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Bible Commentaries
Luke 11

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This chapter gives Jesus’ instruction on prayer (Luke 11:1-13), recounts his refutation of the Pharisees’ insinuation that Christ was in league with Satan (Luke 11:14-26), records his reaction to a compliment (Luke 11:27-28), details another instance of his reference to Jonah (Luke 11:29-32), stresses his warning against spiritual blindness (Luke 11:33-36), tells of his lunch with a Pharisee (Luke 11:42-44), includes an additional three "woes" against the lawyers, and concludes with Luke’s summary of the intensified evil cabal against Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees (Luke 11:53-54).

Much of the material in this chapter is suggestive of very similar teachings found in Matthew; but this must not be understood as variable accounts of the same events and teachings, colored by the individual viewpoints of the narrators, and therefore being inaccurate or deficient in one or another of the sacred evangelists. The holy Gospels are totally accurate in all of their details; and the conviction that underlies this series of commentaries makes it impossible to receive as valid any type of exegesis that fails to respect this viewpoint.

It is absolutely certain that Christ repeated, over and over again, all of the sacred teachings regarding himself and the message which he brought from the Father; and in the light of that certainty, how inane and puerile are the speculations regarding the Lord’s prayer, recorded both in this chapter and in Matthew, and the pontifications of scholars about which is the "true" account! The same may be said of many other things in this Gospel. How natural, and how impossible to suppose that it could have been otherwise, that Jesus would have returned again and again to the principal teachings that made up the burden of his four-year campaign of enlightenment!

Verse 1


And it came to pass, as he was praying in a certain place, that when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, even as John also taught his disciples.

He was praying … Prayer was a characteristic habit of the Lord Jesus Christ; and no prayerless person has any kinship whatever with the Saviour. "That man is a brute, a monster, who never prays, never gives glory to his Maker, nor owns his dependence upon him."(F1)

When he ceased, one of his disciples said … The circumstances here are utterly different from those in which the similar Lord’s prayer was given in Matthew. Jesus repeated it "on two or more occasions"(F2) for the instruction of his followers; and it was most natural that the prayer should have been repeated in different words, "for Jesus’ view of prayer was that it should not be mechanical."(F3) The respect of that unnamed disciple who made the request for instruction should be noted; he waited until Jesus had finished praying.

Lord, teach us to pray … "This itself is a good prayer, and a very needful one; for it is a hard thing to pray well."(F4)

As John taught his disciples … No other record of such action on John’s part has come down from that age.

Verses 2-4

And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Father, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Give us day by day our daily bread, And forgive us our sins; for we ourselves also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And bring us not into temptation.

And when ye pray, say … According to Geldenhuys, this means that prayer should be used "as nearly as possible in the form in which he taught it";(F5)

but the more accurate exegesis is that "Christ did not design that we should be tied up to these very words, for then there would have been no variation"(F6) from the account given in Matthew.

Father … Harrison commented that:

(Here) Jesus uses a child’s word for Father, which appears also in Romans 8:15. It is used by modern Hebrews within the family circle, and implies familiarity based on love.(F7)

Hallowed be thy name … The first concern in every prayer should be the honor and glory of God. The third commandment in the Decalogue forbade taking God’s name in vain (Exodus 20:7); and the Christian also is instructed to hold the name of God in highest reverence and awe.

Thy kingdom come … Later in this same chapter, Jesus said, "Then is the kingdom of God come upon you" (Luke 11:20); and from this it is mandatory to see a double meaning in "come." There was a sense in which the kingdom had already "come upon" the people of that day; and yet this petition has respect to something future. Anthony Lee Ash noted that:

There is a sense in which the kingdom is to come in any age, since not all have owned the sovereignty of God … Even after the kingdom came at Pentecost (Acts 1:5-8; Acts 2:1-4), the prayer remained a valid one for Christians. If it were not, Luke would not have preserved it in a gospel written for post-Pentecost disciples. And if it were a valid prayer for them, it remains so for Christians of any age.(F8)

In connection with this, the Greek word translated "kingdom" in this prayer is rendered "kingly power" or "royal sovereignty" by practically all recognized expositors of recent times, and not by "kingdom" in a spatial sense.(F9) For further thoughts on praying for the kingdom to come, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 6:9-13.

Our daily bread … This indicates that basic necessities alone are proper objects of petition from the Father. This prayer shows that the Christian should be content with a simple life-style.

Forgive us our sins … presupposes that all Christians shall be continually guilty of falling short of God’s will, a fact which some find hard to admit. As an example of this, Childer’s explained the popularity of Matthew’s account of the Lord’s prayer by the reference to his use of "debts" instead of "sins," saying, "We who believe strongly that Christians do not commit sins and remain Christians sometimes avoid this form of the prayer!"(F10) The Lord’s teaching here is to the effect that there are no Christians who do not need to pray for the forgiveness of their sins.

For we ourselves also forgive … Geldenhuys has a profound comment on this, as follows: "FOR indicates here, not the ground upon which God grants forgiveness, but the condition with which we ourselves must comply if we are to enjoy forgiveness from God."(F11) John Wesley confessed the same thing: "This does not note the meritorious cause of our pardon; but the removal of the hindrance which would otherwise render it impossible."(F12) These comments, of course, are the most obvious and dogmatic truth; and this student has never been able to understand the reluctance of commentators like those just quoted (and including them) to admit the same obvious and dogmatic truth as applied to Christian baptism. Baptism is not the grounds for pardon, but it is an absolutely essential and necessary prerequisite to the pardon of alien sinners. Just as forgiveness is impossible for the unforgiving, salvation is impossible for those refusing to submit to a commandment which Christ himself made a precondition of it.

