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Tuesday, May 28th, 2024
the Week of Proper 3 / Ordinary 8
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Bible Commentaries
Luke 17

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Verses 1-6


Luke 17:1. Then said he.—Rather, “And he said” (R.V.). The previous discourse had been addressed to the Pharisees; we have now detached sayings addressed, probably on various occasions, to the disciples. This section is more fully given in Matthew 18:6-35. It is impossible, etc.—“So long as the world lasts, sins and occasions of sin will exist; but this fact does not destroy the personal responsibility of each individual for his own sin (Speaker’s Commentary). Offences.—Rather, “occasions of stumbling” (R.V.). The recent behaviour of the Pharisees (Luke 16:14), to whom so many looked up with respect, was an instance of stumbling-blocks being cast in the way of those weak in the faith (“little ones,” Luke 17:2).

Luke 17:2. It were better.—Or “It were well” (R.V.). Lit. “It were gain for him.” Offend.—As before, “cause to stumble” (R.V.). Little ones.—Not necessarily children, though it applies to them; perhaps here the reference is specially to the publicans and sinners.

Luke 17:3. Take heed.—“This is to warn them not to be too readily dismayed at ‘offences,’ nor to meet them in a brother with an unforgiving spirit” (Alford). Against thee.—Omit these words (omitted in R.V.); probably taken from Matthew 18:15, or from the following verse. Rebuke.—Perhaps one of the reasons why “offences” abound is the neglect of this duty—that of rebuking them in a proper spirit.

Luke 17:4. Seven times.—A general expression, not to be taken literally. Some of the Rabbis fixed three times as the limit of forgiveness.

Luke 17:5. Increase our faith.—Rather, “Give us more faith.” This request was doubtless prompted by a sense of weakness in overcoming “offences” and in exercising so large a measure of forgiveness.

Luke 17:6. If ye had.—Rather, “If ye have” (R.V.). A grain of mustard seed.—A proverbial expression for a very small amount. The phrase implies that the apostles had some, but not sufficient, faith. Sycamine tree.—The words were evidently spoken in the open air. The sycamine is the mulberry tree; it is different from the sycamore or Egyptian fig-tree of Luke 19:4. Planted in the sea.—There to grow; a stronger expression than in the parallel passage in St. Matthew. “The whole passage may be thus paraphrased: You think the duties I enjoin too hard for your faith, but this shows you have as yet no faith of the high order you ought to have, for the smallest measure of such faith would enable you to do what seems altogether impossible in the natural world; and so much the more in spiritual things, since real faith is pre-eminently spiritual power” (Popular Commentary).


Counsels to Disciples.—Various attempts have been made, but without success, to connect together the utterances of Christ on this occasion, and to trace the line of thought which links the one to the other. It seems probable that St. Luke here groups together fragments of teaching, without any attempt at arranging them in order, and without giving any note of the circumstances that gave rise to them. Perhaps he found them just as he here gives them, in some record of the life of Christ such as he alludes to in the opening verses of his gospel. Three distinct topics are treated of in these verses.

I. Concerning offences (Luke 17:1-2).—He speaks to His disciples, and especially to those who were strong in the faith, and warns them against setting stumbling-blocks in the way of the weak. Many were drawing near to Him and attaching themselves to Him whom the disciples were in danger of despising and affronting, unless they took especial care to avoid doing so; such were publicans and outcast classes of the population, Samaritans and strangers from the heathen world, and also persons who had faith in Christ and did good work in His name without formally connecting themselves with the company of believers. It was only too easy for prejudices of race, class, and office, to prompt a harsh treatment of such “little ones.” Then, too, it was no doubt the case that among the first generation of disciples, as in later times, there were some who were loud in their professions of faith, but lax in their moral conduct, and who could not fail to bring discredit upon the Master’s cause, and to hinder some from embracing it. Scandals of this kind are far graver and more pernicious than those which arise from mere prejudice and want of consideration for the feelings of others. Hence probably it was this class of scandals which our Saviour had here in view, and which excited His indignation so strongly. His words reveal both His tender sympathy for the “little ones” whose hearts are troubled and whose salvation is imperilled by the misconduct of others, and His righteous anger that those who do such deadly mischief should bear His name and be ranked among His followers. Scarcely stronger terms could be chosen to express the terrible punishment which such conduct deserves, and will receive. The infinite value of the human soul, the especial pity which He has for the weak and timid, and His indignation against wilful offenders, are most clearly brought to light in this saying of His.

II. Concerning forgiveness (Luke 17:3-4).—Our Saviour has in view here the sins of which a man may be guilty in ordinary intercourse with his brethren. They may excite feelings of anger or irritation, but are not serious or heinous enough to be brought before a judicial tribunal. And for dealing with them Christ advises a mild, brotherly admonition, in order to bring the offender to a sense of the wrong he has done, and prescribes forgiveness to be extended to him on his repenting and confessing his error. However often offence may be given, forgiveness is to be exercised whenever asked for by the offending party. Both indignation against sin and compassion towards a sinner find a place in the course of procedure here laid down. In ordinary society, men are accustomed to pass over many such offences good-naturedly, and to omit the friendly admonition; so that neither is the offender brought to a sense of his wrong-doing, nor is the love that prompts to forgiveness brought into play. The forgiveness which Christ prescribes for His disciples is to be inexhaustible, like that which He Himself exercises towards penitent sinners. He chooses a symbolical number to describe the extent to which it is to be carried, and therefore the rule He here lays down is practically equivalent to that which He gave on another occasion, when, instead of seven times He spoke of seventy times seven.

III. Of faith (Luke 17:5-6).—The request which the apostles offered to Christ was probably suggested by seeing some extraordinary manifestation of the Saviour’s power, which they desired to imitate—such, for example, as the withering of the barren fig-tree (Matthew 21:20); or by experiencing some failure in work which they had attempted to do—as when, for example, they attempted to heal the epileptic boy (chap. Luke 9:40). The reply of Christ taught them that it was not a matter of little and more. Let them have real faith in any degree and they would be able to accomplish the greatest marvels. Faith establishes a connection between the human and the Divine, and all the power and resources of omnipotence are brought to supplement and aid our weakness. Yet, just as Christ Himself did not use His supernatural power for purposes of display or for His own personal benefit, so the fulfilment of this promise is only to be seen in the history of what His disciples have done for the extension of His kingdom. The triumphs of the gospel, in overthrowing deeply rooted systems of idolatry and in defeating the malice of its enemies, are as wonderful as the miracles in the physical sphere which Christ here and elsewhere gives as examples of the power of faith.


Luke 17:1-10. The Spirit of Extra Service.—Even in the highest place, and doing the highest and heartiest service—

I. There is need of a lowly spirit.—Our Lord gives very express teaching on this point. Our highest service may sometimes be in the spirit with which we regard a brother who has offended us, in pushing past us, perhaps, or trying to take our place. Roots of bitterness, however strong, may easily be uprooted, even by a weak faith, and acts of love planted, as it seems, in the very sea.

