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Bible Commentaries
Luke 17

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1


1. Then said he unto his disciples At the close of the awful parable of the last chapter there seems to have been no answer from the conscience-stricken Pharisees, and the assembly, doubtless, broke up and departed in silence. It was not, however, a silence of reflection and repentance, but of perseverance in their course of impeding the conversion of the multitudes to Jesus, and of throwing stumbling-blocks in the way of his disciples. See notes on Luke 15:1. It was, therefore, on an occasion but little later, and probably after commencing his departure, that we suppose our Lord, in view of these efforts of theirs, to have addressed the following cautions to his disciples. See note on Luke 13:32.

Unto his disciples Not to his apostles only, as in Luke 17:5. These disciples were the publicans and sinners; and perhaps others converted during our Lord’s Peraean ministry.

It is impossible but that More literally, it is not to be expected but that offenses will come. This certainly arises not from a necessity upon the human agent or the human will to commit them. It is a necessity upon us to expect them, because we find that man will freely and responsibly commit them. The necessity does not make the will, but the will makes the necessity.

Offences See our note on Matthew 18:7. The offence here is not simply an insult, but an incitement to anger. It is a betrayment into any sin, whether by temptation or by angering. It is any interposed impediment in our pursuit of truth and righteousness.

Woe unto him Because he makes wicked not by necessity, but by his own free, voluntary wickedness.

Verses 1-10


Jesus went to the Feast of Dedication, John 10:22-40. After which, according to John 10:40, he went to beyond Jordan, (Peraea,) where John at first baptized, and there abode. Many, as John assures us, who had the original testimony of the Baptist, were convinced of its fulfilment in him, and became believers on him. Of this PERAEN MINISTRY Luke here gives an account; covering apparently, however, but the two or three closing days. Jesus, then, as we learn from John, departed to raise Lazarus, and then retired to Ephraim.

A marked fact in this brief account of the Peraean ministry is the conversion of many Jewish publicans and [Gentile] sinners, and the Lord’s defences of them against the malignity of their Phariseean assailants. This contest draws out from Jesus a series of most striking discourses and parables. Jericho and the Jordan region probably abounded in Publicans and a Gentile population.

Verse 2

2. A millstone See our note on Matthew 18:7.

These little ones Publicans and sinners, and others lately converted to Jesus. Our Lord, as we understand it, uttered these words in Matthew as a general truth; he utters them here in application to a particular class. They were little ones as being but babes in Christ.

Verse 3

3. Take heed to yourselves Ye, my little ones, take heed. Beware first of the offences, that is, the impediments and the temptations of apostacy flung in your way by these Pharisees. And, second, take heed among yourselves not to be led by a brother’s trespasses into resentment and sin.

Thy brother Thy fellow-believer. Rebuke him, in order, and if possible in such a way, as to make him come to an “I repent.” This for the purpose of securing thy own peace and the peace of the Church, and so far as he is concerned, to prevent his falling into deeper sin and apostacy.

Verse 4

4. Seven times The sacred number, expressive of numerous repetitions.

Saying, I repent The forgiveness is not enjoined upon his impenitence. But even in this, our desire must be for his repentance, and his well-being, and his salvation.

I repent In which, of course, he resigns all evil feelings and designs, and desires mutual peace.

Thou shalt forgive him Thou shalt consent to be at peace with him and hold him as not having trespassed.

You may be conscious of his changing and careless disposition; but beware of cherishing a permanent purpose of revenge.

Verse 5

The power of faith, and caution against pride in that power, Luke 17:5-10.

5. The apostles The twelve, in distinction from the disciples in Luke 17:1, to whom the last remarks were addressed. The faith which they asked was a faith to empower them for the duties and struggles of their high office.

The Lord The use of the term The Lord for Jesus is more habitual with Luke than with any other evangelist. This is the only passage in which the apostles are represented by Luke as styling him Lord, or requesting anything from him.

