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The Rich Man and Lazarus – Is it Literal or Symbolic?
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The Rich Man and Lazarus – Is it Literal or Symbolic?

1 comment so far

“What about in Luke 16:19-31 when Jesus is talking about the rich man and Lazarus the poor man outside his gateway? god bless you and grace be to you thank you for this article. but i just had this one question”

This question was user-submitted in response to the article: Do you go straight to Heaven when you die?

I know some of you are thinking about the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus and wondering how that relates to our previous article on what happens after death. Well lets read that parable and see what is going on… first of all, if your reading this article after clicking a link from a blog or from a search result off Google or Bing then please read the first article that spawned this article. It lays serious ground work for this article and it is all based on scripture. Want to know where your loved ones are? The Bible has encouragement and presents the only true picture:

Do you go straight to Heaven when you die?

We pick up the story in Luke 16:19-31

19) There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:

20) And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,

21) And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores

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;

23) And in hades he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom

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

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

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

27) Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:

28) For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment

29) Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them

30) And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent

31) And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead”

First of all we must establish whether this is literal or not… are all parables in the Bible to be taken literally? Well a parable is nothing more than an allegory used to present a point more clearly. When Christ said it is easier for a Camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God He was using an allegorical sense and did not intend it to be interpreted literally. If we take this saying literally we have some serious problems to deal with, first of all any rich men such as Abraham could not be saved because as far as I know no camel has yet been able to go through the eye of a needle. Yet many rich men throughout the Bible were Godly, such as Abraham and Job.

Also, there are parables in the Bible of forests talking to each other and even setting up rulers among them. Are we to take this literal and believe that trees talk? Absolutely not! Parables are meant to present a specific point and the symbols used in the parable are to not to be taken any further then they were meant… that is to serve their allegorical sense.  So if all through the Bible you have a stream of one thought and then a parable seems to indicate the complete opposite you go with what the whole Bible says because the Bible does not contradict itself, ever!

Having said all this, is their yet grounds to take any of the parable, or perhaps the whole parable in a literal sense?

The word “parable” comes from the Greek word parabole, which means “to place beside,” or “to draw up alongside.”
Jesus used parables to unfold great truths. He placed a simple story alongside a profound truth, and the profound was illumined by the simple. Some people question whether or not this really was a parable and to be honest there is really no reason to doubt that it is indeed a parable. Here is why, the formula used, “there was a certain man” is used repeatedly in the gospel of Luke in numerous parables. For instance in 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.”

Notice the same exact terminology Jesus uses in Luke 16:19… so the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is not an actual event that took place in real life. This introduction is used all through Luke: 10:33; 12:16; 13:6; 14:16; 15:11; 16:1; 19:12; 20:9

Also noteworthy, is that at least a few times Jesus would take popular parables of His day and turn them upside down and point out an important truth. This parable of the rich man and Lazarus is one of those times. This story was actually a well known parable used by the Rabbis, however their version was that the poor man ended up in hell and the rich man ended up in Abraham’s bosom. Jesus just took their own story turned it upside down and gave it an unexpected twist. (Note: this is not speculation. This can be found in many historians records of Jewish history during this period)

The Recipients of the Parable
Among the numerous parables Jesus told which were primarily directed at the Pharisees were the parables of the lost sheep, that of the lost coin, the lost son, and then of the unjust steward. The story of the rich man and Lazarus is part of this group of parables directed at the Pharisees, while their were others there we find this was to whom Christ was specifically speaking.

We see in each of these parables that the lesson is the same, you can find that lesson in Luke 15:7:

“I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

In each of the above parables their is rejoicing in the recovery of that which was lost.  Jesus attempted to present the message in many different ways so that the Pharisees would realize their true condition and repent. Over 100 times in the gospels we find the term “the kingdom of God” or “the kingdom of heaven is likened unto”

We will look at Josephus’s comments on this in a moment but first lets take one last look at who Christ was addressing this parable to and the consequences of that observation. We find this information in Luke 16:14

“And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.

