Bible Commentaries

Adam Clarke Commentary

Luke 17


Christ teaches the necessity of avoiding offenses, Luke 17:1, Luke 17:2. How to treat an offending brother, Luke 17:3, Luke 17:4. The efficacy of faith, Luke 17:5, Luke 17:6. No man by his services or obedience can profit his Maker, Luke 17:7-10. He cleanses ten lepers, Luke 17:11-19. The Pharisees inquire when the kingdom of God shall commence; Christ answers them, and corrects their improper views of the subject, vv. 20-37.

Verse 1

It is impossible but that offenses will come - Such is the corrupt state of the human heart that, notwithstanding all the influences of grace, and the promises of glory, men will continue to sin against God; and his justice must continue to punish. See on Matthew 18:6; (note).

Verse 2

A mill-stone - That drowning a person with a stone tied about the neck was an ancient mode of punishment, see proved in the note on Matthew 18:6, Matthew 18:7; (note), to which let the following be added. To have a mill-stone hanged about the neck, was a common proverb. "Samuel saith, A man may marry, and after that addict himself to the study of the law. Rab. Jochanan saith, No: shall he addict himself to the study of the law with a mill-stone about his neck?" The place in Aristophanes, to which the reader is referred in the note on Matthew 18:6; (note), is the following: -

Αραν μετεωρον εις το βαραθρον εμβαλωπ,

Εκ του λαρυγγος εκκρεμασας ὑπερβολον

"Lifting him up into the air, I will plunge him into the deep: a great stone being hung about his neck."

Aristoph. in Equit. ver. 1359.

Verse 3-4

If thy brother trespass - See the notes on Matthew 18:21, Matthew 18:22.

Verse 5

Increase our faith - This work of pardoning every offense of every man, and that continually, seemed so difficult, even to the disciples themselves, that they saw, without an extraordinary degree of faith, they should never be able to keep this command. But some think that this and what follows relate to what Matthew has mentioned. Matthew 17:19, Matthew 17:20.

Verse 6

As a grain of mustard seed - A faith that increases and thrives as that is described to do, Matthew 13:32; (note), where see the note. See also Matthew 17:20.

This sycamine - The words seem to intimate that they were standing by such a tree. The sycamine is probably the same as the sycamore. Sycamore with us, says Mr. Evelyn, is falsely so called, being our acer majus, greater maple. The true sycamore is the ficus Pharaonis or Aegyptia, Pharaoh's, or Egyptian fig-tree; called also, from its similitude in leaves and fruit, morosyous, or mulberry fig-tree. The Arabians call it guimez : it grows in Cyprus, Caria, Rhodes, and in Judea and Galilee, where our Lord at this time was: see Luke 17:11. St. Jerome, who was well acquainted with these countries, translates the word mulberry-tree.

Be thou plucked up by the root - See the note on Matthew 21:21, where it is shown that this mode of speech refers to the accomplishment of things very difficult, but not impossible.

Verses 7-9

Which of you, having a servant - It is never supposed that the master waits on the servant - the servant is bound to wait on his master, and to do every thing for him to the uttermost of his power: nor does the former expect thanks for it, for he is bound by his agreement to act thus, because of the stipulated reward, which is considered as being equal in value to all the service that he can perform.

Verse 10

We are unprofitable servants - This text has often been produced to prove that no man can live without committing sin against God. But let it be observed, the text says unprofitable servants, not sinful servants. If this text could be fairly construed to countenance sinful imperfection, it would be easy to demonstrate that there is not one of the spirits of just men made perfect, in paradise, nor a ministering angel at the throne of God, but is sinfully imperfect: for none of these can work righteousness, in the smallest degree, beyond those powers which God has given them; and justice and equity require that they should exert those powers to the uttermost in the service of their Maker; and, after having acted thus, it may be justly said, They have done only what it was their duty to do. The nature of God is illimitable, and all the attributes of that nature are infinitely glorious: they cannot be lessened by the transgressions of his creatures, nor can they be increased by the uninterrupted, eternal obedience, and unceasing hallelujahs, of all the intelligent creatures that people the whole vortex of nature. When ages, beyond the power of arithmetic to sum up, have elapsed, it may be said of the most pure and perfect creatures, "Ye are unprofitable servants." Ye have derived your being from the infinite fountain of life: ye are upheld by the continued energy of the Almighty: his glories are infinite and eternal, and your obedience and services, however excellent in themselves, and profitable to you, have added nothing, and can add nothing, to the absolute excellencies and glories of your God.

