Lazarus and The Rich Man


Jesus said in Luke 16:19-31,


"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.


"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'


"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'  "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' >No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'


"He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"


This scripture has been considered by most Christians as one of the strongest proofs of the doctrine of endless misery in the future world. There is probably not another passage in the Bible, which has been so often quoted by both clergy and laity in proof of that doctrine.  The manner in which it has been used by Christian teachers has caused it to be a great stumbling block in the way of those who desire to know the truth.  Most people would not have much trouble believing the truth of reconciliation if it were not for this scripture.


I would like to show you that the popular opinion concerning the meaning of this text is incorrect and reveal to you what the real meaning is. But before I do you need to open your mind to be able to hear and receive what I am about to say. Your mind has been trained all these years to beleave that God is going to cast all who sin into an eternal fire of hell.


We have been told that the rich man and beggar were real bona fide people that our Savior knew, and all that is said of them did actually and literally happened. This story begins by saying,


"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day."


This is all the knowledge we can obtain of the character, circumstances and condition of the rich man.  Jesus says nothing more of his character and we can find no account of him in any other part of the Bible.  From this we learn that he was rich and lived very luxuriously every day, as thousands now do.  He is not said to be an evil, dishonest, unmerciful or unjust person.  Jesus does not even indicate that he was a immoral man. If Jesus would have been talking about a time of endless misery to those who do evil, He would  have mention what this man was guilty of!


You see, men have assumed that this man was doomed to suffer endless misery and consequently must have been deserving of it. It is not a sin to be wealthy and to live luxuriously.  There is nothing in this story to indicate that this mans wealth was obtained dishonestly.  We can just as easily assume that this man  was an honest, moral, and as good and virtuous as any church member in the land! 


Let's look now at what Jesus said about the beggar,


"At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table."


This is all the information we have respecting the character, condition, and circumstances of the beggar.  Jesus did not say or even indicate that the beggar was a good man or that he loved and served God or that he walked humbly, loved mercy or dealt justly.  He simply says that Lazarus was a beggar full of sores.  There are thousands of people who have reduced themselves to poverty, nakedness and starvation by their own laziness and brought upon themselves painful diseases and afflictions. We are justified in supposing that the beggar was reduced to his miserable condition by his own folly and idleness. 


We might even proceed further and prove by the strongest circumstantial evidence that the rich man was a good man, and the beggar a wicked man. Because throughout the Old Testament scriptures, wealth, riches and earthly enjoyment is promised to those who are pure in heart, who love God and keep his commandments.  While poverty, disease and disgrace is threatened to those who do wickedly.


 The story goes on to say, that,


"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side."


Jesus did not say that the soul or spirit of the beggar was carried to Abraham's bosom; but the beggar, i.e. his dead body was carried there. Jesus said that Lazarus was carried into Abraham's bosom and that there is not another place in the Bible where mention is made of any one being carried into Abraham's bosom at death.  And yet we have been taught that Abraham's bosom means heaven, which is a place of absolute happiness.  Why is Abraham's bosom more than the bosom of any other saint in glory?


The story goes on to say,


"The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side."


If Jesus intended to introduce the doctrine of endless punishment, doesn't it seem that he would have chosen someone that was a fit subject for such a place?  Especially, when this is the only place in the whole Bible where any indication is given of suffering after death?


The story goes on to say,


"So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'"


 We have been taught that the damned were filled with cursing and blasphemy. Yet, here is one supposed to be in the prison-house of woe, praying, and that most earnestly and fervently.  And it should be observed that his prayer is offered to Abraham instead of God, which makes the common exposition of the passage still more difficult. For supposing that what we have been taught is true, then, why would this man be praying to Abraham instead of God?  Did he suppose that the patriarch had authority and power to mitigate his sufferings and alleviate his distress?


Now, notice what a strange request he made,


"'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'"  


Just suppose that the rich man was actually in a flame of fire in the spirit world, what possible good could he have expected from a drop of water?  If both he and the beggar were in the spirit world, why should the one be represented as having eyes and a tongue, and the other fingers?  And where were they going to find a drop of water?  And what authority did Abraham have to send Lazarus to the rich man? Have we not been taught to believe that in the kingdom of immortal blessedness, all are free and equal?  Or are we to suppose that the relations of master and servant exists there as the request of the rich man would seem to imply?  And then again, why should the rich man have requested Lazarus to be sent to him? Did he suppose the beggar to be indebted to him for the crumbs which he had permitted him to be fed?  No satisfactory answer ever has or ever can be given to these questions on the ground that this is a statement of literal facts.


