This publication is in answer to over forty years of urging to put the subject into print. The correct identification of the Rich Man and of Lazarus was presented by Brother Thomas Williams in The Great Salvation (pp. 74-81). Brother Williams identified the Rich Man as Israel and the beggar named Lazarus as representing the Gentiles. Apparently for the sake of necessary brevity in the book, there was no reference to the Scriptural identifications from Ezekiel 16 and Matthew 15, which enhance the identification of the Rich Man and Lazarus. However, Brother Williams did greatly elaborate on both the Rich Man and Lazarus. I was aware of and appreciated his article as early as the 1950s.
However, in 1960 my attention was directed to the passage in Ezekiel 16 as I read a visiting brother's text for his talk in the little ecclesia in Houston, Texas where I lived for two years. The brother's discourse was concerning the disobedience and sinful course of the nation of Israel. As the text was read, I noticed God's description of Jerusalem's origin and the elaboration of what God had done for her. Immediately it occurred to me that here is the description of the Rich Man of the parable. Probably six months later I realized that the beggar also was clearly identified for us in the 15th chapter of Matthew.
On the basis of these two identifying passages, a lecture was put together and was delivered twice in June of 1963, once in the ecclesia in Miami, Florida; and again in the Chapel ecclesia in Richmond, Virginia. During the next forty odd years the lecture would be delivered probably twenty times. During this period of time we were often urged to put the information into print, but somehow never got around to it. This booklet will fulfill those requests and we pray to our heavenly Father that the work will be acceptable to Him and edifying to readers.
Wayne R. Tanner
Before we begin our study of the Rich Man and Lazarus in depth, it is important that we become acquainted with certain background components of the account. For example, let us begin with the question: Is the narrative a literal story or is it a parable? An answer to this question is essential to our understanding of the account.
The narrative of Luke 16:19-31 presents the story of two men with different backgrounds and two separate destinies. Most readers of this portion of Scripture insist that the narrative is literal; it is a story that confirms for them the erroneous belief in a burning hell within the heart of the earth, where the wicked of all ages will suffer eternal torment in the fires of hades, their concept of the symbolic "lake of fire".
Thus, the question presses hard upon us; is the narrative meant to be understood as a literal story, or is the narrative a parable? The belief that this is one of the parables of Jesus has considerable support in the Scriptures, even within the context of the sixteenth chapter of Luke. Let us turn our attention to verse 14 where Luke tells us that the Pharisees were his intended audience, "And the Pharisees also who were covetous, heard all these things; and they derided him."
Jesus begins his address to the Pharisees in verse 15 and continues right into the account of the "Rich Man and Lazarus" The fact that he was addressing the Pharisees establishes credibility for the concept that this was a parable. Let us see why we draw this conclusion:
The Pharisees were only one of the classes and sects that closely followed Jesus wherever he went, not to believe or honor him, but rather to discredit, hoping that the people would reject him. In addition to the Pharisees, there were the Sadducees, Scribes, Herodians and a number of others who comprised the multitudes who often confronted Jesus.
The thirteenth chapter of Matthew is recognized to be a chapter of Scripture dealing entirely with parables. As Jesus spoke to them throughout this chapter, not one of the stories he told was to be taken as a literal story. In verses 1-3, we find that Jesus sat down before a great multitude, "And he spake many things unto them in parables." It was not until verse 36 that Jesus sent the multitudes away, and taking his disciples into the house, he spoke plainly to them, telling them in clear terms what the parables meant. Let us take particular notice of Matt. 13:34: "All these things spake Jesus unto the multitude in parables, and without a parable spake he not unto them". If the implication of verse 34 is that Jesus never spoke to the Pharisees (and the others that comprised the multitudes) without a parable, and since Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees in Luke 16:14-31, then he must have been speaking another parable unto them.
Perhaps a few words will be in order regarding the explanation of Jesus in Matt. 13:12-15 (as to why he spoke to those people only in parables). One would think that Jesus would want the people to clearly understand him and believe him, so that they might be healed. However, Jesus knew that the one thing missing in many of these people was a sincere desire to repent of their abominable attitude and hatred. The 23rd chapter of Matthew reveals a great deal about their self-righteous attitude.
