Center for Biblical Theology and Eschatology
The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man
(An Exposition of Luke 16:19-31)
by Tony Warren
The Greek word parable [parabole], means a similitude, or something which is in comparison, or likened unto something else. In other words, a story of one thing that is an analogy of something else. Often seen as a narrative in symbolism, a biblical parable is a story from a human perspective that has a deeper spiritual meaning (conveying some moral truth), in comparison to that symbolism. The qiuestion is, is the story of the rich man and Lazarus a parable or an actual event? The short answer is yes, it is a parable. And the deeper spiritual meaning of this parable found of Luke chapter 16, is the nation of Israel. We will examine this conclusion in the second part of this study.
Is This a Parable or a True Story?
The questions that many Christians wrestle with concerning the rich man and the beggar Lazarus, are, "can this be an actual event, does hell exist now, and if this is indeed a parable, why does Jesus speak of it in the present tense?" These arelegitimate questions that have stumped many Christians, and confused many others. But the answers are found in God's word only as we come to the realization that one scripture cannot contradict another. Both must be understood as absolutely true, and thus must be reconciled or understood in a way where they are both accurate and in agreememnt. The harmony of the matter will be found in the Spirit of God, through the diligent comparing of scripture with scripture, spiritual with spiritual, in the Biblical and profitable manner of determining doctrine.
2nd Timothy 2:15
2nd Timothy 3:16
- "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
There are some Christians who defend this story as an actual historical event by claiming that, "There is no reason why this could not be a true story." However, I believe that an unbiased examination of this story reveals that it is a parable, and that there are indeed many reasons why it could not be an actual narrative detailing punishment of sinners in hades/hell at that time.
- "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:"
The truth is, as a literal event, this story brings us to many absurd conclusions. For example, without symbolism, it implies that the rich man went to hell because he was literally clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day. There is no mention of him committing sin in any way, or even of being uncharitable to the beggar. It simply states that he had his riches in this world, and the beggar has his in the next. Riches is not a sin, else Solomon and a host of other prophets would be condemned. It also implies that Lazarus was blessed because he was at the rich man's gate, full of sores, and begging crumbs while the dogs came and licked his sores. If all this indeed were to be interpreted as a literal narrative, based on what is written here, the only conclusion that we could draw is that beggars and those who have sores, go to heaven. While those wearing fine linen colored purple, or who is rich and has means, are destined for the torment in hades. Of course, that makes no sense, but without a symbolic meaning, this is the only conclusion from the passages that we can reach. As I stated, the Bible shows us that many righteous men who were very rich. Righteous Joseph, the son of Israel, held the treasures of the Pharaoh and giving to whom he would, and was arrayed like a royal prince  as second man in the realm. Again, righteous Job was God blessed and a God-fearing man, and yet he was also so rich, with as many as 7,000 animals, he was spoken of as the greatest of all the men of the east. Moreover:
And so God makes it clear that having physical riches is no measure of a man's salvation. Nor is anyone saved because they are beggars or physically poor. This is neither a literal historical narrative of what happens to rich people (and rich and poor are relative terms), nor a literal portrait of what will happen to poor people. It is a parable painting a spiritual portrait of those who are destitute or poor in spirit, and those who are proud or rich in spirit. In it we see the humble versus the haughty, as it describes their destiny, based on this, their spiritual condition, not how much money they possess. IOt is the rich and poor as defined in 2nd corinthians 8:
- "And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold."
2nd Corinthians 8:9
This is the sense of rich and poor that is in view in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Those brought low in humility and those lofty spirits who value themselves as self sustaining. Another indication God gives that this story of Luke is not a literal narrative is that a literal drop of water on the tip of a single finger to cool the tongue of the rich man is absurd. It would not begin to cool him, nor lessen the problem of his torment in that flame. Besides, the man has no physical tongue as man's flesh and body becomes corrupted when he dies, and it cannot inherit the Kingdom of heaven. Nor can it be burnt in the grave. And unsaved man does not have a resurrected body until the 2nd resurrection, at "The Last Day." So how does the rich man in hell burning in a flame have a tongue, and yet this be a narrative of a hitorical event?
- "For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might be rich."