II. Such service may be very suddenly required of us.—It may not seem part of our proper work, far less direct service to our Lord. Our ploughing or pasturing may seem so to fill up our time and to wear out our strength that we may feel excused from such calls to extra service or sacrifice as the ambition or the rudeness of a brother may render needful. So our Lord gives the parable of a servant thus ordinarily occupied during the day. But is he to hold himself discharged from personal service in the house if his Master should require it? Would he not willingly postpone any gratification, as of rest and refreshment for himself, if called to wait while his Master was refreshed, and to minister to His pleasure? And this is the way in which our Lord represents some of those extra services, hard and trying in one sense, but full of joy when rightly viewed.—McColl.

Luke 17:1-4.

I. Obstacles cast maliciously in the way of the weak.—Which demand severe punishment.

II. The sins of brethren.—Which call for gentle reproof and continued forgiveness.

Luke 17:1-2.

I. We should beware of occasioning offences.

II. We should beware of being overthrown by such offences.

Luke 17:1. “Impossible.”—I.e., morally impossible in a world so largely under the influence of sin. Yet the responsibility of those who cause “offences” is not thereby removed or diminished.

Offences.”—I.e., things which the sincere disciple may with reason stumble at, because they are dishonouring to his Lord and hurtful to the Church.

These may be

(1) acts of persecution;
(2) sophistry or false reasoning;
(3) heretical and extravagant opinions; or
(4) immoral and inconsistent conduct on the part of those who make a religious profession.

We must distinguish between offences taken and offences given: it is against the latter that this woe is directed. Offence may be taken on very frivolous grounds.

Luke 17:2. “It were better for him.”—There is a profound difference between the sentiment expressed in this verse and that current in worldly society, concerning there being worse things than death. “Death rather than dishonour,” “rather than disgrace brought upon one’s family,” are supposed to be heroic expressions. But here it is “death rather than wrong-doing, rather than casting a stumbling-block in the way of the weak.” Pride animates the worldly sentiment, whereas the Christian is interpenetrated by a deep sense of the heinousness of sin.

Luke 17:3-5. Faith Getting in and Giving Out. Love’s labour consists of two parts, doing and bearing. These two are different but inseparable. They may be compared to the right and left hands of a living man. The Christian life is sometimes mainly a laborious activity, sometimes mainly a patient enduring, and sometimes both at the same time and in equal measure. I could not venture to decide which is the greater Christian, the man who bears injuries patiently, in a forgiving spirit, or the man who labours heroically in some department of active duty The “doers” are better known in the Church and the world than the “bearers.” The results of active love bulk more largely in history than those of passive love. But perhaps in the inherent merits of the case, and in the judgment of the Omniscient, faith has borne as much and as precious fruit in enduring evil as in doing good. The meek, Christ-like bearer of evil is as much needed, and as much used in the work of the kingdom, as the actual Christ-like doer of good. In the present case it was on the side of bearing injury that the heavy demand was made. Assuredly those early disciples of the Lord found the duty as difficult as any positive work in which they had ever engaged. In trying to fulfil it, they speedily reached the end of their own resources; and, finding that they possessed not the sufficient supply for meeting and satisfying this new demand, they said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.”—Arnot.

Luke 17:3. “Take heed.”—These words are to be connected with Luke 17:1-2. “Take heed”:

1. Because it is so easy to cause others to stumble.
2. Because of the terrible penalty attaching to the sin of overthrowing another’s faith; the lost soul is like a weight fastened to him who has ruined it, and drags him, in his turn, down into the abyss.

Luke 17:3. “If thy brother,” etc.—The disciple is to be animated by

(1) holiness in reproving sin, and
(2) by love in forgiving it. Holiness becomes censoriousness when it is divorced from love; love degenerates and loses its Divine character when it is divorced from holiness.

Forgive him.”—Forgiveness, to be adequate, should be

(1) instant,
(2) frank,
(3) complete.

Motives for Forgiveness.—

I. From a regard to our own peace of mind.

II. From a regard to the happiness of the world at large.

III. From a regard to the express injunctions of Scripture.

IV. From a regard to our own need of Divine forgiveness.

Luke 17:4. Forgiveness.—Repentance seems to be required here before forgiveness is granted by us; and consequently it would seem to be implied that we may refuse to pardon obstinate offenders. We need, however, to keep in mind that there are two kinds of forgiveness.

1. We may lay aside every idea of revenging an injury, and suppress feelings of hatred, and show kindness to the offender, without modifying the unfavourable opinion we have formed of his conduct; and
(2) we may be able to receive the offender again into favour, and to be fully persuaded that all hindrances to intimate fellowship with him are fully withdrawn.

Luke 17:5. “And the Apostles said.”—They who were so often divided among themselves, and animated by a spirit of petty rivalry, now unite in humble supplication for the supply of their spiritual necessity.

Increase our faith.”—I. Some measure of true faith is needed for safety and holiness.

II. True faith is of a progressive nature.
“Certainly they did never have any grace who did not complain to have too little” (Hall).

“I have no grace till I would have more” (Donne).

Prayer and Faith.—“For faith they ask; and, by asking, show their faith. Thus prayer ever increases faith, and faith ever inclines to prayer.”—Williams.

The Disciples’ Prayer.—In this short prayer the disciples assumed—

I. That they already believed, asking for an addition to the faith they already possessed.

II. That it is more faith that will produce more obedience.

III. That the faith which worketh by love is not of themselves, but is the gift of God through His Son.—In these assumptions, having been secretly taught of the Spirit, the apostles were deeply intelligent and completely correct. And our Lord, in His reply, acknowledges that their inferences are correct.—Arnot.

Luke 17:6. “If ye had faith.”—Some faith they had, yet not such great faith as to give the command specified and be obeyed. The illustration of the power of faith here given is intelligible only on the principle that spiritual miracles are greater than those wrought, in the material world.

As a grain of mustard seed.”—Small, yet living and capable of rapid increase.

Verses 7-10


Luke 17:7. A servant.—I.e., a slave. Feeding cattle.—Rather, “keeping sheep” (R.V.). By and by.—I.e., straightway, immediately. The phrase is to be connected with the words spoken by the master, “Come straightway and sit down to meat.” There is no harshness in the orders given.

Luke 17:8. Till I have eaten, etc.—In Luke 12:37 a different assurance seems to be given. But Christ is here speaking of what we have a right to expect; there He describes the favour He will bestow on faithful servants.

Luke 17:9. Doth he thank.—I.e., does he feel special gratitude because his orders are obeyed? Certainly not,—even if he is in the custom of thanking his servant for acts of obedience, the fact remains, upon which the parable is based, that he feels under no special obligation to him for assiduous labours. I trow not.—These words are omitted in R.V., and are not really needed to complete the passage, since they are implied in the question “Doth he thank?” etc. There is, however, an air of genuineness about them.

