Part III – The Rich Man and Lazarus

In my last blog we left off after contrasting Hades and the lake of fire and two truths emerged:

  • The lake of fire is what we commonly think of as hell; it will remain empty until all unbelievers throughout history are judged at The Great White Throne Judgment (Rev 20:11-15); this takes place after the Millennium and before Eternity begins.
  • Hades on the other hand (even though it is often translated as Hell) is not the lake of fire and therefore is not hell. The lake of fire/Hell is a the place of eternal torment. Hades on the other hand is a temporary place divided into two compartments, one a place of comfort and one a place of torment.

The key passage for this is The Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-???

There are a number of reasons to believe this was a real event and not a parable:

  1. The story is never called a parable, while many of Jesus’ other stories in Luke are designated as parables (Luke 8:4, 12:16, 13:6, 14:7). The language He uses is also different in that He doesn’t begin with “the kingdom of God is like.”
  2. This story uses the actual name of a person. Such specificity would set it apart from ordinary parables in which the characters are not named; giving the impression He wasn’t presenting an illustration or fictional account for teaching purposes.
  3. This story doesn’t fit the definition of a parable, which is a presentation of a spiritual truth using an earthly illustration. This story presents spiritual truth directly with no earthly metaphor.
  4. The setting of the story is the afterlife as opposed to the parables, which unfold in earthly contexts.

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day.

Purple dye was extremely expensive, being manufactured in Lebanon. Along with the description of his clothing, and food, it serves to show the luxuriousness the rich man experienced, not just occasionally, or even frequently, but every day. The description of the rich man reveals he shared in the oppression of the poor through his lavish and wasteful lifestyle.

20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate,21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.

The rich man and Lazarus are contrasted in a concise and powerful way: the rich man is an example of a “lover of money” and the wealthy elite who live a life of conspicuous consumption, while Lazarus epitomizes poverty.

Lazarus is contrasted with the wealth and leisure of the rich man. The fact that Lazarus was laid at the gate by someone gives the impression he could not walk, which was probably the cause of the bedsores that not just spotted his body, but covered it. His destitution was so great that he desired not to eat at the king’s table, but simply to receive some of the crumbs that feel from it. Considering that he had this longing implies the king never gave him so much as a crumb.

The mention of the dogs is to show they took better care of Lazarus and showed him more compassion than the rich man.

22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried.

Luke’s use of the words “was carried” convey that Lazarus was carried to the place where he belonged and was entitled to, fitting in perfectly with Luke’s own version of the first beatitude (6:20 Blessed are you poor, For yours is the kingdom of God). He was so poor and destitute that he did not even receive a burial, but the rich man received one, and it constituted his only reward upon death.

The phrase “Abraham’s bosom” occurs only this one time in the entire Bible, but it has become one of the most powerful and intriguing visual metaphors in the entire repertoire of Christian iconography. There are likely four possibilities of its origination:

  • The concept of comfort which is afforded by being held next to the bosom (Isa 40:11).
  • The common belief that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would greet new entrants into heaven (Mat 8:11).
  • The second temple practice of reclining and eating meals in proximity to other guests, the closest of whom physically was said to lie on the bosom of the host (John 13:23). Of note is the fact the Jews considered it a mark of special honor and favor for one to be allowed to lie in the bosom of the master of the feast, and it is by this illustration that they pictured the next world. They conceived of the reward of the righteous dead as a sharing in a banquet given by Abraham, “the father of the faithful” (Mat 8:11) and of the highest form of that reward as lying in “Abraham’s bosom.”
  • The universal custom of parents to take up into their arms, or place upon their knees, their children when they are fatigued, or return home and to make them rest by their side during the night (2 Sam 12:3; 1 Kin 3:20, 17:19; Luke 11:7), thus causing them to enjoy rest and security in the bosom of a loving parent

23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

The rich man finds himself isolated from Lazarus, which had been his desire during his life and as a result is a fitting judgment. Although the rich man’s location is said to be “afar off” compared to Lazarus’ location, it is still within eyesight. The next verse makes it clear that the rich man was even close enough to converse with Abraham himself.

24 “Then 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.’

That the rich man called Abraham, “Father” implies he was a Jew (John 8:53), letting Jesus’ audience know that simply being a descendant of Abraham was no guarantee of where someone would spend eternity. The rich man was counting on being a descendant of Abraham as a means to avoid his affliction.

Clearly the place of torment is not a place of silence or soul sleep. Some interesting points regarding the states of those in the place of torment are learned from this verse:

  • The rich man is completely conscious, and is capable of feeling intense pain, so much so that he describes the flames as being tormenting.
  • He maintained his memories from his previous life being able to recognize Lazarus.
  • Somehow he is even able to recognize Abraham, which could possibly mean he was given an even greater consciousness and awareness if he had never met Abraham in his earthly life.
  • His selfish human nature remains unchanged even following his death, since he still views Lazarus in a place of inferiority where he should be told by Abraham to serve him.

25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.

Although no mention of Lazarus’ condition was made up to this point, now it is obvious that he is in a place of comfort. Two reversals are also made between the rich man and Lazarus:

  • Previously the rich man was in comfort and Lazarus was in torment, but now Lazarus is comforted and the rich man is in torment.
  • Previously Lazarus was begging for assistance from the rich man, but now the rich man is begging for Lazarus’ help.

26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.

An important distinction is made here, that the places of comfort and torment are separated by an impassable gulf. Not only is it not possible for someone to pass from torment to comfort, so too is it impossible for someone to pass from comfort to torment.

In my next blog we’ll discuss Gehenna or The Valley of Hinnom as well as Jesus’ time following His death and resurrection.

2 thoughts on “Part III – The Rich Man and Lazarus

  1. Wow! Great teaching Pastor Scott. Hey, where do you think Catholics got the idea that lighting candles for dead people could atone for them and get them out of Purgatory? What about Purgatory? What is that all about?

    1. As you know Lori, I was raised Catholic and a number of my family members are still Catholic. When I was trying to share Christianity with them, Purgatory was one of the topics that came up. I can’t speak for all Catholics, but I can tell you how my uncle “explained” purgatory. He quoted Rev 21:27 regarding heaven that “there shall by no means enter it anything that defiles, or causes[a] an abomination or a lie, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.” He said that since no unclean thing can enter you have to first go to Purgatory to pay for any sins that are unpaid for when you die.

      He’s a pretty smart guy, so I was surprised he could tell me with a straight face that you’d get Purgatory from Rev 21:27. I’m sure he wanted to say, “No, the Catholic Church got it from all these other verses” but the problem is there are no other verses supporting Purgatory. Purgatory is like so many other Catholic doctrines with no Scriptural basis whatsoever. Purgatory, or more specifically indulgences (which are closely related to lighting candles as you mentioned) is a way for the Catholic Church to make a lot of money. For every candle you light and coin you put in the box you’re shortening your loved-ones time suffering for his/her sins. As you probably know, this is what put Martin Luther over the edge and led to his 99 theses.

      The saddest part is the Catholic Church teaches Jesus didn’t die for all of your sins, past, present and future. Whatever sins you have “left” when you die (assuming they’re not enough to send you to hell) are your responsibility to atone for through suffering in Purgatory. The Catholic Church puts individuals in the place of Christ atoning for their own sins.

      Here are two good links from a site I really like ( if you’d like to read a little more about this:

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