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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible
Luke 12



Verses 1-59

Chapter 12


12:1-12 In the meantime, when the people had been gathered together in their thousands, so that they trampled on each other, Jesus began to say first of all to his disciples, "Be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing covered up which will not be unveiled, and there is nothing secret which shall not be known. All, therefore, that you have spoken in the dark shall be heard in the light; and what you have spoken into someone's ear in the inner room will be proclaimed on the housetops. I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and who after that are not able to do anything further. I will warn you whom you are to fear--fear him who after he has killed you has authority to cast you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! Are not five sparrows sold for 1/2 pence ? And yet not one of them is forgotten before God. But as for you--even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid. You are of more value than many sparrows. I tell you, everyone who acknowledges me before men, him will the Son of Man acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God. If anyone speaks a word against the Son of Man it will be forgiven him; but he who speaks irreverently of the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. When they bring you before synagogues and rulers and those set in authority, do not worry how you will defend yourself or about what defence you will make, or about what you will say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you in that same hour what you ought to say."

When we read this passage we are reminded again of the Jewish definition of preaching--charaz (Hebrew #2737), which means stringing pearls. This passage, too, is a collection of pearls strung together without the close connection which modern preaching demands. But in it there are certain dominant ideas.

(i) It tells us of the forbidden sin, which is hypocrisy. The word hypocrite began by meaning someone who answers; and hypocrisy originally meant answering. First the words were used of the ordinary flow of question and answer in any talk or in any dialogue; then they began to be connected with question and answer in a play. From that they went on to be connected with acting apart. The hypocrite is never genuine; he is always play-acting. The basis of hypocrisy is insincerity. God would rather have a blunt, honest sinner, than someone who puts on an act of goodness.

(ii) It tells of the correct attitude to life, which is an attitude of fearlessness. There are two reasons for fearlessness.

(a) Man's power over man is strictly limited to this life. A man can destroy another man's life but not his soul. In the 1914-18 war Punch had a famous cartoon in which it showed the German Emperor saying to King Albert of Belgium, "So now you have lost everything"; and back came Albert's answer, "But not my soul!" On the other hand, God's power is such that it can blot out a man's very soul. It is, therefore, only reasonable to fear God rather than to fear men. It was said of John Knox, as his body was being lowered into the grave, "Here lies one who feared God so much that he never feared the face of man."

(b) God's care is the most detailed of all. To God we are never lost in the crowd. Matthew says, "Are not two sparrows sold for 1/4 pence ?" (Matthew 10:29.) Here Luke says, "Are not five sparrows sold for 1/2 pence ?" If you were prepared to spend 1/2 pence you got not four, but five sparrows. One was flung into the bargain as having no value at all. Not even the sparrow on which men set not a 1/4 pence value is forgotten before God. The very hairs of our head are numbered. It has been computed that a blonde person has about 145,000 hairs; a dark-haired person, 120,000; and a person with red hair, 90,000! The Jews were so impressed with the individual care of God that they said that every blade of grass had its guardian angel. None of us needs to fear for each can say, "God cares for me."

(iii) It tells us of the unforgivable sin, which is the sin against the Holy Spirit. Both Matthew and Mark record that Jesus spoke about this sin immediately after the scribes and Pharisees had attributed his cures to the prince of devils instead of to God (Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29). These men could look at the very grace and power of God and call it the work of the devil. To understand this we must remember that Jesus was talking about the Holy Spirit as the Jews understood that conception, not in the full Christian sense, about which his audience at that time obviously knew nothing.

To a Jew, God's Spirit had two great functions. Through the Spirit he told his truth to men, and it was by the action of the Spirit in a man's mind and heart that he could recognize and grasp God's truth. Now, if a man for long enough refuses to use a faculty he will lose it. If we refuse to use any part of the body long enough it atrophies. Darwin tells how when he was a young man he loved poetry and music; but he so devoted himself to biology that he completely neglected them. The consequence was that in later life poetry meant nothing to him and music was only a noise, and he said that if he had his life to live over again he would see to it that he would read poetry and listen to music so that he would not lose the faculty of enjoying them.

