In Part 9, I will explaining the true meaning of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus has been used time and time again to justify the teaching of hell. I have actually heard it preached and in the past when I was spiritually blind, I was unable to discern or interpret the scriptures for myself. Some people will hold steadfast that this is in fact no parable at all but a real story with real facts told by Christ. However, I say that if this “story” is read with the literal eye, one should easily be able to determine that it just doesn’t make sense if we use common logic. There are many holes in this parable if every word is to be taken literally. Part of this problem is that most people do not understand the reason why Jesus spoke in parables. I’ve heard people say that Jesus spoke in parables to make the story easier to understand. I’ve heard all sorts of explanations but none of those ideas are founded in scripture. Jesus spoke in parables to hide the spiritual meaning of His words because not all people received his message;
John 10:6 This PARABLE spake Jesus unto them: but they UNDERSTOOD NOT what things they were which he spake unto them. [Even the disciples of Jesus didn’t understand the parables and would ask Jesus to explain them and He would explain it by telling them another parable which of course they still didn’t understand.]
Now pay close attention to the following passage of scripture below;
Matthew 13:10-16 And the disciples came, and said unto him, WHY SPEAKEST THOU UNTO THEM IN PARABLES? He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to KNOW THE MYSTERIES OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN, but to them it is not given. 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. THEREFORE SPEAK I TO THEM IN PARABLES: BECAUSE THEY SEEING SEE NOT; AND HEARING THEY HEAR NOT, NEITHER DO THEY UNDERSTAND. And in them is fulfilled the prophecy of Esaias, which saith, By hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and shall not perceive: FOR THIS PEOPLE’S HEART IS WAXED GROSS, and THEIR EARS ARE DULL OF HEARING, and THEIR EYES THEY HAVE CLOSED; lest at any time they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, and should understand with their heart, AND SHOULD BE CONVERTED, and I should heal them. But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.
Reread Matthew 13:10-16 above and pay close attention to the words I’ve placed in bold and underlined. Now look at the two groups of people in the table below;
|Those Who Understand the Parables of Christ||Those Who Do Not Understand the Parables of Christ|
|(Spiritually Minded)||(Carnal Minded)|
|Given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven||Not given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven|
|Who has will be given more||Who doesn’t have will be taken away from|
|They see||They don’t see|
|They hear||They don’t hear|
|They understand||They don’t understand|
|Open believing heart||Heart waxed gross (hardened heart)|
|Spiritually converted||Not spiritually converted|
Now which one of these two groups sounds like you? Do you refuse to believe the word of God which is truth? If so, you willingly accept lies and there isn’t any harmony between lies and truth. You do not understand the meaning of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus because your heart is waxed gross. You do not see, hear, or understand because you are carnally minded. Jesus spoke of spiritual matters. Why is this so hard for people to grasp? If you understand but one parable of Christ, you should understand all parables; Mark 4:13 And he said unto them, KNOW YE NOT THIS PARABLE? and HOW THEN WILL YE KNOW ALL PARABLES? All of the parables have a spiritual meaning concerning the Kingdom of God. If you don’t see this, then you are not spiritually converted. 1 Corinthians 2:14 But THE NATURAL MAN RECEIVETH NOT THE THINGS OF THE SPIRIT OF GOD: for they are FOOLISHNESS UNTO HIM: NEITHER CAN HE KNOW THEM, because THEY ARE SPIRITUALLY DISCERNED.
If you really desire to understand the spiritual things of God, then you must let go of all your doubt, your trust in the wisdom of men, and you must destroy all of the idols of your heart. When this happens in your life, you will begin the process of spiritual conversion; John 14:26 But the COMFORTER, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, HE SHALL TEACH YOU ALL THINGS, AND BRING ALL THINGS TO YOUR REMEMBRANCE, whatsoever I have said unto you.
I recently did a Google search on the topic of hell because I was interested in understanding some of the ways people try to use this parable as a defense for the doctrine of hell. I came across one site in which the author made it clear that this was no parable at all but a real story about what happens to the saved and unsaved. Of course they didn’t offer any scriptures to support their heretical theory but I thought it was interesting that this person underlined all three mentions of the word torment as it is used in this parable. How convenient for this person to ignore all of the other words Christ spoke in this parable.
