Lazarus and the Rich Man

The story of Lazarus has a famous use of the word hades:

Luke 16:19-24 – There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid (ballo) at his gate, full of sores, And desired to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 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; And in hell (hades) he lift his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, I 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. (KJV, comments added)

Most Christians believe that this story is literal, but it is actually a parable. The first reason for this is the context. Jesus was speaking to a large crowd in public in which He taught a five part parable, or five parables with similar meanings. These include the parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the master and his steward, and finally Lazarus and the rich man. You can tell that all of these are parables by the use of improper nouns Jesus uses:

Luke 15:4 – What man of you […] (KJV)

Luke 15:8 – Either what woman […] (KJV)

Luke 15:11 – And he said, A certain man […] (KJV)

Luke 16:1 – And he said also unto his disciples, There was a certain rich man […] (KJV)

Luke 16:19 – There was a certain rich man […] (KJV)

So if this story is a parable, what does it mean? In Luke 16:20 the Greek word ballo is used. According to Strong’s Concordance, this word is found 125 times in the New Testament, and is translated as “cast” 86 times, but as “lay” only 3 times. Why did they translate it as “lay?” This is because they thought the story was literal, and “lay” matches that. However, if Lazarus was “cast out” at the gate, where was he cast from? For the answer, look at Kings:

2 Kings 17:20 – And the LORD rejected all the seed of Israel, and afflicted them, and delivered them into the hand of spoilers, until he had cast them out of his sight. (KJV)

We see from Kings that Israel was “cast out.” We also know that Israel was cast out of their land from 745-721 B.C., while Judah was in power. Therefore, Lazarus represents Israel and the rich man represents Judah. This parable tells what will happen to these two nations. In the end, Israel will be restored to power under Abraham’s bosom. Remember from my article on The Two Covenants, that God made the Old Covenant with Abraham, which was later revised with the New Covenant mediated through Jesus. So Jesus mentions Abraham in the parable because Israel, Abraham, along with all of man will be given the chance to be saved with the New Covenant. Jesus paid the debt of man’s sin, which gives us salvation and restores us.

Now we can understand the theme of the five part parable Jesus taught. The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the prodigal son, the master and his steward, and Lazarus and the rich man all have to do with things that are lost, but later restored. All of these parables are talking about how man is lost in sin, but will receive life in the end through the law of Jubilee.

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