Just so we can lose the faculty of recognizing God. By repeatedly refusing God's word, by repeatedly taking our own way, by repeatedly shutting our eyes to God and closing our ears to him, we can come to a stage when we do not recognize him when we see him, when to us evil becomes good and good becomes evil. That is what happened to the scribes and Pharisees. They had so blinded and deafened themselves to God that when he came they called him the devil.

Why is that the unforgivable sin? Because in such a state repentance is impossible. If a man does not even realize that he is sinning, if goodness no longer makes any appeal to him, he cannot repent. God has not shut him out; by his repeated refusals he has shut himself out. That means that the one man who can never have committed the unforgivable sin is the man who fears that he has, for once a man has committed it, he is so dead to God that he is conscious of no sin at all.

(iv) It tells us of the rewarded loyalty. The reward of loyalty is no material thing. It is that in heaven Jesus will say of us, "This was my man. Well done!"

(v) It tells us of the help of the Holy Spirit. In the fourth Gospel the favourite title of the Holy Spirit is the Paraclete. Parakletos (Greek #3875) means someone who stands by to help. It can be used of a witness, or an advocate to plead our cause. In the day of trouble there need be no fear, for no less a person than the Holy Spirit of God stands by to help.


12:13-34 One of the crowd said to Jesus, "Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." He said to him, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbitrator over you?" He said to them, "Watch and guard yourself against the spirit which is always wanting more; for even if a man has an abundance his life does not come from his possessions." He spoke a parable to them. "The land," he said, "of a rich man bore good crops. He kept thinking what he would do. 'What will I do,' he said, 'because I have no room to gather in my crops?' So he said, 'This is what I will do. I will pull down my barns and I will build bigger ones, and I will gather there all my corn and all my good things; and I will say to my soul, Soul, you have many good things laid up for many years. Take your rest, eat, drink and enjoy yourself.' But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul is demanded from you; and, the things you prepared--who will get them all?' So is he who heaps up treasure for himself and is not rich towards God."

Jesus said to his disciples, "I therefore tell you, do not worry about your life--about what you are to eat; nor about your body--about what you are to wear. For your life is something more than food, and your body than clothing. Look at the ravens. See how they do not sow or reap; they have no storehouse or barn; but God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than the birds? Which of you, by worrying about it, can add a few days to his span of life? If, then, you cannot do the littlest thing why worry about the other things? Look at the lilies. See how they grow. They do not work; they do not spin; but, I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these. If God so clothe the grass in the field, which is there to-day and which to-morrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith? Do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink; do not be tossed about in a storm of anxiety. The peoples of the world seek for all these things. Your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom and all these things will be added to you. Do not fear, little flock, because it is your Father's will to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions and give alms. Make yourselves purses which never grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where a thief does not come near and a moth does not destroy. For where your treasure is there your heart will also be."

It was not uncommon for people in Palestine to take their unsettled disputes to respected Rabbis; but Jesus refused to be mixed up in anyone's disputes about money. But out of that request there came to Jesus an opportunity to lay down what his followers' attitude to material things should be. He had something to say both to those who had an abundant supply of material possessions and to those who had not.

(i) To those who had an abundant supply of possessions Jesus spoke this parable of the Rich Fool. Two things stand out about this man.

(a) He never saw beyond himself. There is no parable which is so full of the words, I, me, my and mine. A schoolboy was once asked what parts of speech my and mine are. He answered, "Aggressive pronouns." The rich fool was aggressively self-centred. It was said of a self-centred young lady, "Edith lived in a little world, bounded on the north, south, east and west by Edith." The famous criticism was made of a self-centred person, "There is too much ego in his cosmos." When this man had a superfluity of goods the one thing that never entered his head was to give any away. His whole attitude was the very reverse of Christianity. Instead of denying himself he aggressively affirmed himself; instead of finding his happiness in giving he tried to conserve it by keeping.

