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Bible Commentaries
Luke 17

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-2

The introductory "and" (de in the Greek text, not translated in the NIV) indicates a logical connection with what has preceded. It is inevitable that disciples retard the spiritual progress of others occasionally because none of us is perfect. However that does not excuse personal responsibility when someone causes another to stumble into sin or apostasy (cf. Luke 11:52). It is a very serious offense to hinder the progress of a spiritually immature believer whom Jesus spoke of here as a child (cf. Matthew 18:6). "Woe" recalls Jesus condemnation of the Pharisees in Luke 6:24-26. It indicates the seriousness of this offense.

Verses 1-4

1. The prevention of sin and the restoration of sinners 17:1-4

Verses 1-19

H. Jesus’ warning about disciples’ actions and attitudes 17:1-19

Jesus had been teaching the disciples about avoiding what men esteemed highly but which God viewed as detestable, namely, the pursuit of money (Luke 16:15). By pursuing money hypocritically the Pharisees had turned many of their fellow Jews away from Jesus (Luke 11:52). Jesus now warned the disciples about the possibility of their own improper actions and attitudes.

Verses 3-4

Jesus proceeded from warning against leading people into sin to the subject of helping those who do fall. The disciple’s responsibility in such cases is twofold: admonition of the sinner, and generous forgiveness of the penitent (cf. Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:15; Matthew 18:21-22).

"The saying implicitly forbids the nursing of grudges and criticism of the offender behind his back." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 642.]

Verse 5

Luke referred to the Twelve as apostles here probably to highlight the importance of this teaching for disciple leaders. Evidently the apostles concluded that such a magnanimous approach to forgiving would require more faith in God than they possessed. They would have to believe that God could change a person’s heart even though he gave no evidence of genuine contrition by repeatedly sinning and then repeatedly professing repentance.

Verses 5-6

The importance of trusting God 17:5-6

Verses 5-10

2. The disciples’ attitude toward their duty 17:5-10

Jesus again followed instruction with illustration.

Verse 6

Jesus encouraged the disciples by reminding them that only a little trust in God’s ability can result in unbelievable change (cf. Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23). A mustard seed was proverbially small (cf. Luke 7:13). Mulberry trees grew to be as tall as 35 feet and were difficult to uproot. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 994.] This response by Jesus amounted to telling the disciples that they did not need more faith. They just needed to use the faith they had.

"This word of Jesus does not invite Christians to become conjurers and magicians, but heroes like those whose exploits are celebrated in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews." [Note: Manson, p. 141.]

"It is not so much great faith in God that is required as faith in a great God." [Note: Morris, p. 256.]

Verses 7-9

Jesus told this parable to teach His disciples that warning sinning disciples and forgiving those who sinned and repented was only their duty. It was not something for which they should expect a reward from God. The Pharisees believed that their righteous deeds put God in their debt, as did many of the Jews. God will indeed reward faithful service (Luke 12:35-37; Luke 12:42-48). However that is not because His servants have placed Him in their debt but because He graciously gives them more than what is just. The teaching in chapter 12 (Luke 12:35-37; Luke 12:42-48) deals with the Master’s grace whereas the teaching here in chapter 17 (Luke 17:7-10) stresses the servant’s attitude.

Perhaps Jesus selected the example of a servant laboring in the field or tending sheep because this is the type of service His disciples render. In the situation Jesus pictured the one servant had several different responsibilities to his master. Jesus did not picture a large estate in which each slave had only one specialized task. Again the parallel with disciples’ duties is realistic. The point is not the master’s attitude in failing to express thanks for services rendered but the servant’s attitude in doing his duty without placing his master under obligation to him.

Verses 7-10

The parable of the unworthy servant 17:7-10

Verse 10

Jesus drew the application. His disciples should have the same attitude as good servants. By claiming to be unworthy they were not saying that they were totally worthless people. They meant that they were unworthy of any reward because all the service they had rendered was simply their duty to their Master. In the context the particular duty in view was forgiving generously (Luke 17:3-4), but the teaching applies generally to all the duties that disciples owe God.

Jesus and the apostles taught elsewhere that the prospect of reward should motivate disciples to serve the Lord (Matthew 6:19-21; 1 Corinthians 3:10-15; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27; 2 Corinthians 5:9-10; 1 John 2:28; 1 Peter 4:13; 1 Peter 5:1-4). Jesus was not contradicting that here. Here his point was that God is under no obligation to reward us. He will do so because He chooses to do so, not because He has to do so. Our attitude should be that God does not need us to serve Him and that serving Him is only our duty for which He is under no obligation to reward us.

