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Bible Commentaries
Luke 12

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verse 1

Luke set the scene for the following teaching by explaining that it happened when Pharisaic hostility had become intense (Luke 11:53-54). What Jesus proceeded to tell His disciples had opposition and persecution in view. In spite of this antagonism, Jesus had a very large following (Gr. myriadon, lit. ten thousand, but used here as a superlative, cf. Acts 19:19; Acts 21:20). Evidently its size kept increasing (cf. Luke 11:29). However the lesson that follows was for His disciples (cf. Luke 20:45).

Leaven or yeast (Gr. zymes) has a pervasive effect and therefore is a good illustration of the influence of hypocrisy. Elsewhere Jesus warned the disciples of the teaching of the Pharisees that He likened to leaven (Matthew 16:6; Matthew 16:12; Mark 8:15). Here he used leaven as an example of their hypocrisy. Leaven, as hypocrisy, starts small but expands and affects everything it touches.

Verses 1-3

The leaven of the Pharisees 12:1-3

Verses 1-12

1. The importance of fearless confession 12:1-12 (cf. Matthew 10:19-20, 26-33)

Jesus used His condemnation of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy as an occasion to warn His disciples against being hypocritical. The context of this teaching in Matthew’s Gospel is Jesus’ instruction of the Twelve before He sent them on their mission. Luke recorded that He also taught His disciples the importance of fearless witness under persecution as they moved toward Jerusalem.

Verses 1-17

D. The instruction of the disciples in view of Jesus’ rejection 12:1-13:17

Teaching of the disciples continues as primary in this part of the third Gospel (Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:10). Jesus’ words to them at the beginning of the present section (Luke 12:1 to Luke 13:17) broadened to include the crowds toward the end.

"The coming judgment and the need for proper preparation are the threads that tie all of chapter 12 together." [Note: M. Bailey, p. 129.]

Verses 2-3

Nevertheless what is now unknown because of hypocrisy will one day become known. This is a general principle. On the human level there are exceptions to this principle, but Jesus undoubtedly had God who knows all secrets in mind. Luke 12:3 probably is a positive encouragement rather than an ominous threat. Jesus used it that way in the other contexts in which He made this statement (cf. Luke 8:17; Matthew 10:26-27; Mark 4:22). If so, He meant the good witness that the disciples might try to hide because of the threat of persecution would come out into the open eventually.

Verse 4

Jesus identified what followed as particularly important (cf. Luke 6:27; Luke 11:9; Luke 12:5; Luke 12:8). The unusual address "my friends" (Gr. philois) added a further encouragement to represent Jesus boldly in spite of opposition even though it might result in death. The word expressed confidence in the disciples and approval of them as those entrusted with His secrets and those who do His will. It contrasts with the rejection they faced in the world. This is the only place in the Synoptics where Jesus called His disciples His friends (cf. Matthew 12:48-50; John 15:13-15). Friends are not just people with whom we share common life but those with whom we also share common commitments and goals. The writer of Hebrews made a similar distinction when he wrote of the Lord’s partners (Gr. metochoi, Hebrews 1:9).

Verses 4-12

Preparing for judgment 12:4-12

"The teaching about the Pharisees and the judgment leads naturally into a more general section on judgment and the importance of being prepared for it." [Note: Morris, p. 208.]

Verse 5

Rather than fearing their persecutors the disciples should fear God more. God has the power to affect eternal, not just temporal, destiny. Jesus was not implying that the disciples would end up in hell if they proved unfaithful (cf. John 10:27-28; 2 Timothy 2:11-13). He was warning them about the possibility of losing an eternal reward. He cited God’s punitive power to deter hypocrisy. This is Luke’s only reference to hell (Gr. geenna), but elsewhere it is a place of eternal torment (cf. Matthew 5:22; Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-48; James 4:12; 1 Enoch 27:2).

"Jesus taught the reality of hell unambiguously." [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 959.]