So moving forward, we can say with confidence that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is indeed a PARABLE. This parable is actually one of several parables that Jesus spoke of to the masses. Let’s look at the entire parable and examine the scriptures in Luke 16:19-31;
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.
For those of you who continually insist that this parable is a real story and should be taken literally, please answer these questions. Is being rich a sin? Is Abraham’s bosom heaven? Can a literal drop of water do anything to quench someone who is being tormented in real fire? Why is flame singular? Why does the rich man have 5 brothers? Can people who are in hell really talk to people in heaven? Why is the beggar in this story named Lazarus?
If you can’t answer these questions logically, then you have no basis to claim that the story is literal. I don’t believe that Jesus spoke one idle word in his life. I believe all of his words are spiritual with truth in every word that he spoke. If this parable is taken literally, then we would have to assume that Jesus used many idle and insignificant words to convey a message. This is a parable with figures and symbols that need to be explained in order for anyone to understand the meaning.
Even the first 4 words of this parable “there was a certain” should tell any reader that this is consistent with the beginning of many of Christ’s parables.
Matthew 21:33 Hear another PARABLE: THERE WAS A CERTAIN householder, which planted a vineyard, and hedged it round about, and digged a winepress in it, and built a tower, and let it out to husbandmen, and went into a far country:
Luke 7:41 THERE WAS A CERTAIN creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
Luke 16:1 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.
Now these 3 scriptures do not prove conclusively that the phrase, “there was a certain” is how you determine if Christ is speaking a parable or not. My point is that it is a fact that Christ used this 4 word phrase to begin other parables including the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
Luke 16:19 THERE WAS A CERTAIN rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
Now let’s identify the symbols for the words Christ used in this parable. What is significant about the rich man and the way he dresses? Why is he rich? One small detail that most people overlook is the color of the rich man’s garment – purple. Why purple? If this is literal then why would it really matter? Well it does matter and I will show you with the scriptures. John 19:5 Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the PURPLE ROBE. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! [This may seem insignificant but I can assure you that this is very significant. They put a purple robe on Jesus as a mockery because they didn’t really believe that he was the Messiah or the King of the Jews. Purple is historically symbolic for royalty, authority, and wealth.]
Exodus 39:1-2 And of the blue, and PURPLE, and scarlet, they made cloths of service, to do service in the HOLY PLACE, and made the HOLY GARMENTS FOR AARON; as the Lord commanded Moses. And he made the ephod of gold, blue, and purple, and scarlet, and FINE TWINED LINEN. [Now who is Aaron? Aaron is the older brother of Moses and he was the first priest of Israel which we all know is God’s chosen people.]
The rich man in this parable is a symbol for God’s chosen people the Israelite’s. For thou art an HOLY PEOPLE unto the Lord thy God: the Lord thy God hath CHOSEN THEE TO BE A SPECIAL PEOPLE unto himself, ABOVE ALL PEOPLE that are upon the face of the earth. Deuteronomy 7:6 They had the promises of God (spiritual riches) and they lived as a royal priesthood – that is until they disobeyed. Over time, God blessed his people from the beginning. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a FATHER OF MANY NATIONS have I made thee. Genesis 17:5 [Jacob, whose name was changed to “Israel” was the grandson of Abraham, Genesis 35:10 And God said unto him, Thy name is Jacob: thy name shall not be called any more Jacob, but ISRAEL shall be thy name: and he called his name Israel. and he had 12 sons which then became known as the Children of Israel (12 tribes of Israel). And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it. Now the sons of Jacob [Israel] were TWELVE: Genesis 35:22 Out of these 12 tribes, God selected the tribe of “Judah” as the dominant tribe. And the Lord said, JUDAH SHALL GO UP: behold, I have delivered the land into his hand. Judges 1:2 The rich man in this parable represents God’s chosen people, but more specific, the tribe of Judah. This may not seem significant at the moment but this is crucial point in understanding the identity of the rich man. We have another reference in Revelations 5:5, And one of the elders saith unto me, Weep not: behold, the LION OF THE TRIBE OF JUDAH, the Root of David, hath prevailed to open the book, and to loose the seven seals thereof. The lion of the tribe of Judah is Jesus Christ as he descended from this line and it was the Jews of Jesus’s day that he was speaking to and referring to as the “rich man”.
