Jesus does not give us the name of the rich man (Luke 16:19-31), though He does give us the name of the beggar. There must have been a good reason for this. Perhaps there was no need to make a further spectacle of the rich man. Giving his name, and thus adding to his shame, would not have made the point more potent or made hearers more receptive. Often, however, you will read of commentators referring to him as Dives, but this is merely Latin for “rich man.” Traditions have also handed down a few names for the rich man, but we cannot know for certain if they are correct. In the end, his name really does not matter and thus is not given.
The beggar’s name is given, it is Lazarus. Lazarus is a form of the Hebrew name Eleazar, which means “God is help.” That Jesus gave a specific name indicates that this account might be more than just a parable for in no other parable did Jesus ever give the name of one of the individuals to which He referred. A parable is usually defined as an earthly story with a heavenly meaning. However, it is difficult to see how this is an earthly story with such a vivid depiction of the afterlife.
On the other hand, even if it were a parable, Jesus’ parables only presented that which was real, unless this account is the exception. Jesus never made up fictional characters or places, but used that which was known and used everyday. The parable of the lost coin, the lost sheep, the parable of the sower, the parable of marriage feast, the prodigal son, the pearl of great price etc., are examples of the kind of parables Jesus told. The story of the rich man and Lazarus does not fall into this category and is probably an account of something that actually happened.
The picture painted by Jesus’ words is poignant. Here was a man afflicted with some great malady that kept him covered in sores (Luke 16:20). He was apparently unable to move himself, at least with any ease, because he was carried by others and “laid” at the place where he was (Luke 16:20). Because of this infirmity, he was apparently unable to work and had thus become poor. The word translated “beggar” is most often translated in the New Testament as poor. This man was laid at a rich man’s gate and would have been satisfied with only the few crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. It was this man’s sickness that reduced him to such beggary, and nothing else.
The beggar’s character is attested to by the fact that, upon his death, the angels carried him to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22). This suggests that he was given no grand burial and it was left to the angels to treat him with kindness. Abraham’s bosom, or paradise (Luke 24:43), is the place in the Hadean realm where the righteous go to await judgment (cf. Luke 24:43 and Acts 2:26,27). His character is also attested to by the fact that the rich man sought Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family of the reality of this place of torment to which he had been sent.
The character of the rich man is also plainly indicated. He was clothed in purple, a precious and costly dye desired by the wealthy and powerful. He wore fine linen. Every day he ate from an expensive table of delectable (Luke 16:19). He had everything he could want and more, yet he took no interest in the poor beggar who lay at his door seeking only crumbs to satisfy his hunger pains. He must have known of Lazarus for he identified him in the Hadean realm (Luke 16:23,24). Furthermore, that he only asked for a drop of water corresponds to the crumbs that Lazarus was seeking, suggesting his timidity in asking for anything more.
It is not that the man was wealthy that sent him to torment nor that he ate well everyday. It is not that he wore fine clothes which he could afford and paid for with his own money. These things in and of themselves are not sinful. There is no indication that he had obtained his wealth in a sinful manner. In truth, it was not what he did with what he had but what he didn’t do with what he had that made the difference. During his life, he could have helped Lazarus even in the smallest of ways but made a conscience decision not to. This, it seems, was his fault.
Now in torment, he wanted the assistance from Lazarus that he refused him in his life. Probably, if he had been able, Lazarus would have helped him even then. This seems to be the kind of person Lazarus was. But there was a great gulf that separated the two compartments of the Hadean realm that held the good and bad from this earth and Lazarus was not allowed, as no one is allowed, to cross the great divide (Luke 16:26). Further, no one can leave that place prematurely (Luke 16:31). Once this life comes to a close, our eternal destiny is set, forever.
Eric L. Padgett