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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 12

 

 

Verse 1

1. In the mean time—The Greek εν οις signifies, At which times. It refers to the period succeeding the contest with and the denunciation of the Pharisees in the last chapter; but the plural number indicates that the connection is not immediate.

An innumerable multitude—In the original μυριαδων, MYRIADS that is, tens of thousands; so that, if taken literally, it must indicate at least twenty thousand.

Commentators do not seem to observe that this is an assemblage in PERAEA, scarce paralleled by anything in Galilee. And such an assemblage must have been called together only in expectation that a great discourse, probably as part of the contest with the hierarchy, was to be delivered. In allusion to the numbers said by the Evangelist to be present, we will call it


Verses 1-3

I. The warning against the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: the judgment day will expose Luke 2:1-3.

Unto his disciples first of all—The discourse alternates (sometimes doubtfully to those who heard it) between the twelve and the multitudes. But even those parts which were ostensibly addressed to one, had a real application to the other, and were doubtless uttered in the hearing of both.

The leaven—The deceitful and treacherous doctrines spreading and impregnating the lump, like leaven.

Of the Pharisees—With whom the contest is now intense, and against whom, in their own persons, he had lately uttered a solemn denunciation at the close of the last chapter.

Hypocrisy—In holding, from self-interest, to a system which they did not truly believe; in rejecting Christ contrary to their own conscience; in pretending to a ritual purity while indulging in all unrighteousness.


Verses 1-59

§ 47THE SERMON TO THE MYRIADS, Luke 12:1-59.

Addressed partly to the disciples and partly to the multitudes, its subject is: The importance, as against the Pharisees, of deciding for Christ; which is urged especially in view of the judgment to come, at his SECOND ADVENT. It contains passages which had been previously delivered in Galilee, especially in his Sermon on the Mount; and passages resembling portions in the discourse on the Mount of Olives, Matthew 24:5. This discourse may be considered as an intermediate between those two great discourses; and is scarce less important than either; being thus one of the three most important discourses recorded by the synoptical Evangelists.


Verse 2

2. Covered… revealed… hid… known—For the day shall declare it. Profound as are the concealments of the dissembling hierarchy, the great day of analysis will disclose it.


Verse 3

3. In closets—Any close room for stealth, or chamber for privacy.

Proclaimed upon the housetops—The practice continues to the present day in Palestine, of making proclamations in the country villages from the flat roofs of the houses. “These proclamations are generally made,” says Dr. Thomson, “in the evening, after the people have returned from their labors in the field. The public crier ascends the highest roof at hand, and lifts up his voice in a long drawn call upon all faithful subjects to give ear and obey. He then proceeds to announce, in a set form, the will of their master, and demand obedience thereto.” So from the summit of final judgment will Christ proclaim the guilt of the hypocrite.


Verse 4

II. To the myriads. Fear not them, but God who is able to judge and destroy the soul, 4-12. Matthew 10:28-31.

4. Unto you my friendsMy friends includes both disciples (that is apostles and followers) and the myriads. They were not only to beware of the deceit, but to be fearless of the menaces and hostilities, of the hierarchy.


Verses 5-7

5-7. They were to fear, not the hierarchy, but God who had the power of hell; whose eye neither the minute sparrow nor the slightest hair escaped.


Verse 8-9

8, 9. Matthew 10:32-33.

Confess me—In spite of Pharisaic wiles or violence.

Before the angels—Present shame shall bring future glory.


Verse 10

10. Blasphemeth against the Holy Ghost—As it is sadly to be supposed these malignant apostates had. Matthew 12:31.


Verse 11

11. Bring you unto the synagogues—The same directions as were given to the Apostles, (Matthew 10:19,) are now given for all who may be destined to the same persecutions. The terms synagogues, magistrates, powers, are much more limited than kings and rulers.


Verse 13

III. The worldling’s ill-timed interruption brings out the parable of the Rich Fool.

13. One of the company—From the vast and crowded congregation a voice now comes interrupting the words of Jesus, who pauses to hear and then answer. The interruption slightly deflects the train of Jesus’s remarks; but they still pursue the same general current, namely, the little importance of earthly suffering in comparison with our account at the day of judgment. Master—The man is not probably a follower of Jesus. He has not much if any religious interest; but he looks upon Jesus as a great Rabbi who has a solemn sense of responsibility and justice. He will, therefore, be a good and impartial arbiter in the contested case.

Divide the inheritance—It is said to have been the custom for the older brother to divide, and the younger take his choice; but this brother had taken all and refused to divide.


