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How can I refute this Watchtower Society argument about the rich man and Lazarus?

Full Question

I’ve used the story Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) to show consciousness between death and resurrection, but Jehovah’s Witnesses argue that it is just a parable and thus does not tell us anything about the real world. How can I respond to this?


Point out that Jesus’ parables tell us much about the real world. He takes common elements of human experience–sons and fathers, judges and kings, the rich and the poor, buying and selling, planting and harvesting, fishing and wine-making–and uses these elements to teach theological points.

In the parable of Lazarus and the rich man Jesus uses human experiences of life and human experiences of death to teach that one’s life affects one’s fate, that one’s fate is sealed at death, and that those who will not listen to God’s word will not take heed of his own Resurrection either.

Point out that if his other parables reflect human experience when they talk about comfort and suffering in this life then this parable reflects human experience when it talks about comfort and suffering in the afterlife between death and resurrection.

To press the issue more sharply, point out that the second half of the parable (where the two are dead) reflects human experience as much as the first half (where the two are alive) reflects human experience. If there were rich men and beggars in Jerusalem in Jesus’ day, then, when they died, they went to hell or Abraham’s bosom in Jesus’ day.

They went to hell if unrighteous (the Catechism of the Catholic Church, following the historic Christian interpretation, cites the rich man as an example of one who has died in mortal sin [CCC 1859]) or to Abraham’s bosom if righteous (today the state of the righteous dead is even more glorious since the gates of heaven have been opened and the righteous, after purification if needed, now go to be with God (CCC 1026).

Note that some argue this isn’t a parable at all but a historical account. Nothing in the text says it is a parable, and it is different from other parables in that Jesus names one of the characters–Lazarus. If it is a parable, it is the only parable where that happens.

A few last points. When the rich man suggests Lazarus be sent back from the dead, Abraham does not say that he won’t go back, but that if he does go back those who will not hear the Law and the prophets will not take heed of Lazarus’s rising either. In John’s Gospel we read that Jesus has a friend named Lazarus who dies and comes back from the dead (Jn 11), and when he does so those who do not listen to God’s word do not heed his raising either (Jn 11:45-53); they even plan to kill Lazarus because of the evidence his raising provides for Jesus’ messianic claims (Jn 12:9-11)!


  1. Noel David Reply

    I believe this parable or incident that the Lord relates has nothing to do with lthe resurrection but about Punishment and Reward (Hell and Heaven) to us people who come into this world and depart from it sooner or later….. It is a simple explanation about heartless/selfish living and living a life of great want or deprivation….. Since the world is not made by any nation or religion or community – all the natual resources that exists in the world are meant for the good of all…. Those who keep piling up wealth and filling their barns and bellies to the brim and deprive others of their daily bread (a decent living) are doing a very unjust, cruel and inhumane act…. Since NOTHING really belongs to ANYONE – as is evident from the fact that the richest and the most powerful and famous LEAVE BEHIND EVERYTHING when he/she departs/dies…. So according to me, the parable or story of Lazarus and the Rich Man is a clear warning to ALL OF US who wallow in wealth and keep amassing/usurping wealth so excessively – that it is not going to be pay (be beneficial to them) at the end…. It is wrong for anyone of us (no matter who he/she is or how high a position he/she may be holding or how rich and famous he/she is or how powerful he/she may be) to keep gorging themselves and enjoying life to the brim – when millions of people (citizens/workers/devotees/customers/viewers etc. etc.) are starving and living in great misery (mainly due to exploitation, oppression and deprivation etc. etc.)…. ALL those who live such a heartless, luxurious and selfish life will surely be punished by the Almighty and ALL those who suffer hunger, poverty, injustices and deprivations from these heartless and unjust ones are surely going to be rewarded richly….. It is as simple as that…..

  2. Bob Reply

    First, this is not a parable. It is a true story Jesus told about the afterlife, in fact, it is one of the few times the veil between this fallen world and the spiritual world is pulled back so that we might see in. See Job 1 for another example. There are six clear categories of bodily resurrection the Bible gives us – and this is important, because there are times God in His sovereignty allows the dead to return bodily to witness to the lost. 1. The first category occurs when, throughout the Bible, persons are miraculously raised from the dead by prophets, disciples, apostles, or Jesus Himself as a testimony of their true power, given by God as a validation of their message to the people around them. Call these miracles. 2. The second category of bodily resurrection occurred at the instance of Jesus’ death on the cross. See Matthew 27:50-53 when graves are opened, people come back to life, and testify to the people of Jerusalem as to Whom Jesus is, and what He had done on the cross. 3. The third category is the resurrection of Christ Himself rose from the dead, completed His disciples’ teaching, and ascended into Heaven. 4. The fourth category of bodily resurrection is represented in Luke 16, in the factual account (not parable) of what happens after death as we wait for final judgement at the end of the age. The man in torment is hot, in torment, thirsts for real water – he has a real, resurrected body. 5. The fifth category of resurrection occurs when Christ Himself returns bodily to establish His 1,000 year earthly kingdom. See Zechariah 14, Ezekiel 36, Acts 1, and Revelation 20:1-6. Essentially, those who are killed – specifically “beheaded” – for their faith and testimony of Jesus will return with Him and rule this planet for 1,000 years – as God’s final demonstration of His reality, mercy, and holiness, to mankind – many of whom still would rather spit in His face. 6. The sixth and final category of resurrection is when we each stand before God’s Throne of Judgement, and those not found in the Book of Life (i.e. who have willfully rejected God and held to their sin) are cast into the lake of fire created for satan and his demons. Those whose names ARE found written in the Book of Life enter a completely new, untainted, perfect, re-created creation – a new Heaven and new earth. See Revelation 20:11-21:8. That’s the one you REALLY want to be at, and you really want to be on the right side of history at that particular moment in your life.

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