The Rich man and Lazarus and the intermediate state

The Rich man and Lazarus and the intermediate state( This post is adapted from the article Did you say sleep? )

Rich Man and Lazarus and the  intermediate state

Conditionalists refuse to accept the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as definitive teaching on the intermediate state for several reasons, some of which can be seen in the contrast between these texts:

  1.  Luke 8 reflects a literal event in the life of Jesus and a real human being, a small girl.  Luke 16 reflects a story that Jesus told, which probably did not originate with him. He used one of the Pharisees’ stories, and ended it with a twist that they did not expect.
  2. The focus of Luke 8 was a real death and a real resurrection. The focus of Luke 16 was the selfishness of the Pharisees and their refusal to follow the law by having compassion on the needy.  In which passage would it be more natural for Jesus to convey didactic teaching about the intermediate state?
  3. The witnesses of the event described in Luke 8 were Jesus himself, the young girl and her parents, and some of his disciples.  The hearers of the story in Luke 16 were the Pharisees, who “were lovers of money” and “ridiculed him” because he taught that “you cannot serve God and money.” ((Luke 16:13-14))  In which context would it have been more appropriate for Jesus to share insight about the mystery of the intermediate state?
  4. The literary context of each passage is also important to consider. Luke 8 appears in a conjunction with a group of passages which emphasize who Jesus is. His authority and power are expressed in the chapters immediately preceding and following the story in chapter 8.  In that context, it makes sense to show Jesus as having power to raise the dead. Luke 16 is within a group of chapters emphasizing the opposition and antagonism of those (like the Pharisees) who wanted to see Jesus done away with.  In that context, what Luke wants to show is the reason why these people hated Jesus, and why his journey to Jerusalem would lead to the cross. A literal description of the intermediate state would not add to Luke’s purpose for Luke 16.
  5. In the final analysis, it must be admitted that these two texts do represent two alternative views of the intermediate state. In the one, people are asleep, and must be awakened by resurrection. In the other, people are awake, and are experiencing some sort of afterlife. In Luke 8, there is no reference to judgment. In Luke 16, all those who have died are already being judged.
  6. One cannot combine these two views of the intermediate state without distorting one into insignificance.  Conditionalists accept the teaching of Luke 8 as normative, and choose to see the description in Luke 16 as representing what the Pharisees believed — not what Jesus believed — about the intermediate state.



About Jefferson Vann

Jefferson Vann is a missionary with Advent Christian General Conference, and elder at Takanini Community Church in Auckland, New Zealand. He is a teacher, Bible translator, and avid blogger. "My hope is that everyone who reads this blog will have an opportunity to understand the gospel, and will know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior." He has written books on theology and Bible commentary. You can read more of Jeff's writing at Devotions  |  Jefferson Vann | Commands of Christ | Learning Koine Greek Together


  1. Jesus spoke many parables. In fact, in Mark 4:23,24 it states plainly that He spoke to them only in parable as it related to the many stories that He told them. Read it yourself. It plainly says that, “without a parable He did not speak to them”. So let’s just assume the the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a parable, but what does it mean? Let me suggest a simple meaning that makes a lot of sense and is true regardless. I believe the story is symbolic of the special relationship that the Jewish nation had with God and how things changed drastically after they rejected Christ. The Rich Man is the Jewish nation with all their blessings from God, the covenants, the special love God showed them, the fact that they received and guarded the Word of God. Paul said in Romans 3:1,2, “what advantage has the Jew, or what is the profit of circumcision? Much in every way. Chiefly because the them were committed the oracles of God.” They were a special and blessed people. Lazarus represented the gentile nations, poor and begarly with dogs licking his sores. Think about this while reading the SyroPhonecian woman’s story as she begged for Jesus’s mercy and Jesus told her, “it is not good to take the children’s bread (Jewish blessings) and cast them to the little dogs”. In her humility she agreed with Jesus but claimed the crumbs that fell from the children’s (Jewish) table. Mark 7:26-30 After the cross, the gentiles are in Abraham’s bosom (saved by the Jewish covenant) “if ye be Christ, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according the the promises.” Gal. 3:29, and the Jews have been in symbolic “hell” ever since. One cannot ever make every detail of a parablic story match the real meaning of the parabled, but this interpretaion sums up the main points very nicely, in my opinion.


  1. […] for these developments helped us to form awareness that the parable that Jesus told about the Rich Man and Lazarus was in fact a part of the folklore of the Pharisees that is nowhere found in the OT. Similarly the […]

  2. […] see Why Conditionalist think the Rich Man and Lazarus is not definitive teaching on the intermediate s… […]

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