Verses 6-7

The point of these two illustrations was that God is aware of more insignificant things than the disciples, yet He has concern for these things. It is an argument from the lesser to the greater (cf. Luke 11:13). Since God knows about and has concern for these less important things, He will surely care for the disciples. The cent (Gr. assarion) was a Roman coin worth about one sixteenth of a denarius, a day’s wage (cf. Matthew 10:29). These illustrations balance Jesus’ singular warning to fear God (Luke 12:5) with a double assurance of His fatherly concern for disciples. However the Father’s intimate acquaintance with their lives also constitutes a warning against hypocrisy.

Verses 8-9

Another special preface indicated the certainty and importance of what followed (cf. Luke 12:4-5). Confessing the Son of Man (i.e., Jesus as the divine Messiah) publicly or denying Him publicly were the disciples’ options (cf. Luke 9:26). Confessing (Gr. homolgesei) and denying (Gr. arnesetai) are polar expressions. In polarization extreme terms stress the alternatives. The disciples had to make a choice. Their choice would determine God’s acknowledgment or lack of acknowledgment of them before the angels and the Father (cf. Luke 7:28; Matthew 10:32-33; Matthew 11:11). The time of God’s action will evidently be when He evaluates their lives as they stand before Him. For Christians this will be at the judgment seat of Christ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15). More or fewer rewards are in view. Jesus appears to have been viewing the totality of a disciple’s witness, not every instance of it since He spoke of a final heavenly evaluation.

Verse 10

Criticism of Jesus was forgivable, but rejection of the Holy Spirit’s testimony that Jesus was the Christ was not (cf. Matthew 12:31-32; Mark 3:28-29). This warning continued the cautions against denying Jesus. Jesus implied that His disciples might face temptations to repudiate faith in Him. To deny Him publicly was bad, but to repudiate one’s faith in Him was worse. Jesus did not mean that God would withhold pardon from the disciple who did this or that he would lose his salvation. He presented the alternative not as a real possibility for disciples necessarily but as a warning that showed the seriousness of that type of denial to discourage apostasy.

Verses 11-12

Some of the disciples could anticipate having to confess their belief in Jesus before hostile religious and political bodies, both Jewish and Gentile. They should not become anxious about the wording of their testimonies on those occasions. The situations themselves would provide enough intimidation. Jesus promised the Holy Spirit’s help in formulating the proper defense then. The same Spirit that they might feel pressure to blaspheme against (Luke 12:10) would help them if they remained faithful to Him (cf. Luke 21:14-15; Matthew 10:19-20). Jesus was not speaking about normal preaching situations but giving oral defense under persecution. Luke recorded many instances of this in Acts (e.g., Acts 4:8; Acts 6:10; Acts 7:55; et al.). Modern persecuted disciples have also testified to the Spirit’s supernatural assistance of them that Jesus promised here.

The total effect of this teaching was to encourage the disciples to testify to their faith in Jesus boldly when faced with temptation to remain silent or to deny their faith (cf. Romans 10:9-10). All disciples need this encouragement frequently.

"Luke 12:4-34 is tied together by word links which highlight central themes. In addressing the disciples, Jesus is trying to counter two kinds of fear (note phobeomai in Luke 12:4-5; Luke 12:7; Luke 12:32) or anxiety (merimnao in Luke 12:11; Luke 12:22; Luke 12:25-26). Threatening opposition may cause fear (Luke 12:4; Luke 12:7) and anxiety (Luke 12:11). Lack of provision for food and clothing may cause anxiety (Luke 12:22; Luke 12:25; Luke 12:25) and fear (Luke 12:32)." [Note: Tannehill, 1:244.]

Verse 13

Evidently the person who made this request viewed Jesus as an ethical authority ("teacher," Gr. didaskale, cf. Luke 7:40) that his brother would respect. His request appears to have been strictly materialistic with no spiritual overtones. The man voiced a legitimate concern. The request provided the setting for the teaching that followed.

