In all wisdom and prudence making known to us the mystery of His will according to His
good pleasure which He purposed in Him the plan for the fullness of the times
the things in the heavens and the things upon the earth, in Him ….
(Ephesians 1:8b-10)
By – Stuart H. Pouliot
Article #40
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
Probably, the verses most often referenced to make the case for an eternal hell of fire, the
immortality of the soul, and life in death, that is, afterlife (i.e., life immediately after death or in
death) is the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus, as recorded in Luke 16. According to this
doctrine, the rich man being tormented in flame is a picture of the lost in an endless, fiery hell
with flames licking at their feet and worms coming out of their ears.
There are at least three schools of thought on this story.
The first one says that it is a literal or true story; therefore, it literally speaks of and supports
the whole concept of hell as a place of eternal, insufferable torment, which is tantamount to
The second school says it is a parable but comes to the same conclusion as the literalists. In
other words, they make it into a literal story but call it a parable. This is like mixing oil and water
because a parable is defined as "a short simple story from which a moral lesson may be drawn;
an allegory , which is a symbolic story."
The third school says it is a parable, but it has nothing to do with an eternal hell. In fact, it has
nothing to do with a doctrine on heaven and hell; rather, it was a teachable moment for a
specific group of religious elites that were grumbling against and scoffing at Jesus' every word.
In other words, it is a symbolic story designed to make a point.
This article supports the third school; however, before explaining the story as a parable; let us
consider a few points.
Literal Story?
There are certain things about the parable that clearly are not literal. First, Abraham's bosom is
figurative language referring to blessing and the promises, not to literally being in his bosom.
Second, the rich man is in flames of torment. Flames destroy the body, the flesh. There is no
way for a human to live in fire; it is impossible. To accept this, one has to come up with some
explanation; such as, the rich man is merely a soul with some form, or he has a body that
cannot be destroyed, which is why he is in torment. Third, this man could not have been just a
spirit, for he had eyes and a tongue, which means he had a body. Fourth, for relief, the rich man
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
desired a little water on his tongue. How could a little drop on the tongue satisfy one's thirst if
he were in a flame of torment? These few points alone refute the notion that the story is literal.
Another argument made to support its literalness is the observation that Jesus never referred
to the given name of a person in His parables; therefore, this must not be a parable but a real
story. This is rather weak reasoning. Scripture tells us that Jesus spoke only in parables to the
All these things Jesus spoke to the crowds in parables, and He did not speak to them without
a parable . (Matthew 13:34 NASB)
Why would Jesus reverse course, especially when He spoke to the blind guides of the blind, the
Pharisees, and give them a literal story?
An Oral Jewish Tradition of Men
Actually, the story was not new to the Jews or to Jesus, for it is a repackaged version of a story
that was part of an oral Jewish tradition that came out of the time of Babylonian captivity,
making it five to six centuries old. The rabbis did not write down their oral law until much later,
and the Babylonian Talmud was not completed until 500 AD.
The oral tradition dating back to the Babylonian captivity that was later written down, which
most closely relates to this parable, is the Talmud's teaching of a vain and selfish girl who died.
Dumah, a mythological angel, carried her to Hades that was divided into two regions, one for
the righteous who were in bliss and one for the wicked who were in torment.
By the way, in Babylonian mythology , Dumah is the name of the 14 th gate of hell, and Ishtar
passed through Dumah as she journeyed to the underworld.
The point is that the parable spoken by Jesus was based on Babylonian mythology and, as such,
was not presented as a doctrinal statement. It was more on the order of a fable to teach a
lesson, a fable that the Jews had made a tradition.
Thus, Jesus, who knew the rabbinic oral traditions and, what He called, the tradition of men ,
used a familiar story to make a point, not to teach a doctrine or to even correct an oral
tradition. In other words, He met them on their own turf, so to speak.
This is done quite frequently as a teaching method. For example, if one wants to teach a sports
team (e.g., basketball, football, etc.) a lesson outside of their sport, one might use sports
analogies or metaphors to get their attention, that is, teach them with something that is
The fact of the matter is that God often speaks to His people using familiar things; just consider
the many horticultural metaphors in Scripture. It was not unusual for Jesus to use common
things of that day that the people understood or believed in, both true and false. For example,
He referred to the god of mammon or the god of riches and to Beelzebub, the Philistine god of
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
flies or filth (Matthew 10:25; 12:24), as if they were personified. To believe that Jesus was
teaching on these false gods or creating some new doctrine is untenable.
