Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, May 21st, 2024
the Week of Proper 2 / Ordinary 7
Tired of seeing ads while studying? Now you can enjoy an "Ads Free" version of the site for as little as 10¢ a day and support a great cause!
Click here to learn more!

Bible Commentaries
Luke 15

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

Search for…
Enter query below:
Additional Authors


F. God’s attitude toward sinners ch. 15

The present section is a development of the theme of Jesus calling the poor and needy to salvation. This motif has appeared earlier in Luke’s Gospel (cf. Luke 14:2-5; Luke 14:13-24; et al.). Luke had a special interest in this group, probably because he wrote his Gospel for the Gentiles, and many of them fell into this category. This group constitutes the largest target of the Christian mission.

Verses 1-2

1. The setting for Jesus’ teaching 15:1-2

Luke just recorded that Jesus called a would-be disciple to pay attention to what He said (Luke 14:35). Now he noted that many tax collectors and "sinners" were doing precisely that. Thus he presented that group of needy spiritual outcasts as responding to Jesus’ ministry. However, he also noted, in contrast, that the Pharisees and scribes were critical of Jesus (cf. Luke 5:29-30). They were not really listening to Him. Probably he balanced two positive groups (tax gatherers and sinners) with two negative groups (Pharisees and lawyers) to heighten the contrast further. Receiving and eating with sinners demonstrated openness to them and fellowship with them.

"The sinners were the immoral or those who followed occupations that the religious regarded as incompatible with the Law." [Note: Morris, p. 237.]

The following parables taught the religious leaders that sinners’ return to God should be a cause for rejoicing rather than grumbling (cf. Luke 19:7). One writer titled these parables "The Searching Shepherd," "The Searching Woman," and "The Seeking Father." [Note: J. Dwight Pentecost, The Parables of Jesus, p. 99.] Shepherds, unmarried maidens, and rebellious sons were all examples of disenfranchised people who were usually excluded by the religious establishment of Jesus’ day. [Note: M. Bailey, p. 135.] The first parable emphasized the lost condition, the second the search, and the third the restoration. [Note: Edersheim, 2:255.]

Verses 3-4

Probably many of Jesus’ hearers were shepherds since this was one of the most common occupations in Palestine. A flock of 100 sheep was fairly common for a small farmer. [Note: Jeremias, The Parables . . ., p. 133.] It was also normal for a shepherd to count his sheep every night. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 981.] The Greek word eremos can mean "wilderness" (AV), but probably it means "open pasture" (NASB) or "open country" (NIV) here. The sheep was lost because of foolishness (cf. 1 Peter 2:25). Note that all the sheep belonged to the shepherd.

Verses 3-7

2. The parable of the lost sheep 15:3-7 (cf. Matthew 18:12-14)

Matthew also recorded this parable as part of Jesus’ discipleship training. Jesus’ point was that God does not want any of His "sheep" to wander away from their Shepherd. He seeks them out and brings them home. It was a call to the disciples to exercise responsible pastoral leadership. Luke showed that Jesus used the parable to stress God’s joy when one of His lost "sheep" gets saved. It taught the Pharisees and lawyers how important the salvation of one "sinner" is to God. Jesus evidently used the same parable on two separate occasions to teach different lessons.

Verses 5-6

The contrast between the lost and the found condition of the one sheep was the cause for the shepherd’s great rejoicing. His joy at the secure condition of the sheep is the point of the parable. The parable also pictures the shepherd (Jesus) taking the initiative in seeking the lost, a major theme in Luke (cf. Luke 19:10; et al.). By picturing the shepherd carrying the sheep home on his shoulders Jesus was communicating His loving care of those He saves. His action depicted common rural practice.

Verse 7

The 99 righteous persons represent the self-righteous Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 15:2). Jesus was using the term "righteous" in irony. They were not really righteous, but they considered themselves righteous. The contrast then is between God’s joy over one sinner’s salvation compared to His sorrow over 99 self-righteous people’s lack of salvation. "In heaven" means in God’s presence (cf. Luke 15:10).

Jesus revealed that even though sinners coming to Jesus made the Pharisees grumble, this rejoiced God’s heart. The parable showed how out of harmony they were with God. It also vindicated Jesus’ contacts with sinners.

Verses 8-10

3. The parable of the lost coin 15:8-10

Jesus’ repetition of the same point in another similar parable shows the importance of the lesson He wanted His hearers to learn.

