God’s Word Is Alive
The Rich Man and Lazarus—What Is the Lesson?
JESUS CHRIST often taught a lesson by telling a story. Here is how Jesus began one famous story: “A certain man was rich, and he used to deck himself with purple and linen, enjoying himself from day to day with magnificence. But a certain beggar named Lazarus used to be put at his gate, full of ulcers and desiring to be filled with the things dropping from the table of the rich man. Yes, too, the dogs would come and lick his ulcers.”
So Jesus simply said a certain man was rich, dressed expensively and ate well, while Lazarus was hungry, covered with ulcers and licked by dogs. Was this a story about real people? No. The Catholic Jerusalem Bible in a footnote explains that this is a “parable in story form without reference to any historical personage.” Note why, from what Jesus next says:
“Now in course of time the beggar died and he was carried off by the angels to the bosom position of Abraham. Also, the rich man died and was buried. And in Hades he lifted up his eyes, he existing in torments, and he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in the bosom position with him. So he called and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in anguish in this blazing fire.’”—Luke 16:19-24.
As you can see, Jesus said nothing about the rich man’s living a degraded life worthy of fiery punishment; the man’s failing was that he did not feed the poor. Further, Jesus said nothing about Lazarus’ doing good things, things that clearly would merit his going to heaven, which is what some churches claim is the meaning of his being taken to Abraham’s bosom. Furthermore, Abraham, like David, was dead and in his grave, so angels literally could not carry Lazarus to his bosom. (Acts 2:29, 34; John 3:13) And if the rich man were in a literal fire, surely Lazarus could not benefit him with just a drop of water!
Who, then, was pictured by the rich man and who by Lazarus? What was represented by their deaths? The rich man pictured the self-important religious leaders who failed to feed the people spiritually, and Lazarus pictured the common people who accepted Jesus Christ. Their deaths represented a change in their condition.
This change, or death to the former condition of the rich man and of Lazarus, occurred when Jesus fed the neglected Lazaruslike people spiritually. Thus, they came into the favor of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God. At the same time, the self-important Jewish religious leaders “died” with respect to having God’s favor and came to be tormented by the teachings of Christ and his followers. For example, when Stephen publicly exposed them, “they felt cut to their hearts and began to gnash their teeth . . . and put their hands over their ears.” They felt torment.—Acts 7:51-57.
So rather than teaching a fiery-hell torment after death, Jesus’ story describes the change of condition that his teachings accomplished among two classes of people.
[Pictures on page 8]
Who is “Lazarus”?
Who is “the rich man” in torment?