Verse 14

14. Man—A word of solemn rebuke.

A judge or a divider—Jesus uses of himself words which were used in reply to Moses. Exodus 2:14. The judge is an official magistrate, and an arbitrator is voluntarily chosen. It was customary for contestants to choose a Rabbi for arbitrator. The custom came into use as early as the Captivity, when the Jews preferred to have their own cases tried, not by foreign courts, but by their own Jewish referees. An excellent but over-churchly commentator on this passage, draws a lesson from these words against those who assume, in Church or State, official functions to which they have not been regularly called, that is, in a so styled apostolic succession. But if Jesus had accepted this man’s request, it would have been no assumption of office at all, but the performance of a voluntary kindness. One would expect such a commentator to know that some of the noblest early bishops of the Christian Church, Ambrose and Augustine, felt obliged to undergo the onerous task of arbitration against their own wills, but in obedience to conscience, and according to the doctrine of Paul. Our Lord refused: first, in order to admonish this man of his folly in thinking of lawsuits in the midst of a discourse on the judgment day of God; and second, because as Son of God, in a brief mission for mankind, the hours of his brief ministry could not be devoted to secular matters between man and his fellow.


Verse 15

15. Covetousness—The inordinate desire for accumulation. It is natural to suppose that one or both of the parties in the quarrel for the inheritance was trying to overreach. And the intense absorption of the man in this matter, and his untimely interruption, would be of themselves proof of covetousness. Life—That is, his true life. The rich feel committed the error of forgetting that there was a higher life than bodily supplies afford. Give him the gratification of sense and he dreams that all is provided for.

Parable of the Rich Fool, 15-21.

Suggested by the worldly man’s interruption. It is in some degree a new turn of the discourse, and yet it lies under the main line of the argument.


Verse 16

16. The ground—His money then came apparently from no overreaching, but from the blessing of God on the soft he cultivated. But he forgot whence the blessing came.


Verse 17

17. What shall I do—Other men are perplexed to get wealth; this man is perplexed to dispose of it.


Verse 18

18. Pull down—His barns then are not, as they often were among the Jews, caves of the earth or rocks. They are tall buildings; but he must have still more spacious ones.

My fruits—My products.

My goods—The heathen philosophers, especially the Stoics, denied that perishable things should be called goods. But to this man they were, indeed, my goods. They were his life, than which he knew no life higher, and which he considered to consist in the abundance of his possessions.


Verse 19

19. Soul—Neither he nor his soul has a thought of anything but the enjoyments he now enumerates.

Ease, eat, drink, and be merry Indolence, gluttony, drunkenness, and licentiousness; in these four things lie this man’s conception of life.


Verse 20

20. God said—The man had had his say; there is now a higher Being who puts in a word.

Said—We are not told how God spoke, but certainly in such a way that even the fool understood him. Some think all God said was only in his decree or sovereign purpose; others that he so said by disease or dream. As the narrative is a parable, we understand that Jesus simply means to put God’s say in its true and terrible contrast with the fool’s speech to his soul.

Thou fool—In biblical language the true fool is the man who wants the moral sense; that is, the proper good sense in moral or religious matters.

This night—Not another day. Thy soul, which was to enjoy all this

life. Required of thee—As if it was a loan which is now to be paid back.

Whose shall those things be—thy heir will take the things in which thy life seemed to consist.


Verse 21

21. Treasure for himself—Whose accumulations have no aim but the gratification of the selfish desires and appetites. He is rich for himself and to himself.

Not rich toward God—He is rich toward man, who possesses those things which man values. He is rich toward God, who possesses those things which are in the sight of God of great value. God’s rich man and man’s rich man may be paupers to each other.


Verse 22

22. Unto his disciples—As he now turns again to his disciples it is plain that them in Luke 12:15 and my friends in Luke 12:4 designate the myriads, doubtless including the twelve. These words now addressed to the twelve were most of them uttered to the people in the Sermon on the Mount, and doubtless to the people, through the twelve, on the present occasion. But they have on both occasions apparently a stricter application to the twelve than to the world at large. The passages parallel to those upon which we are commenting may be found by the marginal references.


Verse 23-24

IV. To the disciples he thereupon counsels absolute unwordliness, Luke 12:23-24.

For the correspondent passages in Matthew consult the marginal references.


Verse 32

32. Little flock—Addressed primarily to the twelve.

Father’s good pleasure—The words good pleasure no doubt express a supreme and sovereign purpose; but God’s purposes are never matters of mere blank power; but are founded in infinite benevolence and wisdom. God is omnipotent love and infinite reason; and his sovereignty is the enthronement of true divine excellence and perfect goodness over the universe.

The kingdom—The kingdom of heaven, mentioned as the object of those who seek in the last verse.


Verse 33

33. Sell that ye have—For you will be rich as kings by Such a surrender.

And give alms—For this will be the richest investment.

Provide yourself bags—Purses, out of the proceeds of your sales.

Wax not old—As the purses will which contain your earthly funds.

