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Rich Man And Lazarus Religion Essay

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Published: Mon, 5 Dec 2016

Throughout the first three gospels, Jesus uses short stories to illustrate or teach the truth known as parables. A parable is simply an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. In Matthew chapter eight verse ten, the disciples asked Jesus, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” Jesus replied, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the heaven, but to them it is not given.” There have been many discussions about the meaning of these parables as ministers and religious leaders have continued to spread God’s word. A parable, not so well known is about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus. Jesus uses this parable to stress the evils of wealth, particularly towards the Pharisees who believed that riches bought righteousness. Patrick Hogan believes this parable is a statement that the very life of wealth is damnable, and that the poor deserve to be raised up. He believes the parable is a harsh condemnation of those who perpetuate a system of wealth and poverty.

Critics are quick to point out how Jesus taught parables that parallel traditional fables, however, there are fables that parallel Jesus’ stories as well. For instance, in Plato’s fable The Allegory of the Cave, Socrates is speaking with a man named Glaucon about the symbolic predicament men find themselves in and he proposes a way to salvation [4] . In this dialogue, Plato is describing a cave and the elements of the place, which closely parallel the rich man and Lazarus parable. Plato mentions a fire burning, the recognition and sight of each place-heaven and hell, he also describes the cave as a prison, and he continues the journey through the cave describing and instructing Gluacon as to the philosophies of life.

This parable is separated into two themes, verse nineteen through twenty-six and verse twenty-seven through thirty-one. The first theme contains two main characters, the rich man and Lazarus, and their subsequent deaths. Upon their death, the rich man knows who was righteous and who was not. The second theme is about the after life. This section speaks of Moses and Abraham, and perhaps as if looking into the future, Jesus speaks of a resurrection.

The setting and audience for this parable is important to understanding the first theme of the parable. This parable comes right after a parable about an unjust steward and how you cannot serve two masters, you are either righteous or you are not. In the rich man and Lazarus parable, Jesus speaks to the Pharisees concerning their love of money. In fact, throughout his ministry, he constantly warned of evil following wealth. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites in the New Testament, and stated they had more care and concern for their livestock than human beings who were suffering. The Pharisees believed that riches meant righteousness. The poor were sinful and wicked. When Lazarus had lain at the rich mans gate, the rich man gave no thought or concern for the possible lame wicked beggar. The Pharisees belief was because they could physically connect themselves to Abraham, they were guaranteed entrance to heaven. Jesus meant to show them there is only one way to enter the gates of heaven.

It is not for certain if the rich man is indeed a Pharisee, although the audience of the parable was the disciples and the Pharisees at the time. In the parable, the rich man broke the rule about loving thy neighbor as Jesus taught in the parable about the Good Samaritan. In Micah chapter six, verse eight it tells what it means to be good-to do justly and to love mercy. The rich man showed Lazarus no mercy and did him no justice leaving him out on his gate steps with the dogs licking his sores. The rich man rejected the truth about Jesus and about the prophecies being fulfilled as he walked the earth, no riches could save him from his denial of the truth.

The name of the beggar Jesus used in the parable has brought about some questions as to whether this is a parable or a real story. Critics of the passage being considered a parable argue that in no other parable is a real person named as a character. Bible.org explains it as Jesus drawing attention to the fact Lazarus was raised from the dead [5] . Some say that because Jesus used Lazarus’ name, means he is a real person who lived. He had a soul and a body that is full of the grace of God and not burning in eternal flames, and the rich man was separated from his earthly body and did not have God therefore, there is no mention of his name.

The Lazarus in this parable however, is not the Lazarus of Bethany that was raised from the dead in John. This Lazarus was poor, a beggar and possibly lamed and diseased. There may be truth to the fact Jesus was calling attention to the fact he knew he would raise a man name Lazarus from the dead. Knowing that Jesus is an all-knowing God, he would know that a few years later he would in fact raise Lazarus from the dead, but even then, the Pharisees would still not recognize him as the messiah. In verse twenty-four however, the rich man is crying out for Abraham to send Lazarus so that he may cool his tongue from the flame, he does not say, “Raise Lazarus from the dead and send him to me.” It is not until verse thirty and thirty-one where it is spoke of rising from the dead. The rich man wants Abraham to send one from the dead to his brothers, but does not mention whom Abraham should send. Abraham replies to the rich man, stating if he did not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be persuaded though one rose from the dead.

