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Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament

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Luke 12


 
Verse 1
In the meantime, when the many thousands of the multitude were gathered together, insomuch that they trod one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.

I. Warning against the leaven of the Pharisees.

In the meantime ...
refers to the time-lapse following Jesus' rising up and leaving the Pharisee's house where he had just dined.

The leaven of the Pharisees ...
is plainly identified here as hypocrisy; but Jesus used the same word in Matthew 16:6 as a reference to the teaching of that group (see my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 16:5-6). Why should not Jesus have done this? The word is fully applicable to both. As Godet said, "Leaven is the emblem of every active principle, good or bad, which possesses the power of assimilation." F4

Hypocrisy ...
This is a "literary term used in connection with Greek drama and means `play-acting'." F5 Long usage of the word in a Christian context refers it to insincere pretensions to religious piety. Lamar pointed out that our Lord's use of leaven as an emblem of both the teaching and the hypocrisy of the Pharisees shows that "The essence of their doctrine was hypocrisy; that being at once leaven and hypocrisy, its inevitable effect being to make hyprocrites, to reproduce itself." F6

Unto his disciples first of all ...
This has the meaning that "He addressed himself first to his disciples, that is, to the Twelve. First here means primarily." F7 Some of the teaching in this chapter applies especially to the twelve apostles.


 
Verses 2, 3
But there is nothing covered up, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known. Wherefore whatsoever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light; and what ye have spoken in the ear in the inner chamber shall be proclaimed upon the housetops.

This had the effect of warning the Twelve that they should not be guilty of any dissimulation with regard to the Pharisees; but it goes far beyond that and points to the final judgment when all the secrets of men shall be exposed. This underscores the foolish stupidity of hypocrisy. "Since God knows all and will ultimately reveal all, how foolish it is for one to be content with the form and shadow without the reality." F8 When the Lord comes, "He will bring to light the hidden things of darkness, and make manifest the counsels of the hearts; and then shall each man have his praise from God" (1 Corinthians 4:5; see also Ephesians 5:13).


 
Verses 4, 5
And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

In this passage, "Jesus makes it clear that mortal life is by no means man's most valuable possession." F9 The body is not the real "I." Although I have a body, the body is not I. Men should learn, therefore, not to accord fear to men or any earthly powers, which have jurisdiction over the body alone, but not over the soul.

My friends ...
Jesus here contrasted his disciples, through this term of appreciation, with his Pharisaical enemies. "Fear him ..." The one to be feared in not Satan, as some have supposed, but Almighty God. "The power to cast into hell belongs to God, not to Satan." F10 The usage here is similar to "the condemnation of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:6), which has reference not to any condemnation the devil may bestow, but to the condemnation which God has pronounced against him. This is also the view of Harrison, "This refers to God and not to Satan, for Satan cannot determine the destiny of a human soul." F11

After he hath killed ...
Do these words then have reference to God's KILLING? In a sense, they do. "It is appointed unto men once to die" (Hebrews 9:27); and that appointment is surely of God. It is a failure to see this which leads some to see Satan as the one to be feared; but the whole thesis of the Bible is "Fear God!"

Power to cast into hell ...
This word, hell, is a translation of [gehenna], a Greek word used by Matthew, Mark, James (James 3:6), and Luke for the place of final punishment of the wicked. It is the most dreadful word in the Bible. For a full discussion of the doctrine of eternal punishment, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 25:41. As Hobbs observed, "If hell is not real fire, as some insist, then it is worse than fire; for the reality is always greater than the symbol." F12


 
Verse 6
Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God.

Matthew recorded Jesus' use of a variant of this same illustration (Matthew 10:29), "Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?" and, as Boles said, "The variation in price depended on the number purchased." F13 If one purchased four, the fifth was thrown in. This affords an interesting sidelight on a commercial practice prevailing through the ages. For Benjamin Franklin's historic use of this thought, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 6:30-31.


 
Verse 7
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not: ye are of more value than many sparrows.