A treasure in the heavens—In lieu of that ye have. There is a beautiful little allegory contained in this verse.


Verse 35

35. Let your loins be girded—The lord of a household of servants has gone late at night to a wedding. What hour he will return is utterly uncertain. If when he returns he finds them prepared, alert, watching, and dutiful, rich will be their reward. But woe be to them if the reverse.

Girded about you—Ready for action in doing the honours of his return. When a servant was about to engage in active service, he first drew tight around his waist the girdle which bound his loose and flowing dress, that its folds might not impede his work.

Your lights burning—As the lord returns, he must see from the distance that his house is in order. Your lamps must be, momentarily, ready for use and service.


Verses 35-50

V. Gradually extending his address from the twelve to the multitudes, Jesus warns of his Second Coming, Luke 12:35-50.

The Saviour’s address so imperceptibly expands to take in all alike, that Peter is at last induced to ask his Lord which he means, the twelve or the myriads? How beautifully calculated was this passage to make the hesitater between Jesus and the hierarchy tremble! It is the Son of man, it is himself before whom these myriads, and even these scribes and pharisees, are to appear, (and how soon neither they nor he know; though with him it is a voluntary unknowing,) and receive their final doom! Before the stupendous importance of that day, sublunary suffering and enjoyment dwindle into nothing. In view of its uncertainty of approach, how entire the attitude of readiness required! And whether that uncertainty be for a year or myriads of years, preparedness is, from man’s transitory existence, equally suitable and important. Whatever may be the distance of that day to the whole earth, each man’s distance from it is a narrow and uncertain margin of his mortal life. The coming of the Son of man is not death; but death is the limit of our distance from it. Compare supplementary note on Matthew 25.


Verse 36

36. Knocketh, they may open—Not be fast asleep, with their lights gone out, or low in the socket.


Verse 37

37. Blessed are those servants—At the Roman Saturnalia the masters put on the servile dress and waited on and served their servants. As our Lord bases this parable upon the ancient relation of master and servant, so he uses this custom for an image to express the great honour he will confer upon his servants at the judgment day. He will indeed then have put off the “form of a servant;” and all the blessings accruing to his followers from his ever having worn it, he will then confer.


Verse 38

38. Second watch… third watch—Our Lord here doubtless uses the old division by which the night was portioned into three watches. In the first would be the wedding; in the second or third the return.


Verse 39

39. The goodman of the house—The householder. The image is now changed. Before, it was the servant, knowing not the hour of the coming of his Lord; now it is a householder, knowing not the hour of the coming of the thief.

His house to be broken through—Be digged through; for the walls of the eastern houses are often of clay, and the house would be attacked by excavation.


Verse 40

40. Cometh… hour… think not—The language is now literal. The judgment day lies in the unknown future. It may be to-day; it may be myriads of years hence. We may be mistaken in placing it nearer than it is, or making it more distant. Even our interpretations of those prophecies which seem to us at the present time to indicate that the day is distant, may be wrong; for prophecy is designedly obscure, in accordance with the law that the future must be profoundly hid from mortal knowledge. But, on the other hand, near two thousand years have passed since these warnings of our Lord were given, and those were certainly mistaken who have, during every age from the apostles to the present day, fixed the time as to be in their own generation. On this very subject it is that the apostle warns us that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years. (See 2 Peter 3:8.) This night of the master’s absence is to be measured by the chronology of eternity, by the arithmetic of infinity; for it is the eternal and infinite One that speaks. Yet it is plain from many scriptures that when the Lord does come it will be upon an unsuspecting world.


Verse 41

VI. Jesus, in answer to Peter, extends the warnings so as to include all.

41. Unto us, or even to all—Our Lord had addressed Luke 12:22-34 to the apostles. But so solemn is his charge, 35-40, to watch for his second coming, that Peter wishes to know whether these solemn responsibilities belonged to the apostles alone, or to all Christians.


Verse 42

42. Who then is—Our Lord in effect says that every man may apply the warning to his own case. In his discourse on the Mount of Olives (Mark 13:37) our Lord expressly extended the warning to ALL: What I say unto you I say unto all. Perhaps our Lord means here to indicate that the all includes more than that whole congregation, and embraces the great, congregation of the entire Church and world between the two advents. See our note on Luke 18:8, and also supplementary note on Matthew 25.

Who is that faithful and wise steward?—Whoever and whenever and wherever he is, blessed is he!


Verse 45

45. Say… delayeth—Supposing that he ought to come sooner. It is remarkable that every mistake on the subject of time hitherto made arises from requiring it to be

too soon. Beat… eat… drink… drunken—Our Lord here gives a graphic description of the disorder and revel of the slaves of a householder, set loose from all fear or sense of responsibility.