It is self-evident that if this was an actual event, then all of these things that Christ taught here, of necessity must be absolutely factual. And if all the points are not factual, then we must view this story as an analogy that Christ used to teach a larger spiritual truth. In other words, a Parable. Considering this, if the punishment of hades/hell is factually as it is taught in this story, then we who are saved will both be able to view our loved ones who were not saved, and watch as they are tormented in the flame, while begging us for water. But scripture tells us clearly that in heaven, we will have no more pain, sorrow, or crying. So again, we have an inconsistency when we attempt to read this in a literal, non-parabolic manner.
Moreover, the coveted place of Lazarus is Abraham's bosom. Again, if this were a literal narrative, the bosom of Abraham must also also be literal, the place where the saved desire to sit. Just as where the rich man is, must be the place where the unsaved will sit. Thus it makes Abraham sit with millions of sick, poor, sore ridden beggars on his bosom. The truth is much more believable, as it is quite clear this is parabolic language and not an actual narrative. The sign or signification here is that Abraham is a father of many nations, thus the figure of Lazarus in his bosom. i.e., it is an allegory, a parable picturing the seed of Abraham, the saved. As the children of God desire to sit with God, rather than Abraham. Abraham is a "sign" of the Covenanted people, not the hope or desire of all nations.
Another legitimate question that often arises is, "If this is a parable, why does Jesus speak in the present tense?" The answer is that Christ speaks in present tense 'because' this is a parable directed to us in the present. In other words, it is a figure to show us in one story that 'this' is what awaits the proud, 'this' is what awaits the poor in spirit, 'this' is a place where there is no comfort or relief, 'this' is why there is no second chance after death, 'this' word of Moses is the only way that we will ever hear, and in 'this' lifetime is when we must get right with God. It's for us in the present to see, "as if" we were looking at the present and the future and seeing a microcosm of the whole reality of both our existence on earth, and the end of all things, in one symbolical snapshot. God does this that we'll (from our perspective) understand our present need for salvation and the finality of the coming judgment, that we not disregard or leave unattended so great the necessity of today.
God is showing us the imminent danger in waiting for tomorrow. For salvation is promised to no one tomorrow. Now is the acceptable time. That is the perspective we see here. God often speaks from our perspective so that we (not He) can better understand the spiritual truths that He is putting forth in His word. For example:
- "How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him;"
God of course knew perfectly well where Adam and Eve were hiding, He neither had to call them, nor look for them. He is both Omniscient and Omnipresent. But He was calling them "as if" He didn't know where they were, to illustrate to us who read this narrative that they were attempting to hide from God. In other words, so that we could view this story from our human position, perspective, and understanding. Likewise:
- "And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?"
Did the Lord God for an instant forget His sworn Promise, and so have to repent and turn away from what He consequently planned to do? God Forbid! God speaks in scripture "as if" He changes His mind, or repents for doing something, when of course we know God knows perfectly well the final outcome of all things ahead of time. Again, it's to show us something in scripture "from our human or earthly perspective," so that we will be able to better understand. God speaks to us as if He were a man, because His ways are so far above our ways, that if not, we wouldn't understand anything. And even in this, in our sinful nature we still cannot comprehend the truth. God has to go further, and in Grace, give us spiritual ears to hear.
- "Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
- And the LORD repented of the evil which he thought to do unto his people."
A parable is simply a human or earthly analogy, which obviously doesn't have to be current, real people, or real events. It can put forth a simple principle, such as the proverbs. Likewise, in the parable of Lazarus God is painting a picture, the importance of what is our present earthly spiritual condition (equated to rich man or poor), and the "finality" in the after-life results of it. It shows how he who ends up in Hades because of his life on earth, cannot either help or be helped, so that all must get their help in this present life. That is the moral and warning of this story. That is why it is in the present tense. It is not declaring that this is an analogy of events that happen concurrently after men are cast into the torment of hades or hell at the death of the body. Rather, it is showing us how the 'present' is the only place we can gain deliverance (Roman Catholic praying for the dead, and alleged purgatory notwithstanding) from this awful place they will be cast into at the last day's judgment. How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? The answer is, we can't! Now is the acceptable time for salvation! This is the symbolic picture here.