Again Jesus’ concern for women comes out in this illustration with which His female listeners could identify. The silver coins in view would have been Greek drachmas, the equivalent of Roman denarii, each worth about a day’s wage. They may have been part of the dowry or the savings that some Palestinian women wore around their heads on a chain. [Note: Jeremias, Jerusalem in . . ., p. 100; idem, The Parables . . ., pp. 134-35.] In any case the coin she lost was precious to her even though it did not represent great wealth. Its value is clear from the trouble to which she went to find it. The sheep was lost because of its foolishness (Luke 15:4), but the coin was lost because of the woman’s carelessness, through no fault of its own but by surrounding circumstances. Peasants’ houses in Palestine normally had no windows, so she needed to get a lamp to help her see. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 603.] Similarly it cost Jesus much to seek and to save the lost. God actually searches for lost sinners (cf. Genesis 3:8-9)! The woman’s recovery of what had been lost led to great joy and rejoicing. [Note: See A. F. Walls, "’In the Presence of the Angels’ (Luke xv. 10)," Novum Testamentum 3 (1959):314-16.]

This parable repeated the point of the previous one, namely, that there is rejoicing in heaven when one sinner repents. However, it also stresses the fact that God willingly goes to great lengths to seek out and to find the lost. This attitude contrasts with that of the Pharisees and lawyers (Luke 15:2). According to Morris, there is no rabbinic equivalent to God seeking sinners. [Note: Morris, p. 239.]

An almost identical parable to this one was common among the Jews of Jesus’ day. [Note: See Edersheim, 1:581.] However, in the Jewish parable, the moral was that a person should search the Torah more diligently than this woman searched for her lost coin, since Torah study would yield an eternal reward, not just temporal enjoyment. It taught the merit of works, whereas Jesus’ parable taught the compassion of the Savior and the joy in heaven over the salvation of the lost.

Perhaps Jesus intended to focus on the Jews in the first parable since He compared the lost one to a sheep from the Master’s fold. The second parable may compare the lost coin to a Gentile since a Greek coin was lost. This is the only reference to this coin in the New Testament. If so, the numbers may be significant. Only a small number of Jews would experience salvation compared to the greater proportion of Gentiles who would believe the gospel. The Book of Acts reveals the comparative unresponsiveness of the Jews and the receptivity of the Gentiles.

Verses 11-12

The man in the story had two sons, a younger one and an older one (Luke 15:25). Therefore the younger son’s inheritance would normally have been one-third of his father’s estate since the older son would have received a double portion (Deuteronomy 21:17). However, a disposition of the father’s estate before his death probably would have yielded this son about two-ninths of the total. [Note: J. D. M. Derrett, Law in the New Testament, p. 107.] Jesus did not explain the exact terms of the settlement since they were insignificant details. However the son’s request evidently precluded any future claim on his father’s estate (Luke 15:19).

Normally the inheritance did not pass to the heirs until the death of the father. To request it prematurely was tantamount to expressing a wish that the father would die.

". . . to my knowledge, in all of Middle Eastern literature (aside from this parable) from ancient times to the present, there is no case of any son, older or younger, asking for his inheritance from a father who is still in good health." [Note: M. Bailey, p. 164.]

This father’s willingness to accommodate his younger son’s request shows that he was gracious and generous. Evidently the older son also received his inheritance at the same time (Luke 15:31), though this is not certain. The implication is that the younger son was an older teenager since men usually married about then, and this young man was apparently unmarried. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 607.]

Verses 11-24

The younger son 15:11-24

Verses 11-32

4. The parable of the lost son 15:11-32

This third parable in the series again repeats the point of the former two that God gladly receives repentant sinners, but it stresses still other information. The joy of the father in the first part of the parable contrasts with the grumbling of the elder brother in the second part. The love of the father was equal for both his sons. Thus the parable teaches that God wants all people to experience salvation and to enter the kingdom.

"This parable is often called ’The Prodigal Son,’ but it is really about different reactions to the prodigal. The key reaction is that of the father, who is excited to receive his son back. Thus a better name for the parable is ’The Forgiving Father.’ A sub-theme is the reaction of the older brother, so that one can subtitle the parable with the addendum: ’and the Begrudging Brother.’" [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 412.]

Verses 13-16

Evidently the son turned his assets into cash and then departed to have fun. He may have wanted to "find himself," but he ended up losing himself. In the first parable, the sheep got lost because of its nature to wander away. In the second, the coin was lost due to circumstances beyond its control. In this third parable, the son gets lost as a result of his own choice. Feeding pigs was, of course, unclean work for a Jew and a job that any self-respecting Jew would only do out of total desperation (Leviticus 11:7). However the son was willing to do this because his need had become so great. The pigs and the son evidently ate the seeds of carob trees. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 984.] This was not very nourishing or appetizing fare. There was a Jewish saying that went: "When Israel is reduced to the cabob-tree, they become repentant." [Note: Edersheim, 2:261.] This son had sunk so low that no one showed him any compassion.

