‘In the mean time, when the many thousands of the multitude were gathered together, insomuch that they trod one on another, he began to say to his disciples first of all, “Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” ’
Great crowds continued to gather (‘thousands of them’) so much so that they were treading on one another, but Jesus had now begun primarily to teach His disciples, although undoubtedly keeping the wider crowd in mind. He warned them to “Beware of the leaven (or ‘yeast’) of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.” Leaven was the old dough retained from bread-making which was allowed to ferment. It would then be put into the new dough to cause fermentation, so improving its structure and taste. Its effects would spread all the way through the new dough. It can therefore refer to any pervasive influence, whether good or bad, which can be introduced into something and then spread and spread.
In Luke 13:21; Matthew 13:33 leaven refers to the pervasive influence of the message of the Kingly Rule of God which spreads and spreads until it has reached everywhere. In Matthew 16:6; Matthew 16:11-12; Mark 8:15 it refers to the teaching of the Scribes and Pharisees, and of Herod, which could have a wrong pervasive influence, if His disciples were not wary. Indeed it could spoil their whole lives. In 1 Corinthians 5:6-7; Galatians 5:9 it refers to sin’s pervasive influence in people’s lives. It will be seen from this that leaven refers to influence that spread and spreads, whether good or bad. Because the influence mentioned elsewhere is bad, some even see the leaven which is revealed as pervading the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 13:21) as being bad as well, and as reflecting those who have failed to take heed to His warning against the leaven of the Pharisees, but if so it is not apparent from the context.
Here, however, it refers to the danger of taking up the hypocritical ways of the Scribes and Pharisees as outlined in Luke 11:37-53. They must neither copy their ways, nor let a similar attitude affect the way that they live their own lives. They must ensure that they are always open, straight and honest, and genuinely concerned for the good of others, seeking to submit themselves to the Kingly Rule of God in all humility, and not posturing or seeking honour and flattery.
We should recognise that they had been brought up all their lives to give deep respect to the Scribes and Pharisees, who were looked on as the very heart of Israel’s spiritual life. Now they were to see their bad points, and not be too carried away by their ideas. They were to learn to discern. (They had no doubt already been greatly shocked to discover that these men did not see eye to eye with their Master).
‘Hypocrisy.’ The word signifies play-acting and indicates those who put on a show on the outside which does not conform to what they are like inside, or those who say one thing and do another.
Instruction To His Disciples About Living In The Light Of Eternity (12:1-12).
Approaching the detail of the section the first thing that Jesus wants to do is make His disciples think in the light of eternity. So He warns them to beware of the hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, as illustrated in the previous passage, and of becoming like them and thinking like them (like all Jews they had been brought up to respect and take heed to these ‘great men’), and then puts their whole situation in the light of the Judgment Day that is coming. They are to live in the light of that Day. In that Day all will be opened up and laid bare, and all hypocrisy will be seen for what it is. Thus His disciples must take heed to live in the light of that fact. And while those same Scribes and Pharisees might prove in the future to be their enemies they are not to fear, for they themselves are His ‘friends’ and God cares intimately for them.
Indeed God is the One Whom alone they should fear, because He alone is the One Who can punish after death. Yet though they should indeed fear Him, they are nevertheless to recognise that God is also on their side and is watching over them, and is with them in all that they do. For in their ‘reverent fear’ they should bear in mind that His care of Creation is such that He observes even the smallest bird and that therefore, because they are His, and in their case He is their Father, He knows all about them. He even knows the very number of the hairs of their head, so important are they to Him. (What other father counts the number of hairs on his son’s head?).
They must therefore be bold in confessing His Son before men, so that He, as the Son of Man portrayed in Daniel 7:13-14, may confess them before the court of heaven. Meanwhile they can be sure that they need have no fear of mere earthly courts, for if they are called to give account in earthly courts, His Holy Spirit will Himself be there to guide their defence, and He will tell them what to say.
Thus if they are faithful to Him they need have no fear of either Heaven or earth. Before the heavenly court they will be defended by the Son of Man Himself, and before earthly courts by the Holy Spirit. People in such a favourable position have nothing to fear. (Note the transposition of ideas, ‘fear not men -- fear Him -- confessed before Him -- defended before men’. All will be well for those who fear Him).
But in contrast those who deny Him before men, or who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit, may be sure that their judgment will be swift and sure.
This whole passage is an interesting example of typical Jewish methods of teaching, the stringing together of connected ideas in order to produce the bigger picture, and it is essentially a unity. Note the magnificent series of contrasts, demonstrating both the positive and the negative sides of His message, and emphasising the choices that all men must face up to and make. His words were spoken to the professing people of God in order to distinguish those whose profession was real and those whose profession was false:
The Contrasts In The Light of Which They Should Live.
· What is covered, will be revealed, what is hidden will be made known.
· What is said in the dark, will be heard in the light, what is whispered in private rooms, will be proclaimed from the house tops.
· Do not fear him who can kill the body -- fear Him Who has power to cast into Gehenna.
· He who confesses me before men I will confess--- he who denies Me before men I will deny.
· He who speaks a word against the Son of Man can be forgiven-- he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never be forgiven.
We must now consider the analysis of the passage.
a When the many thousands of the crowd were gathered together, insomuch that they trod one on another, he began to say to his disciples first of all, “Beware you of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1).
b “But there is nothing covered up, that will not be revealed, and hid, that will not be known, wherefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers will be proclaimed on the housetops” (Luke 12:2-3).
c “And I say to you my friends, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do” (Luke 12:4).
d “But I will warn you whom you shall fear. Fear him, who after he has killed has power to cast into hell. Yes, I say to you, Fear him” (Luke 12:5).
c “Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not. You are of more value than many sparrows” (Luke 12:6-7).
b “And I say to you, Every one who shall confess me before men, him will the Son of man also confess before the angels of God, but he who denies me in the presence of men will be denied in the presence of the angels of God, and every one who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him, but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven” (Luke 12:8-10).
a “And when they bring you before the synagogues, and the rulers, and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you shall answer, or what you shall say, for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what you ought to say” (Luke 12:11-12).
We note that in ‘a’ they are to beware of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees who have authority over people’s religious lives and in the parallel they will be brought before the synagogues and authorities for judgment. Furthermore the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is set in contrast with the openness of the Holy Spirit. There will be no play-acting with Him. In ‘b’ everything which has been spoken is going to be revealed and in the parallel all men will be judged by their confession or otherwise of Him and by their blasphemies. In ‘c’ they are not to be afraid of those who kill the body, and in the parallel this is because they are not forgotten in the sight of God and the hairs of their head are all numbered. Central in ‘d’ is their need to reverently fear God.
The instructions now given follow a general theme, majoring on the fact of judgment to come, with the first verse connecting back to what Jesus had previously said to the Scribes and Pharisees at the end of Section 4. This warns against the danger of following them in their hypocrisy.
He points out that to do so would in fact be foolish in the light of the Judgment to come. For eventually everything is going to be revealed and made known, and then all hypocrisy will be laid bare. In the light of this they should therefore not be afraid of those who might seek to kill them (these same hypocrites), but are rather to fear the One Who determines what happens after death, and to remember that He in fact cares for them and has even numbered the hairs of their head. What could be more sure than that?
This, however, depends on them boldly confessing Him before men, for if they do then He will confess them before the angels of God. On the other hand those who deny Him will be denied before the angels of God. And finally He warns that those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will never find forgiveness. When the Judgment comes they will be without hope. On the other hand, those who hear the Holy Spirit, and who go before earthly courts for His sake, will find the Holy Spirit there inspiring them as their Great Defender (John 16:7-11).
This last arises because the thought of those who might kill their bodies, and of those who might seek to make them deny Him, has triggered the thought that those who do boldly confess Him may well be brought before the authorities and charged. So He wants them to know that if that happens they need not worry, because when it does the Holy Spirit will be with them and will teach them what to say. For whereas the Holy Spirit of God, God’s power revealed in decisive visible action, is against those who reject Christ to their eternal loss, He is very much on the side of those who confess Jesus Christ.
Jesus Teaches Concerning Greed, Stewardship and the Need For Fruitfulness Under The Kingly Rule of God Centring on the Fact That He Will Make The Crooked Straight (12:1-14:35).
As we have seen we may analyse this next Section from Luke 12:1 to Luke 14:35 into its separate parts as follows:
a Instructions to disciples concerning facing up to eternity (Luke 12:1-12).
b An example is given of covetousness concerning an inheritance which is followed by the parable of the fool who decided to enjoy rich banquets, ignored the needs of the poor, and in the end suffered the unforeseen consequences of prematurely losing his wealth to others who benefited unexpectedly while the one expected to benefit lost out (Luke 12:13-21).
c We are to seek the Kingly Rule of God and not to be anxious about other things (Luke 12:22-34).
d We are to be like men serving the Lord in His house and awaiting His arrival from a wedding feast, being faithful in His service at whatever time He comes and meanwhile making use of all our time for His benefit (Luke 12:35-40).
e There are stewards both good and bad who will be called to account for He has come to send fire on earth which will cause great disruption (Luke 12:41-53).
f Men are to discern the times and not be like a debtor who realises too late that he should have compounded with the Great Creditor (Luke 12:54-59).
g Some present draw attention to the tower that fell on men. He points out that that was no proof of guilt, for all are sinful and will perish unless they repent. They would therefore be wise to repent (Luke 13:1-5)
h The parable of the fig tree which is to be given its chance to bear fruit (Luke 13:6-9).
i The crooked woman is healed on the Sabbath for Jesus has come to release from Satan’s power (Luke 13:10-17).
h The parables of the grain of mustard seed which is to grow and reproduce, and of the leaven which spreads, both of which represent the growth of the Kingly Rule of God in both prospective ultimate size and method of expansion (Luke 13:18-21).
g Someone asks ‘are there few that are saved?’ The reply is that men must strive to enter the door while they can (Luke 13:22-23).
f We must not be like those who awake too late and find the door closed against them and wish they had befriended the Householder (Luke 13:24-28).
e We are to watch how we respond as His stewards for some will come from east, west, north and south, while others will awake too late, like Herod who seeks to kill Him and Jerusalem which is losing its opportunity and will be desolated and totally disrupted (Luke 13:29-35).
d Jesus is invited into the home of a Chief Pharisee. And there He eats with him at table, surrounded by many ‘fellow-servants’. There He sees a man with dropsy. As God’s Servant He knows what His responsibility is if He is to be a faithful and wise servant. It is to heal the man. For God’s works of compassion should be done at all times including the Sabbath and not just at times of man’s choosing. And yet He is surrounded by those waiting to catch Him out (Luke 14:1-6).
c None are to seek the higher place, for he who humbles himself will be exalted (Luke 14:7-11).
b An example is given of inviting the poor to dinner which is followed by the parable of a rich banquet, where those who made excuses were rejected, and the result was that due to unforeseen circumstances there a banquet for the poor, while those for whom it was intended lost out (Luke 14:12-24)
a Instructions are given to the disciples concerning facing up to the cost (Luke 14:25-35).
· ‘He who has ears to hear, let him hear’ (Luke 14:35).
Note that in ‘a’ the Section opens with instructions to the disciples, and in the parallel it closes with instructions to the disciples, both seeing things in the light of eternity. In ‘b’ we have a parable dealing with the use of riches, and in the parallel the use of wealth to help the poor is dealt with, in ‘c’ we are to seek the Kingly Rule of God and trust our Father over our daily living, and in the parallel we are not to seek the higher place on earth, for the one who humbles himself will be exalted. In ‘d’ we are to be like men awaiting in the Lord’s ‘house’, awaiting His arrival at whatever time He comes and meanwhile making use of all our time and serving Him faithfully, and in the parallel Jesus is in the Chief Pharisee’s house and is called on to perform an act of faithful service even though it is the Sabbath, an act which He does perform. It is an example of faithful service even in the face of difficulties, and a reminder to us that we are to use all our time, including the Sabbath, for doing God’s work. In ‘e’ there are stewards both good and bad who will be called to account, for He has come to ‘cast fire on the earth’, and in the parallel we are to watch how we respond as His stewards, for some will come into the Kingly Rule of God from east, west, north and south, while others will awake too late, like Herod who seeks to kill Him and Jerusalem which is losing its opportunity and will be desolated and will experience His ‘fire on earth’. In ‘f’ men are to discern the times, and in the parallel we are not to be like those who awake too late. In ‘g’ and its parallel the imminence of death and what our response should be to it is described. In ‘h’ the vine is to be allowed its opportunity of bearing fruit, and in the parallel the mustard seed will grow and bear fruit. Central in ‘i’ is the healing and making straight of one who is crooked, a picture of what He has come to do for Israel. This is the whole purpose of the Kingly Rule of God.
“But there is nothing covered up, that will not be revealed, and hid, that will not be known.”
And one good reason for this is that one day all will be revealed and laid bare at the judgment. Anything covered up will be revealed. Anything hidden will be brought to light. All hypocrisy will be unmasked. It is best therefore for them not to have anything in their lives of which they will feel ashamed. All of us therefore need to examine our lives and ask ourselves, is there anything in my life of which I will be ashamed in that day?
