Bible Study

The Rich Man and Lazarus


The first thing to have in mind before and as you read this passage is that this story is not about the geography of heaven and hell.  You will learn nothing here about what either heaven or hell looks like or feels like.  The story may say something about eternal consequences of earthly choices, but you’ll have to tease that out of the text—“read between the lines” as Harland likes to say.


This story is about wealth and poverty and the connection between the two.  It is about the influence of money on the different directions a person’s life may take, but doesn’t have to take.  It is especially about the effect of wealth—both the actual and the potential effect, on relationships between people and among people in a community.


All that is to say, this story is about justice and equity and fairness and generosity.  It is a reminder to the people of God that they are obligated to care for each other and to make sure the gifts of God—given to insure a full and abundant life for all people, are actually available to all people.  These were all core concerns for Jesus, as they were for the Old Testament prophets before him, and they show up especially clearly and often in Luke’s gospel 


Luke 16. 19-31

19 ‘There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. 22The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. 23In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. 24He called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.” 25But Abraham said, “Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. 26Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.” 27He said, “Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house— 28for I have five brothers—that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.” 29Abraham replied, “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” 30He said, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” 31He said to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.” ’


  1. v, 19  Purple cloth was the most expensive to dye and buy.  Fine linen was worn by the High Priest for the holiest services in the temple.  The word “feasted” is in other places translated “cheering” or “rejoicing”.  It’s what Moses told the people to do when they came to the high, holy festivals.  “Every day” tells us this is not occasional, holiday celebration but his normal, day in day out way of living.  What one word can you think of to describe his lifestyle?

  2. v. 20  “…a poor man…” The Greek word here for poor man is “ptochos” and is the same word Jesus used in the Beatitude from Luke 6:20—“Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.”  Do you think the “blessedness” Lazarus enjoys after his death was what Jesus was referring to in the Beatitude?  Why or why not?

  3. That Lazarus lays at the rich man’s gate suggests he was carried there and was not mobile.  Why do you think his friends might have brought him to that gate?

  4. The obligation of the rich to care for the poor was deeply embedded in Jewish theology and ethics (Deuteronomy 15.11 “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land.”).  The Hebrew word for giving alms (tzedakah) comes from the same root as the word for “righteousness” (tzedek).   The rich man was seriously out of harmony with his tradition, his religion, his ancestors and his God.  What was he thinking?  What was he expecting would be the outcome of his life?

  5. IMPORTANT QUESTION: Is their way to think about “hades”, for the rich man and “Abraham’s bosom” (King James translation) for Lazarus that does not conceive of one as punishment and the other as reward?  (Here’s a “by the way” for you— Hades and his brothers ZEUS and POSEIDON defeated their father and the TITANS to end their reign, claiming rulership over the cosmos. They agreed to split their rule with Zeus becoming god of the skies, Poseidon god of the sea and Hades god of the underworld.  Hades became known as the place of the dead in the popular mythology of the day).

  6. Was the rich man in Hades because of his wealth or his faith or something else?  Was Lazarus with Abraham because of his faith or his poverty or something else?  (From the Jewish New Testament scholar Amy Jill Levine: “We might take the next step and suggest that poverty is itself unjust and therefore those who suffer from it must receive recompense”.  Short Stories by Jesus, pg 285)

  7. In Hades, he rich man call for Lazarus by name.  What important insight does this little detail reveal?

  8. You read your Bible and make decisions on what to believe and how to live your life.  If someone you know returned from the dead and told you that you were wrong, what effect would that have on you?  If Jesus came back and said, “That thing about caring to the poor—I meant that!”, what would you do?

  9. For your listening pleasure:  



A Tramp on the Street   (An old Hank Williams tune)


Only a tramp was Lazarus' that day,

When he lay down at the rich man’s gate.

He begged for the crumbs from the rich man to eat.

And they left him to die, like a tramp on the street.


He was somebody's darling, he was some mother’s son.

Once he was fair and once he was young.

And somebody rocked him, her darling to sleep.

But they left him to die like a tramp on the street.


Jesus who died on Calvary’s tree,

Shed his life’s blood for you and for me.

They pierced both his hands and his side and his feet.

Then they left him to die like a tramp on the street.


He was Mary’s own darling, he was God’s only son.

Once he was fair and once he was young.

Mary once rocked him, her darling to sleep.

But they left him to die like a tramp on the street


If Jesus should come and knock on your door

And ask to come in or to eat from your store

Would you let him come in and invite him to eat?

Would you leave him to die, like a tramp on the street?.


He was somebody's darling, he was somebody's son.

Once he was fair and once he was young.

Somebody rocked him, her darling to sleep.

But they left him to die like a tramp on the street


O they left him to die like a tramp on the street