What Is the Real Meaning of the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?
“The parable of Lazarus and the rich man can seem to tell of men going to heaven and hell after death. But is that the real meaning and lesson of this parable?
The parable of Lazarus and the rich man is one of Jesus’ most misunderstood parables. You can read it in Luke 16:19-31. This parable is often interpreted as being about the immediate fate of the dead. After all, a surface-level reading seems to show the beggar Lazarus dying and going to heaven while the selfish rich man dies and descends to hell.
But a problem with this explanation of the parable is that there are several scriptures—many of them from the mouth of Jesus Himself—that contradict the idea that people go to heaven or hell immediately after death.
How should we understand this parable? Is it really about what happens to people right at the time they die? Or did Jesus intend for us to learn a completely different lesson?
What did Jesus say about death?
Jesus made clear statements throughout His ministry about what does and doesn’t happen after a person dies.
In John 11, Jesus resurrected His friend Lazarus (the brother of Mary and Martha, not the character in the parable). Before doing so, He told His disciples: “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up” (verse 11). When the disciples were confused about what He meant, Jesus clarified that He meant Lazarus was dead (verses 13-14).
Jesus likened death to sleep—a state of unconsciousness. Jesus’ words harmonize with other scriptures that show the dead have no conscious thoughts (Ecclesiastes 9:5). So it would be contradictory for Jesus to teach that the rich man and the beggar Lazarus were very much awake after they died.
What did Jesus teach about going to heaven?
Jesus made a clear statement about going to heaven: “No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven” (John 3:13). The New English Translation is even clearer: “No one has ascended into heaven except the one who descended from heaven—the Son of Man.”
So it would be strange and inconsistent for Jesus to say in one situation that no one has gone to heaven and then later say that Lazarus the beggar went to heaven.
What did Jesus say about hell?
In Matthew 10:28, Jesus said: “But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus associated hell with destruction. When something is destroyed, it ceases to exist. Jesus described hell as a place of complete destruction rather than a place with conscious and tormented dead individuals. This is consistent with how other biblical writers described the fate of the wicked (Malachi 4:3; Romans 6:23). You can learn more about this topic in our online article “Eternal Torment?”
So these statements give us a clear understanding of Jesus’ teaching. After death people don’t immediately go to heaven or hell. Instead, they await a future time when they will be resurrected from the dead (Luke 14:14).
What moral lesson was Jesus teaching?
When examining a parable, we have to recognize what a parable is—and is not. A parable is a short, fictitious story designed to teach a moral or spiritual lesson.
Many are surprised by Jesus’ comment that He did not use parables to make it easy for the crowds to understand, but so they wouldn’t understand (Matthew 13:11-15). He often had to explain the meaning of parables to His disciples.
When Jesus wanted to teach something clearly, He didn’t use parables (as we see in His above clear statements about death, heaven and hell).
Jesus designed His parables to be somewhat ambiguous on the surface (Luke 8:10). This, by itself, should show us that we have to be careful about interpreting a parable through a mere superficial reading. Instead, we must dig deeper to identify the core moral lesson Jesus was talking about—and not get lost in the details of the fictional story He used to deliver that lesson.
As an analogy, we can think of a parable as the wrapping paper concealing a gift. Instead of getting caught up in the details of the wrapping paper (what it looks like, how it’s wrapped, etc.), we should really be concerned with the gift inside.
So what was the core lesson Jesus taught with this parable?
We have to begin by looking at the context in which He gave it. Right before He told this parable, Jesus had been in a conflict with the Pharisees.
“Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. And He said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God’” (Luke 16:14-15).
Jesus was dealing with people who were fixated on the accumulation of wealth and who hypocritically put on a false front of being righteous before people. However, internally their hearts were unrighteous. Simply put, these people pretended to be righteous, but in reality were full of greed and lack of concern for others. Their “righteousness” was just a show. Jesus used the parable of Lazarus and the rich man to warn of the pitfalls and dangers of living a life driven by greed and a lack of love for others.
The context of the parable was not about death or what happens after death. The context was the danger of greed and hypocrisy.
The real meaning of the parable
There are two main characters in this story—the rich man (who lived a posh life and ate well every day) and a poor man named Lazarus (who was covered with sores and it seems was unable to work to feed himself).
Instead of helping Lazarus, the rich man coldheartedly ignored his suffering.