And bring us not into temptation … This does not imply that God tempts any man, because "God tempts no man" (James 1:13); but this is a plea that the Christian may not encounter temptation that will cause him to fall (1 Corinthians 10:13).


1. Prayers should be short.

2. They should be concerned first with the honor and glory of God.

3. Human needs are basically three: (a) bread (with all related things included), (b) forgiveness, and (c) deliverance from temptation.

4. As indicated by the word "Father," this is a prayer to be prayed by members of God’s family.

5. Long, bombastic prayers and vain repetitions are sinful.

6. This teaches that even Christians are presumed to be, in a sense, sinful, that is, not totally free of wrongdoing.

7. The very highest priority belongs to God’s kingdom.

8. Temptation should be as much dreaded and as carefully avoided as sin itself.

9. If Christians hope to be forgiven, they must also forgive.

Before leaving this prayer, it should be observed that it is no more unreasonable that Christ should have given the Lord’s prayer twice than that the Father should have given the Decalogue twice. Even the variations are instructive and subtly appropriate.


In this paragraph, Jesus gave extensive encouragements to his followers to pray, promising, in the most positive language, the certainty of their prayers being heard and answered. First, there is the example (a parable) of the friend at midnight, then the analogy and contrast between earthly fathers and the heavenly Father, and then the dogmatic promise that the heavenly Father will give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him. Thus, there is a progression in the words, friend, father, and heavenly Father, a leading from the lesser to the greater in each verse.

Verses 5-8

And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say to him, Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine is come to me from a journey, and I have nothing to set before him; and he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will arise and give him as many as he needeth.

The friend (in contrast) = the Father in heaven.

The borrower = all who would be a blessing to others.

His importunity = the perseverance and urgency of true prayer.

The friend’s reluctance = (the apparent) reluctance of God to answer Christians’ prayers.

The final procurement of the loaves = God’s eventual response to his children’s prayers.

The number of loaves received (not three, merely, but "as many as he needed") = God’s blessing his prayerful children, not merely by supplying what they ask, but what they need.

The midnight = the ultimate of all human need.

The success of the mission at such an inappropriate time = the fact God is ready to bless his children in any situation, regardless of the direst extremities.

All of these analogies, it will be noted, are related to the great lesson Jesus pointed out in the next two verses.

A friend … at midnight … Alas, how utterly hopeless would be the state of mortal man, if in the darkness of human wretchedness and sin there was no friend to whom he might go for help and relief. It is precisely the thesis of infidelity that mankind has no friend beyond the veil, no one to whom he might go to solicit aid, no higher power to supplement his weakness, and no Person to understand his woes. How glorious is the Christian teaching that in the blackness of whatever midnight may engulf him, there is a Friend who will rise up and bless him.

Let it be particularly noted that the supplicant did not set out to seek a friend; (he already had one!) "The answer to prayer is, therefore, only certain in cases where one who prays stands in a relation of friendship to God, and loves and serves him."(F13)

Children are with me in bed … As Boles observed, "The Greek word for bed applied to any room or place used for sleeping, as well as to a bed or couch."(F14) The mention of such details as the shut door, the midnight hour, the sleeping children, etc. was to emphasize the reluctance of the friend to respond to the borrower.

Because of his importunity he will arise … This is the center of the message of the parable. Trench has this:

It is not his IMPORTUNITY only; it is his SHAMELESSNESS; for we are to suppose many askings, each more urgent than the last; although only that one is recorded which at last extorts the gift.(F15)

Such shamelessness in prayer (for that is what the Greek word means) is exemplified by Abraham who pleaded for Sodom and the cities of the plain (Genesis 18:23 ff), by Jacob who wrestled with the angel of the covenant (Genesis 32:28), and by pleading of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Matthew 15:21). But WHY did God honor such persistence, and by this parable command us to emulate it? The answer appears in a comment by Matthew Henry: "We prevail with men by importunity because they are DISPLEASED with it, but with God because he is PLEASED with it!"(F16) The teaching here relieves every man of any thought that God can be troubled by the number and urgency of his petitions. Let men pray ALWAYS. It is wrong, therefore, to think of prayer as overcoming the reluctance of God. "It is never an overcoming of God’s reluctance, but a laying hold of his highest willingness."(F17)

Verses 9-10

And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.

These words, in a different context, are also found in Matthew 7:7-8; and reference is made to my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 7:7-8; but the purpose is the same in both passages, that being that men should not cease to pray, and ever with greater and greater urgency.

There is an ascending urgency in the successive imperatives, ask, seek, and knock; because to seek is more than to ask, and to knock is more than to seek. It was for the purpose of underlining the precious promises in these teachings that Jesus had just given the parable of the friend at midnight; but he did not stop with that. He next appealed to the readiness of an earthly father to grant a son’s request; and, in that illustration, as in the friend at midnight, the analogy is one of contrast rather than likeness.

Verses 11-12

And of which of you that is a father shall his son ask a loaf, and he give him a stone? or a fish, and he for a fish give him a serpent? Or if he shall ask for an egg, will give him a scorpion?

