Question: Is the story of Lazarus and the rich man a parable or should it be understood literally?
Answer: The story of Lazarus and the rich man is recorded in (Luke 16:19-31). All the Jews listening to this story understood clearly that Jesus was using a well-known myth to illustrate a point. If we take a closer look at this story, we will understand that this parable is filled with symbols that Jesus never meant for us to take literally. Here are some facts to show that Luke 16:19–31 is a parable:
- Abraham’s bosom is not heaven (Hebrews 11:8–10, 16).
- Sinners in hell can’t talk to the saints in heaven (Isaiah 65:17).
- The dead are sleeping in their graves (Job 17:13; John 5:28, 29). The rich man was in bodily form with eyes, a tongue, etc., yet we know that the body does not go to hell at death but remains in the grave, as the Bible says.
- People are given their rewards at Christ’s second coming, not at death (Revelation 22:12).
- The sinners are cast into hell at the end of the world, not when they die (Matthew 13:40–42).
So what is the meaning of the parable?
The rich man symbolized the Jewish nation, who were rich in spiritual truths and feasted on God’s Word while the beggar at the gate, symbolized the Gentiles who were hungry for the truth. Jesus concluded the parable with this statement, “If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31).
And as if in response to the challenge of the Jewish leaders for greater evidence when they said, “if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent” (v.30), Jesus few weeks later raised from the dead a man named Lazarus.
Yet, most of the Jewish leaders still chose not to believe (John 12:9-11). The Jews thus gave a literal demonstration of the truth of Jesus’ statement here, that those who reject the OT would reject “greater” light, even the testimony of one who “rose from the dead.”
In His service,