Luke 17:10. Unprofitable.—I.e., not useless, but as doing nothing beyond bare duty. It is implied that we are often much more “unprofitable” by reason of our so often failing in duty. “Wretched is he whom the Lord calls an unprofitable servant (Matthew 25:30); blessed is he who calls himself so” (Bengel).


The Dutiful Servant.—This parable is comparatively unfamiliar to most readers of the New Testament, and that probably for two reasons. It has no setting, no significant and illustrative framework of circumstance, and it has a sterner, a severer, tone than we commonly hear in the parables of our Lord. The view of human life and duty which it presents is not a welcome one. We are compared to a slave—to a slave who has been hard at work all day in his master’s fields, first driving the plough and then tending the cattle. When he returns to the house at sundown, new duties, new toils, await him. Instead of being permitted to rest, or invited to recruit himself after the fatigues of the day, he has to prepare his master’s supper, to gird himself and wait on him. Even when he has discharged these new duties, he gets no thanks for his pains. He has but done his duty. He is only an unprofitable servant. At first the parable seems hard and ungracious, but the more carefully we consider it, the more true to the actual facts of human life do we find it, and the more sorry, therefore, we should be to miss this saying of Christ’s. Has not nature itself its sterner, as well as its more gentle and benignant, aspects—its severity as well as its beneficence, its storms as well as its calms? And human life—is that always smooth and easy? Is it invariably and unbrokenly gracious? Is it a sacred and welcome possession always, and to all men? Are there not myriads to whom it appears a mere succession of ill-rewarded toils, a mere dull round of labour, cheered by no thanks, by no approval, by no applause? And if the Great Teacher were to depict human life fairly, if He was to be a fair and full representative of the God whom we find in nature and in human nature, was it not inevitable that He should portray all the facts and aspects of our life—inevitable, therefore, that He should utter some such words as these? Nay, more; is it not well for us that at times we should dwell on these severer, as well as on the more tender and benignant, aspects of human life and duty? If we are men, and not babes in Christ, the word duty will hardly be less dear to us than the word love. If we are brave we shall hold the title “dutiful servant” to be hardly less honourable than that of “loving and obedient child”—we shall rejoice that the path to heaven is steep and hard to climb, since only by a severe and bracing discipline can we rise to our full stature, and come to our full strength. We need to be roused and stirred by the clarion call of duty, as well as soothed and comforted by the tender breathings of love. And here the call comes to us loud and clear, waxing ever louder as we listen and reflect. “Do your duty, and when you have done it, however laborious and painful it may be, remember that you have only done your duty. If you are tempted to a dainty and effeminate self-pity for the hardships you have borne, or to a dangerous and degrading self-admiration for the achievements you have wrought, let this be your safeguard, that you have done no more than your duty.” The very moment we grow complacent over our work, our work spoils in our hands. Our energies relax. We begin to think of ourselves instead of our work, of the wonders we have achieved instead of the toils which yet lie before us, and of how we may best discharge them. So soon as we begin to complain of our lot and task, to murmur as though our burden were too heavy, or as though we were called to bear it in our own strength, we unfit ourselves for it; our nerves and courage give way; our task looks even more formidable than it is, and we become incapable even of the little which, but for our repugnance and fears, we should be quite competent to do. And then, how bracing is the sense of duty discharged, if only we may indulge in it. And we may indulge in it. Does not Christ Himself teach us to say, “We have done that which it was our duty to do”? He does not account of our duty as we sometimes account of it. All that He demands of us is, that, with such capacities and opportunities as we have, we shall do our best, or at lowest try to do it. Honesty of intention, purity and sincerity of motive, the diligence and cheerfulness with which we address ourselves to His service, count for more with Him than the mere amount of work we get through. He would have us account, as He Himself accounts, that we have done our duty when we have sincerely and earnestly endeavoured to do it. The thin and hard theology which denies all merit to man, is alien to the spirit of Christ. True, He bids us to add to the statement “we have done our duty,” the confession “we are unprofitable servants.” And no doubt the humility of that sentence is as wholesome for us as the grateful and sustaining pride of the other. For what man of a really manly and generous spirit does not feel, even when he has done his best, that he might have done more? And even when he has done his most, as well as his best, what man of a really Christian spirit does not both lament that he could not do more, and gratefully acknowledge that he could not have done so much—that he could have done nothing good—but for the grace and help of God? What does he feel but that nothing is done till all be done? Finally, let us remember that the whole truth cannot be packed into a single sentence, or even into a single parable. Our Lord sometimes enforces one aspect of it, and sometimes another. It does not follow because we very justly call ourselves “unprofitable servants”—i.e., unworthy or unnecessary servants, of whom God stands in no need, and who can do but little for Him—that He will call us unprofitable. On the contrary, if we do that which it was our duty to do, if we but sincerely try to do it, we know that He will call us “good and faithful servants.” And in this very parable it is to be observed that Christ is simply saying how men do act, not how they ought to act; what they do demand of their servants, not what they ought to demand. Even if we suppose the man in the parable, who taxes his servant to the utmost, and takes all he does without thanks, to be a good master, it by no means follows that God will not prove better and kinder than the best of men. He may do, He certainly will do, far more than they do, far more even than they ought to do. The true supplement to this parable of the Dutiful Servant is to be found in the parable of the Kind Master (chap. Luke 12:35-37).—Cox.


Luke 17:7-10. The Parable of Extra Service.—The watchword of Christian ethics is not devoteeism, but devotion; the kingdom first, everything else second, and, when the interest of the holy state demands it, military promptitude in leaving all and repairing to the standard. This idea is essentially the key to the meaning of this difficult parable, which we may call “the parable of extra service.”

I. The service of the kingdom is very exacting.—Involving not only hard toil in the field during the day, but extra duties in the evening, when the tired labourer would gladly rest, having no fixed hours of labour, eight, ten, or twelve, but claiming the right to summon to work at any hour of all the twenty-four, as in the case of soldiers in time of war, or of farm labourers in time of harvest. And the extra service, or overtime duty, is not monkish asceticism, but extraordinary demands in unusual emergencies—calling men, weary from age or from over-exertion, to still further efforts and sacrifices.

II. So the right-minded servant will perform these added tasks without a murmur.—And without a thought that anything great or specially meritorious has been done by him. The temper equal to this is manifestly not that either of the slave, who works as a drudge under compulsion, or of the Pharisee, who sets a high value on his performance. It is the temper of devotion mellowed by the grace of humility.—Bruce.

Humility and Endurance.—The connexion is, “Ye are servants of your Master, and therefore endurance is required of you—faith and trust to endure out your day’s work before you enter into your rest. Your Master will enter into His, but your time has not yet come; and all the service which you can meanwhile do Him is but that which it is your bounden duty to do, seeing that your body, soul, and spirit, are His. The lessons are here taught:

(1) of humility, and
(2) of patient endurance in the service of Christ. There is no denial of the fact that privileges will be bestowed on dutiful servants, but it is distinctly taught that nothing can be expected on the ground of merit.

