WHAT GOSPEL MESSAGE DID LAZARUS BELIEVE TO WIND UP IN ABRAHAM’S BOSOM?
by Shawn Brasseaux
“I find it difficult to understand how Lazarus ended up in Abraham’s bosom when nothing is said about his faith in Jesus Christ. The only things we know about him is that he was poor and full of putrefying sores. Surely that’s not enough to get him to heaven?”
My friend, you are absolutely correct in recognizing that Lazarus did not go to “Abraham’s bosom” because he suffered horrendous living conditions (a common myth in religion). However, Lazarus did go to Abraham’s bosom because of something he believed. You are really asking—What exactly did Lazarus believe? We will investigate Luke chapter 16 for the answer. (Yes, I assure you, there is an answer if you look closely, do some verse comparisons, and think critically.)
Turning in our Bibles, we read from Luke chapter 16: “ There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:  And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,  And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.  And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;  And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” The narrative continues, but we will stop here for sake of brevity. (By the way, let me quickly point out that this Lazarus is not to be confused with the man Jesus raised from the dead in John chapter 11.)
Just as you said, my friend, we do not read about Lazarus having “faith in Jesus Christ.” Now, I am going to tell you something that will probably shock you, but it is worth your consideration. We were not necessarily looking for those precise words, or even similar words, either. Furthermore, as you pointed out, very little is actually revealed about Lazarus’ life on Earth. In fact, we read two brief verses paint a rough portrait: “ And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,  And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.”
We can extract from the Scriptures five things about Lazarus: (1) he is a beggar, (2) he lies at the gate of a rich man’s home, (3) he is riddled with sores [ulcers?], (4) he desires to eat crumbs/excess falling from the rich man’s table, and (5) the dogs come and lick his sores. How horrific and disturbing! Lazarus is in such a pitiful state; he experiences a life that no one would dare envy. In fact, verse 25 will talk about how Lazarus received in his life “evil things.” However, as you stated, we do not read of his salvation experience. Earlier, we read in the Bible about how the rich man wound up in Hell, torments (verse 23). Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom rather than Hell (verses 22-23). What was it about Lazarus that made God accept him into Abraham’s bosom? Why did the rich man go to Hell?
The Lord Jesus’ intent in providing the Discourse of the Rich Man and Lazarus was not to outline Lazarus’ testimony or life. That is why we read so very little about Lazarus. If we look at the verses that went before in Luke chapter 16, we see that the emphasis is actually on the rich man rather than Lazarus. Verses 13-14 help us understand what is going on with this narrative: “ No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.  And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him.” Notice verse 15: “And he said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men; but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God.”
As soon as Jesus employed the word “mammon” (wealth worshipped as a god/idol), the covetous Pharisees who heard Him became rattled. He was speaking directly to them… and they knew it! Christ’s words thundered in their ears, “You cannot serve God and your idol of wealth!” These Pharisees did not have faith in Father God; instead, they were materialistic, worshippers of their material riches. Convicted of Jesus’ words, they struck back by “deriding” Him (verse 14). We can see an example of them “deriding” Him on the cross in Luke 23:35: “And the rulers also with them derided him, saying, He saved others; let him save himself, if he be Christ, the chosen of God.” They mocked Him, sneered at Him, just as they had earlier in Luke 16:14.
By the time of verse 19, Jesus begins the Discourse of the Rich Man and Lazarus. The Lord did this particularly because the “rich man” represents the covetous Pharisees who just scoffed at Him. He will warn them of the awful damnation that is coming upon them at physical death. It should also be pointed out that the story of the rich man and Lazarus was not “figurative” or a “parable.” We have every reason to believe that this literally happened just as the Lord said it did. There really was a rich man and really was a literal beggar named Lazarus who sat at his gate. The rich man literally woke up tormented in the flames of Hell, and Lazarus literally woke up comforted in Abraham’s bosom. (For more information, see our related study on Luke 16:19-31, whose link is found at the end of this article.)
THE BEGGAR LAZARUS HAD FAITH IN JESUS CHRIST? (NO)
When we speak of soul salvation into Heaven today, we think of “faith in Jesus Christ.” And we are correct in that belief in light of the “New Testament” Scriptures. However, and this should be carefully noted, Jesus Christ as a Person was not always known. For example, Adam and Eve knew nothing of Jesus Christ. Noah knew nothing of Christ. Abraham knew nothing of Christ Jesus. No one knew of “Jesus Christ” as being God’s Spokesman and Redeemer until He became a Man and was born of the virgin Mary.
Consider Galatians 3:8: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” Now, would we say “In thee shall all nations be blessed” is a Gospel message today? No, but the Bible does call it “the Gospel” in that it was divine revelation that God expected Abraham to believe at that time in human history. Whatever God had shown to Abraham, God expected Abraham to believe it. Abraham had no idea of Calvary’s cross or Jesus Christ’s shed blood. God had not revealed that yet. If we want to see the information God expected Abraham to believe, we look at Genesis chapters 12-17, for example. Time and space do not permit us to discuss that in detail here. All we want to do is read in Genesis 15:6: “And he believed in the LORD, and he counted it to him for righteousness” (cf. Romans 4:3; Galatians 3:6). We will talk a little more about Abraham shortly.