Like the preceding verse, this was spoken to encourage the Lord's followers not to be intimidated by the fulminations of the Pharisees. God's care of such members of his creation as these small birds is indeed a marvel to contemplate. When it is remembered that these tiny creatures have descended through countless thousands of years, unaided by men, and in fact destroyed by men, it is evident that the most careful Providence should have protected them through centuries and cycles of time. The lesson, of course, is that God will do more for men than for sparrows.

The emphasis in Luke 12:6-7 is designed to allay the fears of the disciples, and it is an essential part of the warning against the Pharisees. The disciples must not be afraid of them, but on the other hand should not hesitate to confess Jesus.


 
Verses 8, 9
And I say unto you, Every man who shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: but he that denieth me in the presence of men shall be denied in the presence of the angels of God.

Christ must have stated this teaching dozens of times in the years of his ministry; for in this appears one of the key principles of the kingdom he came to establish. For an article on the good confession, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 10:32.


 
Verse 10
And every one who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven.

II. Warning against blaspheming the Holy Spirit.

At the conclusion of the previous writing, Christ instructed that men should confess him, the converse of that being that some would deny him; and it was that habit of Israel's denying God through long ages, and now denying the Christ himself, which prompted the warning here that there was a final and irrevocable sin about to be committed by them in denying the gospel about to be launched through the apostles under the power of the Holy Spirit. This warning here was brief, but additional light on it is available from Jesus' other pronouncements of it on another occasion (Matthew 12:32; Mark 3:29). The three dispensations of God's grace are in view here. Blaspheming God in the patriarchal period, or Christ as the culmination of the Mosaic period, or the Holy Spirit in the age of the gospel were in the ascending order of seriousness. "The Holy Spirit with his teachings is the last that God has to offer man; and, if one blasphemes the Holy Spirit by rejecting the New Testament, there is no chance for forgiveness." F14 Jesus is God's last word to men. For discussion of the unpardonable sin, see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 12:31-32. As Ash viewed this verse, "One could reject Jesus during his personal ministry and still accept him by accepting Spirit-inspired preaching. But reject the latter and there would be no further overture from God." F15


 
Verses 11, 12
And when they bring you before the synagogues, and the rulers, and the authorities, be not anxious how or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say: for the Holy Spirit shall teach you in that very hour what ye ought to say.

This fitted perfectly into the second warning, because by these teachings Jesus identified the gospel to be preached by the Twelve as the message of the Holy Spirit. Here is also solid ground for viewing the New Testament as inspired of God. This promise pertained, not to all Christians, but to the Twelve; see under Luke 12:1.

III. Warning against covetousness.

The interruption by the man who wanted Jesus to divide the inheritance prompted the teaching here; and it was included extemporaneously along with the other warnings; but how it fits!


 
Verse 13
And one of the multitude said unto him, Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me.

Under Jewish law, the older brother would have inherited two-thirds of the estate, and the younger brother one-third; since the older brother would have been executor of the estate, the appeal here would seem to be that of the younger brother, implying either of two problems: (1) either the elder brother had not given him his share, or (2) the younger brother was thinking of breaking the ancient custom of primogeniture which gave the double portion to the oldest son. Thus, we may not be certain whether this was an appeal for redress under the existing law, or if it was a bold movement toward social reform. Significantly, Jesus refused to be involved either way. As Boles viewed it, the man "probably thought he had a just claim," F16 or he would not have taken it to Jesus.

First of all, this verse teaches that "Christ's kingdom is spiritual, and not of this world. Christianity does not intermeddle with civil rights." F17 "Too often the church is asked to step into disputes between people, groups, or even races"; F18 but "The Master knew that a changed world would not solve man's problems as long as his biggest problem, sin in his heart, was within him." F19 This is a period in history when the ancient wisdom of Christ is being challenged and ignored; but men shall find through bitter experience that Christ was right in all that he said and did. Although no fault could be found with this man's request, Christ absolutely refused to accede to it. Jesus did not approach the problems of social injustice by an assault upon established institutions. He did not take the man's part against those who had wronged him. Just as Jesus refused to accept criminal jurisdiction in the case of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:3-11), or take sides in a political problem, as in the question regarding the tribute money (Matthew 22:17), he carefully avoided the snare and the rock upon which so many religious reformers have made shipwreck. Trench summed it up thus, "It was from the inward to the outward that he would work." F20 And so should his church take heed that they follow in the Master's steps.