Now, let us notice the answer of Abraham to the prayer of the rich man,


"'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.  And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'


Notice that Abraham does not even hint that the torment of the rich man was a punishment for sins committed while on earth and neither does he reprove the rich man for offering his prayer to him instead of God. He simply tells him that in his lifetime he had received good things, and Lazarus evil things. And then as a further excuse for not complying with his request, he tells him that between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.


Now if the hell here spoken of were such a place as it is generally supposed to be, and Abraham's bosom is the place of immortal blessedness, is it not rather a novel idea, to suppose that in order to keep the saints out of hell, it was necessary to confine them in heaven, by fixing a great gulf between the two places?   It is obvious that the purpose of this great gulf was to prevent the inhabitants of what is supposed to be the celestial world, from emigrating to what is supposed to be the world of woe!  And is it not surprising also that those who suppose this parable to be literal facts, that a gulf however wide and deep would be no sort of hindrance to a disembodied spirit upon which the laws of matter could have no power or control? (Think about it!!)


Being rejected by Abraham, the rich man proceeds to make a second and different request,


"Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "



We have also been taught that the poor, unfortunate victims of Almighty wrath and vengeance, become, as soon as they enter their gloomy abode, dead to every feeling of sympathy, pity, and compassion, and that they are there filled only with evil passions and desires. But it seems to have been quite different with the rich man!  His own wretchedness seems for the time to have been forgotten in his concern for the safety of his five brethren!


Abraham answered him,


'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'


Hear them about what?  The rich man had requested Lazarus to be sent to his brethren that he might testify unto them and give them such instruction as would enable them to escape this place of torment which he was suffering.  This implies that Moses and the prophets had given instructions that, if heeded would, preserve them from the awful fate of their brother. 


If Moses or the prophets had counseled their fellow men how to escape, they must have known from what if was necessary to escape. And hence if the popular view of this subject is correct, Moses and the prophets must have taught the doctrine of endless misery! But where in all the writings of Moses and the prophets, can such a doctrine be found?  It cannot be found.  Even our most enlightened and intelligent brethren who teach this, freely admit the doctrine of endless misery is not taught in the Old Testament scriptures.


This, then, of itself, is sufficient to prove the falsity of the common explanation of the parable.  Before I give you the spiritual explanation for this parable, I would like to take a minute and look at the word, 'hell'. There are three words in the original language of the New Testament, which are translated hell, Hades, Tartaros and Gehenna.


The first being the origin of the word hell in the parable we are noticing is all that needs our attention.  Hades is a translation of the Hebrew word 'Sheol', (into Greek) which is the original word that throughout the Old Testament scriptures is rendered hell in our English bibles. It occurs 64 times in the Old Testament and is rendered pit three times, grave twenty nine times, and in every other place where it occurs it is rendered hell. But we believe that no person whose mind is free from prejudice will say after careful examination of all the places where it occurs, which is one place, it means a place of misery in the future world. In its original and primary sense, it signified the state of the dead, in general, without regard to their goodness or badness, their happiness or misery.  All men go to Sheol, (Hades or Hell,) there Jacob, and Job, and David and Hezekiah expected and even desired to be.


Hades occurs in eleven places in the New Testament, ten of which it is translated hell.  The following are some of the places where it occurs:


           1)  Matt. 9:23,


"And thou Capernaum which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell."


That the word 'hell' does not here mean a place of misery in the future world is proved from the fact that Jesus was speaking of a city.


          2) Acts 2:27 says,


"Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell neither wilt thou suffer thine holy one to see corruption."


These words are quoted from Psalms and applied to Christ. No person can suppose that the soul of the blessed Savior was in a place of torment in the future world. The obvious meaning of the passage is that the soul of Christ was not left in the grave, nor his body permitted to corrupt and perish. Rev. 20:14 says,


"And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire, this is the second death."