The problem was that the Jews, especially the religious elite, had adopted the pagan beliefs of
their captors or rulers, starting with the Babylonians and progressing to the Greeks, and they
incorporated these into their traditions, much like Christians have done with the concept of
hell , which is more in line with Dante's Inferno .
Again, Jesus was "getting in their face," so to speak, with their own belief system that had
become the tradition of men, some of which was based on paganism. He wasn't supporting or
refuting these beliefs; He simply used these things to teach them something about their true
moral condition, and, in so doing, He indirectly refuted their beliefs as well.
It was the underlying message of this story that Jesus was conveying, not the pagan beliefs that
some Jews had adopted. If anything, the fact that they had adopted some pagan thought was a
further indictment of their condition. It should have brought great shame on them, for the Son
of God stood in their midst.
This leads to Jesus' audience, which is a vital key to understanding this parable.
Jesus' Audience
As a reminder, after Solomon's death, the United Kingdom of Israel was split into two houses
(kingdoms, nations), Judah and Israel. These two houses were never reunited, and Israel was
cast out among the nations and lost their national identity as Israel. They never returned to the
land as a nation and became known by many other names, most notably, many of the
Christianized nations of the West. However, Judah did return to the land and were under
Roman rule when Jesus came on the scene. Although there were undoubtedly descendants
from most of the twelve original tribes, those in Judea and Jerusalem during that period were
identified with Judah, thus, Jews or Judahites.
Consequently, in what follows, the terms Judah and Judahites ( Jews ) are used because Jesus
was walking among mostly those of Judah and not of Israel when He spoke this parable.
However, it needs to be kept in mind that much of what is said of Judah could also be said of
Israel, especially from a historical perspective dating back to 745-721 BC.
Pharisees & Scribes
Now, within Judah, Jesus directed the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus to a very specific
group, the Pharisees and the scribes. We could call them the religious elite of Judah who
grumbled against and scoffed at Jesus' every step of the way to the cross. They were lovers of
money and held to what Jesus called "the tradition of men," which He labeled as hypocritical,
leavened teaching.
(5) Then the Pharisees and scribes questioned Him, Why do your disciples not walk according
to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands? (6) And answering, He
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
said to them, Well did Isaiah prophesy concerning you, hypocrites; as it has been written:
"This people honors Me with the lips, but their heart is far away from Me; (7) and in vain they
worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." Isa. 29:13 (8) For forsaking
the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men: immersings of utensils and cups,
and many other such like things you do. (9) And He said to them, Well do you to set aside the
commandment of God so that you may keep your tradition? … (12) And you no longer allow
him to do anything for his father or mother, (13) making the Word of God of no effect by your
tradition which you delivered. And many such like things you do. (Mark 7:5-9, 12-13 LITV)
At which time the myriads of the crowd being gathered together, so as to trample on one
another, He began to say to His disciples first, Take heed to yourselves of the leaven of the
Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1 LITV)
(1) Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. (2) Both
the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats
with them." (3) So He told them this parable, saying…. (Luke 15:1-3 NASB)
(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. (Luke 16:14-15 NASB)
Paul, a former Pharisee himself, picked up this same theme and warned the faithful brethren.
See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deception, according to
the tradition of men, according to the elementary principles of the world, rather than
according to Christ. (Colossians 2:8 NASB)
Five-Part Parable
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is often presented as if an isolated parable presenting a
doctrinal truth about heaven and hell, but it is best viewed in the context of what precedes it.
Simply, it is not an island unto itself; it is a figurative story connected to four other stories that
precede it, so let us briefly look at them in order.
The Lost Sheep (Luke 15:3-7)
The ninety-nine sheep represent the self-righteous Judahites of that day that saw no need to
repent. They were secure in the house of Judah and would have nothing to do with Jesus,
except to demand His crucifixion. They thought they were safe; but they were the most unsafe
and at the greatest risk among the Jews. The self-righteous were the ones in the most danger,
for they were left in the wilderness or open pasture while the good shepherd sought for the
one lost sheep. Being left alone in a wilderness without the shepherd is sure doom for sheep,
for predators, such as wolves, will come and devour them. Thus, it was going to be for the self-
righteous, for they would soon face the wrath of God's Roman army.