The next verse says, Jesus speaking, “and He said to them…”. So to whom was He speaking? To the Pharisees, then in the next few verses He gives this parable. This might not seem important but as we look at the beliefs of the Pharisees we will see how this all makes sense. Had Jesus been talking to another group of people the parable would not have made sense. Perhaps why some of us today have a hard time understanding it.

Before we go there notice the last part of Luke 16:14. The Pharisees derided Christ and rebuked Him for eating with and being around “sinners”. Keep this in mind as you read the parable and see the rich man eating from His table, yet not stooping one inch to give a morsel of food to the poor man.  Could there be a parallel? I think there is, I think Jesus was attempting to show the Pharisees that they may have been entrusted the “bread” of life but the poor man was doing what was right not them. What is clear is that the Pharisees believed that they were above other people, that they were more important and righteous… that these other people were sinners and dogs… and that is what they actually called them.
The Views of the Pharisees on the Afterlife
In the War of the Jews By Flavius Josephus he states:

“They [the Pharisees] say that all souls are incorruptible, but that the souls of good
men only are removed into other bodies, – but that the souls of bad men
are subject to eternal punishment. But the Sadducees…
take away the belief
of the immortal duration of the soul, and the punishments and rewards in Hades.

The Sadducees  did not believe in the immortality of the soul, they did not believe in the afterlife at all. The Pharisees however believed that all souls are incorruptible and therefore the immortality of the soul. Bear with me, this is a crucial point to understanding this parable.

The Bible corroborates this observation that Josephus is expressing in Acts 23:8

“For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, neither angel, nor spirit: but the Pharisees confess both.”

So we notice that Jesus is not only using a parable created by the Rabbis but He is also using their belief system to present a great truth.

We also find that even Jesus’ disciples had adopted this false view that their are ghosts or spirits of the dead hovering on the earth.  Notice Mark 6:49

But when they saw him walking upon the sea, they supposed it had been a spirit, and cried out:”

So even Christ’s disciples had assimilated this idea of a dis-incarnate soul… now lets look at Josephus’ explanation of Hades to get an idea of what the Pharisees believed about it.

The Pharisaic Idea of Hell
Josephus, who was himself a Pharisee, described the nature of Hades in his work Discourse to the Greeks Concerning Hades. There he described Hades as a subterraneous region consisting of two sections. The first section contained everlasting fire. The angels took the wicked to this region upon the moment of death. The second section of Hades consisted of a place which was called the Bosom of Abraham. Josephus affirms that there was a great gulf fixed between
the two sections so that the righteous could not pass to the fiery region nor the wicked to the Bosom of Abraham.
You might at first be inclined to believe that they got this idea from Jesus parable but this is not the case. Jewish writings show that the Pharisees held this view prior to Christ. Knowing this helps us realize that Jesus didn’t create a life-like story but distorted a popular parable to present a crucial truth to the Pharisees.

There is however no place in the Bible which even vaguely suggests such a scenario. In fact Christians today who believe in the immortality of the soul generally do not believe this is really how it is… they only use the parable to “prove” that dead souls live on after death.  Anyways, this whole picture of Hades was created by the rabbis. In the parable, however, Jesus took what the Pharisees believed and gave it a surprising twist!

New Testament View of Life After Death
Now that we have seen the Pharisaic view of life after death and hell and seen how the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is very similar to that, lets take a look at the New Testament view of life after death. According to Jesus, where do people go when they die? Lets look at John 5:28,29

Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.”

Why would Jesus call them out of their graves if they are already in the bosom of Abraham or in the lake of fire? And BTW the Bible is clear in 1 Corinthians 15:51-55 that we are changed at the second coming and that this mortal MUST put on immortality to go to heaven. So we are not coming back with our souls at the second coming (those of us who die before that) to get our old bodies. This is non biblical. The Bible teaches that we are changed at Christ’s second coming.

Looking at other examples in the new testament, each one is clear concerning when the wicked are cast into the lake of fire, and that is at the end of the age, after Jesus comes. Take a look at Matthew 13:4-43 for example:

As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world.
The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity;
And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.
Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Who hath ears to hear, let him hear.”

