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Luke 17

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New TestamentSchaff's NT Commentary

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Verse 1

Luke 17:1. To his disciples. All the followers of our Lord who were present; since Luke 17:5 mentions ‘the Apostles.’

It is impossible, etc. See on Matthew 18:6-7. The connection is plain: the Pharisees had already derided Him (Luke 16:14), and, having taken greater offence at the last parable, had probably gone off. The design was to counteract the influence which this behavior might have upon the new disciples (‘the publicans and sinners’), who had been accustomed to look up to the Pharisees.

Verses 1-10

PART of the discourse began in chap. Luke 15:4, and addressed to the disciples (Luke 17:1). Some of the thoughts are found in Matthew 18:0, but the latter part of the section is peculiar to Luke.

Verses 1-37

THIS division of the Gospel of Luke, embracing nearly one third of the whole, contains for the most part matter peculiar to this Evangelist. A number of the incidents probably belong to an earlier period of the history. A few of these are mentioned by Matthew and Mark, though the greater number even of these are peculiar to this account. But the larger portion of this division belongs to that part of our Lord’s life passed aver in silence by Matthew and Mark. John indeed tells us of much that occurred during this period, but he does not give a parallel account. Many theories have been suggested; our view is as follows: This division treats in the main of that part of the life of our Lord on earth, between the close of His ministry in Galilee and the last journey from Perea (beyond Jordan) to Jerusalem; covering a period of nearly six months. The reasons for this opinion are: that chap. Luke 9:51 can only refer to the final departure from Galilee (Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1), and this departure seems to have been shortly before the sudden appearance of our Lord in Jerusalem at the feast of Tabernacles (John 7:14); it is indeed possible that our Lord returned to Galilee after this visit, but of this there is no positive evidence. On the other hand, the blessing of the little children (chap. Luke 18:15), where the parallel with Matthew and Mark is renewed, undoubtedly took place just before the last solemn journey from Perea to Jerusalem and to death. From John’s account we learn that during this period our Lord appeared again in Jerusalem. In fact, that Gospel alone tells us of His journeyings to avoid the hostility of the Jews. Neither Matthew nor Mark implies that the journey from Galilee to Jerusalem, alluded to in chap. Luke 9:51, was a direct one, while both state that such a journey was undertaken about this time.

All who love the lessons of our Lord should rejoice that we have in this Gospel so much that is not only peculiar but important. The parables of this division are especially interesting, because uttered at a time when both the hostility of the Jews and the training of the disciples called for Truth more distinctively Christian. As in one sense the journey to death begins with this division, so do we here approach more closely the central truths of the gospel which centres in that death. The special questions of chronology will be discussed under the separate sections; but certainty on these points is impossible.

THE journey to Jerusalem spoken of in Luke 9:51 was probably that to the feast of Tabernacles; but in a wider sense, it was the final departure from Galilee to death at Jerusalem, since from this time on our Lord was rejected and persecuted openly by the Jews. The direct route was through Samaria, and on the way the incident of Luke 9:52-56 occurred. Some indeed suppose that our Lord, after this rebuff, did not pass through Samaria but skirted the borders between it and Perea (see Matthew 19:1-12); of this, however, there is no positive evidence. The main question is regarding the exact chronological position of the incident of Luke 9:57-62; which Matthew (Matthew 8:18-22) places just before the departure to Gadara. In favor of the order of Luke is the greater fulness of his account; in favor of that of Matthew, his mention of one who was a ‘scribe.’ Such language from a ‘scribe’ was more probable at the earlier point. The theory that such an incident occurred twice is highly improbable. There was no reason why Matthew should insert it out of its place; but it is so appropriate here, where our Lord’s final departure from Galilee is spoken of, that Luke probably placed it here for that reason. The whole section brings before us the four leading human temperaments: the choleric, sanguine, melancholic, and phlegmatic. Our Lord Himself had no temperament, but was the perfect man. On the question whether the sending out of the Seventy preceded this departure from Galilee, see next section.

Verse 2

Luke 17:2. Gain. Peculiar to Luke. The reference to the effect of the behavior of the Pharisees is sustained by the mention of little ones.