The teaching here is that carnal man will honor the request of his children, and that it must be received that God, whose loving righteousness is infinitely beyond any loving-kindness of a mere earthly father, will, in a far greater degree, respond to the just petitions of his spiritual children. The things contrasted here: loaf and stone, fish and serpent, egg and scorpion, are superficially alike. "The scorpion is a small, poisonous, crab-like animal, which, when at rest is round like an egg."(F18) Stones, serpents and scorpions could by no means be acceptable as appropriate gifts in place of food; and the teaching is that God will not reward the petitions of his children with useless or dangerous things, but will supply what they truly need and desire.

Verse 13

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask him?

Here the contrast between evil men and the righteous Father is stressed; there is also a contrast between the "good gifts" of earthly fathers (such as food) which are surpassed by the greatest of gifts, that of the Holy Spirit, the gift which includes all others. In the similar record of Matthew 7:11, the Saviour represented the Father as giving "good gifts," as distinguished from "the Holy Spirit" here. This emphasizes the difference in the two occasions. As Childers noted:

This discourse in Luke comes later in Jesus’ ministry and nearer to Pentecost than does the Sermon on the Mount, in which the passage cited in Matthew occurs. Therefore, Jesus can be more specific with reference to the needs of his disciples.(F19)

From the passage here, it is clear that God’s children should not hesitate to pray to the Father for the measure of the Holy Spirit which has been promised to baptized believers (Acts 2:38), and which is called "an earnest" of our inheritance (Ephesians 1:13).

Verse 14

And he was casting out a demon that was dumb. And it came to pass when the demon was gone out, the dumb man spake; and the multitudes marvelled.


Demon that was dumb … "That is, the demon made the man dumb."(F20) This was another in the countless miracles of healing wrought by the Son of God, the marvel of the multitudes suggesting that perhaps the "sons of the Pharisees" had tried in vain to exorcise the evil spirit which was so easily cast out by the Saviour. Evidently, this was a celebrated case.

Verse 15

But some of them said, By Beelzebub the prince of the demons casteth he out demons.

This portion of the chapter appears to be descriptive of some of the same incidents and teachings recorded in Matthew 12; but this may not be affirmed dogmatically. How natural it was that the Pharisees would have renewed a charge ascribing Jesus’ power to Satan, and how logical that Jesus would have replied to it with strikingly similar words and illustrations. If the two passages are indeed accounts of a single occasion, the entire event may be known by melding the two, and not by an arbitrary preference for either as "the original." We may be very sure that every word recorded in the Gospels was truly spoken by Jesus, and that every event related is truly grounded in a historical occurrence. All three synoptics are similar at this point. See Mark 3:20-30.

In Matthew’s record, the slander that Jesus’ power was derived from Beelzebub followed the suggestions of the multitude that Jesus indeed was the Messiah; but here it would seem that the campaign of the Pharisees had succeeded in dimming this perception of the crowds that thronged around Jesus, and that here the slander was preventive, in their view, and designed to foreclose any such exclamations by the crowd. This teaching is in an entirely different context in Mark.

Beelzebub … This name is the same as Baalzebul, being derived through a mocking Hebrew corruption of the name of the old Canaanite god, Baalzebul, meaning "lord of the high place"; the Hebrew alteration of it, Baalzebub, meant "lord of flies" or of "the dunghill." Baal was actually not one god, but many, more accurately referred to as the Baalim. When the Israelites entered Canaan, they found that "every piece of land had its own deity; thus there were many Baals."(F21) This was "the name of innumerable local gods controlling fertility of the soil and domestic animals."(F22) The name Beelzebub, as used by Luke, however, means "Satan." The Hebrews had developed this insulting name of the old Canaanite god into a common synonym for the devil; and their application of this shameful word in connection with the holy Christ was as vulgar and evil as anything the Pharisees ever did.

Verse 16

And others, trying him, sought of him a sign from heaven.

A sign from heaven … This was repeatedly demanded by the Pharisees, although they are not named here: and what they probably meant was some spectacular wonder, without moral value, which would cater to human curiosity. Jesus never allowed himself to be maneuvered by such evil requests. Not only were the Pharisees incapable of judging such signs, if they had been given; but they were already the sworn enemies of the Lord, intent on killing him; and they would most surely have rejected anything that even the Son of God might have done. Furthermore, their conceit that some sign in the sky was necessarily from God was erroneous. Satan caused fire from heaven to fall on the animals that belonged to Job. Jesus would indeed give them a sign; but it would be of his choosing, not theirs. As Harrison said, "The utter unreasonableness of his enemies is demonstrated by their demand for a sign when they had just witnessed one."(F23)

Verse 17

But he, knowing their thoughts, said unto them, Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation; and a house divided against a house falleth.

The amazing similarity of the synoptic Gospels in their records of the teaching here, coupled with the equally amazing differences, presents a problem that may be resolved fully and satisfactorily only by understanding them as independent, trustworthy records of different events; and this writer agrees with A. T. Robertson, who, in his "Harmony of the Gospels," made Mark and Matthew parallel and Luke independent in this section.(F24) See the introduction to this chapter. Hobbs also observed that although some of these events and teachings are recorded in Mark and Matthew as having taken place in Galilee, "There is no reason why they could not have taken place in Judea also. His enemies followed him here, as in Galilee; the hearers were different and had not heard the teaching before."(F25)

Every kingdom divided … etc. The argument here is that Jesus’ action was not BY the devil, but AGAINST him, and that if Satan was working through Jesus he was working against himself.

Verse 18

And if Satan also is divided against himself, how shall his kingdom stand? because ye say that I cast out demons by Beelzebub.