So when does this take place? “in the end of this world” and the wicked are then “cast into a furnace of fire” so does the Bible teach the view that the Pharisees held? No it does not, the Bible says that the wicked are cast into the lake of fire at the end of the world. The Pharisees believed that it happens at death. Verse #43 also says THEN shall the righteous shine forth as the sun”. It does not say “now” they shine forth or “at death” they will shine as the sun… but it says at the end of the world they shall sine forth. So it cannot happen at the moment of death. This is important because if the Bible does not teach that hell burns today but that it will burn at the end of the world then this parable has to be taken as completely allegorical and not literal at all.

Another reference on the same point:

Matthew 21:31-34

When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:

And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:

And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.

Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:”

When does Christ come in all His glory? At our death? No, at His second coming… The Pharisees said that the separation of the righteous and wicked happens at death… what does Jesus say? He says very plainly that it happens at His second coming and that THEN the rewards are given. We can’t be punished in hell for years until Christ comes and then receive our reward can we? Or find ourself enjoying the bliss of heaven for ages and then all of the sudden Gabriel comes up and taps you on the shoulder and says “Ahem, Randy we got to judge you now and reward you according to your life”. Does that make sense? No, but it is exactly what many protestants believe.  The Bible teaches however that we are rewarded at the end of the world. Also look at verses 41 and 46:

Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:”

Ohh, so at death Jesus says to the wicked “depart from me… into everlasting fire”, right? No thats not what the Bible says, the Bible says that it happens at Christ’s second coming. (Go back to Matthew 21:31-34)  Is it even remotely possible that the wicked who have already died are suffering in the lake of fire? Lets go to Revelation 21:8

But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”

So Revelation says, the wicked are going to burn in the lake of fire… but when does this happen? Ohh at their second death… do you need a first death to have a second death? Yes, so can the wicked be tormented today in the “lake of fire”? No because the Bible says that is the second death… also important to think about. Would it be just to have wicked people burning today? No it would not and here is why. Someone who died 5000 years ago who never gave their life to Christ and was not saved, but who never hurt anyone else, never murdered or anything, is it fair that they should sit burning in hell for thousands of years till Hitler is thrown in? How utterly unjust would that be?  Write me and ask me to do a series on hell fire, it is an amazing study!

Matthew 24:31

And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.

Again this takes place at the “great sound of a trumpet” which is at the second coming.  And to whom are we gathered? Into Abraham’s bosom? Absolutely not, we are “caught up together” to meet Christ in the air. Jesus also says “in my fathers house are many mansions… and I will… receive you unto myself” – so there is no such idea that we are gathered unto Abraham’s bosom. This is a Pharisaic idea derived from Greek mythology… btw the idea of the immortality of the soul also came from Greek mythology. The Bible say that “this corruptible must put on incorruption,” so the Bible doesn’t teach that view. But if we are going to take this parable literally we must accept all of its theology.

Also have you noticed throughout this parable that dead people are talking to other dead people? Something God strictly forbade throughout the Bible:

Leviticus 20:27

A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them.”

Would God violate His strict instructions against speaking to the dead by allowing Abraham to do it? Absolutely not! God is the “same yesterday, today and forever” and does not change.

Souls, Bodies and Extra Limbs
An interesting part of this parable is the fact that those who are supposedly dead have all their body parts. Souls, or at least the idea people have of them, do not have body parts, yet Abraham, the rich man and Lazarus have their body parts.  Interesting stuff! But what does the Bible say happens to our bodies at death?

Genesis 3:19

In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

So at death our body returns to dust and we rest until our maker and king calls us forth. But lets look at the version depicted in the parable:

Luke 16:23

And in hades he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”

Wait a second, when he died where did his eyes go? Eyes are part of the body… they went to the grave and returned to dust.  But here in the parable he has eyes… btw the parable does not say that he “immediately” went to hell, in fact the word is actually “hades” which means grave and has no relation to hell. That is assumed by most readers, that as soon as he died he immediately went to hell. Josephus believed it was immediately but when Christ told this parable He left that part out… He was attempting to use their own parable to present a truth. That truth was not that souls goto hell at death because as we will soon see Christ did not believe that.

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.”

Ahh so Lazarus has fingers? Ohh and the rich man has a tongue? I thought that went to the grave at death.

What is the Biblical teaching of what is cast into hell? Is it the body or the soul only?