Verse 3

Luke 17:3. Take heed to yourselves. Precisely this class needed this caution. For as they had been so lately sinners they would be most likely to give occasion of stumbling; and as new converts of this class are enthusiastic, they would readily stumble themselves. See on Matthew 18:15; Matthew 18:21-22.

Verse 4

Luke 17:4. Turn again to thee. Confession is plainly demanded here, as rebuke had been in Luke 17:3. Christian confession may be as rare as proper Christian rebuke.

Verse 5

Luke 17:5. And the apostles said. This is the only instance in the Gospels, where the Apostles as such make a request in common.

Increase our faith, lit, ‘add to us faith,’ i.e., give us more faith. They felt themselves unequal to the duty of forgiving love enjoined upon them (Luke 17:3-4). They had been taught this before, and no doubt in the mean time had learned their insufficiency. Those who offer the prayer should remember the occasion of it.

Verse 6

Luke 17:6. If ye have faith, etc. See on Matthew 17:20; Matthew 21:21. The original implies that they had not so great faith, though it does not assert that they had none.

This sycamine tree. The discourse was probably uttered in the open air, and the tree near by, as the mountains were on the other occasions when a similar saying was uttered. The mulberry tree seems to be meant, not the sycamore (chap. Luke 19:4). Some argue that the latter is meant, because it is more common in Palestine and a sturdier tree; but the original points to the former. The promise here given is even stronger than that in Matthew, for the tree is represented as being planted in the sea, where growth is ordinarily impossible.

And it should obey you; the tree being represented a living thing. This promise is misunderstood, only when miracles of power are put above miracles of grace. The whole passage may be thus paraphrased: You think the duties I enjoin too hard for your faith, but this shows that you have as yet no faith of the high order you ought to have, for the smallest measure of such a 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 preeminently spiritual power.

Verse 7

Luke 17:7. But who is there of you. The connection is : beware of thinking that you have any merit in the great results accomplished by faith. The thought of their enduring in faith so long as the day of their labor lasted, is also included. By such views of their unprofitableness and of the need of patient endurance their faith would be increased.

A servant. A bond-servant, entirely dependent on his master’s will.

Ploughing or keeping sheep. There may be an allusion to the two kinds of apostolic duty : breaking up the fallow ground and feeding the Lord’s people; but the main thought is that the servant is doing what his master has ordered him to do.

Come straightway (the E. V. misplaces this word, rendering it ‘by and by’): this is contrasted with ‘afterward’ (Luke 17:8).

Verse 8

Luke 17:8. Will not rather? This assumes an affirmative answer.

Make ready, etc. As a matter of right this was all that could be expected. But compare chap. Luke 12:37, where the very reverse is promised. There the privileges of a state of grace are spoken of;. here our Lord is telling of what could be expected on the ground of merit.

Verse 9

Luke 17:9. Doth he thank, etc. Then it was not the custom to do so; and that it is so now is owing solely to the influence of the religion of Christ. On the former fact the illustration is based, from the latter we infer that our Lord is not saying what ought to be done by an earthly master. God is never bound to thank us for our service, as an earthly master might be, and the whole parable is directed against our choosing to remain in the relation of servants instead of accepting that of sons. If we want wages for our work, then we are servants.

Verse 10

Luke 17:10. Even so ye also. The application, here plainly made, is that nothing can be claimed in God’s service on the ground of merit. Even ‘the Apostles’ (Luke 17:5) could make no such claim. The verse should guard the interpretation of the parable of the unjust steward from the idea that earthly wealth can buy heavenly favor. From God we can claim nothing, save as He has promised it.

When ye have done all, etc. Our Lord does not say that they would or could do all. The fact that none have done so, makes the argument the stronger.

Say we are unprofitable servants, etc. ‘Unprofitable’ here does not have a bad sense. Any profit or merit would arise from the servant’s doing more than his duty, but if he did all his duty, while no blame could attach to him, no merit could be allowed. Thus all works of supererogation are denied, and all claim on the ground of our goodness or fidelity. The moral necessity for justification of faith, afterwards so plainly stated by Paul, is found in this verse; but He who uttered it is Himself the Object of that faith. He was kind and merciful in thus speaking, for the words, apparently severe, are not only true, but so necessary to keep our pride from leading us away from Christ. It is better that we should confess to the Master: ‘we are unprofitable servants,’ than that He should call us so (Matthew 25:30). With this thought, the series of discourses closes.

