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Bible Commentaries
Luke 17

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verses 1-2

It is impossible - It cannot but happen. Such is the state of things that “it will be.” See these verses explained in the notes at Matthew 18:6-7.

Verses 3-4

See the notes at Matthew 18:15, Matthew 18:21-22. “Trespass against thee.” Sin against thee, or does anything that gives you an offence or does you an injury.

Rebuke - Reprove. Go and tell him his fault, and seek an explanation. Acquaint him with what has been the effect of his conduct, and the state of your feelings, that he may acknowledge his error and repent.

Verse 5

Increase our faith - This duty of forgiving offences seemed so difficult to the disciples that they strongly felt the need of an increase of faith. They felt that they were prone themselves to harbor resentments, and that it required an additional increase of true religion to enable them to comply with the requirements of Jesus. We may learn from this:

  1. That Jesus has “the power” of increasing the faith of his people. Strength comes from him, and especially strength to believe the gospel. Hence, he is called the “Author and Finisher” of our faith, Hebrews 12:2.
  2. The duty of forgiving offences is one of the most difficult duties of the Christian religion. It is so contrary to our natural feelings; it implies such elevation above the petty feelings of malice and revenge, and is so contrary to the received maxims of the world, which teach us to “cherish” rather than to forgive the memory of offences, that it is no wonder our Saviour dwells much on this duty, and so strenuously insists on it in order to our having evidence that our hearts have been changed.

Some have thought that this prayer that he would increase their faith refers to the power of working miracles, and especially to the case recorded in Matthew 17:16-20.

Verse 6

See Matthew 17:20. “Sycamine-tree.” This name, as well as sycamore, is given, among us, to the large tree commonly called the buttonwood; but the tree here mentioned is different. The Latin Vulgate and the Syriac versions translate it “mulberry-tree.” It is said to have been a tree that commonly grew in Egypt, of the size and appearance of a mulberry-tree, but bearing a species of figs. This tree was common in Palestine. It is probable that our Lord was standing by one as he addressed these words to his disciples. Dr. Thomson (“The Land and the Book,” vol. i. p. 22-24) says of this tree: “It is generally planted by the wayside, in the open space where several paths meet.” (Compare Luke 19:4.) “This sycamore is a remarkable tree. It not only bears several crops of figs during the year, but these figs grow on short stems along the trunk and large branches, and not at the end of twigs, as in other fruit-bearing trees. The figs are small, and of a greenish-yellow color. At Gaza and Askelon I saw them of a purple tinge, and much larger than they are in this part of the country. They were carried to market in large quantities, and appeared to be more valued there than with us. Still, they are, at best, very insipid, and none but the poorer classes eat them. It is easily propagated, merely by planting a stout branch in the ground, and watering it until it has struck its roots into the soil. This it does with great rapidity and to a vast depth. It was with reference to this latter fact that our Lord selected it to illustrate the power of faith.

Now, look at this tree - its ample girth, its wide-spread arms branching off from the parent trunk only a few feet from the ground; then examine its enormous roots, as thick, as numerous, and as wide-spread into the deep soil below as the branches extend into the air above the very best type of invincible steadfastness. What power on earth can pluck up such a tree? Heaven’s thunderbolt may strike it down, the wild tornado may tear it to fragments, but nothing short of miraculous power can fairly pluck it up by the roots.”

Verse 7

Having a servant ... - This parable appears to have been spoken with reference to the rewards which the disciples were expecting in the kingdom of the Messiah. The occasion on which it was spoken cannot be ascertained. It does not seem to have any particular connection with what goes before. It may be supposed that the disciples were somewhat impatient to have the kingdom restored to Israel Acts 1:6 - that is, that he would assume his kingly power, and that they were impatient of the “delay,” and anxious to enter on “the rewards” which they expected, and which they not improbably were expecting in consequence of their devotedness to him. In answer to these expectations, Jesus spoke this parable, showing them,

  1. That they should be rewarded as a servant would be provided for; but,
  2. That this was not the “first” thing; that there was a proper “order” of things, and that thus the reward might be delayed, as a servant would be provided for, but at the proper time, and at the pleasure of the master; and,
  3. That this reward was not to be expected as a matter of “merit,” but would be given at the good pleasure of God, for they were but unprofitable servants.

