Lazarus and the Rich Man

“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.” (Luke 16:22)

Many scholars believe that the episode reported in Luke 16:19-31 actually happened, that it is a true story. If it is a parable, it is not identified as such, and it is the only one in which the name of a participant is given. Christ related the story as if it were true. But whether history or parable, we can learn much from the contrast between these two dramatically different men, their deaths and destinies.

The rich man, of course, surrounded himself with luxury (v. 19) while Lazarus struggled each day just to survive until the next poverty-filled and pain-wracked day (vv. 20-21).

No one can escape the grave, however, and in the passage of time, both died. But, rather than reducing those two different individuals to the commonality of death, their differences actually are heightened. The rich man, “being in torments” (v. 23), was aware of the comfort of Lazarus in “Abraham’s bosom” (v. 22). The interchange between the rich man and Abraham, and the timeless instruction Christ gave, are well known.

Note also the contrast between “carried” and “buried” in our text. The beggar’s body was no doubt unceremoniously dumped into a pauper’s grave, while the rich man’s corpse was placed in a costly sepulcher and his funeral attended by many friends and mourners. But look beyond the earthly spectrum. While the rich man begs for mercy and relief from torment, the poor man’s eternal spirit is “carried” (literally “carried off” or “borne away”) by a convoy of angelic beings into the presence of God, where “now he is comforted” (v. 25). For Lazarus, and indeed for all who die in the Lord, “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54). JDM

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