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
The message of John the Baptist and Jesus was "Repent, for near is the kingdom of the
heavens" (Matthew 3:2 CV). The one lost sheep represents the ones that heeded the message
to repent. They were the publicans or tax-gatherers and sinners of the house of Judah who
responded to Jesus' love and mercy.
Matthew (Matthew 9:9), Levi (Luke 5:27), and Zaccheus (Luke 19:2) were tax-gatherers and
each responded to Jesus' call. In those days, the Romans collected taxes from its citizens, and
many of the tax-gatherers or publicans, as they were called, were Jews. The elite religious class
of the Jews in Jerusalem (scribes and Pharisees) looked down upon these publicans as sinners
and viewed them in the same light as the heathens. It was odious for a Jew to join forces with a
foreign country and to be even part of extorting money from other Jews. Many Jews not only
collected the tribute, but used their position as an opportunity to extort extra money for
themselves. This is why John the Baptist warned that they should collect no more than what
they had been ordered to (Luke 3:13), and Zaccheus vowed to pay back four times as much to
anyone that he had defrauded (Luke 19:8).
This was the Lord's view of the Jews, but the next story addresses the Jew's view.
The Lost Coin (Luke 15:8-10)
A woman is described as possessing ten coins, one of which she had lost. She lit a lamp, swept
the house clean, and searched for the one lost coin. When she did find it, she called her
neighbors together, so that all could join in her joy.
Coins were a prized possession often used as ornaments, which represented the blessing of
God. As God's called-out people, they had known the blessing of God, but had turned from God
and gone astray; they were lost. Consequently, the lost coin represented those of Judah who
had lost their way and repented of their sin.
The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
The next part of the parable is a continuation of the story line being developed by Jesus.
Actually, the emphasis of this story is just as much on the elder son that remained in the
father's house, just like the ninety-nine sheep that remained in the wilderness.
There are two groups represented in this story: the ones who were far from the father's house,
and the ones who were far from the father's heart, even though they remained in the house.
The first group included the publicans and sinners who were the outcasts of Judah, separated
from God by their sin, and joined with foreigners. The other group included the same as the
ninety-nine sheep, the self-righteous scribes and Pharisees who did not join with foreigners but
stayed in the house. However, they were distant in heart from the Lord due to their pride, even
though they were in His house.
The prodigal joined forces with the citizens of a foreign country. It was so bad for the prodigal
that he was willing to eat the food of hogs; hogs were the food of the heathens, a food
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
forbidden to the Jew. The prodigal could not even consider himself worthy of being his father's
Jesus was putting His finger on the very pulse of the fallen condition of Judah. They were no
different than the nations around them and, in fact, were worse, for at least the nations were
true to who they were, but the prodigal was totally unfaithful to his calling. The call to repent
was heard by the prodigal, and he returned to his father, declaring that he had sinned.
Humbled by his waywardness, he was willing to take the lowest place in his father's house.
However, the father would have none of that, rejoiced, put a robe on him, and gave him his
On the other hand, the elder son failed to share in the joy of his brother's return. Instead, he
grumbled against his brother who had squandered his father's wealth, while he had remained
behind and slaved for his father. Hear the resentment in his voice: "Lo! so many years am I
slaving for you … and you never give me a kid that I may make merry with my friends" (Luke
15:29 CV). The father responded to him: "Child, you are always with me, and all mine is yours.
Yet we must be merry and rejoice, seeing that this your brother was dead and revives, and
was lost and was found" (Luke 15:31-32 CV).
This was the heart of the scribes and the Pharisees. Instead of repenting and even rejoicing as
they saw sinners and publicans repenting, their hearts were hardened, exposing the depths of
their religious pride. After all, in their minds, they had been doing everything right. Had they
not been the keepers and teachers of the law, and had they not been performing all the
sacrificial rites all those years? Yes; but where was their heart?
Jesus sought obedience of heart and not sacrifice out of duty. No wonder there was great
rejoicing over the sinners who repented. They will be included with the ones arriving from the
east and the west in that glorious day of the Kingdom of Christ. There will be deep regret for
the unrepentant and grumblers (Matthew 8:11-12).
