Summary: Lazarus was not a Christian. He was saved on the basis of the Old Testament dispensation. This is the only parable Jesus told in which He gave a name to one of the characters.
On a cold December night in 1959 blazing machine guns found their victim. Roger Toughy, a
former member of Al Copone's gang, was shot down in front of his sister's house in Chicago. It
was only 23 days after his release from prison. He knew too much about the underworld, and they
have a saying that says dead men don't talk. We would all agree that death is a great silencer, and
that is why we are quite surprised by the parable of Lazarus and Dives for it is a conversation
between two dead men.
We should expect such a conversation to arouse our curiosity and stimulate some questions,
but less we ask questions for which it has no answers let us first ask the first two basic questions
which we should ask of every Scripture passage:
When was it spoken, and to whom? You might ask what difference does it make? In this case it
makes the difference between understanding and confusion. By not keeping in mind that Jesus
told this parable before the cross and resurrection we can get confused as to its teaching on
salvation. We see little of the character of Lazarus and Dives. All we see is their condition, and it
appears that one was saved simply by being a helpless beggar, and he other was lost because he
was rich. Our confusion arises because we fail to realize that this is a pre-Christian parable.
Lazarus was not a Christian. He was saved on the basis of the Old Testament dispensation.
This is the only parable Jesus told in which He gave a name to one of the characters. Lazarus
means helped of God, or a man whom God helped. It indicates that he was one who found his
only help in God. We notice also that there is no mention of the Gospel, but only Moses and the
prophets. The parable is in pre-Christian terms. The Jewish concept of Hades was a place where
all dead people go. The righteous dead go to a good part called Abraham's bosom, and the wicked
go to a place of torment. There was only a wall between them and conversations between the dead
were a common method of teaching by the Rabbis.
This means that what we have in this parable is a picture of the intermediate state under the
Old Testament. The New Testament picture does not follow this same pattern. The fact of this
being before the cross and resurrection changes the impression we should get as we seek to
interpret what Jesus is teaching. It is also helpful to see that Jesus told this parable to the
Pharisees. They based their hope of salvation on their genealogy. They were descendants of
Abraham. They felt that they were in for sure and had complete security because of the heritage.
You can imagine the shock they felt in hearing a story where a descendent of Abraham was on the
wrong side of the gulf in Hades.
The fact of this being spoken to the Pharisees also explains why the rich man wanted someone
from the dead to warn his brothers. It is likely another poke at the foolishness and blindness of the
Pharisees who were always asking for signs and proof, but they never believed it when it was
given. All they had to do was accept Moses and the prophets, but since they did not believe the
Word of God, neither did they believe His work when it was before their very eyes. With this
background in mind we need to ask some specific questions about this story which apply to all
I. WHY WAS THE RICH MAN IN HADES?
On the surface it seems that his greatest sin was in being rich, and there have been many in the
past who taught just that. If we examine the life and teaching of Jesus, however, we do not find
Him teaching that poverty equals piety nor that wealth equals wickedness. Money in itself is
amoral. It is like electricity. It can be either good or bad. It can light a church or light a bar.
Money has the potential for both good or evil.
Consider the life of Jesus. He was not poor in the extreme sense as was Lazarus. He was a
hard working carpenter. When He called His disciples a treasurer was appointed and Judas
carried the bag. We know there was money in it because when He left at the Last Supper the
others thought He was going to take care of some financial matters. Jesus did not wear rags, but
had such a beautiful robe that the soldiers gambled for it. He could not have worn such a garment
had there been anything inherently evil about expensive clothing. The same holds true for the