What Does the Bible Say About..? Logo

What Does the Bible Say About..The Rich Man and Lazarus?

I am fairly new to the body of Christ, and a co-worker and I were talking about our different interpretations of passages in scripture. My question is this, in Luke 16:19-31, “The rich man and Lazarus”, after both he and I read the passage we came to two different interpretations of it. My interpretation is that Jesus is telling a parable, a story to teach a lesson. (What was that lesson?) His interpretation is that it is meant literally, and that Jesus is telling fact about Lazarus and it proves that people were condemned and went to hell previous to Gods judgment in Revelations. (Could you explain this to me? I thought there was only one Lazarus.) We would like to know what is meant by the “Bosom of Abraham”. My view is that Jesus is referring to the breast of the Lord; his view is that the rich man is talking to Abraham the son of Terah.


There has long been a discussion about whether that story is a parable or whether Jesus is recounting an actual event. In many cases, especially in the book of Luke, parables are prefaced by a statement like “and he spoke a parable to them.” This has no such preamble. That does not necessarily mean it was not a parable, though. A parable is always based in fact, and may even be the telling of a factual event. So whether it is a parable or an anecdote the meaning is the same. The reason he told the story is to remind people that the Law of Moses pointed to Messiah. “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.” (Luke 16:31)

Whether it clearly teaches that the dead are in torment or comfort as they await the end of the world and the judgement has been debated. I believe that, whether it is a parable or not, it is based on the fact that people will be separated based on their works on earth. It may also show that the dead are aware of what is happening on earth. If it is a picture of what happens after death, then a comparison to today’s legal system in America may explain it. When one may have committed a crime and is arrested they are taken to jail. In simplified form, at arraignment they may either be “remanded” to custody (kept in jail) or released “on their own recognizance” (allowed to go home without remaining in custody) until the trial. Applying that to this story, the rich man will have been remanded and Lazarus will have been released and allowed to go to a more pleasant waiting area, designated “Abraham’s bosom.”

It is probable that the Lazarus of this story is not the Lazarus that Jesus later raised from the dead. As now, some names were fairly common, and Lazarus may have been one. (Other scriptural examples of at least two people having the same name are Jesus/Joshua, James, and Judas.) If it is purely a parable, then Jesus may have taken the name of one of the characters from his friend.

What is “the Bosom of Abraham?” I don’t know for sure. What is clear from the story is that the rich man is talking to someone that he believes is the Patriarch Abraham. Jesus introduces him as Abraham, so there is no reason to believe he is anyone other than Abraham. It does appear that this Lazarus was the subject of special care by Abraham, but where that occurred is unclear, and incidental to the meaning of the story.