The Unjust Administrator (Luke 16:1-13)
The next part of the parable focuses solely on the scribes and Pharisees who were very fond of
money. In fact, they were very shrewd when it came to money, and this is what Jesus portrayed
with the unjust administrator or steward. The lord in this case is not the Lord Jesus, for He
could not commend unrighteous behavior. Jesus condemned the love of money. Most
translations make Luke 16:9 a statement by Jesus, but this is out of character of our righteous
Lord. How could He commend such behavior? Perhaps, He was not commending it? The Greek
does not contain punctuation marks, so verse 9 could just as easily have been a question than a
statement. The Concordant Version (CV) makes it a question: "And am I saying to you, Make
for yourselves friends with the mammon of injustice, that, whenever it may be defaulting,
they should be receiving you into the eonian tabernacles? "
The CV has some strange wording so consider the following from the NASB that has been
modified (in bold) based on the CV rendering.
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
(9) "And I am saying 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 [eonian]
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." (Luke 16:9-13 NASB)
Notice the difference in meaning when Jesus' words are posed as a question: "Am I saying to
you?" In other words, Jesus was warning them not to make friends with the mammon of
injustice. Why? Because you cannot serve two masters; you will love one and hate the other!
The Pharisees had, in fact, fallen into this trap. They loved the god of mammon and hated the
God of Israel.
Luke confirmed the heart of the Pharisees in the next verse.
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were
scoffing at Him. (Luke 16:14 NASB)
Rather than taking Jesus' words to heart and repenting, these elite were more intent on
justifying themselves before men. They wanted the place of honor among men, which Jesus
said was an abomination in the sight of God (Luke 16:15). The Pharisees were right before men
but not right before God. The latter is what pleases God.
Jesus then proceeded to bring the Kingdom into view, a critical point for the last part of this
five-part parable.
(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. (Luke 16:16-18 NASB)
Until John the Baptist appeared on the scene, Judah had no recorded word from a prophet for
at least four centuries. All that preceded John was appropriate for the time, but with John a
new proclamation went forth that Messiah, God incarnate, was among them, and that it was
time to receive Him, and a time for them to repent and return to their God. The Kingdom had
drawn near; it had not taken root on earth yet, but it was coming if they would receive the
Anointed One with humble hearts. Instead, when they realized that the One in their midst had
great power and authority, they sought to seize the Kingdom of God by carnal means; that is,
they tried to take it by force. They would have made Him king, which would have led to an all-
out revolt and war with Rome. It was not His time for such a move, for the Kingdom was not to
come in that day in that way; it is of another realm (John 18:36).
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
Then notice that, as if to inject something out of context, Jesus brought divorce into the picture.
But it was not out of context, for Jesus was driving home the point that God's chosen people
had been divorced from their God due to their adultery and uncleanness.
In God's eyes, the nation of Judah was dead in the day in which Messiah stood in their midst,
and this is the real message of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Jesus pointed to a
national death.
This leads to the last part of the five-part parable.
The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)
It is important to keep in mind that Jesus was not attempting to lay out an entire theological
statement about salvation, as so many try to read into this story. He was attempting to impress
on the Pharisees, in particular, and Judah, in general, the severity of their stubbornness and
blindness to their true adulterous condition in light of His Kingdom. They had been divorced
from God.
(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.'" (Luke 16:19-31 NASB)
The Rich Man
The garment of purple and fine linen means that the rich man represents sons of Israel's called
to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.
'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My
own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine; and you shall be to Me a
Rich Man & Lazarus ─ A Parable
February 2012
kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of
Israel." (Exodus 19:5-6 NASB)
Linen refers to the priestly function and purple refers to the kingly function. Through the rich
man, Jesus was stating that the ones called to be a kingdom of priests were dead to their calling
when Jesus appeared among them. It was not a physical death but a spiritual death, and this
was the reason for them being in the fire of persecution. As Jesus walked among His blood
brethren, they were under the rule of Rome.
Jesus was speaking of Israel's condition in His day and was looking forward to the fire of
persecution that Israel would continue to have. In 70 AD, Jerusalem and Herod's Temple were
totally destroyed, many Jews were killed, and others were scattered to the nations. This was a
fulfillment of Hebrews 8:13.
When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming
obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear .
Take note that the rich man cried out to Abraham, and Abraham acknowledged him as "child."
This is similar to the father of the prodigal son as he spoke to his son who remained in his
house: "Child, you are always with me, and all mine is yours."
So, there is a familial relationship in the use the word child .