Verse 11

Luke 17:11. As they were on their way to Jerusalem. The correct reading leaves the time quite indefinite; comp. chap. Luke 9:51.

Between Samaria and Galilee. This seems to be the sense of the correct reading. There is no such journey recorded by any of the Evangelists except that from Galilee about the time of the Feast of Tabernacles. There is no hint (unless this verse be an exception), that He ever approached Galilee after that time. Our Lord at that time passed into Samaria, but after the rejection mentioned by Luke (Luke 9:52-56) skirted the borders for a time, probably from west to east, reaching Jerusalem by the valley of the Jordan. It may be that He passed through Perea at this time, but this is not certain. Samaria is mentioned first, because it was nearest to Jerusalem, which had just been named. The E. V. ‘through the midst of Samaria and Galilee,’ implies a journey directly through the middle, first of Samaria, then of Galilee, towards Jerusalem; which is an absurdity, Samaria lying between Galilee and Jerusalem.

Verses 11-19

CHRONOLOGY. The date of this incident has been much discussed. It evidently belongs to the general journey to Jerusalem spoken of in chap. Luke 9:51. Robinson and many other harmonists place it at the beginning of the journey, just after the rejection by the Samaritan village chap. Luke 9:52-56). The preceding chapters (Luke 13:10 to Luke 17:10) narrate what can be most naturally placed in Perea, and what follows (Luke 17:20 to Luke 18:34) also belongs to that district, since Matthew and Mark distinctly affirm this in regard to a number of the incidents. But we find no distinct evidence of any other journey which would touch upon the borders of Samaria and Galilee, except the one referred to in Luke 9:51, and also in Matthew 19:1; Mark 10:1. Other views: (1) That all the previous incidents belong to Galilee, and that this is a journey from Galilee to Jericho (Luke 18:35). (2) This healing took place during an excursion from Ephraim (John 11:54), or (3) during the journey from Ephraim to Jerusalem (Andrews); the raising of Lazarus having occurred after the discourse last recorded. But of this there is no proof, and ‘Galilee’ was too far off to be even skirted in such a journey.

Verse 12

Luke 17:12. As he entered. The incident probably occurred outside the village.

Ten lepers. Misery had united them, although they were of different races; comp. a similar company, 2 Kings 9:3.

Who stood afar off. Because of their un-cleanness. See on Matthew 8:2; and comp. the Levitical requirements: Leviticus 13:46; Numbers 5:2.

Verse 13

Luke 17:13. And they, ‘they’ is emphatic; the first step was taken on their part.

Jesus, Master, etc. These people in an obscure village, isolated too by their disease, knew our Lord and called upon Him by name.

Verse 14

Luke 17:14. And when he saw them. Attracted by their cry. This miracle brings out the human side of the work of salvation, most fully.

Go and shew yourselves, etc. This command followed the healing in the first miracle of this kind recorded in the Gospels (Matthew 8:4); here it precedes it. Our Lord would test their faith by their obedience, and, as it further appears, teach a lesson respecting love and gratitude, useful for the church in all ages.

As they went, or, ‘were going,’ on the way, they were cleansed. While they obeyed, not because of their obedience, but because of the faith it expressed, they were healed. No one need wait to know all the truth before he can really believe and be saved; let him believe what he has heard the Lord say; if he really believes he will act accordingly, and the spiritual healing promised to faith will come from the Saviour. Personal faith in a personal Lord Jesus Christ is commanded; fuller knowledge will come afterwards and serve to increase the faith.

Verse 15

Luke 17:15. One of them, etc. The description is graphic, the healing took place immediately.

Turned back. They were still on their way to the priests.

With a loud voice. There may be an allusion to the clearness of voice resulting from the cure of his leprosy, since that disease would make the voice husky.

Glorifying God. Glorifying God and love to Jesus Christ are closely joined.

Verse 16

Luke 17:16. Fell down, etc. This implies love and willingness to submit himself entirely to the Saviour.

And he was a Samaritan. The others were Jews, it is properly inferred.

Verse 17

Luke 17:17. Were not the ten cleansed? The perceptible tone of sadness is readily accounted for by the circumstances. Our Lord had, as we supposed, first taken final leave of Galilee, where His popularity had been greatest, but which gradually closed against Him. The nine were Galileans, and represented the ingratitude of their district, our Lord’s own home. The incident is prophetic of the reception accorded to Christ by the Jews and heathen respectively.

