The Rich Man and Lazarus

Parables: we have all heard the term, read or studied on at least one of them, and can probably recall at minimum one right off hand. Probably all of us also know that Jesus used parables a lot; there is at least one parable in each of the four Gospels. But just how much do we really know about parables? Hopefully after today we will all know a little bit more than we do now.

“Parable” ordinarily signifies an imaginary story, yet one that in its details could have actually transpired, the purpose of the story being to illustrate and teach some higher spiritual truth. These features differentiate it from other and similar figurative narratives as well as from actual history. In its simplest terms, a parable is an excellent teaching tool, one that Scripture uses extensively; both the Old and New Testament contain parables, something I think is sometimes overlooked. I imagine that when most of us think about them we automatically think of the teachings of Jesus. But Nathan made great use of the parable in 2Sa 12:1-7:

And the LORD sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor. (2) The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds: (3) But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter. (4) And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him. (5) And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the LORD liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die: (6) And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity. (7) And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;

In fact, Nathan used the parable so effectively I think we often miss the fact that he actually is using a parable. This is but one of many examples of parables in the Old Testament.

As I mentioned, most of us think of the New Testament teachings of our Lord when we think of parables. And we do that for good reason: The Epistles, although they often employ rhetorical allegories and similes, make absolutely no use of the parable, so common in Christ’s instructive methods. The Master Teacher used them dozens of times as recorded in the Gospels and likely used many more that were not recorded in Scripture (Joh 21:25 And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.).

We have established an explanation – or a baseline – of what a parable is, does, and contains at this point but there is one thing that a parable does not contain – a reference to a specific individual. Remember that a parable is a story, fiction, used as a teaching tool. With that in mind let us look at the account of the rich man and Lazarus:

Luk 16:19-31 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 hell 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.

This is the only story that Jesus uses that names a specific person; all of the parables use generic terms for the individuals portrayed in them. Rich men and beggars are common; there is no reason why Jesus did not have in mind a particular case. In no parable is an individual named except here. I can find no reference to the use of a “named” person in parables used in any text, neither biblical nor worldly; parables were used outside of Scripture in other Jewish literature.

Okay, you may now be asking “Why is that important?” Because that means this is not a parable but the account of something that actually took place in history. And believe me when I say there are many folks who will disagree with and/or take exception to this line of thought! Why? Because it requires that we look at Christ’s teaching in a light of reality, not allegory. And that idea is just too much for some people to bare. People want to “ride the fence” on this issue because it is too harsh to be reality – but reality it is.

V 31- Be persuaded – Be convinced of the truth; of the danger and folly of their way; of the certainty of their suffering hereafter, and be induced to turn from sin to holiness, and from Satan unto God. (Romans 14:5b Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind.)


From this impressive and instructive account we may learn:


1. That the souls of people do not die with their bodies.


2. That the soul is “conscious” after death; that it does not “sleep,” as some have supposed, until the morning of the resurrection.


3. That the righteous are taken to a place of happiness immediately at death, and the wicked consigned at once to misery.

4. That wealth does not secure from death.

The rich, the beautiful, the happy, as well as the poor, go down to the grave. All their pomp and apparel, all their honors, their palaces, and their gold cannot save them. Death can as easily find his way into the splendid mansions of the rich as into the cottages of the poor; and the rich shall turn to the same corruption, and soon, like the poor, be undistinguished from common dust and be unknown.

5. We should not envy the condition of the rich.

6. We should strive for a better inheritance than can be possessed in this life.

7. The sufferings of the wicked in hell will be indescribably great. Think what is represented by “torment;” by burning flame; by insupportable thirst; by that state where a single “drop” of water would afford relief. Remember that “all this” is but a representation of the pains of the damned, and that this will have no intermission day or night, but will continue from year to year, and age to age, without any end, and you have a faint view of the sufferings of those who are in hell.

8. There is a place of sufferings beyond the grave a hell. If there is not, then this parable has no meaning. It is impossible to make “anything” of it unless it be designed to teach that.

9. There will never be any escape from those gloomy regions. There is a gulf fixed – “fixed,” not movable. Nor can any of the damned beat a pathway across this gulf to the world of holiness.

10. We see the amazing folly of those who suppose there may be an “end” to the sufferings of the wicked, and who, on that supposition, seem willing to go down to hell to suffer a long time, rather than go at once to heaven. If man were to suffer but a thousand years, or even “one” year, why should he be so foolish as to choose that suffering rather than go at once to heaven, and be happy at once when he dies?

11. God gives us sufficient warning to prepare for death. He has sent his Word, his servants, his Son; he warns us by his Spirit and his providence; by the entreaties of our friends and by the death of sinners; he offers us heaven, and he threatens hell. If all this will not move sinners, what would do it? There is nothing that would.

12. God will give us nothing farther to warn us. No dead man will come to life to tell us of what he has seen. If he did we would not believe him. Religion appeals to man not by ghosts and frightful apparitions. It appeals to their reason, their conscience, their hopes, their fears. It sets life and death soberly before people, and if they “will not” choose the former, they must die. If you will not hear the Son of God and the warnings of the Scriptures, there is nothing which you will or can hear. You will never be persuaded, and will never escape the place of torment.