Let us consider also the question of whether a parable (about Israel's lack of knowledge and faith), or a story that truly had to do with a "certain rich man", would serve to benefit the Israelites the most? Truly, what value to the Jews would there be regarding a rich man's actions unless they could identify themselves in the narrative?
Consider the parable used when God sent Nathan the prophet to inform David of his enormous sin with Bathsheba (II Sam. 12th chapter). Had Nathan simply gone to David and accused him for what he had done, David may have passed over the accusation and excused himself. However, by speaking in parabolic terms, Nathan caused David to contemplate the enormity of his actions, thinking that someone else had perpetrated the deed. David was quick to condemn someone else for those actions, and when he spoke out so harshly as to what such a person would deserve, his own words condemned him. However, when he realized that he was the man, he was quick to confess and repent. Therefore, the use of a parable was much more effective than a direct accusation would have been.
So it was with Israel. Jesus, in several of his parables to Israel spoke to them as though someone else had perpetrated the deeds for which God would punish them. This served to inform them of the justification for God's judgments upon them. Sadly, most of them were not able to understand that Jesus was informing them that "thou art the man". Therefore, Jesus simply left them in their ignorance, for the reasons he stated in Matthew 13. Unfortunately many Gentile Bible students also fail to appreciate who Jesus is speaking about in his parable. In fact, how many of us have succeeded in correctly applying these passages, realizing who the rich man and Lazarus represent and what is being communicated through them in the parable?
What was the subject of most of the parables of the Messiah? Since the parables were given primarily to the Israelites, it must be obvious that the subject matter would have been of interest to the people. By looking at a couple of the parables we shall see that the subject matter pertained to the temporary alienation of the Jews because of their rejection of Jesus and their constant transgressions of God's covenant.
We direct the reader's attention to Matt. 22:1-14 where we find the parable of the king who prepared a wedding for his son (compare Rev. 19:7-8). It is said that the king sent forth his servants to invite guests to the wedding, but those who were invited proved to have no interest in the affair and offered their respective excuses. Others responded by shamefully mistreating and slaying the servants sent to invite them. This should remind us of the words of Jesus regarding the Jews in Matt. 23:37-39: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not...Behold your house is left unto you desolate...For I say unto you, Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord."
What did the king do to those who refused to come to the wedding and who killed his servants? In Matt. 22:7, the narrative informs us that the king was angry and sent his army to destroy those murderers. Verses 8 and 9 tell us that the servants of God then were sent to invite others to the wedding and that they accepted. It was the Nation of Israel who was first invited to the marriage; the Gentiles were then called and from that time forward God has been taking out from among the Gentiles a people for His name (Acts 15:14).
Issuing an invitation through servants was not a new concept, throughout the Old Testament God had sent his servants to gather a people for the future wedding of His son, later referred to as the marriage of the Lamb. Hebrews 11 enumerates a few who had accepted the invitation. However, the vast majority were not interested. Therefore, God sent the armies of Rome, as His servants, to destroy Jerusalem and scatter the inhabitants of His land. This happened in 70 A.D. as the Roman General led the vast army of Rome against Jerusalem. After a three and one half year siege, the city was destroyed and the Jews were scattered over the face of the earth. The gospel has been spread to all nations, by Gentile servants for the most part, since Israel wanted no part of God's plan under His conditions and requirements.
In Matt. 21:33-46 we come upon another of the parables of Jesus with the same message. It is important that we recognize that this description of the vineyard and its furnishing is an exact fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah 5:1-7. Isaiah identifies the vineyard as the nation of Israel of whom God expected usable fruit.
