The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’
25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’
27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’
29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’
30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’
31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
Observations & Reflections
This is an incredibly powerful parable that Jesus tells yet many people tend to dig too deep and argue about the minutia rather than the core. For example, what is Abraham’s bosom? How could the rich man communicate from the pit? Why was Lazarus carried off into heaven like Elijah or Enoch? How could the rich man see Lazarus from Hades? While these questions can be fun to delve into, we can also lose sight of the reason this parable is even told. Namely, that the love of riches and lack of care for the poor will be you doom.
Jesus is still in a long teaching section in Luke’s gospel and has not yet finished with the Pharisees and the religious elites. One can be sure that this parable was not one revealing deep mysteries about the after life but one of revealing a great warning to those who have neither mercy nor humility. The Pharisees who Jesus sees as fat cats praying off the weak and poor are going to have an afterlife that is quite the opposite of what they lived here on the earth. The time to change is now because soon it will be too late.
All that being said, I would like to make a special note on the phrase “Abraham’s bosom” because it is so highly studied and debated. The Hebrew phrase [בחיקו שׁל אברהם] quite literally means “on Abraham’s lap”. In the centuries leading up to Jesus’ time it was common for the honored guest at a dinner to sit so closely to the host that it was said the guest was in the man’s bosom. It was a place of honor and security. It was believed that those who were martyred for the Jewish cause and those who were truly righteous would one day have this place of honor in heaven with Abraham. Some of the inter-testamental books describe snippets of this belief.
16 Therefore let us put on the full armor of self-control, which is divine reason. 17 For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us.” 18 Those who were left behind said to each of the brothers who were being dragged away, “Do not put us to shame, brother, or betray the brothers who have died before us.” (4 Maccabees 3:16-18)
Thus we must understand that Abraham’s bosom is where the righteous will go after the mortal death, though temporary in some ancient texts. However, bosom is not a code word meaning some known or unknown place. It literally means by Abraham’s side as a place oh honor.