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I’m doing a talk in a few weeks on the story of ‘the Rich Man and Lazarus’ (Luke 16:19-31), and I find that it fits quite nicely with the account of the raising of Lazarus from the dead in John 11. In particular:

  • The name ‘Lazarus’ is used in both accounts without any disambiguation. Usually when more than one person has the same name, we get a surname or other point of identification. Eg. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Judas - not Iscariot etc. Here it’s just ‘Lazarus’. Nor is he just a bit player with one or two mentions. Lazarus is named 4 times in Luke 16, and 11 times in John 11-12.
  • The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus offers no clue to why Lazarus goes to “Abraham’s bosom” other than that in his lifetime he ‘received bad things’. Are we to understand that everyone who has a tough life goes to heaven? If however we grant him being the Lazarus of John 11, then the answer is clear. Lazarus is identified by his sisters in John 11:3 by “He whom you love is sick”. So he went to heaven because he loved Jesus and Jesus loved him.
  • The rich man asks for Lazarus to be sent back to his brothers, and while Abraham is pessimistic about the prospects he doesn’t actually deny the request. And then we find in John 11 that a man called Lazarus is indeed ‘sent back’. And in John 12:10-11, Abraham’s assessment is confirmed – Lazarus’ resurrection results in the chief priests seeking to put him to death again because it’s causing people to believe in Jesus.

One thing that is difficult to reconcile is how Lazarus could be a beggar when a) he was buried in a tomb (John 11:38), and b) his sister Mary produced perfume worth a year’s wages to anoint Jesus (John 11:2; 12:5). However there are three other accounts of this anointing (Matt 26:6-14; Mark 14:3-10; Luke 7:36-50), and in the Luke account the anointer is described as a ‘sinful woman’ (Luke 7:39) – presumably a prostitute. This puts the family in a quite different light. Far from being a well-to-do middle-class family, we see something much grittier. Lazarus is a poor beggar, while his sister Mary makes big money as a prostitute - and apparently doesn’t share with her brother. Yet Jesus met this family and loved them (John 11:5).

This all follows quite naturally, but I find that most commentary on these stories dismisses the possibility that it could be the same Lazarus. So perhaps I’ve missed something important in this, or maybe there are implications that are too uncomfortable for us to accept. Such as:

  • It upsets our idea of the Mary who sat at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:38-41). The usual understanding of her is a pious virtuous woman, listening attentively because it’s the ‘right thing to do’. This interpretation reveals her as a desperate sinner hearing words of grace from her Saviour. Of course she should be excused from meal preparation this time - she has crucial business to do.
  • It upsets our idea of who Jesus should love. John 11:5 has “Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus.” It’s a bit disturbing to think of them as a dysfunctional family. We’d much rather see Jesus loving respectable folk. But loving the unlovely is quite in character for Jesus, and complaining about it is quite in character for everyone else. Eg. Matt 11:19; Luke 5:29-30; Luke 15:1-2.

I realise this view is unpopular, but there must be a reason for it. Have I missed something important, or is this simply prejudice?

EDIT: I know there are strong opinions on this topic, but if you’re going to give an answer, please provide something based on Scripture rather than unsubstantiated assertions and assumptions.

closed as primarily opinion-based by Lee Woofenden, KorvinStarmast, Dan, Ken Graham, bruised reed Jun 12 '18 at 15:07

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 10
    You are incorrect regarding identification. One Lazarus is identified as the brother of Mary and Martha who lived in Bethany. The other Lazarus is identified as the poor beggar who sat every day at the gate of a rich man and who, subsequently died in that state. To say that Lazarus of Bethany, after being raised from the dead by Jesus, afterwards died as a beggar - is not only preposterous (and not only contradicts the known facts) - it is completely without any substantial evidence whatsoever. It is not just conjecture, it is deliberate (fanciful) ignoring of the documentation available. – Nigel J Jun 7 '18 at 3:07
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    There isn't a single reason to think they are the same Lazarus. Other than name, there is no link. Would you consider your neighbor John to be John the Apostle? – Zephyr Jun 7 '18 at 3:51
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    @NigelJ your answer is better than mine. If you post yours as a formal answer I will remove mine in the interest of quality. – Matt Gutting Jun 7 '18 at 10:26
  • @NigelJ I don't think anyone is suggesting Luke's story happened after John's - the question is about the argument that they're describing the same death. – curiousdannii Jun 7 '18 at 10:53
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    It makes no sense to call someone "reluctant" to do something if they have never considered doing it. The title of your question seems to make a false assumption. "Most Christians" have never considered your speculative reading. It isn't as if they were presented with it and rejected it since it "makes them uncomfortable." – John Coleman Jun 7 '18 at 14:15
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The earliest Christians' knowledge of Lazarus came not from the Gospel accounts, but rather from personal acquaintance or acquaintance with those who knew Lazarus. In short, they knew Lazarus personally and knew he was not the person in Luke's account.

