The Most Misunderstood Parable
The account of the rich man and Lazarus, given in Luke 16:19-31 is clearly a parable and not a true story. However, hell believers choose to read this account not as a parable but as if it were a true literal account of something that had actually happened, and this is one reason why they misunderstand and misapply the spiritual truths contained in the parable.
Before we make an in-depth study of this parable, we need to first remind ourselves of some relevant facts about how God is working out His universal Plan of Salvation for both the nation of Israel and the Gentile nations. Apostle Paul understood that God has blinded the majority of his fellow Jews from believing the Gospel until the full number of God’s Gentile Elect have come to Christ.
25 For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: “The Deliverer will come out of Zion, And He will turn away ungodliness from Jacob; 27 For this is My covenant with them, When I take away their sins.”
This scripture provides the key to understanding the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, unlocking the mystery hidden in the parable. Here, Apostle Paul urges us not to be ignorant of ‘this mystery’ that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, and so all Israel will be saved. This will be when the Deliverer, who is none other than the Jewish Messiah Jesus Christ, will return to Zion to fulfil the unconditional covenant God made to Abraham, the Father of the Jewish nation, to bless (save) all Israel and all the families of the earth.
When the Word of God above says that all Israel will be saved, it means exactly what it says. God’s purpose has always been to save all Israel. All Israel means absolutely all Israel, past, present and future, without a single exception. However, before God saves all Israel, God’s plan is to first call and save a set number of Gentile Elect together with a set number of Jewish Elect, who are referred to as the Firstfruits. They will rise in the First Resurrection in their glorified immortal spirit bodies as the Bride of Christ, at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, to rule and reign with Christ forever. However, all those who die as unbelievers, both from the nation of Israel and the Gentile nations, will rise in the Second Resurrection and they will first need to undergo God’s refining Lake of Fire judgement during the Great White Throne Judgement Day, before they are saved and hence enter into the Kingdom of God. Yes ultimately, in God’s time and order, not only will all Israel will be saved but also all Gentiles.
With this knowledge and understanding, we are now in a position to make an in-depth study of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.
19 There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 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. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 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.’ 25 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. 26 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.’
27 Then he said, “I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father‘s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” 29 Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” 30 And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31 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.”
The first thing we need to understand in this parable is that the rich man and Lazarus are two fictitious characters who represent two groups of real people. It is important to identify who these two groups of real people are.
It is clear that the rich man is an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham through the spiritually rich line of Isaac and Jacob. This is because he calls Abraham, Father Abraham, and Abraham calls him son. The rich man represents all unbelieving Israelites (the Jewish non-Elect) who are the olive branches that have been temporarily cut off from their own natural spiritually rich and royal Holy Olive Tree of Israel (Romans 11:16-17).
Let us now understand that Lazarus represents all of the Gentile Elect, who are naturally wild olive branches that are grafted into the spiritually rich Holy Olive Tree of Israel (Romans 11:19). The true story, the actual occurrence, of Jesus dealing with the Gentile Canaanite woman in the following scripture of Matthew 15:21-28 gives us the revelation of the identity of Lazarus, in the parable, as a Gentile Elect.
21 Then Jesus went out from there and departed to the region of Tyre and Sidon. 22 And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, “Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed.” 23 But He answered her not a word. And His disciples came and urged Him, saying, “Send her away, for she cries out after us.” 24 But He answered and said, “I was not sent except to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.” 25 Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!” 26 But He answered and said, “It is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.” 27 And she said, “Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters‘ table.” 28 Then Jesus answered and said to her, “O woman, great is your faith! Let it be to you as you desire.” And her daughter was healed from that very hour.
As we can clearly see, this is not a parable but a true account of when a Canaanite woman, who was a Gentile believer, sought healing from Jesus for her daughter. She was one of God’s Gentile Elect, who had the gift of God given faith to believe as a true worshiper of Jesus Christ. She had an amazingly humble spirit, in great contrast to the self-righteous and proud Jewish Pharisees.
Pharisees looked down upon the Gentiles as dogs, and Jesus Christ used this same terminology to test the faith of the Gentile Canaanite woman. She wanted every crumb of blessing she could get from Jesus, and totally depended on Jesus, the Bread of Life, for her daughter’s healing.
The description and attitude of Lazarus in the parable resemble that of the Gentile Canaanite woman in the true account. Like her, Lazarus is associated with dogs, and dependent upon the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus Christ used the name Lazarus to denote a Gentile believer. The name Lazarus is a form of the Hebrew name Eliezer (Strong’s G2976). Eliezer was a faithful Gentile servant of Abraham, whom God used to get a bride for Isaac (Genesis 15:2, 24:1-66).
It is important to keep in mind that unbelieving Israelites (like the rich man) are the temporarily broken off branches from their spiritually rich natural Holy Olive Tree of Israel. This has happened in order to fulfil God’s plan to graft in a set number of wild olive branches, who are God’s Gentile Elect, into the Holy Olive Tree of Israel, before all Israel can be saved (Romans 11:16-20).
