Luke 16:19 - 31
ESV - 19 There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores.
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I do believe Luke 16:19-31 it’s a parable and Lazarus just a fictitious character - a careful reading of the text, as well as the rest of the Bible, makes it abundantly clear that this is a parable. The name Lazarus, in Hebrew Eleazar, means "God has helped." Addressing the Pharisees, Jesus is sending an interesting message using this name. It was speculated that because the poor man has a name, this cannot be a parable and must be a true story. If that is proof of the story authenticity, how about the rich man? Why doesn’t he have a name? The Bible contains many historic accounts where individuals are not named: Lot or Job’s wives, or the “young ruler” from Luke 18:18-23, do not have names either - what we supposed to learn from that? The story in Luke 16:19-31 is controversial, dividing readers into two major camps: it’s a true representation of the afterlife - and it’s a parable with deeper meaning. Knowing that the Bible cannot contradict itself, we need to look for consistency and disregard teaching that come in conflict with other Scriptures. The Rich Man and Lazarus story is often used as proof that the righteous go to heaven and the wicked to hell the very minute they die. However, in John 5:28, 29 we read a totally different account of what happen when we die - Jesus tells that both good and evil are in the graves awaiting the resurrection of life or resurrection of judgment. Also, 2 Peter 2:9 tells that the punishment of the wicked will take place on the Day of Judgment. Knowing that the Day of Judgment will take place in the future, it’s difficult to believe that the lost are presently in hell's torment, while the saved are rejoicing in heaven. It was also suggested that man has an immortal soul and that the story talks about "soul" and "spirit" not actual physical bodies - that is problematic because nowhere in the Bible soul and spirit are mentioned in relation to eternal existence and the words soul and spirit never appear anywhere in this story. The protagonists here have physical bodies with eyes, fingers and tongue. The rich man who is in torment has a body, begs for water to cool his tongue and lifts his eyes - this could not be a man in a spirit form. Furthermore, the proximity of the saved in heaven and the lost tormented in hell is very troubling. Are we to believe that the saved will be able to enjoy eternity within an earshot of the lost who are in permanent torment? Imagine having a parent, child, sibling or spouse suffering in the eternal torment on the other side and you being able to see and hear their agonizing plea for someone to relieve them of their misery. This picture is in total contradiction with God’s character, love and promise to wipe away every tear (Rev 21:4). This is what I believe the parable means: the rich man represents the self-righteous Jews and Lazarus the much despised Gentiles. Jesus gave them a warning: if the Jews will continue to reject Jesus, Moses and the prophets, the Gentiles will take their place at Abraham's bosom. Matt 3:9 is a direct reference to this warning (also please see John 8:32, 33; Luke 13:34). The parable says that the rich man lived in luxury while Lazarus was longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table - instead of sharing his blessings with the poor, the rich man ignored them and looked upon them with contempt. This was exactly the attitude of the Jews toward the Gentiles. Remember, Peter needed a vision from God to convince him to go and witness to Cornelius, a Gentile (Acts 10:28). In Matt 15:22-28 we find similar language describing Jews attitude towards the Gentiles: "She said, 'Yes, Lord, yet even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters' table” (Matt 15:27). In the Bible the bread represents God's word: John 6:35; Matt 4:4; 16:6, 7; 26:26; John 6:50: 1 Cor 10:17. Jesus is saying that is our duty to share the bread of life with all that are in need of it.
Although Luke did not include in his gospel the later raising of Lazarus (the brother of Mary and Martha), which was recorded only in John 11, perhaps Jesus' naming of the beggar as Lazarus in this parable (which was recorded only by Luke, and which was, to my knowledge, the only parable of Jesus in which an individual was identified by name) was a prophetic foreshadowing on Jesus' part based on His knowledge that he would later resurrect Lazarus, the brother of Mary and Martha, (although, in my opinion, Lazarus the beggar as described in the parable was not an actual person). In Luke 16:31, Abraham told the rich man that if the rich man's brothers would not hear the teachings of Moses and the prophets, they also would not be convinced or converted by Lazarus the beggar returning from the dead. In the same way, the Jewish religious leaders would persist in their unbelief and their opposition to Jesus, despite both Moses and the prophets foretelling Jesus' coming, and Jesus confirming His identity as the Messiah and the Son of God by raising Lazarus the brother of Mary and Martha from the dead (as well as later rising from the dead Himself, of course).
