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Bible Commentaries

Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament
Luke 12

 

 

Verse 1

Luke 12:1. In the mean time. Literally: in which things, i.e., during those just related.

When many thousands, lit., ‘the myriads,’ etc. ‘Myriads’ is used indefinitely here.

First. May join this with what follows: ‘first of all beware,’ but we prefer the usual connection with ‘said,’ etc. He speaks to His disciples now, to the multitude afterwards (Luke 12:13 ff.).

Leaven of the Pharisees, i.e., their doctrine (Matthew 16:12).

Which is hypocrisy. Not strictly that the leaven was hypocrisy, but that their leaven (doctrine) was of such a kind that its essence was hypocrisy. This is reason why they should beware of it.


Verses 1-12

Luke 12:1-12. WARNING AGAINST HYPOCRISY. Comp. the various parallel passages in Matthew. The connection: ‘Beware of hypocrisy (Luke 12:1), for all shall be made evident in the end (Luke 12:2), and ye are witnesses and sharers in this unfolding of the truth (Luke 12:3). In this your work, ye need not fear men, for your Father has you in His keeping (Luke 12:4-7)—and the confession of my name is a glorious thing (Luke 12:8), but the rejection of it (Luke 12:9), and especially the ascription of my works to the evil one (Luke 12:10) a fearful one. And in this confession ye shall be helped by the Holy Spirit in the hour of need (Luke 12:11-12).’ Alford.


Verses 1-34

CHAPTER 12 is made up of a series of discourses following each other in immediate succession, but with less of unity and logical connection than are found in most of our Lord’s recorded sermons. Some have therefore thought that Luke here records a compilation of our Lord’s teachings, delivered on very different occasions, one section alone (Luke 12:13-21) being peculiar and in its proper place. This is possible, yet even in that case the order and arrangement of the Evangelist suggest new views of the truth elsewhere recorded. In itself the chapter seems to contain a series of discourses delivered on one definite occasion. The only evidence that it is other than what it seems is furnished by the similarity of the sayings to those found in different connections in the other Gospels. In view of the acknowledged repetitions in our Lord’s teachings, this evidence is insufficient.—It is probable that the crowd was gathering again while our Lord was in the house of the Pharisee, that on coming forth He began a discourse to His disciples, following up the thoughts uttered there; and that as new occasions immediately presented themselves, He continued His discourses with a variation in the theme.—The section may be thus divided: Luke 12:1-12, warning against hypocrisy; Luke 12:13-21, against covetousness, occasioned by the request of one present about a division of inheritance; Luke 12:22-34, against worldly care, or lessons of trust in God.—In the first part the tone of warning predominates, in the second instruction, in the third encouragement and com-fort.


Verses 2-9

Luke 12:2-9. See on Matthew 10:26-33, which was also spoken to the disciples.

My friends (Luke 12:4) is peculiar, see John 15:13-15.

Fear him (Luke 12:5). This refers to God, we hold

Power (Luke 12:5), or ‘authority.’


Verse 10

Luke 12:10. See on Matthew 12:31, in regard to the sin against the Holy Spirit.


Verse 11-12

Luke 12:11-12. See on Matthew 10:19-20.


Verse 13

Luke 12:13. And one out of the multitude. An ordinary hearer in the crowd. His request may have been suggested by our Lord’s previous declarations about Providential care, or by his notion that the Messiah would set all things right. So that he manifested some confidence in the Lord by thus addressing Him.

Bid my brother divide the inheritance with me. The man seemed to have been wronged by his brother, and feeling this, as is so natural, he made this inopportune request. There is no evidence that he wanted more than his legal share, or that he was a younger brother, who was envious of the double portion of the first-born son. His covetousness is evident without any such conjectures. Brooding on earthly things while our Lord spoke of heavenly things; the only effect was a request for earthly things. No covetousness is so dangerous as that which listens to Christ only to use Him as a helper in increasing wealth. Yet this man was no hypocrite, was unaware of the sinfulness of such a step. So it has been since, but Christ would here shed light on this sin.