In the parable from Matthew 21 we see that the "householder" planted a vineyard and hedged around it and went into a far country (Compare with Luke 19:11-12). When the time for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the farmers to get the fruit and they killed some of them. This exercise was repeated and other servants suffered the same fate. Finally the owner sent his own son and they killed him also. In verses 43-44 of Matthew 21, Jesus speaks to the Jews about their falling on the "stone". Peter later identified this stone as Jesus. (I Peter 2: 5-8) Verse 45 tells us that when the chief priests and the Pharisees heard this parable, they realized that Jesus was referring to them. Verse 41 had revealed that after he dealt with the farmers who had worked his vineyard, he let the field go into the hands of others from whom He would expect to glean a respectable crop. To whom did God turn after the expulsion of Israel from the vineyard? We find this answer in Acts 13:46-48: "Then Paul and Barnabas waxed bold, and said, It was necessary that the word of God should first have been spoken unto you; but seeing that ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles. For so hath the Lord commanded us, saying, I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, that thou shouldest be for salvation unto the ends of the earth. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord."
Therefore, it is of the utmost importance that as we consider the meaning of the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus, that we approach it with the understanding that it is a parable. A parable is not a literal account of the events described, rather it is teaching about what the events represent. Before we attempt to analyze the details of this parable we will present an overview of the symbols and their meanings.
The parable in Luke 16:19-31 directs our attention to a certain "Rich Man" dressed in "purple and fine linen and who fared sumptuously every day". It is very common in Biblical narratives for one man to represent more than one man or even a whole multitude of individuals. We see this in the case of Adam. All who are born are said to be "in Adam" (I Cor. 15:22). Likewise, all who are baptized into Christ (Rom. 6:3-4; Gal. 3:27) are said to be "in Christ" (I Cor. 15:22). Those "in Christ" are described together with Christ as one body or one man, i.e., the multitudinous Christ (I Cor. 12: 12-27; Eph. 1:22-23; 2:11-21; Col. 1:24). We are also aware of the fact that the term "the man of sin" (II Thess. 2: 3) represents an entire religious order closely connected with apostasy, which "received not the love of the truth that they might be saved". Also the name of one man, Jacob, is given to represent the nation of Israel after the 10 tribes separated themselves (comprised of Judah, Benjamin and part of the tribe of Levi - Jer. 30:7).
With these established examples in mind, we seek also for a multitudinous identification of this Rich Man in the parable. Since we are, beyond doubt, dealing with a parable, we should confidently expect the identification to be revealed somewhere in God's word. We are told, "it is the glory of God to conceal a thing, but the honor of kings is to search out a matter." (Prov. 25: 2). Ezekiel, in a very condemning rebuke of Israel in chapter 16, provides us with characteristics that are related to the rich man in the parable, and yet this connection is not often noticed by Bible students.
God directs Ezekiel to address the words of chapter 16 to "Jerusalem", the Capital of the nation of Israel. Therefore, the term "Jerusalem" is representative of all Israelites who are figuratively described as the wife of God. God refers to the nations in both masculine and feminine terms; however, He never refers to any nation other than Israel in a term that suggests the relationship of being His wife. (See Jer. 3:1-3; Hosea 2:2. Amos 3:2).
God tells Israel in Ezekiel 16:8 how He passed by and pitied her lamentable condition and entered into a covenant with her. He washed her "with water" (brought her through the cloud and the sea - I Cor. 10: 1-2), and in verse 13, He put raiment on her of "fine linen, and silk and embroidered work", and she ate, "fine flour, and honey and oil" (fared sumptuously). She prospered into a kingdom (which accounts for the "purple", the color of royalty). Here, in Ezekiel, we discover the Rich Man dressed in purple and fine linen, faring sumptuously every day.
All of the blessings of God were upon Israel, including the promise of good health if she was obedient to His dietary laws. He provided prophets who performed miracles of all kinds, including the raising of her dead and healing her diseases. No other nation was so blessed; this nation was rich beyond description. Her most precious position was the favor and love of God, which she continually risked by her carelessness all the days of her existence.
