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The Fourfold Gospel

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15:1  Now all the publicans1 and sinners2 were drawing near unto him to hear him.

    SECOND GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES. (Probably in Perea.) A. INTRODUCTION. Luke 15:1,2

  1. The publicans. See Matthew 5:46.

  2. Sinners. The Pharisees classed as "sinners" all who failed to observe the traditions of the elders, and especially their traditional rules of purification. It was not so much the wickedness of this class as their legal uncleanness that made it wrong to eat with them. Compare Galatians 2:12,13. Also see Mark 2:16.

15:2  And both the Pharisees and the scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

  1. And both the Pharisees and scribes murmured. In answer to their murmuring, Jesus spoke three parables, in which he set forth the yearnings of redemptive love. Having thus replied to the Pharisees, Jesus continued his discourse, adding two other parables, concerning the right employment of worldly goods, and ending with some teaching concerning offenses, etc. We defer comparing the parables until we have discussed them.

15:3  And he spake unto them this parable1, saying,

    SECOND GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES. (Probably in Perea.) B. PARABLE OF THE LOST SHEEP. Luke 15:3-7

  1. And he spake unto them this parable. Jesus had spoken this parable before. See Matthew 18:12-14.

15:4  What man of you1, having a hundred sheep2, and having lost one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness3, and go after that which is lost, until he find it4?

  1. What man of you. The word "man" is emphatic; it is made so to convey the meaning that if man would so act, how much more would God so act.

  2. Having a hundred sheep. A large flock.

  3. Doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness. The place of pasture, and hence the proper place to leave them.

  4. And go after that which is lost, until he find it? The ninety-nine represent the Jewish respectability, and the lost sheep stands for a soul which has departed from that respectability.

15:5  And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing1.

  1. And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. A touch suggesting the weakness of the sheep and the willing affection of the shepherd.

15:6  And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and his neighbors, saying unto them, Rejoice with me1, for I have found my sheep which was lost2.

  1. Rejoice with me. See Hebrews 12:2.

  2. For I have found my sheep which was lost. The call implies that the loss was known to the neighbors, and that they felt concerned about it. Had the Pharisees been neighbors to the spirit of Christ, they would have sympathized with him in his joy; but they were false undershepherds. See Ezekiel 34:1-6.

15:7  I say unto you, that even so there shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, [more] than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance1.

  1. There shall be joy in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, [more] than over ninety and nine righteous persons, who need no repentance. How little Jesus thought of external morality may be seen by his words at Luke 18:9, but he here quoted the Pharisees at their own valuation to show that even when so doing, God's love for the sinner was the paramount love.

15:8  Or what woman having ten pieces of silver1, if she lose one piece, doth not light a lamp2, and sweep the house, and seek diligently until she find it3?

    SECOND GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES. (Probably in Perea.) C. PARABLE OF THE LOST COIN. Luke 15:8-10

  1. Or what woman having ten pieces of silver. The "drachma", or piece of silver, corresponded to the Latin "denarius", and was worth about seventeen cents. The woman, having only ten of them, was evidently poor. Such small coin have been for centuries worn by Oriental women as a sort of ornamental fringe around the forehead.

  2. Doth not light a lamp. Because Oriental houses are commonly without windows, and therefore dark.

  3. Until she find it? This phrase, which is practically repeated in both parables (Luke 15:4) is a sweet source of hope; but it is not to be pressed so as to contradict other Scripture.

15:10  Even so, I say unto you, there is joy1 in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth2.

  1. There is joy. See Ezekiel 33:11.

  2. In the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. By thus reaffirming the heavenly joy (Luke 15:7), Jesus sought to shame the Pharisees out of their cold-blooded murmuring (Luke 15:2)

15:11  And he said, A certain man had two sons1:

    SECOND GREAT GROUP OF PARABLES. (Probably in Perea.) D. PARABLE OF THE LOST SON. Luke 15:11-32

  1. A certain man had two sons. These two sons represent the professedly religious (the elder) and the openly irreligious (the younger). They have special reference to the two parties found in Luke 15:1,2)--the the publicans and sinners, and the Pharisees.

15:12  and the younger of them1 said to his father, Father, give me the portion of [thy] substance that falleth to me2. And he divided unto them his living3.