 
Verses 14, 15
But he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness; for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of things which he possesseth.

Christ clearly implied by such a reply to the man who demanded redress against his brother that the problem was not social injustice, but covetousness, laying down the dictum that "a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he owns," a premise that flatly contradicts all of the political axioms of every nation on earth. A man's "standard of living," calculated by prevailing yardsticks, is in reality no such thing. "The world in every age has bypassed or refused to acknowledge the truth of this principle, and yet every age has abounded with proofs of its truth." F21

He said unto them ...
This plural indicates Jesus went on teaching the multitude, not that both brothers were present.

Covetousness is the great cancer eating out the heart of mankind; and the Lord in his teaching here moved to lead men away from it. Human wants are insatiable; and getting only adds to the appetite for more. Paul associated it with moral uncleanness (Ephesians 4:19), calling it "idolatry" (Colossians 3:5).

THE PARABLE OF THE RICH FOOL

This parable was spoken to illustrate Jesus' teaching, just spoken, on covetousness.


 
Verses 16-21
And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: and he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, for I have not where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do; I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat drink, be merry. But God said unto him, Thou foolish one, this night is thy soul required of thee; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.

First, let it be observed that when blessings were multiplied upon this man, it only served to increase his covetousness. "Experience teaches that earthly losses are remedies for covetousness, while increases in worldly goods only arouse and provoke it." F22

Behold also the blight of coveteousness, signaled by the use of the first person singular pronouns eleven times in these few times! Barclay had a priceless analogy: "Edith lived in a little world, bounded on the north, south, east, and west, by Edith." F23

I have not where to bestow my fruits ...
A very ancient commentator has this:

It is mischievous error with which he starts, "I have not where to bestow my fruits"; and he (Ambrose) has answered well, "Thou HAST barns, - the bosoms of the needy, - the houses of the widows - the mouths of orphans and of infants." F24

This man forgot God, his eternal soul, and others. The parable enables us to know what he said to himself, "Soul, ... take thine ease, etc." But the parable also enables us to know what God was saying at that very same time, "Fool, this night is thy soul required of thee."

Particularly, this man failed to recognize his status, not as the true owner of his goods, nor even of his soul, which were "his" only in the sense of his being temporarily a steward of them. The loan of an immortal spirit from God was about to be recalled, and the stewardship of his worldly possessions would pass, that very night, to others.

This night is thy soul required!
"How awful do these words of God peal forth as thunder from the bosom of a dark cloud." F25 The contrasts in the parable are dramatic: "many years" vs. "this night," "much goods laid up" vs. "Whose shall these things be?" etc.

So is he that layeth up ... for himself, and is not rich toward God ...
The person who is not rich toward God is poor indeed, due to the ephemeral nature of all earthly wealth, as well as of life itself. How pitifully brief is the span of life; how suddenly does the sun of life sink into the void; how quickly does the hope of mortal life decline! And, in the light of all this, which every man certainly knows, how obtuse must he be accounted who vainly imagines that he is assured of many years of pleasure, ease, and prosperity!

The most logical deduction that could be drawn from such a tragic story as that of the parable is that human anxieties about earthly possessions are futile and unrewarding. Christ promptly made that deduction the basis of the fourth warning in this sermon.


 
Verses 22, 23
And he said unto his disciples, Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. For the life is more than food, and the body than raiment.

IV. Warning against anxieties.

Much of the material in this paragraph is also found in Matthew in the sermon on the mount; but as Plummer noted:

It does not follow, because this lesson was given immediately after the parable of the rich fool, that therefore it was not part of the sermon on the mount; any more than that because it was delivered there it cannot have been repeated here. F26

The argument Jesus made in these lines and the following is that God who cares for the grasses of the field and the myriad creatures of the lower creations will certainly not fail to look after his children. Surely God would not take better care of sparrows than of his beloved family. A second argument in the paragraph directed against anxieties includes the thoughts that anxiety is a lack of trust in God and also that it cannot do any good anyway. The rich fool just mentioned did not prolong his life by means of his hoarded abundance.