Verses 11-13

Luke 17:11 is another geographical progress report (cf. Luke 9:51; Luke 13:22). These notations usually indicate the beginning of new sections in Luke and Acts, but there is continuity in the subject matter of Jesus’ teachings from what precedes. A new subject begins at the end of this pericope.

This incident happened somewhere close to the border between southern Galilee and northern Samaria. This accounts for the mixture of Jewish and Samaritan lepers in one group. Their common affliction had brought them together. The lepers stood at a distance from others because they were unclean and possibly because their disease was contagious. Biblical leprosy was contagious in some stages but not in others (cf. Leviticus 13-14). Their address to Jesus as Master (Gr. epistata, a word found only in Luke in the New Testament) indicated a measure of faith in Him. They realized that their only hope for healing was His mercy, not their worthiness. Their condition made obvious what they wanted Jesus to do for them, namely, remove their leprosy.

Verses 11-19

3. The importance of gratitude 17:11-19

Luke’s narration of this miracle focuses on the response of the Samaritan whom Jesus healed. It is not so much a story that he intended to demonstrate Jesus’ divine identity, though it does that. It is rather another lesson for the disciples on an important attitude that should characterize them.

"Not only is this narrative peculiar to Luke, but it also stresses several characteristically Lukan themes. Jerusalem is the goal of Jesus’ journey (cr. Luke 9:51; Luke 13:33); Jesus has mercy on social outcasts; he conforms to Jewish norms by requiring that the lepers go for the required priestly declaration of health (cf. Leviticus 14); faith and healing should bring praise to God (cf. Luke 18:43; Acts 3:8-9); and the grace of God extends beyond Judaism, with Samaritans receiving special attention (cf. Luke 10:25-37)." [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 995.]

Verse 14

Probably the lepers did not expect Jesus to respond as He did. Rather than touching them, or pronouncing them clean, He gave them a command. The command implied that by the time they reached the priest they would have experienced healing. Normally a command to show oneself to a priest followed a cure (Luke 5:14; cf. Leviticus 13:49; Leviticus 14:2-3). The priestly examination would result in the lepers resuming normal lives. However these lepers could have refused to go and could have repeated their request to Jesus. Jesus was testing their faith and obedience. If they really regarded Him as their master, they should obey Him. They decided to obey and immediately experienced healing (cf. Luke 5:12-16). Jesus healed them from a distance (cf. 2 Kings 5:10-14).

The lepers’ response would have taught the disciples and everyone else present the importance of trusting and obeying Jesus’ word. This was a lesson that Jesus had been teaching the Pharisees and the disciples (Luke 16:15-31). This miracle showed the benefit of obeying Jesus’ word because of belief in Him (cf. Luke 6:10; Matthew 12:13; Mark 3:5). This lesson was not the main reason Luke recorded this incident, however.

Verses 15-16

The one leper who returned loudly gave God the glory for his healing. He thereby acknowledged that Jesus was God’s agent. His prostrate posture and his thanksgiving expressed his great gratitude to Jesus (cf. Luke 5:12; Luke 8:41; Luke 18:11; Luke 22:17; Luke 22:19; Acts 5:10; Acts 28:15). The fact that he was a Samaritan rather than a Jew is the key point in the incident. Luke’s mention of this fact set the stage for Jesus’ teaching that followed.

Verses 17-19

Jesus’ questions highlighted the ingratitude of the nine other lepers who were Jews (Luke 17:18). They also made the point that Luke wanted to stress by recording this incident. The Jews had more knowledge about Messiah and His coming than foreigners. They should have recognized who Jesus was and expressed their gratitude as well. Their lack of responsiveness was typical of the Jews in Jesus’ day (cf. Luke 15:3-10). In closing, Jesus clarified that it was the man’s faith in Him that led to his obedience and was responsible for his restoration, not just his obedience. Jesus was not implying that the other nine lepers lacked faith. They also believed in Him (Luke 17:13).

The incident teaches that people whom Jesus delivers and who believe on Him have a moral obligation to express their gratitude to Him for what He has done for them. It also illustrates the fact that the Jews were happy to receive the benefits of Jesus’ ministry without thanking Him or connecting His goodness with God. The chiastic structure of Jesus’ three questions (Luke 17:17-18) is another indication that the focus of attention is on the ingratitude of the nine healed lepers.

I. Jesus’ teaching about His return 17:20-18:8

Again an action by the Pharisees led to a brief answer from Jesus followed by a longer explanation for the disciples (cf. Luke 15:1 to Luke 16:13; Luke 16:14 to Luke 17:19). Luke’s conclusion of Jesus’ teaching on this occasion included a parable (Luke 18:1-8).