  1. And the younger of them. The more childish and easily deceived.

  2. Said to his father, Father, give me the portion of [thy] substance that falleth to me. Since the elder brother received a double portion, the younger brother's part would be only one-third of the property (Deuteronomy 21:17).

  3. And he divided unto them his living. Abraham so divided his estate in his lifetime (Genesis 25:1-6); but the custom does not appear to have been general among the Jews. God, however, gives gifts and talents to us all, so the parable fits the facts of life (Psalms 145:9; Matthew 5:45

15:13  And not many days after1, the younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country2; and there he wasted his substance with riotous living3.

  1. And not many days after. With all haste.

  2. The younger son gathered all together and took his journey into a far country. He yearned for the spurious liberty of a land where he would be wholly independent of his father. Thus the sinful soul seeks to escape from the authority of God.

  3. And there he wasted his substance with riotous living. Sin now indulges itself with unbridled license, and the parable depicts the sinner's course: (1) his season of indulgences (Luke 15:12,13); (2) his misery (Luke 15:14-16); (3) his repentance (Luke 15:17-20); (4) his forgiveness (Luke 15:20-24). On the phrase "riotus living", see Luke 15:19.

15:14  And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want1.

  1. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that country; and he began to be in want. Sooner or later sinful practices fail to satisfy, and the sense of famine and want mark the crises in our lives as they did in the life of the prodigal. The direst famine is that of the word of God (Jeremiah 2:13; Amos 8:11-13).

15:15  And he went and joined himself1 to one of the citizens of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine2.

  1. Joined himself. Literally, glued.

  2. He sent him into his fields to feed swine. Literally, to pasture or tend the swine. This was, to the Jew, the bottom of degradation's pit. They so abhorred swine that they refused to name them. They spoke of a pig as "dabhar acheer", that is, "the other thing".

15:16  And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him1.

  1. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. The master upon whom he had forced himself did not deem his service worthy of enough food to sustain life; so that he would gladly have eaten the husks or pods of the carob bean, which are very similar to our honey-locust pods, if they would satisfy his hunger.

15:17  But when he came to himself1 he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish here with hunger!

  1. But when he came to himself. His previous state had been one of delusion and semi-madness (Ecclesiastes 9:3); in it his chief desire had been to get away from home, but returning reason begets a longing to return thither.

15:19  I am no more worthy to be called your son1: make me as one of thy hired servants2.

  1. I am no more worthy to be called your son. The humility of his confession indicates that the phrase "riotous living" (Luke 15:13) means more than merely a reckless expenditure of money.

  2. Make me as one of thy hired servants. But vile as he was, he trusted that his father's love was sufficient to do something for him.

15:20  And he arose, and came to his father1. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him2, and was moved with compassion3, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him4.

  1. And he arose, and came to his father. Repentance is here pictured as a journey. It is more than a mere emotion or impulse.

  2. But while he was yet afar off, his father saw him. Being evidently on the lookout for him.

  3. And was moved with compassion. Seeing his ragged, pitiable condition.

  4. And ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. Giving him as warm a welcome as if he had been a model son.

15:21  And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son1.

  1. Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight: I am no more worthy to be called thy son. The son shows a manly spirit in adhering to his purpose to make a confession, notwithstanding the warmth of his father's welcome; in grieving for what he had done, and not for what he had lost; and in blaming no one but himself.

15:22  But the father said to his servants1, Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand2, and shoes on his feet3:

  1. But the father said to his servants. Interrupting the son in his confession.

  2. Bring forth quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand. The robe, ring, and shoes are merely part of the parabolic drapery, and are so many sweet assurances of full restoration and forgiveness, and are not to be pressed beyond this.

  3. And shoes on his feet. None but servants went barefooted.

    ( 503,

15:23  and bring the fatted calf, [and] kill it, and let us eat, and make merry1:

  1. And bring the fatted calf, [and] kill it, and let us eat, and make merry. The fatted calf, according to Eastern custom, was held in readiness for some great occasion (Genesis 18:7; 1 Samuel 28:24; 2 Samuel 6:13), and which some custom still exists.

15:24  for this my son was dead1, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.

  1. For this my son was dead. The condition of the impenitent sinner is frequently expressed in the Bible under the metaphor of death (Romans 6:13; Ephesians 2:1; Ephesians 5:14; Revelation 3:1).

15:25  Now1 his elder son was in the field2: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing3.