Plowing, or feeding cattle.”—The labour of the day is followed by work within the house when the servant returns home. He is his master’s property, and there are no limits to the service he may be called to return but those which his master may choose to set. In like manner the Christian has no power or right to set any limit to the service which is due from him to God,—to mark off any department of his life, or any portion of his time, as belonging solely to himself, within which he may act simply in accordance with his own tastes and wishes.

Luke 17:8. “Afterward.”—Rest and refreshment are not denied, but they follow labour, and are all the sweeter from the sense of having faithfully performed every duty.

Luke 17:9. “Doth he thank?”—He may use the words of courteous acknowledgment of service, but he is not conscious of any extraordinary recompense being merited. And so no human being can accumulate merit in the sight of God and impose upon Him the obligation of rewarding it. But we must remember that higher than the sphere of right is the sphere of love, and that service rendered in a joyous and filial spirit has value before God.

The parable rebukes those who choose the position of servants instead of accepting that of sons—in other words, those who obey God for the sake of reward instead of from a spirit of filial love.

Luke 17:10. “Unprofitable servants.”

I. God has given all, owns all, has a right to all.

II. He ordinarily makes our work easy.

III. There is no such thing as a surplus of merit in man.—Even though a man should perform all his duty, he is destitute of merit before God.—Arnot.

Our Failings render us Much More Unprofitable.—The argument is an à fortiori one: “How much more when ye have failed in so many respects.”—Bengel.

Unprofitable.”—The word does not here mean “useless.” Had the servant done more than his duty, some merit on that account might have been claimed by him; but when he has merely done his duty, he can make no such claim. He is free of blame, but has nothing to boast of.

Eternal Life a Gift.—In Romans 6:23, we have the true ground on which we look for eternal life set before us—viz., as the gift of God whose servants we are—not the wages, as in the case of sin, whose we are not.—Alford.

Verses 11-19


Luke 17:11. Samaria and Galilee.—This mention of Samaria before Galilee is perplexing, being the opposite direction to a journey to Jerusalem. Probably “through the midst” is to be understood as meaning “along the frontiers of.” Probably the incident here recorded occurred about the time and place referred to in Luke 9:56.

Luke 17:12. Ten men.—If this miracle took place near a border village, we can understand how a Samaritan and Jews should be in the same company—all outcasts from society because of their leprosy. Afar off.—See Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2.

Luke 17:13. And they.—The word is emphatic; their faith in Jesus led them to take the initiative.

Luke 17:14. Go, show yourselves.—According to the Law (Leviticus 14:2-32), Jesus did not, as on a former occasion, touch the lepers (Luke 17:13); His purpose seems to have been to test their love for Him as Healer. Faith they had; love leading to gratitude was only found in one of them. As they went.—Evidently they had not gone far.

Luke 17:16. A Samaritan.—Probably he was on his way to the priests in his own temple at Mount Gerizim.

Luke 17:17. Were there not ten cleansed?—Rather, “Were not the ten cleansed?” (R.V.) I.e., did not the cure operate on all alike? A sadness of tone is perceptible in this question. The ingratitude of his own countrymen was revealed in this want of love for benefit received by the nine lepers.

Luke 17:18. Give glory to God.—Not mere personal ingratitude to Jesus, but insensibility to the compassion of God manifested through Him. This stranger.—Rather, “alien.” The Samaritans were Gentiles, and not a mixed race. Their religion was a mixture of Judaism and idolatry. See 2 Kings 17:24-41.

Luke 17:19. Made thee whole.—Rather, “Hath saved thee” (R.V. margin). “In a higher sense than the mere cleansing of his leprosy. Theirs was merely the beholding of the brazen serpent with the outward eyes, but his, with the eye of inward faith; and this faith saved him—not only healed his body, but his soul” (Alford).


The Lord’s treatment of this case is entirely different from that with which He met the leper of an earlier narrative. When that first subject of His cleansing power came kneeling to Him, Jesus put His hand on him, effected his cure on the spot, and then sent him to the priest for confirmation. Here the procedure is almost reversed. Without cleansing them, without so much as telling them that they were to be cleansed, He bids them take the cure on trust, and proceed to show themselves to the constituted authorities, as persons who were lepers no more.

I. Thus was their faith tested.—It was a strong test, but their perfect confidence in Jesus was equal to it. They instantly set out. They had seen no charm used, had heard no words of cleansing; they felt, as yet, no change wrought upon their diseased bodies; but they went, in the firm faith that the thing would be done. They acted out their faith. Every step they took away from the presence of Jesus was a proof that they trusted Him. And their confidence was soon rewarded. The cure came: every man saw before his eyes in his follows the wonderful transformation which he felt in himself. “It came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.” Could there be a better illustration of faith, from one point of view, than the conduct of these ten men? They took Jesus at His word, and they soon realised the blessedness of so doing. This is faith. Constantly we stumble at the plainness and simplicity of this act of faith—trusting the bare word of God. We so often say, “If I could only feel something, see some improvement, experience some joy, have evidence in myself, then I would believe.” Such language, transferred to these patients of Jesus, would run, “Let us first see some signs of the leprosy removing, feel some pulse of recovered health, then we shall believe, and go to the priests for a certificate.” Put thus, it would be recognised at once as the language of downright unbelief. Yet how often we mock the message of salvation with just such treatment in our hearts, if not in speech!

II. This treatment was further intended to test their love.—I.e., it was intended to bring out whether their faith was fruitful trust in Him as God’s representative to them, or whether it was a mere formal faith in His office as a healer, so well-known that He could not be disbelieved. For these reasons He did the cure only after they had left Him. He sent them away out of His presence, and on the road to the priests, and then healed them. Thus an entirely new situation arose. When diseased folks were healed instantly by Jesus, and were still before Him, they could not withhold their acknowledgment. In a case like this it might be very different; and so it proved, for only one of the ten stood the test. No doubt the nine had a confidence in Jesus’ power which carried them through the test set them. They had that outside faith which sufficed to trust His word for healing. But they had no regard either to the Divine glory or the redeeming might of Jesus. They took His cleansing of them as a mere common thing. At first the miracles of Christ had been fresh and startling. But now, as His love repeated them, men did with Christ’s miracles as they do with His Father’s bounties—see nothing Divine in them because they are so common. This their unbelief, their seeing no glory of God in what Jesus did to them, is proved by their unthankfulness. Jesus Himself, who knew what was in man, was astonished at this instance of ingratitude and irreligion. Unbelief, with its baneful blight, counterworks the works of God at every point. Times and places there were when Jesus could do no miracle because of men’s unbelief. Then, again, when He wrought them abundantly, there were men who saw His miracles and did not believe. Now it has come even to this: there are men experiencing the miracle in themselves, and yielding no homage to their Healer. Thus unbelief brings forth its bitter fruit of ingratitude. Even in Christians it makes melancholy havoc, blinding them to the Divine hand in their deliverances, leading them to cheapen God’s marvellous grace, and coldly trace to second causes the change that once they rejoiced over as life from the dead. Of men at large unbelief and ingratitude make heathens. For it is pronounced to be the very sin of the heathen that “when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Romans 1:21).—Laidlaw.