John Wesley's rule of life was to save all he could and give all he could. When he was at Oxford he had an income of 30 British pounds a year. He lived on 28 pounds and gave 2 pounds away. When his income increased to 60 pounds, 90 pounds and 120 pounds per year, he still lived on 28 pounds and gave the balance away. The Accountant-General for Household Plate demanded a return from him. His reply was, "I have two silver tea spoons at London and two at Bristol. This is all the plate which I have at present; and I shall not buy any more, while so many around me want bread."

The Romans had a proverb which said that money was like sea-water; the more a man drank the thirstier he became. And so long as a man's attitude is that of the rich fool his desire will always be to get more--and that is the reverse of the Christian way.

(b) He never saw beyond this world. All his plans were made on the basis of life here. There is a story of a conversation between a young and ambitious lad and an older man who knew life. Said the young man, "I will learn my trade." "And then?" said the older man. "I will set up in business." "And then?" "I will make my fortune." "And then?" "I suppose that I shall grow old and retire and live on my money." "And then?" "Well, I suppose that some day I will die." "And then?" came the last stabbing question.

The man who never remembers that there is another world is destined some day for the grimmest of grim shocks.

(ii) But Jesus had something to say to those who had few possessions. In all this passage the thought which Jesus forbids is anxious thought or worry. Jesus never ordered any man to live in a shiftless, thriftless, reckless way. What he did tell a man was to do his best and then leave the rest to God. The lilies Jesus spoke of were the scarlet anemones. After one of the infrequent showers of summer rain, the mountain side would be scarlet with them; they bloomed one day and died. Wood was scarce in Palestine, and it was the dried grasses and wild flowers that were used to feed the oven fire. "If," said Jesus, "God looks after the birds and the flowers, how much more will he care for you?"

Jesus said, "Seek first the kingdom of God." We saw that God's kingdom was a state on earth in which his will was as perfectly done as it is in heaven. So Jesus is saying, "Bend all your life to obeying God's will and rest content with that. So many people give all their effort to heap up things which in their very nature cannot last. Work for the things which last forever, things which you need not leave behind when you leave this earth, but which you can take with you."

In Palestine wealth was often in the form of costly raiment; the moths could get at the fine clothes and leave them ruined. But if a man clothes his soul with the garments of honour and purity and goodness, nothing on earth can injure them. If a man seeks the treasures of heaven, his heart will be fixed on heaven; but if he seeks the treasures of earth, his heart will be thirled to earth--and some day he must say good-bye to them, for, as the grim Spanish proverb has it, "There are no pockets in a shroud."

BE PREPARED (Luke 12:35-48)

12:35-48 "Let your loins be girt and your lamps burning. Be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that, when he comes and knocks, they will open to him immediately. Happy are those servants whom the master will come and find awake. This is the truth that I tell you--he will gird himself; he will make them recline at table; and he will come and serve them. Happy are they if he finds them so, even if he comes in the second or third watch. Know this--that if the householder knew at what time the thief would come he would have been awake and he would not have allowed his home to be broken into. So you must show yourselves ready, for the Son of Man comes at an hour you do not expect."

Peter said, "Lord are you speaking this parable to us or to everyone?" The Lord said, "Who, then, is the faithful and wise steward, whom the master will set over the administration of his house to give them their ration of food at the right time? Happy is that servant whom the master will come and find acting like this. I tell you truly that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delayed in coming,' and if he begins to beat the men servants and the maid servants, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that servant will arrive on a day on which he is not expecting him and at an hour which he does not know, and he will cut him in pieces and he will place his part with the unfaithful. That servant who knew the will of his master, and who failed to have things ready, and to act in accordance with that will, will be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, even if he did things that deserved stripes, will be beaten with few stripes. To whom much is given, from him much will be required; and men will demand much from him to whom much was entrusted."

This passage has two senses. In its narrower sense it refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ; in its wider sense it refers to the time when God's summons enters a man's life, a call to prepare to meet our God.