That knowledge was passed down through the ages in the Church. In the Eastern Orthodox tradition, according to the Synaxarion of Simonas Petra, Lazarus lived for at least 18 years after his resurrection and at one point was appointed episkopos of Kition, in Cyprus, by the Apostle Peter. In the 9th century, the Byzantine Emperor Leo VI the Wise dedicated a church in Constantinople to Lazarus, and sent for his remains in Kition, where they had been encased in a tomb inscribed, "Lazarus, the friend of Christ raised on the fourth day."

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    This is an interesting answer, but could you provide a little more documentation for some of the points you make? – Lee Woofenden Jun 6 '18 at 19:05
  • References on this would be needed. All I can find are things like "Lazarus was archbishop of Kition", "Mary mother of Jesus sewed his omophorion" etc. The earliest 'witnesses' to these things are in the 9th century. Perhaps nice traditions, but fables. – user41640 Jun 24 '18 at 6:03
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I think taken together the Gospels do make us think about this possibility. God has inspired not just the texts of each Biblical book in isolation, but in relation to each other. Lazarus himself is interesting, being mentioned only in John, despite his resurrection being one of the most stunning of all of Jesus's miracles. But to go so far as to assert that the Lazarus of Jesus's story is the same as the real life Lazarus would I think be dangerous. I think this story should make us think of Jesus's friend Lazarus, but not read him into the story.

First, no one else in the Bible has their afterlife described in such detail. The afterlife is described so generally, and I think this is deliberate, God not wanting us to know enough to be distracted by it. If this is a true story then it gives us a lot of unique information about the afterlife, its seeming "physical" structure, and the role of Abraham in the place of the dead. With no other texts giving anywhere near as much detail, I think this passage would set us up more for unhelpful speculation than right understanding.

Second, it detracts from the real meaning of the story, which is a prophetic condemnation on the Jewish leaders after they refused to believe after Jesus was resurrected. In John the resurrection of Lazarus is given as a catalyst of the chief priests and Pharisees scheming to kill Jesus (John 11:46-53). But in the narrative of Luke, the point is about Jesus. Those in the know, those who've heard other stories, or who've read the Gospel of John, know that there are other resurrections which had similar results. But the main point is focused on Jesus. The chief priests and Pharisees sinned as they schemed after the resurrection of Lazarus, but they were condemned when they refused to believe after Jesus came back to life.

In short, I think this Luke 16:19-31 story reminds us of John 11, but we don't read John into Luke. Instead we read the Luke story with what happens later in the Luke-Acts narrative. Understanding it on its own terms takes precedence over harmonising between the Gospels.

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EDIT : Following comments that my answer was difficult to follow, I have re-organised it and placed remarks about the beggar Lazarus (my understanding that he is not a fictional - parable - character but a real person) as a footnote at the end. I hope this is clearer.


I. The OP presents an hypothesis which links two individual men together (in order to make a point about resurrection in a talk) but logical examination indicates that they cannot be so linked. Ergo, the hypothesis is invalid.

II. The OP links two women together (in order to make a point about family relationships in a talk) but logical examination indicates that they cannot be so linked. Ergo, the hypothesis is invalid.

III. Also invalid is the accusation made against a named, deceased woman, which accusation the Spirit, who is Holy, never makes in the whole of the Greek scripture.


Identification One - Lazarus the beggar.

One man is identified as a beggar who had someone who laid him at a gate every day in order that he might beg for food. That someone collected him every evening and would have been well aware of his pitiful condition and aware that his only medication was the saliva of dogs. And that someone brought him back next morning and dumped him there again. Day - after day - after day.

I do not, for one single instant, accept that the persons named as Mary and Martha would so treat their brother. And I thoroughly reject the accusation.

Identification Two - Lazarus of Bethany.

Lazarus of Bethany lived in the hill country with his sisters not far from Jerusalem, John 11:18. The family was both prosperous enough to have a fortune saved up and invested as spikenard, and to have access to a cave for a burial place - a luxury in those days which only such a rich man as Joseph of Arimathaea could afford, Matthew 27:57.