They both eventually died. Jesus then transitioned the story to the afterlife. Here, the roles are completely reversed. Lazarus is healed and in a state of comfort, while the rich man is in a state of mental distress. (Considering the biblical timeline of the resurrections, this seems to refer to the short time discussed in Revelation 20:14-15 when the wicked who have already had their opportunity for salvation are raised and condemned to the second death in the lake of fire.)
The rich man begs Lazarus to comfort him, but it’s too late, and there’s nothing he can do to help. The rich man even begs that someone warn his brothers to repent and change their lives so they can avoid the same fate.
The spiritual lesson is profound: Get your priorities correct now. Instead of being greedy and hypocritical, prioritize loving God and serving other people above all other things—now. Don’t put it off, because you never know when your life will end.
An additional lesson this parable teaches is a principle Paul wrote about later in 1 Corinthians 1:27: “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty.”
At the beginning of the parable, Lazarus was as weak and powerless as any human being could be, while the rich man was wealthy and mighty. But in the end, those roles were reversed. Lazarus’ humility and righteousness resulted in his standing beside Abraham, and the rich man’s greed and lack of compassion led to his being brought very low.
The meaning and lesson of Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus is relevant to all of us today!
For more insight on this parable, read our article “Lazarus and the Rich Man: Proof of the Existence of Hell?” From: https://lifehopeandtruth.com/life/life-after-death/what-is-hell/meaning-of-parable-of-rich-man-and-lazarus/
1 Thessalonians 5:21
Test all things; hold fast what is good.
In the post about John 14:1, we covered how the essential starting point of true Christianity is a genuine belief in God. In 1 Thessalonians 5:21 the apostle Paul shows us the great extent to which that belief in God extends into every aspect of our lives. God’s way of life revealed through the Bible is to be the filter through which we “test,” or examine, all ideas, beliefs and activities.
Here are three keys to fulfilling this scripture:
- Any individual who claims to represent and teach about God is to be tested against the Bible—the Word of God. The starting point for this testing is whether or not the teacher teaches and observes the law of God (Isaiah 8:20). Jesus Christ also admonished us to watch for false religious teachers (Matthew 7:15-16, see also 1 John 4:1).
- To “test all things” we must have the approach of the Bereans, testing all things by studying the Word of God (Acts 17:11).
- Every idea or activity that comes before us in life should be scrutinized through the filter of God’s truth. To mature as a Christian is to become skilled at discerning between “good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14) and between what is and is not acceptable to God (Ephesians 5:10).
Once we determine the truth, we must hold fast to it, meaning we must be “steadfast” and “immovable” (1 Corinthians 15:58) in our belief in God and His truth!
To learn more about what you need to find and hold fast to, read “What Is Truth?”
Transcript of video: https://nutritionfacts.org/video/why-you-should-care-about-nutrition/
"Does it really matter what we eat? Well, the good news is, we have tremendous power over our health destiny and longevity. The majority of premature death and disability is preventable, with a healthy enough diet. It’s…the…food.
Most deaths in the United States are preventable, and related to nutrition. According to the most rigorous analysis of risk factors ever published — the Global Burden of Disease Study, the number one cause of death in the United States, and the number one cause of disability, is our diet, which has bumped tobacco smoking to number two. Smoking now only kills a half million Americans every year, whereas our diet kills hundreds of thousands more.
What we eat is the number one determinant of how long we live. What we eat is what determines most whether we’ll die prematurely. What we eat is what determines most whether we become disabled or not.
So, if our diet is the number one cause of death and disability, if most deaths in the United States are preventable, and related to nutrition, then, obviously, nutrition is the number one thing taught in medical school. Right? Obviously, it’s the number one thing your doctor talks to you about at every visit. Right?
Unfortunately, doctors suffer from a severe nutrition deficiency—in education. Most doctors are just never taught about the impact healthy nutrition can have on the course of illness, and so, they graduate without this powerful tool in their medical toolbox.
Now, there are also institutional barriers—such as time constraints, and lack of reimbursement. In general, doctors aren’t paid for counseling people on how to take better care of themselves. Of course, the drug companies also play a role in influencing medical education and practice. Ask your doctor when’s the last time they were taken out to dinner by Big Broccoli—it’s probably been a while.
That’s why I started NutritionFacts.org. It’s the tool I wish I had in medical training. NutritionFacts.org is a free, nonprofit, science-based public service, providing daily updates on the latest in nutrition research via bite-sized videos. There are videos on more than 2,000 health and nutrition topics—all free—with new videos and articles uploaded every day on the latest in evidence-based nutrition. What a concept."