“Wherefore whatever you have said in the darkness will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers will be proclaimed on the housetops.”
The same is true of their words. Things spoken under cloak of the night will be brought into the light, things whispered in the ear in a private room will be shouted out from the housetops for all to hear. So they should take heed to what they say. Indeed for every idle word that a man shall speak he will give account of it on the Day of Judgment (Matthew 12:36). For that Day will be a day when all is brought into the light, and all men’s secrets will be made known (Luke 8:17; Mark 4:22). All this will cause rejoicing for those who confess Christ, but for those who deny Christ, or blaspheme against the Holy Spirit it could be catastrophic (see Luke 12:8-10).
“And I say to you my friends, Do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.”
This is the only place in the first three Gospels where Jesus calls His disciples His ‘friends’, but compare also John 15:13-15, where we learn that those are His friends who obey His words, and that to them He reveals His secrets. This tenderness is in order to strengthen them to face the stark fact, baldly stated, that they might be martyred. But even in the face of that they should remember that once they have been killed their enemies will be powerless to do anything more. Whatever they do to their bodies it will not affect their future (there were times in the future when because of their belief in the resurrection men maltreated the bodies of Christians and sought to dispose of them in such a way that they could not rise again, but all would be to no avail). So in view of that fact they need not be afraid of them, for God will watch over them and is so concerned about them that He even knows how many hairs they have on their head. Whatever is done to their bodies He will be able to resurrect them as one whole.
“But I will warn you whom you shall fear. Fear him, who after he has killed has power to cast into hell. Yes, I say to you, Fear him.”
The One they should rather go in awe of is the One Who after He has killed the body has power to cast the person into Gehenna, the eternal rubbish dump, the place of fire (Mark 9:43-47; Isaiah 66:24). That is something men cannot do. The name is based on ge-Hinnom, ‘the valley of Hinnom’ which was the rubbish dump and incinerator outside the walls of Jerusalem. To look over the walls at night was an eerie sight, for far below in the valley could be seen the continually burning fires that consumed the city rubbish and the dead bodies of criminals which had been tossed there (Isaiah 66:24). The Jews were vividly aware of this picture and had made it a symbol of the place of unquenchable fire which would consume the wicked dead.
12. 6-7 “Are not five small birds sold for two assarion? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God. But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not. You are of more value than many small birds.”
However, while His disciples are to view God with reverential fear, they are not to be terrified of Him, for they should recognise that He cares for them so much that He has counted the hairs of their head, and values them far more than He does the small birds sold for food at five birds for two assarion (two small coins). They are to remember that He Who does not even forget a single one of those small birds, will certainly not forget them. For He is the Creator of all, and all things are open to the eye of Him with Whom we have to do. He knows all.
An assarion is one sixteenth of a denarius, the value of less than an hour’s labour. The birds would be bought by the poor for eating (thus these were not necessarily sparrows, for sparrows were not eaten as far as we know). So if even the very food that they eat is known by God, they can be sure that they are known by Him as well, however poor and humble they may be. As the Rabbis would later say, ‘No bird perishes without God -- how much less a man.’
Matthew 10:26-31 contains similar sayings but was clearly spoken at a different time for it speaks of two sparrows for one assarion and even ignoring the other differences it is hyper-criticism which suggests that one or other (or their sources) would change the price of the birds. The differing prices clearly reflect different times of the year when supply and demand for small edible birds considerably altered. A free gift of one small bird for buying double the amount suggests a period of glut which resulted in having to increase demand by tempting offers. At this particular time traders in general were having their yearly ‘sales’.
“And I say to you, Every one who shall confess me before men, him will the Son of man also confess before the angels of God, but he who denies me in the presence of men will be denied in the presence of the angels of God.”
He has been speaking about how they should live generally, but now He turns to the crucial question facing all. And that is as to what their attitude should be to Him. For in the end that is what all comes down to. Deliverance or otherwise will finally depend on a person’s response to Him.
We should pause and recognise the stupendous nature of this claim. He is openly claiming a status that is beyond that of all men, even of Caesar himself. He is declaring that men’s destinies will be determined by their response to Him. This is because He is God’s sent One, so that to turn from Him is to turn from God. The Kingly Rule of God is now here and men no longer have a number of options. Either they submit to the King and wear His colours, or they face judgment.
So the references to the coming judgment have now faced them with a challenge. In that day when they stand before God’s court, before the angels of God, they will require a friendly and influential witness if they are to come off successfully, One Who can bring forward a valid reason why they should be found not guilty. And as the sacrificed and risen Christ, the Son of Man Who has gone to receive His Kingly Rule (Daniel 7:13-14), He will be able to do so. So those who publicly confess Jesus before men will find that when, as the Son of Man, He takes up His throne, He will testify on their behalf. On the other hand those who deny Him in the presence of men will find that He denies them before the angels of God. Compare Luke 9:26 where it is confirmed that it will be the Son of Man Who will be ashamed of them, and for both positive and negative compare Matthew 10:32-33, spoken on a different occasion. This was clearly a constantly repeated warning.
This warning concerning being ’confessed to’ (acknowledged) or ‘denied’ by Him in the Judgment, or its equivalent, was a favourite one with Jesus repeated on a number of occasions (Luke 9:26; Matthew 10:32; Mark 8:38). Matthew tells us on another occasion that He spoke of being ‘confessed’, not only before the angels of God, but ‘ before My Father Who is in Heaven’ (Matthew 10:32). The general idea, however, is the same.
Note the move from earth to Heaven here signified by ‘Me’ in contrast with ‘the Son of Man’. The point is not that the Son of man is a different individual, but that Jesus’ status will by then have changed from being a man on earth to being a recognised heavenly figure Who has received all authority, dominion and power (Daniel 7:13-14). Now they are open to choose on the basis of their view of Him, then there will be no option, it will be life or death depending on whether they had opted for Him on earth.
The whole of this should be seen in the light of Luke 12:3 where all words spoken are to be brought into the light, which includes their confessions of their Lord, thus revealing whether they are under the Kingly Rule of God or not.
“And every one who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him, but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit it will not be forgiven.”
Some of those who are called for judgment (such as Paul) may look back to a time when they had not believed, and had even blasphemed against the Son of Man. But they need not fear. Such blasphemy would have been forgiven them once they turned to Jesus Christ. And forgiveness for this will continue to available as He is proclaimed among men. But those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. This was an added warning to the crowds who were listening.
This blasphemy against the Holy Spirit is revealed elsewhere as indicating those who, in spite of the clear evidence before their eyes, deliberately and continually close their minds to what they know about Him, so that eventually their minds became so hardened that they are unable even to consider the matter any further (Mark 3:28-30; Matthew 12:31-32). It is warning them that if they are not confessing Him now they have the opportunity to repent, but that if they delay until too late they may become too hardened and be unable to repent, and then their doom will be sealed. The example given in Matthew and Mark is of those who saw Him cast out evil spirits, and in spite of their own belief that men who could do this were of God, refused to believe it in Jesus’ case out of pure prejudice. They totally and continually day by day shut their minds against Him, saying dogmatically, ‘He has an unclean spirit’. Such men are in danger of hardening their hearts until they became unmeltable. (Anyone therefore who is afraid that they have committed such a sin can be sure that they have not. For those who have committed it will never be aware of the fact until that Day, for their hearts are too hardened).
Luke may well have had this saying in mind in the way that he depicts Jerusalem throughout his writings. Jerusalem was not rejected for its treatment of the Son of Man, nor even for its crucifying of its Messiah, for the risen Jesus told the Apostles to go to Jerusalem with their message after His resurrection (Acts 1:8) and the Apostles afterwards continually went out to Jerusalem with His offer of forgiveness (Acts 1-6), and large numbers responded. But when Jerusalem finally failed to respond wholeheartedly to the work of the Holy Spirit in its midst, and to its Messiah, it would be set to one side (Peter ‘departs for another place’ - Acts 12) and replaced by Syrian Antioch as the centre from which the Good News spread (Acts 13). Yet even then it had the witness of the Jerusalem church still continuing to speak to it. But when in the end its Temple doors finally closed on Paul (Acts 21:30), that was also the end of Luke’s interest in the Jerusalem which had previously been so important to him. Following these events Jerusalem did, of course, then make a martyr of James, the Lord’s brother, and the result was that it was finally utterly destroyed. Up to that time the offer of mercy had still been open, although clearly receding, but by its continual rejection of the signs and wonders and testimony in its midst it had finally ‘blasphemed against the Holy Spirit’. Its period of probation had come to an end, and it had become hardened and it thus came to its final punishment from which there was no escape. In 70 AD Jerusalem was finally destroyed. This is probably a very good illustration of what the blasphemy against the Holy Spirit means, and is a picture in miniature of the history of the world.
“And when they bring you before the synagogues, and the rulers, and the authorities, do not be anxious how or what you shall answer, or what you shall say, for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
Having made clear that death might await some of His disciples (Luke 12:4), which would clearly indicate that many of them might expect to be brought before courts for His sake, He now comforts them in the light of the thought of that eventuality. If they are brought before the synagogue, which had religious jurisdiction, or before rulers and authorities, such as Herod or Pilate, then they need not fear that they will not know what to say. For in that hour the Holy Spirit Whom they have received (Luke 11:13) will teach them what to say. Unlike the unbelievers at the last day, they will not be left speechless and comfortless.
Note the contrast. On the one hand are those who blaspheme against the Holy Spirit by finally closing their minds to the Christ of God, and on the other are those who, having responded fully to Him, have the Holy Spirit there as their friend and defender. And in between are those still having to make a decision.
Note the irony of His words. When they are brought before synagogues (the places where the Holy Spirit should be proclaiming His word) the Holy Spirit will give them their words to say in their defence. As a result of His coming the world is being turned upside down.
‘And one out of the crowd said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.” ’
The passage opens with a man coming to Jesus in order to have the problem of his inheritance situation sorted out. It was commonplace in those days for such matters to be dealt with by religious teachers, and he probably thought that as a prophet Jesus’ word would carry even more punch. (Or perhaps the Rabbis had refused to assist him because they recognised the falseness of his claim). But what a contrast he is with those who came asking, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life’. This man was only interested in this life. Luke may well have expected us to make the contrast which reveals that the question about eternal life was central, while that about earthly inheritance was dismissed as irrelevant.
Furthermore the man’s motives were probably even more selfish. For the situation could well have been that the elder brother was striving to keep the family and its land together as one inheritance for the good of all, while this man, like the prodigal son, wanted to separate his part off so that he could do what he liked with it, or claim compensation in respect of it, so that he could have a good time regardless of how it affected the family. And he was asking Jesus to use His authority to help him in his selfish purpose. He was going totally contrary to the principles of Psalms 133.
We should note that the approach is not one of genuine arbitration. The two brothers do not appear to have come together for that purpose. It is one of a disgruntled man trying to curry the Lord’s favour on his behalf, and asking Him to force his brother into a situation not of his choosing.
The Danger of Riches (12:13-21).
We now come to the first of a series of parables in this section. It is the first demonstration of how distorted Israel (and the world) is and how it needs to be made straight (Luke 13:10-17). This passage results from the approach of a man who, while being among His audience, has not been listening very carefully. For his father has died recently, and his heart is taken up with the question of his inheritance. Significantly it deals with the grip that riches have on men’s lives, and is therefore in strong contrast with what has gone before. There Jesus has faced His disciples with life and death decisions, decisions which were vitally connected with the question of how to inherit eternal life as mentioned in Luke 10:25. He has faced them with God and with the Kingly Rule of God. And now here is this man who, instead of being deeply stirred, comes to talk with Him about his inheritance of a few paltry earthly riches which demonstrates only his love of Mammon (see Luke 16:13; Matthew 6:24).
The passage commences with his approach to Jesus concerning his inheritance, which is immediately followed by the parable of the fool who built up wealth and then decided that he could sit back and enjoy rich banquets, totally ignoring the needs of the poor. The latter was clearly completely bereft of the love of God and his neighbour, and it was only on his death bed that he again thought about God and realised what a fool he had been. It was there that he awoke to the folly of his choice, and the result was that he suffered the unforeseen consequences of losing his wealth to others who benefited unexpectedly. By his life he had denied Jesus on earth.
It will be noted that in the chiasmus for the Section this passage was placed in parallel with an example which Jesus gives of inviting the poor to dinner (the opposite of the acquisitiveness of the man seeking his inheritance, and the opposite of the selfish and greedy fool), which is followed by the parable of a rich banquet which resulted in the unforeseen circumstance that it became a banquet for the poor, because those for whom it was intended excused themselves from it and lost out (Luke 14:12-24). There we find the opposite picture to that of the fool. The poor were fed because it was the Lord’s banquet.
Analysis of this passage.
a One out of the crowd said to him, “Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me” (Luke 12:13).
b He said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?” (Luke 12:14).
c He said to them, “Take careful note, and keep yourselves from all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
d He spoke a parable to them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully (Luke 12:16).
e And he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have not where to bestow my fruits?” (Luke 12:17).
d He said, “This will I do, I will pull down my barns, and build greater, and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods” (Luke 12:18).
c And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years, take your ease, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19).
b But God said to him, “You foolish one, this night is your soul required of you, and the things which you have prepared, whose shall they be?” (Luke 12:20).
a So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich towards God” (Luke 12:21).
Note that in ‘a’ the man is covetous for his inheritance, and in the parallel such laying up of treasure for oneself is warned against. In ‘b’ Jesus refuses to judge and divide, while in the parallel it is God Who questions men’s attitudes. In ‘c’ man’s life does not consist in the abundance of what he possesses, and in the parallel the man enjoys the abundance of what he possesses. In ‘d’ the rich man’s ground produces plentifully and in the parallel he makes plans for his plenty. Centrally in ‘e’ he asks himself the crunch question, ‘what shall I do with what I have received?’
‘But he said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you?”
Jesus’ reply is indicative of how He saw His position. He had not been sent to sort out petty worldly affairs, especially not when the motives were so poor. Possibly because He has been speaking about the last Judgment the man has misjudged His concerns. But His concerns are with the Kingly Rule of God. If this man wanted judgments concerning inheritances and about divisions of land on earth let him go to those who saw that as part of their task, and gloried in such things. He did not see it as part of His ministry, and He did not consider that God had anointed Him for this. This was nothing to do with the Kingly Rule of God which was for those whose minds were turned towards Heaven. On what grounds then was the man claiming that He should interfere? For the phrase compare Exodus 2:14.
We are left to assume that the man then went away. In view of the fact that his eyes were only on an earthly inheritance he was no longer relevant. And that was why he was dismissed. Here was Jesus on His way to Jerusalem to die, and speaking of eternal choices, and all this man could think of was a grubby inheritance. (We may all at some time have to have a part in inheritance cases, but the warning here is not to let them interfere in our service and usefulness for Him. If they take possession of us we are failing Him).
‘And he said to them, “Take careful note, and keep yourselves from all covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things which he possesses.”
Then Jesus turned to His disciples, and to the crowd, and gave them a strong caution. They were to keep themselves from covetousness, from a desire for ‘things’ and for wealth. For a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses. It consists rather in their attitude towards God. Let them then rather seek the Kingly Rule of God (Luke 12:31).
Here then He is stressing the choice between God and Mammon. For the majority of men Mammon was precisely what their lives consisted of, seeking wealth and power and status. But it was not to be so for those who followed Him. They were to have their eyes firmly fixed on the Kingly Rule of God, on the true riches, the heavenly riches, and on walking to please God (see Luke 12:31-34). They were to set their hearts on the inheritance of eternal life. Here was the continuation of the choices laid out before them in Luke 12:1-12. Let them not find themselves obsessed with paltry affairs like this man was. Let them rather be obsessed with the Kingly Rule of God over their lives. The great danger of the greed that can destroy a person’s usefulness comes out regularly in Luke’s Gospel (Luke 4:4; Luke 8:14; Luke 9:24-25; Luke 12:22-34; Luke 16:19-31; Luke 18:18-30)
‘And he spoke a parable to them, saying, “The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully, and he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have not where to bestow my fruits?”
He then backed up His words with a parable which demonstrated the total futility of riches to one who only used them for his own ends (an indicator of what Jesus saw in the man’s mind). He described a man who would be the envy of most people. He had much land and the land prospered and produced much grain and fruit. And it left him with a problem. What should he do with it? Of course he would already have given his tithe and the firstfruits as every good Jew would. So he saw that as God now settled up with. He had done his duty by God. The question now was, what was he to do with the remainder?
“And he said, This will I do, I will pull down my barns, and build greater, and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods.”
And he resolved his problem by deciding that he would build larger barns so that he could store it all up in order to secure his own future and enable himself to retire. Note the constant reference to Himself. (‘I -- I -- my --I -- my -- my’). He has thought neither for God nor for others. We recognise the significance of the choice he made. It was not to say to himself, ‘well, I already have what I need. I will give all this surplus to the poor and use it in the service of God.’ It was to say, ‘I will use all this for my own benefit and my family’s benefit, and to our greater advantage. I will look after Number One.’
“And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have much goods laid up for many years, take your ease, eat, drink, be merry.”
And he would tell his own inner heart, his spirit within, that now he had secured his future. He had plenty laid up for it, and he could now retire and enjoy the fruit of all his past hard work and his hard earned wealth. He did not take into account that it was God Who had given him the corn and the wine (Hosea 2:8; Deuteronomy 15:10).
For a man speaking to his own soul in this way compare Psalms 42:5. To do it wisely is good. To do it foolishly is disaster.
“But God said to him, You foolish one, this night is your soul required of you, and the things which you have prepared, whose shall they be?”
But that night God told him what a fool he was. For far from enjoying many years of luxury while others starved, that night his inner spirit, his ‘soul’, was to be required of him. And then he would have to leave all his wealth behind (compare Psalms 39:6). And others would enjoy the benefits that he had sought for himself. And he would be left with nothing (compare Luke 16:22). For he had not stored up treasure in heaven. Thus all he would possess was a cold dark grave.
‘You fool.’ Compare Luke 11:40; Psalms 14:1, and often in Proverbs. A fool in Scripture is one who has not heeded God’s word and God’s wisdom. Many would have said how wise this man was. He was securing his future. God says he was a fool because he was ignoring his real future.
“So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
And Jesus then delivered the punch line. That is what happens to those who use their riches for themselves, and are not rich towards God. They end up with nothing but a cold, dark grave, which however splendid men may make it on the outside, is only dark and cold on the inside (see Isaiah 14:10-11). What a contrast to the one who ascends to enjoy his riches stored up in heaven, because he has come under the Kingly Rule of God and has laid up treasure in Heaven.
Note that the final verdict is not concerning his building up of wealth, it concerns what he does with it once he has built it up. He can lay it up for himself. Or he can be rich towards God (Luke 12:33-34; Luke 16:9). And he foolishly does the former. (In the light of the previous passage we could say, ‘for every idle penny that a man shall spend he will give account thereof in the Day of Judgment’).
Their Attitude Towards Food And Clothing, The Things That Men Seek After
‘And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I say to you, Do not be anxious for your life (soul), what you shall eat, nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. For the life (soul) is more than the food, and the body than the raiment.”
The idea here is not that no one need ever worry about anything, or do any more work, for by that means many have starved. It is that those who come under the Kingly Rule of God should not be anxious about anything, because God guarantees them His personal care. What they should be concentrating their attention on is their inner lives, their ‘souls’, which are not dependent on food and clothing (the rich man had been very concerned for his soul, how to feed it and satisfy it and make it grow fat. He saw his soul as very physical. That had been his folly), and on their bodies which belong to God for His use, and which they need to ensure operate in His service. They should not be concerned with the externals, but with what is internal. Both life and body should be yielded up to Him.
His Disciples Should Have Their Minds Set On Heavenly Affairs Not Earthly Affairs (12:22-34).
Having made clear His position concerning wealth and its use Jesus now turns to those who have little wealth. They can be just as tied up with wealth as a result of having none and being anxious about it, as can the wealthy. They can be equally ‘distorted’, and they equally needed ‘making straight’. Theirs is a different problem. Where is the next meal coming from? Jesus reply is that once they seek the Kingly Rule of God they can put all such anxieties to one side, for God will then take responsibility for them and ensure that they are fed and clothed. Indeed they do not even need to pray about it, because God knows what they have need of before they ask Him.
This is now very much getting down to life under the Kingly Rule of God. The disciples have to learn that their thoughts must be wooed away from all thought of material possessions so that they can concentrate on that.
Note the interesting parallels between these verses and the previous passage in the mention of store-chambers and barns (the birds do not have any, instead they have God’s inexhaustible storehouses to call on), and in the laying up of treasure, but this time in Heaven. They must learn the lesson of the rich fool.
a ‘And he said to his disciples, “Therefore I say to you, Do not be anxious for your life, what you shall eat, nor yet for your body, what you shall put on. For the life is more than the food, and the body than the raiment” (Luke 12:22-23).
b “Consider the ravens, that they sow not, neither reap, which have no store-chamber nor barn, and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!” (Luke 12:24).
c “And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to the measure of his life?” (Luke 12:25).
d “If then you are not able to do even that which is least, why are you anxious concerning the rest?” (Luke 12:26).
e “Consider the flowers, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin, yet I say to you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these” (Luke 12:27).
f “But if God does so clothe the grass in the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith?” (Luke 12:28).
e “And do not seek what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, neither be you of doubtful mind” (Luke 12:29).
d “For all these things do the nations of the world seek after, but your Father knows that you have need of these things” (Luke 12:30).
c “But as for you, you seek his Kingly Rule, and these things will be added to you” (Luke 12:31).
b “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingly Rule” (Luke 12:32).
a “Sell what you have, and give alms, make for yourselves purses which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that fails not, where no thief draws near, neither moth destroys, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Luke 12:33-34).
Note that in ‘a’ they are not to be concerned with earthly things, and in the parallel they are to use them for establishing a heavenly treasure. In ‘b’ the birds are fed by God, but they are of more value than the birds, so that in the parallel He will give His disciples what is ruled over by His Kingly Rule. In ‘c’ they cannot ‘add’ to the length of their life, so in the parallel they should seek His Kingly Rule (which is eternal), then everything else will be ‘added’ to them. In ‘d’ they are not to be anxious about ‘the rest’, while in the parallel it is the nations who will be anxious about the rest. On the other hand they, the disciples, need not be because they can be sure that their Father knows their needs. In ‘e’ the flowers do not seek after physical benefits (what they shall wear), so in the parallel they also do not have to seek after physical benefits (what they eat and drink or anything else). Central in ‘f’ is confidence in the provision of God.
“Consider the ravens, that they sow not, neither reap, which have no store-chamber nor barn, and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!”
In considering such things let them think about the birds, even unclean birds like the ravens (or crows) - Leviticus 11:15. They do not sow nor do they reap. They do not pile up wealth like the rich fool. They do not build up large store-chambers which will last for many years. And yet God feeds them as He promised (see Psalms 147:9). In the same way those who give up their lives to follow Him can be sure that He will do the same for them also. Thus like the birds they need not spend their time worrying about such things.
“And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to the measure of his life?”
The word used here may mean ‘to his measure of life’, for while ‘cubit’ may seem to suggest the length of an object, outside sources do in fact speak of a ‘cubit of time’; and we can compare with this Psalms 39:5 where ‘a handbreadth’ is used to describe the length of days. Or the same word may mean ‘to his stature.’ The former would fit in with the last parable when death came suddenly (compare Psalms 39:4-5). The idea is then that men cannot extend their lives by ‘even the smallest amount’. How wise then not to have spent their time in sowing and reaping and building barns when they cannot extend their lives even by a fraction (so also Luke 12:26). It also fits in with the thought that those who followed Him might be martyred, with the idea that the times are in His hands, so that trying to extend their lives is a waste of time. ‘Add -- to his stature’ would tie in with the flowers growing in Luke 12:27, but we should note that the growing is not the important point there. The growing is incidental to the main point. And who in general would normally want to add eighteen inches to their height? (And besides it would hardly be called ‘the least’ in Luke 12:26). Thus we would favour the former.
Nowadays we might feel that we can extend our lives by wise eating. And all things being equal we should do so. But not to the extent that it gets in the way of our dedication to God.
“If then you are not able to do even that which is least, why are you anxious concerning the rest?”
So as they cannot do even what is least, add a tiny amount to their length of life (or to their height), why should they spend all their lives worrying about the rest, like the rich fool did, even though he had so much? Worrying about food and clothing is foolish. What they should rather be concerned with is making the most of their lives, of what they themselves are.
It should again be noted that the words are addressed to those called to follow Him. He is not decrying general provision of crops and working on the land, He is speaking of a concern that interferes with their spiritual lives. Having done what they can they must trust God and not worry all the time about such things, for those things are not what should be their main concern.
“Consider the flowers, how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin, yet I say to you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
A second illustration is given as to clothing. The gorgeous flowers of the field grow beautiful without a lot of toiling and spinning, and yet they even outmatch the glory of the supremely wealthy Solomon. The warning here is against excessive effort like that required to make rich fabrics. To those who follow Him that should be spurned. They should be satisfied with the basics and with looking to God. They should not be wasting their effort on such things.
It may be intentional that the birds are male and the flowers female, the point being that His strictures apply to both.
“But if God so clothes the growth in the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, how much more will he clothe you, O you of little faith?”
And God supplies such beauty to what grows in the fields in spite of how temporary their lives are. (For ‘today and tomorrow’ compare Luke 13:32 where it means for a little while). How much more then will He add to our lives the beauty that we seek, the true beauty, and ensure that we are clothed.
And yet they should then note that all that beauty of the flowers eventually gets burned up as fuel in the ovens. In the end it is really worth nothing. What does matter is the beauty of soul that will survive to eternity.
The reference to the casting into the oven (a beehive shaped oven used for cooking) is a reminder of how transient these beautiful flowers are. They die quickly and are then used for cooking with. Like our own food and clothing, they are temporary and all the beauty that they had was transient. In a moment it was gone. Thus the women who are His disciples should not be spending a lot of time concentrating on their own physical beauty, for it will pass away. What they should be spending their time on is the true beauty that reveals that they are of God (1 Timothy 2:9-10).
‘O you of little faith.’ At the root of all failure to do God’s will is a lack of faith. For those who believe have no problem with all this. If we question it, it is not because it is not the rational and logical way for a believer to behave, it is because we are not sure of God.
“And seek not you what you shall eat, and what you shall drink, neither be you of doubtful mind, for all these things do the nations of the world seek after, but your Father knows that you have need of these things.”
The conclusion is therefore that as everything is transient we should not be worried about the daily provisions for our lives. They are of little worth except for survival. And while those are the things that the nations of the world seek after, that is because they have no Father Who watches over them. On the other hand, those who are His do have a Father Who watches over them, and Who knows that they have need of such things. They are therefore to trust Him for them and not let their minds be filled with doubts and worries about their provision, or be taken up with anxiety about such things.
‘The nations of the world.’ This is a typical Jewish description of the world. But here Jesus has included within it the unbelieving Jews. They are now no longer to be seen as God’s holy people. They are now simply a part of the world unless they join the new, true Israel by following Him.
“But seek you his Kingly Rule, and these things will be added to you.”
So what they should putting all their attention to is rather seeking the Kingly Rule of God. That should take up their full concentration. And then all the remainder will be added to them. Their attention should be on hearing Him and obeying Him, and doing His will. It is in the light of this that all that has gone before makes sense. It does not apply to the nations of the world. It applies only to those who are under His Kingly Rule.
It will be noted that this removes the need for us to pray for material things. As with our small children in our own families, we do not have to worry ourselves with such things. We may instead safely leave the provision of them with the Father, as our children leave them with us. We can then simply enjoy what we are given while busy about other things, more important things, the things of our Father. It is a confirmation that ‘give us today Tomorrow’s bread’ (Luke 11:3) had nothing to do with physical food, for that is something that those who believe will get without asking. (We can of course thank Him for His provision, but to pray for it would be unbelief). It refers rather to the bread that feeds our souls, the Bread of Life.
‘Seeking the Kingly Rule of God’ could signify:
1). Seeking to advance the Kingly Rule of God over men’s lives by all means possible.
2). Seeking the spiritual blessings of being within the Kingly Rule of God.
3). Submission to the Kingly Rule of God ourselves.
Luke 12:33-34 may suggest 2). But what has gone before must be seen as suggesting 1). Yet neither are possible without 3). We are surely therefore to see it as all three, for one is not possible without the other. Each suggests a different focus, which we should bear in mind when we pray the Lord’s prayer which can cover all three, firstly submitting to the King, secondly looking out for the King’s present work, and thirdly looking for the King’s future blessing.
As They Seek The Kingly Rule of God And Its Establishment Among Men They Must Recognise That It is Not All Just A Matter Of Numbers.
“Fear not, little flock; for your Father was pleased to give you the Kingly Rule.”
Jesus saw their thoughts and realised that they were puzzled about how the Kingly Rule of God could come about when they were so few. They had followed Him for some time and numbers had grown promisingly, and then they seemed to have fallen. Now they seemed again but few. And yet, they must have thought, surely if we are to bring in the Kingly Rule of God over men it will take a great army. But where were was this army? (John the Baptiser had probably been thinking the same thing - Luke 7:20). Why had Jesus allowed them to dwindle to so few? They still had completely wrong ideas about everything.
So lest they be afraid that somehow they would miss out on the Kingly Rule of God because of their small numbers, He assures them that it will not be so. They should recognise that the fact that they are here with Him is the guarantee of it. The Kingly Rule of God is in fact here in Him. And thus the Kingly Rule of God has already been given to them. They may see themselves as only comparatively few in number, ‘a little flock’, and may be asking themselves how the Kingly Rule of God can possibly come about with so few, but they will find that it will be so, for it is the Father’s good pleasure to give to THEM the Kingly Rule of God. They must rest within God’s own will and purposes.
Rather than waiting for large numbers to enrol, they will shortly discover that, few in number though they may be, God will begin to introduce His Kingly Rule through them. It is His gift tothem, few though they are, because they are His sheep and His flock, and it will not fail because they are few in numbers. They need not think that because they are few they cannot belong to a King, or bring in His Kingly Rule, because kings usually have large flocks. A large flock is not required in this case, for He is more concerned about the quality. So let them seek to enter fully under His Kingly Rule now, ready for what is to come, and not worry about their numbers.
We can compare for the idea of the flock, Luke 15:4-6; Matthew 10:16; John 10:1-16; John 10:27-28; Acts 20:28-29; 1 Peter 5:2, also Isaiah 40:11, and recognise that only God could have determined to bring in His Kingly Rule through a small bunch of sheep.
The Resources That They Will Not Need (12:33-34).
“Sell what you have, and give alms. Make for yourselves purses which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens which does not fail, where no thief draws near, nor moth destroys.”
But what will they require in order to fulfil their task? What resources will they need? Why, says, Jesus, they will require none. Any possessions that they have are too many. Spiritual warfare only requires spiritual resources. So let them start preparing now by selling what they have and giving it to the poor. That will then be stored in a safe place where nothing can diminish it. Then and then only will they be ready for their task (compare Luke 9:3; Luke 10:4).
So they are to cease being concerned about earthly possessions. They are to sell whatever they possess and give it to the poor, unlike the rich fool who tried to keep everything for himself. That way they will build up a treasure in Heaven, which will result in their minds also being fixed in Heaven. By that they will make for themselves wealth containers in Heaven which do not grow old, and a treasure in the heavens that is everlasting and continual, never failing, a treasure which no thief can steal and no moth destroy. And then they will be ready for their task in hand, in a state of total dependence on God.
The idea was not that of selling the family property. That belonged to the family. Nor was it for them to bankrupt their families by leaving them penniless. It was for each to rid himself or herself of their own prized possessions so as to turn them into heavenly gold. It was an act of faith, not charity. By doing so they would keep them everlastingly.
‘Where no thief draws near, nor moth destroys.” Full barns were always a temptation to bandits and raiders, clothing a temptation to moths, but neither of such things can affect what is stored up in Heaven. Thus only what is stored there is really safe.
So Jesus is inculcating an attitude to riches. (What a contrast to those who claim that we should as Christians seek material prosperity as our right. That is the very opposite of this). He is seeking to deliver His disciples from the grip and deceitfulness of riches. These disciples were being called on to follow Jesus literally, and to depend on God utterly, and for that they would require no worldly possessions, indeed such possessions would be a hindrance. He is also wooing their minds away from thoughts of an earthly kingdom. All that they have is to be in Heaven.
All of us cannot live our lives like this. We do not live in a world of such free hospitality, nor can all of us fully devote ourselves wholly to ministry, although we can be wholly involved in God’s work in the place where we are. We live in a totally different situation from them. However, the point for us is that we too should live as though we had no possessions, and rather treat all that we possess as His and available in His service. And we should ensure that they are not always on our minds. If they are then it is certainly time that we gave them all away, so as to rid ourselves of their shackles.
“For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
And the reason for this attitude is made clear. It is because where their treasure is, that is where their hearts will be. Jesus had in mind that those will only really live for Heavenly things who have stored up all their wealth in Heaven, and He says that we must have that in mind too.
This thought lies at the root of all that has been said. The Bible constantly warns of the danger of ‘things’ and of ‘riches’ which can get a grip on a man’s heart so that he loses his dedication (Mark 4:19; 1 John 2:15; 1 Timothy 6:10). Satan even sought to tempt Jesus in this way, although there his offer was a little better than he offers to us (Luke 4:6). The aim of Jesus was in order to ensure that our hearts only desire one thing, and that to please our Lord.
“Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning,”
The parable begins with a description of what is required of the Lord’s servants. In modern terms we would say that they have to have their sleeves rolled up and the lights switched on so that they can go about their tasks with all their might. They have to be like those swotting up in the week before their examinations, concentrating all their attention and effort on it.
‘Your loins girded.’ The long robes they wore hindered work, and so they had to be gathered up and tucked in their belts. ‘Your lamps burning.’ Their lamps for which they were responsible all had to be continually refilled with oil and their wicks tended so as to give off a bright flame. In a large household this could be quite a task in itself.
The First Parable - The Servants in Readiness (12:35-38).
In this parable Jesus is dealing with the responsibility that all who claim to be His servants have for the whole world (the lord’s house), although those who originally heard it probably thought in terms of the people of Israel. The emphasis is on the responsibility of those who are put in position of authority by Him, whether high or low. The crowds and the Pharisees probably in fact saw in it just a pointer to the need to be faithful in serving God. (The beauty of parables is that each gathered from them the message appropriate for them). But to the disciples He is indicating that each is responsible for the service that is committed to him or her in readiness for His return. All are to be involved from the highest to the lowest.
What The Attitude Of His Disciples Should Be (12:35-40).
The parable that follows confirms that Jesus will have been previously laying out the background to them (we know so little of the much that He taught them). He had certainly told them that He would die, and rise again (Luke 9:22; Luke 9:31; Luke 9:44; Luke 12:8 assumes it), and as Mark makes clear it was a lesson repeated a number of times (Mark 8:31; Mark 9:12; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:45. Note how the verbs demonstrate that it was constant teaching). And we need not doubt that He had equally constantly repeated to them that He would return again (Luke 9:26). Furthermore every parable that He gave, like the one that follows, was a reminder of these facts, for without these facts such parables had a limited meaning.
So they had no real grounds for not appreciating what was to come. And possibly in theory they had taken much of it in. But it was not as something that was going to affect them here and now. For they were innocently complacent, and were totally shocked when it did happen. It was like theology is to all too many. Something to be brought out at religious moments, but not relevant to their daily lives.
Here Jesus seeks to make it relevant. For He portrays a situation when He will have gone away, and urges them that when that happens it will be necessary for them to remember that one day He will return unexpectedly. So these parables, while having individual messages to give, were also another way of bringing home to them the fact of His impending departure. Their aim was to make them continually think in terms of eternity (Luke 12:1-10) and to be ‘straight’ in their thinking, free from Satan’s attempts to keep the world in distortion and ignorance (Luke 13:10-17). They explained why they should live as he had called on them to do (Luke 12:22-34).
The Parables of the Servants and the Thief, And The Warning Of His Unexpected Coming.
The first parable is about an important man who goes to a friend’s wedding feast, leaving his servants at home, so that they can keep all ready for his return. And like all good servants they are to await his return and are not to sleep until he has returned. It is then followed by a parable about a thief who comes when a householder is not expecting it.
a “Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning” (Luke 12:35).
b “And be you yourselves like to men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast, that, when he comes and knocks, they may open to him straight away” (Luke 12:36).
c “Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he comes will find watching” (Luke 12:37 a).
d “Truly I say to you, that he will gird himself, and make them sit down to food, and will come and serve them” (Luke 12:37 b).
c “And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find them so, blessed are those servants” (Luke 12:38).
b “But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through” (Luke 12:39).
a “You be also ready, for in an hour that you think not the Son of man comes” (Luke 12:40).
Note that in ‘a’ they are to be working hard in readiness, and in the parallel they are to be ready. In ‘b’ they should be watching for their lord, and in the parallel the master of the house should have watched for burglars. In ‘c’ the servants are blessed if they are found watching, and in the parallel the same applies. In ‘d’, and centrally The Lord will reward His faithful servants at Messiah’s table.
“And be you yourselves like to men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast, that, when he comes and knocks, they may open to him straight away.”
And the servants themselves had to be like men who were waiting for the return of their lord who could arrive at any moment. He had gone to a marriage feast (which would be of uncertain length), but all must be ready for his return, and when he did arrive and knock things had to be in such a state of readiness that they could open the door immediately. The picture is one of conscientiousness, bustle and preparation, and of all efforts being expended in one direction only, readiness for their lord’s return so that everything was perfect in the household when he came.
“Truly I say to you, that he will gird himself, and make them sit down to food, and will come and serve them.”
Indeed they will be so blessed that they will receive far more than they could ever have anticipated. It will become a special Servant’s Day. The lord himself will tuck in his robes and sit them down at his table, and will himself come and serve them.
It is one of the quirks of human nature that through the ages important men have had ‘servants’ days’ when precisely this was done. For one short day (or part of a day) the servants were sat at table and the masters and their families served them. (They then made up for it over the remainder of the year). In this case it was to be a special day as a reward for their hard work and loyalty, and for their being ready. But this time it would be the Master Himself Who would serve them. Once again Jesus gets over the point that the greatest are those who serve. Men and women would expect Him to come in order to sit at the head of the table and lord it over all. But even in His glory, He would come as One Who had come to serve. Note that it is this act that definitely identifies Whom the lord of the house represents, the great Servant of the Lord.
“And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find them so, blessed are those servants.”
And they must be in a state of readiness whenever he returns, whether in the second watch or the third. The Jews had three ‘watches’ to the night (as against the Romans with four), at which point guards would be changed, and new sentries posted. And the night was thought of in terms of those three periods of watching. Thus the idea is that they should be ready all night. (No servant could go to bed until the lord had returned from the wedding feast).
Note the ‘second’ and ‘third’. Compare Luke 13:32. It denotes the passage of time to a final conclusion. It could be soon or it could be long. For the night indicates the whole period of time until the consummation. While there is the idea of imminence (they do not know when he will come) there is no thought of his necessary soon coming. It may well not be until the end of the third watch just before morning. Indeed it is a warning that His coming may not be as soon as they expected.
And blessed would be those servants who proved their loyalty and faithfulness by being ready every watch of the night.
The Significance of the Parable.
Jesus mainly preached His parables openly before all, the crowds, the disciples and the Pharisees, and they had a message for all. That is why one Gospel writer can see a parable as directed at the one of these, while another might see it as directed at another. Both are right. They were directed at all three, but with a significant message for each, for while not all followed Jesus directly, all claimed to be serving God.
The main idea behind the parable is that of loyal service, hard work and readiness. To many of His listeners who were not ‘in the know’, whether Pharisee or of the general crowd, that is precisely what it would have conveyed.
Its lessons could therefore be seen as follows:
1). To the crowds and the Pharisees it would indicate that men and women had to live in the light of God’s requirements. They had to live loyally and industriously like servants waiting for their lord’s return from a wedding, not an uncommon occurrence. In the Old Testament the favour or otherwise of God was regularly connected with brides and bridegrooms (Isaiah 62:5; Jeremiah 7:34; Jeremiah 16:9; Jeremiah 25:10; Jeremiah 33:11; Joel 2:16). And the result would be that one day God would reward them in His day of blessing. These were ideas of which the Pharisees would heartily have approved. Jesus probably hoped that some of them might even notice the detail of the parable and come and ask about it.
2). Some may have gone further. They may also have thought in terms of the coming of the Messiah. God had promised His Messiah and that one day He would come. So they might have seen it as indicating that they must keep in readiness for that event, and that then they would have their part in the Messianic banquet. Many Pharisees would agree with this too. His parable thus had very much a present application for the Pharisees and the crowds even though they did not know of His second coming.
3). To those disciples who had been observant of Jesus teaching and knew that He was the Messiah of God, and that He was to die and rise again, it should have meant more (it certainly would do later). They were intended to recognise that it was confirmation of the fact that He would be leaving them but that He would then return. Thus it was not only an indication that they must be diligent in service (and it was that) but it was also reminding them that He must shortly leave them and that when He did go they must not cease their work of proclaiming the Kingly Rule of God but must continue it faithfully until His return whatever happened. And they must do it without restraint so that when He did return all would be in readiness.
They would also recognise the symbolism of the night of waiting which revealed a world in darkness, and the permanent lights which represented the witness of God’s people to the world which had to be kept shining. Compare Luke 8:16; Luke 11:33-36 and see Luke 12:3 where what is in the dark will be brought to the light of God.
4). But once the death and resurrection had taken place the parable would gather new meaning, again a meaning intended by Jesus Who at this time fully knew the significance of His death and resurrection. For then all who became His would know that Jesus had risen and been enthroned in Heaven, and that one day in accordance with His promises He would return. Thus they would see that they had to labour diligently, ever ready for His return, and yet at the same time recognise that they had no idea how long it would be before He returned. (‘If he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third’). For they would recognise that the end of the third watch indicated an unending length of time, only limited by the consummation of which no man knew the date, not even Jesus (Mark 13:32).
And for them too it would promise to those who were faithful and hardworking, and who kept their light of witness and life shining brightly (Luke 8:16; Luke 11:33-36; Matthew 5:16), that they would be blessed in that day and sit down at His table and He would serve them. They would enjoy the Messianic feast. They would enjoy the glory of Heaven. (Not for the Gentiles any hang ups about the land. Their eyes were firmly fixed on Heaven). They would drink wine with Him under His Father’s Kingly Rule (Luke 22:18; Luke 22:30).
They would also note the fact that He would serve them. This emphasised the fact that He Himself was the Servant of the Lord (Luke 3:22; Luke 9:35; Luke 22:27; Isaiah 53; Mark 10:45), and that to be in service was to be in the highest position in the kingdom. By it He would reveal Himself as their Lord. For under the Kingly Rule of God service and humility are the evidences of royalty (Luke 22:26-27). Sadly it was the part of the parable that many forgot.
So far from this parable as given being irrelevant to the crowds it indicates the genius of Jesus in containing a relevant message for all, from which all would benefit, a deeper message for those who would privately ask concerning its truth, and a further message for those who would follow after.
The Second Parable - The Thief Breaking In (12:39).
“But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through.”
The second illustration is of the arrival of a thief. No one knows when it will happen, for if they did they would be in readiness and it would not happen. ‘Broken through.’ The thief would enter a house by breaking through the mud walls of a typical Palestinian house. Again the point is that the only hope of avoiding it is to be in constant readiness. But here there is the added thought that for this man who was not in readiness, the Son of Man’s arrival will have the same unpleasantness as that which is experienced by the advent of a thief. The man has been caught out and the results will not be pleasant. He is one who has not been keeping in mind the Lord’s coming at all.
This parable gives us the warning that we must not read too much into every detail of parables. We are hardly to see a thief as a picture of Jesus in any other way than because he comes unexpectedly, and because his coming is unpleasant for the householder involved because he is not ready.
“You be also ready, for in an hour that you think not the Son of man comes.”
The lesson of both parables is then made clear. All are to be ready because the Son of Man will come in the very hour that He is not expected. Many in the crowd would be thinking in terms of the coming Messiah. Others might have gathered that Jesus was the Son of Man and have been puzzled. They may have related it to the way in which He kept arriving and then departing. But the disciples should have recognise that it had a deeper meaning, for they had been informed of His soon Departure and resurrection, while the early church would apply it totally to the second coming.
‘And Peter said, “Lord, do you speak this parable to us, or even to all?” ’
Peter clearly recognised that not all the crowd could be expected to understand the parable as he understood it. So he asks Jesus whether it is a parable for the inner circle or for all. Depending on that will depend its meaning for them. He had not yet caught on to the fact that parables contained a number of meanings, and each one who heard it gathered from it that of which he or she was capable.
This was the beauty of parables. All would learn, depending on the stage that they had reached, some one thing and some another. But for Jesus Himself, Who knew the deeper significance that lay behind them, the parables were richer far than for anyone else, even the disciples, for He knew the very essence of them, and the many applications that they could have.
Jesus does not answer his question directly but replies with another parable which this time deals with an individual, but then ends up more generally. Peter can then apply it to himself if he wishes, as may any other of the disciples. For in the end it is for all who will listen. Yet it is certainly a warning to Peter to ensure that in the future he does not go astray in his responsibilities as an Apostle, as indeed once or twice he nearly did, and might have totally had Jesus not prayed for him (Luke 22:31-34; Galatians 2:11-14).
‘And Peter said, “Lord, do you speak this parable to us, or even to all?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?”
Jesus replies to Peter’s question with a question. In other words He says the choice is up to Peter and the other disciples what they apply to themselves. He is aware that it will be some time before they really appreciate its significance. In it He points to the fact that the lord in the parable seeks a faithful and wise steward. For ‘faithful’ compare 1 Corinthians 4:2. For ‘wise, prudent’ compare Luke 16:8; 1 Corinthians 4:10; 1 Corinthians 10:15. The steward appointed will be someone who has already been tested and has proved his worth, both in loyalty and wisdom. And He is to be set over the lord’s household with responsibility for feeding all the household, a picture certainly of the responsibility of the disciples, and later of the leaders of the early church (1 Corinthians 4:1; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 4:10; see also 1 Corinthians 9:17; Ephesians 3:2; Colossians 1:25). Peter especially was appointed in order to feed His sheep (John 21:15-17), but this was as an indication of restoration for his failure when he denied Jesus. The same principle would apply to all the Apostles who proved faithful. So each could put himself in this position. And it would not be long before other faithful and wise stewards were appointed, including Paul. They too could pattern themselves on this steward.
His purpose was to be to feed the lord’s household. He was set as a household manager over, at a minimum, the running of the dining areas, kitchens and stores. This was a vital job, for people in such a position had to be absolutely trustworthy. If a mistaken appointment was made it was always open to the appointee to poison the food. It was also a suitable position for one who was to minister the Bread of Life (John 6:35).
The Parable of The Servants Good and Bad (12:42-48).
In reply to Peter’s question Jesus tells a parable about an individual steward (although it expands to cover all level of servants at the end). It should be noted that again the parable is open to varied interpretation. The crowd could see the mention of the lord’s coming as just a part of His comings and goings without reading into it the second coming. They would simply see it as a warning of the need to serve God faithfully, especially those of them who held positions of authority.
The disciples themselves who were in the know about His departure and second coming may have interpreted it of the second coming. But it is doubtful if even they did until much later. Originally they too probably saw it in terms of the lord’s comings and goings, and as a warning of the necessity to be faithful and ardent in His service. They may have gone along with the crowd.
But there is little doubt that Jesus did in the end mean it to be understood of the Second Coming, and that the early church would have seen it like that. For Jesus was constantly trying to turn the thoughts of His disciples to the coming crisis and what lay beyond (Luke 9:22; Luke 9:44 ; Mark 8:31; Mark 9:12; Mark 9:31; Mark 10:45). It was part of the genius of Jesus that His parables could be multipurpose. We must not limit Jesus by our hidebound ideas and interpretations. He was both a genius and far-sighted.
a Peter said, “Lord, do you speak this parable to us, or even to all?” (Luke 12:41).
b The Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? (Luke 12:42).
c “Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing” (Luke 12:43).
d “Of a truth I say to you, that he will set him over all that he has” (Luke 12:44).
c “But if that servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord delays his coming,’ and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken, the lord of that servant will come in a day when he does not expect, and in an hour when he does not know, and will cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful” (Luke 12:45-46).
b “And that servant, who knew his lord’s will, and did not make ready, nor did according to his will, will be beaten with many stripes, but he who did not know, and did things worthy of stripes, will be beaten with few stripes” (Luke 12:47-48 a).
a “And to whoever much is given, of him will much be required, and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more” (Luke 12:48 b).
Note than in ‘a’ the question is as to whom the parable is addressed, and in the parallel it is to those to whom much has been given. In ‘b’ the steward is set over the household, and in the parallel the punishment for such servants is described. In ‘c’ the servant who is ready is blessed, and in the parallel the servants who are not ready are punished. And central in ‘d’ is the fact that the faithful servant will be set over all that he has.
“Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he comes shall find so doing. Of a truth I say to you, that he will set him over all that he has.”
He now points out that the steward is a slave. He is not there to better himself but to serve. If the slave faithfully carries out his function he will be blessed. He will both prosper and be happy. For when his lord pays him a visit and discovers that he is looking after the feeding of the household well he will appoint him over everything. (We see here reminiscences of Joseph - Genesis 39:3-4). Note the change from steward to slave. It is being emphasised that he is but a humble slave and not dealing with his own things but the things of his master. He is a servant and not a lord (compare Luke 22:25-27) although as such he will be given great privilege (Luke 22:28).
“But if that servant shall say in his heart, ‘My lord delays his coming,’ and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and to eat and drink, and to be drunken.”
But far from being blessed is that slave if he takes advantage of his lord’s absence to maltreat his master’s property. Here is something totally unseemly, a slave behaving like a master and beating unnecessarily the other less important slaves, and using his master’s goods to excess. He is going outside his station. Note how drunkenness is seen as the seal on his degradation. He has descended to the lowest depths. Here is a man who has got beyond himself, and thinks of himself what he ought not to think.
“The lord of that servant will come in a day when he does not expect, and in an hour when he does not know, and will cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful.”
But the slave is so foolish that he has forgotten that his lord might come at any time. And when suddenly his lord does come he is caught out with nowhere to hide. And his lord is so angry that he has him decapitated, and sends him to join the unbelieving. He has proved himself to be totally unworthy to even be in the household.
An alternative is that the verb ‘decapitated’ be given a gentler meaning of being ‘separated off’ from the other servants. His sentence may then be to be put in the dungeons or the equivalent along with other grossly unfaithful and rebellious slaves.
‘In a day -- in an hour.’ These expressions are used fairly regularly in order to indicate the Lord’s second coming, compare Mark 13:32; Matthew 25:13; Revelation 9:15.
“And that servant, who knew his lord’s will, and did not make ready, nor did according to his will, will be beaten with many stripes,”
The question here is whether this is the same slave or another one. If the steward was decapitated it would certainly suggest that this is another one. This tagging on of an extra idea to a parable would also fit in with the way that Jesus suddenly tagged on an extra idea to the previous parable (Luke 12:39). It is a vivid way of stressing a point. And we must remember that the lord will always have all his staff to call into account for their behaviour while he has been away.