Ask yourself this question: As a father would you condemn your "child" to a place of torture
called hell , without trying to save or restore him?
The rich man represented ones who were related to Abraham, in this case by blood. Jesus
injected this word so that there would be no question that the rich man referred to the Jews
that had been called to share in the inheritance of Abraham but were disqualifying themselves.
As blood descendants of the Hebrew Abraham, they thought he was all they needed. However,
they were looking to the wrong one to deliver them. In their pride, they thought all they
needed was Abraham, and God would look the other way when it came to their sin. After all,
were they not the apple of His eye, His chosen people simply based on their genes (i.e.,
(54) Jesus answered, "If I glorify Myself, My glory is nothing; it is My Father who glorifies Me,
of whom you say, 'He is our God'; (55) and you have not come to know Him, but I know Him;
and if I say that I do not know Him, I will be a liar like you, but I do know Him and keep His
word. (56) "Your father Abraham rejoiced to see My day, and he saw it and was glad." (57) So
the Jews said to Him, "You are not yet fifty years old, and have You seen Abraham?" (58)
Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was born, I am." (59) Therefore
they picked up stones to throw at Him, but Jesus hid Himself and went out of the temple.
(John 8:54-59 NASB)
The Jews could not fathom that Jesus was greater than Abraham, and, in fact is the Son of God.
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February 2012
Consequently, Jesus was telling the Jews that Abraham and their bloodline could not and would
not deliver them, for there is only One who can and will do that. The day would come that they
would seek for whatever relief they could, but it would not come unless they repented and
confessed that Jesus is Messiah and Lord.
Instead, Abraham reminded the rich man that he had been blessed with good things in life,
which refers to Israel's once blessed status as God's out-called people. In essence, the nation
had its chance but had been set aside due to apostasy and unbelief.
In Hades
Translations that use the word hell instead of the word Hades do a disservice to the reader, for
they are injecting interpretative bias. Out of a review of thirty-five translations, it was
discovered that ten use the word hell (BBE, CEV, Bishops, Geneva, GW, KJV, LITV MKJV,
Murdock, Webster).
The word Hades simply means the place of the unseen or the dead, or the state of being dead.
It is not so much about a place as it is a state of unconsciousness. This is the Hebrew meaning of
Hades , which in Hebrew is called Sheol .
So, the most basic meaning of the rich man in Hades is that he was in the place of the unseen.
On a national level, it signified Judah that was rejecting the very One who came to deliver them
into the long-awaited Kingdom. The religious leaders were blind guides. They were in a place of
death as long as they stood in opposition to Messiah.
As stated earlier, Jesus was speaking to the Jews on their turf. They had been living under
Babylonian and then Greek rule before the Romans came along. Greek mythology had a place
called Hades that was divided into two parts: Erebus was the first part and the place of the
souls of the dead. Keep in mind that they believed in the immortality of the soul. Tartarus was
the second part and the place where the Titans were imprisoned. This is not found in any
teaching contained in Hebrew scripture. It came from the Egyptians and was adopted by the
Jews who incorporated it into what Jesus called the tradition of men. This does not make it a
reality, and just because Jesus used a tradition of men to make a point, does not make it a
Church doctrine or a truth of God's Word.
A Great Chasm
Next, we are told that a great chasm was fixed between the two dead men, which referred to a
deep ravine or valley with cliffs on each side. The gulf was so great that no one could cross over.
It has been suggested that this great chasm refers to the Great Rift Valley in which the Jordan
River flows, which is the greatest and longest visible chasm on earth. The Jordan River is best
known for its dividing of the original land promised to Abraham from the land of the nations.
When Joshua and the tribes entered the water of the Jordan, they entered into the Promised
Land (Joshua 3), as a type of spiritual salvation. Historically, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah
were in the same rift valley, and they were turned into ashes by fire (2 Peter 2:6).
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February 2012
Thus, the great chasm represents the gulf between those who will enter the coming Kingdom of
Christ, and those who will not enter. Some from ancient Judah will enter the land of milk and
honey, and some will be left out in the darkness of the nations. They must come in the same
Way that we all do! It is not by ancestral blood or genes but by justification by faith.
