There are people who understand this text to express Jesus warning the hearers of the potential torment of the lost directly following their death.

1. Explain why that is, or isn't the intended purpose.

2. What specifically is the intended purpose?

The Rich Man and Lazarus — LUKE 16:

19 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20 And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 And [r]besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Potential Inclusions:

  • Is Jesus telling an actual occurrence or is it just a parable for teaching purposes?
  • Do you know of any historically pertinent information surrounding Luke 16:19-31 that sheds light on the interpretation of this text?
  • Did you read that book by Welch, the link to which I gave you? If not, he is talking there about it, challenging the whole point of validity of this story about Lazarus and the rich man. Or... are you asking this question because you've just read that book and want to get a broader scope of views?
    – brilliant
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 7:25
  • No I haven't read it but plan to check it out. What do you mean "challenging the validity"? I am asking the question because I want people to defend there view against the text! I believe for some views to hold water they have to do away with this text. Maybe you should give an answer and defend your view, and include some of the book. Take a stab at it - I challenge you.
    – JLB
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 7:33
  • @JLB Be careful not to bring theological and cultural assumptions to the text, namely that Hades and heaven are separate places (and the corresponding ideas about what they are). The notions of 'heaven' and 'hell' in Western culture were foreign in the mindset of first-century Judea, and thus reading these ideas back into the text is anachronistic. Note that both men went to Hades in this passage. Also note that death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:14.
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 9:04
  • 1
    @JLB and I know I should answer the question rather than throw controversial fodder into the comments :P - if I only had more time!
    – Dan
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 9:12
  • 1
    "What do you mean "challenging the validity"?" - If I got it right, he says there that this whole story about Lazarus and the rich man is a kind of product of a wrong belief that Jews used to hold (he uses Flavius Josephus' words as a proof of that), but of which no part of the OT is supportive, so Jesus used that wrong-belief story as a contrast to what He was teaching. Same approach is for the parable of the unjust steward earlier in the same chapter.
    – brilliant
    Commented Feb 1, 2014 at 9:26

4 Answers 4


I may not fully understand your question, and it's difficult to parse what you're seeking, but the evidence would indicate that this story was actually a "stock trope" that Jesus leveraged to teach his audience about how to value people above possessions. In the below answer I attempt to address (Luke's) "authorial intent" in the way that he organized the material (with other parables) as well as a potential explanation as to the origins of the trope that Jesus leveraged.

The Parable of The Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31)

Specific Context

Analysis of the context of this section of Luke would indicate that this parable at the end of chapter 16 is the conclusion of a “parabolic discourse” begun in chapter 15, which contains the parables of the Lost Sheep, the Lost Coin, and the Lost (Prodigal) Son.[1] Each parable highlights the value of people (specifically those who are labeled as outcasts) in God’s eyes and is delivered in the presence of the Pharisees and scribes who were grumbling against him (Luke 15:1-2). With the parable of the Steward, Jesus addresses his disciples but is then ridiculed by the Pharisees because they were “lovers of money” (Luke 16:14). In response, Jesus begins to address the Pharisees regarding the Law and chips away at the Pharisees’ claim to strict observance. He briefly addresses divorce and then moves on to the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

Apart from the context of the parable there is another interesting literary feature surrounding it. There is a noted shift within the text itself from narrative (vv. 19-23), to dialogue (vv. 24-31) as well as a notable change in the perspective of the rich man from concern for himself to concern for his family in verse 27. These shifts may indicate transition within the parable from a common folk story that would have been known by the audience to Jesus’ unique teaching on the characters’ reversal of fortune.

