“If the Rich Man and Lazarus story (Luke chapter 16) is real and NOT a parable, then we will be able to converse with our loves ones who did not make it into heaven. Would heaven really be paradise if this were true?” (The Hell Test)
The short answer to The Hell Test’s question about whether the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is real or a parable is – it’s real. Check out our previous post for a background about parables in the ancient world.
Parables are about real-life issues, but not real-life people. When you see a story with the names of real people used in it (e.g. Lazarus, Abraham), you know the story is real and not a parable. Another clue is when the writer identifies a story as a parable.
To help us see that the story of the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham is real and not a parable, let’s first look at examples of Christ’s parables in the Gospel of Luke.
“And when a great multitude had gathered, and they had come to Him from every city, He spoke by a parable: ‘A sower went out to sow his seed. And as he sowed, some fell by the wayside; and it was trampled down, and the birds of the air devoured it. Some fell on rock; and as soon as it sprang up, it withered away because it lacked moisture. And some fell among thorns, and the thorns sprang up with it and choked it. But others fell on good ground, sprang up, and yielded a crop a hundredfold.’ When He had said these things He cried, ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear!” Luke 8:4-8
“Then Jesus answered and said: ‘A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, who stripped him of his clothing, wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a certain priest came down that road. And when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. Likewise a Levite, when he arrived at the place, came and looked, and passed by on the other side. But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was. And when he saw him, he had compassion. So he went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; and he set him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. On the next day, when he departed, he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said to him, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, when I come again, I will repay you.’ So which of these three do you think was neighbor to him who fell among the thieves?’ And he said, ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.” Luke 10:30-37
“Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: ‘The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, ‘What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?’ So he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?’ ‘So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:16-21
“He also spoke this parable: ‘A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.” Luke 13:6-9
“Then He spoke to them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree, and all the trees. When they are already budding, you see and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, know that the kingdom of God is near. Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all things take place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will by no means pass away.” Luke 21:29-33
What do you see? Personal names? Specific locations? No, you see examples of humans behaving in various ways – “certain man” “keeper of his vineyard” “certain rich man” “certain priest” “certain Samaritan”
Look again at the story about the Lazarus, Abraham and the rich man.
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. ‘Then 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.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’ ‘Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.” Luke 16:19-31
Did Jesus lie about what happened to the man named Lazarus? What about what Abraham said? Was that also a lie? I don’t think so. If Jesus said a man named Lazarus said something, he said it. If Jesus said Abraham said something to a rich man, he said it.
It’s interesting that Luke recorded the story about Lazarus, the rich man and Abraham after the story about the unjust steward (obviously a parable without names and places). The conclusion of the Lord’s story is Luke 16:13 – “No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.”
Some Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard what Jesus said to His disciples, “and they derided Him” (Luke 16:14). That’s when Jesus told the Pharisees that though they justified themselves before men, God knew their hearts. “For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). The next story Jesus told the Pharisees was about the rich man, Lazarus and Abraham. The timing for telling that particular story was perfect because Jesus told the Pharisees exactly where their love of money was going to take them – just like the rich man in the story – to a place of fiery torment.
What Jesus was telling the Pharisees was that the life they had chosen to live had eternal consequences. They presented themselves as servants of God, but they were in fact serving themselves through the gaining of riches (mamonas – material wealth). They had received their reward during their mortal lifetime. Jesus made the point that no servant can serve two masters. The Pharisees had a choice to make. If they chose to serve riches instead of God, they would be tormented in “hades.”
In the next part of our study, we will look at what Jesus taught about Hades.
In Christ’s Love and Grace,
Building Confidence Through Evidence
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”