Verses 13-21

Luke 12:13-21. WARNING AGAINST COVETOUS-NESS. Peculiar to Luke.


Verse 14

Luke 12:14. Man. In a tone of reproof, as in Romans 2:1; Romans 9:20.

Who made me a judge? etc. Moses assumed this position and was reproached for it by one of his countrymen in language closely resembling this (Exodus 2:14); Christ expressly rejects it. The one was the founder of a state, the other of a spiritual kingdom. A purely worldly case, our Lord declines to consider. It has been remarked that He repeatedly considered the question of divorce; which shows that marriage and divorce are not purely secular matters, but of a religious character.


Verse 15

Luke 12:15. Unto them. Evidently the crowd.

Keep yourselves from all covetousness. Our Lord saw that this was the man’s motive, and grounds His lesson upon it. From the one form manifested by the man He warns against ‘all’ kinds.

For even when one has abundance, his life is not from his possessions. The sentence is difficult to translate accurately. The thought is: no man’s life consists in what he possesses, and even when he has abundance this does not become so. The positive truth, afterwards brought out, is: A man’s life is of God, hence it cannot be from even the most abundant possessions. If earthly ‘life’ is here meant, the prominent idea is, that God alone lengthens or shortens the thread of life, irrespective of possessions; and this is certainly taught in the parable which follows. But Luke 12:21 seems to call for a higher sense (including spiritual and eternal life). This suggests the additional thought that true life does not consist in wealth. The two views may be represented by the two translations: his life does not depend on, or, does not consist in, his possessions.


Verse 16

Luke 12:16. A parable. Yet a true history constantly repeated.

The ground, lit., ‘place,’ i.e., estate.

Brought forth plentifully. By God’s blessing, not by fraud or injustice, did this man’s wealth increase. The seeming innocence of the process is its danger; there is nothing to awaken qualms of conscience as his possessions increase.


Verse 17

Luke 12:17. What shall I do? He does not appear as a grasping speculator, but as one whom wealth, by a very natural process, made discontented, anxious, and perplexed. The proper answer to his question is found in Luke 12:33. But this prosperous man says, ‘my fruits,’ not God’s gifts; that too when the increase was due to God’s Providence. This feeling is as sinful in its way as recognized crimes.

Luke 12:18. This will I do, etc. He proposed to do just what every man of ordinary business sagacity would do. He was not a ‘fool,’ from a commercial point of view. He represents the great mass of successful men.


Verse 19

Luke 12:19. Soul, thou hast many goods laid up for many years. He was no unusual and hardened sinner, because he thus thought. Yet he made two mistakes: (1) He thought that his many goods could satisfy his ‘soul;’ degrading it to the level of materialism; (2) He spoke of ‘many years,’ forgetting that he had no such lease of life.

Take thine ease. His wealth had disquieted him; he would now make it the basis of rest

Eat, drink, be merry. But idleness will not satisfy him; he must begin to revel, to have occupation. This was the natural step. The four verses (Matthew 12:16-19) are a graphic portrayal of worldliness. In real life sometimes the father fills out the character of Luke 12:16; Luke 12:18, and it is the sons who utter the epicurean sentiment of Luke 12:19; but the picture remains true to life. Novelists expand these verses into volumes, but too often forget the spiritual lesson.


Verse 20

Luke 12:20. But God said unto him. In contrast with what he had said to himself. God is represented as audibly uttering this judgment, to bring before the man the certainty of approaching death. Often in real life some messenger of death comes to impress the same fact upon those here represented.

Thou fool, in spite of the sensible, practical thought of Luke 12:18.

This night. The ‘many years’ are not his.

They require, etc. This is probably equivalent to: I will require of thee, but the form suggests a reference to the angels as the ministers of God’s purposes. Some indeed think that there is an allusion to murderers who will rob him of his goods also, but this is rather fanciful.