Verse 11

He passed through the midst of Samaria and Galilee - He first went through Galilee, whence he set out on his journey; and then through Samaria, of which mention is made, Luke 9:51, Luke 9:52. All who went from Galilee to Jerusalem must have necessarily passed through Samaria, unless they had gone to the westward, a very great way about. Therefore John tells us, John 4:4, that when Jesus left Judea to go into Galilee, it was necessary for him to pass through Samaria; for this plain reason, because it was the only proper road. "It is likely that our Lord set out from Capernaum, traversed the remaining villages of Galilee as far as Samaria, and then passed through the small country of Samaria, preaching and teaching every where, and curing the diseased, as usual." Calmet.

Verse 12

Ten - lepers - Concerning the leprosy see the note on Matthew 8:2; and on Leviticus 13:1, etc. and Leviticus 14:1, etc.

Which stood afar off - They kept at a distance, because forbidden by law and custom to come near to those who were sound, for fear of infecting them. See Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2; 2 Kings 15:5.

Verse 13

They lifted up their voices - They cried with one accord - they were all equally necessitous, and there was but one voice among them all, though ten were engaged in crying at the same time. As they were companions in suffering, they were also companions in prayer. Prayer should be strong and earnest, when the disease is great and inveterate. Sin is the worst of all leprosies; it not only separates those to whom it cleaves from the righteous, but it separates them from God; and nothing but the pitying heart and powerful hand of Christ Jesus can set any soul free from it.

Verse 14

Show yourselves unto the priests - According to the direction, Leviticus 13:2, etc.; Leviticus 14:2, etc. Our Lord intended that their cure should be received by faith: they depended on his goodness and power; and though they had no promise, yet they went at his command to do that which those only were required by the law to do who were already healed.

And - as they went - In this spirit of implicit faith; they were cleansed. God highly honors this kind of faith, and makes it the instrument in his hand of working many miracles. He who will not believe till he receives what he calls a reason for it, is never likely to get his soul saved. The highest, the most sovereign reason, that can be given for believing, is that God has commanded it.

Verse 15

One of them, when he saw that he was healed, etc. - It seems that he did not wait to go first to the priest, but turned immediately back, and gave public praise to the kind hand from which he had received his cure.

Verse 16

He was a Samaritan - One who professed a very corrupt religion; and from whom much less was to be expected than from the other nine, who probably were Jews.

Verse 17

Where are the nine? - Where are the numbers that from time to time have been converted to God? Are they still found praising him, with their faces on the dust, as they did at first? Alas! how many are turned back to perdition! and how many are again mingled with the world! Reader! art thou of this number?

Verse 18

This stranger - Often God receives more praise and affectionate obedience from those who had long lived without his knowledge and fear, than from those who were bred up among his people, and who profess to be called by his name. The simple reason is, Those who have Much forgiven will love much, Luke 7:47.

Verse 19

Thy faith hath made thee whole - Thy faith hath been the means of receiving that influence by which thou hast been cleansed.

Verse 20

Cometh not with observation - With scrupulous observation. That this is the proper meaning of the original, μετα παρατηρησεως, Kypke and others have amply proved from the best Greek writers. As if he had said: "The kingdom of God, the glorious religion of the Messiah, does not come in such a way as to be discerned only by sagacious critics, or is only to be seen by those who are scrupulously watching for it; it is not of such a nature as to be confined to one place, so that men might say of it, Behold it is only here, or only there: for this kingdom of God is publicly revealed; and behold it is among you; I proclaim it publicly, and work those miracles which prove the kingdom of God is come; and none of these things are done in a corner."

Dr. Lightfoot has well observed that there are two senses especially in which the phrase "kingdom of heaven," is to be understood.

  1. The promulgation and establishment of the Christian religion.
  • The total overthrow of the Jewish polity.
  • The Jews imagined that when the Messiah should come he would destroy the Gentiles, and reign gloriously over the Jews: the very reverse of this, our Lord intimates, should be the case. He was about to destroy the whole Jewish polity, and reign gloriously among the Gentiles. Hence he mentions the case of the general deluge, and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. As if he had said: "The coming of this kingdom shall be as fatal to you as the deluge was to the old world, and as the fire and brimstone from heaven were to Sodom and Gomorrah." Our Lord states that this kingdom of heaven was within them, i.e. that they themselves should be the scene of these desolations, as, through their disobedience and rebellion, they possessed the seeds of these judgments. See on Matthew 3:2; (note).