If we understand hell to mean a place of punishment after death, then the passage is entirely without meaning because hell is represented as being cast into hell. Most believers believe that the lake of fire here is the place of the damned.


Paul said in 1 Cor. 15:55,


"O grave where is thy victory?"


The original of the word 'grave' in this passage is the same as the original of hell in the parable of the rich man and the beggar.  This passage is a quotation from the prophecy of Hosea 18:14 where the word sheol occurs twice,


"I will ransom them from the power of Sheol, I will redeem them from death.  O death I will be thy plagues, O Sheol I will be thy destruction."


Sheol, Hades and Hell are therefore to be destroyed for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. It is very easy, then, to conclude that neither Sheol in Hebrew, Hades in Greek, or Hell in our own language properly signifies a place of punishment after natural death. The plain and obvious meaning of these words is the grave, or the state of the dead. We have now gone through the story of the rich man and Lazarus, and have shown the utter impossibility of reconciling it with the popular view of it.


We, therefore, contend that this is a parable, and as such we shall proceed to explain it. By carefully reading the chapter previous to the one in which this parable is found, it will be easy to understand that easily be perceived that there is an intimate connection between the two. The several parables, which are recorded in these chapters, seem to have been spoken with the design of showing the unreasonableness and inconsistency of the Jews in finding fault with our Lord because he received sinners and ate with them.  According to their own self-righteousness pretensions, they were in no need of the counsels, instructions and forgiveness of Jesus.


On the other hand, they considered the publicans and sinners with whom he ate and associated to be in a most wretched and deplorable condition. If they could justify themselves in searching for a stray sheep or a lost piece of silver, how could they condemn him for using all proper means to reclaim and save lost and sinful men? 


In the parables of the prodigal son and the unjust steward he not only severely rebukes their self-righteousness and selfishness, but portrays their pride and arrogance in such a light as to mortify and humble them. And then to show the folly of blindly adhering to the Jewish mode of worship, and observing the rites and ceremonials of the law, as also the painful consequences which would result from so doing, he spoke the parable, or figure of speech, designed to show the extent and heinousness of their guilt. 


Jesus said in Luke 16:18 (NIV),


"Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery, and the man who marries a divorced woman commits adultery."


To suppose that, "He who spoke as never man spoke", broke off in the middle of an animated and interesting discourse, and went away to talk about the sin of adultery, is to say the least, not a little extraordinary. Dr. Adam Clark, in his commentary upon this subject, says, "This appears to be a part of the sermon on the mount, and would stand in a much better connection than here."


If we read these parables as literal stories, there is no connection between them. But if this language is understood parabolically, the whole appears plain and simple.  The Savior's meaning of Luke 16:18 was that if the Jews had forsaken their form of worship, and adopted some other, before the law was done away, they would have been guilty of spiritual adultery. And if after Jesus had offered Himself up as the perfect sacrifice and thereby divorced them from the law and its ceremonials, they still adhere to it and practicing its rites, they have committed spiritual adultery


To portray in the most glowing colors, to the minds of his hearers, the consequences of blind adherence to the law, and also the reward of believing, Jesus spoke to them the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. This story was probably familiar to his hearers and Jesus for that reason took this occasion to make a practical application of it.


In "Paige's Selections", we find the following from Dr. Whitby, "That this is a parable, and not a real history of what was actually done, is evident because we find this very parable in the Gemara Babylonicum whence it is cited by Mr. Sheringham, in the preface to his Joma. (2) From the circumstances of it, viz. The rich man's lifting up his eyes in hell, and seeing Lazarus in Abraham's bosom, his discourse with Abraham, his complaint of being tormented with flames, and his desire that Lazarus might be sent to cool his tongue; and if all this be confessedly parable, why should the rest, which is the very parable in the Gemara, be accounted history!"


By the rich man, Jesus evidently intended to represent the Jewish priests, who were literally clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.  The Mosaic law provided for the support of the Priests, and granted to them certain portions of the sacrifices or offerings which were brought by the people to be offered unto the Lord. Not only so, but they were also blessed above all others, in that, "to them was committed the oracles of God." As a result they not only fared sumptuously with respect to temporal things, but they were also privileged with spiritual food.