There is praise for the servant who is ready. The long flowing robes of the east were a hindrance to work; and when a man prepared to work he gathered up his robes under his girdle to leave himself free for activity. The eastern lamp was like a cotton wick floating in a sauce-boat of oil. Always the wick had to be kept trimmed and the lamp replenished or the light would go out.

No man can tell the day or the hour when eternity will invade time and summons will come. How, then, would we like God to find us?

(i) We would like him to find us with our work completed. Life for so many of us is filled with loose ends. There are things undone and things half done; things put off and things not even attempted. Great men have always the sense of a task that must be finished. Keats wrote,

"When I have fears that I may cease to be

Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain."

Robert Louis Stevenson wrote,

"The morning drum-call on my eager ear

Thrills unforgotten yet; the morning dew

Lies yet undried along my field of noon.

But now I pause at whiles in what I do,

And count the bell, and tremble lest I hear

(My work untrimmed) the sunset gun too soon."

Jesus himself said, "I have accomplished the work which thou gavest me to do" (John 17:4). No man should ever lightly leave undone a task he ought to have finished, before night falls.

(ii) We would like God to find us at peace with our fellowmen. It would be a haunting thing to pass from this world at bitterness with a fellow. No man should let the sun go down on his anger (Ephesians 4:26), least of all the last sun of all and he never knows which sun that will be.

(iii) We should like God to find us at peace with himself. It will make all the difference at the last whether we feel that we are going out to a stranger or an enemy, or going to fall asleep in the arms of God.

In the second section of this passage Jesus draws a picture of the wise and the unwise steward. In the east the steward had almost unlimited power. He was himself a slave, yet he had control of all the other slaves. A trusted steward ran his master's house for him and administered his estate. The unwise steward made two mistakes.

(i) He said, I will do what I like while my master is away; he forgot that the day of reckoning must come. We have a habit of dividing life into compartments. There is a part in which we remember that God is present; and there is a part in which we never think of him at all. We tend to draw a line between sacred and secular; but if we really know what Christianity means we will know that there is no part of life when the master is away. We are working and living forever in our great task-master's eye.

(ii) He said, I have plenty of time to put things right before the master comes; there is nothing so fatal as to feel that we have plenty of time. Jesus said, "We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night comes when no one can work" (John 9:4). Denis Mackail tells how, when Sir James Barrie was old, he would never make arrangements or give invitations for a distant date. "Short notice now!" he would say. One of the most dangerous days in a man's life is when he discovers the word "tomorrow."

The passage finishes with the warning that knowledge and privilege always bring responsibility. Sin is doubly sinful to the man who knew better; failure is doubly blameworthy in the man who had every chance to do well.


12:49-53 Jesus said, "I came to cast fire upon the earth. And what do I wish? Would that it were already kindled! There is an experience through which I must pass; and now I am under tension until it is accomplished! Do you think I came to give peace in the earth? Not that, I tell you, but division! From now on in one house there will be five people divided--three against two, and two against three. They will be divided, father against son, and son against father, mother against daughter, and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law."

To those who were learning to regard Jesus as the Messiah, the anointed one of God, these words would come as a bleak shock. They regarded the Messiah as conqueror and king, and the Messianic age as a golden time.

(i) In Jewish thought fire is almost always the symbol of judgment. So, then, Jesus regarded the coming of his kingdom as a time of judgment. The Jews firmly believed that God would judge other nations by one standard and themselves by another; that the very fact that a man was a Jew would be enough to absolve him. However much we may wish to eliminate the element of judgment from the message of Jesus it remains stubbornly and unalterably there.

(ii) The King James Version and the Revised Standard translate Luke 12:50. "I have a baptism to be baptised with." The Greek verb baptizein (Greek #907) means to dip. In the passive it means to be submerged. Often it is used metaphorically. For instance, it is used of a ship sunk beneath the waves. It can be used of a man submerged in drink and therefore dead-drunk. It can be used of a scholar submerged (or sunk, as we say) by an examiner's questions. Above all it is used of a man submerged in some grim and terrible experience--someone who can say, "All the waves and billows are gone over me."