The fact that the rich man prays to Abraham to save him shows the Pharisees misguided reverence to God [6] . This goes back to the fact that the Pharisees believed their right to salvation came from the fact they were directly related to Abraham’s lineage. Abraham answered the rich mans prayers in verse twenty-five, although he was in Hades and had not yet received his reward for his faith. This shows the truth in the statement of Jesus in verse fifteen, where Jesus says they, “Justify yourselves before men.” Jesus wants the Pharisees to understand there is no other way to salvation accept through Him. In the latter part of verse fifteen, Jesus explains that “God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”

The second theme of the parable describes Hades or Hell. This part of the parable deals with the reality of death and what happens after life. There are only two parables in the bible that speak of the supernatural things such as angels or the after life. According to Mary Ann Beavis, these parables are the rich man and Lazarus and the rich fool. The rich fool speaks of the soul and heavenly treasures and the rich man and Lazarus speak of angels carrying the poor man to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man to Hell [7] . David Van Bierma and Richard Ostling discuss the evidence of Heavens existence and heavenly happiness; they described it as being “Far more than a reward, it was the believer’s true home, the ultimate human destiny.” [8] 

Abraham’s bosom is referred to, as the place where believers went before Jesus’ resurrection. This place is a paradise between Heaven and Hades. Hades is defined as a place to which one descends or goes down [9] . Some refer to this place as the underworld, and according to William Bales, the word Hades occurs ten times in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the word Sheol was used in place of Hades. The Old Testament mentioned the word Sheol sixty-five times compared to ten times in the New Testament. Bible.org divides Hades into three parts. One is the abyss or tartarus, the place of confinement for those demons who sinned in the days of Noah. The second is torments, the place of suffering for all unbelievers until the time of the resurrection of the unjust and the Great White Throne Judgment when they will be cast eternally into the lake of fire, and the third place is separated by a great gulf called Abraham’s Bosom, the place of blessing for believers [10] .

Lazarus was carried to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man was buried. The fact that when Lazarus died he went to Abraham not to heaven confirms that the pre-resurrection holding place exists. Abraham’s bosom is also referred to in the Bible as paradise. Jesus himself shows that he will be in this place with the thief he forgives while on the cross, “Today we will be in paradise.” Bosom, the word itself is interchangeable with heart, love or communion with God. After Christ is crucified and later resurrected, the Bible says he descends to the heart of earth…to take the captives captive. Paul also says that Hell enlarged itself. This is all showing how after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, Abraham’s bosom is no longer bound to earth; it is now a part of heaven. Ralph Wilson explains this in part and speaks of how there is still Hades, and Hell will begin after the second coming and the future judgment [11] .

This parable also guides us to the understanding that each state of eternal life will be in view of each other. The Bible teaches us that the righteous and the wicked in the other world will see each other’s state. In this particular parable, the rich man recognizes Lazarus, “In hell he lift up his eyes and saw…” This parable shows the reality of hell, you are aware of your surroundings, of your torment, you are aware of the existence of Heaven and you have your memories and mind intact. The saints in glory will receive new bodies free from disease and sickness, yet the wicked shall keep their worldly bodies to be ever tormented in fire, but never dying. [12] 

Whether this parable is directed at the Pharisees’ or to the wicked, everyone should make use of this parable in the living of their lives. The parable is a warning that we should be aware of how we count ourselves righteous. One cannot be saved through riches or their piety, but through Jesus and his teachings. This is also a parable where the realization of Heaven and Hell are seen. There will be torment and there will be no comfort to be had.

The rich man had no great gulf or chasm between him and Lazarus during his time on earth, yet he did not attempt to help or ease Lazarus’ suffering. In his final appeal to Abraham after death, he expects mercy, he expects the poor beggar to ease his suffering, yet he did not show the same mercy when alive. If one should take just one thing from this parable, it would be not ignore God while on this earth and expect to make it up in the end. There is no going back or undoing wickedness…there is just forgiveness. Even then, you must realize there is a point where it is too late. You cannot wait like the rich man, hoping that you will get another chance. As Jesus explained to the rich man, he gives many opportunities to receive him as Lord and Savior, it is up to us to listen and heed his calling. Whether or not Patrick Hogan is correct in saying this parable is damnation to having wealth, this parable is definitely a warning not to harden your heart towards the poor. We must revere God and treat our neighbors as we wish to be treated, remembering God teaches us to love mercy, just as he shows us mercy and forgiveness every day through the remission of our sins.


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