". . . neither sense nor reason exists in sin but the very contrary." [Note: Lenski, p. 812.]

The Pharisees would have recognized this young man as representing the sinners whom they despised.

Verses 17-19

"He came to his senses" is an idiom that indicates repentance. [Note: Jeremias, The Parables . . ., p. 130. See also Greg Forbes, "Repentance and Conflict in the Parable of the Lost Son (Luke 15:11-32)," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 42:2 (June 1999):211-229.] He changed his mind about his attitude and decided to make a change in his behavior. The young man used "heaven" as a euphemism for God (Luke 15:18; Luke 15:21). The Jews frequently did this to avoid using God’s name in vain, and there are many examples of this in Luke. The young man meant that he viewed his actions as sin against his father and against God (cf. Psalms 51:4). The son’s proposal to his father, as well as his planned speech, shows the genuineness of his humility and repentance. He was willing to serve his father as a day laborer since his father had a reputation for paying his servants generously (Luke 15:17).

". . . the boy’s proposal indicates that, while he desires the father’s house, he doesn’t understand the father’s heart." [Note: Gary Inrig, The Parables: Understanding What Jesus Meant, p. 19.]

Verse 20

Since the father saw his son while he was still a great distance from his house, he had apparently been scanning the distant road daily hoping to see him. The father’s compassion reflects some knowledge of his son’s plight. Perhaps he had kept tabs on him since he left home. The father put feet to his feelings by running out to meet his son, even though it was undignified for an older man to run in Jesus’ culture. Embracing and kissing him continually also expressed the father’s loving acceptance (cf. Genesis 45:14-15; Genesis 33:4; 2 Samuel 14:33; Acts 20:37). This attitude also contrasts with the elder brother’s attitude and the Pharisees’ attitude. The father initiated the restoration of fellowship before the son could articulate his confession. The word translated "kissed" (Gr. katephilesen) may mean either "kissed many times" or "kissed tenderly." [Note: Morris, p. 242.]

Verses 21-24

Evidently the father cut his son’s confession short because he knew what was in his heart (cf. 1 John 4:18). Rather than simply accepting his son back, much less making him a servant, the father bestowed the symbols of honor, authority, and freedom on him (cf. Genesis 41:42; Esther 3:10; Esther 8:8). [Note: Jeremias, The Parables . . ., p. 130.] Then he prepared a banquet for him that probably represents the messianic banquet (Luke 13:29; Luke 14:15-24). People in Jesus’ day ate far less meat than modern westerners do, so eating meat indicates a very special occasion.

"Everything the younger son had hoped to find in the far country, he discovered back home: clothes, jewelry, friends, joyful celebration, love, and assurance for the future. What made the difference? Instead of saying, ’Father, give me!’ he said, ’Father, make me!’ He was willing to be a servant!" [Note: Wiersbe, 1:236.]

The son had determined to leave the father permanently and so was dead and lost to his father. He now had new life and was found (cf. Ephesians 2:1-5). If the sheep was lost through foolishness and the coin through carelessness, the son was lost through willfulness. [Note: Ibid., 1:233-35.] The son’s return was just the beginning of rejoicing, the implication being that it would continue through the messianic kingdom (i.e., the Millennium). Jesus’ hearers would have understood Him to teach that sinners would enter the kingdom because they came to God by believing in Jesus.

"There is a Buddhist story that provides a fascinating contrast to the Lord’s story. It also tells of a son who left home and returned years later in rags and misery. His degradation was so profound that he did not recognize his own father. But his father recognized him and told the servants to take him into the mansion and to clean him up. The father, his identity unrevealed, watched his son’s response. Gradually, time wrought changes, and the son became dutiful, considerate, and moral. Satisfied, the father finally revealed his identity and formally accepted his son as his heir.

"The Pharisees would have understood and approved of such a story. It makes sense to wait for a son to achieve worthiness. It is reasonable to treat a repentant person according to the stage of penance achieved. But that is not the Father our Lord describes. It is not a parable of merits. Here is a picture of grace." [Note: Inrig, pp. 20-21.]

"Here it deserves special notice, as marking the absolute contrast between the teaching of Christ and Rabbinism, that we have in one of the oldest Rabbinic works a Parable exactly the reverse of this, when the son of a friend is redeemed from bondage, not as a son, but to be a slave, that so obedience might be demanded of him." [Note: Edersheim, 2:262.]

"To an alarming degree it [the evangelical church of today] has lost touch with the unconditional love of God." [Note: Hodges, Absolutely Free! p. 18.]

