Parables of Jesus: The Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus

The first shall be last, and the last shall be first!

A parable is a figure of speech, an extended metaphor, a story using common actions or circumstances designed to illustrate a spiritual truth, a principle, or a moral lesson. The word parable comes from the Greek word parabole, which means to place beside or side by side for the purpose of comparison. A parable can usually be identified by the use of the word “like.” This was the method of teaching Jesus used most often.

The parable of Dives and Lazarus is recorded only in the Gospel of Luke 16:19-31. It is also known as “The Rich Man and the Beggar Lazarus.” Unlike Lazarus, the wealthy man is unnamed, but became known as “Dives,” which is the Latin word for “rich man,” the term used to refer to him in the Vulgate (Latin) Biblical manuscript. The parable is unique in that, unlike others where Jesus referred to the characters as “a certain man,” or “a sower,” only one of the characters, Lazarus, was referred to by name. Some have speculated that Jesus deliberately left the rich man unnamed.

Jesus had just finished teaching that “No servant can serve two masters... You cannot serve God and mammon.” Luke goes on to say that the Pharisees, “who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him.” Earlier, they had complained that Jesus actually ate with sinners and tax collectors. Jesus, never intimidated, had another parable specially intended for these greedy and self-centered so-called spiritual leaders.

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom.”

It is important to remember that this is a parable. The characters and the scenario were intended to capture the Pharisees’ attention, and make a powerful impact. The Pharisees believed in the afterlife, and in angels, and that God punished the wicked and rewarded the righteous in the world to come, so Jesus utilized this knowledge to paint a vivid illustration of their worst nightmare, a future of eternal torment.

“The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’”

Doubtless, Jesus had the Pharisees’ attention. Jesus wasn’t threatening them or pronouncing their final judgment. He was trying to break through their crusty façade and appeal to their nobler motives. Jesus continued to offer them opportunities to repent, but He knew that their hardheartedness had become habitual.

“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’”

Jesus knew that they hadn’t grasped the merciful and compassionate heart of God the Father either in the Law of Moses or in the writings of the prophets. He also knew that resurrection from the dead, something which they themselves coveted, wouldn’t persuade them to change their selfish ways.

Matthew 27:62-66 reveals the Pharisees’ fantastic fear of Jesus’ resurrection. They went to Pilate after the crucifixion, negotiating to have Roman soldiers guard the sepulchre, saying, “Sir, we remember, while He was still alive, how that deceiver said, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore command that the tomb be made secure until the third day, lest His disciples come by night and Him away, and say to the people, ‘He has risen from the dead.” So the last deception will be worse than the first.” Jesus’ words proved to be true by the results of the resurrection of another Lazarus and of Himself.

Written by: Pete Miller