Increase our faith This conversation we do not view as a continuation of that in the four preceding verses; but rather as a later conversation induced by the same general circumstances, namely, the pressure of the Pharisees of the Herodian party upon the converts and upon the religion of Jesus. See notes on Luke 13:32; Luke 13:18; Luke 13:10; Luke 15:1. What they desired was not simply a belief in Jesus and his Messiahship. It was a faith to be miraculously bestowed, energizing them with a burning zeal and eloquence, a clearness in preaching, and an efficiency for performing signs and wonders to demonstrate the divinity of their mission. Some faith, indeed, they had; faith enough at any rate to go to Christ and ask for more.

Verse 6

6. If ye had faith See notes on Matthew 21:21-22 and Matthew 17:20.

Sycamine tree Alford makes a distinction between the sycamore and the sycamine; making the former a mulberry, from which the silkworm is fed, and the latter a species of fig. But Dr. Thomson identifies them as one. The sycamore or sycamine is a tree which bears seven times a year an insipid sort of green fig, spreading its branches broadly above, and its roots as broadly and very deeply below, so that transplanting would be indeed miraculous. “The mulberry,” he says, on the contrary, “was more easily plucked up than any tree of its size, and the thing is very often done. Hundreds are plucked and burned for firewood.”

Planted in the sea Faith is able to pluck from the earth, and plant in the sea; and this last may be pronounced the greater miracle of the two. A sycamore, planted and maintaining its stand in the turbulent waves, is fancifully compared by Bengel to a Christian placed by God in this troublesome scene of sublunary storms.

Verse 7

7. Having a servant However high the prerogatives of apostolic faith, and however great the services the apostle may thereby render to the cause of Christ, let him beware of apostolic pride, as if he had laid Christ under obligations, or had won a title to a reward; far less can he have any merit to spare from which others can obtain favor and salvation from God.

Ploughing or feeding cattle Whether or not any of the apostles were farmers is very doubtful. This does not necessarily imply it, as the words are simply addressed to them as men generally.

By and by The phrase by and by in older English signifies immediately. It ought to have been so translated as to qualify the verb go:

Go immediately and sit down to meat immediately instead of afterward, in Luke 17:8.

Verse 8

8. Gird thyself Draw thy girdle tight around thy loose garments, so that thou canst easily perform the service.

Verse 9

9. Doth he thank that servant The words of the original would rather be, Is he under obligations of gratitude to that servant? Courtesy may express a feeling of approbation, and the Lord may graciously commend when nothing but mere duty is in fact done.

I trow not The word trow is an old English term, etymologically related to true, and signifies to hold to be true, or to believe.

Verse 10

10. Ye Ye apostles.

Unprofitable In the sense that we have laid God under no obligations. We have received from God all we have and are, and have done no more than just meet the demands of mere right. We are like a debtor that has paid but his just due, and no return of thanks but mere courtesy need be made to him. We are the servant who is but just square with his master, and so deserves no favour. Had Adam lived pure, he would have done no more than his duty, for each moment of his existence. God could not then have justly punished him: but he would have no claim for special reward from God. God would have the right to dispense with him at any moment; might drop him into nonexistence at any instant. He would live every moment upon the pure favour of God. The purest angel exists by grace and not by merit. From this it follows:

1 . That the sinner can be forgiven and saved only by grace. If he has been guilty, even at a single instant, of a sin of omission, he can never afterwards repair it; for he can never at any future moment do more than the duty of that moment. He can earn no surplus merit to fill up the blank of the past. And, in all probability, that one sin will so debilitate him morally and spiritually that he will sin again and again; so that debility and depravation will be the result. Much more, if he commit a positive sin will his whole moral nature be unhinged.

2 . There can be no surplus merit in one man to save another. The Church of Rome strangely taught that we can do more than our duty; which deeds she calls works of supererogation. Against these the eleventh of our twenty-five articles is aimed. “Voluntary works, besides, over, and above God’s commandments, which are called works of supererogation, cannot be taught without arrogancy and impiety. For by them men do declare that they do not only render unto God as much as they are bound to do, but that they do more for his sake than of bounden duty is required: whereas Christ saith plainly, When ye have done all that is commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants.”