Verses 25-27

Jesus pictured the older brother, symbolic of the Pharisees and scribes, as working hard for the father. The Jews as well as the Jewish religious leaders likewise enjoyed the privileged status of an older brother in the human family because God had chosen them for special blessing (Exodus 19:5-6). The older brother was outside the banquet having missed it apparently because of his preoccupation with work and his distant relationship with his father. For him, and for the Pharisees, all was based on merit and reward. He viewed himself more as the father’s servant than as his son.

Verses 25-32

The older brother 15:25-32

Verse 28

The older son’s anger at the father’s forgiveness and acceptance of his brother contrasts with the father’s loving compassion demonstrated by his coming out and entreating him. Similarly the Pharisees grumbled because God received sinners and welcomed them into his kingdom (Luke 15:2). Nevertheless God reached out to them through Jesus as the father reached out to his older son. The same tenderness marked the father’s dealings with the elder brother as marked his dealings with the younger brother.

Verses 29-30

After a disrespectful address, the older son boasted of what he had done for his father and than blamed him for not giving him more. Clearly he felt that the father’s response should reflect justice rather than grace. He was counting on a reward commensurate with his work (cf. Matthew 20:12). This hardly reflects a loving relationship.

"He hasn’t stayed home because he loved his father, but because working in his fields was a way to get what he wanted." [Note: Inrig, p. 25.]

Wiersbe pointed out parallels between the prodigal’s coming to his father and the sinner coming to God through Christ. The prodigal was lost (Luke 15:24); Jesus said, "I am the way." The prodigal was ignorant (Luke 15:17); Jesus said, "I am the truth." The prodigal was dead (Luke 15:24); Jesus said, "I am the life" (John 14:6). [Note: Wiersbe, 1:236.]

The older son refused to acknowledge his brother as his brother since he had so dishonored his father. By calling him his father’s son he was implying that the father shared his younger son’s guilt. Everyone in this chapter experienced joy except this elder brother.

"The proud and the self-righteous always feel that they are not treated as well as they deserve." [Note: Morris, p. 244.]

Verses 31-32

The father responded to the older son’s hostility with tenderness and reason. The Greek word teknon, translated "child" or "son," is a term of tender affection. The father stressed his older son’s privileged position as always enjoying his father’s company. This was a uniquely Jewish privilege that the nation’s religious leaders enjoyed particularly (cf. Romans 3:1-2; Romans 9:4). All that God had was Israel’s in the sense that they always had access to it because of the privileged relationship He had established with the nation. It was necessary (right, not just good) to celebrate the return of sinners, implying that the older brother should have joined in the rejoicing. The reason for the rejoicing was the salvation of the lost. The parable closes with the father’s implied invitation to the older son to enter the banquet. That invitation was still open to the Pharisees when Jesus told the parable.

"Thus the parable teaches that God loves sinners, that God searches for sinners, that God restores sinners, and that God confers the privileges and blessings of sonship on those who return to Him." [Note: Pentecost, The Parables . . ., p. 105.]

There are two interpretations of these three parables that are common among evangelicals. Some see them as teaching the restoration to fellowship of believers. They cite the fact that the man owned the sheep that he lost, the woman owned the coin, and the lost son was a son of his father. They view these relationships as indicating the saved condition of the lost objects in the parables. Other interpreters view the lost objects as representing unbelievers. This seems more probable since Jesus was speaking to Pharisees and lawyers who rejected God’s salvation that He extended through Jesus. They grumbled against Jesus because He received sinners who believed on Him. Moreover the younger son received a position that he had not enjoyed previously when he returned (Luke 15:22). The Jews were God’s children only in the sense that God had adopted them into a special relationship with Himself (Exodus 19:5-6). They still had to believe on Jesus to obtain eternal life (cf. Genesis 15:6). [Note: Martin, p. 244.]

On one level these parables deal with Israel’s religious leaders, but on another level they deal with all the Jews. The unbelief that characterized the Pharisees and lawyers also marked the nation as a whole. Therefore it seems that these parables teach that God reaches out to the Gentiles in view of Israel’s unbelief as well as extending salvation to Jewish sinners in Jesus’ day. As Luke’s Gospel unfolds from Jesus’ postponement of the kingdom (Luke 13:34-35), Jesus’ mission primarily to the Jews declines and His worldwide mission to the Gentiles becomes an ever-increasing emphasis.

G. Jesus’ warnings about riches ch. 16

This section, as those immediately preceding and following it, contains parabolic teaching and other instruction that calls for a decision to believe in Jesus. All the teaching in this chapter deals with material possessions. The section begins with instruction for the disciples but then moves to a lesson for the Pharisees.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 15". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-15.html. 2012.
Ads FreeProfile