Thy soul, which you would have ‘eat, drink, and be merry,’ is summoned where all this ceases, must be conscious of its higher nature, which, alas, now exposes it to judgment.

The things which thou hast prepared, etc. ‘Prepared’ for thyself, they cannot be thine. Some answer: they will be for my son, my family, but observation proves the answer a folly, Inherited riches are rarely a blessing, and the strife among heirs in answering this very clause is one of the saddest pages of social lite (comp. Luke 12:13).


Verse 21

Luke 12:21. So, thus foolish and destitute, even though the hour of his awaking from the dream of wisdom and wealth has not yet come, is, not ‘will be,’ for a terrible every-day fact is set forth, he that layeth up treasure for himself. The folly and sin and real destitution springs from the selfishness of this course. The evil is not in the treasure, nor in laying up treasure, but in laying up treasure for one’s self. A case like this, where the sinner is respectable, honest, and prosperous, shows the true nature of sin: it is a devotion to self, not to God, and laying up solely for self is therefore a sin, according to the judgment of Christ.

And is not rich toward God. This is the same as having ‘a treasure in the heavens’ (Luke 12:33; Matthew 5:20). Hence it cannot mean simply, being actually rich and using the wealth for the glory of God. It refers to the true wealth which God preserves for us and will impart to us, spiritual wealth, possessions in His grace, His kingdom, His eternal favor, that are not left behind at death. Gathering for self directly interferes with the acquiring of this true wealth; gathering for the purposes set forth in Luke 12:19 is a robbing of the spirit. But the possession of wealth does not in and of itself prevent the acquisition of the true riches. It is the desire for wealth, the trust in riches, which proves a snare (chap, Luke 18:24; Mark 10:24). The sin of covetousness is all the more dangerous, because so respectable. But the Bible joins together covetousness, uncleanness, and idolatry (see Ephesians 5:5, and many similar passages).


Verses 22-34

Luke 12:22-34. WARNING AGAINST WORLDLY CARE, or lessons of trust in God. These verses were addressed to the disciples (Luke 12:22), and the connection with what precedes is close.

Therefore, since worldly riches are of so little use, be not anxious; God who cares for your higher life will provide for the lower, and since He provides food for the ravens and clothing for the lilies, He will certainly, being a Father, provide for you, His children. See further on Matthew 6:25-33; Matthew 19-21.


Verse 23

Luke 12:23. The life is more, etc. ‘You turn it exactly round: food is meant to serve life, but life forsooth serves food; clothes are to serve the body, but the body forsooth must serve the clothing; and so blind is the world that it sees not this,’ (Luther.)


Verse 24

Luke 12:24. Consider the ravens. Comp. Job 38:41; Psalms 147:9; the thought here is more general, however. The word translated ‘consider’ is stronger than that used in the sermon on the Mount; it implies observation and study. ‘In the example borrowed from nature, it is important to mark how all the figures employed—sowing, reaping, storehouse, barn—are connected with the parable of the foolish rich man. All these labors, all these provisions, in the midst of which the rich man died,—the ravens knew nothing of them; and yet they live! The will of God is thus a surer guaranty of existence than the possession of superabundance.’ (Godet.) Worldly care forgets to trust God; covetousness trusts wealth more than God. Both sins are dangerous, because insidious. Many Christians obtain the mastery over other forms of evil, and yet fail to recognize the evil of these closely related practical errors.


Verse 29

Luke 12:29. Neither be ye of doubtful mind. The word in the original is derived from ‘meteor,’ and is explained by some: do not rise in fancy to high demands, creating imagined necessities, thus making yourselves more ill-contented and more disposed to unbelieving anxiety. Others interpret (as in E. V.): do not be fluctuating, i.e., anxious, tossed between hope and fear. This suits the connection, but is a less usual sense.