But the true Jew is one inwardly, and true circumcision is heart-circumcision—not literal, but
spiritual; and such people receive praise not from men, but from God. (Romans 2:29 WNT)
Abraham and Lazarus were in sight and hearing of the rich man in torment. Considering the
modern-day Christian view of heaven and hell in light of this parable, ask yourself: What joy
would it bring to saved ones to be able to observe and hear loved ones in torment? Some take
this to mean that Abraham is in heaven and the rich man is in hell. This makes matters even
worse, for all in heaven would continue to see the torment of hell every day for all eternity. This
is nonsense.
Sadly, this very picture was preached by a very well-known preacher, only he added that those
in heaven will look down on those in hell with glee. Does this sound like the heart of God is
love ?
Further, how could there be communication between two places that are separated by a great
distance, supposedly, one above the earth and one in the earth?
Five Brothers
Jesus continued the conversation by bringing in five brothers of the rich man. This again gives a
clue as to the identity of the rich man. Of the twelve tribes of Israel, Judah had five brothers
born of Leah (Genesis 30:20). The tribe of Judah usurped both the kingdom and priesthood,
which made them the representative of all the promises given to Abraham. However, Jesus was
stating that the ones who should receive it were in no position to receive it and, in fact, would
be disqualified from the Kingdom. By the way, the modern-state of Israel is of the same stock,
since they usurped the name of Israel for their nation.
The five brothers had Moses and the prophets, which again made their lineage clear. They were
not listening to Moses and the prophets then, and there was no reason that they would listen
to them even if someone was raised from the dead to warn them.
Clearly, Jesus was making a reference to His impending death and resurrection. The ones that
He was indicting were about to demand His death. However, even though He would rise from
the dead, they would not listen. The fact of the matter is that after Jesus' resurrection, many of
the Jews remained in unbelief, did not repent, and nationally they remained in their place of
death as rotten figs (Jeremiah 24).
So, Jesus made it clear that they were holding to both Abraham and Moses and rejecting the
very One that these two patriarchs personally saw and knew. In the case of Moses, he wrote of
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Now He said to them, "These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you,
that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the
Psalms must be fulfilled." (Luke 24:44 NASB)
Now, Lazarus was a poor man, a beggar. To the Pharisees, this was the worst kind of person and
sinner. There is no mention of what this beggar did to deserve to be in Abraham's bosom. He
was one of Abraham's children, just as the rich man was, but there is no mention of anything
noteworthy that he ever did. He was simply a sinner that received evil things and was ignored
by the elite religious class of Jews that should have had compassion on him.
This poses the question: Who does Lazarus represent, gentiles (the nations) or Jews? As we
seek an answer keep in mind that the parable deals with the entrance into the Kingdom.
Lazarus as a figure most likely represents ones who will enter the Kingdom of Messiah in the
next eon. Jesus Himself brought the Kingdom into view in connection with the Pharisees who
were scoffing at Him, as He declared: "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" (Luke 16:16 NASB).
Keep in mind that the scribes and the Pharisees who hounded Jesus every step of the way will
be excluded from the Kingdom in the age to come.
Two Views of Lazarus' Identity
There are two views worth considering. Each view sees Lazarus as representative of saved ones;
but the question is from where do they come. Do they come from the nations (gentiles) or from
Israel (Jews)?
First, the name Lazarus in Hebrew is Eleazar , which means "God has helped." The Complete
Jewish Bible uses the name Eleazar in this story rather than the name Lazarus. Some people
believe that Jesus was referring to Eleazar of Damascus, the gentile and chief steward of
Abraham who lost the right of Abraham's inheritance to Isaac, the son of promise (Genesis
15:2-3). It was Eleazar who was commanded to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:2-4). Due to his
faithfulness to Abraham, Eleazar lost an inheritance from Abraham. Thus, Lazarus as the gentile
Eleazar, the chief steward for Abraham, could represent the believers from among the nations
(gentiles) that will receive the inheritance lost by the Jews that rejected Messiah.
According to this view, Jesus brought the gentile Lazarus into the picture because the Pharisees
and others of Judah would be disqualified from the future Kingdom, and the nations would end
up being blessed in their stead. Since Abraham is the father of nations, it makes sense that
Lazarus would be in his presence. This would have been like a knife cutting into the hearts of
these self-righteous men.