Another reason that some Christians give for believing that this is a true story is implied in their question, "why would Lazarus be identified by name, if this was a parable?" However, we could likewise use the reverse of this logic and ask, "Why would the rich man not be identified by name, if this wasn't a parable?" It is the same tactic, and in neither case has any sound validity. The reason that Lazarus is named is because God assigns spiritual significance to names, and there is nothing in scripture that would preclude Him from doing so in a parable. That would be like saying that the figure of Elijah coming to prepare the way of the Lord, cannot be John the Baptist, because Elijah was "named," and thus it has to be his literal coming again. But we know that this is nonsense, as Jesus said, "and if ye will receive it, this is Elijah, which was for to come -Matt 11:14," showing us that John was the fulfillment of that prophetic figure. In other words, he came spiritually (luke 1:17) or allegorically as Elijah did, but the name didn't mean he was physically Elijah. So this arbitrary rule that because someone is named in an allegory, it must be literal or physical, is without Biblical validation.
As I stated, the answer is simple, God uses names to signify some "spiritual" truths. In the case of Lazarus, that name is from the Hebrew, Elazar, [el] meaning God, and ['azar], meaning hedged or helped. So it signifies him protected of God. It has nothing to do with Abraham literally holding the body of a man named Lazarus in his literal bosom, it is a "signification" of the God helped seed of Abraham, the people of the inheritance. Sadly, man tends to look too much to the earthly or physical and fails to see the heavenly or Spiritual. First of all, Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. Abraham is a figure of God there, and Lazarus of the the child of God in His bosom. That is why the bosom and name of Abraham is also used. To signify in this parable, the Children of the promise.
This parable isn't declaring that all this happens simultaneously, or that this rich man in Hades had eyes, or had brothers that were still on earth while he is being tormented, or even that water could literally give him relief or cool his tongue. Rather, it is a parable showing what the judgment of the grave is, "from our present perspective in time." From man's perspective, this is what hell will be like, and this is its finality. It does not mean that men will be living on earth while other men are being tormented in Hell for their sins. That is a Biblical impossibility, considering all of scripture. For man is not cast into the lake of fire until after the judgment. We understand that Scripture does not exist in a vacuum. It cannot contradict itself, it must all be considered, in context, in agreement with itself.
The wicked are judged at the last day, not at death. They cannot be cast into final torment until after they stand before God and are judged at "the last day." So where is the mystery? It is very easy to misunderstand a parable. That's why we have to consider it along with everything else God has to say. For example, God uses the parable of the fig tree as Israel, and cursing the fig tree He says, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever. Misunderstanding this parable we might think that means no Jewish person of Israel can ever be Saved. But that is not what God is saying, though in a perfect analogy (from our sinful perspective) that would have to be what it was saying. Yet there was fruit coming out of Israel, as the Apostles are an example. So considering the rest of scripture, we understand that it means Israel "in part," not all Israel. For a remnant of Israel will bear fruit, of which Paul so clearly spoke in Romans chapter 11. So we understand that parables must be considered carefully, in the light of other scriptures, not presumptuously.
- "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day."
The fact is, every man will have to stand before God and be judged on "The Last Day," and that includes people who are in the grave right now. They must come forth in the second resurrected from hades (Hell) to be judged, and then be cast into this torment to pay for their sins. This is as explained in Revelation chapter 20:
The second resurrection for the second death. They were not in hades the place of torment before this time. Indeed they cannot be there (despite the misunderstanding the parable of Lazarus) "until" after they have stood before God on the last day, and the books have been opened, and they are judged "according to what is in them." Only then can they be this Hades/Hell which is the place of torment. That is when [hades], or the grave (which is translated hell), shall give up the dead that were there in that 'place of silence.' A place of non-knowing, non-consciousness, non-reasoning, reserved to this day (The Last day), when all shall be judged and cast into the torment of the flame.
- "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
- And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death."
2nd Peter 2:4
- "For if God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest he also spare not thee."
Not cast them into the eternal torment of the lake of fire, but into Hell [tartaroo], which is the boundless void or abyss where souls of the unregenerate lie in silence reserved in chains of darkness, knowing nothing, until they are raised for the judgment on the last day. Then they shall be cast into hades.
- "For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;"
If this hell indeed was the hell of eternal torment, then why would God raise them up from here in the second resurrection, to then be cast into torment? And why Does God say they know nothing, cannot speak, and are in silence. If the parable of Lazarus is to be understood "literally," then they can both speak and know and are not in silence. It absolutely makes no sense whatsoever, and that is what always happens when man considers scripture in a vacuum. It contradicts itself, which is God's way of telling us that our understanding of it is flawed.