In Deuteronomy 28, verses 1-14, Israel was told in clear and certain terms of blessings to expect if she was obedient and faithful to God. However, she was also warned (from verse 15 through the end of the chapter) of terrible things that would happen in the event of disobedience and unfaithfulness. These are the same misfortunes that are described for the rich man in the parable, misfortunes that Israel experienced over the last two thousand years since the setting forth of the parable. The Rich Man can be none other than the Kingdom of Judah, the Jews, who were rich in the things of God.
As we continue with the parable in Luke 16, Jesus refers to a "certain beggar" who wanted to receive crumbs from the table of the Rich Man (Israel). We find the identification of this "beggar" in the account of the Gentile woman who approached Jesus and requested one of the many blessings that this rich man had enjoyed for a many years.
Matt. 15:21-18 deals with "a woman of Canaan" (a Gentile) who approached Jesus, requesting the miracle of healing for her daughter. The response of Jesus to her petition was, "I am not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel". In verse 26 he tells her that it would not be right "to take the children's (Israel's) bread and cast it to the dogs". (The Israelites viewed the Gentiles as dogs.) In verse 27, the response of this Gentile woman was, "Truth, Lord; yet the dogs eat of the crumbs that fall from their master's table". These words, referring to Jews and Gentiles, are almost identical with the language of our subject parable.
There is also an Old Testament incident (II Kings 5), where a Gentile came into Israel seeking one of the miracles of healing that were peculiar to Israelites. This was the case of Naaman the Syrian leper, who came into Israel seeking the healing of his leprosy. The miracle was granted to him, but it was made clear that this healing was an exception and not the rule. Gentiles rarely enjoyed any of the blessings that were reserved for Israelites.
It should be mentioned that during the Old Testament period, the only provision that God had made for the acceptance of a Gentile into relationship with Him (whereby he could expect to enjoy the blessings peculiar to Israel) was for a Gentile to become a proselyte and sojourn with the Israelites; he needed to be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses (Exod. 12:48-49; Num. 9: 13-14; Lev. 24:22).
We have searched and found the "certain beggar" in the Gentile who attained to the position the Jews once enjoyed due the fact of being in covenant relationship with the God of Israel. Upon entering into the everlasting covenant through belief and baptism, the Gentile symbolically entered into Abraham's bosom, being made nigh by the blood of Christ to all from which they had previously been alienated (Gal. 3:26-29; Eph. 2:11-13). Therefore, the beggar in the parable represents the Gentiles who have entered covenant relation.
Jesus states in Luke 16:21 that the dogs were licking the Rich Man's sores. This language effectively describes the condition of the Gentiles who were "aliens from the commonwealth of Israel... having no hope and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:11-12). We note in Isaiah 56:10-11 that God likened His religious leaders to dumb, ignorant and impotent dogs. Therefore, "dogs" in the parable are representative of an impotent, false clergy whose attempts to heal are without effect. The words of this parable speak of Gentiles whose religious leaders are incapable of overcoming their lack of a connection with God. Attempts to heal the condition of the Gentiles were as futile as a dog seeking to heal a sore by licking it, as dogs are prone to do. There is a much more effective way of healing sores than licking them and only in Christ is that healing and correction possible. Therefore, the dogs in the parable symbolize the impotent clergy of the Gentile world who had no healing or salvation for the hopeless people that they deceived.
The condition of death: The language of the parable may seem to imply that every person has an immortal entity that survives the death of the body. However, the Bible's description of death is contrary to this view. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of the sequence of man's creation.
Gen. 2:7 tells us that (a) God first "formed man of the dust of the ground; (b) then breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and (c) man became a living (not immortal) soul." Psalm146:3-4 informs us that in death (a) man's breath goeth forth, (b) he returneth to his earth and (c) in that very day his thoughts (soul) perish." Therefore, when literal death takes place, a man is non-existent, unless and until he is resurrected.
Should anyone object to our appeal to Psa. 146: 3-4 on the basis that it is in the Old Testament which some believe is no longer valid, we remind everyone that such an estimation of the "Law and the Prophets" is completely out of harmony with the estimation of Paul who wasthe inspired servant of God. Paul, at least 20 years after the passing of the Law of Moses and the ascension of Jesus to heaven, wrote: "The things written aforetime were written for our learning..." (Rom. 15: 4). Also, in II Tim. 3:15-16, written about 3 years later, Paul wrote:concerning the "holy scriptures, that they were,"profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction is righteousness.
