Lazarus and the Rich Man

[Note this is an updated article from the old blog site.]

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.

~ Lk 16:19-31

Whenever we look at a parable, we need to ask ourselves, “What is the point of the parable?” Otherwise, we may come up with some rather strange and unbiblical ideas that have nothing to do with what was being taught.

In John MacArthur’s book, A Tale of Two Sons, we learn that a parable is a transliteration from the Greek word meaning “to place along side of”. In an allegory, every detail has meaning, but instead a parable is a metaphor. It is a comparison. Usually, it points out the similarities between two things, but there are times when contrasts are used instead.

A good rule for interpreting any parable is to keep focused on the central lesson. It’s not a good idea to try to milk the meaning out of every incidental detail in a parable. Medieval theologians were notorious for that. They might expound for hours on the minute particulars of every parable, trying to find very detailed, symbolic, spiritual meanings in every feature of the story–sometimes while virtually ignoring the real point of the parable.

~John MacArthur, A Tale of Two Sons, pp xiii-xiv

As a method of biblical interpretation, that kind of allegorization has been employed to create more confusion about the plain meaning of Scripture than any other hermeneutical device. If you can freely say this really means that and one thing is a symbol for something else based upon no contextual clues but wholly invented in the interpreter’s imagination–and especially if you are willing to do that with the layer after layer of detail in the biblical narrative–then you can ultimately make the Bible mean anything you choose.

The invention of fanciful and allegorical meanings is never a valid approach to interpreting any portion of Scripture. And the obviously figurative elements in a parable don’t change the rules of interpretation or give us a license to invent meaning. In fact, when handling the symbolism of a parable, it is particularly important to keep the central point and the immediate context in clear focus and resist flights of imaginative fancy.

~ibid, p xv

In short, it is best to keep to the point and not try to milk out meanings that are not there. To do otherwise is to do injustice to the parable. Yet, that is exactly what happens on a continual basis and no less so than with the parable of “Lazarus and the Rich Man”. A parable cannot be used to contradict the rest of Scripture, yet that is what is often done in this case.

The Point

So, let’s start with “the point”. Often, the lesson is at the end of the parable, so let’s have a look at the end:

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.

~ vv 30-31

Someone did rise from the dead, and many of the Jews were still not persuaded! It is an interesting phenomenon of human nature that we like to consider ourselves intelligent, even handed and level headed. Yet, everyone has some sort of irrationality about them. Many will say, “Well, if God appeared before me, then I would believe.” However, the Bible shows otherwise. Human beings without God’s Holy Spirit cannot understand and will not understand. That is why Jn 6:44 is so important: “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Opening Your Mind To the Truth

It takes that drawing of the Holy Spirit to open our minds to the truth. The majority of the Pharisees did not believe Jesus. The majority of the same crowd that laid down palm leaves in Jesus’ path a few days before His crucifixion didn’t seem to have any problem yelling, “Crucify Him!” Ancient Israel disobeyed and eventually outright rebelled and refused to enter the Promised Land. Even the history of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah showed rebellion with only a few breaks here and there of obedience. People can read and re-read the Scriptures but still not understand. As a consequence, they will not understand or believe “Moses and the prophets”.

There is another type of unbelief, though. Some will read and understand, but they will refuse to obey. Unfortunately, this is no small group.

This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips; but their heart is far from me.

But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.

~ Mt 15:8-9

People read their own beliefs into the Bible, refuse to follow the Bible wholeheartedly and as a result will lose even what they have learned.

For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.

~ Mt 25:29

For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.

~ Mt 13:12

And we know the key is in keeping the commandments.

Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they are ever with me.

I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation.

~ Ps 119:98-99

The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: a good understanding have all they that do his commandments: his praise endureth for ever.

~ Ps 111:10

I got the opportunity to see a video clip yesterday of Herbert W. Armstrong giving one of his TV appearances. Not surprisingly, he was talking about how people will refuse to obey God, and that all of the evil we see in the world around us is the result of breaking God’s commandments. Even the world’s churches will say, “The Law has been done away!” Many will agree you should only worship God. Many will say you should not murder, you should not steal, and you should not commit adultery. Yet, there is one they will refuse to follow! They hate that 4th Commandment! They will refuse to obey God and keep the 7th day Sabbath holy!