    Verse 21

    Lo here! or, lo there! - Perhaps those Pharisees thought that the Messiah was kept secret, in some private place, known only to some of their rulers; and that by and by he should be proclaimed in a similar way to that in which Joash was by Jehoiada the priest. See the account, 2 Chronicles 23:1-11.

    Verse 22

    When ye shall desire to see one of the days - As it was our Lord's constant custom to support and comfort the minds of his disciples, we cannot suppose that he intimates here that they shall be left destitute of those blessings necessary for their support in a day of trial. When he says, Ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, he either means, ye of this nation, ye Jews, and addresses his disciples as if they should bear witness to the truth of the declaration; intimating that heavy calamities were about to fall upon them, and that they should desire in vain to have those opportunities of returning to God which now they rejected; or, he means that such should the distressed state of this people be, that the disciples would through pity and tenderness desire the removal of those punishments from them, which could not be removed because the cup of their iniquity was full. But the former is more likely to be the sense of the place.

    Verse 23

    And they shall say - Or, And If they shall say. Two MSS., the Syriac and Armenian, have εαν, If.

    See here - KM, sixteen others, and the later Syriac, have ὁ χριστος, Behold the Christ is here. This is undoubtedly the meaning of the place. See on Matthew 24:23; (note).

    Verse 24

    As the lightning, that lighteneth - See this particularly explained, Matthew 24:27, Matthew 24:28; (note).

    Verse 25

    But first must he suffer many things - As the cup of the iniquity of this people shall not be full till they have finally rejected and crucified the Lord of life and glory, so this desolation cannot take place till after my death.

    Verse 26

    As it was in the days of Noe - See on Matthew 24:38; (note).

    Verse 27

    They did eat, they drank, etc. - They spent their whole lives in reference to this world; and made no sort of provision for their immortal souls. So it was when the Romans came to destroy Judea; there was a universal carelessness, and no one seemed to regard the warnings given by the Son of God.

    Verse 29

    It rained fire and brimstone - Instead of it rained, Genesis 19:24; justifies the insertion of the pronoun he, as implied in the verb εβρεξε ; for it is there said that Jehovah rained fire and brimstone from Jehovah out of heaven.

    Verse 31

    He which shall be upon the housetop - See this explained on Matthew 24:17; (note).

    Verse 32

    Remember Lot's wife - Relinquish every thing, rather than lose your souls. She looked back, Genesis 19:26; probably she turned back also to carry some of her goods away - for so much the preceding verse seems to intimate, and became a monument of the Divine displeasure, and of her own folly and sin. It is a proof that we have loved with a criminal affection that which we leave with grief and anxiety, though commanded by the Lord to abandon it.

    Verse 33

    Whosoever shall seek to save his life - These or similar words were spoken on another occasion. See on Matthew 10:39; (note); Matthew 16:25, Matthew 16:26; (note).

    Verses 34-36

    On the subject of these verses see Matthew 24:40, Matthew 24:41; (note). The 36th verse is, without doubt, an interpolation. It was probably borrowed from Matthew 24:40. The whole verse is wanting in - ABEGHKLQS, more than fifty others, the Coptic, Ethiopic, Gothic, Slavonic, and many of the fathers: Griesbach has left it out of the text. Well might our translators say in the margin, This 36th verse is wanting in most of the Greek copies. Griesbach thinks it might have been omitted on account of the similar ending, (see the preceding verse), or that it was borrowed from Matthew 24:40.

    Verse 37

    Where, Lord? - In what place shall all these dreadful evils fall? The answer our Lord gives in a figure, the application of which they are to make themselves. Where the dead carcass is, there will be the birds of prey - where the sin is, there will the punishment be. See on Matthew 24:28; (note).

    Thither will the eagles (or vultures) be gathered together. The jackal or chakal is a devourer of dead bodies; and the vulture is not less so: it is very remarkable how suddenly these birds appear after the death of an animal in the open field, though a single one may not have been seen on the spot for a long period before. The following chapter seems to be a continuation of this discourse: at least it is likely they were spoken on the same occasion. Both contain truths which the reader should carefully ponder, and receive in the spirit of prayer and faith, that he may not come into the same condemnation into which these have fallen.

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    Bibliographical Information
    Clarke, Adam. "Commentary on Luke 17". "The Adam Clarke Commentary". 1832.