Verses 20-21

1. A short lesson for the Pharisees 17:20-21

Jesus’ teaching about the arrival of the kingdom arose out of a question from the Pharisees. It was a reasonable question since both John the Baptist and Jesus had preached for some time that the kingdom was at hand. Probably they asked it to discredit Jesus who now spoke of the kingdom as postponed (cf. Luke 11:53-54; Luke 13:34-35). Most of the Jews expected a Messiah, according to their messianic ideas, to appear very soon and free them from their Roman yoke.

"The form of the Pharisees’ question shows that they are thinking of the Kingdom as something still future. They believe that it will come; and they ask ’when?’" [Note: Manson, p. 304.]

Jesus probably meant that signs that the Pharisees asked Jesus to perform would not precede the messianic kingdom (Luke 11:29). Another view is that Jesus meant no signs that people can observe will precede the kingdom. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 654-55; Manson, p. 304.] However, He told the disciples that the sign of the coming of the Son of Man would precede it (Matthew 24:3; Matthew 24:27). A third view is that Jesus meant that the coming of the kingdom would not be an observable process. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 997.] Still, as the Old Testament predicted the coming of Messiah to reign, it certainly would be observable. A fourth view is that Jesus meant that the kingdom would not come because the Jews observed certain rites such as the Passover. [Note: R. J. Sneed, "’The Kingdom of God is within you’ (Luke 17, 21)," Catholic Biblical Quarterly 24 (1962):363-82.] They could not make it begin. Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day apparently believed that Messiah would come at a Passover celebration. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 653.] The Greek word parateresis, translated "signs to be observed" (NASB) or "careful observation" (NIV), literally means watching, spying, or observation. Nevertheless there is nothing in the context that connects with the idea of observing Jewish rites.

There would be no dramatic change in Jesus’ day to announce that the kingdom had arrived either. The kingdom was already among Jesus’ hearers in the person of the King (Luke 11:20), but because the nation had rejected Jesus His hearers would not see the kingdom. God had postponed it (Luke 13:34-35).

". . . a kingdom can hardly be ’here’ or ’there’, and so the reference must be to the ruler himself." [Note: Ibid., p. 655. Cf. Morris, p. 259.]

The NIV translation "within you" (Gr. entos hymon) is unfortunate because it implies a spiritual reign within people. The Old Testament teaching concerning the messianic kingdom was uniformly an earthly reign that included universal submission to God’s authority. Nowhere else does the Old or New Testament speak of the kingdom as something internal. [Note: Manson, p. 304; Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 655.] Moreover even if the kingdom were internal, it would hardly have been within the unbelieving Pharisees whom Jesus was addressing. It was in their midst or among them in that the Messiah was standing right in their presence. If they had believed on Him, the kingdom would have begun shortly, immediately after Jesus’ death, burial, resurrection, ascension, the Tribulation (cf. Daniel 9:24-27), and His return. It was within their reach. [Note: C. H. Roberts, "The Kingdom of Heaven (Lk. xvii. 21)," Harvard Theological Review 41 (1948):1-8.]

Verses 22-23

Jesus next gave His disciples more instruction about the coming of the kingdom. One of the days of the Son of Man refers to one of the future days when the Son of Man will be reigning on the earth (cf. Luke 17:24-25; Luke 17:30), perhaps the first day. [Note: Plummer, p. 407.] The use of "Son of Man" recalls Daniel 7:13-14 that predicts the earthly reign of Messiah. The disciples would desire to see the kingdom come because they would experience persecution before Jesus returned. There would be many false alarms about His return, but disciples should not allow others to mislead them (cf. Matthew 24:23; Mark 13:21).

Verses 22-33

Characteristics of the last days 17:22-33

Verses 22-37

2. A longer explanation for the disciples 17:22-37

This teaching is quite similar to portions of the Olivet Discourse (cf. Matthew 24:23-28; Matthew 24:37-39), though the differences suggest separate teaching situations. It is one of several teachings that Luke recorded that deals with the future (cf. Luke 12:35-48; Luke 14:7-24; Luke 21:5-33). This one stresses the distant future and the Second Coming. The one in chapter 21 deals mainly with the near future from Jesus’ perspective and the destruction of Jerusalem.

Verses 24-25

Jesus’ return would be unmistakable (cf. Matthew 24:27; Matthew 24:30). The messianic kingdom will not creep up on people. People living on the earth then will not discover that it began some time ago and that they are then in it. Everyone will know when it begins. However before the Son of Man begins His reign He first had to suffer and experience rejection by the unbelieving Jews of His day (cf. Luke 9:22; Luke 9:41; Luke 11:29; Luke 11:31-32; Luke 11:50-51; Luke 24:26; Luke 24:46; Matthew 16:21; Acts 17:3).