Verse 32

Luke 12:32. Fear not. Peculiar to Luke. The fear forbidden, is that which interferes with proper seeking of the kingdom of God (Luke 12:31), including fear about losing earthly things and fear about not obtaining the heavenly riches. Such encouragement was needed by the disciples, who were outwardly weak: little flock, ‘little’ in contrast with the myriads of people (Luke 12:1); but the flock’ of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11; Matthew 26:31). Comp. Isaiah 11:10-14, which justifies a wider application to all real Christians.

For it is your Father’s good pleasure, etc. Because of the ‘good pleasure,’ they would obtain the heavenly riches; fear about spiritual things being thus removed, there ought to be none about temporal things.


Verse 33

Luke 12:33. Sell what ye have, and give alms. Comp. Matthew 6:19-21, but this is stronger. The connection of thought is with Luke 12:17 (‘what shall I do?’), telling how earthly riches should be invested. But there is also a close connection with what precedes: Since God provides for our temporal wants as well as our higher spiritual ones, use His temporal gifts so as to promote your spiritual welfare. The first, but not exclusive, application is to the Apostles, who must be thus unencumbered in their ministry. If this course of conduct promoted their spiritual welfare, it will that of all Christians. The precept will not be understood too literally, except by those who apply it only to ascetics who assume vows of poverty. Our Lord’s words are diametrically opposed to modern socialism. The latter would make laws to take away wealth, the former inculcate love that gives away.

Purses which wax not old. Comp. chap. Luke 10:4, where the Seventy are forbidden to take purses.

A treasure in the heavens. A comparison with Luke 12:21 and Matthew 7:2 shows that this precept is of universal application.


Verse 35

Luke 12:35. Let your loins be girded about. Unless the long garments of the Orientals were thus girt up, it was impossible to walk or to serve at table.

And your lamps burning, i.e., in readiness for the master returning at night. Be in continual readiness to receive the returning Messiah, your master, as befits your relation to Him. The first figure points to the activity, the second to the watchfulness, of the faithful servant.


Verses 35-48

Luke 12:35-48. EXHORTATIONS TO WATCHFULNESS. The connection is with Luke 12:32 : ‘It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,’ let that free you from anxiety; but let it be the motive to labor and watch for the coming of the King. The passage resembles Matthew 24:42-51, but the close connection with what precedes, forbids the view that Luke here gives us another account of that discourse.


Verses 35-59

CONTENTS. A continuation of the discourse. Luke 12:35-48 contain exhortations to watchfulness; the difference between the faithful and unfaithful servant suggests a difficulty in the way of faithfulness (Luke 12:49-53), namely, the antagonism developed in the establishment and progress of Christ’s kingdom. The thought of this antagonism naturally leads to the rebuke addressed to the multitude for blindness and want of prudence with respect to the signs of the times (Luke 12:54-59).


Verse 36

Luke 12:36. When he will return from the marriage feast. The main thought is simply that He is away at a feast, and expected to return. In the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13), the return of the Bridegroom is the main thought.

Straightway open unto him. Because they are ready, and have nothing to hide.


Verse 37

Luke 12:37. Blessed, etc. The blessedness of these faithful servants is set forth in a figure.

Gird himself, to serve them. Comp. John 13:4, which foreshadows the ministering condescension of the master, at His return.

Shall come forward. A peculiar expression, describing His approach to the guests.

Serve them, wait upon them at table.—In this passage no prominence is given to the wedding feast, and this must be remembered in interpreting it.


Verse 38

Luke 12:38. In the second watch

in the third watch (from 9 P.M. to 3 A.M.). The first and fourth watches are not mentioned (as in Mark 13:35). The middle watches are the time of soundest sleep. Even if our Lord delays longer than the servants thought (Luke 12:45), a faithful servant can thus show his fidelity.


Verse 39

Luke 12:39. But know this, etc. A new figure (of the thief in the right) brings out the unexpected return. See on Matthew 24:43-44.


Verse 41

Luke 12:41. This parable. Of the watchful servants.

To us, or even to all? The question was probably put in a wrong spirit, with reference to the high reward promised, rather than to the duty enjoined. The early date renders this the more likely. The language is so characteristic of Peter as to furnish striking evidence of the accuracy of Luke.


