What does the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus mean?
Briefly, this is the 5th in a series of 5 parables told by Jesus. A parable is a story used to explain a spiritual lesson or show the difference between right and wrong.
There is nothing stating the Rich Man is wicked or the Poor Man is good. Therefore, there is nothing said about the wicked going into eternal torment at death. Obviously, the story is symbolic, as interpreting the story literally creates absurdities.
All wearing purple and fine linen who eat heartedly every day are placed in a furnace of fire. It would mean unless we are poverty-stricken beggars and full of sores and hanging out with dogs, we would never be able to arrive – not in heaven – but in Abraham’s bosom (which makes no sense – how does everyone fit?) when we depart this life. (No one was able to go to heaven anyway before Jesus died to open the way.)
Upon closer inspection, the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a remarkable prophecy of the conditions relating to the Jews and the Gentiles and their role reversals of having God’s favor. Jesus, warning the Pharisees, predicted they and the nation of Israel being “rich” with God’s favor and looking down upon the Gentiles pictured by Lazarus, would soon have that favor removed as the Gentiles were given the opportunity to hear and respond to the gospel message. Jesus was illustrating the suffering the nation of Israel would experience because of their hardened hearts.
God has a comprehensive plan that includes every man, woman and child who ever lived. The Bible describes it in two phases – a heavenly phase for footstep followers of Jesus and an earthly phase for the “everyone else.” There are consequences for what we do, say and think in this life, but it is absolutely not eternal torture with no hope of learning, growing, forgiving or reconciliation.
For an in depth study on this parable listen to our series, “Is the Hell of the Christian Tradition Taught in the Bible?”