That is the way in which Jesus uses it here. "I have," he said, "a terrible experience through which I must pass; and life is full of tension until I pass through it and emerge triumphantly from it." The cross was ever before his eyes. How different from the Jewish idea of God's King! Jesus came, not with avenging armies and flying banners, but to give his life a ransom for many.

There was a Knight of Bethlehem,

Whose wealth was tears and sorrows,

His men-at-arms were little lambs,

His trumpeters were sparrows.

His castle was a wooden Cross

On which he hung so high;

His helmet was a crown of thorns,

Whose crest did touch the sky.

(iii) His coming would inevitably mean division; in point of fact it did. That was one of the great reasons why the Romans hated Christianity--it tore families in two. Over and over again a man had to decide whether he loved better his kith and kin or Christ. The essence of Christianity is that loyalty to Christ has to take precedence over the dearest loyalties of this earth. A man must be prepared to count all things but loss for the excellence of Jesus Christ.


12:54-59 Jesus said to the crowds, "When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, 'Rain is coming.' And so it happens. When you feel the south wind blowing, you say, 'There will be scorching heat.' And so it happens. Hypocrites! you can read the signs of the face of the earth and the sky. How can you not read the signs of this time? Why do you not for yourselves judge what is right? When you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, make an effort to come to an agreement with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge will hand you over to the officer, and the officer will throw you into prison. I tell you, you will not come out from there until you have paid the last farthing."

The Jew's of Palestine were weatherwise. When they saw the clouds forming in the west, over the Mediterranean Sea, they knew rain was on the way. When the south wind blew from the desert they knew the sirocco-like wind was coming. But those who were so wise to read the signs of the sky could not, or would not, read the signs of the times. If they had, they would have seen that the kingdom of God was on the way.

Jesus used a very vivid illustration. He said, "When you are threatened with a law-suit, come to an agreement with your adversary before the matter comes to court, for if you do not you will have imprisonment to endure and a fine to pay." The assumption is that the defendant has a bad case which will inevitably go against him. "Every man," Jesus implied, "has a bad case in the presence of God; and if he is wise, he will make his peace with God while yet there is time."

Jesus and all his great servants have always been obsessed with the urgency of time. Andrew Marvell spoke of ever hearing "time's winged chariot hurrying near." There are some things a man cannot afford to put off; above all, making his peace with God.

We read in the last verse of paying to the last farthing. We have already come across several references to money; and it will be useful if we collect the information about Jewish coinage in the time of Jesus. In order of value the principal coins were as follows:

The Lepton; lepton (Greek #3016) means the thin one; it was the smallest coin, and was worth about one thirty-second of 1 pence. It was the widow's mite (Mark 12:42) and is the coin mentioned here.

The Quadrans (Greek #2835) was worth two lepta and therefore worth about one-sixteenth of 1 pence. It is mentioned in Matthew 5:26.

The Assarion (Greek #787) was worth a little less than 1/2 pence. It is mentioned in Matthew 10:29 and Luke 12:6.

The Denarius (Greek #1220) was worth about 3 pence. It was a day's pay for a working man (Matthew 20:2); and was the coin that the Good Samaritan left with the innkeeper (Luke 10:25).

The Drachma (Greek #1406) was a silver coin worth about 4 pence. It was the coin which the woman lost and searched for (Luke 15:8).

The Didrachma (Greek #1323) or Half-shekel was worth about 7 pence. It was the amount of the Temple Tax which everyone had to pay. It was for thirty didrachmae--about 2 British pounds--that Judas betrayed Jesus.

The Shekel (Greek #4715) was worth about 15 pence, and was the coin found in the fish's mouth (Matthew 17:27).

The Mina (Greek #3414) is the coin mentioned in the parable of the Pounds (Luke 19:11-27). It was equal to 100 drachmae; and was, therefore, worth about 4 British pounds.

The Talent (Greek #5007) was not so much a coin but a weight of silver worth 240 British pounds. It is mentioned in Matthew 18:24 and in the parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30).

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


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Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 12:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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Saturday, October 24th, 2020
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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