Identification Three - The woman with the alabaster box

There was a woman, report both Matthew (26:6) and Mark (14:3), who, in the house of Simon the leper, not the same dwelling as Martha's family, in Bethany, broke an alabaster box of precious ointment, spikenard, and poured it on the head of Jesus as he sat.

Identification Four - Mary, sister of Martha.

Whilst at a supper in Bethany, John 12:2, where Martha served and Lazarus was present, Mary took a pound of ointment (its container not stated) and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair.

The Accusation

There is not one single fact which can, conclusively, link Mary to the woman with the alabaster box. Those who criticised that woman - with the alabaster box - said she was 'a sinner'. But nobody can link that accusation to Mary, sister of Lazarus. Not in a court of law, and not in my hearing. No single fact links the two.

As to the accusation regarding a certain profession - which I am not prepared to repeat - well, in my view, that says more about the mind of the accuser than it does about the character of the accused.

There is not one single shred of evidence to support such a shocking, unwarranted accusation levelled against a deceased woman who cannot reply for herself.


I sincerely hope the 'talk' does not go ahead. Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these - my brethren - ye have done it unto me. Matthew 25:40.


Footnote - Lazarus a real person

'Certain' - τις, tis There is a 'certain' beggar, Luke 16:20, and there is a 'certain' sick, Lazarus of Bethany, John 11:1. [The word 'man' anthropos, is not there in John's original.]

Joseph Thayer, in his 1862 Lexicon, says of the Greek word tis :

Indefinite (enclitic) pronoun used of persons and things which the writer either cannot or will not speak more particularly. ['Enclitic' means it is commonly shortened e.g. can not/ can't.]

See Strong 5100 Biblehub.

Robert Young lists 25 occasions when Luke uses the word in his gospel account and 26 times when it is used in Luke's historic account. I can find no single occasion on which he uses it parabolically or uncertainly. He uses it - always - as a definite fact.

There is no suggestion in the word itself or in its use in scripture that would indicate we are to see it as meaning - this is a parable, this is an hypothetical example.

It is, indeed, 'certain', not speculative

Prior to the decease and raising again of Lazarus, Jesus made a disclosure which has profound implications to the Jews - the children of Abraham. He discloses that one of their number was not, automatically, enfolded in the bosom of Abraham after his departure from this earthly life. His eternal state after death does not depend on his natural advantages - it depends on the actual deeds he committed during this life.

We don't know if the beggar Lazarus was a Jew, a Samarian or a Greek. All we know is that he has a Greek name (it is not Latin, but ancient Greek Lazaros)

But as to the rich, he lifted up his eyes (how so, without a body ?) in Hades (not gehenna - the lake of fire has not yet been kindled) and felt a flame (of fire unkindled ?) and gasped for water (without a tongue ?) and called for Lazarus (already deceased, in the arms of his father) to give him just a drop of water.

Jesus gives certain information, in the only way that such information of the state of death can be conveyed, and gives it at a time of transition whilst the kingdom of God among the Jews is being superseded by the Kingdom of Heaven. One man rests in the bosom of a father. One man feels heat and thirst.

The point of the disclosure is that advantage and disadvantage during this short, uncertain earthly life have no effect whatsoever on the final outcome of eternity.These two individuals, one of whom attempted contact in this life and one of whom avoided it, were as far apart in the spectrum of advantage as it is possible to be.

These facts - regarding real persons - are expressed carefully : first, because all has not, yet, been revealed of Divine Persons (prior to the declaration of the Son of God in resurrection) : and second, because such states cannot be fully grasped intellectually - they can only be experienced.

  • I must say this is extraordinarily difficult to read through. I'm not sure how much of this actually answers the question. There's some good information here but it's not as well phrased as it needs to be. – Matt Gutting Jun 7 '18 at 14:41
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    Reading through this is 'different', not 'difficult'. All of it answers the Q. It demonstrates beautifully why this is such a difficult question for Christians to answer - the answer requires deep study of what the Bible accounts actually state, and not many Christians seem prepared to dig so deeply. Nigel J does. – Anne Jun 7 '18 at 17:56
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    There is some good information in this answer (especially as it regards to the misidentification of Mary by the OP), but it is buried in irrelevant information, pedantic arguments, and terrible formatting. – GreySage Jun 7 '18 at 18:18
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    Your comment on OP was concise and to the point – Kris Jun 7 '18 at 21:09
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    Much better. I don't agree with your linguistic argument, but the rest is well done. – Matt Gutting Jun 8 '18 at 10:26
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Christians are reluctant to tie the two together because it is by no means certain that they are the same person.