Verses 42-46

Luke 12:42-46. See on Matthew 24:45-51, which corresponds exactly. ‘Jesus continues His teaching as if He took no account of Peter’s question; but in reality He gives such a turn to the warning which follows about watchfulness, that it includes the precise answer to the question.’ (Godet.) Faithfulness and unfaithfulness come into prominence, not the reward of a particular class, irrespective of their conduct Peter learned the lesson; the warning tone of these verses reappears in his epistles.

With the unfaithful. Matthew: ‘with the hypocrites.’ No previous faithfulness will avail. When the Lord comes, He will judge His servants as He finds them.


Verse 47

Luke 12:47. And that servant who knew, etc. The verse states a general principle, which serves to explain the severity of the punishment spoken of in Luke 12:46. Peter’s distinction (Luke 12:41) between us’ and ‘all’ corresponds with that between the ‘servant who knew,’ and the servant ‘that knew not’ (Luke 12:48). But the application is general.

Made not ready. It includes not only ‘himself,’ but all that had been placed in his charge.

Stripes is properly supplied.

Luke 12:48. That knew not. With fewer privileges, less knowledge, referring first to a disciple, but applicable to all men.

And did things worthy of stripes, etc. The ground of the punishment is not disobedience to an unknown will of the Lord, but the commission of acts worthy of punishment According to the law of conscience those here referred to will be judged and condemned (see Romans 1:19-20; Romans 1:32; Romans 2:14-15); but their punishment will be less than that of those with more light. But all who can read this declaration are given more light.

With few stripes. Both classes will be punished in the same way; the difference being in degree, not in kind. This shows that the punishment will be during conscious existence, but gives no hint of a difference in the duration of punishment.—Nothing is said of those who know and do, or of those who know not and do, should the latter class exist (Romans 2:14).—The language, here used (Luke 12:45-48) implies retribution (not discipline), at and after Christ’s second coming. On the latter part of the verse, see Matthew 25:29.

The more. More than from others, not more than he received, with an allusion to the interest, as in Matthew 25:27.


Verse 49

Luke 12:49. I came to cast fire upon the earth. This is explained by most, as referring to the gift of the Holy Spirit. This was a baptism (Luke 12:50) with fire, resulting in the ‘division’ spoken of in Luke 12:51-53. Others refer it to the word of God. The view that the ‘fire’ means the ‘division’ itself obscures the whole passage; how could our Lord unconditionally wish for the latter. ‘Cast upon the earth,’ refers to the powerful and sudden influence of the day of Pentecost. Others refer the clause to the extraordinary spiritual excitement which His gospel would awaken. But this was the result of the gift of the Holy Spirit.

How would I that it were already kindled! Our Lord here expresses a desire for kindling of this ‘fire,’ but there is much difference of opinion as to the exact meaning of the original. The form we give is the most natural interpretation. Another view takes the clause as question and answer: ‘What do I wish? Would that it were already kindled!’ The E. V., though most literal, is not correct; but the fire certainly was not yet kindled.


Verses 49-53

Luke 12:49-53. Having shown the awful difference between the faithful and unfaithful servant, and the great responsibility resting upon His disciples, our Lord points out that the difference begins here and is manifested in the antagonism which the establishment of His kingdom develops. While this renders faithfulness more difficult, the knowledge of it increases the sense of responsibility and urges to greater faithfulness.


Verse 50

Luke 12:50. But. Before my wish will be fulfilled.

I have a baptism, etc. Our Lord here refers to His own sufferings, and especially to His death. We may find in the figure either a reference to His burial, or to the depth and intensity of His sufferings, when the waters roll over His soul. Before we could be baptized with the Holy Spirit, this must come, for only thus was this new power bought for us.

And how am I straitened, etc. ‘What a weight is on me.’ Anxiety, trouble of spirit, the human reluctance in view of fearful sufferings, here appear. It is the premonition of Gethsemane and Calvary. As this was probably uttered before the parable of the Sower, it was a long shadow the cross threw upon His soul.


