The Rich Man and Lazarus
In the book of Luke in chapter 16, from verse 19 to 31, we find Jesus Christ relating a story about Lazarus and the rich man. The story seems to be totally out of context with the rest of Scripture. Never-the-less, this section of scripture has been interpreted by students of the Bible, scholars and theologians in a number of ways to explain Heaven and Hell. Some view it as a literal and historic event. Some view it as a literal and future occurrence. Some view it as a parable with an underlying meaning. Which is correct? Who are these two individuals; the rich man and Lazarus in this story? It appears that this Rich Man is in a desperate situation and about to be cast into the lake of fire while Lazarus is enjoying bliss in “Abraham’s bosom”.
This story is seized upon by mainstream Christianity in order to “prove” their theology of heaven and hell and that man has an immortal soul. Because they suppose that man has an immortal soul, their theology forces them to draw a conclusion about what happens at death. They conclude that upon death a person goes to either Heaven (assuming that Lazarus went there) or Hell (assuming that the rich man went there). They use this story as “proof text” to validate their foundational theology of the doctrine of an immortal soul, heaven and hell.
Christian Theologians and many bible teachers rely on this story by Jesus about Lazarus and the rich man more than any other scriptural argument to support their teaching that the saved go instantly, at death to heaven while the lost are plunged into an ever-burning inferno of eternal torture.
Ancient superstition held that that Hades and Paradise were near each other. Upon death, if you were evil, your soul, being immortal, would go to Hades but if you were good you end up in Paradise, Abrahams bosom. This superstition purports that the soul is immortal. But God says the soul can die. See Rev. 16:3 for example.
When death occurs, the soul goes to Hades, Acts 2:27.
(KJV) Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (the unseen) , neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.
(Youngs literal Translation) because Thou wilt not leave my soul to hades (the unseen), nor wilt Thou give Thy Kind One to see corruption;
Hades (Greek word) is NOT hell or Gehenna its true meaning is “the unseen” or “the invisible” as other authoritative versions translate. The spirit returns to God who have it. Eccl. 12:7. It is true of all mankind. The body returns to the soil. The soul, which is the sensation, the consciousness, ceases. It is said to go into the unseen. Consciousness is not attributed to anyone, except when spirit and body are united, producing soul.
The scriptures do not picture Hades as a place of torment. The soul of Christ went there when He died. Was our Lord’s soul in torment? If so, that is a very poor argument for endless torment, for the soul of Christ came forth, when His body was raised from the tomb by God. And if Hades is a place of punishment, why was our Lord’s soul there? Did He deserve to be punished? How foolish.
If you have read the articles in this web site about “what is death”, “Gehenna” and “the lake of fire”, you will have seen clearly proven from Holy Scripture that man does not have an immortal soul and at death a person losses all sense of sensation and consciousness and is in the grave (the unseen) until an eventual resurrection from death.
So WHY did Jesus Christ relate this story to those who were hearing Him? Why is it so out of context with the rest of scripture?
When we realize that our Lord was mainly directing this story to the Pharisees, the problem of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is partly solved. The attitude of the scribes, Pharisees and law teachers continued to reveal their hatred of Jesus Christ.
Luke 15:1 (KJV) Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.
Luke 15:2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
Luke 16:14 Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard these things and they derided (or sneered) at Him that is Jesus.
When our Lord told the story, He was employing some of the doctrine of the Pharisees and not teaching the doctrine of God. Why?
Some of the words Jesus spoke in this account of the rich man and Lazarus include:
* carried by angels
* Abraham’s bosom
* in hell he lifted up his eyes
* dip the tip of his finger in water
* the great gulf fixed
These expressions are nowhere found in all the rest of scripture. Why did Christ say these things? Read the full account in Luke 16:19 – 31.
This brings to the fore that the leading parties amongst the Jews did embrace teachings which was seriously different from the Law and the Prophets as well as from the doctrine of the Lord. This fact lies beneath the opposition to the ministry of Messiah, and it has to be shown that His ministry has a definite answer for all who are against Him. And He exposes false doctrine.
