What happens to the dead? The common belief is that those who are good in this life will automatically end up in heaven, while the wicked will suffer forever in the sulfurous agony of hellfire. Perhaps no other passage is cited more often in support of this belief than the parable of Lazarus and the rich man found in Luke 16. In the parable two men die. Lazarus, a beggar, ends up in good graces while the rich man is tormented.
This allegory is taken literally by some because in it Yahshua the Messiah uses the name of a real-life Biblical person, Lazarus. In the parable these two dead men are alive and communicating. We immediately encounter a major problem with taking it at face value. According to Psalm 6:5, when you die your thinking and your awareness of everything stop. “The dead know not anything,” Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave wither you go,” verse 10. Clearly Yahshua animates these individuals simply to make a point. Yahshua employed a story here in Luke 16 that has been interpreted by many literally while the real intent goes unnoticed. The parable is allegory, symbolism, metaphor, and was not meant to be an actual account of what happens at death.
This story is a prime example of Yahshua’s teaching technique using illustration in the form of stories. When His disciples asked Him why He used parables He answered, “Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of Elohim: but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive; and hearing they may hear, and not understand; lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them,” Mark 4:11-12. He used parables to teach His people key truths while keeping in ignorance those who were not supposed to understand.
The entire point of this narrative has been historically misunderstood. To think that Yahshua the Messiah was supporting the notion that the wicked go to ever-burning hell at death flies in the face of many other Scriptures. No interpretation is valid if it contradicts what the Bible teaches elsewhere. Now let’s diagnose the parable.
A Message to Certain Jews
First we notice that the entire parable is couched in Yahshua's ongoing discussion about an unjust steward. He concludes: “No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. You cannot serve Elohim and mammon” (Luke 16:13).
When the Pharisees, who coveted wealth, heard this they derided Him, verse 14. Then our Savior levels His sights directly at the Pharisees. His comments are an affront to these leaders who found His entire teachings reprehensible and as well as a threat.
To grasp the proper meaning of this allegory we will comment on each verse.
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). Here is an individual accustomed to the high life. His “purple and fine linen” reveals that he is of a royal, ruling class. He enjoys the best of everything and lives large. Within the tribe of Judah we find this man as the Pharisee, a middle and upper political class who lived well at the expense of others.
Using the rich man as a symbol, Yahshua addresses the Jewish nation in His day. This is evident by what appears to be an out-of-place reference to divorce and remarriage in verse 18: “Whosoever puts away his wife, and marries another, commits adultery: and whosoever marries her that is put away from her husband commits adultery” (Luke 16:18).
The reason for this reference was that the Jews should have recognized Him as the Messiah. They and the rest of Israel were married to Him in the Old Testament and will, along with others, make up the bride in the coming kingdom. Instead they rejected the Messiah and committed spiritual adultery through their own traditions and customs.
By Yahshua's time the 10 other tribes of Israel were scattered over the earth. Being favored, the tribe of Judah became the royal line from which kings would arise, including Yahshua the true King, Genesis 49:8-12. “What advantage then has the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision? Much every way: chiefly, because that unto them were committed the oracles of Elohim” (Rom. 3:1-2). The Jews were entrusted with preserving the Scriptures.
Yahshua now gets to the core of the allegory in verse 20.
“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” (Luke 16:20-21).
The contrast between the two men or groups is salient. One lives sumptuously with all the creature comforts as well as prestige; the other is in abject poverty, sickly, and would gladly partake of even the most meager of sustenance – scraps from the table of the wealthy man. It’s a study in contrasts.
In the parable the beggar is not asked to the banquet. In Romans 11:9-10 Paul used the symbol of the table to demonstrate that the Pharisees believed that their prosperity was a sign of Yahweh's blessings. Because of their attitude, however, their prosperity became a curse.
Who Is Lazarus?
The name Lazarus is a Grecianized form of the Hebrew Elazar or Eliezer, meaning “El has helped.”
Genesis 15:2-3 indicates who this beggar might be. “And Abram said, Yahweh Elohim, what will you give me, seeing I go childless, and the steward of my house is this Eliezer of Damascus? And Abram said, Behold, to me you have given no seed: and one born in my house is mine heir.”
Although not of Abraham's offspring, Eliezer (Lazarus) is nevertheless a trusted servant in Abraham's household. In fact, Abraham even says his inheritance will go to Eliezer. But in Genesis 17 Yahweh promises to give Abraham and Sarah a son who would actually receive the inheritance.
Eliezer returns in chapter 24, where Abraham is instructing this faithful servant about finding a wife for Isaac. He tells Eliezer not to go to the Canaanites but return to Abraham's country to seek a mate for Isaac. This Eliezer does. Isaac eventually receives the inheritance (Gen. 25:5).
In Luke 16:21 we learn that dogs licked the sores of Lazarus. For some Jews, dogs meant Gentiles, Matthew 15:22-26. So we learn that Lazarus is thrown in with Gentile “dogs” in their estimation.