If we ask a proponent of the theory of going to heaven or hell to describe what he thinks literally happens when a person dies, they will likely say, "when a man dies, his soul leaves his body and goes up into heaven to be with God and Christ, or goes to hell where the devil has dominion; the body goes into the grave and corrupts and decays, according to the sentence that was placed upon Adam and Eve. However, this popular view of what happens after death is inconsistent with death as it is portrayed in the scriptures.
We read that "in hell' the Rich Man lifted up "his eyes". He could not have eyes if they go to the grave along with the body. In verse 24, the Rich Man wants his "tongue" cooled by drops of water. Should not the tongue be in the grave along with the rest of the body if the theologians were correct? They confess to believe that only the intelligent part of man is what goes to heaven or hell. In the case of Lazarus, it is apparently thought that his soul went to heaven along with his body. We notice that Lazarus is represented as having "fingers", which would not be with the soul, if the parable were talking about a literal death consistent with the popular theories. These inconsistencies should add considerable support to the conclusion that this is a parable, not a literal account of actual events, and that many of the popular theories about the state of the dead do not make any sense.
The Scriptures speak of more than one kind of death:
Therefore, when we read in Luke 16:22 that the beggar died and was carried by angels into Abraham's bosom, we should not understand that the whole of the Gentile world ceased to be alive, leaving no living Gentiles in the world. Remember that a parable is a story, the contents of which are representative of something else. The Gentile, who is born without God and without hope in the world (Eph. 2:11-12), must pass from death to life in the waters of baptism (Rom. 6:3-5; Eph. 2:1-2). Death for the beggar in the parable symbolizes the baptism of those Gentiles who have accepted Christ, having put to death the old man and risen as a new creature in Christ.
Carried by Angels: The Biblical term "angels" does not always refer to immortal angels that reside in heaven. Sometimes the Hebrew or Greek term translated "angel" is applied to mortal men whom God chooses to represent Him in things pertaining to His work on the earth. In the Old Testament, the term "Malak" is sometimes applied to mortal men who were "ambassadors" sent by Israel's kings to represent them in foreign countries. (II Chron. 35: 21; Isa. 30:4; Ezek. 17:15 are a few examples). The term "malak" is translated "messenger" 2 times in Malachi 3, once in reference to John the Baptist, and once in reference to Jesus as the "messenger of the covenant". In the New Testament, the Greek term aggelos (angelos) is often ascribed to mortal men as it is when the term is translated as "messenger" in reference to John the Baptist (Matt. 11:10). The passage is a reference to the fulfillment of the prophecy of Malachi 3:1, relating to John the Baptist coming to prepare the way before the messenger (Jesus) of the covenant. Other uses of the term in that fashion exist, so we see that the reference to being carried by angels into Abraham's bosom does not necessarily refer to the immortal angels of heaven. The statement rather refers to servants of God who baptize the Gentiles hearing and believing the gospel, through which they become heirs to the Abrahamic promises. Angels are the ministers of the gospel who help Gentile converts through the process of baptism.
Abraham's bosom: To take someone to another's bosom is to take them into a condition of favor (John 1: 18). The apostle whom Jesus loved was described as leaning on Jesus' bosom (John 13:23; 21:20). To be carried into Abraham's bosom is to be carried by baptism into the place of favor. Galatians 3:26-29 declares that everyone who is baptized becomes Abraham's seed and heirs according to the promise. Therefore, the parable is informing us that even though the Gentiles had once been aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise (Eph. 2:11-12), they can now be made nigh by the blood of Christ (Eph. 2:13). God is taking out of the Gentiles a people for his name (Acts. 15: 14). To be carried into Abraham's bosom is to be carried by baptism into the place of favor, in covenant with God and an heir to the Abrahamic promises.