The false Hebrew ideas as to the dead were the reverse of the scriptural statements. We find them in the apocryphal writings. The great Jewish historian and writer Josephus, born in 37AD in Jerusalem, gave us insight into this doctrine of the Pharisees and scribes. When you read JOSEPHUS’S DISCOURSE TO THE GREEKS CONCERNING HADES (article given in full at the bottom), it is very clear where this false doctrine comes from. Christ used it to show how ridiculous and perverted their thinking about death really was. He also showed how mistaken they were about their role as the elite and the place of publicans and sinners. For this, and other reasons they vehemently despised Him and sought to kill Him.
Now let’s look at verses in Luke 16 in detail. These verses are from the King James Version (the Authorized Version)
Verse 19 (KJV) There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day
The rich man in this story represents the Jewish leaders. The apparel of the rich man was magnificent. He was clothed in purple and fine linen. When you examine the apparel of the Levitical Priesthood in the Old Testament, you will find a similar dress code. For example see Exodus 28:1, 5-6.
The priesthood in Israel wore similar attire as Old Testament priests. They wore the finest of clothes. They were rich, lovers of money. Also, they fared sumptuously every day. In Mat. 23: 6 you will read the following: they loved the best places at feasts….
The Scribes and Pharisees were wealthy, arrogant, full of pride and selfish. They looked down upon the poor and destitute, often referring to them as dogs. The High Priest at that time was Caiaphas.
Matthew 26:3 (KJV) Then the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people assembled at the palace of the high priest, who was called Caiaphas,
In this story Jesus was addressing the religious hierarchy, represented by the Rich Man.
Next verses. 20 -21 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.
This Lazarus receives nothing from the hands of those who are able to assist. It is only the dogs which give him any attention. He is beneath the gaze of these rich elite. They leave him to find such help as can come from those as degraded as himself, mere dogs in their estimation. Lazarus represents those who need help but were callously ignored by the rich man. The name Lazarus means God is my helper. Lazarus was laid down at the gate of the rich man to allay his hunger with the crumbs that had fallen from the table of the rich man. He represents the outcast and is associated with the dogs, a depiction of the Gentiles.
Next verse 22 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;
Both died. Jesus continues with the false teaching of the Pharisees, scribes, and law teachers to show how distorted it is. These self-righteous leaders mistakenly assumed that they would be the ones carried into Abrahams bosom and the beggar would go to Hades according to their perverted mythology. Jesus turned the table on them and they knew it. Oh yes, they thought they had it made, they were the righteous. But how wrong they were.
Luke 18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican.
Luke 18:13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner.
Next verse 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Jesus then states the rich man is in Hades (hell), being in torment and seeing Abraham and Lazarus, again drawing upon the false doctrine of the Pharisees belief in after life after death. The scriptures say Abraham died and was buried. Nowhere do they command us to believe that his bosom is a place of bliss for others who have died.
Next verse 24 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.
Jesus continues to build on this fictitious scene where the rich man is begging for mercy, something the Pharisees would never do. And how would a little drop of water satiate someone who is tormented in a flame. A flame is not fire, nor the lake of fire. Jesus is being sarcastic of the Pharisees belief in the afterlife. By-the-way, torment refers to mental anguish, not physical pain. See the article on “lake of fire” in this web site about the meaning of torment. Additionally, why does the rich man make his request to fictional Abraham who in reality is presently dead, in a state of oblivion until the coming resurrection. By now the Pharisees begin to see the ridiculousness of their belief in the afterlife and become even angrier with Christ.
Next verse 25 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.
Here Jesus reasserts that the rich man enjoyed the pleasures of life but Lazarus the hardships of a difficult life, again showing a role reversal in this erroneous story taken from the after-life ideas of Hebrew mystic traditions.
And shall we believe that a man is doomed to endless torment just because he had good things in life? If so, many have no hope of heaven, since many people have lived lives with good things. Yes, the Pharisees did enjoy many pleasures of life but their real problem was their attitude and disdain for others. And must we believe that one is sure of endless happiness just because he is a poor, lame beggar in this life? If we believe it, why don’t we seek lameness and poverty and hunger, instead of comforts?