No matter where we are on the Bible timeline, faith is always first and foremost. Hebrews 11:6 says to this point: “But without faith it is impossible to please him [God]; for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” A person having faith, trust in God’s Word to him or her, is what God is looking for in every point in human history. God reveals different things to different peoples at different periods in time. We know of these sets of information as “dispensations.” The content of the divine message varied, but God was always looking for a heart of faith, a soul that would believe His Word. God could see the blood of Christ that would be shed in the future, and He would apply those merits in advance to believing people who lived before His only begotten Son ever entered the human condition. However, they did not always know about “Jesus Christ.” The same is true of Lazarus the beggar.
With that said, we go back to Luke chapter 16. At what time in history did the rich man and Lazarus live? We find a clue in verse 29: “Abraham saith unto him [the rich man], They have Moses and the prophets; let them her them.” Remember, the rich man had begged Abraham to send Lazarus to speak to his five brethren still living on Earth, lest they come met him in that place of torment (verses 27-28). Abraham told the rich man that his brethren had Moses and the prophets to hear and believe. If they wanted to avoid Hell, they had better take heed to what the Word of God said.
By the way, “Moses and the prophets” was a common name for what we now of as “the Old Testament” Scriptures (Genesis through Malachi—see Luke 24:27,32,44; Acts 13:15; and Acts 15:21). “Moses” referred to the first five Books, Genesis through Deuteronomy, often called “the Law.” The term “the prophets” was the rest of the “Old Testament” Books. Notice how Abraham in Luke 16:29 made no reference to the rich man’s brethren needing to follow Jesus’ earthly ministry. This indicates that the written “Old Testament” was all that God had made known at that time. In other words, the rich man woke up in Hell sometime prior to Christ’s earthly ministry, but after the Book of Malachi had been written. Abraham, Lazarus, the rich man, and the rich man’s brethren existed before Matthew through John. They did not know about “Jesus Christ.” Still, God had revealed one major bit of information for mankind to believe. What was it?
The common theme of the “Old Testament” is God’s purpose and plan for the Earth—Him establishing His literal, physical, visible kingdom on Earth. We can see what the Apostle Peter preached in Acts chapter 3: “ Repent ye therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.  And he shall send Jesus Christ, which before was preached unto you:  Whom the heaven must receive until the times of restitution of all things, which God hath spoken by the mouth of all his holy prophets since the world began.” From the time God put Adam on the Earth—since the “world” system of government was established—up until the time Peter was preaching here in Acts chapter 3, the issue had been a literal, physical, visible earthly kingdom of God. (There was no hope of “dying and going to Heaven,” but rather a hope of “resurrecting and returning to Earth to live in that earthly kingdom of God.”) We will let the Scriptures speak for themselves once again.
Job, the Bible’s oldest Book, and possibly the world’s oldest Book, says in chapter 19: “ For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth:  And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God:  Whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold, and not another; though my reins be consumed within me.” Notice how Job claimed to be looking for God to come down to Earth (rather than him going up to meet God in Heaven). Job would die physically, but he knew he would be resurrected to enter that earthly kingdom of God. We now know this as “the Millennial Reign of Christ,” or “the 1000-Year Reign of Christ” (see Revelation 20:1-10).
Now, we return to Luke chapter 16, to read from it for the final time: “ And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;  And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.” Please notice these two references to “Abraham’s bosom” (one in each verse). Who was Abraham? Romans 4:1-25, among other passages, shows us that Abraham was the classic and great “man of faith” in the Bible. He is called “the father of all them that believe” (Romans 4:11). “Abraham’s bosom” was the spiritual abode where the souls of believers went who died before Christ’s earthly ministry. The Bible calls it “the heart of the earth” (Matthew 12:40) and “paradise” (Luke 23:43). It was where Jesus’ soul went to as well when He died. It was only fitting that these departed believers’ souls temporarily live here in the center of the Earth. After all, they had died with the hope of being resurrected to enter the earthly kingdom of God.
Hebrews 11:8-10 tells us about what Abraham ultimately looked for while he traveled throughout the Middle East: “ By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went.  By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise:  For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God.”
God’s Word says that Abraham was looking for “a city” (verse 10). He “sojourned [remained, dwelt] in the land of promise” (verse 9). As per the Palestinian Covenant, God had given Abraham and his seed the land we now known as the land of Canaan, or the Promised Land (Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 15:1-21). God would set up His city in that Promised Land—that city is “New Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:2), “Holy Jerusalem” (Revelation 21:10), or “Heavenly Jerusalem” (Hebrews 12:22). That city will come down from Heaven and be founded on the Earth in Revelation chapter 21. Jesus Christ will rule and reign over creation from the New Jerusalem on Earth. Thus, we see God’s original purpose for Earth now accomplished, despite all of the Satanic and human opposition those last 6,000 years.
Lazarus the beggar died sharing the faith of Abraham. He, like all other “Old Testament” believers, therefore, went to “Abraham’s bosom” upon physical death. Lazarus went to the “heart of the earth” upon physical death because he had faith in what God had revealed to mankind at that point in history. There is nothing to indicate that Lazarus knew anything about Jesus Christ, so we should not be looking for him to have “faith in Jesus Christ” per se. (We must never fall prey to the common misconception that our Gospel—the Gospel of Christ crucified for our sins—has always been revealed and known to mankind.) The Bible seems to show us that Lazarus actually lived prior to Christ’s earthly ministry anyway.
» Where did Jesus go upon physical death?
» Is Luke 16:19-31 a parable, or a reality?
» Did Peter and Paul preach the same Gospel?