Lazarus and the Rich Man

By Mark Jenkins

The idea of an eternally punishing fire has been burned into the minds of “Christianity” since the writing of Dante’s Inferno. The Bible, however, does not support this teaching that mothers in heaven must watch their lost children shriek in hell for all eternity. Those who do teach this idea of an eternally punishing fire frequently turn to the parable of Lazarus and the rich man for support. They reject the idea that it is only a parable and use it as evidence that we go to either heaven, where no man has ascended (John 3:13), or to hell upon death. But the Bible—and the parable itself—tells a different story.

This parable contains a powerful lesson, both for those who heard it at that time and for our time today. Let’s examine the parable of Lazarus and the rich man.

The Setting

There was a rich man who was “clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day” (Luke 16:19). He was a wealthy, powerful and influential man.

There was also a beggar named Lazarus. He was covered with sores and fed himself with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Dogs would come and lick his sores (verses 20-21). He could not have had a lower station in life.

Now Jesus Christ tells us about what happened to these two men: “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” (verse 22). So, both men died. Some use this verse to show that the beggar went to heaven, but let’s read more closely. The scripture really says that the beggar was “carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom.”

The Reward of the Saved

Oxford English Dictionary defines bosom as the breast of a human being, or the enclosure formed by the breast and the arms. This is an intimate relationship. Spiritually speaking, Lazarus was intimately related to Abraham. Paul told the Galatians, who were Gentiles, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed [his children], and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29). Those who receive salvation become heirs to the same promises made to Abraham. Let’s see what these promises are.

You can see the first of these promises in Genesis 12:5-7: “And Abram took Sarai his wife … and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came …. And the Lord appeared unto Abram and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” “This land” was given to Abram’s seed forever (Genesis 13:15). Later, in Genesis 15, God tells Abram the actual boundaries of this land: “In the same day the Eternal made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates” (verse 18). The promise was the land of Canaan. Of course, since the promise was forever, it included eternal life and eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15). There is, however, no promise that any man would ascend to heaven. Heaven is not the reward of the saved.

Lazarus has not received these promises yet. In fact, Hebrews 11:8-13 reveals that none of the faithful, not even Abraham, have received the promises God made to them. “These all [including Abraham—verse 8] died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (verse 13). The righteous will receive these promises at the first resurrection.

The first resurrection is reserved specially for the dead in Christ and those who are Christ’s at His coming. “For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17).

These are those who have repented and received the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9). These people—including Abraham and Lazarus—will live forever and reign with Christ throughout the Millennium, as shown in Revelation 20:5-6. In Luke 13:28, we read that Abraham will live again in the Kingdom. What a fantastic future Lazarus will have!

The Fate of the Rich Man

In the parable, the rich man also died. Was he then plunged into an eternally burning fire? “The rich man also died, and was buried” (Luke 16:22). The rich man himself was buried in a grave. We then read, “And in hell he lift up his eyes” (verse 23). When he died, his eyes were closed. Now, in hell, his eyes were opened.

Is this hell the rich man was in an eternally punishing fire?

The word hell is used in the New Testament as a translation for three different Greek words: tartaroo, hades and gehenna. Tartaroo is mentioned only once in Scripture. It is a place of restraint for rebellious angels (2 Peter 2:4). Nowhere in the Bible is there any mention of human beings being placed in this hell. This tartaroo makes no mention of fire; rather, it talks about chains of darkness.

Hades refers to a grave or pit, and also has no connection to fire. When a person dies, he or she goes to this hell, better known as the grave. Jesus Christ Himself went there. In Acts 2:31 we read, “his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” We can see here that this word hell refers to the grave. The rich man “lifted up his eyes” from this hell.

Notice that Christ did not say when the rich man would rise from this grave. Nor did He say whether the rich man would be aware of the passage of time while in the grave. Other scriptures show us the answer to both of these important questions.

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One thought on “Lazarus and the Rich Man

  1. Thank you for explaining this parable. I have read it before myself and when reading the gospels to my children during our Bible studies. Even though I knew that it did not mean what false christianity takes it to mean, I wasn’t able to fully explain it in a clear way to my children. I thank God, that through His holy spirit, he has given understanding of this scripture, and given us the church to nourish and teach us. Thank you for doing God’s work.

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