 
Verse 24
Consider the ravens, they sow not, neither do they reap; which have no store-chamber nor barn; and God feedeth them: of how much more value are ye than the birds.

This is another of the Saviour's illustrations teaching the same lesson as that based upon his reference to the sparrows (Luke 12:6-7). It is easy to see in these passages how the Lord varied and adapted his teaching at various times and places.


 
Verses 25, 26
And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit to the measure of his life? If then ye are not able to do even that which is least, why are ye anxious concerning the rest?

Some versions read "his stature" instead of "his life" in this place; and Ash says that "the Greek word could refer to stature"; F27 but this presents no problem, being true either way. The argument is from the less to the greater; and if one cannot add a trifling eighteen inches to the span of his life, why not trust God for all of it?


 
Verses 27, 28
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin; yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothe the grass in the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven; how much more shall he clothe you, O ye of little faith?

It should be remembered that Christ was not here denouncing the textile industries. The problem addressed was anxiety; and the argument is that for all of man's feverish anxieties about his clothes, he really doesn't come out any better than the grass of the field, clothed in beautiful flowers! The teaching regards the futility of anxiety. The term "grass" used here is from "a Greek word that means all sorts of herbs and flowers." F28


 
Verses 29, 30
And seek ye not what ye shall eat, and what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. For all these things do the nations of the world seek after: but your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.

This is not teaching that a Christian should renounce thoughtful prudence in making a living for himself and family; but it is a demotion of even such basic things as food and drink to a lesser priority than that of seeking the kingdom of God. That such basic things are indeed legitimate needs is indicated in the last clause. "Christ was by no means suggesting that faith makes work for a living unnecessary." F29 Believers are not expected to be drones. "Honest toil and the fulfillment of one's temporal obligations are not only consistent with faith; they are prerequisite to faith (2 Thessalonians 3:10; 1 Timothy 5:8)." F30


 
Verse 31
Yet seek ye his kingdom, and these things shall be added unto you.

This verse is the climax of the teaching. Seeking God's kingdom should be made the supreme goal of every life; and coupled with the admonition is God's promise that the seeker shall not lack for basic necessities.

The kingdom had not at this time been established; hence he could speak of it in the future; that it would be given to them. He means his church with its privileges and blessings ... The apostles became charter members of that kingdom. F31


 
Verse 32
Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.

There is a glimpse in this verse, "the only verse in this section not paralleled in Matthew," F32 of the circumstances under which the sermon was delivered. The Pharisees, like one of their number at a later date, were breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the Lord; but Jesus calmly assured his chosen that, despite all that, the kingdom would indeed occur and that they should possess it. In Luke 12:31, the kingdom is to be sought; here it is to be given; but "Both are possible, since God gives men the possibility of seeking, and finding God's gift." F33


 
Verses 33, 34
Sell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth, for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

There is no suggestion here that heaven can be purchased; but benevolence is laid down as a prime characteristic of all who would enter heaven. Not even fear of poverty should prevent almsgiving. One is almost compelled to seek a relative meaning here. There have appeared, historically, some extremely literal interpretations of this place; and they have usually taken one or another of two forms: asceticism, or so-called Christian communism; but both of these systems are unadaptable to human nature. "Both are out of harmony with the life and teachings of Jesus." F34

Perhaps Wesley had the key to understanding this:

This is a direction not given to all the multitude; and much less is it a standing rule for all Christians, neither to the apostles; for they had nothing to sell, having left it all before. (It was) to those disciples (Luke 12:22) ... especially to the seventy, that they might be free from all worldly entanglements. F35

J. R. Dummelow also had the same understanding of this place:

Christ addressed not all the disciples, but those who like the apostles, had received a call to leave all, and devote themselves to the work of the ministry. F36

Likewise Russell thought that "This was a command to those who had been chosen to go forth and preach the truth." F37

Strong agreement is felt with Boles' view that:

This does not mean that a Christian should give up everything that he has to those who are not trying to serve God; neither does it mean that a Christian should give up what he has to those who are living lives of idleness and wickedness. F38

For further comment on Jesus' teaching in this section, reference is made to notes on the sermon on the mount in Matthew (See my Commentary on Matthew, Matthew 6:19-34).


 
Verses 35-38
Let your loins be girded about, and your lamps burning; and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast; that when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto him. Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them. And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third, and find them so, blessed are those servants.

V. Warning against unreadiness.

Jesus used the analogy of the marriage feast in several different teachings, the one before us being peculiar to Luke.

ANALOGIES IN THE PARABLE

The lord who went to the feast = the Lord Jesus Christ.

The marriage feast = Jesus' ascension to glory.

The lord's return = Second Advent of Christ.

Loins girded, lamps burning = faithful Christian service.

Second, third watches = indefinite time of Second Advent.

The lord's serving servants = eternal joys of the saved.

Watchfulness of servants = watchfulness expected of Christians.

This parable forms a beautiful emphasis upon the warning against unreadiness and was apparently invented by the Saviour for the sermon of this occasion. If, at the Second Coming, the Lord's disciples should be found unprepared, their discomfiture would be complete. Just as the servants should gird themselves and remain watchful and busy until the lord returned, even if it was very late, in the same manner, Christians should remain busy and watchful throughout the time preceding the Second Coming. There is a definite hint here that the Second Advent will be delayed far beyond the expectations of that generation, and so, it has proved to be.

Significantly, the absence of Jesus during the present dispensation is a time of joy for the Lord, "comparable to the festal delights of a wedding." F39 Furthermore, we need not be troubled by the allegations of some that "the disciples had little foundation for the idea at that time," F40 and their refusal for that reason to see the Second Advent in this parable. As Barclay stated quite flatly, "In its narrower sense, it refers to the Second Coming of Jesus Christ." F41 Indeed, there is hardly anything else to which it could refer. It is quite true, of course, that Jesus gave many teachings, the true meaning of which was not clear to the apostles until after the resurrection of Christ.

Loins girded about ...
is a reference to the loose, flowing garments, referred to by Plummer as a fatal hindrance to activity. "Therefore, the command to be girded about means that believers should be ready to serve, ready for unhindered action in Christ's service." F42

Second watch, third watch ...
Dummelow explained these thus:

They are the second and third of the Roman four watches, representing the dead of night, and by metaphor, the unexpectedness of the Second Advent. The Jews reckoned only three night watches. F43


 
Verses 39, 40
But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched, and not have left his house to be broken through. Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh.

Jesus was still preaching a warning against unreadiness; and he here dramatically shifted to another metaphor in which he compares his Second Coming to the unexpected arrival of a thief. "Paul applied the same figure of speech to the Second Coming in 1 Thess. 5:2" F44 At this point, Jesus' sermon was again interrupted, this time by the apostle Peter.


 
Verse 41
And Peter said, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even unto all?

The answer the Lord gave was specific, "And what I say unto you, I may say unto all, Watch!" (Mark 13:27); but here the answer was given indirectly.


 
Verse 42
And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season?

By the use of the word "steward," Jesus includes all who undertake to do the Saviour's will and do service at his bidding. "The obvious meaning is that Peter and the other apostles, and all who serve the Lord faithfully, are such `faithful and wise stewards'." F45


 
Verses 43, 44
Blessed is that servant, whom his lord when he cometh shall find so doing. Of a truth I say unto you that he will set him over all that he hath.

Shall find so doing ...
In these verses, Jesus returned again to his warning against unreadiness, pointing out here that the greatest and most comprehensive rewards shall be the portion of the disciples who shall be found ready for the coming of the Lord.


 
Verse 45
But if that servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; and shall begin to beat the menservants and the maidservants, and eat and drink, and be drunken.

My lord delayeth his coming ...
Again, in this section, Jesus guards against the error into which that generation was sure to fall, the error of expecting the Second Coming as an event that would surely take place in their lifetime.

Beat the menservants, etc. ... and to be drunken ...
Selfish and undisciplined conduct would come to mark the lives of all who did not keep in mind the certainty of the Lord's coming.


 
Verse 46
The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful.

In this verse Jesus passed beyond the metaphor to the fact typified in the analogy. "Cutting asunder" and appointing a portion "with the unfaithful' refer to the final judgment, not to the displeasure of an earthly lord over faithless conduct of a servant.

The Lord ... shall come ...
emphasizes the certainty of Jesus' coming to judge the quick and the dead. However long delayed, in the eyes of men, it shall nevertheless come to pass as the Lord promised.

Cut him asunder ...
means "to punish with terrible severity." F46 This is a very strong word, bringing to mind such passages as Daniel 2:5; 3:39, etc., in which offenders in ancient times were literally cut in pieces. The use here is a metaphor for the utmost in severity.

The next two verses were probably intended by Jesus to soften somewhat the terrible metaphor he had just used. Severely as the wicked shall be punished, none will be punished any more than he deserves. As the great Restoration preacher, L. S. White, was accustomed to say: "God is too wise to make a mistake, and too good to do wrong."


 
Verses 47, 48
And that servant, who knew his lord's will, and made not ready, nor did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes; but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask more.

The application of the principles stated in these verses is beyond the power of men to find out; but the fact of their application is affirmed. Boles said, "The punishment will be proportioned to the powers, gifts, opportunities, and knowledge of the offenders." F47 Many speculations on "degrees of punishment in hell" are founded here; but none of them afford any enlightenment on a subject that lies beyond the abilities of human exploration. With these words, Jesus concluded the warning against unpreparedness and moved to another division in his discourse.


 
Verse 49
I came to cast fire upon the earth; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled?

VI. Warning against divisions due to the word of God.

In the chapter introduction, Luke 12:41-48 were listed as a separate warning against unfaithfulness; but the emphasis on lack of preparedness (Luke 12:47) shows a very close connection, making both warnings, in fact, an exhortation against unpreparedness; for this reason, they were discussed in these notes as a single warning with multiple phases.

This warning deals exclusively with the divisions that should be expected as a result of preaching God's word.

I came to cast fire upon the earth ...
And just what is this fire? Barclay identified it as "judgment"; F48 Lamar was puzzled over the fact that "Bengel made it `spiritual warmth,' Alfred `the Holy Spirit,' Barnes, `discord and contention,' etc.," and concluded by agreeing that it probably refers to results which would follow the proclamation of the gospel. F49 Dummelow understood it as "the fire of Christian love"; F50 Childers said, "It is a fire of conflict"; F51 John Wesley interpreted it as "the fire of heavenly love." F52

In the light of so many scholarly opinions, another can do no harm. The fire is "the word of God." "Is not my word like as a fire?" saith the Lord" (Jeremiah 23:29).

Understanding "fire" here as the word of God, that is, the gospel, gives the key as to why Jesus desired that it already be kindled on earth. Paradoxically, however, the preaching of the gospel would bring pain, sorrow and division, as well as joy, peace and salvation. (2 Corinthians 2:15,16).


 
Verse 50
But I have a baptism to be baptized with; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished.

The path laid out for Jesus was extremely narrow and difficult. On the one hand, his was the task of convincing all men that he is King of kings and Lord of lords; and, on the other hand, this had to be done in such a manner as to frustrate Satan's purpose of getting our Lord killed as a seditionist. The skill and genius by which Jesus negotiated this narrow path have ever been the marvel of all who contemplated them. Thus Jesus told the woman of Sychar plainly that he was the Messiah because, as a Samaritan women, her word would not be accepted in a Jewish court; and, again, the Saviour said to the man born blind, "Thou hast both seen him, and he it is that speaketh with thee," thus flatly declaring himself to be the Son of God; but here this teaching by Jesus came AFTER the Sanhedrin had excommunicated the witness! (see John 4:26; 9:37).