Although we can do to God no favour, no profit, and no service, yet he affords us the privilege of doing that which he consents to receive as service, and for which he graciously accepts us as profitable servants. Hence when our Lord speaks as in Luke 12:37, though there is a verbal contradiction, there is a most beautiful harmony.

Our Lord now, leaving Peraea and Eastern Judea, departs to Bethany, raises Lazarus, and is induced by the machinations of the Pharisees to depart to Ephraim on the confines of Judea and Samaria. Here, as John tells us, Jesus abode for some weeks with his disciples. Distance from Jerusalem was necessary for safety; and doubtless what ministry Jesus and his disciples performed during this period extended rather into Samaria northward than into Judea. Accordingly the next notice we have of Jesus in the following verse, finds him starting from Ephraim eastward. See HARMONY, p. 101.

Verse 11

§ 96. THE CLEANSING OF THE TEN LEPERS, Luke 17:11-19 .

11. As he went to Jerusalem From Ephraim, where he had resided for some weeks in retirement, being thither driven after his raising of Lazarus.

Midst of Samaria and Galilee Jesus journeyed along the intermediate territory or boundary line of Samaria and Galilee, having the former on the right and the latter on the left, proceeding eastward until he should reach the Jordan at Scythopolis, (Bethshan or Beisan,) where was a bridge upon which he would pass over the Jordan into Peraea; (the Greek name for the territory east of or beyond the Jordan;) and there in the valley of the Jordan he would find the caravans of Galileans on their way to the Passover at Jerusalem, whom he would join on his way to the closing Passover of his ministry. With them he would, near Bethabara, recross the Jordan westward, and pass through Jericho and Bethany to his destination.

Verse 12

12. As he entered In the outskirts of some village, to us unknown, in his progress to the frontier line.

Ten lepers As is the custom in the East, this dismal society hovered near the village which they might not enter.

Numbers 5:4; Matthew 8:1. Sad emblem of those who behold the blessedness of that heavenly kingdom from which they are forever excluded.

Stood afar off As the law required them to maintain a distance.

Verse 13

13. Lifted up their voice Raising a cry to be heard by Jesus in the distance.

Master Neither his honour, nor his name, nor his power is unknown to them. Here on the confines of Samaria, and among the outcasts of society, Jesus, Master, are familiar words.

Verse 14

14. Unto the priests See note on Matthew 8:4.

They went They started before they were healed. They were going to show themselves as cleansed while yet their utter foulness was upon them. Unless their faith is verified by the event they will find themselves going upon a very ridiculous errand.

They were cleansed At which a new purity, lightness, health, and vigour sprang up within them.

Verse 15

15. One of them All are glad; but one is both glad and grateful. The thoughts of his benefactor so fill his heart as to drive the priests from his mind. The others will visit the priests to make sure of the result; but whether they ever see their Saviour or not is the least of their concern. Full well they know, as well as the returning Samaritan, that, while they are going to Jerusalem, Jesus will be upon his journey, and slight will be their chance of offering their worship for his mercy.

Glorified God The cleansing extended even to his heart. Both soul and body were regenerated, one from sin, and the other from the most terrible emblem of sin.

Verse 16

16. And he was a Samaritan A Samaritan, and like Luke himself a Gentile. Full proof that the power of true faith and the mercy of God through faith, are not limited to the sons of Abraham. We have indeed in the whole narrative a significant hint of the worldly and dead faith by which Israel fell, contrasted with the faith working by love by which the true Israel rises.

Verse 17

17. Were there not Literally, Were not the ten cleansed? Did God’s mercy fail, or did man’s unworthiness display itself?

Verse 18

18. This stranger This foreign born, this alien.

Verse 19

19. Go thy way Thou hast shown thyself to thy great High Priest; thou art made pure in body and pronounced pure in soul by him, and thou needest no other endorsement.