Verses 13-15

The temptation of greed 12:13-15

Verses 13-21

2. The importance of the eternal perspective 12:13-21

Jesus continued to teach His disciples the importance of following Him faithfully. Responding to a request from someone in the crowd, presumably not a disciple, Jesus warned against greed. Greed is one of the greatest temptations that disciples as well as other people face. It has lured many disciples from the path of faithfulness.

"If in the earlier section the hypocrisy of the Pharisees introduced teaching for the disciples on avoiding hypocrisy and being fearless in confession, Jesus now uses the avarice of the crowd to introduce teaching for the disciples on trust in God and freedom from greed for material possessions (Luke 12:22-34)." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 521.]

Verse 14

By asking this question, Jesus forced the man to consider who Jesus was. This was the fundamental issue for this man. He had appealed to Jesus as a judge, as the Jews often appealed to rabbis to settle such disputes. [Note: Morris, p. 212.] Jesus asked if he realized what He was doing. Really God had appointed Jesus as this man’s judge as well as everyone else’s judge. Hopefully the man faced the question of Jesus’ authority over him and became a believer, but this was not Luke’s concern in recording this incident.

By answering as He did, Jesus was also refusing to pass judgment on the situation the man had presented to Him. He was competent to deal with it, but He refused to do so because He wanted to deal with another issue, namely, the man’s materialism.

"He [Jesus] came to bring men to God, not to bring property to men." [Note: Ibid.]

Verse 15

Jesus warned the man and the crowd, including His disciples, against every form of greed. Greed is wrong because it exalts possessions to a place of importance that is greater than the place they occupy in life. Quality of life is not proportionate to one’s possessions. There is more to life than that. Even an abundance of possessions does not bring fullness of life. The man had implied that his life would be better if he had more possessions. Jesus said that was not necessarily so. People should seek God rather than riches because God does bring fulfillment into life (cf. Colossians 3:1-4).

Verses 16-18

Jesus told the parable of the rich fool to illustrate His point (Luke 12:15). He presented the rich man as an intelligent farmer. The farmer did only what was reasonable. Jesus was not faulting him for his plans. Likewise the man’s concern about his inheritance was a legitimate concern (Luke 12:13).

Verses 16-21

The parable of the rich fool 12:16-21

Verse 19

The rich man’s folly lay in what he failed to consider, not in the plans that he made. His words to himself indicate that he thought his life consisted in the abundance of his possessions alone, but there was more to life than he realized, namely, life beyond the grave. The man used a common form of address in speaking to himself (cf. Psalms 41:6; Psalms 41:12; Psalms 42:5). "Soul" or "self" translates the Greek psyche that frequently represents the whole person, as it does here (e.g., James 1:21; James 5:20).

Verse 20

God said something different to the man than he had said to himself. This contrast shows the error of the rich man’s thinking. In the Old Testament a fool is essentially someone who disbelieves or disregards God (e.g., Psalms 14:1; cf. Luke 11:40). That is precisely what this man had done regarding the meaning of life. He had thought that he would be comfortable for many years to come (Luke 12:19), but God demanded his life that very night (cf. James 4:13-16). This loss of life contrasts with his accumulation of possessions. Now he had nothing left, and his possessions would pass to his heirs (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:18-19). This fact could not have escaped the notice of the man who posed the question about his inheritance (Luke 12:13). Even if he got part of his brother’s inheritance, he might not keep it long.

Verse 21

Jesus drew the application. A person who only enriches himself and does not lay up treasure in heaven is a fool (cf. Matthew 6:19; 1 Timothy 6:6-10; James 1:10). "For himself" contrasts with "toward God." This translation preserves the form of the contrast in the Greek text. The point of the contrast is the difference between riches on earth and riches in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:19-21).

"The man in the story was called a fool for confusing time with eternity, his body for his soul, and what was his for what was God’s." [Note: M. Bailey, p. 129.]