 
Verses 51, 52, 53
Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division: For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. They shall be divided father against son, and son against father; mother against daughter, and daughter against mother; mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.

There is here a divine prophecy by Jesus to the effect that the gospel will cut across family lines. Men are not converted by families, but as individuals; and Jesus' prophecy here has been fulfilled in every community on earth where the sacred message was preached.

Inherent in the conflict between light and darkness is the human divisions that are brought into view. Christ did not wish his followers to rally to his cause upon the basis of any false impressions they might have received. True, Jesus was preaching love, joy, peace and good will, etc., but it should never be thought that conflict and division are negated by Christian principles. To preach God's love is to encounter hatred; to preach truth is to endure the furious opposition of error.


 
Verses 54, 55, 56
And he said to the multitudes also, When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass. And when ye see a south wind blowing, ye say, There will be a scorching heat, and it cometh to pass. Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven; but how is it that ye know not how to interpret this time?

VII. Warning against lack of perception.

Men are much better at reading the signs of the weather and of nature, generally, than they are at discerning the times spiritually; of course, this is due to the fact that men apply themselves in one area, and not in the other. The implication of Jesus here is that a little diligence would have enabled them to have interpreted the times, no less than the signs of the weather. Jesus did not here endorse the current methods of predicting rain or hot weather. It was an argument ad hominem.

In this connection, it is well to inquire what were the signs of that time, and why were that people so guilty in failing to discern them? They were the following:

The prophetic weeks of Daniel were expiring.

The great herald, John the Baptist, "that Elijah," had come.

The scepter had departed from Judah (Genesis 49:10).

A "sign from heaven" had occurred at Jesus' baptism.

It had been revealed to aged Simeon that the Christ would appear in his lifetime; and he was dead (presumably) by the time of the events here.

All the world expected the coming of some mighty one.

The Christ himself had appeared on the Jordan river, had been baptized and identified by John as "the Son of God."

VII. Warning against procrastination.

Like every good sermon, this one concludes with an exhortation to do something now.


 
Verses 57, 58, 59
And why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? For as thou art going with thine advesary before the magistrate, on the way give diligence to be quit of him; lest haply he drag thee unto the judge, and the judge shall deliver thee to the officer, and the officer shall cast thee into prison. And I say unto you, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the very last mite.

The exhortation here is for ACTION NOW; do not wait until judgment is set, but make an agreement now, while you are "on the way."

Even of yourselves ...
"Why, even without signs, do you not judge rightly of me and of my doctrine by the natural light of reason and of conscience?" F53

The analogies in this teaching are: (1) Just as the human system of courts decides human affairs, in the larger sphere of time and eternity it is God the judge of all who makes decisions. (2) All men are represented here as "on the way" to court, that is, moving inexorably to that moment when all shall stand before the Judge. (3) The man in the parable had an opportunity to settle before he got to court; and so do men have a chance to make peace with God now. (4) While it was the adversary who provided the occasion for a reconciliation in the parable, it is different spiritually. The one who is with us "on the way" is Christ, who also shall judge men. (5) Letting the matter reach the judge can result only in disaster for the offender; and the man who does not prepare to meet God in advance of the judgment shall likewise encounter disaster. (6) Notice the necessary implication, throughout, that the offender on the way to court has a very poor case, there being no way that "justice" could decide in his favor. (7) Hence, the necessary deduction that preparation should be made NOW. (8) Jesus' use of an analogy which makes him "the adversary" is illuminating. Such was the hostility of that generation that they would instantly have recognized him in the comparison.

"Notice that the whole assumption is that the defendant has a bad case which will inevitably go against him." F54 The universal wickedness of all men appears in such an assumption. Jesus' early statement that they should "of themselves" make a correct judgment is clear in this:

He was saying, "Why can you not be wise enough to humble yourselves and be reconciled to God - be converted - instead of risking the inevitable consequences of coming to the Judgment as an incorrigible adversary of God?" F55

Till thou hast paid the very last mite ...
This is not a promise that after one has paid for his sins in hell, he shall at last be released as having discharged his debt. As Geldenhuys said:

The aorist subjunctive used in the sense of future-perfect: "will have paid"; and that moment never arrives. The full repayment or liquidation of the debt is not possible for the guilty one. Condemnation lasts forever. F56

For further discussion on the implications of "till," see my Commentary on Matthew, Matt. 18:34.

