The Rich Man and Lazarus 

We are continuing our study on the topic of Hell. Jesus spoke more of Hell than he did of heaven, in order that men would turn from that place as their destination in eternity to receiving His forgiveness for sin. He told a story about two men’s experiences in eternity. He never states that this is a parable. We will meditate on this for the next few days. Here’s the first part of the story:

 19There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21and 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 side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24So 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’ (Luke 16:19-24)

The color purple in the days of Christ was not an easy commodity to obtain. This rich man was more than likely clothed in Tyrian purple[1] (or Royal purple), the Prada, Armani or top fashion design of the day. The color was extracted from the mucus of a rare sea snail.  Aristotle assigned a value to it of ten to twenty times its weight in gold. The rich man also wore fine linen. The word used in Greek for fine linen is bussos, a strong rare thread secreted by mussels.[2] Kings, such as the Egyptian King Tutankhamen, wore this very expensive cloth. This rich man lived sumptuously every day. He ate the best foods, drank the best wine, and his house was the best mansion in town. We are not overdoing it by presuming that this man was well known in the whole country as someone to be envied. He was an influential celebrity of his day.

We are told that Lazarus was laid at the rich man’s gate or porch. The Greek word translated as “laid” is ballo. Literally, it means to throw out with force. He had been flung roughly, and it seems that he was just left to lay there, life slowly ebbing from him. The gate where Lazarus was thrown was more than likely the rear servant’s entrance where the servants deposited the rubbish and the dogs congregated and licked his dying skin. It was obvious to anyone that Lazarus was very ill, being covered with ulcerated sores. It is also very likely that he was too ill to go anywhere but stay where he was thrown and beg for the scraps of food that fell from the rich man’s table.

Dogs kept licking at his sores, and it is possible that he was too weakened through sickness and hunger to fend them off. We don’t know if the rich man had him thrown out because he was asking him for help or that others in the town had thrown him there because he was a health threat to the local populace. It seems that Lazarus was in no position to help himself. He longed to eat some scraps of food, but he was competing with the dogs for the scraps. Keep in mind that most dogs were not household pets at the time.

The Condition of the Two Men in Eternity: We are not told that anything happened for Lazarus at his death. No funeral, not even a burial was held in his honor. It is likely that, if no one cared for him while he was alive, his death was no different. Scripture speaks loudly in its silence on the subject. Contrast that with the rich man. We are specifically told that he was buried. I feel sure that it was a lavish ceremony with public mourning. His body was probably given a space on the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem as only the rich could afford.

The procession to his burial place would require a horde of professional mourners, hired for such an occasion as was customary at the time. Of course, the rich man couldn’t care less as soon as he died. He was quite surprised to find himself in Hell. While living at the rich man’s gate, it is likely that no one knew the name of Lazarus, but everybody knew the name of the rich man. At the other side of death’s door, though, things are turned around; everybody knows the name of Lazarus. As for the rich man, no one has any idea of who he is, i.e. his name is not known, and all of a sudden he’s a nobody. How sad it is that many who believe that death is annihilation will find themselves very conscious upon entering eternity through death’s door. Let’s talk more about this tomorrow.

Taken from the series Insights into Eternity found in the middle column. Click on the study The Truth About Hell. Keith Thomas

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tyrian_purple

[2] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Byssus

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