I concur that Lazarus is not a real person but a character type. Lazarus represents all the poor people of our world for time immemorial. Our poor people have not enjoyed the good things of this life. They cry out to God to save them through all their difficult experiences in life. They put their trust in God. They are people of faith. Jesus so graciously and powerfully names this beggar as "Lazarus" to show all the poor people of our world the dignity, worth and respect they have in God's eyes. The rich man is not named. In this human life the rich had all the power, fame and control this world has to offer and exploited the poor. Rich people often will do anything to make a name for themselves in this life. But in this place of torment they have lost their identity and worth. Abraham is referred to by name because he symbolizes faith in God. Abraham was declared righteous in God's sight because of his faith. The story describes Lazurus present with Abraham in Paradise, the place of the blessed dead, sometimes referred to as Abraham's bosom. All the Old Testament saints (the faithful believers in God) are present with Abraham in this place. Separated from the believers, in the place called Hades, are all the people from the time of Adam until the ministry of Christ who rejected God's offer of salvation. Hades is a place of torment, similar to hell, but temporary, because all these people will be resurrected when Jesus returns, to face the white throne judgement of God, and then be sentenced to eternal punishment in Hell. Abraham refers to the rich man as Son because he had every opportunity as a Jew to hear the Word of God and believe, but instead he put his trust in his riches, power and position. This rich man is also a type, representing all people in our world for all time, who put their trust in the good things they accumulate in this life and fail to put their trust in God. As Jesus said, it is impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God without God's mercy and grace. The rich man still has not understood what happened to him. He is still arrogant, demanding that Abraham send Lazarus with some water to cool his tongue, demanding the Lazarus go back and warn his brothers about this impending disaster and torment. Abraham mentions Moses and the Prophets, because God his provided all the revelation we need as the means for our eternal salvation, if we put our faith in him. But the hearts of people are so turned against God, they won't believe if someone comes back from the dead, they won't even believe if someone (Jesus) is resurrected from the dead. This failure to believe condemns all people of all time, who have chosen to reject Jesus as their personal Saviour and the Lord of their life. When Jesus was resurrected from the dead, he took the souls and spirits of all the Old Testament saints (believers) with him back to heaven and emptied Paradise. That is why the tombs were opened and many righteous people were seen in Jerusalem. Jesus also entered Hades to proclaim his victory over sin, death and all evil forces. Since the beginning of the church, through the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, when believers die, our soul and spirit ascend immediately to heaven to be united with Christ, while our bodies decay in the grave. For unbelievers, upon death, their bodies decay in the grave, but their souls and spirits are immediately sent to Hades, to suffer torment until Judgment Day, when they will be sentenced to Hell for eternal punishment. When Jesus returns every human being will be resurrected. Believers will be resurrected, receive our glorious new bodies and enjoy eternity on the new heaven and earth. Unbelievers will be resurrected, judged and condemned to eternity in Hell. The bible does say that the righteous will see the destruction of the wicked because it is part of God's perfect justice.
The majority of scholars consider this a parable. One argument for it not being a parable is the naming of Lazarus. Abraham and Moses are also named but they - the argument goes - are from the Old Testament. There is an alternative argument though that the name Lazarus is a Greek variant of the Hebrew name Eliezer. Eliezer is Abram's servant from Genesis 15:2. If this is the case - as Keith L. Yoder argues in his article "In the Bosom of Abraham" - then we can easily connect Lazarus with Abraham. In Genesis 15 - Abraham's argument to God is that he does not have any children and the heir to the blessings will be his gentile servant, Eliezer. In the parable, the rich man in "purple and fine linen" represents the priests (or THE High Priest at the time, Caiaphas). See the description of the priestly garments in Exodus 28:5. In addition to his garments, Caiaphas had "five brothers" that would also be high priests from their father Annas. The entire parable is directed at the theological beliefs of the priests in Jesus' day. Including Lazarus (Eliezer) is an issue of inheritance. Who ultimately receives the inheritance? Lazarus (Eliezer) - Abraham's servant. The roles are reversed in the end. 2nd Temple Period scholar, Tal Ilan, has a book called Lexicon of Jewish Names in Late Antiquity: Palestine 330 Bce - 200 Ce and details the connection between Lazarus and Eliezer.
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