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Grown-Up Bible Stories

The Rich Man and Lazarus

It is interesting that one of Jesus' most graphic descriptions of the afterlife came in response to people who mocked His teachings about greed in this life. It is also interesting that the people who took offense at His teachings were specialists in Old Testament Law. After all, the the ten commandments—the heart of that law--forbade covetousness.

The problem lay in the fact that many of the Pharisees, an established group of religious elitists, were deeply greedy. Their love of self enrichment went beyond mere finance. Pharisees sometimes paraded devotion to God as a means of increasing their status and power. Jesus was known to rebuke the sins they practiced while they bullied others over minor infractions. Even their lust for women, a form of covetousness, led them to use divorce to make infidelity respectable. Elitists that they were, they preferred mocking the Teacher to admitting that He was hitting close to home.

Jesus responded with a parable about two men, one rich and one poor. Jesus didn't name the rich man. The poor man shared the name “Lazarus” with an actual friend of Jesus. Unlike Jesus' friend, however, the Lazarus of His story was desperately poor.

In any event, the rich man put his all into this life. He lived luxuriously. He did so without compassion. He did so without God. Jesus didn't spell it out, but the story suggests a man who let his love of possession turn into a form of idolatry. He ate well. He owned much, but all he seems to have lived for was himself.

Lazarus lay on the street near his house. He begged for a living. He was covered with sores. He longed to eat the crumbs that fell on the floor by the rich man's table. He longed in vain. The neighborhood dogs licked his sores as he lay there hungry. It isn't particularly surprising that Lazarus eventually died.

The rich man died too. The tables turned at this point. Lazarus, who was faithful to God despite his hard life, found himself in the comforts of “Abraham's bosom” (Luke 16:22) The rich man, whose god had been his wealth, found himself in Hell.

We often think of simple Heaven and Hell today. The biblical picture is somewhat more complicated. Hell seems to occur in two parts. Bible scholars term these parts Hades and Gehenna for their names in the Greek Bible. Both involve fire and punishment. Hades is like the jail in which prisoners are held while waiting judgment. The rich man was in Hades. We typically associate Gehenna with the lake of fire to which God will finally sentence those who die unforgiven. While there does seem to be a biblical distinction, it isn't totally unrealistic to lump both places under the general term “Hell.”

Likewise, the concept of Abraham's bosom complicates our understanding of Heaven. A common interpretation of this and other Scriptures recognizes a place called Paradise. While it is possible to equate Paradise with Heaven, many scholars see Paradise as part of Hades. In this sense it would have been a good place where the righteous dead enjoyed Heaven-like benefits until Christ's crucifixion brought them all the way into Heaven proper.

In any event, Lazarus, the man who had God in spite of poverty, enjoyed eternal life. The rich man, who had denied God so he could pursue his own lusts, experienced a conscious eternal death.

The rich man, suffering from the flames of Hell, saw the former beggar in the arms of the great hero of faith, Abraham. The rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to share just a drop of water with him. Abraham refused. Even if Paradise and Hades were but preludes to the final Heaven and Hell, they were still separated by a huge gulf. There was no crossing. Each man had chosen his destiny in his lifetime. Now, there was no undoing that choice.

The rich man thought of his family. He had five brothers. Couldn't Abraham, acting as God's agent, send Lazarus back to warn them?

Abraham replied in the negative. “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” (See Luke 16:29)

No,” the rich man pleaded. (Quotations are not necessarily exact unless accompanied by a reference.) “None of us found Moses and the prophets convincing. Send somebody who has seen the fate of the dead. They'll believe one who has risen from the dead.”

No,” Abraham replied. “If they won't believe Moses and the prophets who wrote the Bible, they won't believe even if someone rises from the dead.”

Jesus ended His parable with Abraham's solemn warning. The Pharisees went on loving their own money, pride, position, and gratification. They were among those seeking the death of Jesus Christ. They were also among those who refused to believe when He rose from the dead.


We live in a world full of attractive distractions. It is easy to forget that there is a God who calls us to make our peace with Him and live as citizens of Heaven. A thousand lesser conquests cause us to lose sight of what is really important. Money, power, financial security, romance, family, academic standing, religious position, any number of things pull our desires. Not evil in themselves, they sometimes numb spiritual perception to the point where people calmly doubt God's relevance—or even existence. Like the Biblical rich man, many people risk waking up to find that they've sought salvation in this world when what they really needed was a Savior for the next. Which world are you living for?

Therefore take no thought, saying, What shall we eat? or, What shall we drink? or, Wherewithal shall we be clothed? (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (Matthew 6:31-34)

For this ye know, that no whoremonger, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. (Ephesians 5:5)

Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him? (James 2:5)

For more information on how to receive eternal life, click here: How to Have a Relationship with God.

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How to Have a Relationship with God

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