It should be quite simple to identify the beggar Lazarus by sheer comparison. The name Lazarus comes from the Hebrew name Eleazar which means “whom God helps”. Some will argue that Lazarus is in heaven and heaven is just depicted as Abraham’s bosom in this parable by Jesus. Well if that is true, then we have a major contradiction in the bible. Hebrews 11:13 says, These all DIED IN FAITH, NOT HAVING RECEIVED THE PROMISES, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. This is referring to the prophets and all of the early godly men referred to in the Old Testament including Abraham. How could Lazarus be in heaven being comforted in Abraham’s bosom when this scripture clearly tells us that Abraham died not having received the promises as of yet? Abraham is not in heaven and if he isn’t in heaven, how can Lazarus literally be comforted by Abraham? People will believe anything when they don’t understand the scriptures. We must stay on course with the understanding that this parable isn’t literal but figurative.
Lazarus in this parable represents the Gentiles – the world outside of God’s chosen people. God’s people (the Jews) treated the Gentiles like dogs who were full of sores (spiritual sickness) and in need of rescue (help from God). Ephesians 2:12 That at that time ye were WITHOUT CHRIST, being ALIENS FROM THE COMMONWEALTH OF ISRAEL, and STRANGERS FROM THE COVENANTS OF PROMISE, having NO HOPE, and WITHOUT GOD in the world: The Gentiles did not have any of the blessings and spiritual promises of God (spiritually dead) but desired to have just the spiritual crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. The Gentiles were laid at the gate (of the temple which represents the entrance to God) but not allowed to go inside never (to have a relationship with God) but things are about to change.
In verse 22, we see that something miraculous has occurred. Both die, but Lazarus is carried away by the angels into Abraham’s bosom and the rich man ends up in hell. What is significant about Lazarus being in the bosom of Abraham? Being in the bosom of someone is a symbol of love and closeness; John 13:23 Now there was leaning on JESUS’ BOSOM one of his disciples, whom JESUS LOVED. Lazarus (the Gentile nation) being in Abraham’s bosom (place of spiritual promise to be loved and close to God) illustrates the roles have switched. Galatians 3:14 That the BLESSING OF ABRAHAM MIGHT COME ON THE GENTILES THROUGH JESUS CHRIST; that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. Now Lazarus (symbol for the Gentile nation) are now in the place of where the rich man (symbol for God’s chosen people) was. So what was the cause of such a radical change in the status of God’s chosen people and the Gentiles? Let’s see what Jesus had to say about it;
Matthew 23:33 Ye SERPENTS, ye GENERATION OF VIPERS, how can ye escape the DAMNATION OF HELL [Gehenna – God’s Judgement]? The roles switched because of the arrogance, self-righteousness, and disobedience of the Jews (tribe of Judah). They didn’t see a need to help others, they boasted about having the law of the prophets, and they worshiped themselves but things just changed. Listen to what Jesus says to the churches in Asia in Revelation 3:17, Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: [They worshiped the outwardly things not realizing that it was God who blessed them and they refused to bless others. Spiritually they were wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.]
This is what is meant when Jesus says, But many that are first shall be last; and the last first. Mark 10:31 The Jews received the promises first but because of their disobedience, they will be last in receiving the promises of the kingdom of God.
Now the rich man doesn’t understand his condition being tormented in hell and he beseeches Father Abraham for assistance from Lazarus. Notice that the “rich man” identifies Abraham as “Father” which would indicate that he was his symbolic son. John 8:39 They answered and said unto him, ABRAHAM IS OUR FATHER. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham. Here is a reference in scripture were the Pharisees (Jews) are telling Jesus who their spiritual father is but notice how Jesus answered them. Here is but another clue that tells us the identity of the rich man. How ironic that a moment ago, it was Lazarus who desired crumbs to be fed but now it is the rich man asking for the tip of a finger to be dipped in water to cool his tongue. Matthew 23:4 For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their FINGERS. Jesus accurately portrays the scribes and the Pharisees as religious hypocrites. They didn’t practice what they preached and now it is they (the Jews) who are requesting assistance from the Gentiles.