This verse startlingly reveals some things about Satan. Spence said:

Throughout this argument, Jesus assumes the existence of a kingdom of evil, all armed and thoroughly organized to carry out its dread purposes. He concedes, too, in language which admits of no questioning, the existence of a chief of this evil confederacy.(F26)

Further, as Boles noted, "It will be noted that Satan here is represented as a real person, not a mere principle of evil."(F27)

Now it happened that some of the Pharisees themselves professed to cast out demons, an action which they advocated as holy, helpful, and righteous; and Jesus quickly moved to point out that, judged by their own approval of exorcism, they had already admitted such deeds as he had performed before their very eyes to be of God.

Verse 19

And if I by Beelzebub cast out demons, by whom do your sons cast them out? therefore shall they be your judges.

There was no logical way for the Pharisees to view exorcism by their own followers as being of God and at the same time allege that the exorcisms by Jesus were by the power of Satan. Furthermore, there were vast differences in the claimed exorcisms by the sons of the Pharisees and the real miracles wrought by Jesus. The example before them which had caused such marveling by the people was evidently wrought upon a celebrated case wherein the sons of the Pharisees had failed to produce a cure. There is no admission here by Jesus that the pretended exorcisms of the Pharisees’ disciples were in fact genuine. On the other hand, Christ was merely showing that those bigots were condemning him and charging him with being in league with Satan for doing what their own followers professed to do. "It is gross hypocrisy to condemn that in those who reprove us which yet we allow and applaud in those who flatter us."(F28)

Verse 20

But if I by the finger of God cast out demons, then is the kingdom of God come upon you.

The finger of God … This was a master stroke. When Moses performed great wonders before Pharaoh, and when for a time the magicians duplicated the wonders, then came the plague of lice. Aaron stretched the rod upon the land, and the dust of the earth became lice in man and beast (Exodus 8:17). Attempting to do this they failed; and they went and told Pharaoh, "This is the finger of God" (Exodus 8:19). Jesus’ use of the same language here stresses the superiority of his miracles over the professed cures performed by the sons of the Pharisees.

Then is the kingdom of God come upon you … This is not a declaration that Christ’s church, or kingdom, had at this time been established, an event that took place on Pentecost. The kingdom had come in the sense that the King had appeared and was gathering out of secular Israel, the spiritual remnant, the true Israel, who, along with Gentiles, would form the nucleus of the new institution. See under Luke 11:4.

Verses 21-22

When the strong man fully armed guardeth his own court, his goods are in peace: but when a stronger than he shall come upon him, and overcome him, he taketh from him his whole armor wherein he trusted, and divideth his spoils.

This little jewel of a parable is most instructive, nor should we hesitate to draw the several analogies which are most certainly in it. The following analogies are by Dummelow:(F29)

The strong man fully armed = Satan.

His court = the whole world under his usurped dominion.

His goods = the souls whom Satan holds captive.

His armor = the devices by which he enslaves men.

The Stronger Man = the Lord Jesus Christ.

The spoils = the souls rescued from Satan by the Lord.

Overcoming the strong man = the total victory of Christ.

Taking his whole armor = the frustration of all Satan’s devices through the gospel of Christ.

There can be no neutrality in such a conflict as that which appears in these verses; and Christ at once stated that key truth. See next verse, (Luke 11:23).

Verse 23

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth.

This means that any man who does not work with Christ and aid his mission of salvation is in fact working for his defeat. The Pharisees, so intent in their hatred of Jesus, were here warned that the defeat of Christ’s purpose for Israel would "scatter." What an ominous word, and how dramatically it was fulfilled! As Geldenhuys said:

Within one generation from their final rejection of Jesus, the Jews of Palestine were overwhelmed by Rome; and ever since then, until our own times, the Jews have continued to be scattered over the world, … and have constantly been the prey of the powers of darkness.(F30)

And Jesus’ words are still true, both of men and of nations. What a pity it is that America does not seem to be listening.

This verse contrasts with its opposite (Luke 9:50); but as Harrison explained it, "There Jesus was speaking of a man who was unconsciously cooperating with him, while here he was speaking of those who consciously opposed him."(F31) Also, the man in Luke 9:50 was operating in the name of Jesus, a far different thing from that in view here.

Verses 24-26

The unclean spirit when he is gone out of the man passeth through waterless places, seeking rest, and finding none, he saith, I will turn back unto my house whence I came out. And when he is come, he findeth it swept and garnished. Then goeth he, and taketh to him seven other spirits more evil than himself; and they enter in and dwell there; and the last state of the man becometh worse than the first.

This parable of the wandering demon, like all the words of Jesus, is true either in or out of context; and out of context, this is a marvelous teaching of the futility of negative morality, or religion. Barclay titled this section, "The Peril of the Empty Soul," stressing (1) that a man’s soul may not be left empty, (2) that a genuine religion cannot be erected on negatives, and (3) that the best way to avoid evil is to do good.(F32)

However, it is a mistake not to see more than moralizings in the parable before us. Jesus had already spoken this parable, much earlier in his ministry (Matthew 12:43 f), making it a prophetic warning of Israel against rejecting her King; and here it is spoken again, near the close of his ministry, and at a time when the final rejection of himself by the secular Israel was rapidly approaching.

The man in whom the evil spirit was = Israel.

The going out of the demon = the rebirth of the nation under the preaching of John the Baptist.

The swept and garnished period = the emptiness of Israel’s inadequate regeneration. No meaningful change in the people occurred.

