The Parable Of The Rich Man And Lazarus (What It REALLY Means)

The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a fascinating story told by Jesus that packs a punch. While this parable is well-known, it’s also one of the most misunderstood parables. 

If we spend a little time diving into the meaning of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus we can come away with some incredible lessons for us today. 

The Context Of Luke 16:19-31 

Before we can look at the actual parable we need to understand the context and setting. If we ignore the context we are liable to misread and misunderstand how this passage applies to our life. 

The story of Lazarus and the rich man is found in the middle of a section of Scripture in which Jesus is teaching the disciples. But we know that it’s not just the disciples listening, as Luke 16:14-15 tells us the Pharisees were also listening and not liking what they were hearing. 

The Pharisees are still upset about what happened in Luke 15. Jesus had told a series of parables with the most famous being the Prodigal Son

These aren’t two separate parables; they are tied together. Jesus used both of these parables to warn of the pitfalls and dangers of living a self-centered life driven by greed instead of love. 

The context gives us the first clue that the application isn’t really about life after death, a common misinterpretation. Instead, it’s about the dangers of living selfishly in this life. 

The Meaning Of The Parable Of The Rich Man And Lazarus 

The Parable of the Rich and Lazarus centers around the contrast between these two characters. 

The Contrast Between Lazarus And The Rich Man

The first contrast is seen from the very first verse found in Luke 16:19. First, you have the rich man. Interestingly he is not given a name. But what he lacks in a name he makes up for in death. He dresses in fine linen, has a table full of food, and lives in luxury every day. Jesus makes it clear that the rich man isn’t just living a lavish lifestyle. He’s living it at the extent of others, in particular Lazarus. (Luke 16:19, 20)

In contrast, we find Lazarus. He is covered in sores, begs at the rich man’s gate, and eats scraps off tables. And if that weren’t enough, dogs licked or snipped at his sores. This detail is significant as it would have made him unclean and unable to worship properly. But the one thing he does have that the rich man doesn’t is a name. (Luke 16:20-21)

Both men eventually die. And even in their death there is considerable contrast. The rich man is buried, undoubtedly anointed with oil, wrapped, and carefully placed in a tomb. And Lazarus’ body was tossed aside; a fair assumption is that he was thrown into the city dump, Gehenna. Jesus offers detail after detail to show just how different these guys’ life, and death, really was. (Luke 16:22)

But this is where things change. Lazarus is carried off to the bosom of Abraham. And the rich man wakes up in Hades. 

The Rich Man And Lazarus In the Afterlife 

Even in the afterlife the rich man and Lazarus still live in contrast to each other. But now the roles have reversed. 

Lazarus is now living in luxury by Abraham’s side. Separated by a great gulf the rich man is living in torment. Gone are all his earthly possessions; he has nothing, although ironically he’s still referred to as the rich man.

While in torment there seems to be a moment of regret, a time where the rich man seeks forgiveness. Luke 16:24 tells us that he calls out for mercy. We might feel bad for him… but we just need to read to the end of the verse to see he hasn’t changed a bit.

The rich man asks for mercy, but not mercy to be saved from his current circumstances. Rather he asks for Lazarus to be sent to Hades so that he can dip the end of his finger in water and cool his tongue. 

That might seem like a rather strange request, but his intent is crystal clear. The rich man wants Lazarus to once again be in a place of servitude of him. In other words, he still thinks he’s more important, and he wants to be the top dog. He hasn’t changed one bit; even in his judgment and torment, he refuses to repent. (Luke 16:25-31)

The Hell He Chose 

What’s clear in this passage is that the rich man chose this. In Luke 16:25-26 Father Abraham responds to the rich man with the title “son” or “child” (Greek word: teknon). This title is tender and expresses compassion for his misery. 

We often think of hell as a place where God casts people because he’s angry with them. But this parable shows a different story. Jesus is expressing a desire for a different outcome, but the rich man is unwilling to take the steps to place his life in subservience to Jesus. 

He chose hell and he refuses to leave. The great chasm was self-imposed.

Really this parable isn’t primarily a teaching on hell, but rather a teaching on the consequences of our actions towards others. In Jesus’ story, the rich man wasn’t thrown into hell because he didn’t believe. He found himself in a place of torment because of the way he treated others, specifically Lazarus.

Jesus ends his story with a rather sad statement, but one that will prove true. Even if someone were to rise from the dead they would not be convinced to change their ways (Luke 16:31). In a short time Jesus Christ will do just that, but still that won’t be enough for some to change their ways. Some would rather reign in a place of torment than be a servant in God’s kingdom.

Lessons From The Story Of Lazarus And The Rich Man 

In this parable, Jesus takes a jab at the religious leaders and offers hope for those oppressed.

That attitude of the rich man has no place in the kingdom of God. That kind of life will always result in torment. That’s the way it has to be; true happiness cannot be found at the expense of others. Jesus is warning his audience, and us today, that how we treat others matters to God. 

While this story is a warning to some, there is also hope as well. Many listening were the oppressed, the poor, the sick, the taken advantage of. For them, this story is one of great hope. One day their pain, the bad things that have marked their life, will end and they will find the life they truly desire with God. An eternal life in the Father’s house that will not end. And that promise rings true for us today as well. 

This parable is designed to force us, the readers, to reflect on how we treat Lazarus-like people. The rich man remains nameless so that we can place ourselves in his shoes. And each of us should ask ourselves: “Am I like him?” 

The rich man knew Lazarus was in need, but he refused to even give him the scraps from his table. Lazarus was forced to gather only what fell. The rich man saw the need and ignored it. He had no compassion. Even in death he still saw Lazarus as beneath him. 

Ask yourself: Do I treat people like that? Do I have the resources to help others but refuse to give it to them? Is my heart hardened towards those in need?

This parable shows us that we get what we ultimately want; we get what our lives are truly about. We can either reign in torment, or we can be a servant of the Lord Jesus and be in paradise with him. It’s up to us. 

The way we treat others shows us which direction we will take. 

Jeffery Curtis Poor
Follow Me

Share With A Friend

DISCLOSURE: This post may contain affliliate links, meaning I get a small commission if you decide to make a purchase through my links. This is at no cost to you and helps keep Rethink up and running.
Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments