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LUKE CHAPTER 17
Luke 17:1,Luke 17:2 Christ teacheth to avoid giving occasions of offence,
Luke 17:3,Luke 17:4 and to forgive one another.
Luke 17:5-10 The power of faith, and defect of merit toward God in our best services.
Luke 17:11-19 Christ healeth ten lepers,
Luke 17:20,Luke 17:21 showeth the spiritual nature of the kingdom of God,
Luke 17:22-37 and instructs his disciples concerning the coming of the Son of man.
See Poole on "Matthew 18:6-7". See Poole on "Mark 9:42". This term σκανδαλα is used in the New Testament very variously; in general it signifies any thing which may be an occasion of mischief to another. Man, consisting of body and soul, may by something be made to stumble and fall, either with reference to the one, or to the other: thus, Leviticus 19:14. Thou shalt not put a stumblingblock before the blind: מכשל Hebrew: so Proverbs 24:17. The mischief done to our souls is by sin; so as in the New Testament it often signifies any action of ours by which our brother is made to sin: which actions may be,
1. Good and necessary, and then the scandal is taken, not given. Or:
2. Wicked and abominable; hence we call some sins scandalous sins, such as give offence to others, and are examples alluring them to sin. Or:
3. Actions which in themselves are of an indifferent nature, neither commanded nor forbidden in the word. Our taking one part in these actions, rather than another, may be a scandal, that is, an offence.
What our Saviour here saith is certainly true concerning all these kinds of offences: considering the complexion of the world, and the corruption which is in man’s hearts,
it is impossible but that offences will come. But I must confess that I incline to think, that the offences primarily intended by our Saviour here are those of the second sort; and that by them are meant persecutions of the people of God; to the authors of which our Saviour denounces woe. So that our Saviour by this lets the world know, the special protection under which he hath taken his people; so as though he knew there would arise those who would hurt and destroy in his holy mountain, yet he declares that they shall not go unpunished, but they had better die the most certain death imaginable, (such must be the death of him who is thrown into the sea with a millstone about his neck), than to that degree expose himself to the vengeance of God; a guilt of that nature that there is not much more hope for him to escape God’s vengeance, than there would be of a man escaping with his life whom we should see thrown into the sea with a millstone appendant to him. I do very well know that it is also highly dangerous to tempt or solicit a child of God to sin, either by our words or actions; but I do not think it the design of our Lord in this place so much to express that as the other.
Matthew hath something of the same tendency in Matthew 18:21,Matthew 18:22, mentioning it as an answer to a question which Peter propounded to our Lord; but the circumstances of both relations are so different that I cannot think them the same, but do believe these words spoken at another time. This doctrine of the forgiveness of our offending brother is pressed upon us in several places in the gospel and New Testament, and that upon the gravest arguments imaginable, Matthew 6:15; Matthew 18:35; Mark 11:26; Luke 6:37; Ephesians 4:32; from whence we may justly conclude it a duty of very high concernment for us both to understand and to live in the practice of. It signifies the laying aside of all thoughts or desire of revenge in our own cause. The precept is not exclusive of our duty in seeing the glory of God avenged upon murderers, &c.; nor yet of our seeking a just satisfaction, in a legal way, for wrongs done to us relating to our limbs or estate, so far as the person is able to do it; much less doth it require the making such a one as hath so injured us our intimate and bosom friend. That which it requireth is the laying aside all malice, or desire of revenge, upon our neighbour in a case wherein our own name or honour is concerned; and it is fitly joined to what went before, this malice, or desire of revenge, being the root of all the mischief that men voluntarily do one to another, especially of that which they do to the innocent servants of God.
Though we be not to seek a connection of all those speeches of our Lord which are recorded by the evangelists, they sometimes heaping together many of his golden sayings, without so much as regard to the order of time when he spake them, or their dependence on each other; yet he that wisely observes the preceding discourse for charity, will easily observe an excellent connection of this verse with the former. No duty required of men and women more grates upon flesh and blood than this of forgiving injuries, nothing that the most of people find harder to put in practice; so as indeed where there is not a root of faith, this fruit will not be found. It is faith which worketh by love. Till the soul cometh steadily and fixedly to agree to those propositions of the word where this is required, as the indispensable will of God; nay, till it comes firmly to rest upon those promises, and hope for them, which are made to this duty; finally, till it comes to have received Christ, and forgiveness from him, and considers itself bound to forgive, as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven it, Ephesians 4:32; it will hardly come up to the practice of this duty. Hence it is that unregenerate men are usually implacable, malicious, always studying revenge. Nay, so imperfect are the habits and workings of faith in believers, that they often find it very difficult to forgive. The apostles therefore very properly pray, Lord, increase our faith after hearing this discourse. Others make the connection thus: Lord, we have now heard thee discoursing our duty as to love, now increase our faith, discourse to us something for the increase of that. But the former seemeth to be least strained. By the way we may observe from hence, that as the beginnings, so the increase, of our faith must be from God. In things truly and spiritually good, without him we can do nothing.
Matthew hath in effect the same, Matthew 17:20, though he saith, ye shall say unto this mountain;
See Poole on "Matthew 17:20". I cannot be of their mind who think that our Saviour in this, and the parallel place, speaks only of a faith that works miraculous operations; the object of which must be a Divine revelation or promise made to particular persons, that they shall be able to do things (by the power of God) out of and beyond the ordinary course of nature. I do believe that in both texts our Lord designs to show the great honour he will give to the exercise of the grace of faith, so as nothing which shall be for the honour of God, and the good of those that exercise it, and which God hath promised, shall be too hard or great an achievement for it: yet will it not thence follow, that if we had faith, that is, a full persuasion, that God would do such a thing by us, and a rest and confidence in God relating to it, we might remove mountains, or cast sycamine trees into the sea; for no such faith in us now could have a promise for the object, so as such a persuasion would be no faith, but a mere presumption. But there are other things as difficult, for which all believers have promises:
Sin shall have no dominion over you. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you, &c. And there are duties to be performed by us, as hard in the view of our natural eye as removing mountains; amongst which this of forgiving injuries is not the least, especially to some natural tempers. But, saith our Saviour, do not think it impossible to do: you have said well to me, Lord, increase our faith, for if you had faith as a grain of mustard seed, either so small as a grain of mustard seed, (if true), or so lively and working, that had such a principle of life in it as a grain of mustard seed, you might do any duty, resist any temptation, mortify any corruption; and you that have a power given you, and a promise made you, for working miracles, might say to this sycamine tree, Be removed, &c.
Luke 17:7-9 are plainly a parable, a part of a discourse wherein our Lord, under an earthly similitude, instructs us in a spiritual duty. This duty is easily learned from the epiparabole, Luke 17:10, and it lieth in two things:
1. That we ought to do all those things which our Lord hath commanded us.
2. That we, when we have done all, are to look for our reward, not of debt, but of grace.
He illustrates this by a similitude or parable. He supposes a man to have a servant ploughing or feeding cattle for him. By servants we must understand such servants as they had in those countries, who were not day servants, or covenant servants, who are only obliged to work their hours, or according to their contracts with us; but such servants as were most usual amongst them, who were bought with their money, or taken in war, who were wholly at their master’s command, and all their time was their master’s, and they were obliged by their labour only to serve him: such servants our Lord supposes to have been abroad in the field, ploughing, or sowing, or feeding cattle, and at night to be come in from their labour. He asks them which of them would think themselves obliged presently to set them to supper, (for meat, drink, and clothes were all such servants wages), or would not rather set them to work again, to make ready their master’s supper, and then to wait upon him, tying up their long garments, which they used in those countries to wear, promising them that afterwards also they should eat and drink. And suppose they do that without murmuring, he asketh them again, whether they would take themselves obliged to thank them for doing the things which their master commanded? He tells them he supposes they would not take themselves to be under any such obligation. Now what is the meaning of all this he tells them, Luke 17:10,
So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants; for the infinitely glorious and blessed God can receive no benefit by our services; we have done that which was our duty to do. By which we are instructed,
1. That we are wholly the Lord’s, all our time, strength, abilities; we are obliged to love the Lord with all our heart, and mind, and soul, and strength.
2. That our labour for the Lord must not cease till the Lord ceaseth commanding, till we have done all that the Lord by his revealed will lets us know we have to do.
3. That when we have done all we shall have merited nothing at God’s hands;
a) Because we are servants.
b) Because we have but done our duty.
4. That the Lord may delay our reward till we have done all that he hath commanded us.
5. That when we have it, it is not a reward of thanks, but of grace.
This parable is excellently added to the former discourses. Our Saviour had before pressed the doctrine of charity, he had also showed what must be the root of it, viz. true and lively faith; he here showeth us what we should propose to ourselves as our end in such acts, viz. not to merit at the hand of God, not merely in hope to receive a reward from him, but the glorifying of God by a faithful obedience to his will, owning him as our Lord, and ourselves as his servants, without any vain glory or ostentation, and in all humility confessing ourselves servants, unprofitable servants, and such as have but done our duty, no, though we had done all that he commanded us; waiting for our reward with patience, and taking it at last as of his free grace with thankfulness; which is indeed requisite to the true and regular performance of every good work which we do, and our duty, if the infirmity of our flesh would allow us to do all whatsoever God hath commanded us; but much more when our performances are so lame and imperfect, that the greatest part of what we do amounts not to the least part of what we leave undone.
Christ’s nearest way from Galilee to Jerusalem was through Samaria. In a certain town ten lepers met him, for though the law forbade them any other society, yet it did not restrain them from the society of each other; probably they were got together that they might at once come to this great Physician. The leprosy was a sore disease, not so much known in our countries. We shall observe it was the disease which God made to come upon some persons, to testify His displeasure for some sin committed by them. It was threatened as the mark of God upon men for sin, Deuteronomy 28:27 —with the scab, whereof thou canst not be healed. God sent it upon Miriam, Numbers 12:10, for her contempt of Moses. David curseth Joab’s house with it, 2 Samuel 3:29. Gehazi suffereth by it, for his lying and going after Naaman for a bribe, 2 Kings 5:27. King Uzziah, for usurping the priest’s office, 2 Kings 15:5. These ten lepers cry to Christ for mercy, mercy with respect to their afflictions.
It was according to the Divine law, Leviticus 14:2, that the leper in the day of his cleansing should be brought unto the priest, who was to judge whether he was healed, yea or no, and to offer the offering there prescribed. Christ sends them to the priests, partly that he might observe the law which his Father had given in the case, partly that he might have a testimony of this his miraculous operation. We shall observe that our Saviour cured some being at a distance from them, some by the word of his power only, though he were present in the same place, others by touching of them; he certainly chose thus to vary his circumstances, in actions of this nature, to let people know that the healing virtue was inherent in him, and that the proceeding of it from him was not tied to any ceremony used at the doing of the work, which he used or omitted according to his pleasure.
It is most probable that this leper first showed himself to the priest, according to the commandment and the direction of our Saviour, and then returned to give our Saviour thanks. Some think that this glorifying God here mentioned, and his giving thanks to Christ, signify the same thing. I doubt it, because nothing appeareth from this story sufficient to convince us that he looked upon Christ as God; nay, it doth not appear that his faith was risen so high as to believe him the Messiah, the Son of David; they speak to him only under the notion of Jesus, Master, Luke 17:13. It is plain they believed him at least to be a great prophet, sent from God, and clothed with a power from God. I choose rather therefore to interpret his falling down on his face at his feet, as a humble posture of reverence, which those nations did often use to compliment their superiors by, even as a posture of adoration; and that his glorifying God was a praising of him as the principal efficient cause of his healing, and his giving thanks to Christ a civil respect paid to Christ as God’s instrument in the case. The evangelist addeth, and he was a Samaritan. Christ calls him a stranger, Luke 17:18 a stranger to the commonwealth of Israel, as all the Samaritans were.
These ten lepers were a representation of all mankind; not more than one of ten that receive signal mercies from the bountiful hand of Divine Providence cometh to give God any suitable homage. Thus he maketh his sun to shine and his rain to fall upon the just and upon the unjust. Men howl to God upon their beds, but glorify him not when they are raised up. But this increpation of our Saviour lets us know, that this their way is their folly.
It is a wonderful thing to observe what small rudiments and embryos of faith Christ encourages and rewards. His faith appeareth to be no more than a persuasion that Christ did not do what things he did of this nature by any magical art, (as the Pharisee blasphemed), but by the power of God, and that he was a man sent of God. This faith Christ honours, commends, rewards. Faith is to be measured from the revelation which he who believeth hath, and from the opposition which he encounters: a little faith upon a little light, and maintained against a great opposition, is a great faith; though little in itself, yet great with respect to the circumstances of him or her that believeth.
Whether the Pharisees spake this deriding him, who in his discourses had been often mentioning a kingdom of God to come, or in simple seriousness, for they generally expected the coming of a Messiah, and a secular kingdom, which he should exercise in the earth, particularly over the Jews, (having first destroyed the Gentiles), is very hard to determine; their mean opinion of Christ inclineth some to think the former; their generally received opinion about the kingdom of the Messiah giveth some countenance to the latter. Our Saviour’s answer fitteth them, whatsoever they intended by their question:
The kingdom of God (saith he) cometh not μετὰ παρατηρήσεως, with observation. The word signifies a scrupulous and superstitious observation. Thus the verb from whence it cometh signifieth, Galatians 4:10. The verb also signifies a captious observation, Mark 3:2; Luke 6:7; Luke 14:1; Luke 20:20; Acts 9:24. But that sense cannot agree to the noun used in this place. The generality of the best interpreters agree the sense here to be, with external pomp and splendour; and therefore Beza expounds the noun here by a periphrasis, ita ut observari poterit, in such a manner as it can be observed. As if he had said, Men have taken up a false notion of my kingdom, as if it were to be a secular kingdom to be set up in the world, with a great deal of noise, and pomp, and splendour, so as men may observe it and gaze upon its coming. But that which I call my kingdom is not of this nature. Our Lord expounds it in the next verse:
The kingdom of God is within you; it is of a spiritual nature, not obvious to human senses, but exercised over the hearts of my people. Whether our Saviour speaketh this in reply to the Pharisees, or (as some think) beginning a discourse with his disciples, which he further pursueth, I cannot determine.
The latter words of this verse seem fairly to admit of a double interpretation, as you here may signify the disciples of Christ, who had received Christ as their Lord, over whom he exercised a spiritual dominion and jurisdiction, or as it may respect the whole Jewish nation, amongst whom the kingdom of God was now exercised, by the preaching of the gospel, and the power of Christ put forth in the casting out devils, and other miraculous operations. I incline to the latter, as differing from those that think these words were spoken with a peculiar respect to the disciples; I rather think them a reply to the Pharisees, as corrective of their false notion and apprehension of the Messiah, as if he were yet to come, and to set up a temporal principality; for it is said, Luke 17:22, And he said unto the disciples, as if he did but then specially apply his discourse to them; εν ημιν thus signifieth, Luke 7:16; John 1:14. You (saith our Saviour) are much mistaken as to the nature of my kingdom, and indeed of the kingdom of the Messiah, in the expectation of which you live. It is not a kingdom of the same nature with the kingdoms of the world, it cometh not with pomp: and splendour, for men and women to observe; they shall not say, Lo here he cometh! Or, Lo there he goeth! The kingdom of God is now in the midst among you, though you observe it not.
Our Lord spendeth his further discourse in this chapter in a forewarning of his disciples of those great troubles which should follow His departure from them. At present the Bridegroom was with them, and they could not mourn; for many years after that he was departed from them
the days of the Son of man continued, that is, gospel days, times wherein the gospel of Christ was freely preached to them. But (saith he) make use of that time, for it will not hold long; there will come a time
when ye shall desire to see one of the days of the Son of man, and shall not see it. These evil days began when false Christs and false prophets rose up, which was most eminently a little before the destruction of Jerusalem, which happened about forty years after. Every factious person that had reputation enough to make himself the head and leader of a faction, taking his advantage of the common error of the Jews, that a Messiah, a Christ, was to come, who should exercise a temporal kingdom over the Jews, would pretend to be, and give out he was, the Messiah, to draw a faction after him. This is that which our Saviour saith in the next words.
See Poole on "Matthew 24:23", See Poole on "Matthew 24:27". You will (saith our Saviour) have a great many false Christs and false prophets arise, and foolish credulous people will be deceived by them, and come and tell you, Lo, yonder is the Messiah, or, Lo, he is in another place; but believe them not. So it is in Mark 13:21. Follow them not, saith Luke. The Son of man shall have his day, a day when he will come in a glorious manner to judge the quick and the dead; but it will come upon the world like lightning, that suddenly shineth from one part of heaven to another, so as no man can foretell it, or observe the motion of it. Some do think that by
the day of the Son of man here was meant the spreading of his gospel; but certainly it is a strained sense, nor was the spreading of that a thing so sudden, but more gradually and observably accomplished.
Before my kingdom shall appear in that glory, I must suffer many things, and be rejected of this generation. You may be seduced to think that I am going to put on a crown as a secular prince to deliver you from your enemies. Alas! I am going to a cross. I shall have a day, but this is mine enemies’ day, and the power of darkness, both with reference to me and you. Look for nothing in or from this generation but to see me mocked, scourged, spit upon, buffeted, hanged upon a cross, rejected by men; these will be the issues of Divine providence as to this generation; look for better things hereafter, but look for no better from or in this generation.
See Poole on "Matthew 24:37", and following verse to Matthew 24:39. Our blessed Lord in these verses doth both declare the surprisal of the Jews with that judgment which was coming upon them, and of the world with his coming in the day of judgment, (of which the destruction of Jerusalem was a type), and also forewarns them to take heed that they might not be surprised; he tells them, that
in the days of the Son of man, ( so that he speaketh of more than one day), the day of his power in the destruction of the Jews, and in the day of judgment, the antitype to the former, it shall be as in the days of Noah and of Lot. In the days of those men, neither the men of the old world, nor the men of Sodom, would hearken either to Noah or Lot, who were preachers of righteousness to them, and gave them examples of sober and holy lives; but gave up themselves to luxury, and lived in a careless regard of any thing God was doing, until the very day that Noah went into the ark, with his family, and the flood destroyed all the rest; and till the day that Lot went out of Sodom, and fire and brimstone came down and destroyed all those who were left in Sodom. So it would be before the final ruin of the world. Till the very days came, and men felt it, the generality of men would not believe it, nor make any preparation for it. But in our Lord’s propounding these two great examples to them, he also lets them know their duty and wisdom, viz. to watch, and be upon their guard, with Lot to get ready to go out of Sodom, with Noah to prepare an ark upon this admonition which he gave them. There are no such signs of approaching ruin to persons or nations, as security, and the abounding of sin and wickedness, notwithstanding the warnings which God giveth them by his messengers.
These words seem to relate singly to the destruction of Jerusalem. See Poole on "Matthew 24:17-18", where we had the same. They only signify the certain ruin and destruction of the place, and are our Saviour’s counsel to his disciples, not to linger, or promise themselves any longer security there, notwithstanding what any false Christs or false prophets should plainly tell them, but to make as much haste away out of it as they possibly could.
We have the story Genesis 19:26. She looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt. Lot and his family leaving Sodom, she either looked back as not believing what the angel had said, or as moved with the miserable condition of the place, or as loath to leave her estate and goods; however, in disobedience to the command of God, Luke 17:17, Escape for thy life; look not behind thee, neither stay thou in all the plain; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed. God turneth her into a pillar of salt. It is a dreadful caution against unbelief, disobedience, worldly mindedness, contempt of God’s threatenings, and keeping a love for the forbidden society of lewd and wicked persons.
That is, whosoever, in disobedience to my command, shall use arts to preserve his life, shall lose it; and whosoever, at my command, shall be ready to lose it, shall preserve it, or if he loseth his breath, he shall preserve his soul. See Poole on "Matthew 10:39", See Poole on "Matthew 16:25", See Poole on "Mark 8:35".
See Poole on "Matthew 24:40-41". These verses seem to respect the day of judgment, and that dreadful separation which shall be in that day between the sheep and the goats. It is true also of Christ’s day in the preaching of the gospel; but that seemeth not to be the sense of this text. They can hardly be applied to the destruction of Jerusalem; it was so universal as hardly any were there left.
Concerning the sense of this proverbial expression, and the various application of it by interpreters, See Poole on "Matthew 24:28". In our evangelist (where it is σωμα, not πτωμα, as in Matthew, the word there properly signifying a dead body, the word here a living body) it seems to be applied to Christ’s glorious coming to judgment: Where I shall be, who am to be the Judge both of the quick and the dead, thither shall all the world be gathered before me, but my saints especially, who have eagles eyes, senses exercised to discern betwixt good and evil, to discern me as their Redeemer, and the true Messiah; according to that, Psalms 1:5,Psalms 1:6. Gather my saints together unto me; those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice. And the heavens shall declare his righteousness: for God is judge himself.
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Poole, Matthew, "Commentary on Luke 17". Poole's English Annotations on the Holy Bible. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 21 / Ordinary 26