In this teaching, with its illustrative parable, Jesus taught His disciples and the multitude to beware of a foolish attitude toward material possessions. The wrong attitude is that the richness of life depends on the richness of wealth. Disciples need to be aware of this viewpoint because the desire to increase wealth can draw them away from following Jesus faithfully. This is especially true since Jesus promised them opposition and persecution rather than wealth and comfort. Material possessions cannot provide the quality of life that intimacy with God can. Disciples should live with what God has revealed about life beyond the grave, specifically reward or loss of reward, clearly in view rather than living for the present.

"A test of our heart is how we give. Are we generous or are we hoarders? This is a test that we have to engage in privately before the Lord. No one can tell someone else exactly how to answer such questions, for there is no magic percentage that is to be reached." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 346.]

Verses 22-23

Jesus addressed the following words more particularly to the disciples (cf. Luke 12:1; Luke 12:13). It is foolish to store up material possessions with no regard for God. Therefore Jesus urged His disciples, who had considered God, to refrain from undue concern about possessions. The life (Gr. psyche) in view is the physical life that needs fuel. The body is the outward shell that needs covering. Food and clothing are just the needs of the present life. Consequently disciples should treat these needs as secondary and not become anxious over them. There is more to life than these things. Formerly Jesus had warned against greed when one does not have possessions (Luke 12:15). Now He warned against anxiety over them too. Anxiety is foolish because life consists of more than what one eats and wears (cf. Luke 4:4).

Verses 22-34

3. God’s provisions for disciples 12:22-34 (cf. Matthew 6:25-34)

This pericope continues the subject of life and possessions (cf. "treasure" in Luke 12:21; Luke 12:34). What Jesus implied in the parable of the rich fool He explicitly taught in these verses. His disciples should not think or act as the pagan world (Luke 12:30) typified by the rich fool. From emphasis on greed and selfishness Jesus moved to worry, which is related.

Verse 24

The raven illustration shows that God provides for His creatures. The implication is that God will provide for people, and even more so disciples, since they are more important to Him than birds. Jesus’ choice of a raven for His illustration is interesting since ravens were unclean (Leviticus 11:15) and are infamous for not feeding their own young, yet God sees that the young ravens eat. Birds do not and cannot provide for themselves as humans do and can, but God still provides for them. Again Jesus argued from the lesser to the greater (cf. Luke 12:6-7).

Verse 25

Did Jesus have age or stature in mind when He made this comparison? The NASB translators have rendered the Greek pechys as "cubit" and helikia as "life’s span" interpreting Jesus’ statement as a metaphor describing age. The NIV translators translated pechys as "hour" and helikia as "life." Both translations present Jesus speaking about the lengthening of life, not stature. This is understandable in view of Luke 12:19-20. The rich fool could not extend his life. However pechys means "cubit." It is a measure of distance rather than time. Probably Jesus used it metaphorically to refer to the least possible length of increase (cf. Psalms 39:5). The idea of wanting to increase one’s height by 18 inches is ludicrous if taken literally. Hardly anyone would want to do that, though most people would like to lengthen their lives a little.

Jesus’ point was that worry cannot prolong life any more than it can provide for life (Luke 12:24). Worry can really reduce one’s life span.

Verse 26

Jesus drew the conclusion by arguing from the lesser to the greater again. If it is futile to worry about small matters that lie outside our control, it is even more foolish to worry about larger matters that lie even farther outside our control. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 963.] The smaller matters include living longer and the larger include all of life and its needs.

Verse 27

Jesus turned from zoology to botany to illustrate further the futility of worrying about material possessions. The flowers (Gr. krinon) cannot do anything whatsoever to provide for their own needs. They are totally dependent on God. Still He provides for them and does so magnificently. He gives every common flower more glorious clothing than Solomon, Israel’s most glorious king, could provide for himself. Toiling and spinning to provide clothing seems to be in view. This was women’s work in Jesus’ day in contrast to providing for the young (Luke 12:24) that was men’s work. Thus Jesus implied that His teaching was applicable to both male and female disciples.

Verse 28

Grass is a common term for all types of plant life. People burn the common vegetation for warmth, yet God has made it beautiful. How much more will God provide for people who have a longer existence and serve a higher purpose than the grass.