In addition, we must humbly ask for wisdom. That means we must be willing to believe and obey what our minds have been opened to, and not just continue on the same old way we’ve been going.

If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.

~ Jas 1:5

Without the Holy Spirit, obeying what we learn and asking for wisdom, there is no hope for understanding the Scriptures. If we are caught up in this cycle of unbelief, then even the evidence of the risen Savior will not persuade us.

What the Parable Does Not Say

  1. The parable does not condemn being rich. Rather, it does point out the fate of those with means who do not help out others.
  2. The parable uses “Abraham’s bosom” as a metaphor for the reward of the saved. Since Lazarus stays in Abraham’s bosom, it is obvious that it is not literal (unless of course, Abraham’s chest is extremely large). This points to the folly of extracting every detail to try to make doctrine out of it.
  3. The parable uses the word “hell”, but the word being translated is “hades” and not “Gehenna”. Jesus taught Gehenna fire, no doubt. However, in this parable, Jesus used the word “hades” which means “grave”. The Bible often talks about death being a form of “sleep”. The rich man literally woke up (“lift up his eyes”) in the grave (“hades”). The implication is obvious. The wicked wake up and then are confronted with the Lake of Fire.
  4. It does not teach an “ever burning hellfire”. It does not say he had “eternal torment”, and it does not say he will roast forever. This is a definite case of reading into the text. His “torment” is in his fear of the approaching flames! Else, why would he only ask for a drop of water instead of asking for the fire to be put out?
  5. It does not say the rich man had an immortal soul that lives forever in hell. In fact, if he were a spirit, why would he thirst? Why would he be afraid of fire? Flesh and blood burns, not spirit.
  6. It does not say Lazarus is up in heaven. It states he is in “Abraham’s bosom”, which is a euphemism for the reward of the saved. The Bible does not teach that heaven is the reward of the saved (Cf. Jn 3:13; Ac 2:29, 34-35).
  7. It implies a conversation between the lost and Abraham, but is that the real point? Will the saved and the lost have conversations while the lost are roasting away. As silly as that sounds, it is what some will teach! This is another example of trying to use a parable as an allegory instead of a metaphor. Even allegories break down at some point, and so this interpretation strains the parable to the maximum. If a mother is in heaven, can she have eternal bliss while her drunkard son is roasting and screaming in eternal torture in hell? How does that make sense?
  8. It does not say the rich man was on fire. The flames were surrounding him, making him very uncomfortable, very thirsty and in anguish because he knew what was coming. If the flames had already engulfed him, then again he wouldn’t have been asking for only a single drop of water!
  9. Never once does the rich man question why he was there. This proves that only the truly unrepentant, those who have had the truth explained to them and they have rejected it, will go into the Lake of Fire. They will know beyond a doubt why they are there. So, those who die without hearing the name of Jesus will have an opportunity at some point, and that is what is outlined in the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-12) and then those who are unrepentant wind up in the Lake of Fire (vv 13-15).
  10. Notice the time sequence. The rich man dies after Lazarus, but it seems as though both get their reward at the same time. This is a distortion of time so that the conversation can have meaning, and it is not literal. We know from Rev 20 that there are at least 2 resurrections. In fact, a 3rd resurrection is implied, and that is the resurrection we are seeing here: the resurrection of the unrepentant who knew the truth all along. The rich man does not question why he is there. He knew Lazarus was in his gates, but he didn’t lift a finger to help him. Obviously, Lazarus was raised up in the “better resurrection”, and this is a literary device. The better resurrection is the 1st resurrection, which was over 1,000 years earlier when Jesus returned to earth! If it means anything, then it means that the rich man was unconscious for that period of time and isn’t aware that over 1,000 years have elapsed since his death.

In short, we interpret parables and unclear passages from clear Scriptures, not the other way around. Yet, in the above we see some have decided to go the opposite direction.

Back To the Point

Yet, there will be some that will not believe this. They will harden their hearts to the truth. Indeed, they will not believe it even if someone were to back from the dead to tell them this.


  1. So are you a theist? I didn't really catch that in your article for today.

  2. Never mind haha. I can see you are a theist now.

  3. John D Carmack

    No problem.