All unbelieving Israelites (the cut off natural olive branches) will miss out on the first phase of the Kingdom of God on earth, which is Christ’s Millennial Kingdom. However, Apostle Paul makes it abundantly clear in Romans 11 that God has not permanently cut off and rejected unbelieving Israelites. Romans 11 is an important chapter about God’s revelation to Apostle Paul that all unbelieving Israelites are not permanently rejected by God, and they will all be saved. We strongly advise our readers to make sure that you have read and studied Chapter 7 where we have given a detailed commentary on Romans 11.
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham‘s bosom…
This scripture is referring to the First Resurrection when all of God’s Elect Saints, the Firstfruits, from both the nation of Israel (represented by Abraham) and the Gentile nations (represented by Lazarus), will be gathered by God’s angels to be with Christ at His Second Coming, as stated in Matthew 24:30-31.
In Luke 16:22 above, Lazarus, after his death, is pictured in Abraham’s bosom. This is a beautiful spiritual picture of Lazarus, representing one of God’s Elect Gentile believers (a wild olive branch) who is blessed by having been grafted into the spiritually rich Holy Olive Tree of Israel; the Seed of Abraham, who is Jesus Christ Himself.
22 The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments (basanos meaning purifying) in Hades (meaning the grave), he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
This scripture absolutely proves that the story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable and not a true factual account. It would be ridiculous to think that currently billions of dead unbelievers are able to lift up their eyes from their graves (hades) and see Abraham and believers like Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom.
Please note that the above scripture says that the rich man after his death finds himself in ‘Hades’ where he is ‘tormented’ in a flame of fire. This scripture only makes sense when we understand the biblical truth that on the Great White Throne Judgement Day, death and hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire and it will be in this Lake of Fire that all unbelieving humanity will be cast for judgement.
14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
We have covered the subject of God’s refining Lake of Fire Judgement and the Second Death in great detail in Chapter 12. However, let us remind ourselves of the meaning of the Greek word basanos, which has been translated as torment in Luke 16:23 above.
According to Strong’s G931, the primary meaning of basanos is ‘to test (metals) by the touchstone, which is a black siliceous stone used to test the purity of gold or silver by the colour of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal’.
The use of the Greek word basanos confirms that there is a refining judgement awaiting all unbelieving Israelites (represented by the rich man in the parable) after their resurrection, and not eternal torment. It is important to realise that God’s Lake of Fire judgement is not for the purpose of hurting or tormenting unbelievers physically because resurrected bodies are immortal bodies, which cannot be damaged by physical fire. However, unbelievers will experience the emotional pain of sorrow, which can be very impactful.
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 (odynao, meaning sorrowing) in this flame.’
Here, the Greek word odynao has been mistranslated to mean ‘tormented’ when the correct meaning is ‘sorrowing’ as translated in scriptures such as Luke 2:48 and Acts 20:38.
This wonderful verse Luke 16:24 above proves that after death, all unbelieving Jews, represented by the rich man, will be sorrowing about their sin of unbelief, and they will repent and plead for God’s mercy. This will happen when they are judged in God’s age-to-come, age-lasting, refining Lake of Fire on the Great White Throne Judgement Day.
The rich man humbly accepts that it is Lazarus the Gentile rather than himself, the Israelite, who is connected (grafted) into the spiritually rich Holy Olive Tree of Israel, and it is Lazarus the Gentile who has access to the Living Water flowing from the Seed of Abraham, who is Jesus Christ Himself. The rich man further understands and knows that even one drop of water, given to him by Lazarus who has access to the Living Water of Life, is sufficient to satisfy his spiritual thirst.
Apostle Paul says that God’s purpose to save the Gentile Elect before most of the Jews will provoke the unbelieving Jews to jealousy (Romans 11:11). This will be a holy jealousy provoking them to desire the same Living Water accessed by God’s Gentile Elect. Paul further says that it is through the Gentile Elect (the grafted in wild olive branches) that God will show mercy to unbelieving Jews (the temporarily cut off true olive branches). Ultimately, all unbelieving Jews will receive God’s mercy (Romans 11:30-32).
The attitude of the rich man in hades, after his death, desiring a little water from Lazarus, wonderfully compares with the attitude of Lazarus before his death, desiring crumbs from the rich man’s table.
Before death, all Gentile Elect believers, represented by Lazarus, will repent and be humbled to become spiritual beggars. In this life, through the gift of God given faith, they will come to believe the true Gospel, understanding that even the crumbs, which fall from the rich man’s table, are sufficient to satisfy their spiritual hunger. These crumbs represent the Bread of Life promised to the Jewish nation through the Abrahamic Covenant. The Bread of Life is Jesus Christ Himself, who is the Seed of Abraham.
After death, all unbelieving Israelites, represented by the rich man, will be humbled to become spiritual beggars just like Lazarus was before he died. All unbelieving Israelites, who are temporarily cut off (sacrificed) from their rich Holy Olive Tree, will be resurrected at the Second Resurrection, and they will be humbled, repent and plead for God’s mercy in God’s refining yet merciful Lake of Fire judgement. They will understand through the gift of God given faith that even a drop of Living Water from God’s Gentile Elect, represented by Lazarus, is sufficient to satisfy their spiritual thirst. All unbelieving Jews will come to know that this Living Water is Jesus Christ Himself, their Messiah.