There would therefore appear to be three gradings (threefoldness thus covering all the servants), the steward, the high level servant who was in the know about his lord’s requirements, and the lower level servant who was not. This high level servant then is one who was under the steward, but who also knew what his lord wanted and had not made ready. He too had been faithless, although not going as far as the steward. He is not therefor decapitated and assigned with the unbelievers. Rather he is given a severe beating. This might suggest that he was rather seen as a believer who had to be disciplined, although the severe beating might indicate the fate of the unbeliever. It is, of course, picture language. It does not mean that beatings will be handed out at the second coming (even though what is handed out may in some ways be worse, ‘he himself will be saved but only as through fire’ - 1 Corinthians 3:15, compare 2 Corinthians 5:10).
“And to whoever much is given, of him will much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more.”
And the final lesson drawn out is that the more that is given to someone, of position and authority and trust, the more will be required of them. Those who are given the most trust will be expected to deliver more than those of whom that is not so true.
Note. It would be unwise to draw our theology from a parable. Parables illustrate theology not make it, for interpretations are always open to doubt and depend very much on viewpoint. Thus while learning the lessons we should not draw firm conclusions about what will happen in the afterlife from this parable. Some see some of the servants as erring believers. Others see all the erring servants as unbelievers. Each can draw his lesson as he will. But the theology of the afterlife must be drawn from elsewhere. End of note.
“I have come to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish it was already kindled.”
Apart from the problem of translating the last part of the verse, which probably does not affect the meaning of the whole, the main question here is as to the significance of the ‘casting of fire on the earth’. The general impression gained by such a phrase would be that of causing disturbance and ferment and trouble, and finally of bringing judgment on those spoken of. For that is the usual idea behind the thought of the ‘casting of fire’ (compare Luke 9:54).
The alternative has been mooted that it indicates the fire of the Holy Spirit and therefore refers to the Gospel going out like fire around the world accomplishing His purpose, something which was the desire of His heart. This last idea is attractive, and had this verse stood by itself, and had there been no other Scriptures dealing with the topic, this might have been feasible. But a major problem of this interpretation is that it is against the tenor of the passage as a whole, which is one of sadness and heartache, and it is also against the tenor of other Scriptures. Besides when fire is connected with the Holy Spirit it is never thought of as ‘cast, thrown’.
The truth is that what Jesus appears to have in view here is not pleasant. It is in contrast with Luke 5:32 which declares the other purpose of His coming. There He says, ‘I have come -- to call sinners to repentance’, which is the other side of the story. Here He has come to ‘cast fire’.
On the other hand we may certainly see the idea as partly included, although more probably in terms of His word being the fire, a fire which does have its effect on the hearts of believers, but also has its effect in judgments coming on the world. For the work of the Holy Spirit is undoubtedly a part of the fire that He would bring on the world, as He fulfils Himself as ‘the Spirit of burning’ and ‘of judgment’ in establishing purity in the world (Isaiah 4:4).
But to understand precisely what is in mind we must turn to the Scriptures. For there are a number of references in Scripture that we need to take into account in order to illuminate the picture:
In Luke 3:16 reference is made to the Coming One as ‘baptising/drenching/overwhelming in Holy Spirit and fire’, and this is immediately interpreted in terms of producing fruitfulness (by means of heavenly rain) for some and the burning up of others like the chaff (Luke 3:17). If we accept John’s own explanation therefore the Holy Spirit produces the ripe grain of believers while the fire is very much a consuming fire, the fire of judgment, for the burning up of the chaff. At first sight it is tempting to compare the words there with this passage here where again the fire and baptism are in close parallel. But here the baptism is rather one of suffering that comes on Him and overwhelms Him, whereas there He is the One Who will do the overwhelming. And furthermore there the baptism represented drenching rain producing fruit, whereas here the baptism is of suffering, and thus very different circumstances are in mind. Nor is there the thought in John’s words of the ‘casting of fire’. Rather it is men who themselves will be cast into the fire (Luke 3:9), and the fire is rather present to consume. They will be overwhelmed by fire. Nevertheless even so the basic idea behind the word ‘fire’ there is that of judgment, which certainly also applies here.
We may certainly include in the fire there the fire of purifying and purging, for in the Old Testament God’s judgment on the many regularly purges the few. But purging never takes place without judgment, those purged come out of judgment (e.g. Zechariah 13:8-9; Malachi 3:2-3; Malachi 4:1-3). It is a great and terrible day (Malachi 4:5), and it has begun in John the Baptiser (Matthew 11:14).
In Isaiah 4:5 there is reference to the ‘spirit of burning’, which is also ‘the spirit of judgment’, and this refers to judgments which are coming on Jerusalem in order to purify Jerusalem and remove its filth in the last days. And this last will be by the burning up of the evil, the emphasis being on Jerusalem’s final purifying by the purging of what is evil through the fires of judgment. So the ‘burning’ is severe judgment that is seen as the means by which evil is removed. The consequence will be that the righteous are brought through the fire and the remainder are destroyed by it. This is probably a little closer to what is in mind in Jesus’ words, but again there is there no thought of ‘casting fire’.
In Ezekiel 10:2 the man clothed in linen, who is an angel, is to take coals of fire from between the cherubim who bore the throne of God, a throne on which God was revealed in fire, and scatter (or sprinkle) them over the city. The significance of this would seem to be the same as in Isaiah 4, that as a result of the activity of God through His agents the people of Jerusalem would suffer destruction, while a remnant would escape, those who had been sealed by God. But this time the idea of the ‘scattering’ or ‘sprinkling’ of coals of fire on the people is clearly introduced. The scattering of fire is an act of judgment on the city. There would then be a remnant remaining whom God would preserve because His mark was upon them (Luke 9:4). The final aim was the preserving of the remnant, while judgment came on the unrighteous who had spurned God’s words through Ezekiel and Jeremiah, and all this would be by the ‘strewing’ of fire.
4) The same idea as in 3). occurs in Revelation 8:5 (compare Luke 12:7-8; Luke 12:10) where the ‘casting of fire’ on the earth from the heavenly altar indicates God’s intention to work in judgment. The consequence of that fire would be a series of judgments, many of which involved fire, which could not touch those who were sealed by God (Luke 9:4), but which, while theoretically intended to bring the world to repentance (Luke 9:21), would on the whole not succeed in its purpose because of the sinfulness of man, although we are no doubt to see that some will repent. It is mankind as a whole that does not repent. In the final analysis the casting of fire on it resulted in judgment on the world, with some being saved through it.
5) In Acts 2:1-4 God comes in flames of fire on the Apostles and those who are with them, but this cannot really be seen as ‘cast on them’, even though in Acts 2:17 the Spirit is to be ‘poured forth’. And in Acts 2:18 fire is again a symbol of judgment as connected with the Holy Spirit. Thus even the flames on the Apostles signify judgment as well as mercy. His fire will come on the world through them.
6) Other examples of fire being brought down on people (and therefore ‘cast down’ on them by God), can be found in 2 Kings 1:10; 2 Kings 1:12; 2 Kings 1:14 which are in mind in Luke 9:54. Compare also Luke 17:29.
7) As background to all this we should see the words of Isaiah 26:9, ‘when God’s judgments are in the earth, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness’. In other words as a result of His judgments while the majority perish, the minority are made to consider their ways.
Strictly speaking then the ‘casting of fire’ would seem to indicate 3). and 4). supplemented by 2 and 6), but seen in the light of 7). The word used in Ezekiel for ‘scattering’ (there it was coals of fire) is not the same as that used in Luke 12:49 for ‘casting’, but the idea is similar, and the passage in Revelation, which would appear partly to be based on Ezekiel, does use the same verb as in Luke 12:49 (ballo). Compare also Habbakuk Luke 3:13 LXX which speaks of ‘casting death on the heads of the wicked’. In each case the idea is the same, fire (or death) directed from above onto the earth. It would seem that ‘casting’, where used of things like fire and death, regularly indicates judgment. It is true that we might bring in here Matthew 10:13 which speaks of ‘casting peace’, but that is the act of one person towards another rather than the act of God or of Jesus, while the casting of fire here is specifically seen as bringing anything but peace (Luke 12:51). But it does serve to confirm that just as peace can be passed on by being ‘cast on’ men through someone’s words, so can judgment.
The general idea then of the casting forth of fire would appear to be something which results in God’s activity among the people, on the whole bringing judgment on them, yet recognising that some will come through purified and finally unscathed as a result of it, because the mark of God is on them, with the result that it produces from among the whole a small group of the righteous (a little flock - Luke 12:32) who come out of the midst of the suffering. Compare for this Isaiah 6:13. This would fit well here with the verses that immediately follow where there is to be a division, even between peoples of the same family, between those who come to follow Jesus, and those who settle for judgment because they reject His words, between the righteous and the unrighteous.
But, as we have previously mentioned, there is one further thing to bear in mind before seeking to interpret Luke 12:49 and that is its context. For it immediately follows verses which have been describing God’s punishment on those, both high and low, who had failed Him in the administration of His world, those of whom He might have expected better. In Luke 12:46 the faithless steward had been ‘cut asunder’. In Luke 12:47 the prominent slave who had failed had been savagely beaten. In Luke 12:48 a the lesser slave, who had also failed, had received a lesser beating. And Jesus had then declared in Luke 12:48 b, ‘to whoever much is given, of them much will be required’. Thus Luke 12:49 (if we see it as introduced at all) is introduced as in a context of punishment being afflicted on those who have been favoured and have failed to respond with faithfulness.
So both context and background Scriptures demand that we see this casting of fire on earth as a judgment on those in mind, even though it is a judgment which will result in a remnant coming through to blessing. And the positioning of the verse prior to the thought in Luke 12:50 suggests that that judgment will begin prior to His final suffering, although we might possibly see it as being ‘kindled’ by it.
This could further indicate that we must see His ‘words’ as His means of casting the fire. For elsewhere His word is ‘cast’ into the ground like a seed (Luke 13:19). Jeremiah describes God’s words in these terms when he says, “For this reason thus says the Lord God of hosts, Because you speak this word, behold, I will make my words in your mouth fire, and this people wood, and it will devour them’ (Jeremiah 5:14), and again ‘Is not my word like a fire? says the Lord, and like a hammer which breaks the rock in pieces?’ (Jeremiah 23:29). There is thus a precedent for words, especially words of judgment, being likened to fire. Compare also how it is emphasised that God’s words to Moses came out of the midst of the fire (Deuteronomy 4:12; Deuteronomy 4:36; Deuteronomy 5:22; Deuteronomy 9:10). And how fire would come out of the mouths of the Two Witnesses in the last days (Revelation 11:5). Yet this explanation will not do just by itself, for fire being cast has a specific meaning elsewhere as we have seen, while the word is only seen as ‘cast’ when seed is in mind, not fire.
That His words can be seen as a judgmental fire has already come out in His claim that what He has taught will condemn that generation in the last Day (Luke 11:29-32). But they are not the only words that will condemn them, for there are also His own later words of judgment (Luke 13:5; Luke 13:34-35; Luke 17:22; Luke 19:27; Luke 19:42-44; Luke 21:6; Luke 21:10-26) which come over as a sentence on them. It may be that He saw the effect of all these as being ‘kindled’ when they finally crucified Him, and put the seal on their own judgment.
By these words He is declaring God’s judgment on the Jewish people, a judgment which He knows is coming because of their rejection of Him and His message, something which has by now become obvious (Luke 10:13-16; Luke 11:29-32). Much had been given to them. Now much will be required of them. But it must not be limited to Israel. The firs is cast ‘on the earth’. But He finds no pleasure in the fact and wishes that it was all over. Certainly the imminence of such judgment is assumed in Luke 11:51, illustrated immediately in Luke 13:1-5, and repeated in Luke 13:34-35, and in Luke 21:10-11; Luke 21:25-26.
Thus we must see Jesus here as suggesting that through His words and signs He is ‘casting fire’ on the people in a way which will bring judgment on the many (Luke 11:29-32; Luke 10:10-16), a judgment that will result in fire (Luke 3:9; Luke 3:17). His words will judge them in the last Day (John 12:47-48). This brings out that it is always a dangerous thing to be opened up to the truth, for if it is rejected it becomes the instrument of condemnation (John 3:18). As He Himself said ‘I do not judge you. He who rejects me and does not receive My sayings has a judge, the words that I have spoken will be his judge on the last Day’ (John 12:47-48).
Of course it was true that in some cases they would also result in men and women responding and being refined, His words would burn in men’s hearts, that was a very real part of their purpose, but in the majority of cases they would bring His hearers under the judgment of God because they refused to hear them (Luke 6:49; Luke 11:29-32), and into judgment because of the power of His words. In other word He is recognising, and drawing the attention of others to, the fact that His presence not only saves but judges, and that He is only too well aware that that judgment will not only happen in the last Day, although it will happen then, but for some was already approaching, a fact epitomised in Luke 13:1-5. Not only Jerusalem (although that suffered worst) but the whole of Palestine, and even the whole of Jewry, would groan over the Roman invasion in 66-70 AD and its consequences (Luke 13:35; Luke 21:20-24). And the world would continue to groan. Thus were all to recognise the world-shaking nature of His presence among them. The One Whose eyes are like a flame of fire brings mercy for His own and judgment on the erring church and on the world (Revelation 1:14; Revelation 2:18).