The usual understanding of the death of the Rich Man is that he died a spiritual death, representing a large number of persons that continue physically to live. The Rich Man (Israel) became dead in the sense in which the beggar had once been dead, that is, in trespasses and in sins (Eph. 2:1-2). Paul recognizes the sort of death that Israel died when he observes in Rom. 11:15 that to save an Israelite back into covenant was to receive him back "from the dead". Paul understood that such an Israelite was still breathing, a living person, who was now spiritually dead. The resurrection of the Nation of Israel from among the nations, where they were symbolically buried, (Ezekiel 37th chapter) was a political resurrection of living persons into a living community once again. That this resurrection is of a political nature is proven by the words of Ezekiel 37:21-22 as the chapter is summed up: "...Thus saith the Lord God: Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the heathen, whither they be gone, and will gather them on every side, and bring them into their own land. And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two nations any more at all."
Therefore, the death and resurrection described by Ezekiel is a political death and a political resurrection in which the nation will be caused to exist again according to the everlasting promises of God. Likewise, the death of Lazarus is the act of baptism, which is a taking part in and a symbol of the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus (Rom. 6:3-5). That rite is God's way of making it possible for the baptized person to symbolically participate in the crucifixion of Christ, the incident in which his blood was shed and which can be symbolically brought to bear upon the person being baptized (Rom. 6:6). This is the death that was experienced by the beggar Lazarus. (Lazarus actually means, "without help" according to Young's Concordance). Lazarus the Gentile had been completely without help until he died the death attributed to him in the parable. In the parable the Rich Man (Israel) experienced a symbolic death, being rejected from favor to become without Christ in the world. Lazarus, on the other hand, put to death the old man to rise again in to a new life of favor in Christ Jesus.
The words of the Rich Man (as represented in verse 24) may seem convincing to the proponents of a burning hell. We can be certain that Jesus was not endorsing that dreadful, blasphemous doctrine of hell torments. First, it must be realized that the Greek term from which the word "hell" is translated in that passage is ades (Hades). The term is translated "grave" in I Cor. 15:55, as in "O grave, where is thy victory". It is in Israel's national grave among the nations that she sees the Gentile in the place that she once occupied; although she foolishly denies that such is the case. In the parable, the Rich Man knows that he no longer occupies the place of favor.
But what of the flame that the Rich Man is represented as saying he was experiencing? Deuteronomy 28: 22 foretells that Israel would wander in a tortured condition if she were unfaithful and disobedient to God's laws. The passage reads, "The Lord shall smite thee with a consumption, and with a fever, and with an inflammation, and with an extreme burning..." The Apostle Peter even speaks about the trial of faith in similar terms in I Pet. 4:12: "Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you."
It does not take keen awareness of Biblical things to realize that such language speaks of the trials and tribulation through which Israel has passed for the last two thousand years. As prophesied, these trials were to be so severe, that in the morning Israel would wish it were evening; and in the evening they would wish it were morning, and their very lives would hang in the balance. (Deut. 28:63-68).
Let Lazarus dip his finger in water and drip it on my tongue: It is to be hoped that students of the word will appreciate the import of the statement. The things of God now are in the hands of brethren from among the Gentiles; the nation of Israel has been politically and religiously dead for two thousand years. The Jew must now seek salvation though the instrumentality of non-Israelite speakers and teachers who would administer the rite of baptism in water into Christ.
Father Abraham: Why would the Rich Man address Abraham as "Father Abraham" unless he was either an Israelite or a natural descendant of Abraham? The Rich Man is certainly not to be understood to be the spiritual son of Abraham, in the sense the baptized Gentiles are (Gal. 3:29). This fact punctuates the identification of the Rich Man as the natural seed of Abraham as does the fact that Abraham is shown to refer to the Rich Man as "son" in verse 25.
A great gulf fixed: The "gulf" of verse 26 is one of unbelief, standing between the unbelieving Jews and believing Gentiles. An unbelieving Jew cannot pass into the position of a believing, baptized Gentile and believing Gentiles cannot pass into the position of an unbelieving, unbaptized Jew. Either one can change their position of belief or unbelief; however, the crossing cannot be made as long as the gulf remains.