Verse 20

The coming of the internal kingdom explained to the Pharisees, Luke 17:20-21.

20. He was demanded of the Pharisees John the Baptist had opened his preaching with the proclamation of the kingdom of God at hand; Christ had done the same, and his apostles had followed their example. These Pharisees then desire Jesus to tell them when this kingdom shall arrive. Its phenomena should, before a great while, begin to show themselves.

Not with observation That is, of the firmamental phenomena. The eclipse of the moon would come to them by observation or watching. The new moon of the Passover was watched for by the Jews with much exactness. So the Jews expected that the Messiah’s kingdom would show its sign in the skies, and then the face of the world be changed and renewed. The dead would be raised; and a Messiah, all glorious and heroic, would lead the armies of Israel to the destruction of the foes of God. Hence, as prophecy seemed to point to that day as its era, doubtless there was much observation of the signs of the sky.

Verses 20-27


We have here to the end of this chapter a remarkable series of passages, bearing a somewhat mysterious relation to the great Second Advent discourse delivered on Mount Olivet. Matthew 25:26.

We may divide it into two sections, delivered obviously at different times and to different parties. The section 20, 21, is expressly said to be delivered to the Pharisees. The section 22-37 is also said to be addressed to the disciples. The kingdoms discussed are also different. With the Pharisees, he discusses an internal kingdom of grace: with the disciples he discusses his external kingdom at the judgment advent.

Verse 21

21. Lo, here As it would not show itself to the observation of watchers in the sky, so it would not break out in spots on the earth. The rumour that the Messiah was marching with the blood-red banner from Edom, or that he had already descended upon Mount Olivet, or that he was in secret council chambers with the sages of the Sanhedrim, would all prove falsehoods.

Is within you Is not an external and political one, but is a power and a realm within the soul. By using the second person plural, Jesus did not mean to concede that that kingdom was now actually within their hearts. He spoke to them generally as men. Some render the passage, the kingdom of God is among you. The Greek preposition well admits that meaning, but the context scarcely does. What our Lord appears to assert is, that his kingdom is not external but internal; that is, it is not a thing of observation and localities, but of consciousness, and within.

Verse 22

22. The days will come After his ascension the national commotions, the Roman invasion, the anarchy and the downfall of the state are to ensue. Deceivers, false prophets, and false Christs should appear. How would those disciples look back to those halcyon days when the blessed Jesus was protecting them by his present divinity, and guiding them, by his infallible counsel, into the paths of truth and safety.

One of the days Trials may come when, should Jesus for but one day revisit them, they would esteem it a most wondrous happiness. So it is said that the Venetians, when their power declined, used to recall the name of one of their most victorious admirals in the words, “O for one day of brave old Dandolo!” The connection here shows that the days of the Son of man, unlike the same words in Luke 17:26, refer to the days of the first advent.

Ye shall not see it What is this but a clear and decisive intimation that the second coming of the Son of man would not take place in their day?

Verses 22-30

The external kingdom ( at the advent) explained to the disciples, Luke 17:22-30.

As Jesus had to the Pharisees checked all their Lo, heres and Lo, theres by referring the kingdom to the inner man, the disciples seem on a late occasion to have questioned him whether there was no external kingdom and coming.

Jesus replies, (Luke 17:22-25,) that after his departure their intense desire for his presence may dispose them to believe in a Jesus disclosing himself on earth; but his final coming will be lightning-like from heaven; but not in the present generation, which embraces only his advent of suffering. But (Luke 17:27-30) that advent, when it did come, would be as sudden as the flood, and as the doom of Sodom. The disciples thus are now taught the difference between the internal and the external coming and kingdom. The former is now; the latter in a coming generation.

Verses 22-37

22-37. The discourse to his disciples, which follows, is evidently added by Luke rather from analogy in the subject than from sameness of time. As Jesus had described to the Pharisees his present and internal kingdom, so now he describes to his disciples his coming and eternal kingdom. It is difficult to say whether or not this entire passage unto his disciples is a fragmentary sketch by a fourth hand in distinction to the three given in Matthew, Mark, and Luke, of the discourse on Mount Olivet, or whether it be a separate discourse. Our own view (the reason for which will appear as we progress) is, that 22-30 is complete in itself; is upon one subject; and was addressed to his disciples subsequently to, and in reference to, his words above to the Pharisees. The passage 31-37 is obviously a part of the discourse on Olivet, as will appear in our notes upon it. We divide, therefore, the whole passage to the disciples into these two parts.

Verse 23

23. See here; or, see there These local Messiahs starting up in different places, or rumored to have started up, will prove false. To the Pharisees, the contrast above was between the kingdom without and the kingdom within; the contrast now is between the Messiah from the earth and the Messiah from heaven. See notes on Matthew 24:23-27.

Verse 25

25. Of this generation To this generation belong not his second advent, but his internal kingdom; his sufferings, and his death. How absurd and contradictory to a whole mass of texts, the idea that our Lord, or his disciples, taught that his second coming was in their generation.

Luke 17:26-27 are nearly identical with Matthew 24:37-39.

Verse 26

26. The days of the Son of man The days preceding his second advent, just as the days of Noah were the days preceding the flood.

Verse 28

28. Days of Lot Were this entire part 26-37 a fragmentary report by a fourth hand of some passage in the great discourse on Olivet, this passage would be additional to what has been furnished by any other hand.

Eat… drank… bought… sold… planted… builded All these describe not any special course of sinfulness, but a regular train of careless daily life, expecting no sudden advent of destruction.

Verse 29

29. Rained fire and brimstone A terrible likeness of a flaming fire, described, in 2 Thessalonians 1:8, as attending the Second Coming of the Son of man.

Passages belonging to the Olivet discourse, (Matthew 24:25,) furnished by a fourth reporter, 31-37.

Luke 17:31-33 belong after Matthew 24:16, and apply to Jerusalem’s destruction. Luke 17:34-36 are to be identified with Matthew 24:40-41, and apply to the Second Advent. See our notes on the passages in Matthew.

Verse 31

31. Upon the housetop Of course this can be no description of any incident at the coming of Christ to judge the world. For from what is this owner of the stuff in the house supposed to flee? Certainly not from the judgment throne of Christ! It can, therefore, be no continuance of the same topic with that in Luke 17:26-30. And therefore, again, it must be referred to its proper place in the great discourse of which it seems to be a fugitive fragment.

Verse 32

32. Remember Lot’s wife The Christians escaping from the destruction of Jerusalem to Pella (see note on Matthew 24:16) are very strikingly parallelled by Lot’s wife fleeing from Sodom. Let them beware how they look back to Judaism. The example of Lot’s wife could be no lesson for fleeing from the judgment throne; so that it has no reference to the second coming.

Verse 33

33. Seek to save his life By avoiding flight with Christians and taking share with the Jews.

Shall lose it He will perish with the Jews.

Lose his life By committing himself to the safe keeping of Christ alone.

Shall preserve it From the destruction that awaits the Jewish capital.

Verses 35-36

35, 36. See notes on Matthew 24:40-41.

Verse 37

37. Where, Lord See notes on Matthew 24:28. It is plain that the words Where, Lord, etc., are a fragment detached from some connected discourse. From what discourse? To no other place in the world can it be referred but to Matthew 24:28. In our note on that verse, (vol. i, p. 283,) we have so “incorporated Matthew and Luke together” in a little Harmony, as to present, probably, our Lord’s real words. Let us add this present fragment to that little Harmony, and suppose the disciples to ask, Where, Lord, shall the battlefields of that great slaughter be? Our Lord would reiterate his reply, Where the carcase, there the eagles. Wherever a company of Jews makes a stand, a cohort of Romans shall be upon them.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 17". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/luke-17.html. 1874-1909.
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