The potential origins of this story have been widely discussed. Parallels between Lucian’s Gallus and Caplus have been identified, but it is difficult to force the satirist’s purpose in his writing upon Luke’s story.[2] Another common suggestion is that of a Jewish folk story of the Torah scholar and the tax-collector whose deaths occur nearly simultaneously. The parallels between Luke and this rabbinic story are closer in the post-death accounts of torment and desire for relief than in the characters themselves. Instead of wealth, this Jewish tale focuses on the relative piety of the scholar and tax-collector. Finally, there is an Egyptian tale which focuses on the interactions and fate of a rich and poor man whose ultimate fates parallel those of Luke’s story. However, the character of these fates is decidedly different than that of Luke’s story. While each of these stories feature a reversal, none of them parallel each other with any significance and the importance of identifying the origin is debatable. However, those in the audience who were familiar with both the Egyptian and Jewish tales would have been able to identify them by their distinctive parts in Jesus’ parable.[3]

(excerpt from my master's thesis)

[1] Olubiyi Adeniyi Adewale, “An Afro-Sociological Application of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31),” Black Theology 4 (2006): 27.

[2] Outi Lehtipuu, The Afterlife Imagery in Luke’s Story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Leiden: Brill, 2007), 33-34.

[3] Ibid, 35-37. Craig L. Blomberg, Interpreting the Parables (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1990), 203-4; Adewale, 29.


Purpose of the parable

The story of the rich man and Lazarus appears in Luke's Gospel directly following the parable of the Unjust Steward, demonstrating by association and by its content that the purpose was to warn against the love of wealth.

As a footnote to this story, the New American Bible (NAB) says:

12 The parable of the rich man and Lazarus again illustrates Luke's concern with Jesus' attitude toward the rich and the poor.

Historically pertinent information

This was not an actual occurrence, as can be seen by the fact that the parable has close parallels to the rabbinic parable of Bar Majan, which does seem to have been the source for this parable. If it is possible the Jewish parable is no older than Luke's Gospel, it would be technically possible that the Bar Majan story was derived from Luke but unlikely, whereas the gospels made much use of Jewish traditions. The Jewish parable is said to have evolved from the ancient Egyptian story of El-Azar.

Douglas Welker Kennard (Messiah Jesus, page 93) says this parable is similar to the Jewish parable of a rich tax collector named Bar Majan and a poor teacher of Law who reversed fortunes in the afterlife. Kacy Madsen ('The Rich Man and Lazarus') summarises the story of Bar Majan and its Egyptian source.

  • +1 for your information about the source of the parable. I was actually looking for that and about to ask a question specifically about the parable's source or format as I had also heard it was a common type of story. Back to this question though, i don't really get how the story is just about wealth. I would think having the knowledge that the story was a common one used and known by the Pharisees would strengthen the conclusion that Jesus was using the story against them specifically for their unbelief. He often twists things against them like that.
    – Joshua
    Commented Feb 13, 2016 at 14:22


Purpose for recording the narrative:

Paul wrote; 2 Timothy 3:16 (NRSV)

"All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness."

In addition, God will no longer provide miracles or signs to convince someone. People must read the scriptures, and apply the scriptures to themselves, in order to obtain his favor (Luke 16:16, 29)

Jesus' reasons to express this account:

To tell his listeners of the dramatic changes that were about to take place, that;

Bold inserts in verse added.

Matthew 21:43 (NRSV)

“Therefore I tell you ,the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you (Literal Israel) and given to a people (Israel of God, Gal. 6:15-16 , 1 Peter 2:9) that produces the fruits of the kingdom."

All verses from Luke chapter 16 (NRSV) unless otherwise noted.

The Law and the Kingdom of God

14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all this, and they ridiculed him. 15 So he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God.

16 “The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone tries to enter it (Kingdom of God) by force.[f] 17 But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped."

It is a parable/illustration and is not an actual occurrence. If taken literally, it contradicts not only the scriptures, but also the laws of nature. Some of the contradictions are in the explanation.

If Jesus used any historically pertinent information surrounding Luke 16:19-31, I am not aware of it.

Lazarus and the rich man.

A verse-by-verse explanation for a clearer understanding of the purpose that Jesus said this parable/ illustration.

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day."