Where Is Abraham's Bosom?
“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom” (v. 22). The typical notion is that this means that the beggar was carried off to heaven. Speaking of death, however, the Pharisees would say in their common idiom that he sits in a favored position known as “Abraham's bosom” (see Lightfoot's Commentary).
If Abraham were in heaven, it should be easy to verify. His “obituary” is found in Genesis 25:7-9: “And these are the days of the years of Abraham's life which he lived, an hundred threescore and fifteen years. Then Abraham gave up the ghost [spirit], and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years; and was gathered to his people. And his sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, which is before Mamre.”
Abraham was buried and “gathered to his people.” If Lazarus is “in Abraham's bosom” then he, too, would be buried in the cave of Machpelah in the field of Ephron. He is not now up in heaven.
Abraham's obituary agrees with the prophecy of Abraham's death in Genesis 15:15: “And you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age.” In death Abraham joined his forefathers who preceded him in their own demise and who were now in the grave.
Many assume that Abraham is in heaven with his forefathers. But the Book of Joshua tells us that Abraham's forefathers were idol worshipers. Would they be rewarded with heaven? Not according to Ephesians 5:5, which says no idolater has any inheritance in the Kingdom. Notice: “And Joshua said unto all the people, Thus says Yahweh Elohim of Israel, Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nachor: and they served other gods” (Joshua 24:2).
Both of Them Simply Died
If the forefathers of Abraham were in ever-burning hell, to which many believe the wicked go, then Abraham has joined them as well. How do we explain this parable? Quite easily.
The idiomatic meaning of being “gathered to his people” or “gathered to his fathers” simply means that he joined the ranks of the dead. Abraham (as well as Lazarus) was dead and buried, as were Abraham's fathers. He is not up in heaven or suffering in endless agony in hellfire. He is buried in the earth awaiting the resurrection from the grave.
Yahshua plainly said that no man has ascended to heaven, John 3:13, not even King David, Acts 2:34. All the dead of past and present are waiting the resurrection at Yahshua's return: “For if we believe that Yahshua died and rose again, even so them also which sleep [are dead] in Yahshua will Elohim bring with him ... For the Savior Himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of Elohim: and the dead in Messiah shall rise first” (1Thess. 4: 14, 16).
We continue in Luke 16:22:
“The rich man also died, and was buried.” Both beggar and rich man died and were put in graves to await the resurrection. Death comes to both rich and poor, just as it does to animals, Psalm 49:12.
Another Scripture makes it clear that Abraham died. “Then said the Jews unto him, Now we know that you have a devil. Abraham is dead, and the prophets; and you say, If a man keep my saying, he shall never taste of death. Are you greater than our father Abraham, which is dead? and the prophets are dead: who do you make yourself?” (John 8:52-53). Yahshua ignored their question.
Had Abraham in fact been in heaven, this was the perfect opportunity to set the record straight by explaining that his soul was alive and living eternally. But Yahshua's silence was testimony to the truth that Abraham was still dead in the grave.
Was the Rich Man Roasting?
In Luke 16:23 is the resurrection of the rich man (at the second coming of Yahshua, lThes.4:15-17).
“And in the grave the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham.” In this passage “grave” is the translation of the Greek word hades, commonly rendered hell in the New Testament.
The Savior said in verse 22 that Lazarus was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom. This is the same expression Yahshua used in Matthew 24:31, when He said He would send His angels to gather the elect in the first resurrection just before the Kingdom of Yahweh is established on earth. Lazarus had been accounted worthy of that first resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20:6.
According to Yahshua's prophecy in Luke 13:28, many will suffer when they are shut out of paradise. “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of Elohim, and you yourselves thrust out.”
Obviously the rich man was not found worthy to rise in the first resurrection and be in the Kingdom of Yahweh.
Paul clarifies the meaning of the promise given to Abraham and those who live by the same faith that Abraham exhibited. Being in “Abraham's bosom” meant being in a close relationship with him in a preferred status. In Galatians Paul tells us, “Know you therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham. And the scripture, foreseeing that Elohim would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Good News unto Abraham, saying, in you shall all nations be blessed. So then they which be of faith are blessed with faithful Abraham” (Gal. 3:7-9).
The beggar was one of the faithful who would be in the first resurrection. A thousand years later, when the rich man is brought back to physical life in the second resurrection, he sees Lazarus now in a favored position – in the Kingdom with Abraham.
A Case of Mental Anguish
Verse 23 says the rich man was in “torment.” The word is from the Greek basanos. It means test, inquisition, and trial. Figuratively it means mental torment. Paul explains this in lCorinthians 3:12-15, where the judgment is likened to fire in which works are tested to see whether they survive the trial.
Another meaning is indicated in Strong's Exhaustive Concordance, Greek Dictionary, No. 931, basanos, from 939 basis, connoting at the base and by implication, at the foot.
