THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is taken by most Christians to be a literal account of what happens at death. However we must consider Mark 4:33-34, “And with many such parables spake He the word unto them (the crowds at the sea shore, vs. 1) as they were able to hear it. But without a parable spake He not unto them“. We learn from this passage that our Lord determined rather early in His ministry to speak only in parables to the crowds. In my opinion, that should settle the matter of whether the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. That is to say, if the Lord was speaking only in parables, obviously the stories of Luke 16 are parables.
But let us continue with our study. If the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is taken literally there are several difficulties with it. For example, we read in verse 25, “Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your life time you received good things while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here while you are in agony’”. There are three difficulties here; 1) we are not told that the rich man was unbelieving or unfaithful or cruel, only that he was rich. And yet, verse 25 implies that he is suffering agony only because he was rich. And similarly, we are not told that Lazarus was faithful or a believer or good in any sense, only that he had nothing during his lifetime. This is not consistent with the message of salvation as given to us in the Word of God.
2) The Bible teaches that the body goes back to dust and the spirit goes back to God who gave it (Ecc. 12:7), There is nothing in that scenario that even hints of “Abraham’s bosom”, it is inconsistent with the teaching of God’s Word in connection with death. (Please see the paper on this web-site What Happens At Death? for the Scriptural answer to that question.) It is also worth noting that this is the only time in the entire Word of God where Abraham’s bosom is even mentioned.
3) The Bible also teaches that there is only silence in death. ” Ps. 31:17 says, “…let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in the grave”. Ps. 88:10-11, “Do you show your wonders to the dead, do those who are dead rise up and praise you? Is your love declared in the grave, your faithfulness in destruction?” Ps. 115:17, “It is not the dead who praise the Lord, those who go down to silence”. If these verses are true, and we know they are, how is there conversation between the rich man and Abraham in hades?
In order to correctly understand how God means for us to understand this passage we absolutely must consider the context. As the reader goes all the way back to Luke chapter fifteen, he/she will see that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is the last of five parables that, as we shall see, are connected.
THE FIVE PARABLES OF LUKE CHAPTERS 15-16
The five parables of Luke chapters 15-16 are connected in two ways. 1) They are told at the same time, and 2) they are told with the Pharisees in mind. I believe that as we discuss these parables the second point will become evident.
We read in Luke 15:1-2, “Then drew near unto Him all the publicans and sinners for to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, ‘This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.'” The note in the Companion Bible on the word translated “murmured” reads, “The word implies subdued threatening”. The next verse (verse 3) begins the parable of the lost sheep.
THE PARABLE OF THE LOST SHEEP (LUKE 15:3-6)
“And He spake this parable unto them, saying, ‘What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he cometh home he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.'” The point of the parable is stated in the next verse, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance‘”.
This parable is, in some ways, like the parable of the lost sheep recorded in Matt. 18:12-14, but it differs in some aspects. It is in those aspects that we find a slightly different point in the parable recorded in Luke 15:3-6 than the parable recorded in Mathew’s Gospel.
I believe it would be helpful in understanding the point of the parable, as well as all these five parables, as we consider the circumstances of why it was told. As we saw in verses 1-2 the Pharisees were “murmuring” against Christ because He had been receiving publicans and sinners. I believe that we may conclude from their reaction that the Pharisees considered the publicans and sinners to be unworthy of hearing the truth. Therefore, I believe we may conclude that the one lost sheep represents the publicans and sinners.
Did the 99 sheep represent anyone? I believe they did because the contrast is made between them and the one that was found. That is to say, the contrast is made between the one lost sheep, who represented the publicans and sinners and those who were not lost, but were indeed “just and had no need of repentance”. But who were the ” just persons”, which had “no need of repentance”? Were there any who did not need to repent? In fact, the Pharisees saw themselves as those who did not need to repent. The parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector recorded in Luke 18:9-13 tells us specifically of the Pharisees’ opinion of their own self-righteousness, “He spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others”. But, of course Christ knew that they did need to repent, so why did He imply in the parable that they did not need to repent?
