Parable characters

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Jesus presented three individuals in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: the rich man, Lazarus, and Abraham. Jesus also mentioned the angels.

The Rich Man

Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. ~ Luke16:19

The rich man is often referred to as "Dives"" (pronounced die-veez). This is a Latin word which means "rich man."3 Since the Lord did not give the rich man a proper name, he will remain nameless in this article.

The Rich Man Wore Purple

To illustrate how wealthy this man was, Jesus said he "dressed in purple and fine linen." Purple clothing was associated with royalty because the dye to make it was very expensive. Purple dye was extracted from a rare shell-fish, bolinus branderis, also known as the purple dye murex. This animal was found along the coast of Tyre. Each could yield a small drop of purple dye.

The linen of Christ's time came from Egypt. McGarvey and Pendleton wrote that this linen, "was produced from flax which grew on the banks of the Nile. It was dazzlingly white, and worth twice its weight in gold."4

The rich man dressed in the most expensive clothing available during his time. Every day he lived a life of extreme luxury.


And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. ~ Luke16:20

In all the parables of Jesus, Lazarus is the only character who is given a proper name. This name is derived from the Greek "Lazaros," and the Hebrew "Eleazar." Translated, it means "God has helped."5 Some claim that Jesus may have prophetically used this name in anticipation of the subsequent resurrection of Lazarus, recorded in John 11:1-53.6

Lazarus' poverty is presented in stark contrast to the rich man's wealth. Some translations use the word "beggar" to describe Lazarus. This word simply meant "poor." In light of his being laid at the richs man's gate, it's natural to assume that Lazarus was a beggar.

That Lazarus "was laid" at the rich man's gate seems to indicate that Lazarus was unable to walk. Like Job, Lazarus suffered physically from having sores on his body. The only medical relief he received was from the dogs who licked his sores. First century Jews considered dogs as lothesome, unclean animals.

Lazarus laid at the rich man's gate, longing to be fed by the mere crumbs that fell from the rich man's table.


Abraham appears to Lazarus and the rich man after their deaths. Abraham was the father of the Israelite nation. The Jews believed that God's faithful would join Abraham and the patriarchs when they died (Matthew8:11).7

Lazarus was carried to "Abraham's bosom." This phrase refers to the custom of reclining at meals, which was popular in that culture. While reclining, a man would rest his head on the bosom of a friend. John the apostle rested on Christ's bosom at Passover (John13:23). This signified very close friendship, and would have been recognized as an honor for Lazarus to be considered the friend of Abraham. Lazarus was "being comforted" in Abraham's presence.

Evidently the rich man was a Jew, because 3 times he referred to Abraham as "father" (Luke 16:24, 27, 30). Abraham acknowledged this by referring to the rich man as "child" (Luke 16:25).


Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. ~ Luke16:22

Angels carried Lazarus to the bosom of Abraham. This is a brief but significant role. This is reminiscent of the parables of The Tares and of The Net, where angels sort the righteous from the wicked.

The finality Luke places on the rich man's death is interesting. After painting the beautiful picture of Lazarus being carried away by angels, Luke writes that "the rich man also died and was buried." He does not continue with "and was carried away by angels."

From a literary standpoint, this omission carries the implication that the rich man was left in a cold, dark grave, alone and forgotten.

Scholars are quick to point out that being buried was an honor in those times. Funerals were splendid occasions, where final tributes were given to the departed. A rich man's funeral would have been a costly affair. No mention of Lazarus being buried is made. He could not afford food, let alone a funeral.

The rich man lived in luxury every day, and was honored by the living even at his death. Lazarus spent a life of poverty and suffering; yet he was afforded the honor of being carried by angels after he died.

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