The "rich man" represent a class people, the Pharisees, Seduces, scribes, priests and chief priests, this is indicated by the expensive clothing they wore, and the lavish life style they enjoyed." (Leviticus 6:10, Daniel 5:7) They also wanted to be esteemed among men, but an abomination to God.

They were also rich in having a great privilege, God entrusted them his word, the Law of Moses and the prophets and which they were to spiritually nourish and teach his people and lead them to the coming of the Messiah. They did not do so, they were in fact," Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men." Matthew 15:9 , also Acts 7:53

20 "And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores."

Lazarus represents another class “the common people”, despised by the rich class and referred to as "amhaarets”, or people of the earth." Being covered with sores, means being spiritually sick, and that he longed to satisfy his hunger ,means he was denied spiritual nourishment and fit only to be friends with the dogs. Under the law, dogs were an unclean animal (Leviticus11:27).

22 “The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham.[ bossom] The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.”


What did Jesus listeners believe about “Hades” Greek scriptures and “Sheol” Hebrew scritptures. Ecclesiates 9:5, 10 (NRSV) reads:

“5 The living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing; they have no more reward, and even the memory of them is lost.” 10 Whatever your hand finds to do, do with your might; for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”

Jesus was in hades for three days; Acts 2:31 (NRSV)

“31 Foreseeing this, David[a] spoke of the resurrection of the Messiah,[b]saying, ‘He was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh experience corruption.” (Compare Psalm 16:10)

Since Lazarus and the rich man represent classes of people, their death is symbolic. The rich man now lost his privileges and favored position {bosom} with God and Lazarus took his place, having Divine favor- being in the bosom of God and given privileges, such as:

1/ Heavenly dwelling: John 14:2-3 and kingdom: Luke 12:32. 2/ Rule as priests and kings over the earth: Revelation 5:9-10. 3/ Go make disciples of all nations. Matthew 28:19-20.

Jesus listeners were aware that Abraham is dead, in the grave and could not speak (Eccl.9:5,6,10) and that Lazarus could not possibly be whisked to the bosom of Abraham, whilst Jesus was still here telling the story.

Jesus said:

“No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven, the Son of Man". John 3:13 (NRSV)

Paul wrote; “Flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God.” (1Cor. 15:50)

Some today say that Abraham is in heaven, Jesus was in heaven (John 8:58) when Abraham died and should know if he went to heaven or not. In view of what Jesus said,(John 3:13) It is obvious that Abraham is not in heaven, but in the grave/hades awaiting the promise of resurrection, like all the other men of faith mentioned by Paul in Hebrews chapter 11.

24” He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.”

Certainly, a drop of water will not bring relief to someone tormented in flames; the rich man is figuratively tormented by the fiery proclamations of John the Baptist, who spoke plainly: "You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matthew 3:7)

Jesus zeal and fiery proclamations and that of his apostles also angered and tormented them. For example, after telling them the parable of the murderous tenant, realizing that he was referring to them, the chief priests and the Pharisees wanted to arrest him. Matthew 21:33-46, 6:2, Acts 4:18, 5:17-21

They ask for mercy, they want relief from the fiery messages of Jesus and his apostles, the chief priests and the Pharisees refuse to accept Jesus, but the humble Lazarus class do, and is now spiritually nourished.

Abraham replied.

25” Child remember that during your lifetime, you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.”

Being in agony from the teachings of Jesus and later the apostles: Luke 19:39-40 Acts 7:54 (NRSV)

“When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen”.

Although there is a great chasm and it is impossible to come across to each other, a normal conversation is taking place between heaven and hades. This is absurd. Also, imagine being in paradise and right next to you is hades and your loved one is being tortured, what sort of paradise would that be?

27 “He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ 30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.”

Jesus rebukes them.

31" He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead."


Several months later Jesus resurrected his real life friend Lazarus, the hypocrites not only they did not believe, but also wanted to kill Lazarus. John 12:9-10


Colossians 1:13 (NRSV)

13 He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son,”

Transfer into the Kingdom started on Pentecost 33 A.D. with the pouring of Holy Spirit.

