QUOTES: The Rich Man, Lazarus, and Abraham by Steven Cox

First of all read Luke 16:19-31

So Cox writes,

Who are the characters?

The Rich Man = ?

His father = ?

His five brothers = ?

Lazarus= ?

Abraham = ?

It seems easiest to start where there is likely to be most agreement, that Abraham is the Abraham of Genesis.

Next easiest is Lazarus. There is only one person of this name found in the Bible, namely Lazarus of Bethany, the brother of Mary and Martha who was raised from the dead by Jesus in John 11:1-44. Comparing the parallel accounts of the anointing in Bethany in John 12:3 and Matthew 26:6 we find that Lazarus’ other name was Simon, and that he had been a leper. The leprosy must have been healed when Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, but he was still known as "Simon the Leper".

This explains why the Lazarus in the parable was "full of sores" (Luke 16:20). The begging had nothing to do with poverty, it was because he was unclean. According to the Law of Moses, Simon would have been ceremonially unclean and could not enter his own house in Bethany; "he must live outside the camp" (Leviticus 13:46).

So we have two men, both Jews, both called Lazarus, both beggars, both lepers, both of whom died, and both of whom would not convince people by their resurrection (compare Luke 16:30-31 and John 12:10).

This is too many coincidences for them not to have been the same person. So:

Abraham= Abraham

Lazarus = Lazarus

This would lead us to expect the Rich Man is also someone known to the audience of the parable.

Who was the Rich Man?

Reading through the story we can find the following clues to the identity of the Rich Man:

he was rich (vs.19)

dressed in purple and fine linen (vs.19)

lived in luxury every day (vs.19)

in his lifetime he received good things (vs.25)

he had five brothers (vs.28)

they lived in his father’s house (vs.27)

they had Moses and the Prophets (vs.25)

but they did not listen to them (vs.29)

they would not be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead (vs.31)

It is not obvious to the modern reader who this Rich Man is. But it should be clear that the picture is much too detailed to simply be ‘a representative of all rich men’.

But the Pharisees listening would have known immediately whom Christ was referring to. There was not any chance of their mistaking it, because only one man in Israel dressed in purple and fine linen. A man who fitted exactly all the clues which Jesus gave as to the identity of the Rich Man.

As in Luke’s previous parable of the Dishonest Steward, the key to the meaning lies in the Old Testament. In Exodus 28 we find the instructions given to Aaron for making the high priest’s garments; "blue, purple, and scarlet yarn and fine linen" (note Exodus 28:5-8,15,31,39). The Pharisees could not fail to understand that the man dressed in purple and fine linen was the Jewish high priest.

The Name of the Rich Man

The high priest when Jesus spoke this parable was Caiaphas. We know from the Jewish historian Josephus, who wrote a detailed account of the period in Antiquities of the Jews, that Caiaphas met all 4 of the first qualifications of the Rich Man of Luke 16:

1. he was rich (v.19)

2. dressed in purple and fine linen (v.19)

3. lived in luxury every day (v.19)

4. in his lifetime he received good things (v.25)

(see Antiquities, XIII: 10:vi:p.281, XVIII:1:iv:p.377, also Wars of the Jews 11:8:xiv: p. 478)

His Father’s House

In Luke 3:2 and Acts 4:6 we meet the other high priest who served with Caiaphas, Annas, who was "father-in-law to Caiaphas" (John 18:13). Josephus also records that Caiaphas served as high priest 18-35AD at the time of Jesus’ ministry. Annas had been removed from his office by the Romans for openly resisting them, but behind the scenes he retained his authority and position. This is why in John 18:13-24 Jesus is first tried by Annas, and only afterwards sent to Caiaphas (v.28), but then Caiaphas, not Annas, sends Jesus to Pilate (v.29).

Five Brothers

In case anyone listening did not understand who He meant, Christ was even more specific: The "five brothers" Christ mentions are the five other high priests, who were in fact his five brothers-in-law, the five sons of Annas. The historian Josephus records:

"Now the report goes, that this elder Annas proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons, who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and he had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. . ." (Antiquities, Book XX, chapter 9, section i, p.423)

The years they served are as follows:

Eleazar 16-17AD

Jonathan 36-37AD

Theophilus 37-41AD

Matthias 41-43AD

Annas the Younger 62AD

As mentioned above, the years 18-35AD between Eleazar and Jonathan were occupied by Caiaphas. Between 43-62AD the high priests were taken from other families than of Annas. Finally in 70AD the temple was destroyed and the high priesthood along with it.

This confirms the list of coincidences between the Rich Man and Caiaphas:

5. he had five brothers (v.28)

6. they lived in his father’s house (v.27)

7. they had Moses and the Prophets (v.25)

8. but they did not listen to them (v.29)

The final coincidence is confirmed when after the resurrection of Simon of Bethany, we read that "the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him" (John 12:10)

9. they would not be convinced even if someone were to rise from the dead (v.31)

John 12:10 also confirms another coincidence between the Lazarus of the parable and Simon Lazarus of Bethany. The resurrection of both was rejected by Annas and his five sons.

Summary so far

We have established the identity of all the characters:

Abraham = Abraham

Lazarus = Simon the Leper of Bethany

The Rich Man = Caiaphas

His father = Annas

His 5 brothers = Eleazar, Jonathan, Theophilus, Matthias, Annas the Younger

The Bosom of Abraham

"The time came when the beggar died, and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side" (v.22 NIV).

Now this is where the story starts to become difficult. Nowhere else in the Bible does it say that when men die they go to Abraham’s side. In older Bibles it reads "bosom of Abraham", meaning the lap of Abraham.

Today there are a hundred and one different theories about death. Many people seriously believe when they die they will go up to the gates of Heaven, to be met by the Apostle Peter. Others believe other things. But the idea that the dead go to sit 'in the lap' of Abraham is something that nobody today believes.

But people did believe it in Jesus' day. Mentions of "the bosom of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" have been found in burial papyri (cf. papyrus Preisigke Sb 2034:11). In early Rabbinical legends "the Bosom of Abraham" was where the righteous went. (cf. Kiddushin 72b, Ekah 1:85). It is not in the Bible of course, but it was popularly believed.

While the NIV has "to Abraham's side", the literal AV rendering "to the bosom of Abraham" is better as the 'Bosom of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob', was a specific concept in contemporary popular belief.

Another source showing what Jews of Jesus' day believed is a book called 4 Maccabees, which was probably written by Jews in Egypt about a generation after Christ. In this work of fiction Abraham, Isaac and Jacob receive and welcome Jewish martyrs into the world of the dead:

"After our death in this fashion Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will receive us and all our forefathers will praise us" (4 Maccabees 13:17).

Again, this is not Bible teaching, only popular superstition.

COMMENT: Jesus could add layers of meaning but it is too much of a stretch to imagine this is about Caiaphas.  There were loads of rich men.  Any one of them could be the one in purple every day!  So it is not certain then who the five brothers are.  They could be anybody.  If Jesus meant what Cox thinks he did, then Jesus was clearly using the story as a weapon against Jewish leaders.  Jesus used rich man when rich priest would have been better!  It was not used for it is not what the story is about.