Where are the nine? They had doubtless gone to the priest, feeling that this was their chief duty as Jews, and been declared clean. Some gratitude they had, but the personal gratitude which takes the form of lave they lacked. They had enough of faith to receive bodily healing, but it is left uncertain whether they received any spiritual benefit.

Verse 18

Luke 17:18. Save this stranger, or ‘alien,’ not of Jewish extraction. The nine were Jews, and yet put the ceremonial requirement above gratitude to their own countryman who had healed them; the stranger came, though the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans (John 4:9).

Verse 19

Luke 17:19. Thy faith hath made thee whole, or ‘saved thee.’ Salvation in the highest sense is meant. The faith which the man had manifested was more than the faith of the other nine; it was a hand opened to receive higher spiritual blessings. The man’s obedience, praise to God, gratitude, love, were only evidences of ‘faith.’ Real faith manifests itself in obedience and love. As leprosy most aptly represents our sinfulness, so our Lord’s dealings with lepers most plainly illustrate His method in saving us from sin.

Verse 20

Luke 17:20. Asked by the Pharisees. To entangle Him, for they were seeking occasion to kill Him. Even in Perea, their enmity had been lately increased (see the last discourse, chaps. 15, 16). Possibly there was also mockery in the question, but the Pharisees would in that case have scrupulously avoided the expression: the kingdom of God, which means the actual kingdom of the Messiah.

Cometh not with observation, i.e., when men are looking for it. The coming of the kingdom of God will not be of such a character that men can see outward tokens of preparation for it, and determine when it is to come.

Verses 20-37

CHRONOLOGY. We connect this discourse with that ending in Luke 17:10, placing the whole in Perea, just before the final departure for Jericho and Jerusalem. Chap, Luke 18:15-34, contains incidents to which Matthew and Mark distinctly assign this time and place, and there is no indication of any long interval between this section and that, while the discourses and events have an internal connection. Meyer and others think that all up to chap, Luke 18:30, belongs to the journey on the borders of Samaria and Galilee, but this involves a difficulty which they admit, and which seems needless. This section contains much that was repeated in the discourse on the Mount of Olives just before the crucifixion, but at the same time much that is peculiar.

Verse 21

Luke 17:21. Lo here! or, there! Men have no right to point to anything as a proof of the speedy coming of this kingdom. They can never know the definite time, though they should ever pray: ‘Thy kingdom come.’

The kingdom of God is within you, or, ‘in the midst of you.’ A future coming of the kingdom of God is referred to throughout, and it is implied that the second coming of Christ, the King, coincides with this coming of the kingdom. But here our Lord declares that the kingdom of God was already among them, for the King was present and working among them. This implies to a certain extent the other meaning: ‘within you,’ so far as its presence among them involved the personal duty of each one to reject or accept it in his heart. Some suppose the meaning to be: the kingdom of God is an internal, spiritual matter. But our Lord goes on to speak of this coming as an external phenomenon. The crowning objection is, that the words were spoken to the Pharisees, in whose hearts this kingdom had no spiritual presence. Godet thus combines the two: ‘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.’

Verse 22

Luke 17:22. Unto the disciples. The Pharisees had probably withdrawn. In what follows there is no reference whatever to the destruction of Jerusalem, as in the later discourse. The one subject is the Lord’s future coming, the sudden personal appearance of the Son of man. Some, to escape this view, maintain the groundless conjecture that Luke has inserted here a part of the discourse on the Mount of Olives, which referred to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Days will come, etc. The connection with the answer to the Pharisees is close. The kingdom has already begun, for the King, the Bridegroom, the Son of man, is here, but He will be taken away. From the answer to the Pharisees the disciples might have inferred, as they were wont to do, that our Lord would now establish a temporal kingdom on earth, but he discourages such false hopes.

When ye shall desire. They would have tribulation, which would make them long for Christ’s presence.

One of the days of the Son of man. The future coming or presence of the Lord is meant, since it is implied that at that time He would be absent. They might also long for the former days, for such intercourse with him as they were now enjoying.