By the beggar it is meant the Gentiles, who in a moral point of view were poor and degraded, and who were regarded by the self righteous Jews as no better than dogs. By the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table, and with which the beggar desired to be fed, Jesus represents the willingness, and even anxiety of the Gentiles to acquaint themselves with God, and the requirements of his law, as given to Moses. And by the dogs which came and licked his sores, it is probably meant the heathen or Gentile priests, who sought to satisfy the wants of the people with their heathen notions and traditions.


    " And it came to pass that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom."


When the gospel was preached to the Gentiles, by the apostles of Jesus, many of them joyfully and gladly embraced it.   


      "The rich man also died and was buried."


When the kingdom of heaven was preached and men rushed into it, then the time had arrived for the putting away of the law along with its ceremonials.   The priests, therefore, and those who ministered at the Jewish altars, as a necessary consequence died a spiritual as well as a political death because God ceased to accept their sacrifices, and gave no indication that he any longer approved their mode of worship.  They therefore died to that spiritual enjoyment, and happiness in the worship of God, which in times previous had given them so great a pre-eminence over other people, particularly, the heathen or Gentile nations.


The rich man's lifting up his eyes in hell being in torment is designed to represent the disappointment and misery of the Priests on finding that their office, with all its law and blessings was taken from them. And this misery was probably heightened by their witnessing the happiness enjoyed by the Gentile believers in the gospel, especially the miracles among them.  When they saw those whom they had ever regarded as dogs, filled with joy and rejoicing, and receiving such tokens of the divine favor that could not be misunderstood. When they realized that the gospel was first preached and offered unto them, and might have been accepted, had not their pride and self-righteousness, and hardness of heart prevented it.


We have already shown that the word hell in this parable, in its most general sense signifies the grave, or the place of the dead.  It is often used, however, in a figurative sense, the same as are the words death, dead, grave, etc.


Jonah 2:2 says,


"Out of the belly of hell cried I."


Jonah supposed himself to be the same as in the grave, or place of the dead.


David said in Psalms 116:3,


"The sorrows of death compassed me, and the pains of hell gat hold upon me: I found trouble and sorrow."


Meaning that he was very near death.  A lot of people believe that Sheol, Hades or hell is sometimes used to signify great temporal calamity, suffering, and affliction, and have so understood it in this parable. But I believe that in every instance of its occurrence in the Bible, it may be more consistently explained to mean the grave or state of the dead, either literally or fig. The hell or torment of those the rich man was designed to represent, was not so much the consequence of being in hell as it was the reflection that their occupation was gone with all its immunities and blessings.


The priests finding that their burnt offerings and sacrifices were not accepted, and that the Gentiles were receiving peculiar blessings, and manifestation of Gods favor, would gladly participate in their joys and blessings, though they were unwilling or unable to receive those blessings in the only divinely appointed way--i.e. by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ.  As a result, they turned to the promises made to Abraham, and recorded by Moses and endeavored to derive consolation from them.  But the blessings there promised to all men, could only be enjoyed in this life through faith in Christ.  They had once enjoyed the blessings and privileges that they now see the Gentiles enjoying. But a change had taken place, and the Gentiles by embracing the gospel, had become the recipients of good things, while the Priests, by rejecting the gospel, had brought upon themselves the evil which their pride and unbelief merited.


They had moreover continued in unbelief, and had opposed the gospel so long, that God had for a time given them over to blindness of mind, and they found a great gulf was fixed between them and the Christians, so that they could not believe in Christ as the true Messiah, however ardently they might desire to become partakers of the joys of those who had embraced the gospel.


This state of things Jesus had before predicted. (See Matt. 23:38,39)  And now his prediction was verified.  The priests had so long and so bitterly opposed the Savior that they could not bring themselves to believe that he was the very Messiah for whom they were anxiously looking. Finding therefore, from an examination of the promises to Abraham that, there was no hope for themselves, they naturally, next turn their thoughts to their countrymen, who in the parable are noted by the five brethren. The common people among the Jews had never manifested that hostility towards Jesus and his followers. Even when they had persecuted Jesus or his followers, they had been instigated to do so, by the priests. 


