The Other Lazarus


By George Feldman

There are two Lazaruses in the New Testament. One of them, along with his two sisters Mary and Martha, enjoyed a close friendship with the Lord. It is recorded in the eleventh chapter of John that, traumatic circumstances befell that family. Lazarus became very ill and died. His sisters called for the Lord Who raised Lazarus from the dead even though he had been dead four days. This caused the consternation of the chief priest and Pharisees who hated the Lord to the point that they plotted His death.

So the Lazarus who was raised from the dead was a real life person, but the other Lazarus we read about in Luke 16 is a fictional character. He is part of a suppositional story originated by the Lord to expose and rebuke the cruel hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

The pharisees were a powerful and cruel caste system that controlled the priesthood, the courts and all Jewish society. They loved only themselves and treated the poor shamefully. They made poverty to be a virtue that would be rewarded with wealth in the life to come. This is what they taught the poor, but they enjoyed great wealth and the reversal did not apply to them. The pharisees had the power to excommunicate from the life of Israel anyone who transgressed against them. There was no hope of pardon and no one dared to help or do business with those ostracized. These were the "sinners" mentioned in the gospel records. Out of desperation some of these "sinners" became publicans or tax collectors for the Romans. But many of them showed their real character and became the first disciples of John the Baptist and Christ.

The Lord told this story with irony, or sarcasm, directed with ridicule against the pharisees. The real meaning intended is contrary to the way He expressed it. This story is not the gospel. It is not the place to go to find what our Lord taught about death, the state of the dead, future punishment, or future bliss.