Category: Lazarus


There are two men named Lazarus in the Bible. The first Lazarus is the subject of a story told by Jesus (Luke 16:19–31). Lazarus was very poor, probably homeless, and definitely a beggar (verse 20). He often stayed at the gate of a rich man in hopes of getting scraps from his table. Both men died, and Jesus tells of how Lazarus was taken to “Abraham’s side,” a place of comfort and rest, while the rich man went to “Hades,” a place of conscious torment (verses 22–23). Some Bible scholars believe that Jesus was telling a parable, that is, a fictional story not meant to be a literal account. However, Jesus uses actual names in the story, He does not interpret the story, and neither does He add a moral to the end. He lets the story stand for itself. Because of these details, the story of Lazarus and the rich man could be a true account, relating the actual fates of Lazarus and the unbelieving rich man. Either way, Jesus’ teaching on the reality of heaven and hell is clear. The Lazarus in Jesus’ story does not appear anywhere else in the Bible, and we do not know when in the timeline of history he may have lived, if he was a real person.

The second Lazarus, also called Lazarus of Bethany, was the brother of Mary and Martha. These three siblings were friends and disciples of Jesus, and they were people Jesus loved (John 11:5). Once, an urgent message came from Bethany to Jesus: His friend Lazarus had become ill, and Mary and Martha wanted Jesus to come and heal him, for he was near death. Jesus then puzzled His disciples and friends. He started by saying that the illness would not lead to death; rather, it would be for God’s glory (John 11:4). Then Jesus stayed two days where He was, instead of going to see Lazarus (verses 5–6). During Jesus’ delay, Lazarus died, but Jesus referred to Lazarus as “asleep” and told the disciples He was going to wake him up (John 11:11). The disciples assumed that Jesus had not visited Lazarus in the first place because He knew Lazarus would heal on his own, so they said, “Lord, if he sleeps, he will get better,” clearly thinking of physical sleep (John 11:12). Then Jesus told them plainly that Lazarus had died, but they were still going to see him (verse 14). Thomas perfectly expresses the disciples’ confused frustration by saying, “Let us also go, that we may die with him” (verse 16)—the area of Bethany was full of Jesus’ enemies (verse 8).

When they arrived at Lazarus’ home in Bethany, they found Mary and Martha grief-stricken. They had buried their brother four days earlier. Jesus had not come to help. They were confused and frustrated, but their faith in Jesus was intact (John 11:17–36). Everything became clear when Jesus did the unexpected: He went to Lazarus’ tomb and raised him from the dead (verses 43–44).

The entire episode of Lazarus’ sickness, death, and resurrection worked toward giving glory to God and increasing the faith of Jesus’ followers, just as Jesus had said when He heard of Lazarus’ illness. Just before He raised Lazarus, Jesus prayed, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me, but I said this for the benefit of the people standing here, that they may believe that you sent me” (John 11:41–42). Jesus’ prayer was answered: Lazarus came back to life, and “many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him” (verse 45).

When Jesus called to Lazarus, Lazarus emerged from the tomb—not a zombie or half-dead or undead, but fully alive and well. Such is the power of Christ. Scripture never records what Lazarus experienced during his four days in the tomb. We assume that his soul/spirit was in paradise, where the other Lazarus was.

After Lazarus was raised from the dead, the chief priests and Pharisees plotted to kill him, because so many witnesses to the miracle believed in Jesus (John 12:10–11). The enemies of Christ couldn’t deny the miracle; the next best thing, in their view, was to destroy the evidence—in this case, the evidence was a living, breathing person. But they couldn’t stop the truth from spreading: “A large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead” (John 12:9).

 Luke  16:19-31 contains the account of a very rich man who lived a life of extreme  luxury. Laid outside the gate of this rich man’s house, however, was an  extremely poor man named Lazarus who simply hoped “to eat what fell from the  rich man’s table” (v. 21). The rich man was completely indifferent to the plight  of Lazarus, showing him no love, sympathy, or compassion whatsoever.   Eventually, they both died. Lazarus went to heaven, and the rich man went to  hell. Appealing to “Father Abraham” in heaven, the rich man requested that  Lazarus be sent to cool his tongue with a drop of water to lessen his “agony in  this fire.” The rich man also asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth to  warn his brothers to repent so that they would never join him in hell. Both  requests were denied. Abraham told the rich man that if his brothers did not  believe in Scripture, neither would they believe a messenger, even if he came  straight from heaven.