Shall not see it. Because the hour had not yet come, because the Lord still asked for patient waiting.

Verse 23

Luke 17:23. And they shall say to you. In this state of longing they would be in danger of being deceived by false tokens; comp. Matthew 24:23-27. The same danger has always existed.

Lo there! Lo here. This is the correct reading. The reference is to the place of our Lord’s Second Advent, about which (as well as the time) many busy themselves.

Verse 24

Luke 17:24. For. Neither time nor place can be determined, for the coming will be sudden and universally perceived. See on Matthew 24:27.

Verse 25

Luke 17:25. But first must he suffer, etc. Peculiar to Luke, and a proof that the discourse is put in its proper place. This prediction, however, gives no clew to the time and place of His coming, but cautions them against expecting a temporal kingdom and triumph now, since the sufferings of the King were first to come.

Be rejected of this generation. To be taken literally, as an intimation of the speedy rejection of our Lord. The verses which follow point to a virtual rejection by the world, to continue until His return.

Verses 26-27

Luke 17:26-27. See on Matthew 24:37-39. The continued unbelief and carelessness of the world in regard to the coming of the Son of man is thus illustrated.

Verses 28-30

Luke 17:28-30. In the days of Lot. Comp. Genesis 19:0, the literal truthfulness of which passage is endorsed by our Lord, in the vivid sketch He gives of the destruction of Sodom. This illustration is peculiar to Luke, and a further proof of his accuracy.

Verse 31

Luke 17:31. In that day. This has no reference to the destruction of Jerusalem, as Matthew 24:16-18, but to the future coming of the Messiah. ‘In that day,’ the same haste and abandonment of earthly possessions will be called for, which was required of Lot and his family (Genesis 19:17). The catastrophe immediately preceding the coming of the Messiah, which is described in Matthew 24:29-31, is here referred to. How far an actual physical flight is implied cannot, of course, be determined.

Verse 32

Luke 17:32. Remember Lot’s wife. See Genesis 19:20. Her crime was still paying attention to what had been left behind in Sodom, her punishment was destruction while apparently on the way to safety. She has become ‘the type of earthly-mindedness and self-seeking.’ This caution was appropriate to ‘disciples,’ since Lot’s wife represents, not those entirely careless, but those who have taken a step towards salvation, and yet do not hold out in the hour of decisive trial.

Verse 33

Luke 17:33. Shall seek to gain, etc. There are two views of this verse: (1.) The seeking to gain, takes place throughout the preceding life, and the loss at the final catastrophe. (2.) The seeking to gain, takes place at the catastrophe, and the loss at the decisive moment of the coming Christ Matthew 10:39, which refers to the whole previous life, favors the former view.

Whosoever shall have lost his life, i.e., shall not have counted his life dear to him in comparison with Christ.

Will preserve, or, ‘quicken’ it. The word is derived from animal parturition, as if the events of that day were represented as the pangs of travail resulting in the new and glorious life of the believer. Comp. Matthew 24:8. In this part of the verse, also, the reference to the whole preceding life seems more appropriate.

Verse 34

Luke 17:34. I say unto you. Solemn introduction.

In that night. Night is the time of surprise and terror, and the return of the Lord had already been set forth figuratively as occurring at night (chap. Luke 12:35-39); but Luke 17:35-36, refer to the day-time.

Two men on one bed. Peculiar to Luke. Illustrating the separation of those previously closely associated together. Husband and wife are not referred to, however. There will be a separation between the faithful and the unfaithful, as well as a gathering of the elect out of the world. This illustration gives prominence to the former idea, the next to the latter.

Verse 35

Luke 17:35. Two women, etc. See on Matthew 24:41.

Luke 17:36 is omitted by the best authorities, and was probably inserted from Matthew 24:40.

Verse 37

Luke 17:37. Where, Lord? The Pharisees had inquired in regard to the time; the disciples ask about the place, with special reference to the separation just spoken of. They did not understand its universality. The answer of our Lord: where the body is, etc., proclaims this universality. In Matthew 24:28, we find precisely the same thought, ‘carcass’ being substituted for ‘body.’ There, however, a reference to the destruction of Jerusalem is probably included; here the second coming of Christ alone is spoken of. The principle is general.

Bibliographical Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Luke 17". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/scn/luke-17.html. 1879-90.
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