If we believe men are lost because they had riches in this life, how do we explain the fact that Abraham is in the place of happiness, instead of being with the rich man in “Hades”? Abraham was one of the wealthiest men of his day, and he certainly fared sumptuously.
Next verse 26 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.
And shall we believe that “heaven” and “hell” are so near to each other that the lost can talk to the saved, and the saved see all the suffering and the hopelessness of the damned? Again foolishness.
The great gulf fixed is a direct reference to the article (available below) by Josephus. Moreover, according to Josephus, the Pharisees believed that the souls of the dead go to Hades – the righteous to that part where there is happiness, and the unrighteous to the part where there is torment. They called the former Abraham’s bosom. The unrighteous are not actually in the flames, according to Josephus but are so near that they are being burned, and are waiting for the day of judgment, when they will actually be placed in the flames. The two compartments are so near each other that the righteous and the unrighteous can carry on conversations.
Next verses 27 – 28 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house: or I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
It is here that Jesus introduces a fictitious scenario where the rich man makes a request of fictitious Abraham. The rich man requests that Lazarus be sent to his family to warn them to avoid the torment of Hades. This is so outlandish, since such manifestation would mean that the immortal soul of Lazarus would re-enter the physical domain of the living to give a testimony. Notice the rich man appeals to factitious Abraham, not to God. Remember it is only God who can bring dead people back to life
Final verses 29 – 31 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.
Jesus concludes this story by rebuking the Pharisee. He points out that if Abraham would have given the rich man any advice, it was to listen to the Moses and the prophets, not to believe in their fables about heaven and hell. But the rich man insists that if someone from the dead went to his brothers they would repent. This is absurd. So, at the close of the story, fictitious father Abraham does not entertain any consolation for him, but notably condemns, and gives no hope except in the hearing of Moses and the prophets.
Since the Pharisees ignored the teachings of Moses and the prophets, but relied on myths, there would be no value in something like that since, even if it were possible, which it isn’t. The rich man had 5 brothers as mentioned in verse 28. Incidentally, the high priest, Caiaphas had five brothers and so this really hit home to those listening to this story by Jesus Christ. Josephus in his Antiqities, Book 20 Ch 9 mentions that Caiaphas had 5 brothers.
The story Jesus Christ told about the rich man and Lazarus was for the ears of the Pharisees. He derided them for many things. Their pride and arrogance, their disdain of the common folk, their hatred of Jesus Christ. Jesus chided them on many occasions but the story he told about the rich man and Lazarus really annoyed them. He exposed their hypocrisy and ignorance of what Moses and the prophets taught. They relied on fables of pagan philosophy and the immortality of the soul.
The ministry of Jesus Christ had been in progress for some time and was gradually drawing to a close. His teachings and activities had led to a position where the people were divided into two classes: (a) those who wished to hear more, (b) those who resented and objected to His teaching. Of the former were the publicans and sinners (15:1), while of the latter were the Pharisees, scribes and law teachers. The one “heard Him gladly”, but the other sought to entangle Him and discredit His message.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is an unreasonable one. A dead man suffering from the flames; another dead man enjoying the ecstasy of Abraham’s bosom. The place of suffering so close to the place of pleasure that conversation could be carried on from one to the other. A man’s bosom sufficing to give happiness and glory; a man in torment because he had good things. A man in bliss because he was lame and poor. Imaginary Abraham, instead of God, in charge of the situation—all this is not believable. This story is based on ancient Greek philosophy and Hebrew mystic tales.
It was Plato who invented the immortality of the soul doctrine (http://www.scandalon.co.uk/philosophy/plato_immortality_soul.htm).
Even the Pharisees could see how ridiculous it was, and in what a quandary it showed them to be. It was Jesus Christ telling the absurdity of it all.
That the story is not a literal pronouncement regarding the state of the dead ought to be readily recognized by those really acquainted with the plain teaching of the Scriptures on that particular question.
AN EXTRACT OUT OF
JOSEPHUS’S DISCOURSE TO THE GREEKS CONCERNING HADES.
- NOW as to Hades, wherein the souls of the of the good things they see, and rejoice in the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it. Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, wherein the light of this world does not shine; from which circumstance, that in this region the light does not shine, it cannot be but there must be in it perpetual darkness. This region is allotted as a place of custody for souls, ill which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to every one’s behavior and manners.