The restlessness of the demon = the relentless and unresting hostility against Jesus of the evil powers.

His repossession of the victim = total repossession of national Israel by Satan’s evil forces. This refers to the judicial hardening of Israel.

The state "worse than the first" = the hardened secular Israel, as fully expounded in Romans 9—11.

In the earlier incident recorded in the other two synoptics, Christ warned the Pharisees of the unpardonable sin; here Christ warned them of the judicial hardening that would accompany their rejection of the Lord. In the earlier episode, the wandering demon was used as a prophetic warning; here it was repeated as an explanation of what had already occurred.

Verses 27-28

And it came to pass, as he said these things, a certain woman of the multitude lifted up her voice, and said unto him, Blessed is the womb that bare thee, and the breasts which thou didst suck. But he said, Yea rather, blessed are they that hear the word of God and keep it.

This incident is strangely similar to the episode recorded in Matthew 12:46 f and Mark 3:31 f. There, it was the mother of Jesus and his brethren who interrupted; here it is a woman who spake of Mary. The words here could not have been spoken by the mother of Jesus, but were quite properly spoken concerning her. Childers saw this as "the first New Testament fulfillment of the prediction in the MAGNIFICAT that `All generations shall call me blessed’" (Luke 1:48).(F33) Jesus, far from denying the reference to his mother, dogmatically affirmed it, but went on to stress spiritual kinship as far more important than earthly relationship to Jesus.

Verses 29-32


And when the multitudes were gathered together unto him, he began to say, This generation is an evil generation: it seeketh after a sign; and there shall no sign be given to it but the sign of Jonah. For even as Jonah became a sign unto the Ninevites, so shall also the Son of man be to this generation. The queen of the South shall rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and shall condemn them: for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, a greater than Solomon is here. And the men of Nineveh shall stand up in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, a greater than Jonah is here.

The sign of Jonah … is nothing less than the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ, as typified by the miraculous entombment and delivery after three days of Jonah in the belly of the great fish, this truth having been spelled out in detail by Matthew (Matthew 12:40), and witnessed by the inscriptions in the catacombs for centuries afterward. Such a view as the following should be rejected out of hand.

In Luke, the sign was not the experience but the preaching, Jonah proclaimed God’s message …. Nineveh, the ancient heathen city, responded in repentance. Jesus proclaimed God’s message … the Jewish people of his day were responding not with repentance but with rejection.(F34)

It is the first sentence which is in error. How a scholar can make Jonah’s "preaching" the sign of Jonah is a mystery, in view of the fact that Jonah’s preaching would never have been believed at all, except for the fact that Jonah’s experience of three days and three nights duration was such an astounding miracle that when "word came unto the king of Nineveh" (Jonah 3:6), Jonah was believed, and the people repented. Without that prior miracle, only a fool could believe that the king of Nineveh would have led his whole nation in repentance; such a thing, if it had occurred, would have been a greater miracle than the fish episode in Jonah! We repeat, there is no authority for limiting the "sign of Jonah" to the mere man and the fact of his preaching. Where in all holy writ was preaching ever made a "sign" of anything? Of course, all efforts to open up some variance between Luke and Matthew on this question are grounded in a prior disbelief of the Jonah record and of Jesus’ unqualified approval and endorsement of it.

Therefore, the sign of Jonah is here understood in the light of Matthew 12:40, as the death, burial, resurrection of the Christ, this being the great sign which Jesus promised that generation; and it should be noted that the sign was yet to be given, a future occurrence, whereas the preaching of Jesus had already been going on for years. For extensive elaboration of Jonah as a type of Christ, see indexes in my Commentary on John and my Commentary on Mark. Also, for discussion of the judgment, the repentance of the Ninevites, the greater than Solomon, and the greater than Jonah, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 12:41.

The burden of this entire paragraph is that Israel had failed to respond to the preaching of the Master, despite the historical examples of Gentiles who had responded to God’s message, under far less privileged circumstances.

Verses 33-36

No man, when he hath lighted a lamp, putteth it in a cellar, neither under the bushel, but on the stand, that they which enter in may see the light. The lamp of the body is thine eye: when thine eye is single, thy whole body also is full of light; but when it is evil, thy body also is full of darkness. Look therefore whether the light that is in thee be not darkness. If therefore thy whole body be full of light, having no part dark, it shall be wholly full of light as when the lamp with its bright shining doth give thee light.

Light (not) under the bushel, but on a stand … This refers to Jesus’ intention of giving such a sign as should draw all men unto himself. His death, burial and resurrection, to be accomplished at the very center of Israel, would be a sign unto all generations and peoples of the earth. It would indeed be a light upon the stand.

The lamp of the body … the eye … Here Jesus addressed himself to correcting his hearers’ inability (through their sins) to appreciate truth, and to read God’s sign, when they should finally see it. It was not at all the nature of the sign that needed correction but the quality of perception in his sinful audience, the evil generation which confronted him.

Independently of the context, the parable of the lighted lamp has many applications, as already noted elsewhere. This simile of the light also occurs in other contexts, in Matthew 5:15 and Luke 8:16.