Verse 46

46. Cut him in sunder—The highest punishment here symbolized is inflicted on a certain class of sinners, (of whom the scribes and Pharisees, with whom his struggle now is, are the type,) who, having truth and knowledge in possession or in reach, not only neglect to avoid sin, but even persecute the righteous. But the question now arises: What becomes of those who know not, and have no revelation in reach? To that question the Lord now answers, laying down the law of proportionate retribution. For a discussion of this subject see our Work on THE WILL pp. 343-360.


Verse 47

47. Knew his Lord’s will—Either actually, from received information, or, virtually, because the revelation was within reach and with due warning.

His Lord’s will—Namely, that the servant should keep his girded loins and trimmed lamp in readiness for the coming of his Lord; The sin here is rather negligence than the riot of Luke 12:46. The terms of punishment are therefore much milder.

Prepared not himself—For his Lord’s return in judgment.

Beaten with many stripes—In the blended proportion of his knowledge and his amount of sin.


Verse 48

48. Knew not—Who had no access to revelation. The case, as it squares with the parable, would be that of a servant whose lord was absent to a night feast, but who has not been informed of his lord’s orders to wait and watch for him. Did commit things worthy of stripes—The servant now supposed is one who, nevertheless, commits any things worthy of stripes which he knows, without special revelation, by the light of common sense and conscience, are contrary to his duty as a servant. If what he does is committed through unavoidable mistake, without possibility of learning the right and wrong, he has done nothing worthy of stripes, save in the esteem of a very unreasonable and tyrannical master.

Shall be beaten—Unless he repent before God.

With few stripes—Few in comparison with what the sinner in the broad light of revelation would suffer. He is beaten because he sinned against light; he is beaten less because he had less light. But he is beaten according to his sin and light, in the same proportion as sinners under the dispensation of revelation. So that there is an equalization of responsibility and penalty in the entire administration of God.

Much given… much required—This is the just and universal law lying at the bottom of the principles just laid down.

Men—This principle of God’s government is the principle on which men judicially act. It accords with the universal conscience and common sense. And if men universally know the principle, it is right that they should be judged as knowing it. How responsible would be our Lord’s present auditors, if they rejected him and his Gospel, and preferred the leaven (Luke 12:1) of the scribes and doctors, he leaves them from these principles to determine.

VII. The crisis of decision between the hierarchy and Christ, 49-55.

A cold shudder now seems to pass our Lord in view of this crisis. The fire is the strife which is to divide the world and terminate only in the trial and delivery by the last Judge. (Luke 12:58.)


Verse 49

49. I am come—At this my first advent.

To send fire—As (Matthew 10:34) he had come to send a sword. See our note on that and its following passage.

What will I—What can I will or purpose but to accept it?

If it be already kindled—If the fierce wrath of my enemies, which must result in my death, be already burning. If it be so, I must endure the dread agony.


Verse 50

50. A baptism—The baptism is the terrible paroxysm of inward agony. There is no such antithesis here as some find between the fire of strife (or as some say, of the Holy Spirit) and water of baptism. The fire is indeed the strife which the Gospel will eventuate. The baptism is the passion of the garden and the cross which he was about to undergo. (See note on Matthew 20:22.)

Straitened—Compressed and grasped as if by a pressure enclosing on every side.

Our Lord now (Luke 12:51-55) shows that his present conflict with these Pharisees and its consummation are but the type of the more extended conflict in which all are to be engaged on one side or the other, and continue so until his second coming. Next (Luke 12:56-57) he earnestly invokes them to be attentive to the omens by which they were warned to choose the right in the great moral battle; and last (Luke 12:58-59) he presses all to a quick decision in view of the final magistrate, judge, officer, and prison. See notes on Matthew 10:34-38.


Verse 56

VIII. Necessity of understanding and recognizing the crisis, Luke 12:56-57. See note on Matthew 16:1-15.

56. Ye hypocrites—(See Luke 12:1.) It cannot be doubted that many of the scribes and Pharisees, whose leaven is hypocrisy, were present and allowed to appropriate this epithet.


Verse 57

57. Yea—Even without any extraordinary signs or omens.

Even of yourselves—From the intuitive convictions of your own conscience.

Judge ye not—As between my Gospel and the leaven of the Pharisees.

What is right—Accordant with truth and righteousness, and worthy of God. The dealings of God with man all accord with the ultimate standard of right.


Verse 58-59

IX. Importance of decision in view of the final judgment decision, Luke 12:58-59.

See notes on Matthew 5:25-26.

Let the reader grasp as an entire unit the Sermon to the Myriads, (embracing this whole chapter,) and he will find one thought pervading it: namely, decision for Christ, as against his adversaries and in view of the judgment day.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 12:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/luke-12.html. 1874-1909.

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