I believe that Christ was using the figure of speech, irony, to make His point more emphatically, which is the purpose of a figure of speech. Irony, according to Webster’s dictionary is “a sort of …ridicule, the intended implication of which is the opposite of the literal sense of the words”. We use irony when we say, for example “I love this bitter cold weather”, when we really mean that we hate this bitter cold weather.
It is good to keep in mind that irony as a figure of speech emphasizes the negativity of the statement being expressed in the positive.
Let us consider other scriptures wherein we see the use of irony. Consider for example, I Kings 18 where we read of Elijah who went about to prove that Baal was not God, i.e. that Jehovah was the only true God. We read in verses 25-26, “and Elijah said unto the prophets of Baal, ‘Choose you one bullock for yourselves, and dress it first; for ye are many; and call on the name of your gods, but put no fire under.’ And they took the bullock….and they dressed it and called on the name of Baal from morning even until noon, saying ‘O Baal, hear us. ‘ But there was no voice, nor any that answered…..”. Then in verse 27 Elijah made a statement that can only be irony, “Elijah mocked them, and said, ‘Cry aloud; for he is a god; either he is talking, or he is pursuing, or he is on a journey, or peradventure he sleepeth and must be awaked.'”
Elijah knew very well that Baal was doing none of those things. This is irony. In fact, it is more than irony, it is sarcastic irony. The Webster’s Dictionary definition of sarcasm in part is, “The use of bitter, caustic, or stinging remarks expressing contempt, often by ironical statement”.
Consider also Judges 10:14 where God uses irony when the Lord says, “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen, let them save you when you are in trouble”. God obviously knew that there were no gods who could save them. He said the very opposite of what was literally intended, i.e irony.
So when Christ implied that the 99 sheep needed no repentance He was saying the opposite of what was literally intended with the use of irony, because everyone is in need of repentance. He spoke in that manner to make the point even more clearly, that the Pharisees (who the 99 sheep represented) did need to repent.
I am suggesting therefore, that there are two points in this parable, one given and the other implied. The one given is the rejoicing over one sinner being saved. In that respect it is much the same point as the parable of Matt. 18:12-14. The one implied by the use of irony is that the Pharisees, who did not consider themselves in need of “being found” due to their own sense of righteousness, did indeed need to repent.
THE PARABLE OF THE LOST COIN (LUKE 15:8-9)
“….. what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? and when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, ‘Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost'”. The point of the parable is given in the next verse. “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth”.
Obviously, the point of this parable is the same as the points of the previous parable. The lost coin represents the Publicans and sinners. The rejoicing over the found coin, emphasizes the fact that God and His angels, unlike the Pharisees, consider each Publican and each sinner important enough to rejoice over their “being found”. In this case we may conclude that the friends the woman called represent the “angels of God” as that does emphasize the point that God, unlike the Pharisees, considers each lost person found, a matter of rejoicing.
So once again there is a stated point of the joy over having found the lost, and the implied criticism of the Pharisees and their uncaring attitude towards the “found”.
THE PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON (LUKE 15:11-32)
“And He said,’A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, ‘give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.’ And he divided unto them his living. And not many days after, the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in the land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: And no man gave unto him. And when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many hired servants of my father’s have bread enough to spare, and I perish with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and will say into him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, and am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants’. And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. And the son said unto him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son’. But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, ‘Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.’ And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And he answering said to his father, ‘Lo these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends; but as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.’ And he said unto him ‘Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found'”.
Because there is no explanation given, I believe we may conclude that the points of this parable are the same as the two preceding ones, i.e. 1) there is great rejoicing over each lost person that is found and 2) it is meant as a ridicule of the Pharisees. Let us consider those two points as they are given in this parable.