Thus concluded the Master's sermon with a powerful persuasion for his hearers to be converted before it would be too late. As Boles said of men, all of us "are moving on to the courtroom of the Great Judge," and all "should make peace with their adversary while they have opportunity to so so." F57


Footnotes for Luke 12
1: J. M. Creed, The Gospel according to St. Luke (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1942), en loco.
2: Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1951), p. 350.
3: J. R. Dummelow, Commentary on the Holy Bible (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1937), p. 753.
4: F. A. Godet, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke (Edinburgh: T. and T. Clarke, n.d.), II, p. 89.
5: Charles L. Childers, Beacon Bible Commentary (Kansas City: Beacon Hill Press, 1964), p. 517.
6: J. S. Lamar, Commentary on Luke (Cincinnati, Ohio: Chase and Hall, 1877), p. 173.
7: Ray Summers, Commentary on Luke (Waco, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1974), p. 151.
8: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 518.
9: Ibid.
10: Ibid., p. 519.
11: Everett F. Harrison, Wycliffe Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1962), p. 234.
12: Herschel H. Hobbs, An Exposition of the Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1966), p. 201.
13: H. Leo Boles, Commentary on Luke (Nashville: Gospel Advocate Company, 1940), p. 248.
14: Ibid, p. 250.
15: Anthony Lee Ash, The Gospel according to Luke (Austin, Texas: Sweet Publishing Company, 1973), II, p. 39.
16: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 251.
17: Matthew Henry and Thomas Scott, Commentary on the Holy Bible (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1960), p. 269.
18: Herschel H. Hobbs, op. cit., p. 204.
19: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 521.
20: Richard C. Trench, Notes on the Parables of Our Lord (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell Company, 1953), p. 337.
21: Charles L. Childers, loc. cit.
22: Richard C. Trench, op. cit., p. 340.
23: William Barclay, The Gospel of Luke (Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1956), p. 168.
24: Richard C. Trench, op. cit., p. 341.
25: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 253.
26: Alfred Plummer, The Gospel according to St. Luke (New York: T. and T. Clark, 1922), en loco.
27: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 42.
28: John Wesley, Notes on the New Testament (Naperville, Illinois: Alec R. Allenson, Inc., 1950), p. 250.
29: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 524.
30: Ibid.
31: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 257.
32: Anthony Lee Ash, op. cit., p. 43.
33: Ibid.
34: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 525.
35: John Wesley, op. cit., p. 250.
36: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p.754.
37: John William Russell, Compact Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1964), p. 171.
38: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 257.
39: J. S. Lamar, op. cit., p. 179.
40: Ray Summers, op. cit., p. 161.
41: William Barclay, op. cit., p.170.
42: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 364.
43: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 755.
44: Everett F. Harrison, op. cit., p. 236.
45: Herschel H. Hobbs, op. cit., p. 209.
46: J. S. Lamar, op. cit., p. 181.
47: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 262.
48: William Barclay, op. cit., p. 173.
49: J. S. Lamar, op. cit., p. 182.
50: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 755.
51: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 531.
52: John Wesley, op. cit., p. 252.
53: J. R. Dummelow, op. cit., p. 755.
54: William Barclay, op. cit, p. 175.
55: Charles L. Childers, op. cit., p. 533.
56: Norval Geldenhuys, op. cit., p. 369.
57: H. Leo Boles, op. cit., p. 267.
58: Ibid, p. 199.

Copyright Statement
James Burton Coffman Commentaries reproduced by permission of Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. All other rights reserved.

Bibliography Information
Coffman, James Burton. "Commentary on Luke 12". "Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=lu&chapter=012>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.  

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