Verses 51-53

Luke 12:51-53. See on Matthew 10:34-36, which however was probably spoken later than this.

Division is equivalent to ‘a sword’ (Matthew). This would be the effect of the ‘fire’ He would send. His own coming indeed resulted in antagonism, but the gift of the Holy Ghost increased it, and the measure of that antagonism has been the measure of the Spirit’s influence. In one sense the greatness of the strife is a proof of the greatness of the Lord whose coming caused it, as His prediction of it is a proof of His Divine knowledge.

Henceforth (Luke 12:52). Our Lord speaks of the state of things after His death as already present. But there is a hint that it has already begun.

Three against two, etc. A picture of varying conflict as well as of discord. Peculiar to Luke.


Verses 54-59

Luke 12:54-59. REPROACH OF THE PEOPLE, for blindness and want of prudence with respect to the signs of the times. The connection with what precedes is close: the discord, as already begun, arises from the fact that the mass of the people do not discern the time. The very turning to the people, after the address to the disciples, is a token of this division. The form differs from that of Matthew, and such thoughts might well be repeated. The weather signs of Luke 12:54-55 still hold good in Palestine, the west wind coming from the sea, and the south wind from the hot desert. Other signs are probably alluded to in Luke 12:56 : of the earth. The thought is that of Matthew 16:2-3, but the signs are different, as well as the hearers: there the Pharisees and Sadducees, here the crowd gathered about Him. But they were under the influence of these leaders. This was the answer to the question: how is it that ye know not how to discern, put to the test and judge, this time. The signs were plain enough. The duty of such discernment as well as the danger of failure appears from the history of the Jewish people during that century. But the duty and danger remain; the latter a sad proof of the power of sin over the mind as well as the heart.


Verse 57

Luke 12:57. And why, etc. A further reproach for want of knowledge of personal duty, which involved great want of prudence (Luke 12:58-59).

Even of yourselves. Either independently of their teachers, or independently of the plain signs of the times.

What is right, namely repentance, as appears from the figure which follows. They ought not only to have discerned the coming of the Messiah, but thus prepared for it. Want of discernment in regard to God’s dealings (‘this time’) usually involves ignorance and neglect of personal duty.


Verse 58

Luke 12:58. For as thou art going, etc. Act as in such a case; the implied thought being that they were thus going.

With thine adversary. The ‘adversary’ is the holy law of God, since ‘what is right’ had just been spoken of; in the parallel passage, Matthew 5:25-26, the connection points rather to some brother offended.

The magistrate is God.

On the way. ‘As thou art’ is unnecessary; ‘on the way’ belongs to what follows.

To be released from him. By repentance and faith.

Lest He, i.e., the adversary.

Christ is the Judge.

Officer, or ‘exactor.’ The Roman officer corresponding to our sheriff, more exactly named by Luke than by Matthew. The word is used only here, and probably refers to the angels, see Matthew 13:41.

The prison. The place of punishment. This interpretation of the figure seems even more fitting here than in Matthew. Some prefer to regard it as a general statement of danger, without explaining the several parts. But the repetition of the detailed figure (the Sermon on the Mount certainly preceded) as well as the previous part of the discourse point to special meanings.


Verse 59

Luke 12:59. Then shalt by no means come out thence. Comp. Matthew 5:26. This figure represents the danger of punishment in view of failure to know and do what is right, and it must have an important and definite meaning. Those who come unreleased before the Judge at the last day, will be punished forever. Any other sense is out of keeping with the strong language of Luke 12:46, and of Luke 12:56 (‘ye hypocrites’).

Mite. Greek, ‘lepton,’ the smallest of coins then in use. Comp. Mark 12:42.

 


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Bibliography Information
Schaff, Philip. "Commentary on Luke 12:4". "Schaff's Popular Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/scn/luke-12.html. 1879-90.

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Wednesday, October 23rd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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