For God to place men in the torment of hell before they have stood before him on the last day, is akin to a judge sentencing a person to be beaten before he has started the trial or read what he is accused of from the books or the evidence seen. Divine righteous justice will not allow this. Some will be beaten with many stripes, some with few stripes, but none until the last day when they must stand to give account of their works. According to God (not I) man must be raised from the dead on "The Last Day," to stand before God, and have the evidence of his works revealed, and only then will he is cast into Hell (Lake of Fire) of torment to pay for those works which were written in that book. To say he is already there when he dies, is confusion, considering the rest of what God has to say.
- "And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
- And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."
The Parabolic Application to Israel
Is the rich man and Lazarus a parable? Of course it is. In the context of the whole chapter of luke chapter sixteen, it is clear that in this spiritual signification, Jesus is condemning Israel for their pride to trust in their own conceit and glory. In other words, God is equating riches with the pride of man who trusts in his own righteousness, and poverty with the humility of men who trust in the righteousness of Christ for all things, and not the works of his own hands. In the very same chapter, Christ spoke of the same analogy of riches just a few verses before this parable of Lazarus. Read the parable of the unjust stewart.
Clearly, God is equating unrighteous riches (mamon) to that which Israel has as stewards, and how they were not faithful with it. God says that it was their heart that was the root of the problem. Instead of dealing the riches of the kingdom as stewards to give to the poor who needed it, in the pride of their spirit, they justified themselves thinking that they were made rich of themselves. But what is highly esteemed of men, is abomination to God. While these of Israel thought themselves rich or righteous, God says He knew their heart. They think they are rich, but in God's eyes they are poor. They think they are the seed of Abraham, and think that they see, but that was not the case. They think that they are righteous, but in God's eyes they were unrighteous and blind. It's not an indication that riches is a sin barometer, but that in trusting in their own righteousness (riches) and their own works, that was what was their error. It is the very same warning against the haughty heart and self sufficiently that God gives the seven Churches in Revelation.
- "He that is faithful in that which is least is faithful also in much: and he that is unjust in the least is unjust also in much.
- If therefore ye have not been faithful in the unrighteous mammon, who will commit to your trust the true riches?"
- And if ye have not been faithful in that which is another man's, who shall give you that which is your own?
- No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.
- And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.
- And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God."
- "Because thou sayest, I am Rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked:
- I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.
- As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent."
Here we see the true riches versus that which man thinks is wealth. This is the rebuke of the Lord against His people who think themselves rich, but who in God's eyes were poor. In other words, their thinking that they were rich and needed nothing. God equates this to their thinking they were righteous of themselves and didn't need the righteousness of Christ. And that's the exact same figure Christ is using in this parable of the unjust steward. The riches entrusted to Israel is the righteous gospel of Christ which was not dealt to the poor. It wasn't physical riches, but the spiritual riches of agape charity. The very same principle as the Parable of the servant who hid the riches that God gave him, instead of putting it to good use to help the poor. Again, it's not the physical poor in view, but the poor in spirit who hunger after righteousness, which Israel was the steward of. To loose the strangers from the prison house of Satan, to give the waters of Life of the gospel to a thirsty soul. This is what caring for the poor and needy consists of.
And note carefully that this casting into the torment of death is on the last day, the day (matt 25:31-32) when the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, and when before him are gathered all nations as He separates them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. How can anyone surmise from all these scriptures that the judgment of the grave is anytime but at the last day? And it is in this context of true riches and poverty, in the parable of the unjust steward of Luke, that God goes on to give the parable of the rich man, and Lazarus. In other words, that which was highly esteemed (rich) among men, is considered an abomination unto God. It was because of their faith in their own riches, signifying their own righteousness or goodness, that Jesus said these things. Let us look more closely at the parable of the Rich man, verse by verse, and let God open up its deeper spiritual meaning to us.
- "Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
- Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
- And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."
Someone clothed in blue, purple and fine linen is to give us an illustration of riches. Purple was the clothing of Princes, Royalty, or those who were very Rich and could afford to dress luxuriously. God also used the language extensively in the Old Testament to illustrate preciousness in the tabernacle, or of the priests who were to wear it. We can see all through scripture that purple (along with gold and blue) and fine linen illustrated riches or something that was precious.
- "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:"
- "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."