Matthew  5:29,30

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.

And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

So how much of a wicked person goes to hell? The whole body! The Bible says -that the body is thrown into hell after Christ comes in His glory and that is the second death so this parable cannot be literal.

What is interesting is Robert Morey’s comments on this parable in his book “Death and the Afterlife”… Robert Morey firmly believes in an immortal soul so based on his views his comments on this parable are a bit surprising:

…It does not bother us in the least to say that Christ used a rabbinic story and dialogue in Luke 16:19-31 which was not “true” or “real” in the sense of being literal. It is obvious that Lazarus did not literally sit in Abraham’s literal bosom. The rich man did not have literal lips which literal water could quench.
What is important for us to grasp is that Christ used the mental images conjured up by this rabbinic parable to teach that, in the hereafter, the wicked experience torment and the righteous bliss. This is clear from the rabbinic sources from which he drew this parable.
Since the dialogue between the rich man and Abraham was a teaching tool used by the rabbis before Christ, it is obvious that Christ was not trying to teach that we will talk with the wicked in the hereafter. He was merely using the dialogue method to get across the concept that there is no escape from torment, no second chance, and we must believe the Scriptures in this life unto salvation.

Robert Morey who believes in the immortality of the soul, that the souls of the righteous go to heaven at death and that the souls of the wicked go to hell at death, even he is forced to acknowledge that this parable was neither intended to be literal nor can it be taken thus and that it never actually took place.  So the only story in the whole Bible that could be used to substantiate the souls of the dead suffering in hell at death cannot be used because it never took place (not to mention the theological problems it poses if taken literally)

Abraham’s Bosom…
If we can establish that this parable never took place,  and that it is not to be taken literally, and I believe we have done that, we have succeeded only slightly… for we still need to discover the purpose of the parable. What does it mean? Lets start with the bosom. What does that represent? We know now that Lazarus was not literally taken to the bosom of Abraham but it must have some meaning… if we hold a baby close to us we are holding it close to our bosom, right? What would that seem to symbolize? Both closeness and the fact that the baby is perhaps our own?

John 1:18

No man hath seen God at any time; the only begotten Son, which is in the bosom of the Father, he hath declared him.”

Is Jesus really in the bosom of God the father? No, so this expression must indicate closeness. Think about this for a minute… Abraham was told to sacrifice Isaac, and he did as God told him. Isaac was his only son and he offered him up himself… this is a parallel to God the father and Jesus Christ so in the parable it is not a literal bosom of Abraham but symbolic of God the father… make sense? Nothing new really, commentators for ages have paralleled the Abraham-Isaac story to Jesus dieing on the cross.

The Rich Man
Who was the rich man representing in this parable? Well lets go to Luke 16:24 for the answer:

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.”

The rich man cries to who? Now, who claimed Abraham as their father? The Jews, and more particularly the Pharisees who always boasted it as we will note.  Now earlier in this article, who did we find this parable was specifically addressed to? The Pharisees, right? But lets continue in John 16:25

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.”

Who would Abraham have called son? His descendants right? So who were his descendants? The Jews! Now this may seem trivial but bear with me… it all ties together.

John 16:27

Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:”

John 16:28,29

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.

Again the rich man refers to Abraham by the name father.  So it should be clear now by these three verses (Luke 16:24-28) that the rich man in this parable actually represents the Jewish nation and more specifically the pharisees (as we recall this is to whom Jesus was talking when giving this parable). But the rich man desires Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead to his brothers to warn them. But Abraham says “they have Moses and the prophets”, now who had Moses and the prophets? Again, that would be the Jewish nation would it not? But more specifically, again the Pharisees prided themselves on this fact.

I also believe that these five brothers could represent the different denominations of the Jewish nation, which would be the Pharisees, Sadducees, Herodians, Essenes, Scribes. I can’t prove it but it makes sense just the same.  But however you slice it his brothers (that is the rich man’s brothers) are those who have Moses and the prophets.

John 16:30

And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.”

The rich man is asking Abraham to send Lazarus from the dead… so did the rich man believe in the immortality of the soul? Yes he did.