This was the new covenant, that God foretold by the mouth of his prophet Jeremiah.(Jer.31:31-37) On Pentecost 33 A.D. the resurrected Jesus, now a Spiritual being, inaugurated the new covenant with his faithful followers when He poured God’s holy spirit on all those in the house. Acts 2:1-4

The Law covenant given to the Israelites thru Moses was abolished when Jesus died on the cross (Col.2:14)


The parable, as any parable of the Gospels, has many significances. One can discern more literal, contextual and more metaphoric, even supra-contextual meanings; often the latter are deeper and more spiritually instructive, than the literal and immediately contextual ones. Here I will concern two things: 1. What is the gist of the parable in the context it was given and 2. Does Jesus speak about human persons continuing living in another than bodily dimension (given that body is dead and buried) after a bodily, physical death.

  1. The gist of the parable:

It clearly speaks about the futility of life with no other purpose than self-gratification and following of earthly desires, forgetting the higher purpose, that of fulfilling divine commandments. And what are those forgotten commandments? Clearly the two-une commandment of double love: loving God and loving one's neighbour as oneself. Thus, it is not riches as such that is reprimanded in this parable, but forgetfulness of God and of neighbour, who features in the parable as Lazarus. Now, Lazarus is disregarded, because he is nobody according to human, perverted categories, but for God nobody is nobody, and when we disregard such nobodies, we violate divine commandment of loving neighbour as ourselves. This is a more "down-to earth" albeit credible interpretation.

But I have read more spiritual figurative interpretations also: Lazarus, could denote Jesus Christ Himself, for as He says in any needful person He can be perceived (Matt 25:45); the "rich man" - the chosen nation of Jews who had all riches of prophesies and Law; however, because they gave no heed to the main thing in their religion, namely, that "God desires mercy and not sacrifice" (Hosea 6:6), all the rest, those lengthy rituals and religious observances, figuratively expressed in this parable as "daily feasts" availed for nothing. On the contrary, since representatives of pagan nations practiced mercifulness without knowing Law, they became closer to Jesus and, eventually, they, and not Jewish religious teachers, Pharisees, Sadducees etc. came to the correct theology and acknowledged and inherited the true Messiah. Thus, mercifulness and correctness of theological visions are intrinsically connected. The pagan nations are expressed in this parable as "dogs" (with an ironical reprimanding of many a Jews, who seriously held such a derogatory vision on non-Jews, like in Matt 15:27), and their act of mercy in that they, overcoming the fear of being thrown stones to them by the servants of the rich man, still come and lick the wounds of Lazarus, comforting thus him as much as they can. Thus, everybody licks wounds of Christ, whoever helps and acts mercifully towards his needful neighbours, and the last term includes the entire mankind, as clearly stated in the parable on merciful Samaritan.

  1. Did Jesus teach that there is a continuation of life for humans after a physical death and this continuation can be either blissful or, on the contrary, tormenting?

Of course, the parable is not about concrete historical persons here, like the parable on the prodigal son. However, when Jesus gives parables, He does not e v e r tell fairy tales, mythology or phantasy stories, but conveys real possibilities and ontologically sound doctrines. All His parables without exception are exempt from ontologically impossible fictions. Thus, neither here does He deviate from this general rule and tells an ontologically truthful account that human person does not die together with the physical death, but his full personality is preserved and can enjoy bliss, incomparably greater than any bliss on earth, and also, be tormented, not in a bodily way, for body is dead and buried, with unspeakable pains.

