Sunday, 18 September 2011

A rich man in Hades

There is some dispute concerning the story of Lazarus and the rich man. Does it represent a real event, or is it a parable.

After healing a man on the Sabbath day Jesus tells two parables. They are:
  • The Parable of the Wedding Feast; and
  • The Parable of the Great Banquet.
Following this Jesus talks about counting the cost of discipleship illustrating it with an example of kings planning for battle then noting that salt must keep its savour. Then he tells 4 further parables:
  • The Parable of the Lost Sheep;
  • The Parable of the Lost Coin;
  • The Parable of the Prodigal Son;
  • The Parable of the Dishonest Manager.
The Pharisees heard these parables and ridiculed Jesus. Why? Luke states that the Pharisees loved money, and the parables emphasised God's love of people more than money. The parable of the lost son was especially costly for the the father yet he welcomes back the son. And at the end of the parable of the dishonest manager Jesus tells people to use unrighteous wealth to gain friends. Jesus also says that faithfulness in little things like money is rewarded with trust in more important things. Then he adds that one cannot serve God and money.

Jesus then rebukes the Pharisees saying that it is the opinion of God that matters, not the opinion of man, and he tells them that God knows their hearts! He says that the Law and prophets were until the time of John, after which the good news is to be preached; which is what Jesus himself is doing. Yet the Law of the God is not void.

The Pharisees ridicule Jesus for his parables and this is Jesus' response; followed by a discussion about divorce and the story of Lazarus and Dives. As such, these passages may well relate to Jesus' rebuke. The first part suggests that some of the Pharisees were treating divorce lightly when their actions were adulterous—heaven and earth will disappear before God's Law is void. The next story could also be a rebuke.
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ (Luke 16:19-31 ESV)
If this is a parable, it is the only one where a person is given a name. If it is a true story, it is possible the rich man and Lazarus were known to the hearers. If it was meant as an allegory or fable then the characters are representative.

Lazarus is poor and unwell.

The rich man is unnamed. He is wealthy. He dresses well; purple clothing may represent royalty/ rulership. He eats well. He has 5 brothers. And there may also be a subtle hint that his brothers deny the resurrection of the body, a position held by Sadducees.

Lazarus may just be a convenient name, though there is another Lazarus, a brother of Mary and Martha, who subsequent to this story dies and is resurrected. We learn that Mary poured perfume on Jesus' feet (John 12:3). This story is also told in Matthew 26 and Mark 14. It is probably the same event but the woman's name is not given. They are in the house of Simon the Leper. So Lazarus may have known Simon, or Simon may be Lazarus' name.

The rich man may well be Caiaphas. Caiaphas was the son-in-law of Annas. Annas was the high priest some years earlier circa 5 AD. He was removed from office by the Romans. It is thought that he retained some power. Luke calls Annas the high priest (Luk 3:2; Act 4:6).

Josephus tells us that Annas had 5 sons who served as high priests.
Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1).
Their names were:
  • Eleazar
  • Jonathan
  • Theophilus
  • Ananus
  • Matthias
Caiaphas had married Annas' daughter and served as high priest between Eleazar and Jonathan, during the time of this parable and Jesus' crucifixion. Josephus also states that Ananus (the younger) belonged to the Sadducee sect (Antiquities of the Jews, 20.9.1).

Caiaphas fits the position of the rich man in this story: he is wealthy, he has 5 brothers-in-law, he is part of the ruling class (dressed in purple), and at least one of his brothers-in-law probably denies the resurrection.

Jesus told parables against the Pharisees elsewhere (Luk 18:10), and the Pharisees were even aware of this (Mat 21:45).

Interestingly, when Jesus had resurrected Lazarus the chief priests and the Pharisees plot to kill Jesus (John 11:47-53) and Lazarus (John 12:10). They did not take to heart Jesus' earlier story. I think the subsequent resurrection of Lazarus adds credence to the idea that the rich man is Caiaphas. It is a warning to him—one he had not taken by that time.

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