Now we get to John 16:31

And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

Does Jesus believe in the immortality of the soul? No he does not, watch this carefully.. the rich man says, “send Lazarus from the dead” and Jesus says no I will send one who has risen from the dead*, so Jesus did not believe in the immortality of the soul. Someone is bound to say, “ohh but that is a technicality” – but no it isn’t. Verse 31 has a extra Greek word, anistēmi which is rose, that is not used in verse 30.

*Abraham is talking in the parable and denies the request… Jesus is talking THROUGH the parable and soon after the telling of this parable Jesus does raise a man named Lazarus from the dead.

So the rich man represents the Jewish nation but more accurately the Pharisees.

One of the arguments people will use to justify saying this is not just a parable but an actual story is that a proper name is given.  They say that parables never have proper names, for instance “a certain man” etc.  So the question is, why would you have a proper name if this is a parable? I believe that Jesus used an exact name to predict the raising of Lazarus which happened a very short time after this parable was told.  We will look at this in a moment.

Lets look at Matthew 15:26-27

But he answered and said, It is not meet to take the children’s bread, and to cast it to dogs.
And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

Do you remember in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus that the poor man Lazarus ate the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table and the dogs licked his sores? Now lets look at another passage of scripture which uses strikingly similar language. In Matthew 15:26-27 Jesus is talking to a Canaanite woman. Why Jesus used this language is because He was showing His disciples how they treated “gentiles”. It was common for Jews to call them dogs.

So when Jesus uses the same terminology in His parable He is trying to express a very important point, that the Canaanite woman represents Lazarus. Those gentiles, Samaritans, Canaanites, whatever they were called, they were desiring to be fed of even the crumbs from the Jews. Remember the story of the Samaritan woman, she gathered the whole town to hear Christ? (you can read the story in John 4) But did the Jews present the truths they had been entrusted with to these people? Absolutely not! That is why time and time again Christ employs parable after parable to show them they were wrong.  It was Jesus first mission to the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” that they would then turn and take the message to the world. This was the whole reason for the nation of Israel’s existence. But they failed!

You find that throughout the gospels it was the gentiles who were most willing and earnest to hear the truth. They were also much more loving then many of the Jews. For instance the parable in Luke 10 of the man that was robbed and left by the road to die, who was the only one who would help the man?

Luke 10:33

But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,”

Only a Samaritan would help the man. And Luke seems to be harping on this point, in fact his is the only gospel to record the rich man and Lazarus parable. Why? Because he knew what it meant. That is why he records these encounters of Jesus with Samaritans and Canaanites.

Luke 17:16

And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan”

In this story 10 lepers are healed by Christ but only one returns with gratitude. And that one was a Samaritan!

Now let me give you the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus parable as many Christians read it, by adding their own thoughts that are not found in the parable. Words in brackets are the way many people read the parable but are not found in the Biblical account.

And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and [his soul] was carried [immediately] by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;

And in hades he lift up his eyes, being in [everlasting] torments [in the flames of hell], and seeth Abraham afar off, and [the soul of] Lazarus in his bosom.

And [his soul] cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on [my soul], and send [the soul of] Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for [my soul is] tormented in this [everlasting] flame.

But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now [his soul] is comforted, and [thy soul] is tormented.

None of those words immediately, soul, everlasting, hell are in this parable… true some translations render the word hades as hell in verse 23 but that is not what it means. The word only means grave.

But more importantly perhaps is the reason Jesus used the proper name for Lazarus.  Only a short time after telling this parable Jesus did raise a Lazarus from the dead. You can read the account in John 11. We will pick up the account in

John 11:43-44, 46-48

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.”

But some of them went away to the Pharisees, and told them the things which Jesus had done.
The chief priests therefore and the Pharisees gathered a council, and said, What do we? for this man doeth many signs.
If we let him thus alone, all men will believe on him: and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.

In John 12:10 we find a startling fact that rings back to the Rich Man and Lazarus parable and forever sets straight the reason for it in the first place.

