The parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man has been used by traditional Christianity for a number of incorrect purposes. It has been used to support the doctrines of the Soul and also to support the doctrines of Heaven and Hell as abodes of the dead. What does the parable mean? To whom was it addressed?
Christian Churches of God
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(Copyright 1997 Wade Cox)
(Summary ed. by Wade Cox)
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Lazarus and the Rich Man
The story of Lazarus has lessons that are central to the doctrines of the Church and the message of Christ to the Jews. This story doesn't support the doctrines of the immortal soul or the existence of heaven and hell.
John 11:1-4: Christ acted according to God's plan. This miracle of raising Lazarus and the identification of himself as the Son of God caused the Jews to seek his death. This miracle identified him as The Messiah and from which Caiaphas the high priest based his prophecy.
John 11:5-11: Jesus spoke of the light of the world, the length of the day and made reference to the spiritual conditions of light and darkness. The sleep meant death. To the Church death was simply sleeping waiting for the resurrection. By his actions Christ pointed to the resurrection of the Church at the return of Messiah at the end of this age.
John 11:12-16: Lazarus was legally dead. These women had faith in the power of Messiah (verses 17-28). The entire world is subject to death through the failure of Adam. Christ's followers could live through him by the power of the Holy Spirit given at Pentecost. The world would persecute and put to death Christ's followers, until he comes again to save those eagerly awaiting him (verses 29-38). The Church in the last days (like Martha) is troubled by the cares of the world and loses sight of the promises of God (verses 39-40). This message demonstrates the power of Messiah, the function of prayer and our relationship with God who always hears (verses 41-42).
This leads on to the actions at Passover. The priesthood would lose their power and positions if the people believed Christ and followed him. It is the same problem with Judah today, as salvation has come to the Gentiles (verses 43-46). They didn't understand the Scriptures and did what they always have done, sought to kill God's prophets and later what they tried to do to the Church also (verses 47-57). Christ symbolised that the power of the spirit was going to be taken and given to a nation showing the fruits of the Kingdom Of God and the Holy Spirit (verses 53-54). Messiah was set aside as the Passover lamb on the tenth day (verses 55-57).
Lazarus's sister, Mary, understood Jesus was to die because of the miracle and that was why she anointed him. Judas wanted a Messiah that would rule then and give him power (Jn. 12:1-6). Lazarus was evidence of that powerful miracle so he had to die. Lazarus was a type of the Church and was persecuted for its relationship to Messiah and the witness it gave to all peoples (verses 7-11). On this tenth day of the month, Christ was hailed as king by those who had seen the miracles. They expected him to be a king Messiah, not a sacrifice! (verses 12-19).
The same message is to the Church, to bring forth much fruit from our sacrifices as Christians. Lazarus had to die also because of his involvement with Christ. But like him, Christians know that Messiah has the power to raise them from the dead when the time arrives at the direction of the One True God (verses 20-26). No man has seen or heard God The Father. An angel spoke as witness of God in control of the events taking place (verses 27-29). The Prince of the powers of darkness, who still rules this world until Messiah returns, pursued the woman or Church with anger (verses 30-33).
The people didn't want a son of man that was going to be crucified, they wanted a son of God that would be victorious and free them from the Romans and Edomite rulers (verses 34-36). This showed that few would understand. Judah would lose its position for two thousand years. Only individuals would be called to become part of Messiah's system as the elect. Many would suffer as Lazarus did (verses 37-41).
All through time, there are people who enter the Church, loving man's praises rather than God's. This has resulted in much fractured theology, divisions and falsehoods creeping in (verses 42-43). The belief is that those who believe in Christ believe not on him but on God who sent him; most of modern mainstream Christianity don’t understand this (verses 44-45). Christ didn't come to judge the world but to save it. Only the house of God is under judgement now. The world's judgement is in the last day or the great white throne judgement at the end of the thousand-year millennial reign of Christ and the elect. It is a judgement of decision and correction, not condemnation (verses 46-48).
As Lazarus was resurrected, so too was God going to resurrect Christ (verses 49-50). The scene was set for the greatest event in human history. See the paper Timing of the Crucifixion and the Resurrection (No. 159). Luke 16:1-2: Here Christ was referring to the priesthood who had stewardship over the Oracles of God. See the paper The Oracles of God (No. 184). They failed, so the stewardship was given to the Church of God.
Luke 16:3-9: Messiah made a distinction in the faith of the elect and those of the world. The unrighteous are the called but not chosen and hence fail. They are not under judgement now. Authority was being removed from Judah and the Levitical priesthood, because they were unfaithful to the laws of God. Christ gave the parable of Lazarus, which was a parable of the Church and a prophecy of both the resurrection and the relationship of Christ and the Church (verses 10-18).
Verses 19-22: The concept here is of the First and Second Resurrections. The distinction between the sons of Abraham of the elect typified by Lazarus and those who were of the linage of Abraham but not of spiritual Israel, but of the world and mammon and the Second Resurrection.
Luke 16:23-24: The story shows the Judaic system confined to the Second Resurrection mentioned in Revelation 20. This is the resurrection of the whole house of Israel referred to in Ezekiel 37:11 and is of the flesh.
Luke 16:25-26: This also refers to the parable of the sheep and the goats, where the nations are rewarded according to their treatment of the elect. Secondly it refers to the elect being refined by fire in persecution (see Rev. chapters 1-6).
Verses 27-28: The five brothers of Judah are the sons of Leah; she had seven children.
Verses 29-31: The nation had Moses and the prophets to warn them, and Lazarus and Messiah were raised from the dead, but they didn't believe or hear the message.
The story has nothing to do with the Greek concepts of heaven and hell or the immoral soul doctrine. It deals with the salvation of Judah and their failure to hear the law and word of God. It deals with their expulsion and dispersion. It is also a direct prophecy by Messiah of the resurrection of Lazarus, which was a powerful sign and wonder performed by him to show Judah the danger they were in then. They didn't listen just as mainstream Christianity doesn't listen today.