raised by Him. 

 

Lazarus was dead – which Jesus and the Bible calls sleep, never saying that we yet live as spirits while we sleep this sleep of death:

 

John 11:

11   He said these things, and after that, he said to them, "Our friend, Lazarus, has fallen asleep,

     but I am going so that I may awake him out of sleep."

12   The disciples therefore said, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover."

13   Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought that he spoke of taking rest in sleep.

14   So Jesus said to them plainly then, "Lazarus is dead.

15   I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe. Nevertheless, let's go to him."   (WEB)

 

 

In John 11 an example of physical resurrection is used. 

 

In Luke 16 an example of judgment and the reward of eternity with God is used. 

 

The same name is used to describe the scope of what awaits the righteous after he dies:

physical resurrection, judgment and eternal life, because one’s name is found in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

 

 

Conclusion

 

The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. It tells us there is no eternal realm of the damned called hell and also that we do not still live as spirits after we die, and go straight to heaven or hell. Instead, this parable tells us we must await judgment and this judgment is the Great White Throne Judgment in the Book of Revelation. The dead are truly dead and sleep until resurrection and judgment. The dead die and do not continue to live as spirits, but the dead know nothing:

 

Ecclesiastes 9:

5   For the living know they will die; but the dead do not know anything, nor have they any longer a reward,

    for their memory is forgotten.   (NASB)

 

There is a first death (most of us will die once except the righteous still living when the Lord Jesus returns) and there is a second death which is eternal, for those who are judged unfavorably. Those of the second death are cast into the lake of fire; it is not a hell with hellfire. Some are raised in the 1st resurrection of the saints who rule with Christ, while the others are only raised in the 2nd and final resurrection of the Great White Throne Judgment.

 

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 teaches us a pointed and valuable principle: that what man esteems is not what God esteems and how this unfolds during judgment – the tables are reversed between the rich man and the poor, Lazarus, during the Great White Throne Judgment.

 

It shows us what happens to those whose name is in the Book of Life and those whose name is not. That is why in this parable one person has a name, Lazarus, while the other does not. Lazarus’ name is in the Book of Life and he will live forever, but the rich man’s name is not in the Book of Life; he was raised for judgment and was found wanting, and will be cast into the lake of fire which is the second death, with no more chance to live again – ever. The rich man will sleep the sleep of eternal death.