But the chief priests took counsel that they might put Lazarus also to death;

The Pharisees wanted to kill Lazarus… they wanted him to die again. Why? Well because he was preaching that Jesus raised him and many Jews were believing on him but the Pharisees hardened their hearts. They would not believe! So the parable rings true, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, if one rise from the dead

Christ gave them ample warning, He tried to get them to repent but they would not. This was the whole purpose of this entire parable to prove that He was the Messiah by predicting the raising of Lazarus and use it to bring them to repentance but they hardened their hearts. Therefore to say that it proves that souls go to heaven or hell at death is clearly taking it out of context and also going against scripture after scripture that teach the direct opposite.

Remember that the Biblical principle for understanding scripture is found in Isaiah 28:10 which says “For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little: ” Notice Isaiah repeats himself, what does this mean? He is essentially saying you cannot take one verse and base a theology on it. You must take all the scriptures on a subject. So the correct way to study the Bible is to base our doctrines on a “multitude of counsel”, not on one scripture alone or in this case one parable.  If you have already read my previous article on what happens after death then you have seen the Biblical evidence supports the view that the dead sleep until Christ comes, when they are raised, the righteous are given immortal bodies and the wicked destroyed. So when we come to this parable we need to find out how the Bible deals with it and not just assume it must be literal.  I hope that through this somewhat lengthy article I have proven that this is just a parable and what the real intent and message Jesus was attempting to portray.

Quick Overview
Not intended to replace the content of this article. I have tried to highlight parts of the article but if you don’t read the whole thing you will not have the proof only the conclusion.

#1. Literal or Symbolic? If as some would have us believe this parable must be taken literally then how do you deal with Jesus using various phrases (such as “the Bosom of Abraham”) and images such as a deep chasm separating this “underworld” which are only found outside the Bible? In fact these terms are only found in 1st Century Jewish mythology. You also have souls with fingers, tongues and eyes… insinuating they are not souls at all but whole bodies.

#2. Why Did Jesus Tell the Story? – While this is a parable the name Lazarus does hold significance.  According to Christian historians the telling of this parable would have taken place only a short time before a man named Lazarus was actually raised from the dead. If you read John 11:45-51 you find that the Pharisees would not believe on Christ even after the raising of Lazarus. Which points to Abraham in the parable saying If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” – and so THAT is the whole point of this entire parable. That “though” someone could come back from the dead (making the logical assumption that they don’t) it would not convince those hardened in rebellion. Because Jesus did raise someone from the dead and they still did not believe.

#3. Father God or Father Abraham? – In the parable you have Jesus examining the misguided reverence of the Jewish leaders for Abraham… Lazarus prays to Abraham even though the Bible is very clear that we pray only to God. In Revelation 19:10 John tries to worship an angel and is strictly forbidden… do you really think that God has a place deep inside the earth where he has a “purgatory” where dead wicked people pray to Abraham and dead living people remain in Abraham’s bosom? How many people can literally fit in Abraham’s bosom? The Bible teaches of a heaven where the righteous are caught up and at His second coming when the wicked will be destroyed in hell fire.  If we take this parable literally we must also realize that with it comes the realization that it drastically contradicts other Biblical teachings such as the state of the dead which leads me to point #4

#4. How can you know you know nothing? – The popular belief among Christians is that the dead go to heaven at death. In fact you will never hear any preacher at a funeral sending anyone to hell, not even the vilest of men. They are all sent straight to heaven… this however is not what the Bible teaches, in fact this belief stems from pagan mythology.

Ecclesiastes 9:5 says

“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.”

If the dead “know not any thing” then they cannot communicate in the grave, therefore this parable must be symbolic and given as a message and therefore not intended to be taken literally.  For further proof that the dead are in their graves click here.

I have had numerous requests for this article so have spent considerable time writing it. It has taken me a while to get everything the way

You can email me at randy[at]ebibleanswers[dot]com with any questions you might have. God Bless!

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The story of the rich man and Lazarus is part of a group of parables directed at the Pharisees, while their were others there we find this was to whom Christ was specifically speaking.

Thursday, January 28th, 2010 at 10:39 pm and is filed under General Bible Questions, Death, Heaven, Hell. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

One Response to “The Rich Man and Lazarus – Is it Literal or Symbolic?”

  1. Posted by Randy 20th December, 2010 at 9:30 pm

    Thank you. Your studys are extremly imformative and well put together.

    Sweet name

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