The first point is obvious. The younger son represents the publicans and sinners who repent and return to plead their Father’s forgiveness. But note just how low this son had sunk. “Swine” were, of course forbidden by the law of Moses and were held in great contempt. The older son obviously represents the Pharisees, who considered themselves above the publican and sinner in every way. But it is the younger son, who had fallen into disgrace that was welcomed, and the older son representing the Pharisees are seen as resenting the younger son being welcomed home. The older son declares his own righteousness, just as the Pharisees had declared their righteousness. Here again, it is clear that the Pharisees did not have their own righteousness and their being represented as such was irony that made the point quite clearly.
Again, the two points of this parable is the joy at receiving one who repents and the criticism of the Pharisees in their attitudes in regard to their own self righteousness.
THE PARABLE OF THE UNJUST STEWARD (LUKE 16:1-9)
“And He said also unto His disciples, ‘There was a certain rich man, which had a steward; and the same was accused unto him that he had wasted his goods. and he called him, and said unto him, ‘How is it that I hear this of thee? give an account of thy stewardship; for thou mayest be no longer steward. Then the steward said within himself, ‘What shall I do? for my lord taketh away from me the stewardship: I cannot dig; to beg I am ashamed. I am resolved what to do, that, when I am put out of the stewardship, they may receive me into their houses.’ So he called every one of his lord’s debtors unto him and said unto the first, ‘How much owest thou unto my lord?’ And he said, ‘An hundred measures of oil.’ And he said unto him, ‘Take thy bill, and sit down quickly, and write fifty.’ Then said he to another, ‘And how much owest thou?’ And he said, ‘An hundred measures of wheat.’ And he said unto him, ‘Take thy bill, and write fourscore.’ And the lord commended the unjust steward, because he had done wisely: for the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light. And I say unto you, ‘Make you yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness; that, when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations.'”
We must consider a few things about this parable if we are to understand it correctly. Christ refers to the steward as “unjust” in verse 8. But in verse 9 He tells His disciples to do exactly what the “unjust steward” had done, “Make for yourselves friends of the mammon of unrighteousness that, when ye fail they may receive you into everlasting habitations.'” How is it possible that Christ would tell His disciples to do as the unjust servant had done? Obviously, it is not possible. This is another case of irony. But what was the point, why did Christ tell this particular parable?
The point of the parable is recorded in verses 10-13, “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?” Verse 14 is especially helpful, “And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things; and they derided Him“.
Note also that the parable contrasts the “children of this world” with “the children of light” and proclaims the former were more wise than the latter. No one can think that the children of this world are more wise in any way that God will recognize than the children of the light. Again, this is pure irony.
Let us pull all this together. We have seen in the three preceding parables that Christ was very critical of the Pharisees in that they saw themselves as being so much better than other men. In the parable of the unjust steward, Christ attacked their monetary dealings. Our Lord was obviously not telling His disciples to do as the unjust steward had done, He was making the point by using irony that the Pharisees were covetous and were unjust in their financial dealings . So too, Christ was not saying that the children of this world are more wise than the children of light. The entire parable is a criticism (employing the use of irony) of the Pharisees.
Once again there is a stated point, “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”. But the implied point is the irony accusing the Pharisees of being unjust in their monetary dealings.
THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS (LUKE 16:19-31)
We come now to the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. I trust the reader will consider the points of the previous four parables of the context and be led by them.
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 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.’ 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. 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.’ 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.'”
What is the point of this parable? It is found in the next verse, “Then said He unto the disciples, ‘It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea than that he should offend one of these little ones.'” Of what offences is Christ speaking? We must answer that from the context and especially from the point of the parable.
As we have seen in all the parables discussed above from Luke chapters 15-16, each one is at least in part a criticism of the Pharisees in the form of irony. Note Luke 16:14 which comes between the parable of the unjust steward and the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, that the Pharisees are still very much in the picture, “and the Pharisees also who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided Him”. The note in the Companion Bible on the word translated “derided” is, “were turning up their noses at”.