By and by - This should have been translated “immediately.” He would not, “as the first thing,” or “as soon” as he returned from the field, direct him to eat and drink. Hungry and weary he might be, yet it would be proper for him first to attend upon his master. So the apostles were not to be “impatient” because they did not “at once” receive the reward for which they were looking.

To meat - To eat; or, rather, place thyself at the table.

Verse 8

I may sup - Make ready my supper.

Gird thyself - See the notes at Luke 12:37.

Verse 9

I trow not - I “think” not; or I “suppose” not.

Verse 10

Are unprofitable servants - We have conferred no favor. We have “merited” nothing. We have not “benefited” God, or laid him under “obligation.” If he rewards us, it will be matter of unmerited favor. This is true in relation to Christians in the following respects:

  1. Our services are not “profitable” to God Job 22:2; he “needs” not our aid, and his essential happiness will not be increased by our efforts.
  2. The grace to do his will comes from him only, and all the praise of that will be due to him.
  3. All that we do is what is our “duty;” we cannot lay claim to having rendered any service that will “bind” him to show us favor; and,
  4. Our best services are mingled with imperfections. We come short of his glory Romans 3:23; we do not serve him as sincerely, and cheerfully, and faithfully as we ought; we are far, very far from the example set us by the Saviour; and if we are saved and rewarded, it will be because God will be merciful to our unrighteousness, and will remember our iniquities no more, Hebrews 8:12.

Verse 11

The midst of Samaria and Galilee - He went from Galilee, and probably traveled through the chief villages and towns in it and then left it; and as Samaria was situated “between” Galilee and Jerusalem, it was necessary to pass through it; or it may mean that he passed along on the borders of each toward the river Jordan, and so passed in the midst, “i. e. between” Galilee and Samaria. This is rendered more probable from the circumstance that as he went from Galilee, there would have been no occasion for saying that he passed “through it,” unless it be meant through the “confines” or borders of it, or at least it would have been mentioned before Samaria.

Verse 12

There met him - They were in his way, or in his path, as he was entering the village. They were not allowed to enter the village while they were afflicted with the leprosy, Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2-3.

Lepers - See the notes at Matthew 8:2.

Stood afar off - At a distance, as they were required by law. They were unclean, and it was not lawful for them to come near to those who were in health. As Jesus was traveling, they were also walking in the contrary way, and seeing him, and knowing that they were unclean, they stopped or turned aside, so that they might not expose others to the contagion.

Verse 14

Go show yourselves ... - See the notes at Matthew 8:4. By this command he gave them an implied assurance that they would be healed; for the “design” for which they were to go was to exhibit the “evidence” that they were restored, and to obtain permission from the priest to mingle again in society. It may also be observed that this required no small measure of “faith” on their part, for he did not “first” heal them, and then tell them to go; he told them to go without “expressly” assuring them that they would be healed, and without, “as yet,” any evidence to show to the priest. So sinners defiled with the leprosy of sin, should put faith in the Lord Jesus and obey his commands, with the fullest confidence that he is able to heal them, and that he “will” do it if they follow his directions; and that in due time they shall have the fullest evidence that their peace is made with God, and that their souls shall by him be declared free from the defilement of sin.

Were cleansed - Were cured, or made whole.