Some critics are slaves to the superstition that Jesus could have used such a simile as this concerning the light ONLY ONE TIME, which, of course, is ridiculous on the face of it. All great teachers of all ages have used certain key expressions over and over under different circumstances, making different deductions from them, and adapting them to whatever teaching was in hand; and it is unscientific and illogical to deny that Jesus did the same thing. Despite this, some of the critical scholars insist on viewing the several mentions of this simile as "proof that Matthew or Luke or both are mistaken,"(F35) trying to determine "which is the true historical setting of the simile."(F36) Obviously, all the settings in which it is reported in the sacred Gospels are "true historical settings"; for Jesus used the illustration often. See the introduction of this chapter. Zahn, as quoted by Geldenhuys, suggested that Jesus might have used such a simile as this "ten or twenty times" during his ministry; and all denials of such things were unhesitatingly declared by Geldenhuys to be "devoid of all foundation."(F37)

Verse 37

Now as he spake, a Pharisee asketh him to dine with him; and he went in and sat down to meat.

Our Lord frequently dined with Pharisees, as recorded in Luke 5:29; Luke 7:36; Luke 14:1; Luke 19:5; and in John 2:1-11; John 12:1-2. This was apparently the second meal of the day; and Jesus accepted an invitation to dine, entered the Pharisees’ house, omitted the customary ablutions, so dear to the Jews, and sat down to eat. It would have compromised Jesus’ teachings concerning all those ceremonial washings, if he had submitted to them, out of courtesy, in this instance. Although refusing to compromise his teachings, Jesus nevertheless was not in any manner discourteous to the Pharisee who was his host.

From the above paragraph, it is clear that Jesus dined with Pharisees no less than seven times; and coupled with this significant fact is the declaration by Luke in Acts 6:7 that "a great company of the priests believed"! Now the great majority of the priests were Pharisees; and in the conversion of so many of this class shortly after Pentecost it is quite logical to suppose that among those converted were: (a) either host Pharisees with whom Jesus dined, or (b) guest Pharisees who, along with Jesus, where entertained upon those occasions so conspicuously recorded in the New Testament, especially by Luke. While Luke did his research for this Gospel during Paul’s imprisonment at Caesarea, it would have been quite natural for him to have interviewed some of those converted Pharisees (whether hosts or fellow-guests of Jesus), such interviews having been in all probability some of Luke’s "many sources," and thus accounting for the eye-witness integrity of these remarkable episodes. Certainly, this is a thousand times more reasonable that the "Q" postulated out of their imaginations by the radical critics.

Verse 38

And when the Pharisee saw it, he marvelled that he had not first bathed himself before dinner.

The "bathing" in view here had absolutely nothing to do with bodily pollution or hygiene, being nothing except the ceremonial washings so punctiliously observed by the Pharisees of that day. For full discussion of such traditions, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 15:1-11.

Of significance is the fact that the Pharisee evidently expected Jesus to observe the traditional washings; and from this it appears that the invitation was not tendered in the hope of entrapping Jesus, but as a bona fide act of hospitality. Otherwise, the Pharisee would not have marvelled at what happened.

Verse 39

And the Lord said unto him, Now ye the Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the platter; but your inward part is full of extortion and wickedness.

Jesus’ words spoken in this verse appear blunt and harsh, until it is remembered that Luke no doubt omitted much of the conversation leading up to this denunciation, moving quickly to the meat of it. The Lord here made a direct move to convert this Pharisee, and knowing fully the immorality and sin that marked his life, Jesus gave it to him plainly. The verse has this meaning: "In spite of your extreme care for the vessels of your table, your whole moral life is unclean and defiled."(F38)

Verse 40

Ye foolish ones, did not he that made the outside make the inner side also?

This has the weight of: "Do you really think that God cares about external cleanness only, and not about internal cleanness?" Spence paraphrased this verse thus:

Are you not fools to lay down such rules to avoid outward defilement, while within, in the soul, you allow all manner of wickedness? Surely God who created the things we see and touch, created the soul also!(F39)

The persons addressed by Jesus as "fools" include an impressive list of the "respectable." This Pharisee was doubtless hailed by his peers as wise; the arrogant fool of Psalms 14:1 was probably considered unconventional and daring; the man who built on the sand (Matthew 7:26) was probably a respected contractor; the rich farmer who mistook his body for his soul (Luke 12:20) probably had a high social status; and the foolish virgins of the parable (Matthew 25:1 f) were without doubt the cream of their society. This gives a glimpse of what Jesus meant by the terms "fools" or "foolish"; any person who does not respect his soul’s deep need of salvation is foolish.

Verse 41

But give for alms those things which are within; and behold all things are clean unto you.

Again, we have a good paraphrase from Spence:

I will tell you how really to purify, in the eyes of God, these cups and dishes of yours. Share their contents with your poorer neighbor.(F40)

Basil Jones in "The Speaker’s Commentary" has this:

Let the Pharisee do one single, loving, unselfish act, not for the sake of the action nor for any merit inherent in it, but out of pure good will toward others, and their whole inward condition would be different.(F41)

Verses 42-44

But woe unto you Pharisees! for ye tithe mint and rue and every herb, and pass over justice and the love of God; but these ought ye to have done and not to leave the other undone. Woe unto you Pharisees! for ye love the chief seats in the synagogues, and the salutations in the marketplaces. Woe unto you! for ye are as the tombs which appear not, and the men that walk over them know it not.