Feeling condemned for their conduct and anxious that those who had done wrong in opposing the gospel, more through their influence, than from any desire of their own, the priests desired that the Gentiles might be sent to preach the gospel to those brethren. But they are told that their brethren have Moses and the prophets because both Moses and the prophets had written of the coming of Christ, and had described his character, and the object of his mission in so plain a manner that all who examined their testimony without prejudice, and with their minds open to conviction, could not but be convinced that Jesus was the Christ.


Jesus told them,


"If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'"


Did someone rise from the dead? Of course, and the majority of the leaders of the Jews still refused to believe in Him.


Can you see now from this that this parable is about the Jews rejection of Jesus and not about some future eternal punishment? I believe that this parable or story was used by Jesus to show the Priest the effects of the rejection of the gospel by the Jews, and its acceptance by the Gentiles and that it has no allusion to any future state of existence.


I would like to give you some Third Dimension views of what this parable is talking about. This parable depicts the state of the Church today.  The man made hierarchy of the Church today with it's many tiers of leadership, such as the Roman Catholic Church and many denominations, such as the Assembly of God, Church of God, United Methodist, etc., have kept their subjects bound to their individual traditions and man made rules under the threat of being excommunicated. The hierarchy of these denominations live in luxury with great pomp and pious while their people are starving for the truth. Many of the leaders of these denomination have knowledge of the truth of what the Lord is wanting to do in this day but will not instruct the people for fear of loosing their positions. The people under them are afraid to say anything that goes against the status quo for fear of being cast out of the synagogue.


                  a) In John 9:22 we read,


"His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews, for already

the Jews had decided that anyone who acknowledged that Jesus was the

Christ would be put out of the synagogue."


The day is now dawning in which this false hierarchy is being destroyed and those that have tried to sustain it are going to be in great turmoil as they see it crumbling around them. We have seen this happen in our time through the great Charismatic Renewal that we have been apart of but this is only the beginning of the reversal of things. There is a vast gulf fixed between man's thoughts on how to advance the Kingdom of God and God's plan.        


Isaiah 55:9 says,


"As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts."


As this day that we are living in continues to dawn, the Son's of God are being revealed and as a result there will be much turmoil as the whole creation is being released from bondage. Those who have relied on their positions of hierarchy will weep and wail as they see all that they built come tumbling down.  At the same time millions will be released to the freedom of the Son's of God. Not only is this happening at the corporate level but it is also happening at the individual level.   


There is a vast gulf fixed between the first Adam and the second Adam.  It's called death! If we live according to the first Adam (the flesh) we will die. Paul said in Romans 8:13,


"For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."


The more we live according to the flesh, the more we produce death in our bodies. But Paul also said in Romans 8:13,


"For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live."


Therefore, the more we live by the Spirit, the more life will be expressed in our mortal bodies. Paul also said in Romans 8:12,


"Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh."


We owe it to ourselves to live by the Spirit because this is how we express eternal life. If you want to live by the flesh, go ahead, but the end result will be that you will die. Paul said in I Cor. 10:23 (KJV),


"All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not."




"Everything is permissible"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible"--but not everything is constructive."


Moses told the children of Israel in Deu. 30:19,


"This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live."


Paul said in Gal. 6:7-8,


"Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.  For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting."



Paul said in 1 Cor. 2:6,


"He which soweth sparingly shall reap also sparingly; and he which soweth bountifully shall reap also bountifully."


What, then, are you sowing today?  Are you doing your own thing and doing as the world does today, whatever feels good to you? Or are you investing in your future and learning to live by the Spirit today?


Paul said in Gal. 6:9-10,


"And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if  we faint not. As we have therefore opportunity, let us do good unto all men, especially unto them who are of the household of faith."


I know that for most who are reading this for the first time that it is hard to let go of your prior beliefs and convictions. May I suggest that you read and study this again and then lay it down for a season and then come back and study it again.  It was very difficult for me to allow the Lord to convience me of this truth and of many of the other things that I have written about.  However, I have always been a seeker of truth and not a seeker of what men consider as truth.  The Holy Spirit of God Himself is our teacher and we need no man to teach us.  At the same time God uses others to make us aware of truths He has revealed to them.  The whole New Testament is recordings of men who have been enlighten by the Spirit of the Lord.


My prayer for you is that the Lord will illuminate your mind and understanding so that you may comprehend who He is and who you are in Him.


David Johnson


For more information on hell, check out, "The Bible Hell" at

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