Verses 15-16

One of them ... - This man, sensible of the power of God and grateful for his mercies, returned to express his gratitude to God for his goodness. Instead of obeying “at once” the “letter” of the command, he “first” expressed his thanks to God and to his Great Benefactor. There is no evidence, however, that he did not, “after” he had given thanks to God, and had poured out his joy at the feet of Jesus, go to the priest as he was directed; indeed, he could not have been restored to society without doing it; but he “first” poured out his thanks to God, and gave him praise for his wonderful recovery. The first duty of sinners, after they have been forgiven and have the hope of eternal life, is to prostrate themselves at the feet of their Great Benefactor, and to consecrate themselves to his service. “Then” let them go and show to others the evidence that they are cleansed. Let them go and mingle, like a restored leper, with their families and friends, and show by the purity and holiness of their lives how great is the mercy that has cleansed them.

He was a Samaritan - See the notes at Matthew 10:5. This rendered his conduct more remarkable and striking in the sight of the Jews. “They” considered the Samaritans as especially wicked, and “themselves” as especially holy. This example showed them, like the parable of the good Samaritan, that in this they were mistaken: and one design of this seems to have been to break down the “opposition” between the Jews and Samaritans, and to bring the former to more charitable judgments respecting the latter.

Verses 17-18

Where are the nine? - Jesus had commanded them to go to the priest, and they were probably “literally” obeying the commandment. They were impatient to be healed and “selfish” in wishing it, and had no gratitude to God or their Benefactor. Jesus did not “forbid” their expressing gratitude to him for his mercy; he rather seems to reprove them for “not” doing it. One of the first feelings of the sinner cleansed from sin is a desire to praise his Great Benefactor; and a “real” willingness to obey his commandments is not inconsistent with a wish to render thanks to him for his mercy. With what singular propriety may this question now be asked, “Where are the nine?” And what a striking illustration is this of human nature, and of the ingratitude of man! One had come back to give thanks for the favor bestowed on him; the others were heard of no more. So now. When people are restored from dangerous sickness, here and there one comes to give thanks to God; but “where are the nine?” When people are defended from danger; when they are recovered from the perils of the sea; when a steamboat is destroyed, and a large part of crew and passengers perish, here and there one of those who are saved acknowledges the goodness of God and renders him praise; but where is the mass of them? They give no thanks; they offer no praise. They go about their usual employments, to mingle in the scenes of pleasure and of sin as if nothing had occurred. Few, few of all who have been rescued from “threatening graves” feel their obligation to God, or ever express it. They forget their Great Benefactor; perhaps the mention of his name is unpleasant, and they scorn the idea that they are under any obligations to him. Such, alas! is man, ungrateful man!

This stranger - This foreigner; or, rather, this alien, or this man of another tribe. In the “Syraic” version, “this one who is of a foreign people.” This man, who might have been least “expected” to express gratitude to God. The most unlikely characters are often found to be most consistent and grateful. Men from whom we would expect “least” in religion, are often so entirely changed as to disappoint all our expectations, and to put to shame those who have been most highly favored. The poor often thus put to shame the rich; the ignorant the learned; the young the aged.

Verse 19

Go thy way - To the “priest;” for without “his” certificate he could not again be restored to the society of his friends, or to the public worship of God. Having now appropriately expressed your gratitude, go to the priest and obey the law of God. Renewed sinners, while their hearts overflow with gratitude to Jesus, “express” that gratitude by obeying God, and by engaging in the appropriate duties of their calling and of religion.

Verse 20

Was demanded - Was asked.

Of the Pharisees - This was a matter of much importance to them, and they had taught that it would come with parade and pomp. It is not unlikely that they asked this merely in “contempt,” and for the purpose of drawing out something that would expose him to ridicule.

The kingdom of God - The “reign” of God; or the dispensation under the Messiah. See the notes at Matthew 3:2.

With observation - With scrupulous and attentive looking for it, or with such an appearance as to “attract” observation - that is, with pomp, majesty, splendor. He did not deny that, according to their views, the time was drawing near; but he denied that his kingdom would come in the “manner” in which they expected. The Messiah would “not” come with pomp like an earthly prince; perhaps not in such a manner as to be “discerned” by the eyes of sagacious and artful people, who were expecting him in a way agreeable to their own feelings. The kingdom of God is “within” people, and it makes its way, not by pomp and noise, but by silence, decency, and order, 1 Corinthians 14:40.