Send him to my father's house for I have five brethren. Here again, Abraham is addressed as "father". The five brethren plus the Rich Man would make a household of six brethren. How can the number six possibly relate to the house of Israel? There is a way in which this number does represent the 12 tribes of Israel as suggested by Brother Williams on pages 80- 81 of The Great Salvation:
"Since the revolt of the ten tribes under Jeroboam Israel has been divided; and in the days of our saviour only the two tribes - Judah and Benjamin - were represented by "the rulers of the Jews" These two tribes only are represented by the Rich Man; and of them it is said concerning their return from captivity in Babylon that "the children of Israel gathered themselves together as one man to Jerusalem" (Ezra 3:1). When, therefore, the "one man" is represented as crying to "Father Abraham" to send Lazarus to his five brethren, reference, no doubt, is had to the ten tribes. The fitness of things requires that since two tribes are represented in the parable by one man; in the same ratio ten tribes would be represented by five brethren."
"They have Moses and the prophets": Let us ask who had Moses and the prophets? No one other than the Israelites received Moses and the prophets (Psa. 147:19-20; Rom. 3:1-3).
In verse 30 the Rich Man once again refers to Abraham as his "father" In view of all of this, it is clear that Israel is the Rich Man of the parable. Therefore, who can Lazarus be but the Gentiles to whom the apostles turned (Acts 13:46-47) when Israel died her untimely political and religious death; they will remain in that state until the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord (Acts 3:19-23; Luke 21:24).
We wish now to say a few words regarding the belief concerning an eternal, burning hell deep within the earth. It is a fact that the same persons and groups who believe in eternal burning in "hell" also believe that II Peter 3 teaches that the earth is to be completely burned up and disappear out of the universe. The conflict between the theories of eternal punishment in hell and the complete incendiary destruction of the earth should be apparent. If the earth is to be burned up, then it cannot be true that people will eternally burn in hell somewhere in the earth. The destruction of the earth would also destroy the inferno that is supposed to exist inside the earth.
We ask this logical question, is it not true that the sentence that was placed upon Adam and Eve was also passed onto all their descendants? (Rom. 5:12, 16, and 18) Search as we may, we will not be able to find where Adam and Eve were threatened with or sentenced to an eternal burning of any kind. The wages of sin (death) is declared in Scripture to be the same sentence that was passed upon that first human couple. The second death will be the sentence that is passed upon the disobedient at the judgment seat of Christ (Rev. 20:14-15).
Another question we shall ask is, where in Scripture is the term "death" shown to mean being still alive and burning in an inferno? It is very important to understand that death is shown in Scripture as the cessation of life, where there is no knowledge, wisdom, work or device (Eccl. 9:5, 10).
What a diabolical charge to place at the doorstep of a longsuffering, merciful God (Exod. 34:5-7), to teach that He would place sensitive, living creatures in such a place to be tortured without hope of escape throughout eternity. If such a diabolic ruler existed on the face of the earth, who would heat an iron to a red hot condition and periodically hold it against the skin of his subjects, the very ones who lay this charge to God would rise up in revolt and demand that some nation take their army and wrest the kingdom away from such a tyrant.
The belief that the portion of Scripture containing the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a doctrinal reference to a burning hell does much violence to the truth of God. To believe such a thing is to rob the Scriptures of the truths concerning God's righteous judgment upon His people. Such a belief is a failure to realize that these things are but a fulfillment of God's promise to righteously avenge his name and purpose. The Scriptures are clear as to the truth that neither God nor Jesus chose to speak the clear, understandable truth to these stiff necked, rebellious people but chose to speak to them in parables that required them to seek for the true meanings. The mistaken religious thinkers of the world take those things that were spoken in parables and seek to formulate fantastic doctrines based on things they don't understand, thereby placing before the world a confusion of Bible teaching, which does not at all reflect the mind of God. It is much easier to hold fast to the truth if one correctly understands the meanings contained in the parables.