Jesus’ Life and Ministry
Rich Man and Lazarus Experience a Change
JESUS is relating an illustration about a rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. The rich man represents the religious leaders who are favored with spiritual privileges and opportunities, and Lazarus pictures the common people who hunger for spiritual nourishment. Jesus continues his story, describing a dramatic change in the men’s circumstances.
“Now in course of time,” Jesus says, “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.”
Since the rich man and Lazarus are not literal persons but symbolize classes of people, logically their deaths are also symbolic. What do their deaths symbolize, or represent?
Jesus has just finished pointing to a change in circumstances by saying that ‘the Law and the Prophets were until John the Baptizer, but from then on the kingdom of God is being declared.’ Hence, it is with the preaching of John and Jesus Christ that both the rich man and Lazarus die to their former circumstances, or condition.
Those of the humble, repentant Lazarus class die to their former spiritually deprived condition and come into a position of divine favor. Whereas they had earlier looked to the religious leaders for what little dropped from the spiritual table, now the Scriptural truths imparted by Jesus are filling their needs. They are thus brought into the bosom, or favored position, of the Greater Abraham, Jehovah God.
On the other hand, those who make up the rich-man class come under divine disfavor because of persistently refusing to accept the Kingdom message taught by Jesus. They thereby die to their former position of seeming favor. In fact, they are spoken of as being in figurative torment. Listen as the rich man speaks:
“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.” God’s fiery judgment messages proclaimed by Jesus’ disciples are what torment individuals of the rich-man class. They want the disciples to let up on declaring these messages, thus providing them some measure of relief from their torments.
“But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you received in full your good things in your lifetime, but Lazarus correspondingly the injurious things. Now, however, he is having comfort here but you are in anguish. And besides all these things, a great chasm has been fixed between us and you people, so that those wanting to go over from here to you people cannot, neither may people cross over from there to us.’”
How just and appropriate that such a dramatic reversal take place between the Lazarus class and the rich man class! The change in conditions is accomplished a few months later at Pentecost 33 C.E., when the old Law covenant is replaced by the new covenant. It then becomes unmistakably clear that the disciples are favored by God, not the Pharisees and other religious leaders. The “great chasm” that separates the symbolic rich man from Jesus’ disciples therefore represents God’s unchangeable, righteous judgment.
The rich man next requests “father Abraham” to send Lazarus “to the house of my father, for I have five brothers.” The rich man thus confesses he has a closer relationship to another father, who is actually Satan the Devil. The rich man requests that Lazarus water down God’s judgment messages so as not to put his “five brothers,” his religious allies, in “this place of torment.”
“But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to these.’” Yes, if the “five brothers” would escape torment, all they have to do is heed the writings of Moses and the Prophets that identify Jesus as the Messiah and then become his disciples. But the rich man objects: “‘No, indeed, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead.’” God will not provide special signs or miracles to convince such. People must read and apply the Scriptures if they would obtain his favor. Luke 16:16, 22-31; John 8:44.
◆ Why must the deaths of the rich man and Lazarus be symbolic, and what is pictured by their deaths?
◆ What are the torments suffered by the rich man, and by what means does he request that they be relieved?
◆ What does the “great chasm” represent?
◆ Who is the rich man’s real father, and who are his five brothers?