“And what do I desire, if it is already kindled?” or “How I wish that it was already kindled.” These are both possible translations. If we translate as the former this may indicate that the casting down of the fire having begun through His words and acts, He is satisfied that it is already kindled, and therefore He has nothing further to desire in that regard. But more probably it should be translated as the latter in which case it indicates His longing for that fire, the basis of which has been sown in His words, to be kindled into flame in order to produce its effects. He wants His words to burst into flame and bring about their ends one way or another. He longs to see God’s purposes moving forward, and recognises that in the end it can only be through the cross. It is that that will bring into stark focus the response of men and women to Him, the response that for many will issue in condemnation, but for others will result in life. Then will be the judgment of this world (John 12:31). Then will the glowing fire be fully established in its work of condemnation or salvation, of judgment or redemption. Then will come God’s judgment on Israel, out of which will spring salvation for all who believe, and yet at the same time even worse judgment for unbelieving Israel. Either way the words bring out the intensity of His feeling concerning the matter. His whole heart is in what He is doing.
Having all this in mind we may summarise the significance of the fire cast on them as follows:
· It refers to His words both of salvation and judgment which He has already declared, and which have been proclaimed, which are yet to achieve their full effects. It is partly these words that will cause the divisions to be found within families and in the world.
· It refers to His words yet to be spoken which will more and more emphasise judgment, although being continually paralleled by words of comfort, mercy and hope for His own. And we must see Him as very much aware that when He speaks what He declares comes about, whether it refers to salvation or judgment.
· It refers to His coming control of history through His power and authority, through which His word will go forth triumphantly on behalf of those who are being saved (Matthew 28:18-20), while at the same time resulting in judgment being poured on those who refuse to believe (John 12:47). As a result of His control of history suffering will come on the whole world (a suffering largely brought on it by itself) with the aim that through that suffering many might be brought to righteousness. This too will continually result in divisions in the world and in families and households.
Thus the fire that Jesus cast on the world and kindled, will carry on in its effects throughout history, resulting in salvation for ‘many’, but judgments on the majority, and will do so until the end when the unrighteous and the world will finally be consumed by fire (Revelation 20:15; 2 Peter 3:10).
The Future Will Not All Be Rosy (12:49-53).
As Jesus contemplates the thought of the punishments which will be inflicted on the various unfaithful servants, it carries His thought forward on to what now awaits the world in terms of the severe treatment that is coming on those who called themselves His people, but were even now being unfaithful, and of those who were mistreating them and leading them astray (the chief priests, scribes and Pharisees in general), faithless servants all. They too were to be afflicted (Luke 13:35; Luke 21:20-24), something which would in the end include the whole world (Luke 21:10-11). And He describes this in terms of ‘casting fire’ on them. Yet at the same time He brings out that He Himself would go through great suffering for them in order that some of them might be ‘made straight’, in order to deliver them from Satan’s iron control (Luke 13:16). Some would bear the fire directly, but in the case of some He would take part of the fire on Himself, for the fire of His judgment, and the suffering He would endure, are here inextricably bound together.
This idea was contrary to the expectation of the Jewish people, although it should not have been for they had had plenty of warning. They probably thought that they had experienced their tribulation and looked forward into a future in which it was their hope that they would enjoy a world of peace and plenty. That was what many believed that the Messiah would introduce without them needing to do much about it. While it might all begin with a bloody encounter, in the end the Messiah would triumph, and then Israel would be exalted. But the last thing that most of them recognised or considered was the need for a change within themselves. In their view it was not they who needed to change, but the world situation. They were all right as they were. Let the Messiah rather concentrate on setting the world right. Then they could have ‘heavenly bliss’ on earth and still be as they were, the only change being that they would be better off.
Yet it was the very need for Israel to change that had been brought home to Jesus from the very beginning. He had experienced rejection at Nazareth (Luke 4:16-30). He had experienced heart-numbing apathy in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum and recognised that it would occur elsewhere (Luke 10:10-15). He had come to recognise that this whole generation would on the whole not listen to His words (Luke 11:29-32), that the whole generation was asleep (Ephesians 5:14). And along with this He was aware of the enmity of Herod (Luke 9:9 Luke 13:31), and the plottings of the Scribes and Pharisees, and the growth of their hatred against Him (Luke 6:7; Luke 6:11; Luke 9:22; Luke 9:44; Luke 11:15) because they too would not receive His words. And so with this recognition had come the realisation that what was necessary was something that would shake up the world, something that would in fact split the world into two (Luke 12:1-12; Luke 12:51-53).
He thus saw it as necessary for Him to kindle a fire that would set the world alight, partly through His own suffering, and partly through what would follow. It was not to be a cosy fire. It was a fire that would bring division. For He recognised the division that would arise between those who would confess Him and those who would deny Him (Luke 12:8-9); between those who were His friends (Luke 12:4), and those who would seek to slay them (Luke 12:4); between those who received the gift of His Holy Spirit (Luke 11:13) so that the Holy Spirit would guide them when they needed Him (Luke 12:12), and those who blasphemed against the Holy Spirit by hardening their hearts against His word (Luke 12:10). And He knew that in danger of being included among these last were Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum (Luke 10:13-15) and many others. And that later they would persecute His disciples because they did not want their apathy disturbing. Thus He had no illusions about what lay ahead, and it clearly disturbed Him deeply
‘I am come to cast fire on the earth.’ This was a wake up call to His disciples. Did they really think that nothing was happening, and that He did not seem to be doing anything? Did they not see that He was already casting fire on the earth, for the unbelievers in Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum had already been consigned to judgment, together with the cities whose dust they themselves had shaken from their feet. And they would soon see more. For He knew that what He was bringing would be earthshaking to the world, so that the world might be stirred from its apathy, and from the grip of Satan (Luke 13:16), and that this could only be through fire, both through the fire of His words, and through the fiery judgments that would accompany them. And in parallel with this fact was that He Himself must also be overwhelmed by suffering. It is this last that makes this whole idea in character with Jesus. The suffering for both comes because there is no other way, none will deny the sufferings in the world, but He wants them to see that He Himself will suffer most at the heart of it.
And what fire would He cast down? In context it would be a fire that would first consume Him as He bore the sin of others (Luke 12:50; Luke 17:25), it was a fire that would take the false sense of peace from the world (Luke 12:51), it was a fire that would divide men and women in their thinking (Luke 12:51-53), it was a fire of persecution that would affect those who followed Him (Luke 6:22-23; Luke 12:4; Luke 21:12-18; John 16:2), it was a fire that would soon engulf Galilee and Jerusalem in Roman flames (Luke 21:20-24), it was a fire that would bring nation against nation, and kingdom against kingdom and bring natural disasters (Luke 21:10). And this would only be the beginning of sorrows. It was the fires of Revelation that would result from His opening of the seven-sealed scroll, the scroll opened by the Lamb Who had been slain (Revelation 5 onwards). It was a fire that would determine the whole future of the world.
Yet it was His longing that both would come to a speedy fulfilment, both the fire and the suffering that He must face, and He looked forward to neither. He would be glad when they were over. He would no doubt feel the same when out of His own suffering as the slain Lamb He opened the seven seals which brought into train the whole of the future (Revelation 5).
Perhaps the words that now follow were the result of His contemplation of the failure of the Servants in His parable concerning the future. As He contemplated the faithless steward who had had to be decapitated, and the high level slave who had had to be given a sound beating, and the low level slave who had also had to be beaten, even if it was a milder beating, it may well have brought home to Him that they were a picture of what lay ahead for mankind. For whatever the level of their punishment all would be servants who had failed Him in the purpose that He had for them, and these servants were thus typical of the failure of the world, who would suffer tribulation in century after century. So what He would now say may well have been because He saw in them a picture of the world’s failure, and especially of the failure of His people, and wanted to do something about it. By ‘beating’ the people He hoped to bring them to their senses, to bring them to listen to His words.
For in the end that parable had been about the world as it awaits His coming, and its concentration had been on the failure of those given responsibility within it, whether secular or spiritual, to fulfil their responsibility. It was because of the recognition of this failure that He was aware of the steps that He must Himself take in order to minimise it. By casting down fire on the world, partly in the form of His words, and the words of His followers, and partly through the resulting judgments, and by Himself suffering for it to the very depths, He would hope to produce success from failure. For when God’s judgments are in the world, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9-10 and see Isaiah 59:9-19)
Perhaps also the words that had followed the parable, ‘to whoever much is given, from him will be much required’, further reminded Him of Israel’s failure in their responsibility to the world. They had failed to move the world and so it was His responsibility as representing the new Israel to do so. He would not be a faithless servant.
But whatever it was something had moved Him to make this momentous declaration, this awesome pulling back of the curtain of the future, in order to bring home to them the great uncertainty of that future, both for his listeners and for the world, an uncertainty which would at least partly be due to Him. (It was, of course, uncertain from the world’s viewpoint, not from His). And it was a declaration unlike any that He had made before (although He would later expand on it in chapter 21). For they were direct words of the judgment that was coming on the world as a result of His coming, even though it was a judgment tempered with mercy for those who responded. And it was a judgment which would result from His own actions.
Fire was an apt picture of the future. The fire of God would shortly come down on His disciples (Acts 2:1-3), Israel would shortly know the fire of judgment in their rebellion against Rome. His own people would experience the fire of persecution (1 Peter 4:12), the world would face continual fire (Revelation 8:5; Revelation 8:7-8; Revelation 8:10; Revelation 9:2; Revelation 9:17-18), and would in the end be destroyed by fire (2 Peter 3:7). The final Judgment would result in fire for all but His elect (Luke 3:17; Revelation 20:15). For the fire is His fire whether for righteousness or for judgment.
So Jesus declares that in order to give them a ‘wake-up’ call, and in order to try to save them from this final failure, He would ‘cast fire’ on them, a fire which would result in judgment on the majority and blessing on the few. This would partly be by means of His words and their effects (see here Jeremiah 5:14; Jeremiah 23:29). For like Moses His words would include blessings and cursings. In one sense His enlightening word would spread like wildfire throughout the world, dividing the world into those who heard it (and had their eyes opened and were turned from the power of Satan to God - Acts 26:18) and those who failed to do so and reacted against it, and experienced the fires of judgment. And yet there was a very real sense in which it would also be His powerful word that would bring about the judgments that would follow. The future of all depended on His word, whether of salvation or judgment.
Some hint of this has already come out in His words concerning Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum. These were powerful words which had themselves sealed the fate of those cities. But it would also occur through His future words, which while helping the righteous would seal the fate of the unrighteous. For through His words, which were effective in carrying out what they declared (Isaiah 55:11), He would bring some into salvation and others into suffering and judgment, and yet even this latter was so that some of them might escape the final Judgment. They were words which were pressing on His heart, and which were bursting to come out. And it was clearly something that He did not like the thought of.
In a sense these next verses can be compared with Luke 9:21-24. There out of the blue He had unexpectedly revealed an in-depth description of His own relationship with the Father, and what it could mean for His own. For a brief moment He had opened Heaven to us, and manifested the glory of both Father and Son. It has been called ‘the bolt from the Johannine blue’ because of its similarity to the teaching of Jesus in John’s Gospel. Here also out of the blue He opens Heaven and reveals a summary of the future and of how unpleasant it will be for Israel, and eventually for the world. It will be a future of fire. And what is most poignant is that it will be a future that would be brought about by Him, a future that must be understood in terms of Luke 13:5; Luke 13:34-35; Luke 17:22; Luke 19:27; Luke 19:42-44; Luke 21:6; Luke 21:10-26, even though out of it will come also the redeemed. As a Lamb Who has been slain He will open the scroll of the future (Revelation 5 onwards). We might call it ‘a bolt from the Revelation blue’.
His momentous words were as follows:
“I have come to cast fire on the earth,
And how I wish it was already kindled.”
“And I have a baptism (‘an overwhelming’) to be baptised with,
And how am I straitened (afflicted) till it be accomplished!”
Do you think that I am come to bring peace on the earth?
I tell you No, but rather division.
For there shall from now on be five in a house,
Divided three against two, and two against three,
They will be divided father against son, and son against father,
Mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother,
Mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”
We can see at once that there is something very ominous about these words. Notice how their significance is almost tearing Him apart. ‘How I wish it was already kindled -- how I am afflicted until it be accomplished.’ Note also the contrast of the first as only being ‘kindled’, for the fire will burn long into the future, and the second as being ‘accomplished’, that is, as something that will succeed and be fulfilled in His lifetime.
