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The Rich Man and Lazarus?

What is the meaning of the story of the rich man and Lazarus told by Jesus in Luke 16:19-31? Was Jesus relating a real story, or was He telling a parable to make a point?

In telling this story, Jesus continues the lesson taught in the parable of the dishonest business manager related in the first part of this same chapter (Luke 16:1-5).

No one would suggest that by telling the parable of the crooked manager, Jesus was recommending that dishonesty was a way of life to be followed. His point was that we have this life to make the best of opportunities offered to us by God.

The story was one well-known in Jesus’ day. The rich man assumes that his salvation was based on being a descendant of Abraham. He represented the common notion among the nation’s elite that his wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, and the poverty and lowly condition of the beggar meant God’s curse.

It is the Jewish version of an Egyptian fable. The circumstances of “Abraham’s bosom” and “hades” are described by Jewish historian Josephus in his “Discourse to Greeks” concerning Hades. “Hades,” he says, “is a subterraneous region where the light of this world does not shine. . . .this region is allowed as a place of custody for souls, in which angels are appointed as guardians to them, who distribute to them temporary punishments, agreeable to everyone’s behavior and manners.” Of course, the Bible says nothing about this fictional place, but Jesus told the story to illustrate a point.

The story: A beggar named Lazarus eats crumbs outside the door of a rich man. Eventually, both Lazarus and the rich man die, and their respective conditions are reversed. Lazarus reclines on “Abraham’s bosom” while the rich man is tormented in hell.

When the rich man appeals to Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water to relieve his agonies, Abraham reminds him that he hadn’t helped Lazarus when he could have. The rich man then asks that Lazarus warn his brothers and be saved from what he is suffering . Abraham answers that they have the writings of Moses and the prophets. If they don’t pay attention to Moses and the prophets, neither would they listen to one risen from the dead.

This would happen in just a few months, for Jesus Himself would rise from the dead and be rejected by the influential rulers of the nation.

Bob Edwards, Southern California.

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About Bob Edwards

Bob Edwards

writes from Malibu, CA.

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