The rich man is in hell and we should know at this point that this isn’t the pagan hell of Christianity. For the sake of staying on course with interpreting the meaning of this parable, I will explain what hell represents in this parable. We know from our study on all of the Greek words translated as hell – hadēs as it is used in this parable denotes the “grave”. Nothing occurs in the grave and it is complete darkness. This is a part of what this “hell” represents for the Jews. They are cut off from God and in spiritual darkness. Matthew 8:11-12 And I say unto you, That MANY shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, in the kingdom of heaven. But the CHILDREN OF THE KINGDOM shall be cast out into OUTER DARKNESS: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. The many coming from the east and west are the Gentiles. The children of the kingdom are the Jews. They will be cast out into hell – the grave or figuratively, outer darkness out of God’s good graces. This parable has absolutely nothing to do with the evil pagan hell that is preached in the Christian church.
But this parable states that the rich man is being tormented. So this certainly should convey some level of literalness to the parable, right? Wrong. I have covered this already but I will review it again just to be clear on this. Let’s look at these two verses again in Luke;
Luke 2:48 And when they saw him, they were amazed: and his mother said unto him, Son, why hast thou thus dealt with us? behold, thy father and I have sought thee SORROWING.
Luke 16:24 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.
Both of these words, “sorrowing” and “tormented” come from the same Greek word odynaō.
In Luke 2:48, the parents of Jesus are described as “sorrowing” when they lost Jesus in Jerusalem after the feast of the Passover. This of course doesn’t mean physical torment but more of a mental/emotional anguish. This torment does not represent any literal physical pain.
Now in Luke 16:24 Jesus describes the rich man being “tormented” in this flame. Remember that the word tormented here comes from the same Greek word that means sorrowing. So the rich man in this parable is feeling mental and emotional anguish from being banished from God into darkness.
Hosea 4:6 My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge: because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that THOU SHALT BE NO PRIEST TO ME: seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I WILL ALSO FORGET THY CHILDREN.
For the sake of having a complete understanding of this parable, we need to know that the word “torment” as it is used in verse 23 (and 28), comes from a different Greek word than in verse 24. The word torment in verses 23 and 28 are translated from the Greek word “basanos” which is defined as a touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal. It later became known to denote an instrument of torture known as the rack in order to divulge the truth. It is the latter definition that has grown in popular belief as torment due to the depraved nature of the human heart but we see that initially, this word was used to describe a testing of purity in precious metals. This is the true meaning of the word; a testing and this can be described as torment, but not in the physical literal sense.
So the torment that is described in verses 23 and 28 is referring to a period of “testing” but this is all taking place in a “flame”. When most read this parable, they don’t really pay attention to the words. Did you notice that the word flame is in the singular? The rich man is tormented in a flame. What does the flame represent? Fire has always been symbolic for God’s judgment and now it is directed at His own chosen for their lack of faith and disobedience. There is only one thing that this flame can represent and we have it documented throughout the pages of history towards the Jewish people going back to the days of the early church. It is of course, PERSECUTION…
Acts 8:1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a GREAT PERSECUTION AGAINST THE CHURCH which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. [The rich man (which is the Jews – Judah) are going through a period of testing in this flame and it is persecution. One would only need to do a brief study of persecution of the Jewish people starting from the days of the early church, anti-Semitism, and up to the Holocaust. Due to their persistent disbelief and lack of faith that ultimately led to the crucifixion of Jesus, this represents God’s judgement on the Jews – the tribe of Judah.]
Father Abraham explains in verse 26 that there is a great gulf fixed so that there will be no going back and forth from either side.
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.
Now if the rich man is in a literal hell, who in their right mind would want to pass through to the other side? How sick can the human mind get to think that one could literally watch and converse with a mother, father, or child that could end up in this place? The doctrine of hell is so silly and absurd that even a child should be able to understand this with an accurate explanation. Sadly, there will still be those who will refuse to believe because they are spiritually blind. This spiritual blindness is exactly what the “great gulf” represents;
Romans 11:25 For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits; that BLINDNESS IN PART IS HAPPENED TO ISRAEL, until the FULNESS OF THE GENTILES BE COME IN. [There it is, God has blinded the minds of the Jews during this process of allowing Gentiles the same opportunity of receiving love and grace from God.] Is it a surprise that even modern day Jews still reject that Jesus is the Messiah?