There is some question as to whether this story is  a true, real-life account or a parable, since two of its characters are named  (making it unique among parables).  Parable or not, however, there is a much we  can learn from this passage:

First of all, Jesus teaches here that  heaven and hell are both real, literal places. Sadly, many preachers shy away  from uncomfortable topics such as hell. Some even teach “universalism” – the  belief that everyone goes to heaven. Yet Christ spoke about hell a great deal,  as did Paul, Peter, John, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews. The Bible is clear  that every person who has ever lived will spend eternity in either heaven or  hell. Like the rich man in the story,  multitudes today are complacent in their  conviction that all is well with their soul, and many will hear our Savior tell  them otherwise when they die (Matthew  7:23).

This story also illustrates that once we cross the eternal  horizon, that’s it. There are no more chances. The transition to our eternal  state takes place the moment we die (2  Corinthians 5:8; Luke 23:43Philippians  1:23). When believers die, they are immediately in the conscious fellowship  and joys of heaven. When unbelievers die, they are just as immediately in the  conscious pain, suffering, and torment of hell. Notice the rich man didn’t ask  for his brothers to pray for his release from some purgatorial middle ground,  thereby expediting his journey to heaven. He knew he was in hell, and he knew  why. That’s why his requests were merely to be comforted and to have a warning  sent to his brothers. He knew there was no escape. He was eternally separated  from God, and Abraham made it clear to him that there was no hope of ever  mitigating his pain, suffering, or sorrow. Those in hell will perfectly  recollect missed opportunities and their rejection of the gospel.

Like  many these days who buy into the “prosperity gospel,” the rich man wrongly saw  his material riches as evidence of God’s love and blessing. Likewise, he  believed the poor and destitute, like Lazarus, were cursed by God. Yet, as the  apostle James exhorted, “You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence.  You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter” (James 5:5). Not only do riches not get one into heaven,  but they have the power to separate a person from God in a way that few other  things can. Riches are deceitful (Mark 4:19). It  is certainly not impossible for the very rich to enter heaven (many heroes of  the Bible were wealthy), but Scripture is clear that it is very hard (Matthew 19:23-24; Mark 10:23-25; Luke 18:24-25).

True followers of Christ will not be indifferent to the plight of the poor like  the rich man in this story was.  God loves the poor and is offended when His  children neglect them (Proverbs  17:5; 22:9, 22-2329:7; 31:8-9). In fact, those  who show mercy to the poor are in effect ministering to Christ personally (Matthew  25:35-40).  Christians are known by the fruit they bear. The Holy Spirit’s  residence in our hearts will most certainly impact how we live and what we  do.

Abraham’s words in verses 29 and 31 referring to “Moses and the  Prophets” (Scripture) confirms that understanding the revealed Word of God has  the power to turn unbelief into faith (Hebrew 4:12; James 1:181 Peter  1:23). Furthermore, knowing Scripture helps us to understand that God’s  children, like Lazarus, can suffer while on this earth—suffering is one of the  many tragic consequences of living in a sinful and fallen world.

The  Bible says our earthly lives are a “mist that appears for a little while and  then vanishes” (James 4:14).  Our earthly sojourn is exceedingly brief. Perhaps the greatest lesson to learn  from this story, then, is that when death comes knocking on our door there is  only one thing that matters: our relationship with Jesus Christ.  “What  good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?”  (Matthew  16:26; Mark 8:36).  Eternal life is only found in Christ.  “God has given us eternal life, and this  life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of  God does not have life” (1 John  5:11-12). The truth is, if we wish to live apart from God during our time on  earth, He will grant us our wish for eternity as well. As one pastor aptly said,  “If you board the train of unbelief, you will have to take it all the way to its  destination.”