The same He says without any parable but plainly in Luke 12:4-5: “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." - Now, what is thrown "to hell" after body is already dead, and, say, turned to ashes after cremation? And if together with body also human personality dies, then why should anybody be afraid of something totally dead being thrown anywhere? For, in fact, if man dies and is annihilated altogether, then it is impossible to throw to hell or anywhere that which is annihilated and thus non-existent, for only something that exists can be acted upon and thrown or tossed somewhere. But even if it exists, but without any slightest feature of understanding and perception, then there is no difference whatsoever whether it exists or does not exist, for with no perception and no understanding any notion of fear is annihilated also. Moreover, Jesus clearly implies that if man lives a good life and is more afraid of being thrown to the hell than of death, then he will not be thrown to hell after death for sure. Now, if this relates only to bodies and not to something in us, the very core of our personality that survives the body, then this is a lie, for bodies of even very good persons can be desecrated in a most godless way (remember Hector's body desecrated by Achilles). It is foolish to even suppose that the fear Jesus speaks about applies only to our fear only during this life for that our bodies will be desecrated, even if we shall not perceive this any more; like atheists who believe not either in God or in immortality of souls, fear about their good name being preserved in history, with not even a slightest hope that they will be also aware that posterior generations remember them as good men. But Jesus does not speak about such a hopeless this-worldly fear, but about fear that after physical death the non-physical core of our personality will be fully preserved and alive, and this personality can either suffer for the misdeeds committed during historical life, or enjoy bliss for the mercifulness that he has gathered and made a part of his character and personality already in the historical life.

Thus, the parable gives us a true, ontologically plausible glimpse to the afterlife. It is another question, whether the Sheol or Hell mentioned in the parable is the same as the Gehenna, for some theologians distinguish between the two, saying that Gehenna applies to the very final judgment which will be enforced after the Second Advent, whereas Sheol is still a preliminary state from which there is still a possibility to be delivered by prayers and merciful deeds of people who love the deceased person. In fact, the rich man is tormented in Sheol, but he does not turn into a pusillanimous demon or imp as to desire other humans be seduced and dragged where he is tormented, in order to feel a certain evil and demonic jubilation. On the contrary, the good features that were dormant in him during historical life, are now fully awoken, and he earnestly cares for his loved ones who still live historical lives that they may improve their behaviour and not share his fate. There is a great nobility and deep dignity in this tormented man, as a matter of fact, for he definitely would be happy, even while in hell, if he would see that his loved ones escaped his fate by living virtuous lives. That's why I think the theologians who consider that the Sheol described in this parable is still a preliminary place before the final judgment, could be right, for this dignified man does not fit to the eternal punishment for sure: why? because Satan would be eternally irritated by his dignity and by his heartfelt care for his loved ones. Satan would hardly suffer such a noble one in his domain and vicinity.

  • Thank you for your insightful answer, I appreciate the time you invested on my question. In reading your answer 2 questions came to mind. Number one, it seems you believe a mans deeds done in life dictates where he goes after death - is that a correct assessment of what you believe to be biblical? Secondly, that Satan is some how the lord of the torturous fiery place we call hell - is that a correct assessment of what you believe to be biblical?
    – JLB
    Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 13:10
  • To answer those 2 questions I will need two separate windows, so forgive me if I am a bit lengthy: 1) The deeds done in historical life indeed condition our spiritual place both in this and in other life: if I do not forgive my neighbour, I am already in hell, either in this or in the next life, for unforgiving creates a condition of my soul that is unnatural and painful for it, both in bodily state and in out-of-body state: God cannot automatically forgive my neighbour even through my death, for He requires my free co-action with His will that I may forgive my neighbour. Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 20:17
  • 2) Satan is the most miserable amongst other spiritual creatures who have turned from angels to demons, have lost bliss and became miserable; their only evil joy is if they see humans also follow their lead, abuse their freedom by sinning and thus becoming miserable. "Fiery place" is a metaphor of a painful spiritual condition of an unrepented spiritual creature - a demon - and an unrepented human soul, who also suffers the same thing due to the same reason. Yet, there is no hope for demons, but there is a hope for a sinful human soul even after death through prayers of those who love him. Commented Feb 9, 2019 at 20:25

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