What the Bible says about Lazarus

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Luke 16:19 - Luke 16:31

The Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day.

20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores

21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried.

23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.

26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family,

28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

16:19–31 The rich man and Lazarus. The parable implies that the rich man did scarcely anything to alleviate the beggar’s utter misery and degradation. Street dogs were unclean animals and therefore especially unpleasant. We are to infer that Lazarus (‘he whom God helps’) was a pious person.

The beggar found a place of honour beside Abraham, the father of the Jewish race and the friend of God. The rich man found himself in Hades (the niv’s hell is misleading) in torment and agony. He called upon Abraham as ‘father’ for mercy, but, although Abraham addressed him as ‘son’, he offered him no hope.

So far the story follows traditional lines, but now there is a fresh element. Could the rich man’s brothers, who were probably also rich and careless, be warned before they reached Hades? The reply given was that the teaching they possessed in the OT should be enough. Not even somebody returning from the dead could influence those who had shut their ears to God’s voice in Scripture. Failure to practise the love and the mercy commanded in the OT leads to loss in the next life.

The story is a parable, and therefore does not necessarily give literal information about conditions in the next life. ‘Hades’ was the abode of the dead in popular Jewish belief, and it is not clear whether Jesus was referring to the time before or after the final judgment. Yet the clear implication is that the fate of the rich man was finally fixed. Although the language is manifestly symbolic when it talks of the poor man being beside Abraham, it speaks of real destinies for people.

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