Remember that the gospels were primarily written for contemporaries, some of who generally had a pretty good idea who the actors were in all the stories. Further, the writers were more concerned about gospel truths than specifically identifying their friends for future harassment by groupies.

After that the Romans decided to exterminate the Christian religion, which they were generally very good at. What remains today is either lost or tradition (both oral and written) by those who survived. Don't forget also the plethora of straight up fiction, as popular then as today. The idea that any all these characters may actually be the same person is by no means new, but there is no real evidence to support it, outside of some convenient lines that can be drawn -- true of any two works of literature given sufficient sparsity in desired details.

They certainly could be the same person. But it is equally likely that they are distinct. More, if you consider the traditions from the Eastern Churches. But the most pressing reason, in my own opinion, is the same today as then: it doesn't really matter. What matters is the truths expressed in the storied accounts.

2

There are two significant problems with your analysis.

  1. The incident recorded in Luke 10:38-42 takes place in the home of Martha, Lazarus' other sister -- whom you don't account for in your alternate picture of Lazarus' family. Looking to the start of that passage:

    38 As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39 She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40 But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

    Martha has a home large enough, and a well-stocked larder, to provide a meal for Jesus and all the disciples who were with Him. Regardless of any conjectures about Mary, this is strong evidence that Martha was a woman of comfortable means -- not to mention being an accomplished (if harried) hostess. It's a stretch, and a long one, to think that such a woman would leave her own brother to live the life of a destitute beggar. Further evidence of her character shows up in the account of Lazarus' resurrection in John 11:

    38 Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. 39 “Take away the stone,” he said. “But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”

    Yes, she's easily embarrassed and fussy about petty details. Which makes it all the more incredible that she'd endure the sheer humiliation of having her own brother live the life of a beggar!

  2. Turning to the question of Jesus' anointing and the "Mary" (or "Marys") involved. The account in John 12 goes thus:

    1 Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 Here a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

    This takes place in Bethany. There is no mention of this being a sinful woman, or having her sins forgiven. In Matthew 26:

    6 While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of Simon the Leper, 7 a woman came to him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on his head as he was reclining at the table. 8 When the disciples saw this, they were indignant. “Why this waste?” they asked. 9 “This perfume could have been sold at a high price and the money given to the poor.” 10 Aware of this, Jesus said to them, “Why are you bothering this woman? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 11 The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me. 12 When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial. 13 Truly I tell you, wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

    This also takes place in Bethany. There is also no mention of this being a sinful woman, or having her sins forgiven. In Mark 14:

    3 While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. 4 Some of those present were saying indignantly to one another, “Why this waste of perfume? 5 It could have been sold for more than a year’s wages and the money given to the poor.” And they rebuked her harshly. 6 “Leave her alone,” said Jesus. “Why are you bothering her? She has done a beautiful thing to me. 7 The poor you will always have with you, and you can help them any time you want. But you will not always have me. 8 She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9 Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”

    Bethany again. No mention of her being a sinful woman or having sins forgiven. Finally we come to Luke 7:

    36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. [...] 44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” 48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

    No mention of Bethany. Instead of "Simon the Leper", this is the home of "Simon the Pharisee." Jesus acknowledges her prior sins and forgives them. With the other three accounts being so similar in all their particulars, these differences stand out like a sore thumb. Not to mention the timing of the event: it is early (very early!) in Jesus' ministry, before He even sent out the 12 apostles on their first rounds about Judea (Luke 9). The anointing at Bethany however was only days before His final trip to Jerusalem.

In short, these are plainly not the same event -- and the woman is just as plainly not the same Mary.

1

Matt makes a great point that the Lazarus in the parable is fiction (we should look at the account of the Rich Man and Lazarus as didactic rather than historical). Thus, we should not conclude from the fact that Jesus says the dogs licked his sores that the Lazarus of Bethany (kin to Mary and Martha) had sores that were licked by dogs.

But then, why would Jesus name the beggar in this parable but not name the rich man (to my knowledge, this is the only parable character given a specific name)? There is something much deeper here (as always with this amazing fellow Jesus). I think the biggest point of consideration here is that the real Lazarus of Bethany rose from the dead, while the parable Lazarus did not. I'm not positive on the exact timing, but my guess would be that Jesus gave this parable, then rose Lazarus from the dead to demonstrate the truth of what Abraham "said" in verse 31: "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead." And sure enough, rather than believing on the Messiah and giver of life, they tried to re-kill the main He raised.