And it is also deeply significant that the fire that He has come to cast on earth, is paralleled with the overwhelming suffering that He Himself is going to endure. If He must bring suffering and judgment on the world, as He must, they must be made to recognise that it is from the travail of His own soul (Isaiah 53:11). He too will endure great suffering on behalf of the world. For it is through both these means that He seeks to bring salvation to all in the world who will respond. That is precisely the significance of the final verses in the group (Luke 12:51-53). They indicate that some will respond and others will not. And it will be His fire that will be what causes the division between them.
So His way ahead is to bring fire down on the world, and for Himself to experience it by Himself enduring fiery trial, a concoction which will bring salvation to those who believe in Him. It is not a cosy view, but one of salvation through suffering, first His and then theirs, (both for believers - Colossians 1:24, and for unbelievers) and will later be vividly portrayed in terms of ‘the suffering Lamb as it had been slain’ Who will open the seals of the scroll which contains the world’s destiny of suffering (Revelation 5:1 onwards). And He cannot wait until it has begun (has been kindled) for it is through this process that the world’s redemption will finally be worked out.
Putting it briefly in one sentence we could see Him as saying, ‘You have heard what I said about the servants who will fail Me, and how they will suffer. Do not think that suffering is only for them, and that you will escape suffering, nor that I have come to bring you peace and an easy time. For I am rather bringing you into something which is going to put you too through much anguish and will rend you in two. And yet remember as it does so, that I have suffered too along with you, and for your sakes, and that its purpose is to make you consider righteousness and truth and partake of the benefit of My suffering. For it is when God’s judgments are in the earth that the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness (Isaiah 26:9)’.
Let us analyse the passage further:
a “I came to cast fire on the earth, and how I wish it was already kindled!” (Luke 12:49).
b “And I have a baptism to be baptised with, and how I am straitened till it be accomplished!” (Luke 12:50).
c “Do you think that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, No, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).
b “For there shall be from now on five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three” (Luke 12:52).
a “They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law” (Luke 12:53).
Central to the interpretation of the above is ‘c’, which must determine the overall trend of the whole passage. It declares that Jesus has come not to bring peace but division, and that their whole conception of the Messiah has, up to now, been wrong. Thus we would expect to find reference to both lack of peace and division throughout the verses. Certainly both are apparent in the second half, and thus in view of this we would expect to find in the first part the cause of this lack of peace and of division, an answer to why they will be so divided and why there will be no peace. This makes it clear that the fire that is cast on the earth, and the baptism with which He must be baptised are what in some way must bring all this about. That must be the first basis of any interpretation.
The second point that we need to take into account is that the order of the phrases probably suggests that the casting of fire which begins to affect the world precedes or parallels the ‘baptism’, the overwhelming suffering that He is to experience, rather than follows it. And nothing is more certain than that the seeds of Israel’s suffering commenced almost immediately, being already foreshadowed in Luke 13:1-5, which is the firstfruit of suffering, and had indeed been already guaranteed by the declarations on the apathetic cities, and the apathetic current generation, and will be guaranteed from now on (Luke 10:10-15; Luke 11:29-32). With these pointers in view we will now consider the passage in more depth.
The first thing to recognise is the passion behind both ideas. There is a depth of feeling here that indicates deep emotion. ‘How I wish it were already kindled, how I am afflicted until it is accomplished.’ He is foreseeing two things, which must in some way be related, that are tearing at His very heart, and He longs that they were behind Him. It gives Him no pleasure to cast fire on the earth. We will look initially at the first in its Scriptural background.
“But I have a baptism (‘an overwhelming’) to be baptised with, and how am I straitened till it be accomplished!”
However, if that fire is to be effective redeemingly something extraordinary will be required, the baptism of suffering of Jesus, that is, the experience for Jesus of being ‘overwhelmed’ by suffering (the word baptizo is known to signify ‘overwhelm’ in secular Greek). For alongside the suffering of the world Jesus Himself must be overwhelmed by suffering, in order that He might redeem out from a suffering world those who are His, those who have been given to Him by His Father (John 6:37-39). And paradoxically the suffering of Jesus will also be for many like the casting down of fire on them, for by their rejection of it they will bring judgment on themselves (John 3:17-21).
So Jesus is only too aware that before His fire cast on the earth can be fully effective, it will be necessary for Him to suffer, to die and to rise again (Luke 9:22). In the end it is only through the cross that ‘refining’ by means of His word can be offered to men and women. And the result of His fire being cast down and ignited, and of His suffering, will be that the world will be divided between those who respond to Him, and those who reject Him and even hate Him. Note the wonder of what is said. The One Who casts down the fire also came to bear that fire on Himself so that He might deliver His own from eternal fire.
“And how am I straitened till it be accomplished!” Once again the intensity of His feeling comes out. Compare the previous final comment in the last verse. It is not just that He is conscious of stress at what He must face, He is also filled with a burning desire for it to come about, a desire that ‘afflicts’ Him (straitens Him) by its intensity. He yearns for the salvation of His people, and it is through His suffering that it will be ‘accomplished’ or ‘fulfilled’. Thus His suffering is seen as His present destiny, the accomplishment that He must bring about, as He treads the path laid down in Isaiah 53 (Luke 22:27; Luke 22:37; Luke 24:25-26; compare Mark 10:45; Acts 2:22-24; Acts 3:18; Acts 4:27-28; Acts 7:52; Acts 8:32-35 etc). And through it He will accomplish salvation for ‘the many’ (Isaiah 53:11; Mark 10:45; Mark 14:24, compare Acts 13:39; Acts 26:18), and judgment on the remainder. By it He will make men ‘straight’ and free them from Satan’s power (Luke 13:10-17).
“Do you think that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, No, but rather division.”
Having spoken of the fire that He is casting on the earth He now stresses what its result will be, that rather than His coming and His suffering as the Messiah uniting the people of Israel and leading them into a period of peace and plenty, (while they simply stood by and waited, which is what they were expecting), it will rather disturb and divide them, causing harsh divisions between them, a situation brought out quite clearly in the Book of Acts where there is continual division caused by the preaching of the word. His truth is open to all, but because it will only be received by the few (although often called ‘many’ e.g. Mark 10:45) and will be rejected by the majority it will cause dissension and disagreement.
“For there shall be from now on five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three.”
Indeed it will even divide families. For from now on houses will be divided. (The dissension apparent in the house (Luke 12:45) will continue). In houses where there are five, three will be divided against two, and two against three. Looking at Luke 12:53 the five would seem to be father, mother, the son and his wife, and the daughter. Such will be the strong feelings caused by His ‘fiery’ words that family division will result, and that at a time when the sense of family was very strong. The ‘five’, the number of covenant, might indicate the idea of the covenant community. The old covenant community will be torn in two.
“They will be divided, father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law.”
The division will occur where it might be least expected, for it will even disturb the close relationship between father and son, and between mother and daughter, as well as that with the in-law who had come to live with them, where normally dutiful obedience would be expected. The pattern, if not the detailed thought, is taken from Micah 7:6. There it was an indication that the time of salvation was coming (Micah 7:7). Note that each relationship is first mentioned, and then mentioned in reverse. This takes into account that sometimes the believer will be the father as against the son, and sometimes it will be the son as against the father. But the result will be the same in either case.
‘And he said to the crowds also, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, straight away you say, ‘There comes a shower,’ and so it happens.”
Jesus has now turned His concentration back on the crowds who have been drinking in His words, even if they have failed to fully understand them. He draws their attention to weather signs which they use in order to know what weather to expect. A cloud rising in the west will be coming in from the sea and will therefore contain a large quantity of water which is just waiting to fall once it is affected by land. Thus such a cloud regularly indicates rain.
The Crowds Should Therefore Take Heed. They Must Recognise That Now Is The Time They Have Been Waiting For And That They Should Therefore Agree With Their Adversary (Jesus And His Words) While There Is Yet Time (12:54-59).
Having spoken His momentous words Jesus now turns to the crowds and takes up the fact that they can detect the signs that indicate what the weather will be, but fail to gather the signs, such as those just mentioned, that reveal that the time of salvation is here. They are knowledgeable about the heaven above, and yet they are unable to discern the real heavenly signs, the ones that really matter, such as His own words, wonders and signs, and what has been described in the previous passage, the likelihood of Jesus suffering at the hands of His enemies, the effects on family life of His message which will be a fulfilment of prophecy, and the fire of judgment that is inevitably coming on them, both in fulfilment of Scripture, and because of their continual belligerence towards the Romans revealed in their continual hot-headed responses (Palestine was in ferment at that time, and was like a can of fizzy drink. It only had to be shaken for it to overflow. Or like a wineskin of wine in old wineskins, waiting for it to ferment and burst).
a He said to the crowds also, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, straight away you say, ‘There comes a shower,’ and so it happens”, and when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be a scorching heat,’ and it happens” (Luke 12:54-55).
b “You hypocrites, you know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven (Luke 12:56 a).
c “But how is it that you do not know how to interpret this time?” (Luke 12:56 b).
b “And why even of yourselves do you not judge what is right?” (Luke 12:57).
a “For as you are going with your adversary before the magistrate, on the way give diligence to be quit of him, lest haply he drag you to the judge, and the judge shall deliver you to the officer, and the officer shall cast you into prison, I say to you, you will by no means come out from there, until you have paid the very last penny” (Luke 12:58-59).
Note that in ‘a’ we have two parallel ideas, and in the parallel there are two parallel ideas, both indicating the consequences of their judgments. Interpreting the heaven and earth correctly results in the expected weather, the anticipated consequences, and failing to judge what is right also results in what might be seen as the anticipated consequences. In ‘b’ they can judge the weather, but in the parallel they cannot judge what is right. But the purpose of the pattern here is again in order to centre on the vital point in ‘c’, the fact that the people are unable to discern the time.
“And when you see a south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be a scorching heat,’ and it happens.”
The south wind comes up from the hot wilderness warmth of the Negeb and beyond, and thus will inevitably bring scorching heat as the wind blows the heat of the wilderness into the land. In the conditions pertaining in Palestine both situations were the inevitable result of the different winds.
“You hypocrites, you know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven, but how is it that you do not know how to interpret this time?”
But Jesus considers that if they can take the trouble to note the signs of changing weather, they might also have taken the time to note the signs occurring through His ministry which are fulfilments of Old Testament prophecy (Luke 4:18-19; Luke 7:21-23), and thus have recognised that the last days were there. They were all ‘experts’ on the weather. Why were they not equally experts in interpreting the Scriptures? The very words are a strong indication to them to wake up and recognise that this was the Lord’s acceptable time (Luke 4:19).
‘Hypocrites.’ They make a great play of being ‘the people of God’, but inwardly they are more interested in the weather. Their profession is simply on the whole an act, for they do not live it out.
“And why even of yourselves do you not judge what is right?”
And their failure to observe the signs that reveal the presence of the time of opportunity explains why they do not see what is the right course for them to take in view of His coming. They are failing to recognise the urgency of the situation. They are failing to make the right judgments. So He now illustrates their position by utilising the example of an urgent situation with which all were familiar.
“For as you are going with your adversary before the magistrate, on the way give diligence to be quit of him, lest haply he drag you to the judge, and the judge shall deliver you to the officer, and the officer shall cast you into prison.”
He depicts their response to Him in terms of debtors who are in danger of being dragged before pagan courts where they will be shown no mercy, and it because they have refused to seek conciliation with their creditors. If only they had put in some kind of effort and admitted their debt, and had come to some kind of agreement with their creditor before they came in front of the magistrate all would have been well, and arbitration before a Rabbi might well then have solved the problem. Israelite law was notoriously favourable towards debtors (Deuteronomy 15:1-9). But if they do not then they may be dragged before a civil court, and once they reach the civil courts, (because by their refusal to conciliate they have in essence rejected God’s word as the measure by which to be judged and can no longer look to it), they will experience the courts full severity. It is clear that the creditor has chosen this approach as being more effective, for both methods were available in the Palestine of that day. The result will be that the whole process of the civil law will go into motion and they will end up in prison. By his obstinacy in refusing to be reconciled the debtor has put himself beyond mercy. The ‘magistrate’ is the court official who introduces the case, the ‘judge’ is the one officially appointed to give the verdict, ‘the officer’ is the gaoler who seals their fate.
In the same way if only they will come to agreement with Him before Judgment Day comes, then they will save themselves from having judgment made against them there. But if they refuse they simply bring on themselves their own fate.
“I say to you, You will by no means come out from there, until you have paid the very last penny.”
For if they do not come to agreement with Him let them be sure that every sin will have to be accounted for, they will be made liable for their whole debt. This is not an indication that eventually they will be able, as it were, to find a way out of their final punishment, for it is clear that in their case their final debt can never be repaid. It is only in earthly situations where debts can hopefully some time in the future be paid off so that a way of final escape can be seen as possible. But the heavenly court will be uncompromising. As they have failed to respond to Jesus it will demand from them every last sin. The phrase is really declaring that such a possibility of release is out of the question. It will never happen.
The earthly hope of being saved from the debtor’s prison would be the arrival of a kinsman redeemer to pay his debt for him. But those who have failed to conciliate with Jesus have forfeited their Kinsman Redeemer.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 12". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Third Week after Epiphany