In the true account of when Jesus spoke to the Samaritan woman at the well, He said that He would give Living Water to the thirsty, and anyone who receives this Living Water will never thirst again (John 4:4-14). In the parable, the rich man in hades was thirsty for the Living Water and pleaded to Abraham for God’s mercy so that he could receive this Water of Life. Revelation 21:6 says, ‘I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.’ Do we think that it is too late, after death, for people like the repentant rich man in this parable to receive the Living Water from Jesus, who is the Saviour of Israel, indeed the Saviour of the whole world, whose mercy endures forever? Absolutely not!
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 (odynao, meaning sorrowing).’
This verse refers to the self-righteous unbelieving Israelites who consider themselves as spiritually rich in this lifetime and the Gentiles as spiritually poor, and referred to as mere dogs. The truth of the matter is quite the opposite. It is the unbelieving Israelites who are spiritually very poor because they are the broken off branches from their rich Holy Olive Tree of Israel. It is the believing Gentiles, God’s Elect, who are spiritually very rich because they are grafted into the Holy Olive Tree of Israel, and benefit by taking the place of the broken off Jewish branches.
The verse above also makes nonsense of the traditional view of hell, which says that God’s love for unbelievers ends at death. Please note that Abraham has a loving and caring fatherly approach towards the rich man shown by Abraham calling him son.
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.
The great gulf fixed spoken of in this verse is the great gulf of time of the glorious one thousand-year age of the Millennial Kingdom of God on earth. This verse is not speaking about a permanent eternal gulf of unbelief and separation between Lazarus and the rich man. The gulf will be bridged after all unbelieving Israelites, represented by the rich man, are resurrected from the grave (Hades) in their new immortal, yet still unsaved, bodies in the Second Resurrection at the end of the Millennial Age. This is when all unbelieving Israelites, who are the cut off branches, will face God’s refining yet merciful judgement in the Lake of Fire. They will all be humbled, repent of unbelief and come to believe in the true Christ of the Bible, God’s only begotten Son Yeshua Elohim, who is indeed their Messiah. It is then that they will be grafted back into their rich Holy Olive Tree of Israel, and they will all enter the Eternal Kingdom of God, thus fulfilling the scripture ‘and so all Israel will be saved’ (Romans 11:26).
27 Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father‘s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment (basanos)’. 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them’. 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
The rich man shows love, concern and compassion for his brothers, fellow Israelites who remain unbelievers. Apostle Paul also had great love, concern and compassion for his fellow Israelites who remained unbelievers. Also, the verses above show that the rich man understands the importance of genuine repentance before death, in order for his fellow Israelites not to miss out on Christ’s glorious Millennial Kingdom, and also for them not to have to face God’s future refining judgement in the Lake of Fire.
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.’
This verse refers to the Law of Moses and to the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jews cannot be saved through keeping the Law of Moses or even if they personally witness or hear of the miracle of Jesus Christ rising from the dead. This demonstrates the powerful truth of Election by Grace. Salvation is entirely a matter of God’s will, not man’s will. The unbelieving Jews are blinded from the truth of the Gospel up until God chooses to open the eyes of those that are blind, in His time and His order. It is not within God’s plan to open the eyes of the blind and save the non-Elect unbelieving Israelites, like the rich man, before they die. However, ultimately, in God’s time and order, it is God’s sovereign purpose to save all unbelieving Israelites and all unbelieving Gentiles through God’s age-to-come righteous, refining and corrective Lake of Fire Judgement.
There are three important truths hidden in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. You are blessed indeed, if you are able to grasp these truths, which are:
- Gentile Elect, represented by Lazarus, are pictured as spiritually ‘carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom’ after death. This picture shows that Gentile Elect believers are grafted into the spiritually rich Holy Olive Tree of Israel. They, together with Abraham and other Jewish Elect believers, are the Firstfruits who will be resurrected in the First Resurrection to enter the Millennial Kingdom of God at Christ’s Second Coming.
- All unbelieving Israelites, represented by the rich man, will miss out on the rich Abrahamic blessing of entering the Millennial Kingdom of God with Christ, because they are temporarily cut off from their rich Holy Olive Tree of Israel. They will first need to endure God’s refining, corrective judgement in the age-to-come, age-lasting Lake of Fire, after they rise at the Second Resurrection. This is when they will seek God’s mercy, repent of unbelief and be saved by the Seed of Abraham, who is Jesus Christ Himself. Ultimately, all Israelites who die as unbelievers will be grafted back into their rich Holy Olive Tree of Israel, and hence all Israel will be saved.
The powerful truth of Election by Grace is that no Jew can be saved through the Law of Moses or through the writings of the Old Testament prophets, or even through witnessing or hearing about the miracle of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Salvation is entirely a matter of God’s will, and His sovereign will is to save all men by grace through the gift of God given faith in the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. The glorious truth of the Bible is that Father God, Yahweh Elohim, is working out His sovereign will to save all men in seven ages, in His time and order, through His only begotten Son, Yeshua Elohim, Jesus Christ.