The basic problem with the parable of the rich man and Lazarus lies in the semantic field. Many prefer the literal meaning as an argument for eternal tormenting of souls in hellish flames. It should be noted, however, that even the current doctrine of the Catholic Church withdrew from this traditional attitude. The Catechism of the Church claims as follows: "Hell's principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God" (CCC 1057). The soul scorching fire is not mentioned.
We need to consider as well what the literal interpretation teaches about salvation: that the reward for living in poverty on earth is eternal joy and the rich ones are predestined to eternal torment? It does not seem true that property can be a determinant of achieving the prize of eternal life. Certainly this is not what the Bible teaches about salvation. Otherwise, all the Biblical patriarchs starting from Abraham would have to suffer eternal torment.
THE PARABLE OF THE RICH MAN AND LAZARUS IN CONTEXT
Guides about the meaning of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus can be found in the direct Biblical context. In verses preceding the described parable our Lord points to the upcoming change in the positions of the rich man and Lazarus, "The law and the prophets [were] until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached" (Lk. 16:16 KJV). The apostle Paul claimed later that adhering to the Law excludes adhering to Christ; it shows a lack of understanding of what the purpose of the Law was, as well as of the fact that this purpose has already been achieved (Rom. 7:1-4; 8:1-4; Gal. 3:19-29, 5:2-6; Heb. 9:15, 10:1-10). Introducing the New Covenant, God "hath made the first [covenant] old" (Heb. 8:13).
Rejecting Jesus, the nation of Israel sentenced itself to a symbolic Hades as the antitypical rich man. They boasted themselves that they are children of Abraham, not noticing that the covenant which God made with Abraham included not only the descendants of the flesh, but also spiritual offspring (Gen. 22:17; Jn. 8:39). Israel in Jesus' day did not notice that at that time there was a great dispensational change: Kingdom of God started to be announced and gathering of the spiritual offspring of Abraham began - those who will become heirs and co-kings with Jesus Christ (Rom. 11:16-24; Gal. 4:6,7; 2 Pt. 1:4).
THE MEANING OF LAZARUS
If a rich man symbolizes the nation of Israel, Lazarus embodies non-Jews - the Gentiles. The Apostle Paul writes to the church in Ephesus: "Wherefore remember, that ye [being] in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; That at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:11,12 KJV). Wounded by consequences of sin and their own depravity, they lay at the gates of Israel, desiring even wastes of the grace which God gave to this nation, symbolized by the rich man. The only consolation for them could be stray dogs - pagan philosophers proclaiming science that could bring Lazarus just a little bit of relief in the struggle with suffering and the lack of meaning in life.
THE CHANGE OF LAZARUS' POSITION
The change of Lazarus’ position is described as transfer "to the bosom of Abraham". The reference to Abraham at this point shows entering of the believers from Gentiles into a covenant with God – the New Covenant - under the Abrahamic Covenant. The Apostle Paul shows that Abraham is "the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised [Gentiles]" (Rom. 4:11,12). When they believe, they become the promised spiritual descendants of Abraham.
In this parable Lazarus is related specifically only to those believers who are consecrated - who converted and received the gift of the spirit (Acts 2:38). Their transfer "to the bosom" is a reference to the begettal of the spirit which can be experienced only by those who are consecrated by God – they experience 'immersion in the death of Christ' (Rom. 6:3-5, 8:14-17, 12:1,2). Thus, the class of Lazarus is in Abraham's bosom in the meaning in which "in the bosom of the Father" was our Lord during His earthly service - as a "new creation" begotten of the Holy Spirit (John 1:18; 2 Cor. 5:17).
TWO REQUESTS OF THE RICH MAN
The suffering rich man - broken and persecuted Israel of the Gospel Age - wants relief and comes to Abraham to experience it. Jews seek in this way an explanation of what happened to them. They study Tanach to be assured that they are still God’s chosen offspring, His beloved. But still they reject Jesus. They want only to be assured that they are still chosen - this only drop of water of the truth from the New Covenant is enough for them (Rom. 11:1,2; Eph. 5:26). Lazarus cannot get to the rich man even with that one drop due to the gulf between them, which is Christ - unbelief in Jesus means that the message of his Church is not accepted by this nation (see Mt. 21:42,43; Jn. 15:20; 1 Pt. 2:4).
The same thing is illustrated in the second request of the rich man connected with sending Lazarus to his five brothers (the other ten tribes of Israel; after Solomon's death, Israel was divided into 2-generation southern kingdom and 10-generation northern kingdom). However, the answer of Abraham shows that even sending Lazarus - 'someone from the dead' [believers from Gentiles consecrated to death with Christ] - does not result in the conversion of Israel. The only thing that remains is listening to "Moses and the prophets" (Lk. 16:31).