- In this region there is a certain place set apart, as a lake of unquenchable fire, whereinto we suppose no one hath hitherto been cast; but it is prepared for a day afore-determined by God, in which one righteous sentence shall deservedly be passed upon all men; when the unjust, and those that have been disobedient to God, and have given honor to such idols as have been the vain operations of the hands of men as to God himself, shall be adjudged to this everlasting punishment, as having been the causes of defilement; while the just shall obtain an incorruptible and never-fading kingdom. These are now indeed confined in Hades, but not in the same place wherein the unjust are confined.
- For there is one descent into this region, at whose gate we believe there stands an archangel with an host; which gate when those pass through that are conducted down by the angels appointed over souls, they do not go the same way; but the just are guided to the right hand, and are led with hymns, sung by the angels appointed over that place, unto a region of light, in which the just have dwelt from the beginning of the world; not constrained by necessity, but ever enjoying the prospect of the good things they see, and rejoice in the expectation of those new enjoyments which will be peculiar to every one of them, and esteeming those things beyond what we have here; with whom there is no place of toil, no burning heat, no piercing cold, nor are any briers there; but the countenance of the land of the just, which they see, always smiles them, while they wait for that rest and eternal new life in heaven, which is to succeed this region. This place we call The Bosom of Abraham.
- But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand by the angels allotted for punishment, no longer going with a good-will, but as prisoners driven by violence; to whom are sent the angels appointed over them to reproach them and threaten them with their terrible looks, and to thrust them still downwards. Now those angels that are set over these souls drag them into the neighborhood of hell itself; who, when they are hard by it, continually hear the noise of it, and do not stand clear of the hot vapor itself; but when they have a near view of this spectacle, as of a terrible and exceeding great prospect of fire, they are struck with a fearful expectation of a future judgment, and in effect punished thereby: and not only so, but where they see the place [or choir] of the fathers and of the just, even hereby are they punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them; insomuch that a just man that hath compassion upon them cannot be admitted, nor can one that is unjust, if he were bold enough to attempt it, pass over it.
- This is the discourse concerning Hades, wherein the souls of all men are confined until a proper season, which God hath determined, when he will make a resurrection of all men from the dead, not procuring a transmigration of souls from one body to another, but raising again those very bodies, which you Greeks, seeing to be dissolved, do not believe [their resurrection]. But learn not to disbelieve it; for while you believe that the soul is created, and yet is made immortal by God, according to the doctrine of Plato, and this in time, be not incredulous; but believe that God is able, when he hath raised to life that body which was made as a compound of the same elements, to make it immortal; for it must never be said of God, that he is able to do some things, and unable to do others. We have therefore believed that the body will be raised again; for although it be dissolved, it is not perished; for the earth receives its remains, and preserves them; and while they are like seed, and are mixed among the more fruitful soil, they flourish, and what is sown is indeed sown bare grain, but at the mighty sound of God the Creator, it will sprout up, and be raised in a clothed and glorious condition, though not before it has been dissolved, and mixed [with the earth]. So that we have not rashly believed the resurrection of the body; for although it be dissolved for a time on account of the original transgression, it exists still, and is cast into the earth as into a potter’s furnace, in order to be formed again, not in order to rise again such as it was before, but in a state of purity, and so as never to he destroyed any more. And to everybody shall its own soul be restored. And when it hath clothed itself with that body, it will not be subject to misery, but, being itself pure, it will continue with its pure body, and rejoice with it, with which it having walked righteously now in this world, and never having had it as a snare, it will receive it again with great gladness. But as for the unjust, they will receive their bodies not changed, not freed from diseases or distempers, nor made glorious, but with the same diseases wherein they died; and such as they were in their unbelief, the same shall they be when they shall be faithfully judged.
