The Rich Man and Lazarus and Lazarus Raised from the Dead
Luke 16:19-31, esp. 30-31. John 11, esp. 11:45-46.
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus is given only by Luke, and it is the only parable in which a personal name is provided for one of the characters. In John, but none of the other three gospels, is the account of the raising of another Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, who died and spent four days decaying in a tomb. Luke’s Lazarus and John’s Lazarus both die. The two Lazaruses are different men sharing the same name, but Luke and John connect the men with a common warning regarding accepting Christ regardless of the evidence, and rejecting Christ in spite of the evidence.
Read Luke 16:19-31. An unnamed rich man enjoys the good life while poor Lazarus suffers outside the rich man’s house. The rich man dies and goes to Hades. Lazarus dies and goes to Heaven. The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus back to life and back to earth to warn his five brothers. Abraham tells the rich man that this is not only impossible, but also that the brothers wouldn’t believe Lazarus even if they saw the living dead man face-to-face:
27 So the rich man said, ‘Then I beg you, father—send Lazarus to my father’s house 28 (for I have five brothers) to warn them so that they don’t come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they must respond to them.’ 30 Then the rich man said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ 31 He replied to him, ‘If they do not respond to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
They will not be convinced even if they witness this Lazarus returned from heaven, or even their brother returned from hell, carrying testimony in a personal message from Abraham or Christ.
Next read John 11:1-46. Jesus is warned that his friend Lazarus is near death, with the unstated desire by Mary and Martha that the powerful Jesus should travel to their home and heal their brother. Jesus “wastes” time — a full three days — before traveling a distance to Mary and Martha’s home and calling the dead Lazarus back to life at the outside of his tomb. John notes the reaction of the many witnesses:
45 Then many of the people, who had come with Mary and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in him. 46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and reported to them what Jesus had done. (NET)
Sheesh! Yet some of them rejected Christ and joined with the Pharisees.
Not even Jesus, seen in person, face-to-face, performing the most powerful of miracles, can convince all lost souls to accept and follow him. Luke’s Lazarus returned to earth will not convince a rich man’s five brothers. John’s Lazarus returned to life will fail to convince some in a crowd of curious onlookers.
This is a remarkable thing. We note with James 2:19 that mere belief in Jesus is no big deal. Not even being an awestruck personal witness to Christ’s powers meets the requirements for salvation. One must set aside temporal life (the five brothers) and follow Christ. One must emphatically choose Jesus (not the Pharisees) and nobody else.
Our Bible Bit here, however, is to ask how it came to be that Luke and John (and God, really) both used a character named Lazarus to make this crucial point about salvation.
John was likely the latest gospel written. His character Lazarus is historic. John gives Lazarus this name because Lazarus was in fact the man’s name.
Christ or Luke could have chosen any name for the fictional truth of a parable. The poor man might have been named Fred, or Bob, but instead he is Lazarus. No other parable uses a real name for a character. Our Bible Bits sniff test suggests that this is no accident.
We observe that the account of the raising of Lazarus by Christ comes near the end (as best we can tell) of Jesus’ three year ministry. We suggest that the telling of the Lazarus parable (and most others) occurred several or many times, and most or all of these happened in the two years (or so) prior to the events at Mary and Martha and Lazarus’ home. Are we correct?
Did a later editor insert the name Lazarus into Luke’s parable of the Rich Man and Poor Man?
When Jesus told the Lazarus parable, did he always us the name Lazarus? (We have no way of knowing, but we can speculate.)
We encourage you to read the Bible for yourself, and study it with the support of the many learned, devoted Christians who have written good analyses over the past 2000 years.
Blessings to you!