Verse 21

“Lo here! or, Lo there!” When an earthly prince visits different parts of his territories, he does it with pomp. His movements attract observation, and become the common topic of conversation. The inquiry is, Where is he? which way will he go? and it is a matter of important “news” to be able to say where he is. Jesus says that the Messiah would not come in that manner. It would not be with such pomp and public attention. It would be silent, obscure, and attracting comparatively little notice. Or the passage may have reference to the custom of the “pretended” Messiahs, who appeared in this manner. They said that in this place or in that, in this mountain or that desert, they would show signs that would convince the people that they were the Messiah. Compare the notes at Acts 5:36-37.

Is within you - This is capable of two interpretations.

1. The reign of God is “in the heart.” It does not come with pomp and splendor, like the reign of temporal kings, merely to control the external “actions” and strike the senses of people with awe, but it reigns in the heart by the law of God; it sets up its dominion over the passions, and brings every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ.

2. It may mean the new dispensation is “even now among you.” The Messiah has come. John has ushered in the kingdom of God, and you are not to expect the appearance of the Messiah with great pomp and splendor, for he is now among you. Most critics at present incline to this latter interpretation. The ancient versions chiefly follow the former.

Verse 22

(The days will come He here takes occasion to direct the minds of his disciples to the days of vengeance which were about to fall on the Jewish nation. Heavy calamities will befall the Jewish people, and you will desire a deliverer.

Ye shall desire - You who now number yourselves among my disciples.

One of the days of the Son of man - The Son of man here means “the Messiah,” without affirming that “he” was the Messiah. Such will be the calamities of those times, so great will be the afflictions and persecutions, that you will greatly desire “a deliverer” - one who shall come to you in the character in which “you have expected” the Messiah would come, and who would deliver you from the power of your enemies; and at that time, in the midst of these calamities, people shall rise up pretending “to be” the Messiah, and to be able to deliver you. In view of this, he takes occasion to caution them against being led astray by them.

Ye shall not see it - You shall not see such a day of deliverance - such a Messiah as the nation has expected, and such an interposition as you would desire.

Verses 23-24

And they shall say ... - Many false Christs, according to Josephus, appeared about that time, attempting to lead away the people. See the notes at Matthew 24:23-27.

Verse 25

See the notes at Mark 8:31.

Verses 26-27

See the notes at Matthew 24:37-39.

Verses 28-30

Even thus ... - Destruction came upon the old world, and upon Sodom, “suddenly;” when they were engaged in other things, and little expecting this. “So” suddenly and unexpectedly, says he, shall destruction come upon the Jewish people. See the notes at Matthew 24:0.

Verse 31

See the notes at Matthew 24:17-18.

Verse 32

Remember Lot’s wife - See Genesis 19:26. “She” looked back - she delayed - perhaps she “desired” to take something with her, and God made her a monument of his displeasure. Jesus directed his disciples, when they saw the calamities coming upon the Jews, to flee to the mountains, Matthew 24:16. He here charges them to be in haste - not to look back - not to delay - but to escape quickly, and to remember that by delaying the wife of Lot lost her life.

Verse 33

See the notes at Matthew 10:39.

Verses 34-36

See the notes at Matthew 24:40-41.

Verse 37

See the notes at Matthew 24:26.

Where, Lord? - Where, or in what direction, shall these calamities come? The answer implies that it would be where there is the most “guilt and wickedness.” Eagles flock where there is prey. So, said he, these armies will flock to the place where there is the most wickedness; and by this their thoughts were directed at once to Jerusalem, the place of eminent wickedness, and the place, therefore, where these calamities might be expected to begin.

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Luke 17". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/luke-17.html. 1870.
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