This purple and fine linen signifies "Lavishness of Riches" in scripture. The clothing of the rich man identifies him spiritually with Israel, whom the Lord has chosen as a Royal and precious nation. A rich nation blessed of God as stewards, to whom pertained the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises. The Rich man is the figure of Israel, who the parable says, was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously or lavishly every day! A rich or highminded man equated to a self righteous or vain nation. While the poor or humble man is equated to a contrite or humble nation which is in the bosom of the father, as children. This is the symbolism of rich and poor. Consider the signification of rich in 1st Timothy:
1st Timothy 6:17-19
- "Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy;
- That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate;
- Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life."
Rich in good works, ready to distribute to the poor is how a good steward is portrayed, but Israel was rich in this world, highminded, trusting in the work of their own hands. While Lazarus was poor in these things, yet laying up in store for himself a good foundation against the time to come, when he is in the bosom of Abraham, while the rich man is in hell. Israel richly blessed in this world, Lazarus in the world to come. As Jesus said of these blessed, they left house, and parents, and brethren, and wife, and children, all for the kingdom of God's sake, and they shall receive manifold more in this present time, and in the world to come life everlasting. In other words, they gave up all the riches of this world, the things which the carnal man finds precious, for the Kingdom of God's sake, and thus shall be as Lazarus, to receive everlasting life in the world to come. Those who would not give up these things, would not take up the cross and follow Christ, will be as the Rich man. Christ being crucified, was a symbol of the Old Testament Temple being destroyed, and how it would be raised up again with Christ being the head of the corner. And it is no coincidence that the wicked put purple on him, and dressed Him in Royal apparel, a king of Israel. ..He who hath an ear, let him hear.
- "And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe,
- And said, Hail, King of the Jews! and they smote him with their hands."
This is the fall of Israel in the death of Christ. Arrayed in purple, a crown on His head as their king, the Holy Temple, destroyed. A Rich nation destroyed because they knew not the day of visitation. As babylon, Israel fell on that fateful day, and their house was left unto them desolate that the merchandise of their riches, the gold, and silver, and precious stones, and of pearls, and fine linen, and purple, were not found in her again. Israel, as the Fig tree which signified her, had been cursed that no more fruit grow on her forever. And to this day, no fruit has! This ended the riches of Israel, and sent her to a destination of Hell. In one hour was her judgment, as she, being held in Satan's house of bondage, his kingdom, has lost all. And the New Covenant with Israel was in the building again, in Christ! i.e., destroy this Temple, and in three days I will raise it up again. New Testament and Old Testament Israel illustrated in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
- "And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,"
This word beggar [ptochos] is used thirty-four times in the New Testament, and is translated "poor" everywhere except here, and Galatians 4:9. Here we see that in stark contrast to this rich man, there is Lazarus who not-coincidentally, has come to the rich man's gate to receive a hand out. He is not proud, but poor, begging that this man might be charitable to him a sinner. We note that Christ says that Lazarus was full of sores, signifying that he was unclean, and in need of healing. The gentiles were looked upon by Israel as common or unclean, and the Jews had no dealings with them. This is all the spiritual signification of the gentiles being looked upon as spiritually sick, unclean, far off from God.
Being poor signifies the "poor in spirit" who hunger and thirst after righteousness, and ask alms of Christ in their humility.
- "Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven."
It's a word picture of the humility of the true child of God. The poor are uneasy about themselves, knowing their sin. They thirst after righteousness and know their need. They recognize themselves as destitute, and not self sufficient, but dependent upon God. As contrasted with the rich or proud in spirit who look upon themselves with self respect (pride), and as the self sufficient, who depend on themselves. A contrast between the Israel of works, and the Israel of Grace. Between the Rich man, and Lazarus.
- "And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."
Again, this same spiritual signification that they wanted to be fed with that which was on Israel's table, namely, the bread of life in Christ. Jesus illustrated this exact same principle as a Gentile woman came to Him, and she 'begged' Him to heal her daughter by casting the devil out of her.
- "But he answered her not a word. And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
- But he answered and said, I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
- Then came she and worshipped him, saying, Lord, help me.
- But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children's bread, and to cast it to dogs.
- And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters' table.
- Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour."
This is the same picture as in the parable of Lazarus. Israel, the rich man, and his position of riches, and the gentile, beggar Lazarus, who begs for but the crumbs off the table of Israel. Do you see the correlation? Note that Jesus equates the Children of the master, to Israel, and this gentile beggar, to a dog. Yet she is not puffed up, offended, but with humility declares of herself, True! But even dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their masters table. This event is almost a mirror of the parable of Lazarus. Consider it again:
- "And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores."