Realizing that he has not attained the first resurrection with the promises given to the faithful, the rich man is anxious and tense. He is lying in the foot of, the lowest part of, the grave. The roof of his mouth and tongue go dry. He asks in verse 24 that Lazarus might be sent to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue.
If this were the destroying flame of Gehenna fire, the rich man would have asked for a flood of water! Yet he seeks only to remedy his dry-mouthed anxiety resulting from the realization that he had been excluded from the first resurrection of the saints.
Then in verse 25 Abraham reminds the rich man, “But Abraham said, Son, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and you are tormented [tried, distressed - Greek odunaomai]. 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.”
The “great gulf” is a type of the Jordan River Valley. Those Israelites who crossed it were in the Promised Land.
Abraham and the resurrected saints are shown in a favored position, having inherited the Kingdom. Lacking the wedding garment of Matthew 22, the rich man is excluded. Yahshua commands that he be bound hand and foot, and taken away and cast “into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The kind of wealth that Yahshua looks for is “gold tried in the fire, that you may be rich; and white raiment, that you may be clothed,” Revelation 3:18.
In verse 27-28 the rich man pleads that Abraham would send Lazarus to his father's house to testify to his five brothers, lest they end up like him. Genesis 35:23 lists the five brothers of Judah born to their mother Leah. They all represent those having Bible truth. The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is actually about Judah and his five brothers who have all neglected proper worship of Yahweh and acceptance of Yahshua and who fall into the same condemnation.
Notice Abraham's response: “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” Abraham effectively tells the rich man that we today have in Scripture the Old Testament law and prophets and can study it ourselves and repent. The rich man objects, “No, father Abraham, but if one went unto them from the dead they will repent.” Judah is certain that his brothers will listen only if one rose from the dead and went to them with the message of salvation. Notice the response of Abraham, verse 31: “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rose from the dead.”
Clearly from Abraham in the parable we see that though Yahshua would rise from the dead as a proof and a witness, that those who even have the Bible will not come to a saving knowledge of the Messiah because they are too steeped and blinded by their traditions. They are all wrapped up in their man-made purple and fine linen.
This is a condemnation of those who have all the advantages of today. The majority who have Bible translations, dictionaries, lexicons, concordances, and commentaries – all the study helps – have neglected to come to an understanding of Yahweh's righteousness. It is a matter of “ever studying and never coming to the knowledge of the truth,” 2Timothy 3:7.
The rich man realizes that he had not done what was right to do. He enjoyed the good life and did not sincerely seek Yahweh's narrow pathway. He went the broad way, like too many today, of dining on the Word without applying any of it to himself. Neither did he proclaim the Word to others who might benefit from the knowledge and understanding of the coming Kingdom.
Lazarus, on the other hand, represents Gentiles who snatch up every crumb of truth and live by it. The Lazarus and the rich man parable is a condemnation of our own affluence and our unwillingness to follow the truth of the Scriptures as we should. Generally, the nations in the northern hemisphere and in Europe have all the advantages of Yahweh's truth. But we ignore the lessons and instead choose to satisfy fleshly desires. We commit spiritual adultery by taking up with the world.
The 10 northern tribes of Israel have been carried away captive, but Judah, along with part of the tribe of Benjarnin and the priests of Levi, was left in Jerusalem. It was Judah that was given the scepter standing in regal acclaim, according to the promises of Yahweh. It was the Jews who had the Old Testament Scriptures and had the promises given to them. They were to share these with others and not to keep all the blessings to themselves. So they are depicted as dressed in regal apparel and dining sumptuously every day.
What the Parable Says
Is Abraham in Heaven? Is this parable another way of telling us that Lazarus went to heaven? If that were the case, why would Yahshua contradict Himself in reciting this parable? Yahshua already had plainly said, “No man has ascended up to heaven, but He that came down from heaven, even the Son of Man which is in heaven,” John 3:13.
The Savior is called “the first begotten of the dead” in Revelation 1:5. If He is the first to be raised from the dead then none of the people of the Old Testament could have been raised before Him, could they? But they were promised everlasting life at a later time. Twice in the Hebrews 11, a “Who’s Who” of the righteous patriarchs and prophets, we read that the faithful patriarchs died not having received the promise, verse 13 and 39. Abraham and others are assured a place in the Kingdom when the dead are raised at the Messiah’s Second Coming, 1Corinthians 15:52, John 13:28-29.
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man also shows that we cannot be smug and revel in our own conceits. We are to be a living example of Yahweh’s Word, reaching out to share the glorious Good News of the coming Kingdom and the part the obedient can have in it.
This story might be better called the Parable of the Six Brothers — six being man’s number with his carnal viewpoints.
The lesson is, look beyond this life. Look to Yahshua the Messiah. Pursue spiritual goals that bring eternal life. “If you will enter life, keep the commandments,” Yahshua taught in Matthew 19:17.
by Donald R. Mansager