(Lazʹa·rus) [probably the Gr. form of the Heb. name Eleazar, meaning “God Has Helped”].
1. The brother of Martha and Mary; his resurrection was one of the outstanding miracles performed by Jesus Christ. (Joh 11:1, 2) Jesus had a deep love for this family living at Bethany, “about two miles” from Jerusalem on the road to Jericho. (Joh 11:5, 18, ftn) He had been entertained at their home, perhaps frequently.
The two sisters sent word to Jesus, who was at that time across the Jordan River, that their brother Lazarus was very sick. Doubtless they entertained the hope that Jesus would cure him. (Joh 11:3, 21, 32) However, instead of going to Bethany immediately, or curing Lazarus from a distance, as in the case of the manservant of an army officer (Mt 8:5-13), Jesus stayed where he was for two more days. Upon his arrival in the vicinity of Bethany he was met by Martha and then by Mary. Lazarus had expired and had been dead for four days.
When speaking to Martha, Jesus took the occasion to stress the resurrection. (Joh 11:23-27) He was soon to give added meaning to his words. Upon arriving at the tomb or cave where Lazarus was interred, Christ ordered that the stone sealing its entrance be taken away. Then in prayer to his heavenly Father, Jesus showed that one reason these events were taking place was “in order that they [the crowd present] might believe that you sent me forth.” (Joh 11:38-42) Jesus then called the dead Lazarus out of the tomb, and he emerged, undoubtedly to the astonishment and joy of those present.
This miracle moved many to put faith in Jesus, but it also caused the chief priests and Pharisees to plot his death. The anger of the chief priests was further aroused when a great crowd of Jews came to see not only Jesus but also the resurrected Lazarus. Because of Lazarus, many Jews were putting faith in Jesus, and so the chief priests took counsel to kill Lazarus also. (Joh 11:45-53; 12:1-11) However, there is no Biblical evidence to the effect that these religious foes carried out their evil plans against Lazarus.
John’s account of the resurrection of Lazarus has been assailed by some critics of the Bible. They point to the silence of the other Gospel accounts regarding this event. A consideration of the various Gospels will show, however, that even the writers of the synoptic Gospels did not each recount every deed of Jesus. For example, only Luke reported the raising of the son of the widow of Nain. (Lu 7:11-15) John did not customarily repeat what others had recorded. The resurrection of Lazarus is a notable instance of this.
This miracle of Lazarus’ resurrection served well as part of Jesus’ ministry, both to illustrate the power of the Son of God and to increase faith in him and the resurrection. (Joh 11:4, 41, 42) It evidently occurred near the beginning of the year 33 C.E. The Scriptures do not furnish information as to the circumstances, place, or time of Lazarus’ death after his resurrection.
There is no Biblical statement nor any reason to link the historical Lazarus with the beggar of Jesus’ illustration of the rich man and Lazarus.
2. The name given to the beggar in Jesus’ illustration commonly known as the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. (Lu 16:19-31) In the Vulgate the word “rich” has been rendered by the Latin adjective dives, which is often mistakenly used as the proper name of the rich man. However, the Jewish name Lazarus itself was common in ancient times, a fact borne out by ossuary inscriptions.
In the parable, the ulcerous beggar, Lazarus, was put at the gate of the rich man, desiring to be fed with the things that fell from the rich man’s sumptuous table. Lazarus subsequently died and was carried off by angels to the bosom position of Abraham (a place comparable to that occupied by a person in ancient times when he reclined in front of another on the same couch during a meal). Abraham had a conversation with the rich man, who had also died, was buried, and was in Hades, existing in torments. “A great chasm” that could not be crossed separated the rich man from Abraham and Lazarus. The rich man’s request that Abraham send Lazarus to his five brothers to “give them a thorough witness,” in the hope of sparing them the same experience, met with rejection on the grounds that these had “Moses and the Prophets,” and, if unwilling to listen to them, “neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.”
For Jesus’ illustration of the rich man and Lazarus, did he draw on rabbinic beliefs concerning the dead?
Teachers and students of comparative religion have in some cases suggested that in giving this illustration, Jesus Christ drew upon the ancient rabbinic concept and teaching regarding the underworld. Josephus furnishes the following information regarding the then-current view of the Pharisees in this regard: “They believe that souls have power to survive death and that there are rewards and punishments under the earth for those who have led lives of virtue or vice: eternal imprisonment is the lot of evil souls, while the good souls receive an easy passage to a new life.” (Jewish Antiquities, XVIII, 14 [i, 3]) However, Jesus flatly rejected false teachings, including those of the Pharisees. (Mt 23) Hence, it would have been inconsistent for him to frame his illustration of the rich man and Lazarus according to the outlines of the false rabbinic concept of the underworld. Consequently, it must be concluded that Jesus had in mind the fulfillment of the illustration and framed its details and movement in harmony with the facts of the fulfillment rather than according to any unscriptural teaching.
The context and the wording of the story show clearly that it is a parable and not an actual historical account. Poverty is not being extolled, nor are riches being condemned. Rather, conduct, final rewards, and a reversal in the spiritual status, or condition, of those represented by Lazarus and by the rich man are evidently indicated. The fact that the rich man’s brothers rejected Moses and the prophets also shows that the illustration had a deeper meaning and purpose than that of contrasting poverty and the possession of riches.