0

Whether there were one or two Lazarus’s really hinges on whether there were one or two anointings of Jesus. Because while all four of the gospels record an anointing, John’s is explicitly by Lazarus’s sister Mary; Luke’s is by a ‘sinful woman’ – in a society where the only way for a woman to be publicly known as ‘sinful’ was through prostitution; and if these are the same event, then Mary being a prostitute is consistent with Lazarus being a beggar.

Our approach to assessing whether an event is the same is important. The different gospel-writers mention different sets of details about the events they record. In some cases there is no contradiction between them and we simply put them together. So for instance the rich man who asked Jesus how to get eternal life is recorded in Matt 19:16-22, Mark 10:17-22 and Luke 18:18-23. Only Matthew says that he was young, only Mark says that he came running, and only Luke says he was a ruler. There’s no contradiction here, so we conclude that he was a young ruler who came running.

Other times it’s a bit more difficult. The blind man Jesus healed near Jericho was called Bartimaeus in Mark 10:46-52, is unnamed in Luke 18:35-43, and in Matt 20:30-34 there are two blind men. So we assume there were two blind men; one was called Bartimaeus, and he probably did most of the talking.

Final example is the cleansing of the temple. John records this at the start of Jesus’ ministry in John 2. The other three gospels have this in passion week. Is it the same event? Most hold that this is two separate events, but some argue that it is just one. Not my main point today, but just to note that an event appearing in a different order in one gospel doesn’t automatically mean it’s a different event. We need to check the other details as well.

For the accounts of the anointings, I’ve put the different details in a table so that we can easily see what matches and what doesn’t:

Compare 4 gospel accounts of anointing

From the table above you will notice that most of the details are the same or compatible across all four accounts. There are some minor differences such as Matt/Mark saying the perfume was poured on Jesus’ head, while for Luke/John it was on his feet. No doubt it was both. The fact that different reactions were recorded is not a problem. The anointing surely took at least 10 minutes and perhaps over an hour, with plenty of time for all these reactions and more.

The fact that Luke records this early in his narrative while the others are explicitly in passion week is an issue, but what is most striking about these details is their similarity. In some ways the John account that is explicitly Mary is most like the Matt/Mark accounts, but her reported actions are most similar to those of the ‘sinful woman’ in Luke.

Luke says the woman was ‘sinful’. Mary’s righteousness or otherwise is not mentioned elsewhere, but the ability to afford perfume worth a year’s wages – and a tomb for Lazarus – could be explained by either great wealth, or the practice of a certain profession that is as lucrative as it is ancient, and which for Nigel J’s sake I won’t mention again! Scripture doesn’t tell us explicitly where the money came from, but with the information we are given, offending Nigel fits a lot better.

I know there’s a lot of resistance to accepting that Mary could have been anything other than pure and virtuous, even though Scripture says nothing of the kind. Probably this is mainly to do with the sitting-at-Jesus’-feet episode (Luke 10:38-41) because she has so often been co-opted as a model for listening attentively in church. But if she was virtuous then there are some fairly obvious questions that don’t answer well:

Mary Questions

  • While this is really good, it doesn't actually answer the question you wrote. Maybe you could copy it to this question, or another like it? – curiousdannii Jun 10 '18 at 8:37
  • A few points: (1) You kind of dismiss the difference in timing with a hand-wave. If you're asserting that Luke (the most systematic and structured of the gospel-writers) chose to put an event from the passion week so far out of its proper chronology, that requires quite a lot of justification. (2) 'Virtuous' Mary's motivation is plainly stated by Jesus, she did it to prepare Him for His burial. I.e. she understood His death was imminent. (3) Your other "obvious questions" seem irrelevant/contrived, compared to the basic chronology problem, and the question of Martha's position in all this. – JDM-GBG Aug 6 '18 at 1:32
-1

Lack of Evidence

First of all, as others have mentioned, there's simply no evidence at all that they might be the same man aside from sharing a name. There's rather little evidence that the Lazarus of Luke 16 is even a real person in the first place (as opposed to a fictional character in a parable,) let alone that he is the same Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead.

The context of Luke 16

Jesus had just finished telling several parables in the last few chapters of text preceding Luke 16:19, including earlier in chapter 16. Furthermore, according to verses 14-18, Jesus was addressing the Pharisees, who verse 14 identifies as being "lovers of money." It makes sense then that his response to them would include a parable addressing the dangers of the love of money.

The Rich Man's Statement

The rich man says,

No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.

(Luke 16:30 NKJV)

This would have been a rather nonsensical thing for the rich man to say if it were the same Lazarus, as that would literally have already happened and yet they clearly had not repented.