A Parable for the Ages

 Theme Text
'Son of man, set forth an allegory and tell it to the Israelites as a parable' (Ezekiel 17:2 NIV)
His disciples asked him what this parable meant. He said, 'This is the meaning of the parable' (Luke 8:9-11 NIV)

1) We studied the actual meaning of the various words translated as hell in the Bible - Sheol/Hades, Gehenna and Tartaroo. But some take the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus literally and preach torment. Is that correct?
There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: and there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, and desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom(Luke 16:19-31).
We know parables are stories with symbolic messages. In a parable the thing said is never the thing meant (See Luke 8:9-11 NIV).
Was the Parable of the Yeast a bread-making recipe? In the Parable of the Sower, was Jesus talking farming techniques? Not really. We know what yeast and the different seeds symbolized. And in the Parable of the Weeds, he said wheat signifies God’s children, and weeds symbolize children of the devil.
We know he used a whole set of symbols in other parables too.

2) If taken literally, the Rich Man and Lazarus parable seems to imply some absurdities. What are they?

  • Lazarus is blessed not because of faithfulness, but simply because he was sick and poor. Say what?
    • So if this is taken literally, we can assume that only the poor and sick will be saved!
  • If this hell is literal, mustn’t Abraham's bosom also be a literal place where millions of poor will reside­?

3) Jesus told this parable as a symbolic lesson to the Jewish Pharisees. What really was his message?

  • The Rich Man symbolized the Jewish nation – Israel had inherited God’s promise to Abraham (Genesis 22) through Isaac and Jacob (father of the 12 Israeli tribes).
    • Israelites had ‘fared sumptuously’- Paul said they enjoyed advantage much every way: chiefly, because to them were committed the oracles of God [Law and Prophecy]’.
    • They were God’s royal nation signified by the Rich Man's purple.
    • The sacrifices of the Law made them holy, shown by the Rich Man’s fine linen.
  • The beggar Lazarus represented Gentiles. At that time, the Gentiles were outsiders - not under divine favor, not under the Law.
    Sick with sin, they hungered for righteousness. They lay at the gate of the Rich Man.
    In those days, many Israelites, as they had the privilege to worship the true God, considered the ungodly idol-worshipping Gentiles as heathen/dogs, and wouldn’t have anything to do with them (John 4:9).
    How did Gentiles eat of the crumbs of God’s favor that fell from Israel's table of riches?
    • The conversation between Jesus and the Canaanite woman gives us a key: ‘First let the children [Israelites] eat all they want, for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs [Gentiles].
    • ‘Lord,’ she replied, ‘even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.’ (Mark 7:27-28 NIV). Jesus healed her daughter, thus giving the desired crumb of favor.

4) What do the events that happen after the death of the Rich man and Lazarus signify?

  • Israel underwent a change in era after some of their leaders at that time rejected and handed over God's Messiah to be killed by the Romans. As the Apostles wrote, the kingdom of God that had been theirs exclusively till then, was taken and given to a nation who will produce its fruits i.e. the ‘Church’ - believers in Christ (including both Jews and Gentiles), ‘a holy nation, a peculiar people’ (1Peter 2:9; Matthew 21:43).
    Thus the Rich Man died to all his special privileges.
  • Lazarus also died – i.e. the Gentiles too experienced a great change.
    Angels i.e. messengers/Apostles carried them to what is symbolized by Abraham's bosom - heirship to the promises made to Abraham. Apostle Paul declared to the Gentiles, ‘If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed and heirs according to the [Abrahamic] promise’ (Galatians 3:29 NIV).
  • ‘In hell [hades/grave/pit] he [the Rich Man] lifted up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off’ -
    This depicted the torments that the Israelites underwent. It showed them pleading from a lowered state (pit) to the formerly low Gentiles (Lazarus), starting with the ruthless Roman Empire.
    And for almost two-thousand years Israelites have been unfairly persecuted by Gentile nations.
    A veil (2 Cor. 3:13-16) of predisposition still exists, but it will be taken away. Paul assures us that ‘Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in [to make up the body of Christ - the ‘Church’], then...the deliverer will come from Zion [the heavenly Church]; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob [earthly Israel] (Romans 11:25-26 NIV).

Yes, this is a parable of the ages indeed. Many scriptures explain its prophetic fulfilment.

Read Next: A History of...What the Hell!