The disciples were men of little faith because they worried about the necessities of life rather than trusting God to provide these for them.

Verse 29

Obviously people have a responsibility to provide for their own needs (Genesis 1:29-30; 2 Thessalonians 3:10). Jesus was forbidding worrying over these things. He used hyperbole (i.e., overstatement for the sake of the effect) to make His point. The Greek word translated "worry" here is meteorizesthe meaning "to raise up" or "to suspend." The idea is of a person in suspense or "up in the air" with anxiety about his or her needs.

Verse 30

The reason worry about these things is wrong is that it is a pagan practice. The gracious heavenly Father knows His children need these things. Therefore the believer should rely on Him to provide what is necessary.

Verse 31

Rather than seeking after material possessions Jesus’ disciples should seek after God’s messianic kingdom and the lasting things associated with it. This means preparing oneself for it and becoming an active participant in God’s program leading up to it. Jesus promised that God would provide the material provisions of those who do so. The form of the Greek sentence and the context suggest that God’s provision depends on the disciple’s seeking for His kingdom. This is a conditional promise (cf. Matthew 6:33). The paratactic construction suggests a condition. Parataxis, literally a placing side by side, is the literary device of setting clauses side by side without indicating with connecting words the co-ordinate or subordinate relation between them. Here, as in Luke 10:28 b for example, the first clause contains the condition for the realization of what the second clause contains.

However we need to understand this promise in the larger context of life in a fallen world. We must realize that sometimes disciples get caught up in the consequences of sin and suffering as do non-disciples. Even though God knows every sparrow that falls to the ground, He allows some to fall (Matthew 10:29-31). Likewise He allows some of His disciples to experience privation and to die prematurely.

Verse 32

Jesus’ command to turn attention from the acquisition of material provisions to seeking kingdom concerns undoubtedly created some uneasiness in His disciples. Likewise the hostility of the Pharisees and other enemies doubtless disturbed them. Therefore Jesus, speaking as the Shepherd of the flock for which He would provide, urged them not to fear. They could release their hold on material things with the full assurance that the blessings of the kingdom and eventual reward would be theirs one day (cf. Daniel 7:27). The description of God as their Father giving them something ties in with the earlier thought of receiving an inheritance (Luke 12:13). Faithful disciples will receive an inheritance eventually. [Note: For helpful studies of the New Testament teaching about believers’ inheritances, see Joseph C. Dillow, The Reign of the Servant Kings, pp. 61-110; and William E. Brown, "The New Testament Concept of the Believer’s Inheritance" (Th.D. dissertation, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1984).]

Verse 33

In view of this prospect Jesus’ disciples should strip down and live simply so they could seek the kingdom without unnecessary materialistic distractions. By getting rid of their possessions they were in effect preparing to receive their reward. Jesus pictured this as making purses in anticipation of receiving something to put in them, namely, eternal rewards. Such purses would not wear out in contrast to the purses that hold material wealth. Furthermore their heavenly treasure would be secure rather than vulnerable to theft and destruction (cf. 1 Peter 1:3-4).

"The generosity this text calls for has often been questioned. Are we really called to sell all our possessions? Jesus’ point is that we must give up viewing what we call ours, as if it were a private possession to be hoarded." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 352.]

"The command to ’sell’ and ’give’ (or ’distribute’) is not obsolete after Jesus’ ascension, for the narrator portrays the life of the Jerusalem church in such a way as to indicate a particular kind of fulfillment of Jesus’ command. . . . The descriptions of this arrangement feature the words ’sell’ and ’distribute’ (using piprasko and diamerizo in Acts 2:45, poleo and diadidomi in Luke 4:34-35), which correspond to the commands of Jesus in Luke 12:33 (poleo and didomi) and Luke 18:22 (poleo and diadidomi)." [Note: Tannehill, 1:247-48.]

