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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible
LAZARUS. A common Jewish name, a colloquial abbreviation of Eleazar .
1. The brother of Martha and Mary , the friend of Jesus ( John 11:3; John 11:11; John 11:36 , where ‘love’ and ‘friend’ represent the same root in Greek). The family lived at Bethany, a village within two miles of Jerusalem just over the brow of Olivet. Lazarus was the subject of the greatest miracle of the Gospel story ( John 11:1-44 ). In the last year of His ministry Jesus sojourned at Jerusalem from the Feast of Tabernacles in October to that of the Dedication in December; and, on being driven out by the violence of the rulers ( John 10:31; John 10:39 ), He retired to ‘Bethany beyond Jordan’ ( John 10:40; cf. John 1:28 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). A crowd followed Him thither, and in the midst of His beneficent activities of teaching and healing tidings reached Him that His friend had fallen sick. He might have responded immediately to the sisters’ appeal either by hastening to their home and laying His hand on the sick man, or by sending forth His word of power and healing him across the intervening distance of some twenty miles (cf. John 4:46-54 , Matthew 15:21-28 = Mark 7:24-30 ). But He did neither; He remained where He was for two days, until Lazarus was dead. He desired not only to manifest His power to His friends, but to make a signal appeal to impenitent Jerusalem, by working a miracle which would attest His Messiahship beyond all question.
At length He set forth. If the messenger started in the morning, he would reach Jesus the same evening. Jesus stayed two days, and setting out early would arrive on the evening of the fourth day. Thus on His arrival Lazarus had been dead four days (John 11:39 ). In that sultry climate burial followed immediately on death, and it sometimes happened that a swoon was mistaken for death, and the buried man came to life again. The Jewish belief was that the soul hovered about the sepulchre for three days, fain to re-animate its clay. On the fourth day decomposition set in, and hope was then abandoned. Jesus arrived on the fourth day, and there was no doubt of the reality of Lazarus’ death and of the ensuing miracle. It was not a recovery from a trance, but a veritable resurrection. He went to the rock-hewn sepulchre, and in presence of the sisters and a large company of mourners, including many of the rulers who had come from the adjacent capital to testify their esteem for the good Lazarus and their sympathy with Martha and Mary ( John 11:19 ), summoned the dead man forth and restored him, alive and well, to his home. It was a startling miracle. It made a profound impression on the multitude, but it only exasperated the rulers. They convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and determined to put Jesus to death ( John 11:47-53 ).
He retired to Ephraim near the frontier of Samaria, and stayed there until the Passover drew near; then He set out for Jerusalem to keep the Feast and to die. Six days before it began (John 12:1 ), He reached Bethany, and despite the Sanhedrin’s decree He received a great ovation. He was honoured with a banquet in the house of one of the leading men of the village, Simon, who had been a leper and had probably been healed by Jesus ( John 12:2-11 = Matthew 26:6-13 = Mark 14:3-9 ). Lazarus was one of the company. The news of His arrival at Bethany reached Jerusalem, and next day the multitude thronged out and escorted Him in triumph into the city. It was the raising of Lazarus that excited their enthusiasm ( John 12:3; John 12:17-18 ).
After this Lazarus appears no more in the Gospel story. Surely he of all men should have stood by Jesus at His trial and crucifixion; and the explanation of his absence is probably that he had been forced to flee. Observing the popular enthusiasm, the infuriated rulers had determined to put him also to death (John 12:10-11 ). He would withdraw more for Jesus’ sake than for his own. His presence only increased the Master’s danger.
2. The beggar in our Lord’s parable ( Luke 16:19-31 ). This is the only instance where Jesus gives a name to a parabolic character, and there was an idea in early times that it was not a parable but a story from real life. A name was found also for the rich man Ninevis or Phinees . He is often styled Dives , but this is merely Latin for ‘the Rich Man.’ In fact, however, Lazarus is less a name than a definition. It means ‘God has helped’; and Jesus calls the beggar Lazarus by way of indicating what commended him to God. He was not only poor but also diseased. It is, however, a mistaken notion that he was a leper (hence lazzeretto, lazar-house ), for then he must have kept afar off and durst not have lain at the rich man’s gateway.
The parable is a drama with two scenes: (1) The conditions of the Rich Man and the Beggar here the former with his mansion, his fine clothing, his sumptuous table; and the latter lying at his gateway, full of sores, with none to tend him, hungrily eyeing the feast, and glad of any scraps that were flung to him. (2) Their conditions hereafter a striking reversal: Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom, i.e . the place of honour (cf. John 13:23 ), at the heavenly feast; the Rich Man in Hades, thirsting for a drop of water.
The parable is clothed with Jewish imagery. ‘Hell’ in John 13:23 is Hades , the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol , the unseen world, where, according to Jewish theology, all souls, good and bad alike, had their abode and received their due reward. It was an aggravation of the misery of the wicked that they had the felicity of the righteous continually in view (cf. Revelation 14:10 ). A feast, with Abraham the father of the faithful presiding, was the Jewish ideal of the felicity of the Messianic Kingdom (cf. Matthew 8:11 ). Jesus, ever anxious to appeal to His hearers, has clothed His parable with this familiar imagery.
The purpose of the parable is not to condemn riches and exalt poverty in the spirit of Ebionitic asceticism. It is an enlargement of the Lord’s admonition in Luke 16:9 : ‘Make to yourselves friends by means of the mammon of unrighteousness, that, when it shall fail, they may receive you into the eternal tabernacles’ (RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). The merit of Lazarus was not that he was poor, but that he had found his help in God; the offence of the Rich Man was not that he was rich, but that he lived a self-indulgent and luxurious life, regardless of the misery around him. Had he made friends to himself of Lazarus and others like him by means of his mammon of unrighteousness, he would have had a place and a welcome among them when he entered the unseen world.
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Hastings, James. Entry for 'Lazarus'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/l/lazarus.html. 1909.