The gentiles were considered as dogs or unclean in the old testament, and Israel was to have nothing to do with them, unless they become part of Israel. Remember, this was also the picture of the unclean animals that was let down three times, where God said call not thou common what God has cleansed, signifying that salvation was going to the Gentiles also. The Gentiles were as dogs and swine and the Jews did not mix with them.
- "Then saith the woman of Samaria unto him, How is it that thou, being a Jew, askest drink of me, which am a woman of Samaria? for the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans."
Lazarus was among dogs signifying that he was a gentile, who had sores, was unclean or common, and was in need of being healed. He also begged to be fed from the crumbs which fall from Israel's table. The same thing Jesus illustrated of the Gentile in Matthew 15:23-28. These things are not coincidence, they are God breathed. In this we are seeing the connection God has established between the Rich man and Israel, and the Poor man and the Gentiles.
This parable is a Word picture of the judgment of Old Testament Israel, fallen, cast out of the Kingdom because they trusted in their riches, and New Testament Israel made up of Gentiles and jews coming from north, south, east and west, to sit in Abraham's bosom. i.e., Israel was first, and she shall be last. To the Jew first, but also to the Gentile.
- "There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.
- And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.
- And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last."
Gentiles shall come into the Kingdom, those poor in spirit who eat of the crumbs of the masters table, after the Children have eaten. Many of Israel will find themselves in hell, because they trust in their own righteousness, and many Gentiles will find themselves in Heaven, because they trust in the righteousness of Christ. Where we all will end up depends upon if we are rich, or poor. And this dependence has nothing to do with literal riches. It has to do with if we have the gold tried in the fire, or are rich in the ways of the world.
- "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;"
First of all take careful note that when Lazarus died, we read he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. Second it declares that the rich man also died, but was carried nowhere by messengers of God. It says he was buried, and in hell [hades] being in torment, lifted up his eyes to see Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham afar off. It is unquestionably a parable, as it cannot be taken literally, consistently, and agree with all of scripture.
The once poor and destitute is now the blessed child, and truly rich. A man claiming he was a child of Abraham, and that he was the blessed, is now in Hell and destitute. The kingdom has been reversed, where the Gentiles are being blessed, and Israel (in part) judged.
- "Jesus saith unto them, Did ye never read in the scriptures, The stone which the builders rejected, the same is become the head of the corner: this is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes?
- Therefore say I unto you, The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof.
- And whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.
- And when the chief priests and Pharisees had heard his parables, they perceived that he spake of them."
Indeed Christ did speak of Israel. Blindness in part has happened unto them until the fulness of Gentiles be come in, so all Israel shall be Saved. Lazarus is a picture of the beggars for crumbs who now sit in abraham's bosom, the God-Helped, and the rich man a picture of the children of the kingdom, who have been cast out. It is lazarus who is now protected on Eagles wings, God being his succor and protector.
- "And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."
The dead cannot lift up their eyes in the grave, nor can they see afar off, nor can they speak, because it is explicitly declared of God that there is no device (reasoning or thinking), there is no knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave.
- "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."
- "The dead praise not the LORD, neither any that go down into silence."
There is no device (reasoning or devising), there is no knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, there is only the state of unconscious silence. In fact, Ecclesiastes 9:10 describes this state of unconsciousness perfectly! So we understand that when the Lord describes how in hell [hades, the grave] the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, it in no way can be a literal narrative, but another proof that this story is a parable. The unsaved who die cannot lift up their eyes, see, hear, know, reason, or speak. The Lord is showing in this parable that suffering and torment await those who die, are are not the true seed of Abraham.
- "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."
This verse (along with others) suggests that the torment of the sinners in Hell will be endless, as the torment of fire burns, yet does not consume him. Consider that the rich man called abraham, Father. This is yet another confirmation that the rich man is symbolizing Israel. Yet Lazarus is the one in his bosom as his child, and the rich man calling him Father, afar off. So though this rich man claimed to be a son of Abraham, in reality he was separated from Abraham by a great gulf. Abraham being the figure of God, we see that Lazarus has become the seed of Abraham, a child of God, while the rich man who was the seed of Abraham, cast out of the kingdom, a child of the devil. Just as Jesus spoke in no uncertain terms concerning this:
- "I know that ye are Abraham's seed; but ye seek to kill me, because my word hath no place in you.
- I speak that which I have seen with my Father: and ye do that which ye have seen with your father.
- 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.