Luke 17:11-19. Gratitude and Ingratitude.

I. The forlorn company and their cry.

II. The command which is a promise.

III. The unthankful nine and the grateful one.

IV. The wonder, pain, and patience of Jesus.

V The larger blessings given to the thankful heart.—Maclaren.

A Remarkable Scene.

I. A gracious mission.

II. A loathsome sight.

III. Merciful interposition.

IV. Religious observance.

V. Sinful ingratitude.

VI. Joyful praise.

One in Ten.

I. What these men were before seeing Jesus.

II. What the interview did for them.

III. What it failed to do with nine of the ten.—Dingley.

Luke 17:11. Samaria and Galilee.—The notice of the scene of this miracle explains the presence of a Samaritan in the company of lepers. The same rule for the exclusion of lepers from society obtained in Samaria as in Israel and the common affliction drew these poor outcasts together.

Luke 17:12. “Ten lepers.”—Differences among them of race and religion had been overcome by their common misery. A similar company is spoken of in 2 Kings 7:3.

Luke 17:13. “Lifted up their voices.”—They were less bold than the leper in chap. 5, who came to kneel at Jesus’ feet; but as they saw Him entering the village from which they were excluded, they called upon Him for mercy and healing.

Have mercy.”—The incident illustrates the human side of the work of salvation. There is

(1) a sense of mercy and helplessness;
(2) faith in Jesus;
(3) an appeal to His compassion.

Luke 17:14. “Go, shew yourselves.”—In many different ways did the Great Physician deal with the needs of those He healed: sometimes He seemed to resist a strong faith, that He might make it stronger yet (Matthew 15:23-26); sometimes He met a weak faith, lest it might prove too weak in the trial (Mark 5:36); in one case He forgave first and healed after (Matthew 9:2; Matthew 9:6), in another case He healed first and only then forgave (John 5:8; John 5:14). Some adequate reason moved Him, doubtless, to adopt His present course of procedure.

Luke 17:15. “Turned back.”—This man is sent with the rest to the priests. He well knew this duty was a branch of the law of ceremonies, which he meant not to neglect; but his heart told him there was a moral duty of professing thankfulness to his Benefactor, which called for his first attendance. First, therefore, he turns back, ere he will stir forward. Reason taught this Samaritan, and us in him, that ceremony must yield to substance, and that main points of obedience must take place of all ritual complements.—Hall.

With a loud voice.”—He had been loud in prayer (Luke 17:13), so now he is loud in praise. His impurity had kept him at a distance from Christ, but now that he is cleansed he falls at the Saviour’s feet.

Luke 17:16. “Fell down.”—A. token—

1. of love for the Saviour, and
2. of willingness to submit entirely to Him.

Giving Him thanks.”—Every miracle has its lesson, and in that lesson lies the reason why it has been recorded. There were many lepers cleansed of whose healing no record is given: but the story of these ten is told because one of them came back. “Giving Him thanks”—in these words the lesson lies.

I. It is the beautiful story of the gratitude of a “stranger.”—The story is made more beautiful by the contrast with the ingratitude of “His own.” It recalls the parable of the Good Samaritan: the two narratives are parallel in more respects than one.

II. And both illustrate in a remarkable way the great lesson of the previous series of discourses.—It was the despised Samaritan who returned: the privileged Jews held on their legal and selfish way. Legal way; for observe that the nine had ample excuse. Christ had ordered it, and the Law demanded it. But the letter killeth. Love overrules Acts of Parliament. The nine held by the Law, but the one got the grace.

III. By grace he was saved through faith.—“Thy faith hath saved thee.” Physically, he was made whole already; so were His companions. But now he gets the nobler and only noble blessing. This the others lost, through their ingratitude.—Hastings.

Christ’s Bearing in Relation to In gratitude.—To ungrateful treatment the Saviour was no stranger. Neither can we hope to be. The sting of ingratitude may be felt by all. But how do we comport ourselves under it?

I. This will test character.—In Christ’s example there is both reproof and inspiration. He was not insensible to ingratitude. Nay, He was more sensitive than we. His feelings were keener. He never became less sensitive to sin in any form by contact with it. We do. To Him it never became more endurable. To us it may. Sin within responds to sin without. We carry with us the body of sin. By this relation we are less sensitive to it than Jesus. But Christ remained ever keenly sensitive. How, then, would He feel ingratitude! One of those polar currents is sweeping over Him now.

II. His conduct in the face of ingratitude challenges admiration and imitation.—He is not made sour, misanthropical, self-contained. There is no recoil to the opposite extreme of indifference and hate. What a halo of unsullied glory is about the Christ of God! Delicate sensibility on the one hand; base ingratitude on the other. Yet the streams of good-will and blessing kept flowing perennially with undiminished volumes. The “milk of human kindness” never soured in Him. He never contracted a tinge of moroseness. He never grew weary in well-doing. Only with His life did such ministry cease. From the cross we hear “Father, forgive them.”—Campbell.

Where are the nine!”—The question is the turning-point of the story. The nine received the gift of healing and forgot the Giver. There was only one grateful patient.

I. In the Saviour’s question we may perceive much of the mind that is in Christ Jesus toward sinful men.—He went about doing good. His whole life was beneficent. No human being did he ever hurt. Even fruitless human lives He spared. But while men cared only for the curing of bodily ailments, the Great Physician looked to both the disease of the body and the sin of the soul; and mainly to the latter.

II. He tries the lepers by sending them out of His sight to be healed.—He desired that they should return to Himself with thanks. He loves a cheerful comer as well as a cheerful giver. All were glad; only one was grateful.

III. How wistfully Jesus looks after the nine as they go away!—They took greedily the temporal benefit; they despised the more precious gift which the Lord was waiting to bestow. They snatched the lesser, and missed the greater. What would He have said to them if they had returned?

IV. We know what He said to the one who did return.—He had another faith and obtained another cure. He believed to the saving of his soul. In him the Redeemer sees of the travail of His soul, and is satisfied. In the others He sees no fruit, and therefore complains. He expects healed and delivered men to come back to Him with praise. Is He to be disappointed?—Arnot.

One of Ten.—

I. Lesson from the ten.—All need cleansing.

II. Lesson from the nine.—The sin of unthankfulness.

III. Lesson from the one.—The duty and beauty of gratitude.—W. Taylor.

I. Why men are unthankful.

II. Why we ought to be thankful.

III. How we ought to show our thankfulness.—Watson.


I. In many cases the reason is that we do not see our Benefactor.—Just as these lepers were at a distance from Christ when healing took place.

