What does this parable tell us? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out.
I am sometimes engaged in debates on the final fate of people and particularly, the unbelievers. Do they go to a place of torment or are they annihilated? Sometimes, many people will go to Luke 16 with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus to get some answers. It’s understandable, but this parable is really not about the nature of heaven and hell.
Let’s start with the story. The rich man wears purple. The wording could indicate that this even goes down to his undergarments, the garments people wouldn’t normally see. Why does this matter? Because purple was the color of royalty and prestige. If you were wearing purple, you were a big deal.
This man lives in luxury every day. Outside his gate though is a man named Lazarus. Note that the rich man has a gate which means he has a good living place. After all, gates were means of protection. This guy can afford some security.
Let’s start with Lazarus being named. It would bring to mind Eleazar which means God has helped. Some people look at the parable having a man with a real name and say “No other parable has this so this isn’t a parable.” This is understandable, but it is mistaken. The reason Lazarus is named is to show him as a worthwhile and honorable individual. The rich man, who most people would look up to and admire becomes in the eyes of God a “What’s his name?”
Lazarus meanwhile is someone who is sick and has nothing and dogs lick his wounds. Some people think that the licking of a dog was seen as medicinal. Either way, the message is that dogs are doing more for Lazarus than this rich man, who could clearly afford to help him.
Lazarus dies and he gets a personal escort of angels. Note that what is said about his death is just that he died. Nothing. No one notices him. The rich man dies and is buried. Burial was important for one’s honor and it is also done by someone else. No one can bury themselves. The rich man is remembered when he dies.
However, in the afterdeath, Lazarus is in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man is in hell. The rich man now has to look up to see Abraham and Lazarus and in all of this, he still sees Lazarus as a tool. This also shows that the rich man was aware of Lazarus since he knew his name. His attitude remains unchanged and he still sees Lazarus as a servant and refuses to even address him.
He does call Abraham, father, which indicates this was a Jewish man. He also doesn’t want to go to be where Lazarus was, but he wants to bring Lazarus to where he is. Lazarus remains completely silent. This time, he has an advocate and one great one to have, Abraham.
Abraham also refers to the rich man as son, a familial name. It is showing a degree of care, but Abraham reminds the rich man that in the past, Lazarus had nothing and the rich man had everything. Now the roles are reversed. There is also a chasm fixed so that people cannot go back and forth. This should also be another indication the story isn’t literal. (What would happen if you fell down the chasm anyway? Would you “die” or would it be like a Mario game and you would just reappear where you started?)
The rich man then asks that Lazarus be sent to his family of five brothers. Again, Lazarus is the servant. However, why does the rich man have five brothers? Jesus didn’t need to be specific. He could have said family and it would have worked. Why five brothers?
Could it be because in the Old Testament, Judah had five brothers? Judah would be a picture of Jerusalem. Is this Jesus pointing out that Jerusalem itself is under judgment? Quite likely.
Abraham says they have Moses and the prophets. The rich man insists that is not enough. Many of us hear this today. It is a common argument today from skeptics that they need God to do something for them personally before they will believe. I have no reason to believe those people are really seeking. Most of them are not interested in diving into the best works they can defending a Christian worldview to see what they really have to say.
It’s a shame to have some people miss out on God because they are caught in emotional arguments. These same people will often chide Christians for believing for emotional reasons. This is understandable as if atheists shouldn’t make eternal judgments based on emotions, neither should Christians. Many Christians could bear to read some scholarship as well.
We all know skeptics who are like this. The problem they claim is that there is not enough evidence when normally, the evidence that is there has not really been considered. Sometimes God does give more, but why should He if someone isn’t considering what they already have? Abraham says the rich man’s brothers won’t believe even if someone rises from the dead.
This is true.
After all, I have also met a number of skeptics that have said that even if God is real and Jesus rose from the dead, they won’t worship Him. This is normally for an emotional reason. Odds are you have met someone like that too.
This is not a parable about the afterdeath. This is a parable about those who God honors as well. That’s humbling too. Many of you who look up to me as a Christian to admire, and I hope I am, know my name from my writings and debates. Who is the real hero in the Kingdom of God though? It could be an unknown person that when they die, the world will neither know nor care. Meanwhile, those great celebrities who walk the streets of Hollywood and are known by everyone? They could be the ones that find themselves in a position of shame forever.
If this is true, you should consider your choices carefully. Before rejecting it also, you should make sure that you have investigated it fairly and don’t just have an emotional reason. If you are a Christian, be living so that you will be honored like Lazarus was when your time comes.
(And I affirm the virgin birth)