- But now ye seek to kill me, a man that hath told you the truth, which I have heard of God: this did not Abraham."
- "Bring forth therefore fruits worthy of repentance, and begin not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, That God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham."
Israel declares to Christ, "Abraham is our father," the same as the rich man does in the parable, but Christ says if they had been the seed of Abraham, they would do the works of God, as Abraham did. Jesus is telling israel that their trust in lineage or heritage will not Save them, only the faith which Abraham had, will Save them. The faith of Christ! In other words, Israel would be children of Abraham only if they did the works of God. Which neither they, nor this Rich man which represents them in the parable, did. For only in the Righteousness of Christ, could they do the works of Abraham. Thus those in Christ sit with Abraham, and the rich man cast out.
- "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."
The rich man asks him to have mercy, but Abraham declares this will not be, because he received his reward in his life, and Lazarus receives his in this after-life. Those who are poor in the things of this world, yet who trust in the charity of God (Grace), are truly rich, and will receive their reward in heaven as they are exalted above those who now hold the highest positions of what the world considers riches. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they shall see God. The proud and the rich exalted themselves in the earth, and that's their reward. Lazarus, the God Helped, get's his reward in the kingdom of heaven, after this life.
- "He hath shewed strength with his arm; he hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
- He hath put down the mighty from their seats, and exalted them of low degree.
- He hath filled the hungry with good things; and the rich he hath sent empty away.
- He hath holpen his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy;
- As he spake to our fathers, to Abraham, and to his seed for ever."
New Testament Israel is the God-Helped Israel! In parable, Lazarus! The Rich man hath God sent away empty, and this lowly has been exalted. This is the fulfillment of the prophesy quoted above. He has filled the hungry with the bread of the Word, and dressed the poor in the robe of righteousness. These are spiritual truths concerning the freeing from bondage of Spiritual Israel, and the judging of the prideful Israel.
More than this, the parable of Luke 16:25 also illustrates that the justice of God cannot be circumvented, and that it must run it's course! Once one has died spiritually rich, whether Jew or Gentile, his fate is sealed and it cannot be altered.
- "Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
- And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
The Spiritually rich, meaning those with an exalted spirit, haughty, prideful, trusting in their own wherewithal, instead of the charity of God. In a word, not trusting in "Grace" to obtain the reward. If our rewards were in this life, if we lived our life for this world, we have no heavenly reward. If we lived for the world, the world is all we have. If we lived for Christ, being persecuted for His name sake, then we will be comforted in the arms of God.
Israel, rather than look to the Kingdom of God for their riches and righteousness, exalted themselves, made themselves rich, gloried in the things of the world, not understanding that we are strangers and pilgrims here, just passing through. But Lazarus put his trust in Christ, and ate of the crumbs that fell from the masters table, and thus he is comforted as a child of Abraham.
God had made the rich man a steward of His means, and as steward it was his responsibility help the spiritually poor and needy, symbolized by this beggar with sores. The Lord's blessings were upon Israel, but she employed them selfishly, to honor herself, not the Master. Israel had forgotten, "thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself" (Lev. 19:18).
- "And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence."
There is no communion with the Saved, and the condemned after death. This verse of the parable is a figure to show us (of the present) that nothing can change what will be. Man must get his help from God "IN THIS PRESENT LIFE." That is also why it is in the present tense. We must act now, for in Hell, there is no setting things right.
The rich man asking abraham to have mercy on him, and Abraham saying he cannot is the parabolic illustration that the justice of God cannot be circumvented, it must run it's course! Once one has died, his fate is sealed and cannot be altered. Understanding this, we see the Rich man ask more, that someone might be sent to his fathers house.
- "Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house:
- For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
- Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
- And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
- And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead."
God rejects the rich man's request. All must hear truth via moses and the prophets (a synonym for the scriptures), the gentiles cannot do it, only spiritual ears can help Israel. God is telling him that his five brothers already have a witness in the writings of Moses and the prophets, and that is the only way Israel will escape this fate.
They will not escape it by Lazarus, he that is protected or helped of God, coming from the dead to them. If they don't hear the scriptures, neither will they hear if one rose from the dead. A clear spiritual reference pointing to the resurrection of Christ, and how faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. Lazarus speaking from the dead could say no more, with no more authority, than what is written in the scriptures. For anyone who will not hear God's Word about Christ, Grace, and Hell, will also not hear even if there was a miraculous resurrection. Did the Jews believe for all the miracles they witnessed? i.e., Grace is an unmerited gift of God, and only him who God gives ears to hear, will ultimately hear.
