Parables are a genre of they’re own in Scripture. Sometimes, there are difficulties in understanding the parables. Some parables were meant to be easily understood, as with the parable of the pearl of great price that is obvious about the fact that Christ is so valuable that we will give up all for Him. Then there were parables that were told which were supposed to confuse the people, as we see in Matthew 13. Some parables were told to specifically convict hypocritical theology; usually of the pharisee’s. Many times, these convicting parables had deep hidden meanings; and in most cases, the parables had understandings of the audience that we are not privy to in this day and culture. Therefore, we must search to see what the purpose of the parable is. How do we know when the parable is understood on the surface or if we need to find deep meaning?

As a loose rule of thumb, when Christ was talking to His disciples, these parables were more of an analogy that was understood on the surface. When Christ was speaking before crowds, these parables were meant to confuse. Most times, we may understand these parables, because hindsight is 20/20, but we still often miss the purpose of the parable and many times end up violating the principle of the parable anyway. Then there are the parables that were told to the pharisee’s. These parables were typically the ones that were used to convict, but often have messages, statements, and cultural understandings that we miss out on. One such way to understand, when there is something more than what we think is on the surface, is to closely look at the parable and compare it to timeless truths of Scripture as a whole. Case in point, the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man.

“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.”
(Luke 16:19-23 NKJV)

Some believe that this is not a parable, but when we look at this account, we see the beggar being taken to Abraham’s bosom and the rich man to hades. This tells us this account is a parable. The term “Abraham’s bosom” was a term used as a place of endearment that was where the Israel nation was said to go; while hades were the pagan underworld that was ruled by a god of the same name - hades. In all other conversations, you don’t see Christ referring to Heaven as Abraham’s bosom. Also, when we look at the story, one could come to the conclusion that all poor and beggars go to Heaven. We understand that is not Scripturally correct. Thus we see this is a parable, and there is a deeper meaning to this parable.

If you believe there is a deeper meaning, beware not to look too deep - this could lead to error. When looking for that meaning, be sure to use the context of the audience, the conversation, and culture to understand the meaning.

Let’s look at this parable and see what the purpose of the parable was.

Looking at the context and audience of this conversation, we see that His disciples were there (v 1) and we see the pharisee’s were there (v 14). Verse 14 points out that the pharisee’s loved their money, but Christ points out a deeper meaning to this. In verse 15 Christ points out that the pharisee’s had a heart problem. In verse 16, Y’shua continues to say that since John, the Kingdom of God has been preached; and He’s saying that this is for EVERYONE.

Pharisee’s knew the Word of God, they knew it well; yet the pharisee’s would not preach that truth to the people, they kept the people subdued with strict laws that weighed the people down with rules and regulations. This is what Christ was comparing His yoke to when He said His yoke is easy.

So, the context is Christ who is speaking to a small audience, and who knows the heart of the pharisee’s. We have this context of the audience (pharisee’s) who were criticizing Christ because of a bad heart condition in which they did not love the people; they rather keep the knowledge and riches of God to themselves and keep the people under strict rules and regulations rather than giving them the truth of what is. Then we have this parable directed towards these pharisee’s. On the surface, this parable is talking about the money they love; but the deeper meaning is a type of prophecy of their heart condition.

Let’s look at this parable and use the context of Scripture and the audience to see what this parable is saying under the surface.

In verse 19 - The rich man was dressed in purple, but he was not merely earthly royalty; rather he is “spiritually royal”. This further revealed in that he, and his brothers, had the word of God (Moses and Prophets = Torah and Nevi’im (Luke 16:29)). This was a stab at the pharisees, and a statement so as all who could hear knew exactly to whom he was referring this rich man. Christ also presented this self-worthiness in His parable of The Pharisee and the Publican (Luke 18:9-14).

It was known, among the teachers of that day, that riches in the Kingdom of God is the wisdom and knowledge of God.

Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!
(Romans 11:33 NKJV)

In verses 20-21 - Since it is not within the context of Scripture that all poor go to Heaven, no matter what (vs 22), Lazarus was not particularly poor in monetary wealth, but more so in wisdom and knowledge of God. But he laid at the door of the one with the spiritual knowledge, begging for crumbs, anything which would even accidentally fall from the lips of the rich man.

This audience which Christ was talking to, the pharisee’s, knew the Scripture well and knew the sores represented sin.

Alas, sinful nation,
A people laden with iniquity...
From the sole of the foot even to the head,
There is no soundness in it,
But wounds and bruises and putrefying sores
(Isaiah 1:4-6 NKJV)

We see the dogs coming to lick the sores of Lazarus. This is not a theological or medical teaching that the dog’s mouth is clean and we need to let them lick our sores. The audience knew what dogs were. The jews called the gentile dogs.

Then she came and worshiped Him, saying, “Lord, help me!”
26 But He answered and said, “ It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the little dogs
(Matthew 15:25-26 NKJV)

Incidentally, this woman was even asking for the little crumbs of blessings to fall from the table to her.

“Yes, Lord, yet even the little dogs eat the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table
(Matthew 15:27 NKJV)

Gentiles were those who were pagans and is a symbol of the world. This understanding should not surprise us. When people come to those with knowledge of God, and the church turns them down, the world is happy to lick their wounds.

Summing up these truths, we see Christ talking to a people that love their money, power, and things. Christ confronts them on the bases of this problem - a bad heart condition which they love themselves more than others. Through a parable of money, He shows how their heart condition, in which they love only themselves and see their riches and blessings while ignoring the lost; especially those who desire the riches of God and to have the wisdom and truth of the Kingdom of God. If we have the truth, it does not matter - if we are not willing to share the truth with others. This parable actually parallels the parable of The Pharisee and the Publican. The rich man is the Pharisee, and Lazarus is the Publican that understands his condition and is just looking for the Mercy and Grace of God while desiring the wisdom of God.

Bringing this back home and into the twenty-first century. There are plenty of religious people who are staying within the confines of the four walls of the church; hiding behind stained glass windows. There is a multitude of sinners who are seeking after Christ; many who don’t even know it. Sinners are seeking for relief from burdens, they’re seeking joy, they’re seeking peace, and since these only come by Christ they then are seeking Christ. They are not receiving the truth of Christ, not even the crumbs. Some would say, there’s Bible’s, religious programs, and churches everywhere how are they not getting the truth of Christ. They are not getting the truth of Christ because the love of Christ is not being shown by the religious locked inside the churches; all they are getting is judgment. Many claim to know God, and have some portion of the wisdom of the Kingdom of God, but they refuse to spread the blessings given them to those who need and/or desire this riches. The contemporary church is in love with their money and things, and their time; and refuse to reduce themselves, or give up any of these things, in any way, to help others in need.

What this parable says is that those who are seeking after Christ, even just any ol’ crumb that could fall from the religious people, these people stand a better chance on judgement day than those locked in the four walls of the church, locked in their little clicks, and refusing to reach out in love to those who are lost and broken. Church, we really need to repent.