How is this parable a criticism of the Pharisees? To answer this question let us look again at some of the particulars of the parable. Note for example that Lazarus’ body was “carried by the angels”. But there is nothing in God’s Word of anyone’s body being carried by angels. Note also that the body was carried to “Abraham’s bosom”. There is absolutely nothing in God’s Word, apart from this verse, about “Abraham’s bosom”. Note that there is conversation in hades. But we read in several passages that told us that there is silence in the grave. Ps. 6:5, “No one remembers You when he is dead, who praises You from the grave?” Ps. 31:17 says, “…let the wicked be put to shame and lie silent in death”. For the rich man to be speaking in hades absolutely contradicts God’s Word.
Note also that the reason given the rich man for his present circumstance as contrasted with Lazarus’ is that “thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. Salvation is not given to the poor because they are poor, or withheld from the rich because they are rich. Again, this is not the teaching of God’s Word.
We have learned that many of the statements made in this parable contradict what the Word of God says about death and about salvation. It is obvious therefore, that the entire parable is similar to the other parables of the immediate context in that it is irony aimed at the Pharisees. In this case, it is aimed at the teachings of the Pharisees. The Pharisees taught all the untruths given in this parable. As we consider that fact, I believe that the point is more clear as given in 17:1, that the offences are the offences to the truth of God’s Word.
Now that we understand that this parable is irony (an expression of the opposite of what is literally meant in a critical manner) let us consider the particulars of the parable more carefully.
The rich man was “clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously”. Bearing in mind that the Pharisees saw themselves as better than the common man, I believe we may conclude that the rich man represents the Pharisees. Lazarus obviously represents how the Pharisees saw the poor of Israel. Note that Lazarus had sores that the dogs came to lick. We have seen in several parables that the Pharisees saw the common man of Israel in a very poor and abased light, especially in comparison to themselves.
(Many believe that because the beggar was named, that proves that it was not a parable because no other parable has a named character. But that argument, in my opinion, should not bear more weight than the context or the point of the parable or especially the fact that Mark tells us that Christ spoke only in parables after a certain time. In my opinion, rather than jump to the conclusion that the naming of the beggar points to the story being true rather than a parable, is not substantiated by the immediate context. Rather, we should ask why in keeping with the story was just the beggar named and not the rich man? At the very least, the naming of the beggar and not the rich man tells us that Christ used that to make the point that even though the Pharisees thought of the poor as less than themselves, in the story the beggar had a name but the rich man did not. That conclusion is based, not on supposition, but on the context.)
Of course, once the two died, this is not how the Pharisees saw their respective roles. But Christ was using their false teachings about death to emphasize just how wrong they were in those teachings.
The gulf between Abraham’s bosom and hades could represent the great gulf that the Pharisees saw between themselves and the common people of Israel.
The five brother’s of the rich man also represented the Pharisees in that “If they hear not Moses, and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead”. This seems to be a rather obvious reference to Christ’s claim to be “the resurrection and the life”, which most of the Pharisees refused to believe.
Let us come back now to the question of what the point of this parable is. May I respectfully remind the reader that the point is given in Luke 17:1-2 which reads, ” “Then said He unto the disciples, ‘It is impossible but that offences will come: but woe unto him, through whom they come; it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea than that he should offend one of these little ones.'”
What is the offence referred to in this passage? Let us consider Rom. 9:33 which uses the same Greek word as does Luke 17:1, “Behold I lay in Sion a stumbling stone and rock of offence”. And Rom. 11:9 also uses the same word but it is translated “stumbling block”. That verse reads, “And David said, ‘Let there be a snare, and a trap, and a stumblingblock..”. So the “offence” of Luke 17 is a stumbling stone or stumblingblock. What is the stumblingblock in Luke 17:1-2? It is the false teachings of the Pharisees concerning death.
The point of this parable is not to teach what happens at death. It is to point out the false teachings of the Pharisees and that they would not recognize the falseness of them even if one were to rise from the dead.
This paper was written by Joyce Pollard. If you would like to comment on it please e-mail me at: firstname.lastname@example.org