Although suggestive of the longer list of "woes" recorded in Matthew 23, this is a different list, spoken on another occasion, and under different circumstances. The trouble with the Pharisees, as revealed in both places, however, seems to have been of one kind. They were specialists in trifles and externals. Their whole concept of religion had degenerated into a gross, unspiritual preoccupation with outward forms and ceremonies, while neglecting utterly the great moral verities of true religion. Their tithing of garden herbs, even to the extent of counting tiny seeds and weighing mint leaves, and their multiplying man-made sabbath rules past the boundaries of all reason — all such things had destroyed the spiritual life of the nation. Volumes have been written regarding their silly sabbath rules, but Barclay has one of the most notable examples, thus:

One of the forbidden works on the Sabbath was the tying of knots, such as sailors’ and camel drivers’ knots, and knots in ropes; but a woman might tie a knot in her girdle. Therefore, if a bucket of water had to be raised from a well, a rope could not be knotted to it; but a woman’s girdle could, and it could be raised by that!(F42)

These ought ye to have done … applies to justice and love of God; and "not to leave the other undone" applies to tithing, an act for which Jesus commends them. It was their stress of that to the neglect of more important duties which was wrong.

Ye love the chief seats … These were "seats at the front of the synagogue, around the pulpit, or lectern, and faced the congregation."(F43) What men love determines their destiny; and, as it was brought out so forcefully in the Gospel of John (John 12:43), it was the love of the Pharisees for the glory which they received of themselves which blinded their eyes to the Christ of glory. The desire for pre-eminence among men, the coveting of honors bestowed by men, the popularity awarded by men — such things still snare and entrap the unwary soul; and the damage can be no less appalling than that which ruined the Pharisees; and yet how reluctantly men forego such things. A commentator whom we shall not name said, "Of course, it is not wrong to sit in the chief seats; it is only wrong to LOVE such things!"

Tombs which appear not … In Numbers 19:16, the rule appears which makes every person who touches a grave unclean for a week, that is, ceremonially unclean. Jesus here compared the Pharisees to an unmarked grave which could cause a man to become unclean inadvertently. In a similar manner, but far more seriously, the people who were following the Pharisees, who supposedly were righteous, could be spiritually contaminated through contact with those evil enemies of Jesus. The lawyers were close associates with the Pharisees; and when they saw the drift of Jesus’ teachings, it suddenly appeared to them that they, the lawyers, were being condemned, no less than the Pharisees. Up to that point, the lawyers had apparently been enjoying the strong preaching of Jesus against the Pharisees, whose conduct, actually, was the scandal of the whole nation. Pricked in conscience at last, a lawyer responded.

Verse 45

And one of the lawyers answering saith unto him, Teacher, in saying this thou reproachest us also.


The lawyers … were the ones to whom the Hebrew people looked for interpretation of the Scriptures and guidance in religious questions.

Thou reproachest us … This word "literally means INSULT."(F44) Jesus’ strong rebuke of the Pharisees, just delivered, had not specifically mentioned the lawyers; but, as many of the lawyers were also Pharisees, the one who spoke up here felt that his class also had been insulted. Jesus’ words had struck home. "The hit dog hollers; so the lawyer complained."(F45) The result was that the Lord promptly pronounced three "woes" against the lawyers.

Verse 46

And he said, Woe unto you lawyers also! for ye load men with burdens grievous to be borne, and ye yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers.

This is Woe 1. While multiplying men’s religious obligations to infinity by ridiculous and hair-splitting interpretations, the lawyers did not personally accept and fulfill the obligations which they imposed on others. They avoided the regulations they prescribed for others by all kinds of "theories and handy methods of escaping the fulfillment of the commandments while keeping the appearance of executing them."(F46) Theirs was a demonstration of the truth that preaching what others should do is a far different thing from the preachers doing what they preach.

Verses 47-48

Woe unto you! for ye build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. So ye are witnesses and consent unto the works of your fathers: for they killed them, and ye build their tombs.

This is Woe 2. Gilmour thought "the argument here is obscure";(F47) but it is actually quite clear. The hypocritical conduct of lawyers in building impressive tombs to the honor of God’s prophets whose words they themselves despised and were in the process of violating (through their opposition to Jesus) was one and the same quality of action as that of killing the prophets. The character of those tomb-builders made the tombs they built monuments to the killing, and not to the prophets! It was in that light that Jesus looked upon those tombs, viewing them as evidence that the evil generation before him was of the same perverse and rebellious nature as that of their ancestors. Summers observed that "The lawyers kept the view alive (that God’s prophets should be killed) by building the memorial reminders."(F48) Phillips’ translation catches the spirit of the Lord’s word in this place thus: "You show clearly enough how you approve your fathers’ actions. They did the actual killing and you put up a memorial to it."

Verse 49

Therefore also said the wisdom of God, I will send unto them prophets and apostles; and some of them they shall kill and persecute.

There is no need to suppose that Jesus here quoted from "some lost Jewish apocryphal book";(F49) for only Jesus promised and sent out apostles. It is therefore Jesus’ "roundabout way of referring to himself(F50) "The words are an utterance of Christ himself (Matthew 23:34); Christ’s knowledge of the divine counsels is so complete that his utterances are also utterances of the wisdom of God.(F51) Jesus’ employment of the third person emphasizes the prophetic nature of his words. He saw in the evil character of his hearers the certainty of their hatred and murder of the holy apostles.

Verses 50-51

That the blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation; from the blood of Abel unto the blood of Zachariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary: yea, I say unto you, it shall be required of this generation.