2 Corinthians 3:14-15 But their MINDS WERE BLINDED: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which vail is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the VAIL IS UPON THEIR HEART. [You see, these are things pertaining to the spiritual. What vails due you have upon your heart? Maybe believing in the teachings of men over the truths of God’s word?]
The rich man goes on to plead with father Abraham to witness to his five brothers to prevent them from going to the same place of torment that he is in. What is significant about this verse? Some think that this part of the parable is just filler information but I promise you, this verse was included for a reason. To further substantiate that the rich man is (the house of Judah – Jews), we know that Israel (formerly Jacob) had 12 sons with “Judah” being one of his sons, see Genesis 35:22. If we read Genesis 35, we will see that Judah was born of Leah and she bore (5) more sons for a total of six sons.
Genesis 35:23 The sons of Leah; Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn, and Simeon, and Levi, and JUDAH, and Issachar, and Zebulun: [So Judah – who is the leading tribe of the kingdom of Judah, the royal line starting with King David all the way down through to the birth of Christ who is the King of Kings, had five full blooded brothers.] This is the significance of verse 28 and this provides us with more details that reveal the identity of the rich man. Christ isn’t talking about Judah’s literal brothers who were long dead by this time. He is talking about whole house of Judah represented by the modern day Jews – the Pharisees, scribes, and all of the descendants of the Jews from the original covenant.
The last four verses of this parable describe father Abraham explaining to the rich man that his five brothers have the prophets (the Old Testament scriptures) as a witness. Jesus knew full well that the arrogant religious leaders boasted about their knowledge of the scriptures but their hearts were hardened. Luke 24:27 And beginning at MOSES AND ALL THE PROPHETS, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself. They had the witness from the scriptures but they still continued to believe not that Jesus was the Messiah. The rich man goes on to explain that if one is raised from the dead they will believe (repent). I think it’s actually funny that people claim that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is not a parable because Christ identifies a character with a real name as in this case, the name Lazarus. They say that this fact alone is proof because Christ never used a real name in any other parables. My question is, what is the reason Christ used a real name? Was it used only to prove that this wasn’t a parable? Do you think that it is ironic that there is an actual person in the book of John that has the same name, Lazarus who was sick and died but Jesus raised him from the dead which is the same context of the rich man’s inquiry? John 11:43-44 And when he thus had spoken, he cried with a loud voice, LAZARUS, come forth. And he that was dead came forth, bound hand and foot with graveclothes: and his face was bound about with a napkin. Jesus saith unto them, Loose him, and let him go. [You see, Christ was spoken of and prophesied about many times in the Old Testament. Jesus makes another prophecy in this parable stating that if they won’t hear the words of the prophets; neither will they believe if one is raised from the dead. Jesus used the real name Lazarus because he already knew that he was going to resurrect a real person named Lazarus from the dead to further prove his point in the parable. Not only did they refuse to believe when Lazarus was raised from the dead, they still do not believe that Jesus Christ was raised from the dead. Spiritual understanding really is foolishness to the natural man.
So this parable ends with no further explanation as to what happens to Israel (God’s people) who are now in a state of disbelief and darkness. Is their hope for Israel?
Romans 11:1 I say then, HATH GOD CAST AWAY HIS PEOPLE? GOD FORBID. For I also am an Israelite, of the seed of Abraham, of the tribe of Benjamin. Of course there is hope for Israel. Everything is working according to God’s plan and this period of spiritual blinding of Israel is a part of God’s plan. So what will be the final outcome for all of those unbelieving covenant-breaking Israelite’s (Jews)?
Romans 11:26 And so ALL ISRAEL SHALL BE SAVED: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: This says all Israel, not half or some but ALL and this same “ALL Israel” includes the Jesus hating Pharisees and scribes too.
Now you see that this parable has absolutely nothing to do with hell and we now know if we have been reading this whole series on hell, that the word hell was never a biblical word and it should never ever have been included in the bible to begin with.
Click the link to go to the Conclusion