Verse 34

As a principle, people think about and long for the place where their treasure resides, whether on earth or in heaven. Investing in heaven draws one’s affections in that direction, but if one’s riches are on earth he or she will think more about temporal things.

Jesus wanted His disciples to be free from unnecessary anxiety as they faced opposition and persecution for their faith. To remove it from them He reminded them first that life consists of more than material possessions (Luke 12:22-24). Second, He told them that worry is foolish because it cannot effect objective change (Luke 12:25-28). Third, He noted that worry characterizes pagans (Luke 12:29-31). Then He encouraged them with a reason not to fear, namely, that God would give them the kingdom (Luke 12:32). Finally He urged them to transfer their assets from earth to heaven. This would give them immediate peace as well as eventual reward (Luke 12:33-34).

Verse 35

Jesus’ encouragement 12:35

The word "treasure" occurred at the beginning and the end of the preceding teaching and indicated its subject (Luke 12:21; Luke 12:34). Likewise the word "ready" serves the same function in this pericope (Luke 12:35; Luke 12:40). Disciples need to be ready for service and ready to dispel the darkness in the future as they do in the present.

Verses 35-40

The importance of readiness 12:35-40

Jesus pictured His disciples as servants waiting expectantly for their master’s return (cf. Mark 13:33-37). He promised them a reward beyond imagination for their faithfulness. The parable of the 10 virgins is similar to this one in its teaching (cf. Matthew 25:1-13).

Verses 35-48

4. The coming of the Son of Man 1:12:35-48

Jesus’ teaching of the disciples continued without a break. However the subject shifted from ceasing to be anxious about material possessions to being ready for the Son of Man’s coming. Freedom from anxiety can lead to laziness. Jesus did not want His disciples to be lazy but to prepare for His return. He taught this lesson with two parables. This teaching is the first indication in Luke that Jesus would leave His disciples and then return to them later.

Verse 36

In this parable the master returns from a wedding feast. Perhaps Jesus had the heavenly marriage supper of Jesus with His bride, the church, in view (cf. Revelation 4-5). This event will precede His second coming to the earth (Revelation 19). Jesus was not referring to the messianic banquet since that will follow the Second Coming. The disciples in view are on earth, and Jesus is returning from heaven. Thus this parable is most directly applicable to disciples living on the earth during the Great Tribulation. It also teaches Christian disciples to be ready for the Lord’s coming at the Rapture. Jesus could have returned as soon as seven years after His ascension, so the disciples who first heard Him speak these words also needed to be ready.

Verses 36-38

The parable of the faithful servants 12:36-38

Verses 37-38

The blessing that Jesus promised was that the Master would serve His servants. This was unthinkable in Jesus’ world (cf. John 13:3-8). However, Jesus enforced its certainty with a strong affirmation that Luke did not record Him using since Luke 4:24. The messianic banquet on earth at the beginning of the millennium is evidently in view here.

"Eschatological fulfillment, and specifically sharing in God’s reign, is repeatedly pictured in terms of a festive meal in Luke. This association must be considered when interpreting the meal scenes and references to a future meal in the gospel, which have an unusually prominent place in Luke’s account of the ministry of Jesus." [Note: Ibid., 1:218. Cf. 13:28-29;14:15-24; and 22:16, 18 and 30.]

Messiah will continue to serve His people during the messianic kingdom, but He will honor the faithful especially. The second watch was from 9:00 p.m. to midnight, and the third watch was from midnight to 3:00 a.m. by Jewish reckoning. These periods present the present world as a place of darkness in which a disciple can sleep rather than bear witness. [Note: E. Lövestam, Spiritual Wakefulness in the New Testament, pp. 84-91.]

Verse 39

Jesus chose another illustration of the importance of preparedness. He compared His return to the coming of a thief in this one. The point is that those whom He visited would not expect His return. This illustration gives a warning whereas the previous one provided encouragement. The previous one presented the possibility of delay, but the present one stresses sudden and unexpected arrival. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 538.]

