Rich Man and Lazarus – Who was the Rich Man?


Jesus doesn't name the rich man, like he does Lazarus, but He does provide clues for us to discern his identity: rich man is clothed in purple and fine linen. Immediately before telling this story, Jesus is addressing the Pharisees. Since purple and fine linen are symbols of the priestly class, it is probable that the rich man in the parable is designed to represent the priests of Jesus' day.

We are told in the Old Testament that the high priest's garments were made of purple and fine linen. The fine linen's purpose was for "glory and beauty" (Exodus 28:39-41). Purple, scarlet, and blue were embroidered into this fine linen (Exodus 39:29-30). The scarlet is a representation of the washing away of sins by the blood of Jesus (Isaiah 1:18, Joshua 2:18, Exodus 12:7, Matthew 26:28). Blue is a symbol of loyalty to God's commandments (Numbers 15:38-40). Purple was difficult to manufacture, and therefore could only be afforded by royalty (Judges 8:26, Esther 8:15, Mark 15:17-18). Furthermore, the priest wore a breastplate with 12 precious stones on it, embedded in gold. According to Jewish commentators, the names of the twelve tribes were inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes so that "God might be mindful of the piety of the patriarchs" (Exodus 28:29).

Of the four colors on the priest's ephod, the rich man in Luke 16 is clothed with only two of them. The rich man is clothed in raiment symbolizing luxury, but lacks both scarlet and blue. This could imply that that while the man was attempting to appear holy on the outside, he was spiritually bankrupt of true obedience to God's law and had not truly accepted God's sacrifice, and instead relying on the "piety of the patriarchs" for his salvation (Matthew 3:9, John 8:39). This harmonizes well with the spirit of what Jesus is saying in Luke 16:14-18.

John the Revelator also notes a character who is lacking blue in her vesture. In Revelation 17:4, John sees a woman arrayed in purple, scarlet, and decked with gold and precious stones. This represents Babylon the Great. Among her merchandise in Revelation 18:12, she sells gold, precious stones, fine linen and purple, and scarlet. It is this woman that the kings of the earth fared sumptuously with (Revelation 18:9, Luke 16:19). When she is destroyed a few verses later, the merchants' lament indicates she was known for being clothed in "fine linen, and purple, and scarlet, and decked with gold, and precious stones." This woman who represents a false system of worship, has all of the elements of a priest, but lacks true obedience to God's commandments. Her only dealings with the poor and needy is to exploit them as merchandise at the bottom of her list (Rev 18:12-13)

At the end of this story, the man who was clothed like a priest, and is being tormented like the false priest of Revelation 18:5. He suffers role reversal (Revelation 18:6), punishment for eating sumptuously (Revelation 18:7), and is tormented with fire (Revelation 18:8). The rich man cries out to Abraham "I have five brothers" (Luke 16:27-28). Commenters have speculated who these five brothers could be. Josephus, a first century Jewish historian describes a famous family of 6 priests:

It is said that the elder Ananus was extremely fortunate. For he had five sons, all of whom, after he himself had previously enjoyed the office for a very long period, became high priests of God - a thing that had never happened to any other of our high priests. The younger Ananus, who, as we have seen, had been appointed to the high priesthood, was rash in his temper and ususually daring. He followed in the school of the Sadducees, who are indeed more heartless than any of the other Jews, as I have already explained, when they sit on judgment.

The names of Annas' 6 sons:

  1. Eleazar
  2. Josephus Caiaphas (son-in-law)
  3. Jonathan
  4. Theophilus
  5. Matthias
  6. Annas the younger

This family was largely responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus (John 11:49, 18:13, Matthew 26:57). They also presided over Peter and John's trial (Acts 4:1, 6) and Paul's trial (Acts 23:2), and did much to hinder the early growth of the Christian church.

Abraham closes by explaining to the rich man that even if Lazarus resurrected and appeared to them, they would not be convinced. It's interesting to note that Saducees (to whom this family belonged) did not believe in the resurrection (Acts 23:8). It's also interesting to note that when Jesus resurrected a man named Lazarus, instead of believing on Him, they plotted to kill him (John 11:45-57).

This is the same response that the woman of Revelation 17 and 18 has, as well as her followers, in the second resurrection of Revelation 20:7-10. When faced by the truth and resurrection of Jesus Christ, they seek to kill him.