Summary of a study presented on April 21, 2013 in Zoetemeer, The Netherlands.
The story Jesus told about the rich man and Lazarus is traditionally taken as the main source of information about death and the dead. It is suggested that the ignorance of the "Old Testament" about the state of the dead is, hereby, canceled. But it is the reverse: when we listen to "Moses and the prophets," then we know that the usual explanation of this parable must be incorrect.
The story of the rich man and Lazarus is a parable. That is not said so, explicitly, but neither is that said about the previous parables in Luke 15 and 16. Only the first story in Luke 15 is expressly called a parable. According to Matthew 13:34, it was standard for Jesus to always speak to the multitudes in parables, so that it did not need to be especially mentioned.
Parables have wrongly the reputation to clarify matters. But Jesus spoke to the multitudes in parables to hide matters, so they would not understand. Eventually(!) they were explained to his disciples, but never to the multitudes (Matt.13:10-13).
Nowhere in the gospel accounts do we find a passage, which is so clearly spoken in a metaphorical sense, as in Luke 16:19-31. Would we take it literally, then we must assume that after dying, but before the resurrection, a human being has a body. In this section, after all, mention is made of eyes, finger, tongue, but also of physical sensations such as thirst and torment. How can this be reconciled with even the doctrine of the immortal soul, which states that man, between dying and resurrection, is still awaiting a body?
If we assume that Luke 16:19-31 informs us about the literal situation after dying, then we can conclude that not only the place of torment is dreadful, but that "Abraham's bosom" is not much less. Just imagine, having "the joyful view", only a few steps away of the place of flames and torment, and where it is possible to communicate back and forth…
Nowhere in the Tanakh, do we find an indication of a consciousness in death. On the contrary, we find statements like:
* "The dead do not praise You" (Isa.38:18)
* "The dead cannot praise the LORD" (Ps.115:17)
* "There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave" (Eccl.9: 10)
* "The dead know nothing" (Eccl.9:5)
The Hebrew Bible is not ignorant about the dead. It clearly testifies that the dead are ignorant (unconscious)! If the Bible passage in Luke 16 makes anything clear, it is this that man should listen to "Moses and the prophets" (:29,:31). Then we know immediately that Luke 16 must be a parable.
In addition, that the presentation in Luke 16, about the condition of the dead, is contrary to what Moses and the prophets reveal, it also is to be noted that Jesus' terminology, associated with death and Hades, is taken from the Talmud.
Expressions and concepts such as:
* carried by angels
* Abraham's bosom
* The great chasm
are equally unknown in Scripture as they are known in Jewish traditions.
The context of Luke 16 shows that it is on the one hand, about the contrast between the scribes and Pharisees and on the other hand, Jesus, who received the publicans and sinners and ate with them (Luke 15:1). In Luke 16:14 it is additionally mentioned that the Pharisees were covetous and taunted Jesus. In that context, the rich man and Lazarus can easily be identified.
The rich man in this story represents the Jewish leaders. It is significant that he was dressed in purple and fine linen. Purple is a clothing-fabric that was worn by kings. Fine linen was worn by the priests. Purple and fine linen, therefore, represent the people called to be a royal priesthood. Specifically, the rich man is also pictured as a child of Abraham.
Purple: Esther 8:15; fine linen: Exodus 28:5; royal priesthood: Exodus 19:6; Child of Abraham: Luke 16:24,25.
Lazarus stands for those who need help. Lazarus comes from the Hebrew Eliezer and Eleazer. Lazarus means God is my helper. Lazarus was laid down at the gate of the rich man to still his hunger with the crumbs that had fallen from the table of the rich man. He represents the outcast and is associated with the dogs, a depiction of the Gentiles (Matthew 15:24-27; Luke 15:1-3).
Lazarus represents those who were callously ignored by the rich man (the Jewish leaders), but they knew God as their Helper. Jesus' death marked for them the big change: messengers made them aware of the promised blessing of Abraham: life out of death (Galatians 3:14; 4:28,29)
The death of the rich man refers to the (temporary) end of the Jewish nation. In the figurative language, used in the Bible, Israel came to be in the grave of the nations and in the flames of anti-Semitism (Ezekiel 37:12; Hosea 6:1-3).
Towards the end of Deuteronomy, Moses extensively prophesied about the terrible fate that would overtake Israel in the dispersion among the nations (Chapters 28 and 29). Chapter 32 is dealing with that, also. It says that YAHWEH would hide His face from them (32:20) and He would make them jealous of what is not a nation and of a foolish people (32:21; cf Rom.10:19!). And in that context, we read: "for a FIRE is kindled in My anger, it burns down to the depths of Hades… "(Deut.32:22). A striking resemblance to Luke 16: it is about the fate of Israel in the grave of the nations.
The (present) allotment of Lazarus (God is my Helper) and that of the rich man is impossible for people to bridge. It is God Himself who opens eyes and who hardens hearts. The ever so much privileged leaders of the Jewish people are dead during two days (= two millennia; Hos 6:1-3; 2Pet.3:8) while a despised people, who are no nation (see above) during this time, receive the blessing of Abraham.
A remarkable detail that confirms that the rich man is a representation of (the leaders) the Jewish people is that the rich man says, "I have five brothers." With this, he as yet gets a name, because of Judah (from which the word "Jew" is derived), we read that he had five brothers (Genesis 35:23, Luke 16:27).
The end of the parable is the climax, as well as the point of the parable. The request of the rich man to warn his family (the house of Jacob) by someone rises from the dead, is rejected by Abraham. They have "Moses and the prophets" (=the Hebrew Bible) and to it they should give heed. Is it not ironic that Jesus, by using a Pharisaical story, irrefutably and plainly exposes the Pharisaical errors?! Who does not listen to Moses and the prophets, is blocked, in advance, to understand the parable; for the idea of consciousness and knowledge in the grave, is squarely at odds with "Moses and the prophets!"
Concerning the deceased Lazarus, mentioned in the account of John (chapter 11), Jesus says: "… Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going, there, to awaken him out of sleep." In many places of Scripture, death is compared to sleep, i.e., a state of non-awareness. This Lazarus was actually raised from the dead and we read that the leaders of Israel considered killing him. This proves that they would not accept instructions from someone arisen from the dead. On the contrary.
John 11:11; 12:9-11.
Translation: Peter Feddema