Verse 40

Jesus concluded by applying the illustrations. By using the title "Son of Man" Jesus may have been implying that the coming of the Son of Man that Daniel had predicted was in view (Daniel 7:13-14). That prophecy dealt with His coming in glory to rule. Elsewhere Jesus said He did not know the time of His return (Matthew 24:36). However, it would be unexpected because the exact day and hour were unknown, and His return would surprise many people (cf. Matthew 24:36; Matthew 24:42; Matthew 24:44; Matthew 25:13; Mark 13:32-33; Mark 13:35).

Verse 41

Peter’s question 12:41

Peter asked a clarifying question. He wanted to know if Jesus was aiming His warnings to be ready at the disciples alone or at the disciples and the crowd that was present and listening (Luke 12:1).

Verses 41-48

The importance of faithfulness 12:41-48

Faithfulness is important for disciples in view of the Lord’s return as well as readiness.

Verse 42

Jesus answered Peter’s question with one of His own. The answer to it gave Peter the answer to his question. Obviously the faithful and sensible steward pictures a disciple. Jesus’ question also taught that He would give such disciples authority over other servants of His in the future (i.e., in the kingdom). Evidently Jesus meant that faithful disciples would have authority over His other servants in the kingdom (cf. Luke 22:30; Matthew 19:28). It was common in Jesus’ day for some servants to have authority over other servants within a household (cf. Matthew 18:21-35). Jesus was speaking of the leaders of His servants.

Verses 42-48

The parable of the two servants 12:42-48 (cf. Matthew 24:45-51)

Verses 43-44

Leading disciples who faithfully serve their fellow servants of the Lord during His absence can count on receiving greater responsibility after He returns. These faithful disciples will become Jesus’ chief administrators in the kingdom (cf. Daniel 7:27). Authority in the kingdom is in view.

Verses 45-46

However the disciple who disregards Jesus’ warnings to be ready for His return and who is unfaithful, abusive, self-centered, and self-indulgent will end up with unbelievers when Jesus returns. [Note: See Karl E. Pagenkemper, "Rejection Imagery in the Synoptic Parables," Bibliotheca Sacra 153:610 (April-June 1996):191-94.] The judgments at the beginning of the messianic kingdom immediately following the Second Coming are in view (Matthew 25:31-46). Since these disciples perish eternally they must correspond to the religious leaders of their day who are unbelievers. Their horrible end is appropriate since they had great privilege and great responsibility but failed in their duty.

Verses 47-48

Jesus clarified the standard by which He would judge these unfaithful servants. The extent of their knowledge of their Master’s will would affect their punishment (cf. Numbers 15:30; Deuteronomy 17:12; Psalms 19:13). Privilege increases responsibility (cf. Luke 11:29-32; Romans 2:12-13; James 3:1). This fact should not discourage disciples from discovering God’s will but should motivate us to maintain our faithfulness as we increase our knowledge. All God’s servants have a responsibility to know their Master’s will as fully as we can, since we are His servants, and to do it.

"This concern to admonish the leaders of the church also appears in Jesus’ farewell discourse the night before his death (Luke 22:24-38) and in Paul’s farewell address to the Ephesian elders (Acts 20:18-35). These passages mention various abuses of position by church leaders." [Note: Tannehill, 1:250.]

Verses 49-50

In view of the context Jesus’ reference to fire must be as a symbol of judgment primarily rather than purification, its other common signification in Scripture. He had just spoken of judging unfaithful disciples (Luke 12:45-48). Now He explained that one of the purposes of His incarnation was to bring judgment to the earth (cf. Luke 3:16). Perhaps Jesus wished this aspect of His ministry was taking place already because it would result in the purification of His people and would usher in the kingdom. However before Jesus’ judging ministry could begin, Jesus Himself would have to undergo judgment, which He pictured as baptism. It would overwhelm Him, but only temporarily. He would rise from it as a person experiencing water baptism rises out of the water. The prospect of His baptism (i.e., the Cross) distressed Him because it involved bearing God’s wrath for the sins of humankind.

