"And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried,' And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom."
Either this story about the rich man and Lazarus is literally true or it is a parable. Here are four reasons why it could not possibly be literalistic:
- The beggar died and was taken by the angels to Abraham's bosom. No one believes that Abraham' s literal bosom is the abode of the righteous dead. It is a figurative or parabolic expression. Incidentally, the angels will gather the saints, but according to Matthew 24:31, this will take place at the coming of Jesus, not at a person's death.
- Heaven and hell were separated by a gulf, and yet the persons in each could converse with each other. There are probably few individuals in the world who believe that this will be literally true of the saved and the lost (Luke 16:26).
- The rich man was in hell with a body. He had eyes, a tongue, etc. (Luke 16:24). How did his body get into hellfire instead of into the grave? I know of no one who teaches that the bodies of the wicked go into hell as soon as they die. This story could not be literal.
- The request for Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and come through the flames to cool the rich man's tongue is obviously not literal. How much moisture would be left and how much relief would it give? The whole story is unrealistic and parabolic.
The rich man undoubtedly represented the Jews in the parable because only a Jew would pray to "father Abraham." The beggar symbolised the Gentiles, who were counted unworthy to receive the truth. In Matthew 15:27, the Canaanite woman acknowledged that her people were beggars at the table of the Jews.
Christ probably chose the name of Lazarus to use in the parable because later he would actually raise Lazarus from the dead. And the climactic point of the entire parable is found in verse 31: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." Sure enough, they didn't believe even when one named Lazarus was raised before them.