Further, Jesus wanted the Jews to see that the ones they called dogs, and whom they looked
down upon, would be part of the millennial Kingdom, whereas they would be excluded. This
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February 2012
was the worst kind of condemnation Jesus could heap on them to show them they were the
darnel, the sons of the wicked one (Matthew 13:38), or the sons of stubbornness (Ephesians
Second, Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom. Abraham and his faith before circumcision has great
meaning to believers from among the nations; nevertheless, Abraham's bosom has limited
meaning to believers, for they are in Christ and fall asleep in Christ. It is true that Abraham is
the father of faith, and all who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer (Galatians
3:9). Paul even wrote that if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs
according to promise (Galatians 3:29). However, this refers to our justification by faith, which
comes through Christ, not Abraham. We are of the Seed of Abraham based on the same faith
Abraham had before he received the sign of circumcision. Our faith now tells us that we are in
Christ, not in Abraham, in life or in death.
To the ones listening to Jesus, the mention of Abraham would have roused their pride that
thought they had a God-given right to be the chosen nation because of their blood connection
to Abraham. This really has not changed much among the Jews, even in our day. Their thinking
was (and is) in opposition to Jesus' own words in that day.
But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to
those who believe in His name, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of
the will of man, but of God. (John 1:12-13 NASB)
Given this thought, it is just as likely that Lazarus represents the publicans and sinners of Judah
in Jesus' day, the very same ones that are in view throughout this five-part parable. It is quite
plausible that Jesus would have maintained the continuity of His message to the Pharisees
rather than injecting a new group of people. The lost sheep, the prodigal, and the lost coin all
represent the sinners and publicans in some measure. Further, it should be noted that even the
dogs were licking Lazarus' sores. Lazarus himself was not considered a dog; he was actually
receiving from the dogs. To the Jew, the dogs were the nations.
According to this thinking, Lazarus does not represent the nations; he represents the Jewish
sinners who repented and who will enter into the joy of the future Kingdom as part of the true
Israel. They will enter into eonian life. The rich man represents the self-righteous Jews in
unbelief that will not enter the joy of the future Kingdom.
Jesus spoke to the people of Judah as two groups: the sinners that repented and the self-
righteous that saw no need to repent. The Kingdom that was near would not be manifested
then, and all of Judah was going into a national death. The story has no bearing on the physical
death of individuals; this was a national death.
"Now I am saying to you that many from the east and the west shall be arriving and reclining
with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens, yet the sons of the
kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness. There shall be lamentation and gnashing of
teeth." … Then shall the just be shining out as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who
has ears to hear, let him hear! (Matthew 8:11-12; 13:43 CV)
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February 2012
As an offshoot of this view, there is one other well-known Lazarus in Scripture and that is the
brother of Mary and Martha, whom Jesus loved.
(11) This He said, and after that He said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep; but I
go, so that I may awaken him out of sleep." (12) The disciples then said to Him, "Lord, if he
has fallen asleep, he will recover." (13) Now Jesus had spoken of his death, but they thought
that He was speaking of literal sleep. (14) So Jesus then said to them plainly, "Lazarus is dead,
(15) and I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, so that you may believe; but let us go
to him." (John 11:11-15 NASB)
Jesus defined Lazarus' death as a sleep. The man was dead, that is, the unconscious state of
Now, take note of what the Jews wanted to do to Lazarus after he was raised from the dead.
(9) The large crowd of the Jews then learned that He was there; and they came, not for Jesus'
sake only, but that they might also see Lazarus, whom He raised from the dead. (10) But the
chief priests planned to put Lazarus to death also; (11) because on account of him many of
the Jews were going away and were believing in Jesus. (John 12:9-11 NASB)
In other words, Jesus could have been referring to his friend Lazarus. Later, the Jews would try
to kill him just as they succeeded in doing to Jesus. They would see signs of resurrection before
His death and then in His resurrection from among the dead, but they still would not believe on
Regardless of which figure one chooses, the message is clear.
"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.'
They didn't listen then and many are not listening today.
A Parable!
In conclusion, this story is not about the lost in hell and the saved in heaven. It is a parable that
primarily refers to apostate Judah being disqualified from entering the Kingdom of Christ in the
oncoming eon, except for a remnant that, by faith in Jesus and His blood, were the good figs of
Judah that formed the embryonic Church on the day of Pentecost over 2,000 years ago; they
will be counted worthy to enter into the Kingdom of Christ, along with all who have been
grafted into the Good Fig Tree of the true Judah , as well as the Olive Tree of spiritual Israel .
This is all in accord with the purpose of the ages.