Required of this generation … The prophecy is here extended by Jesus to reveal the fate of the chosen people. The long ages of their rebellious conduct against God would at last be resolved in the final hardening and overthrow of their nation, coupled with the scattering of the Jews all over the earth, the primary fulfillment of which occurred less than a generation afterward in the Jewish-Roman war which destroyed the Holy City in 70 A.D. The appearance of Christ provided the last opportunity for Israel. Their long sustained habit of breaking God’s laws and murdering his messengers had been endured on the part of God, for the reason that the preservation of Israel was necessary until the promised Seed should be delivered; but now that the Son of David had indeed appeared on earth, the summary punishment which the nation had so long merited would be suspended no longer. No generation was ever punished for the sins of its ancestors, except in the sense of their receiving the consequences of choices made by their ancestors, the great example of this being the sufferings of humanity due to the sin of Adam; but, in this place, more was intended. Not only would the ancient policy of Israel in rejecting God and raising up a king of their own choice finally reach its climax in that generation; but added to that disaster was the inveterate wickedness of that generation themselves in rejecting the Messiah, bringing a deserved judgment of punishment upon them. Had they received Christ, the blood shed by their ancestors would not have been required of them; but through their continuation in the evil ways of their ancestors, they brought the accumulated wrath of centuries upon themselves.

Zachariah … Many modern commentators identify this person with "Zechariah, the son of Jehoida (2 Chronicles 24:20-21); and, as 2 Chronicles was the last book in the Hebrew arrangement of the Old Testament Scriptures, it is supposed that Jesus referred to Abel, the first victim of murder recorded in Genesis, and coupled it with this example from the last book of the Hebrew Old Testament, thus making these first and last murders an idiomatic summary of all the murders perpetrated by God’s enemies. The conviction here is that there are insurmountable difficulties in such a view: (1) It is based on the conceit that Matthew’s identification of the Zachariah mentioned here is an error. Matthew called him "Zachariah the son of Barachiah" (Matthew 23:35); and, although it is fully possible that Jehoida and Barachiah are the same person (many Hebrews had more than one name), yet there is no proof of it. (2) Furthermore, the circumstance of this murder’s having taken place between the altar and the sanctuary is not mentioned in 2 Chronicles, where the murder was described as occurring "in the court of the house of the Lord" (2 Chronicles 24:21). This COULD be a description of the same place; but McGarvey denied this.(F52) (3) The third and most convincing objection lies in the words "whom ye slew." This refers to a murder which those very persons whom Jesus was addressing had committed. It touches the ancient murder mentioned in 2 Chronicles in only two places, the similarity of the names of the victims and the proximity of the scenes of the two murders. It had been a secret murder, of course, not in the court, but between the "altar and the sanctuary"; and by these words Jesus revealed that he knew all about the secret lives of his diabolical enemies. See more on this in my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 23:35.

Thus, Christ included all the righteous blood ever shed on earth, from the times of Abel until that very hour, as entering into the weight of that judgment that fell upon that generation, and not merely the far shorter lists of murders recorded between Genesis and 2 Chronicles. By understanding "whom ye slew" as a reference to the men in his presence and a murder they had committed, the appearance of error in Matthew’s Gospel is avoided; but of course there are those who would much prefer to see an error in Matthew, and yet there can be no intelligent denial of the possible meaning ascribed here to the clause, "whom ye slew."

Of course, it will be argued "that it is not likely" that two men with the same (or similar) names would have been murdered; but why not? Josephus even gives the name of a third "Zacharias, son of Baruch"(F53) who was slain about thirty-four years after Jesus spoke this. Furthermore, it should be noted that Jesus spoke this denunciation three decades before Luke recorded it, and that the Gospel itself was written nearly a decade before the third Zacharias was killed in A.D. 68.

Verse 52

Woe unto you lawyers! for ye took away the key of knowledge; ye entered not in yourselves, and them that were entering in ye hindered.

This is Woe 3. "The key of knowledge …" taken away by the false interpretations of the lawyers was "the true knowledge of the Messiah, which is the key of both the present and the future kingdom of heaven; the kingdom of grace and of glory."(F54) The same meaning, although expressed differently, was seen by Childers: "The key which unlocks the door of the kingdom of God is the Scriptures."(F55) It should not fail to be noted that Satan still has his multitudes of "interpreters" who are neither entering the kingdom nor permitting others to enter.

Verses 53-54

And when he was come out from thence, the scribes and Pharisees began to press upon him vehemently, and to provoke him to speak of many things; laying wait for him, to catch something out of his mouth.

When he was come out from thence … Spence believed that these words indicate that "Jesus abruptly rose and left the house of his Pharisee entertainers."(F56)

Vehemently … "This is the same verb used to express Herodias’ attitude toward John the Baptist (Mark 6:19).(F57) It suggests that the murderous enemies of Jesus were aroused to a frenzy of violent talk against him; they were like a swarm of angry hornets. These guides of Jewish public opinion have been denounced by Jesus in the most emphatic language in the presence of the multitudes, and their vicious hatred against him overflowed.

Laying wait to catch something … They engaged Jesus in conversation, plying him with questions, with only one thing in view: that of extorting, by any means, some word which they might use as a pretext for the murder of Jesus which they had already decided to accomplish. "Their kind lives on in those who listen to a preacher for no reason but to criticize him, and who study the Bible only to argue about it and against it."(F58)

The enemies of Jesus were completely frustrated and confounded by the Master’s wisdom. They were cunning enough to see that they had been defeated; and, as is ever the case, when they had no logical reply, they had recourse to murder of the one who spoke the truth. After this, all their energies would be directed to the murder of the Son of God.

Bibliographical Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 11". "Coffman's Commentaries on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bcc/luke-11.html. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
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