  1. Now. Having thus finished his account of the openly irreligious, Jesus now turns to portray that of the professedly religious; that is, he turns from the publican to the Pharisee. He paints both parties as alike children of God, as both faulty and sinful in his sight, and each as being loved despite his faultiness. But while the story of the elder son had a present and local application to the Pharisees, it is to be taken comprehensively as describing all the self-righteous who murmur at and refuse to take part in the conversion of sinners.

  2. His elder son was in the field. At work.

  3. And as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. He heard evidences of joy, a joy answering to that mentioned at Luke 15:7,10, the joy of angels in seeing the publicans and sinners repenting and being received by Jesus--the joy at which the Pharisees had murmured.

15:28  But he was angry, and would not go in1: and his father came out, and entreated him2.

  1. But he was angry, and would not go in. He refused to be a party to such a proceeding.

  2. And his father came out, and entreated him. In the entreating father Jesus pictures the desire and effort of God then and long afterwards put forth to win the proud, exclusive, self-righteous spirits which filled the Pharisees and other Jews (Luke 13:34; Acts 13:44-46; Acts 28:22-28).

15:29  But he answered and said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee1, and I never transgressed a commandment of thine2; and [yet] thou never gavest me a kid3, that I might make merry with my friends4:

  1. Lo, these many years do I serve thee. Literally, I am thy slave.

  2. And I never transgressed a commandment of thine. He speaks with the true Pharisaic spirit (Luke 18:11,12; Romans 3:9). His justification was a proud as the prodigal's confession was humble.

  3. And [yet] thou never gavest me a kid. Much less a calf.

  4. That I might make merry with my friends. He reckons as a slave, so much pay for so much work, and his complaint suggests that he might have been as self-indulgent as his brother had he not been restrained by prudence.

15:30  but when this thy son came1, who hath devoured thy living with harlots2, thou killedst for him the fatted calf.

  1. But when this thy son came. He thus openly disclaims him as a brother.

  2. Who hath devoured thy living with harlots. And not decent friends such as mine.

15:31  And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me1, and all that is mine is thine2.

  1. Son, thou art ever with me. A privilege which the elder brother had counted as naught, or rather as slavery.

  2. And all that is mine is thine. The younger brother had the robe, ring, and shoes (Luke 15:22), but the elder still had the inheritance.

15:32  But it was meet to make merry and be glad1: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive [again]; and [was] lost2, and is found.

  1. But it was meet to make merry and be glad. See Acts 11:18.

  2. For this thy brother was dead, and is alive [again]; and [was] lost,
  3. and is found. Here the story ends. He are not told how the elder brother acted, but we may read his history in that of the Jews who refused to rejoice with Jesus at the salvation of sinners. At the next Passover they carried their resentment against him to the point of murder, and some forty years later the inheritance was taken from them. Thus we see that the elder brother was not pacified by the father. He continued to rebel against the father's will till he himself became the lost son.

    A comparison of the three preceding parables brings out many suggestive points, thus: (1) The first parable (Luke 15:3-7) illustrates Christ's compassion. A sentient, suffering creature is lost, and it was bad for "it" that it should be so. Hence it must be sought, though its value is only one out of a hundred. Man's lost condition makes him wretched. (2) The second parable (Luke 15:8-10) shows us how God values a soul. A lifeless piece of metal is lost, and while it could not be pitied, it could be valued, and since its value was one out ten, it was bad for the "owner" that it should be lost. God looks upon man's loss as his impoverishment. (3) The first two parables depict the efforts of Christ in the salvation of man, or that side of conversion more apparent, so to speak, to God; while the third (Luke 15:11-32) sets forth the responsive efforts put forth by man to avail himself of God's salvation-- the side of conversion more apparent to us. Moreover, as the parabolic figures become more nearly literal, as we pass from sheep and coin to son, the values also rise, and instead of one from a hundred, or one from ten, we have one out of two!


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain and are a derivative of an electronic edition that is available on the Christian Classics Ethereal Library Website. These files were made available by Mr. Ernie Stefanik. First published online in 1996 at The Restoration Movement Pages.

Bibliography Information
J. W. McGarvey and Philip Y. Pendleton. "Commentary on Luke 15". "The Fourfold Gospel". <http://classic.studylight.org/com/tfg/view.cgi?book=lu&chapter=015>. Standard Publishing Company, Cincinnati, Ohio. 1914.  

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