II. A second cause is an imperfect appreciation of God’s gifts.—Health is coveted by the sick, but lightly valued when they gain it.

III. A third reason is the utilitarian one.—Men do not see the good of it.

Three results of gratitude:

1. It stimulates powerfully to active well-doing.
2. It makes worship—especially public worship—real and sincere.
3. Thankfulness here on earth is the best possible preparation for the spirit and life of heaven.—Liddon.

Why the Nine Acted as They Did.—

1. They may have thought that they had done nothing to deserve their horrible fate, and that, therefore, it was only just that they should be restored to health.

2. They may have thought that they would at least make sure of their restoration to health, before they gave thanks to Him who had healed them.
3. They may have put obedience before love.
4. It may be that the nine Jews would not go back just because the Samaritan did: misery had broken down enmity, but when the pressure of misery is removed, the Jews take one road, the Samaritan another.
5. They may have said within themselves that they could be just as thankful to the kind Master in their hearts without saying so to Him.—Cox.

Luke 17:18. “There are not found.”—The nine others were already healed and hastening to the priest, that they might be restored to the society of men and their life in the world; but the first thoughts of the Samaritan are turned to his Deliverer. He had forgotten all in the sense of God’s mercy and of His own unworthiness.—Williams.

This stranger.”—The gratitude of the Samaritan overcame the prejudices which his race cherished against that to which the Saviour belonged; while his companions were wanting in gratitude to their countryman who had healed them.

Luke 17:19. “Thy faith.”—The true nature of faith is here very clearly displayed as consisting principally in moral qualities of obedience and love. Confidence in the Saviour’s power had led to the healing of the ten; but “this stranger” manifested a faith which secured for him higher blessings than that of bodily healing.

Saved thee.”—The Samaritan was saved by his faith, not because he was cured of his leprosy (for this was likewise obtained by the rest), but because he was admitted into the number of the children of God, and received from His hand a pledge of fatherly kindness.

Verses 20-37


Luke 17:20. Demanded of the Pharisees.—We can scarcely think that they had any good end in view in asking this question; it is probable they expected to get some answer which might be used against Jesus. Their idea of “the kingdom of God” was that it would be an outward manifestation of God’s sovereignty in the world, in which a splendid position of supremacy would be assigned to the Jewish nation. With observation.—I.e., in such a manner as to be observed with the outward eye.

Luke 17:21. Within you.—Or “In the midst of you” (R.V. margin). The latter rendering is certainly to be preferred. The kingdom of God was certainly not in the hearts of the Pharisees, though it, as a visible society, was among them in the community of believers in Christ. All through the remainder of the chapter it is a visible coming of Jesus that is referred to. The rendering “within you” would yield a perfectly valid sense, but one not at all in harmony with the eschatological character of this discourse.

Luke 17:22. One of the days.—I.e., even a single day. Perhaps one of the days which He had passed with them on earth; but more probably, as regret for the past was superseded by hope for the future, one of the days which would follow His return.

Luke 17:23. See here.—False reports of His return. His return would be sudden, and not of a local character. Cf. Matthew 24:23-27.

Luke 17:24. For as the lightning.—“The lightning, lighting both ends of heaven at once, seen of all beneath it, can only find its full similitude in His personal coming, whom every eye shall see (Revelation 1:7)” (Alford).

Luke 17:25. But first.—The Son of man must be taken away before He can return (Luke 17:26-30). The security and carelessness of the world before the Flood, and of the inhabitants of Sodom before its destruction by fire, are referred to as illustrating the condition in which the world will be before the second coming of Christ.

Luke 17:31. Upon the house-top.—A place of cool and quiet resort. Not come down.—I.e., not re-enter his house, but escape away by the flight of steps outside. Not return back.—As in the case of Lot’s wife, who turned back in heart to Sodom.

Luke 17:33. Shall seek.—Perhaps rather, “Shall have sought”—i.e., in his preceding life, shall lose his life then. Preserve it.—Rather, “Make it alive,” or bring it forth to life. The figure is that of parturition—an emblem of the birth of soul and body to life and glory everlasting.

Luke 17:34. In that night.—Time of peace and security: the Son of man cometh “as a thief In the night.” The one shall be taken.—I.e., by the angels (cf. Matthew 24:31): he who is left is rejected, for his unworthiness.

Luke 17:35. Two women.—Grinding at a mill, as is still common in the East.

Luke 17:36. Two men.—This verse is omitted in all the best MSS. and versions; omitted in R.V.; it is evidently derived from the parallel passage in St. Matthew.

Luke 17:37. Where, Lord?—This is a question put by the disciples. Where, i.e., should this manifestation take place? They have not taken in what Christ has said about His manifestation instantaneously to the whole world, and about the folly of listening to the cry “See here! see there!” (Luke 17:23). The answer is a re-affirmation of the universality of the Lord’s appearance and of God’s judgment. Eagles.—Rather, “vultures,” as eagles do not prey on carrion. “As the vultures are found wherever there is a carcase to prey upon, so the judgment of Christ will come wherever there are sinners to be judged—i.e., over the whole world” (Speaker’s Commentary).


The Coming of the Kingdom.—The whole of Jewish society were at this time in anxious expectation of the establishment on earth of the Messianic kingdom; and, as we learn from Acts 1:6, the apostles themselves, even after the resurrection of Jesus, partook to a very large extent of the conceptions concerning that kingdom which were current at that time. On one occasion (John 6:15) the multitude were about to attempt to force Jesus to establish a kingdom of a kind they wished to see—an attempt which He defeated by withdrawing from their midst. Here He is asked to state definitely His opinion concerning the manifestation of Messianic power. In His reply we note that He first addresses Himself to the Pharisees who put the question, and then to His disciples; and that to the one class He speaks of the spirituality of the kingdom of God, and to the other of its outward manifestation.

I. The spirituality of the kingdom (Luke 17:20-21).—The question put to Christ revealed the carnal and erroneous conception of the Divine kingdom which filled the minds of the Pharisees. They thought of the coming of that kingdom as a sudden and outward change in human society, in which the nation to which they belonged would attain to the highest degree of earthly prosperity, and enjoy supremacy over all the other peoples of the earth. They knew that at the time when they put the question to Jesus the condition of matters after which they longed was still in the future, but they anticipated the coming of a time when they would be able to say, “Here it is! The kingdom of God is among us.” The reply of Jesus was that the kingdom had come, though they failed to recognise it. It was present in the person of Him as its Founder, and of those who had accepted Him as the Christ, and was a spiritual condition rather than an altered state of outward circumstances. They wished to see the kingdom, but they needed to have the spiritual sense by which to recognise it; as He said to Nicodemus, “Except a man be born again He cannot see the kingdom of God.”