Verse 26

When Jesus said the days of the Son of Man would be similar to the days of Noah He meant the days just before the Son of Man’s reign. This is clear from the comparison with the beginning of the Flood. In Noah’s days and toward the end of the Tribulation, just before Jesus returns, people were and will be unresponsive to preached warnings of coming judgment (cf. Matthew 24:37-39; 2 Peter 2:5). In Noah’s day, "The wickedness of man was great on the earth, and every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5). "Now the earth was corrupt in the sight of God, and the earth was filled with violence" (Genesis 6:11).

Verse 27

"Eating and drinking" and "marrying and being given in marriage" are phrases that describe people living life normally. The return of Jesus would suddenly disrupt their lives and call them to a judgment. People living in Noah’s day were unprepared for the flood. Similarly most people living just before the Second Coming will be unprepared for the judgment that will follow Jesus’ return, and they will perish in it (cf. Matthew 25:31-46).

Verses 28-29

This second example of unexpected judgment reinforces the first. It also repeats the hope that some will escape divine condemnation when the Son of Man returns, namely, the righteous living on earth then. By comparing moral conditions on the earth at the Second Coming with Sodom, Jesus was picturing the worst kinds of evil running rampant. Destruction unexpected by most people fell quickly and interrupted normal daily living.

Verses 30-31

The word "apocalypse" comes from the Greek word apokalypto, meaning "to appear," that occurs here. Jesus’ sudden appearing at the Second Coming will constitute the greatest apocalypse in history. When it begins everyone must flee for cover (cf. Matthew 24:17-18; Mark 13:15-16; Luke 21:21).

Verses 32-33

Lot’s wife is an instructive example of someone who underestimated the destructive power of God’s judgment and perished because she was slow to seek refuge. She sought to preserve her former way of life, and in doing so she perished (Genesis 19:26; cf. Matthew 10:39). Likewise people living when Jesus returns will need to seek physical refuge rather than clinging to earthly treasures (cf. ch. 12). The salvation of Lot’s wife is debatable. Therefore we should probably take her as a warning to all people including believers. This view finds support in the "whoever" of Luke 17:33. Physical destruction is in view (Luke 17:31).

Verses 34-36

The parable of the one taken and the one left 17:34-36

The point of these examples is that when Jesus returns He will separate people, even those who are intimate companions. The unstated reason is implicit, namely, to judge some and not the others. Some will be ready for His return and others will not. The idea of sudden destruction resulting in judgment runs through the entire passage.

The presence of two men in one bed may be another indication of the moral condition of that time. The Greek masculine gender could describe a man and his wife, however. But the main idea is their close association. It was common for a mother and daughter or two female friends to grind grain together in Jesus’ day (cf. Matthew 24:41). Perhaps Jesus intended the fact that one separation takes place at night and the other during daytime to reinforce the fact that He could return at either time. Of course, whenever He returns some people on earth will be sleeping and others will be awake. Those taken will experience punishment and will die while those left will enter the kingdom since they will be believers. This is the opposite of what will happen at the Rapture (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17). Then Jesus will take the godly into heaven and will leave the unbelievers on earth to enter the Tribulation. [Note: See Renald E. Showers, Maranatha: Our Lord, Come! A Definitive Study of the Rapture of the Church, pp. 176-91, for a discussion of the differences in the biblical descriptions of the Rapture and the Second Coming, which argue for a pretribulation Rapture.]

A scribe probably inserted Luke 17:36 (cf. Matthew 24:40). It is absent in the best ancient Greek manuscripts.

Verse 37

What to look for 17:37

Evidently the disciples (Luke 17:22) wanted to know where this judgment would occur. Rather than giving them a geographical site, Jesus told them what to look for. The presence of corruption would indicate the coming of one to clean it up. Similarly the presence of a dead body outdoors indicated that a vulture would be along soon to eat the carrion (cf. Matthew 24:28; Revelation 19:21). Jesus may have been using a proverbial expression.

"Vultures hovering over dead bodies graphically depict the death and judgment that comes with Jesus’ return as the judging Son of Man (Luke 17:37)." [Note: Bock, "A Theology . . .," p. 137.]

The general teaching of the parable is that Jesus’ appearing and the beginning of the kingdom will be sudden and unexpected by most people who are alive then. It will be an unmistakable event in history and will involve physical danger for earth-dwellers because divine judgment will follow immediately. No one will be able to miss it when it occurs. Jesus did not say exactly when it would occur, but clearly it would not happen immediately. An interval of time would have to elapse.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 17". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-17.html. 2012.
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