John wrote that God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world (John 3:17). He meant at His first coming. When Jesus returns at His second coming He will exercise judgment.

Verses 49-53

Division over Jesus 12:49-53 (cf. Matthew 10:34-36)

Jesus addressed these words to His disciples primarily (cf. Luke 12:41-42).

Verses 49-59

5. The coming distress 12:49-59

Jesus’ teaching on the same occasion continued. He clarified next that His disciples could anticipate a period of intense persecution. This is the reason He charged them to be faithful (Luke 12:41-48).

"In Luke 12:49 to Luke 14:24, Jesus is calling on his audience to note the nature of the time-a time when God is making divisions among people, a time when people should be able to see what God is doing through Jesus, and a time when Israel had better respond before becoming nationally culpable for rejecting God’s messenger." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 363.]

Verses 51-53

Evidently Jesus meant that He did not just come to bring peace on earth but also division. Jesus’ earthly ministry began this division. From the time Jesus appeared preaching publicly, even households, the tightest social units, began to experience division. The difference of opinion that divided people was their beliefs about Jesus’ person and work. This situation would continue. No physical relationship would escape the possibility of this division (cf. Micah 7:6). This situation posed a crisis for the future. Historically division in the Tribulation will precede peace in the Millennium.

"Since detachment from family is another repeated theme in Jesus’ teaching about discipleship (see Luke 9:57-62; Luke 11:27-28; Luke 14:26; Luke 18:28-30), the inclusion of Luke 12:51-53 helps to make Luke 12 a comprehensive discourse on central themes of Jesus’ teaching to his disciples." [Note: Tannehill, 1:252.]

Verses 54-55

Rain clouds moved in from the Mediterranean to the west and usually indicated showers. Southerly winds often brought hotter weather from the desert that lay in that general direction.

Verses 54-59

Decision for Jesus 12:54-59

Jesus again focused His teaching on the multitudes (cf. Luke 12:13). He urged the people to discern the significance of the present times. This was important in view of the coming judgment and the present division of opinion concerning Himself. Luke did not indicate a chronological connection between this section and the preceding one, though there may have been one. He may have inserted this teaching here because of its logical connection with what precedes. In effect Jesus was calling the people to join the ranks of His faithful disciples before it was too late.

Verse 56

The people could predict future weather from present signs, but they could not see that the events associated with Jesus’ ministry indicated the arrival of Messiah (cf. Matthew 16:2-3). The present time was one of change and crisis. By calling His hearers hypocrites Jesus was saying that He recognized that their professed inability to recognize Messiah’s appearance was unreal. It was not that they could not see that He was the Messiah, but they did not want to see it in spite of the evidence.

"They understood the winds of earth, but not the winds of God; they could discern the sky, but not the heavens." [Note: Morris, p. 220.]

Verses 57-59

Jesus urged His hearers to come to a decision before it was too late (cf. Matthew 5:25-26). They needed to judge what was right and to believe on Jesus before God judged them and condemned them for their unbelief. Jesus reminded them of the wisdom of settling their disputes with one another before they went to court and a judge made the decision for them (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:1-11). The result of not settling out of court might be condemnation and confinement in a Roman debtors prison from which they could not escape easily. Jesus’ point was that the unbelievers in the crowd needed to get things right with their adversary (Jesus) before the judge (God) sent them to prison (hell).

The fact that Jesus presented the person in the illustration as escaping from prison by paying his debt does not mean people can escape from hell by paying their way out. This false interpretation might lead one to pay money to the church to get his or her friends and or relatives out of hell. Elsewhere Jesus taught that hell is a place of eternal torment from which no one can escape (Daniel 12:2; Matthew 25:46; John 5:29; Acts 24:15). Jesus probably did not say the person in prison in His illustration had to stay there forever because in the prison in His illustration one could get out if he paid his debt. The parallels between divine judgment and the human judgment that Jesus described in His illustration are not exact.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 12". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-12.html. 2012.
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