- For all men, the just as well as the unjust, shall be brought before God the word: for to him hath the Father committed all judgment : and he, in order to fulfill the will of his Father, shall come as Judge, whom we call Christ. For Minos and Rhadamanthus are not the judges, as you Greeks do suppose, but he whom God and the Father hath glorified: CONCERNING WHOM WE HAVE ELSEWHERE GIVEN A MORE PARTICULAR ACCOUNT, FOR THE SAKE OF THOSE WHO SEEK AFTER TRUTH. This person, exercising the righteous judgment of the Father towards all men, hath prepared a just sentence for every one, according to his works; at whose judgment-seat when all men, and angels, and demons shall stand, they will send forth one voice, and say, JUST IS THY JUDGMENT; the rejoinder to which will bring a just sentence upon both parties, by giving justly to those that have done well an everlasting fruition; but allotting to the lovers of wicked works eternal punishment. To these belong the unquenchable fire, and that without end, and a certain fiery worm, never dying, and not destroying the body, but continuing its eruption out of the body with never-ceasing grief: neither will sleep give ease to these men, nor will the night afford them comfort; death will not free them from their punishment, nor will the interceding prayers of their kindred profit them; for the just are no longer seen by them, nor are they thought worthy of remembrance. But the just shall remember only their righteous actions, whereby they have attained the heavenly kingdom, in which there is no sleep, no sorrow, no corruption, no care, no night, no day measured by time, no sun driven in his course along the circle of heaven by necessity, and measuring out the bounds and conversions of the seasons, for the better illumination of the life of men; no moon decreasing and increasing, or introducing a variety of seasons, nor will she then moisten the earth; no burning sun, no Bear turning round [the pole], no Orion to rise, no wandering of innumerable stars. The earth will not then be difficult to be passed over, nor will it be hard to find out the court of paradise, nor will there be any fearful roaring of the sea, forbidding the passengers to walk on it; even that will be made easily passable to the just, though it will not be void of moisture. Heaven will not then be uninhabitable by men, and it will not be impossible to discover the way of ascending thither. The earth will not be uncultivated, nor require too much labor of men, but will bring forth its fruits of its own accord, and will be well adorned with them. There will be no more generations of wild beasts, nor will the substance of the rest of the animals shoot out any more; for it will not produce men, but the number of the righteous will continue, and never fail, together with righteous angels, and spirits [of God], and with his word, as a choir of righteous men and women that never grow old, and continue in an incorruptible state, singing hymns to God, who hath advanced them to that happiness, by the means of a regular institution of life; with whom the whole creation also will lift up a perpetual hymn from corruption, to incorruption, as glorified by a splendid and pure spirit. It will not then be restrained by a bond of necessity, but with a lively freedom shall offer up a voluntary hymn, and shall praise him that made them, together with the angels, and spirits, and men now freed from all bondage.
- And now, if you Gentiles will be persuaded by these motives, and leave your vain imaginations about your pedigrees, and gaining of riches, and philosophy, and will not spend your time about subtleties of words, and thereby lead your minds into error, and if you will apply your ears to the hearing of the inspired prophets, the interpreters both of God and of his word, and will believe in God, you shall both be partakers of these things, and obtain the good things that are to come; you shall see the ascent unto the immense heaven plainly, and that kingdom which is there. For what God hath now concealed in silence [will be then made manifest,] what neither eye hath seen, nor ear hath heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man, the things that God hath prepared for them that love him.
- In whatsoever ways I shall find you, in them shall I judge you entirely: so, cries the END of all things. And he who hath at first lived a virtuous lift, but towards the latter end falls into vice, these labors by him before endured shall be altogether vain and unprofitable, even as in a play, brought to an ill catastrophe. Whosoever shall have lived wickedly and luxuriously may repent; however, there will be need of much time to conquer an evil habit, and even after repentance his whole life must be guarded with great care and diligence, after the manner of a body, which, after it hath been a long time afflicted with a distemper, requires a stricter diet and method of living; for though it may be possible, perhaps, to break off the chain of our irregular affections at once, yet our amendment cannot be secured without the grace of God, the prayers of good men, the help of the brethren, and our own sincere repentance and constant care. It is a good thing not to sin at all; it is also good, having sinned, to repent; as it is best to have health always, but it is a good thing to recover from a distemper. To God be glory and dominion for ever and ever Amen.
Back to Top of page