II. The outward manifestation of the kingdom (Luke 17:22-37).—To the Pharisees, who were blinded by religious prejudice, Jesus spoke of the spirituality of the kingdom, but to His own disciples, who were qualified by their faith in Him to receive further instruction in the truth, He spoke of the outward manifestation of His kingdom as associated with His return to earth. First of all—

1. He told of the time and manner of His return (Luke 17:22-25). He did not, indeed, give any indication of the precise time of His return, but He implied that it would not be soon. The patience of His disciples would be tried; they would long for His re-appearing, and think regretfully of the days when He dwelt on earth, and their eager expectation would predispose them to listen to false announcements of His return. Yet they would be left in no doubt of the fact when He actually did return. All dwelling on the earth would behold His glory and the brightness of His coming. Yet before He entered upon that glory, which all then would see, He must suffer shameful rejection.

2. The state of the world at the time of His return (Luke 17:26-30). It would be like the time before the great catastrophes of the Flood and the destruction of the Cities of the Plain. Men would be plunged in a carnal security. All the ordinary occupations of secular life would be in regular process; but religious faith and religious feeling would have disappeared from the hearts of the great majority of men. The return of the Saviour would overwhelm the secure, and involve them in ruin.

3. How safety is to be secured at the moment of His return (Luke 17:31-33). Those who have their hearts set upon Him, and not upon earthly things, will be prepared to join Him when He appears. Those who are suddenly surprised, as they either rest or labour, at the time of His appearing will need to leave everything behind them and to separate themselves in thought and desire from all their earthly possessions. The great lesson, therefore, is suggested to all of us that if we are to find safety at that supreme crisis, we must live in a spirit of detachment from things of earth—“be in the world and yet not of it.”

4. Human society sifted when Christ returns (Luke 17:34-37). In the present condition of the world no outward marks distinguish the true from the spurious disciples of Christ—those who will be ready to ascend to meet Him in the air when He returns (1 Thessalonians 4:17) from those who will then be found unprepared. But His appearing will bring to light the true characters and dispositions of men. A separation will be made between the good and evil, and all ties will be dissolved but that between the Saviour and His true-hearted followers. Yet the Divine judgment upon the worldly and ungodly will not be altogether postponed until the return of Christ. Wheresoever society becomes thoroughly careless and corrupt, judgment overtakes it, as swiftly and as surely as the vultures fall upon a carcase.


Luke 17:20-21. “When the kingdom of God shall come.”—The worldly feelings and selfish ignorance of the Pharisees were displayed in the question they put to Jesus; they were fully confident of their place in the kingdom of God, and were merely anxious to be informed when that kingdom would appear. Jesus, in His reply

(1), annihilates their expectations of its glorious manifestation;
(2) withdraws the kingdom from the visible world as it exists in space; and
(3) transfers it to the inner spiritual world.

We may Learn from This Statement

I. A lesson of charity.

II. We may find in it ground of encouragement.

III. It administers a necessary caution.

Luke 17:20. “Not with observation.”—In another place, indeed, we are told that both comings of the kingdom, the first and the last, are with observation, and may be known by the signs of the times; but it is here meant that it was not with such signs as the Pharisees intended, of which the bodily eye and ear could be witness, but with such indications as faith alone could perceive.—Williams.

Luke 17:21. “The kingdom of God is within you.”—The words do not simply mean that the kingdom of God is an internal spiritual matter, for Christ goes on to speak of it as an external phenomenon. Humanity must be prepared for the new external and Divine state of things by a spiritual work wrought in the depths of the heart; and it is this internal advent which Jesus thinks good to put first in relief before such interlocutors.—Godet.

Luke 17:22-25.

I. The dark hour that precedes the manifestation of the kingdom in its external form.

II. The dangers of deception and of self-delusion to which His disciples would be exposed.

III. The revelation of Divine things in their glory by the Son of Man.—Now He is despised and rejected of men, but the day is coming in which all will see and recognise His heavenly majesty.

Luke 17:22. “One of the days of the Son of Man.”—Either one of the past days of communion with Christ upon earth or one of the days of His future triumphant reign. Regret is only another form of desire. When the apostles or their successors shall have passed a long time upon the earth in the absence of their Lord, and have reached the end of their preaching and apologetic demonstrations, and around them scepticism, materialism, pantheism, and deism, gain ground more and more, there will spring up in their souls an ardent longing after that Lord who remains silent and concealed; they will desire some Divine manifestation, “a day” like the days of old, as a prelude of final deliverance, to sustain their hearts and to strengthen the faltering Church. Yet it shall not be given them; to the end it will be necessary to walk by faith and not by sight.—Godet.

Days Desired and Not Seen.—There was no fault in the disciples’ regretful desire for the “days of the Son of Man.” It would be bitter for them to feel that they could not return. But they could see Him no more in this life. He was gone from the earth. Can we apply the text, without blame, to any limited experience in our own lives.

I. To our Lord’s days.—How full of opportunities of spiritual improvement! In continental travel, who has not felt the want of a Sunday? But this was only a voluntary and brief suspension of privilege. Professional life in distant lands means to many the loss of public worship and of all outward aids to keeping the day holy. How often will one long, in these experiences, for the bygone experiences of English Sundays. Use them, then, diligently now. Do not spend them in trifling and idleness. The days will come when you will be sorry for all this. Lose not, then, for want of a little early diligence, advantages which, in their highest form, you can never afterwards get back.

II. In their worst sense the words of the text were never fulfilled to any of their first hearers but one.—Judas found them true; the rest found them fulfilled in a higher form. If they are ever to be fulfilled in us, it will be in their worst sense. We are all living in the “days of the Son of Man.” All of us have an offered Saviour. Live as if there were none. Trifle away these days of grace. Will we not live bitterly to regret such folly? Still, indeed, may such see “one of the days of the Son of Man,” and pass through an agony of penitence into peace. But let the neglect be continued into or beyond middle age, and the desire for one of these days not be awakened. How soon will the text be fulfilled in such a case? Sooner or later there will come a time—many times, if one be not sufficient—when everything in this world will be felt to be a blank, and nothing satisfying but that which is heavenly and eternal. “Too late!” will be the bitter, disappointing thought. “I must reap as I have sowed.” In the old age, the death-bed of the sinner, neglectful, unrepentant, in the judgment and eternity of the impenitent in the world beyond, see awfully fulfilled the solemn prediction of the text. Oh! anticipate and prevent such a dread experience. “Now” is “one of the days of the Son of Man.” Escape betimes from the misery of all miseries, the desire to see one of these days, and not to see it. Truth seen too late, opportunities lost, but well remembered! Who can fitly speak of the soul-agonies of a final rejection?—Vaughan.

Luke 17:23. “Go not after them.”—It is taken for granted that there will be a visible manifestation of the kingdom of Christ, and the disciples are warned against false announcements of its appearance. At first this idea seems contrary to the statement in Luke 17:21. Yet in that verse it is the spiritual kingdom, the advent of which cannot be observed or proclaimed; here it is a question of the visible kingdom.

Luke 17:24. “As the lightning.”—The coming of the Lord will be universal and instantaneous. He will be His own witness, and His appearing will be manifest to all.

