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The Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus

The Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus

One passage of Scripture that many find difficult to reconcile with the truth about hellfire presented on this website is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, found in Luke chapter 16, which reads, in full—


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. 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.”


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.”


One of the most important clues about the true nature of Jesus’ teaching here is understanding that this passage is a parable at the end of a long list of parables.


For instance, we can certainly know that Jesus’ imagery of Abraham’s bosom is not really the eternal abode of the redeemed. And it impossible that the lost in hell can converse with the saved in heaven?


When we remember that hellfire takes place at the end of the world, and that there are no people suffering in hell at this present time, we can determine more exactly three major points contained in Jesus’ remarks.


  1. By representing the beggar as being in heaven and the rich man as lost, Jesus taught His hearers that, contrary to the prevailing view of His time, wealth was not necessarily an indicator of divine favor, just as poverty was not a sign of God’s judgment upon a person.

  2. Jesus was also seeking to educate the Jews that salvation would not be theirs by birthright. The rich man in torments calls out to “father Abraham,” just as the Jews of Jesus’ day were mistakenly pointing to heritage as proof of their assurance of salvation.

  3. Furthermore, Jesus was seeking to lead His hearers to understand that only faithfulness to God’s Word would prepare them to enter into eternal life. He told them, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead”
    (Luke 16:31).

To use the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in order to promote the false doctrine of an eternally burning hell is to misuse God’s Word and to misrepresent His character.

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Hell in the Bible

The word “hell” is used 54 times in the Bible. It is translated from several different words with various meanings, as indicated below:
In the Old Testament:
  • 31 times from the Hebrew “Sheol,” which means “the grave”
In the New Testament:
  • 10 times from the Greek “Hades,” which means “the grave”
  • 12 times from the Greek “Gehenna,” which means “a place of burning”
  • 1 time from the Greek “Tartarus,” which means “a place of darkness”


What is Purgatory?

A tradition held by the Catholic Church that teaches people who are not good enough to be worthy of heaven, but not bad enough to deserve hell, suffer in an intermediary state until their sins are purged.

But is it in the Bible? Click here to learn more.

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