The Rich Man and Lazarus

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,

This well-known passage is misrepresented to establish the following unscriptural doctrines: the immortality of the soul, the conscious state of the dead, going to heaven or hell at death, and eternal torments. It is frequently treated as a literal narrative, but is really a parable, and if treated as a literal story is quite out of harmony with plain Bible truth. This will appear from what follows.

Christ's discourse in this place is made up of a group of parables, namely, the lost sheep, the pieces of silver, the prodigal son, the unjust steward, the rich man and Lazarus. The opening words of the last two are identical: "There was a certain rich man" (Luke 16:1,19). If the one be literal, so is the other; but nobody wants to make out that the first "rich man" and his "steward" are literal historic characters. And there is still less reason for supposing such things of the second "rich man" and "Lazarus," though there was a real literal Lazarus, whose experiences are very closely connected with the lesson Christ here taught his disciples. But if any insist that it is not a parable, they must be reminded that "Without a parable spake he not unto them" (Matt. 13:34). Also that when the disciples asked Christ "Why speakest thou unto them in parables?" (Matt. 13:10), he answered, "That seeing they might not see, and hearing they might not understand" (Luke 8:10). This is sufficient answer to those who say Christ would not so speak as to blind the Pharisees. He expressly said that he would blind such presumptuous sinners: "For judgment am I come ... that they which see may be made blind" (John 9:39). They praised God and declared Jesus a sinner, though they saw his miracles. The popular misinterpretation of the parable makes void the truth concerning (1) The death-state, (2) The resurrection, (3) The judgment, (4) The promises made to Abraham, (5) The punishment of the wicked.

THE DEATH-STATE.- The doctrine of the immortality of the soul is not found in the Bible, which teaches that man is mortal because of sin, and that when he is dead he is as unconscious as if he had never been born. "The dead know not anything" (Eccl. 9:5). "In death there is no remembrance of thee" (Psa. 6:5). "In that very day his thoughts perish" (Psa. 146 : 4).

THE RESURRECTION.- If the doctrine of the immortality of the soul were true there would be no need of the resurrection of the body, nor of Christ in particular. Yet we have Paul saying: "If the dead rise not ... then they which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished. ... What advantageth it me if the dead rise not?" (1 Cor. 15:16-18,32); See also Phil. 3:10,11; John 6: 39. There is no future life apart from resurrection. That was how Christ entered into life eternal (Psa. 16:10,11).

THE JUDGMENT.- Men are not judged at death, but in tha resurrection. "The Son of Man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matt. 16:27). Then the wicked "shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal" (Matt. 25:31,46). Then "there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye (workers of iniquity) shall see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out" (Luke 13:28).

THE PROMISES MADE TO ABRAHAM.- "To Abraham and his seed were the promises made" (Gal. 3:16). "The promise that he should be the heir of the world" (Rom. 4:13); "He sojourned in the land of promise as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob" (Heb. 11:9). "Thy land, O Immanuel" (Isa. 8:8). "The kingdoms of this world ... the kingdoms of our Lord and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever" (Rev. 11:15). Study carefully "the gospel" that was preached to Abraham (Gal. 3:8), that is, the record of God's promises as found in the family history of Abraham in the book of Genesis. No one understanding this could possibly receive the popular interpretation of the parable in question.

THE PUNISHMENT OF THE WICKED.- Some "shall not rise" (Isa. 26:14); but shall "sleep a perpetual sleep and not wake" (Jer. 51:39). But "there shall be a resurrection ... of the unjust" (Acts 24:15); "the resurrection of condemnation" (John 5:29). They shall "awake ... to shame and everlasting contempt" (Dan. 12:3). After punishment "they shall die" (Rom. 8:13); "the second death" (Rev. 21:8). "Into smoke shall they consume away" (Psa. 37:20). They "shall not be" (verse 10). These and many other similar passages illustrate the scriptural doctrine of "everlasting punishment," which is very different from "eternal torment."

A JEWISH FABLE.- Paul told Titus to rebuke the Cretans sharply that they might be sound in the faith, "not giving heed to Jewish fables" (Titus 1:14). It is one of these "Jewish fables" that Christ uses against the "covetous Pharisees" in the parable under consideration. The proof of this is to be seen in a careful comparison of Josephus' "Discourse concerning Hades" with the Bible doctrine concerning Hades, or the grave. Josephus was a Pharisee like those to whom Christ spake this parable; so his explanation of their belief is especially interesting. He says:

"Now as to Hades, wherein the souls of the righteous and unrighteous are detained, it is necessary to speak of it. Hades is a place in the world not regularly finished; a subterraneous region, wherein the light of this world does not shine ... There must be in it perpetual darkness." It is "a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute temporary punishments, agreeable to everyone's behaviour and manners. In this region there is a certain place set apart as a lake of unquenchable fire. ... There is one descent into this region," passing the gate of which "the just are guided to the right hand, ... into a region of light ... This place we call The Bosom of Abraham. But as to the unjust, they are dragged by force to the left hand ... into the neighbourhood of hell itself ... where they see the place of the fathers, and of the just (notwithstanding the 'darkness,' we note), and even hereby are punished; for a chaos deep and large is fixed between them," so that none "can pass over it."

Every thoughtful reader will at once perceive that Christ in the parable refers to this belief - not, however, to approve it, but to condemn the Pharisees out of their own mouth. They boasted in Abraham (John 8:33-45) and Moses (John 9:29; 5:45-47). He makes Abraham and Moses condemn them (ibid). His reference to their "fable" no more commits him to a belief in it than does his reference to "Beelzebub" (Matt. 12:27), argue his belief in "The Lord of the Fly," which is the meaning of the name thus bestowed by the heathen upon an imaginary "Prince of the Demons." "Take heed (said Jesus), and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees ... of the doctrine of the Pharisees" (Matt. 16:6,12). There is much need still for "taking heed." Study carefully the Bible doctrine of Hades and you will discover that Hades is simply "the invisible," "the grave." Study also the kindred parable of Isa. 14, and how "Hell" (marg., "the grave," sheol, hades) ironically greeted the King of Babylon when he was "brought down to the sides of the pit" (verse 15). No one would attempt to literalize this passage. And it is equally impossible to literalize the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

The parable of the unjust steward was spoken to "his disciples" to inculcate wisdom among the servants of God equal to the wisdom among the servants of Mammon. Among the latter were "the Pharisees who were covetous ... and derided him" (verse 14); so he turned "unto THEM" (verse 15) and convicted them of unjust stewardship in the matters particularized, and spoke "unto them" the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. The former represented "them" and their class, and the latter "his disciples" and that class. Among these last was Lazarus of Bethany, whom he actually raised "from the dead" (not from the Pharisaic "hades"), so that Lazarus afterwards "sat at the table with him" (John 12:2). "But the chief priests consulted that they might put Lazarus to death" (verse 10). Presently Christ himself was put to death and raised again from the dead; yet the Pharisees went on boasting in Moses and rejecting Jesus, in illustration of this much misunderstood parable. And so do many in Israel unto this day.

Reproduced from: The Christadelphian Shield: Papers Explanatory of Wrested Scriptures