This parable teaches what Paul stated in Romans 11:19-32. Because of unbelief the natural branches were broken off, and the wild branches were grafted in. It teaches hell awaits those holding to salvation by their own riches, and Heaven awaits those who in humility are poor in spirit to hold that Salvation is by Grace alone.
In this parable, the "rich man" represents a class, the spirits who in their pride think themselves rich, and "Lazarus" represents another class, the spirits who in humility, lay it all on the shoulders of Christ.
Israel was favored with every temporal and spiritual blessing, but they abandoned God, and trusted in themselves and their heritage for their blessings. The Lord recognized no virtue in lineage, for there is no respect of persons with the Lord. No man can trust in himself for true eternal riches, only in God. The Lord cared for Israel and made them the depositaries of the gospel truth, but Israel misused that, to her own peril.
Lazarus represented those who were outside of divine favor, who in their sin sick souls desired healing and hungered after righteousness. These gentiles were destitute of the special blessings which Israel enjoyed, and this remnant desired but the crumbs from Israel's table.
There are many in today's congregations who are following the same course as the congregation of Israel did. Though professing members of the congregation of God, they are unconverted. And even though they may take part in Church services, or sing hymns, and say praise the Lord, their hearts are lifted up in pride and far off from God.
- "And if ye be Christ's, then are ye Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise."
Many call themselves Christ's, and Abraham their father, yet like in the parable of Lazarus, their is a great gulf fixed them and God.
In this parable there are many things which stand out. We see Christ is teaching the real pain and torment of hell, that there is no second chance after death, and that it is impossible for the dead to communicate with the living, and that those who are poor and reviled and persecuted for Christ's sake now, will be those in Glory in the Kingdom.
If this rich man had appreciated his exalted status and allowed God's Spirit to guide him, there would have been an altogether different outcome. And likewise with the nation he represented. Israel was cast off and have since been shown "no favor," while the poor Gentiles, who before had been "aliens from the commonwealth (the polity) of Israel and strangers from the covenant of promise (up to this time given to Israel only) having no hope.
- "Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands;
- That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world:
- 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.
- Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God;"
Where once gentiles were far off and without God in the world, are by the blood of Christ made nigh and reconciled to God, the father.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Christ shows that it is our works in this life which decide our eternal destiny. Whether the works of Christ, or our own sin tainted works. It is a contrast between the rich who have not made God their dependence, their Help, their strength, and the poor who have made God their dependence and rely upon His strength in all things. Israel who was rich and depended upon their own works for Salvation, and those under Grace who depend upon the work of Christ for Salvation. The Rich who become poor, and the poor who become rich. The last shall be first, and the first last.
May the Precious Lord who is gracious above all, guide us into truth, and give us the wisdom and understanding to discern His Holy Word.
Footnotes1. Genesis 41:41-44 "And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vesture of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt." [Back]
2. Job 1:3 "His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east. [Back]
3. Proverbs 26:7 and Proverbs 26:9 are both examples of parables which put forth a principle or moral of a story. [Back]
4. Matthew 21:19 - Mark 11:13-14 also says, "And seeing a fig tree afar off having leaves, he came, if haply he might find any thing thereon: and when he came to it, he found nothing but leaves; for the time of figs was not yet. And Jesus answered and said unto it, No man eat fruit of thee hereafter for ever. And his disciples heard it." [Back]
5. Psalms 115:17 [Back]
6. John 9:41 Jesus said unto them, If ye were blind, ye should have no sin: but now ye say, We see; therefore your sin remaineth. [Back]
7. Matthew 25:14-46 [Back]
8. Romans 9:4 [Back]
9. Acts 10:15 And the voice spake unto him again the second time, What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. [Back]
10. Luke 18:29-30 [Back]
11. Revelation 18:16-17 "And saying, Alas, alas, that great city, that was clothed in fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones, and pearls! For in one hour so great riches is come to nought. And every shipmaster, and all the company in ships, and sailors, and as many as trade by sea, stood afar off.. [Back]
12. Matthew 21:19 [Back]
Copyright ©2001 Tony WarrenFeel free to duplicate, display or distribute this publication to anyone so long as the above copyright notice remains intact and there are no changes made to the article. This publication can be distributed only in it's original form, unedited, and without cost.
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