Luke 17:25. “First must He suffer.”—The rupture already begun between Israel and its Messiah will be consummated, and the rejection of the Messiah by His people will have as its consequence the removal of His person, and the invisibility of His rule for a whole epoch of history—an epoch which, according to Luke 13:35, will only conclude with the conversion of Israel. And Jesus announces that this epoch, during which the world will see Him no longer, will end in an utterly materialistic state of matters, which will be terminated only by His coming (Luke 17:26-30).—Godet.

Luke 17:26-30. Historical Parallels.—The final manifestation of things Divine will bring salvation and blessing to the pious, and will overwhelm in destruction those who are in a state of carnal security. As it was with the unbelievers in the antediluvian world and with the guilty inhabitants of Sodom, so will it be with the ungodly “in the day when the Son of Man is revealed.”

1. The dawning of that day will be sudden and unexpected.
2. It will be hailed by some with joy, while to others it will be a day of destruction and terror.

Luke 17:26-29. “The days of Noahof Lot.”—One thing is remarkable throughout the whole of this representation—that the contemporaries of Noah and Lot are not, by any means, described as wicked and vicious, but merely as absorbed in things of this world. That the vicious will go into perdition is easily understood; but the man who, without any glaring evil deeds, wastes his life upon external things, fancies himself secure, in this very negativeness, from the judgment of God—he little thinks that his whole being is sinful because it is worldly and alienated from God (James 4:4). The discourse of the Lord is directed against this carnal security, and not against vice, which is condemned by the Law.—Olshausen.

Luke 17:26. “As it was in the days of Noah.”—I.e., during the hundred and twenty years while the work was being prepared. While believers long with increasing fervour for the return of the Lord, the carnal security of the world about them becomes deeper and deeper.

Luke 17:27. “They did eat,” etc.—Rather, “they were eating; they were drinking.” This was their life.

Luke 17:28. “They bought, they sold,” etc.—The enumeration of the various occupations of the inhabitants of Sodom implies a more complex and advanced state of civilisation than was known by the antediluvians.

Luke 17:29. “It rained fire.”—The destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah is not attributed in Scripture to the agency of water (i.e., to the waters of the sea of Sodom) drowning them, but of fire (Genesis 19:23-28). But the soil itself was also convulsed, and the waters of the Jordan, which before flowed through that region, were pent up in the Lacus Asphaltites or Dead Sea,—a striking emblem of the Lake of Fire.—Wordsworth.

Luke 17:30. “Even thus shall it be.”—What is here said of the end of the world is fulfilled and multiplied in little images in the life of each; in every case these are, by Divine appointment, preceding judgments which warn of the suddenness and surprise with which eternity overtakes each man. And for the same reason that from each the day of his death is hidden, in order that he may be always living in expectation of it, so it is also with the end of the world, that by every generation it may be expected. “Behold” (says Chrysostom), “we know the signs of old age, but we not the day of death; so we know not the end of the world, though we know the signs of its approaching.”—Williams.

Luke 17:31-36.

I. The preparation needed for the day of the Son of Man

1. Freedom from all dependence on earthly things (Luke 17:31-32).

2. Self-denial (Luke 17:33).

II. Human society sifted (Luke 17:34-36). By those who are prepared for the coming of Christ being caught up to meet Him (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:17).

Luke 17:31-36. Entanglement in Earthly Affairs.—Jesus describes the disposition of soul which, in that supreme crisis, will be the condition of safety. The Lord passes with His heavenly train. The change in human society is effected in the twinkling of an eye. He takes to Himself all those inhabitants of the earth who, by their detachment from earthly possessions, are prepared in spirit to follow Him, and who mount up towards Him with free and joyous flight. The others, who are entangled in earthly affairs and possessions, remain behind. Their fate is like that of Lot’s wife, who perished with the goods from which she could not tear herself away.—Godet.

Luke 17:31. “On the house-topin the field.”—The contemplative and the active life—that of those occupied in meditation and prayer, and that of those busy in the ordinary work of the world; let neither hesitate to follow the Lord when He appears, and to abandon all possessions, if they would avoid the fate of the wife of Lot.

Luke 17:32. “Remember Lot’s wife.”—

1. Her hopeful beginning in abandoning Sodom.
2. Her failure in the decisive hour of trial.
3. Her punishment.

The case of Lot’s wife warns us “to forget the things that are behind” (Philippians 3:13); her looking back implied regret at leaving the place where she had dwelt so long in comfort, and doubt as to whether there were good reasons for leaving the city.

Luke 17:33. “Whosoever shall seek,” etc.—St. Luke adds this that the desire of an earthly life may not prevent believers from passing rapidly through the midst of death to the salvation laid up for them in heaven. And Christ employs a strong expression to denote the frailty of the present life, when He says that souls are “preserved” (literally, “begotten into life”), when they are “lost.” His meaning is the same as if He had declared that men do not live in the world, because the beginning of that life which is real, and which is worthy of the name, is, to leave the world.—Calvin.

Luke 17:34. “Two men in one bed.”—Not our circumstances, but our hearts, will determine our future condition. Those prepared will be taken, whether they are asleep or at work, when the Lord comes. The reference may possibly be to husband and wife, as the word “men” is not in the original, and the translation “persons” would do equally well.

Luke 17:35. “Two women,” etc.—Those most closely related by earthly ties will, in the twinkling of an eye, be separated for ever.

Luke 17:37. “Wheresoever the body is.”—All history is a comment on these words. Wherever there is a Church or a people abandoned by the Spirit of Life, and so a carcase, tainting the atmosphere of God’s moral world, around it assemble the ministers and messengers of Divine justice—the eagles (or vultures, more strictly; because the true eagle does not feed on aught but what itself has slain)—the scavengers of God’s moral world, scenting out, by a mysterious instinct, the prey from afar, and charged to remove presently the offence out of the way.—Trench.

The Carrion and the Vultures:—“Where?” Tepid and idle curiosity is expressed. The Lord’s solemn warnings did not stir the disciples deeply. Our Lord refers to a universal future judgment. But the words are not exhausted in reference to that event. The same principles have often been embodied in lesser “comings of the Lord,” as will be displayed in world wide splendour and awfulness at the last.

I. These words are to us a revelation of a law which operates with unerring certainty through all the course of the world’s history.—E.g., the destruction of the Canaanites, the fall of Jerusalem, the French Revolution, the American War concerning slavery.

II. This law will have a far more tremendous accomplishment in the future.—Christ is Judge as well as Saviour. By Him the whole world is to be judged in righteousness.

III. This law need never touch us, nor need we know anything about it but by the hearing of the ear.—It is told us that we may escape it. “Repent” and you shall not become food for the vultures of Divine judgment. Take Christ as your Saviour, and in that dread hour you will be safe.—Maclaren.

Bibliographical Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on Luke 17". Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/phc/luke-17.html. Funk & Wagnalls Company, 1892.
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