Luke 17

Chapter seventeen is a compendium of several topics ranging from forgiveness, faith, and duty at the beginning to end times prophecy at the end. Luke did not intend to offer a timeline for these events; rather, he wanted to include them before approaching Passion Week in chapter 19.

In verses 1-4, Jesus taught that there is no limit to forgiving one’s brother when he repents. However, contrary to much modern Christian thinking, Jesus also insisted that sin should be rebuked and that causing a brother to stumble into sin is a serious offense. All of these are repeated throughout the apostolic letters and must be heeded even today. Verses 5-6 offer a short statement on how much could be accomplished if done in faith. On the other hand, from the perspective of being God’s servants, verses 7-10 imply that it does not take a lot of faith to obey God’s clear commands. As much as serving God can be a joy, and he has certainly promised rewards for those who serve faithfully, there is a sense that we obey simply because we should, even when it is not glamorous or joyful. Faithful service, at its core, is about God, not us.

Throughout this gospel, we have seen that Doctor Luke loved the healing miracles, emphasized Jesus’ compassion, and pointed out when Jesus included non-Jews in his ministry. The account in verses 11-19 includes all three. On his way to Jerusalem to offer himself and die, Jesus stopped to heal a group of lepers near Samaria. Although all ten of them were healed that day, only one – a Samaritan – turned around to thank Jesus for getting his life back. The fact that he was praising God for healing prompted Jesus to say that his faith had delivered him that day. We must take this to mean delivered both physically and spiritually.

In the final section, verses 20-37, Jesus gave a short teaching prompted by a question about when the kingdom would come. Some have taken verse 21 to mean that the kingdom is only a spiritual entity, residing in believers. However, the Pharisees believed the Messiah would bring the kingdom with him when he came. Because Jesus had already spent a few years identifying himself as the Messiah and offering his kingdom, their question was basically, “If you know so much, tell us when the Messiah will come and bring his kingdom.” His response was to point to himself again: “I’m here, but you have rejected me.”

The teaching on the coming kingdom was not to the unbelieving Pharisees but “to the disciples” (vs. 22). Jesus taught that a physical kingdom was still to come, and because specific signs would precede it, they should not allow themselves to be led astray by false prophets or false messiahs. Only after the Tribulation judgments on Israel and the unbelieving world will Jesus return to establish his kingdom. Matthew, Paul, John (in the Revelation), and the Hebrew prophets contain much more detail than Luke on this topic.

Luke 16

Chapter sixteen contains two of Jesus’ well-known parables with a teaching between them. The first parable was directed toward his disciples (vs. 1) but was overheard by some local Pharisees (vs. 14). In his parable, Jesus taught of an asset manager who was fired by his master for mismanaging the owner’s wealth. In order to not lose everything, the manager approached the owner’s debtors with a “discounted rate” in order to get their help. This rate may have been part or all of his commission or even illegal interest. By cutting their bills drastically, he won their friendship. Although the owner did not approve of the manager’s initial bad management, he had to commend his quick thinking.

Jesus pointed out that believers are often foolish in their financial matters compared to unbelievers, and that should not be one of our characteristics (vs. 8-9). He taught that our faithfulness or lack thereof is basically the same, no matter if we have much wealth or a little (vs. 10-12). However, we must not get caught in the trap of serving wealth rather than serving God, because the two are mutually exclusive (vs. 13). The Pharisees who overheard this thought it was absurd. Wealth is a sign of God’s blessing, isn’t it? Jesus responded that their lives showed that they were not serving God. They justified their wrong priorities (vs. 15), ignored the Messiah’s offer (vs. 16-17), and did not honor marriage (vs. 18).

The second parable is the famous story of the rich man and Lazarus (vs. 19-31). The point is not, as some have tried to make it, that rich people automatically go to hell, while poor people are spiritual and go to heaven. Under the Jewish law, helping the poor was commanded, so the rich man’s refusal to do so showed his attitude toward God’s law. In this parable Jesus made four very important points.

First, the afterlife is real and eternal. Not only did the rich man and Lazarus recognize each other from this life, they also recognized Abraham, who had been dead for 2,000 years. Notice also that the rich man, when asking on behalf of his brothers, never asked for his own release. There is the implication that he knew there was no way out.

Second, the pain or pleasure in the afterlife is real. The rich man was “in anguish” (vs. 24), while Lazarus was “comforted” from his sores (vs. 25). Even after death, the rich man felt the punishing fire and requested water to quench his thirst.

Third, perspective in the afterlife is different. At some level, the rich man remembered his brothers. Though we do not know the relationship he had with them in life, he was infinitely concerned about them now, asking Abraham to have Lazarus warn them for him. It seems he thought they were as greedy as he was.

Fourth, the Scriptures are the final word. Abraham’s response was significant. He said that even a resurrection would not be enough to convince people of the truth, if they already ignored what God had given in the Scriptures. This is similar to what Paul wrote in Romans 1, that people suppress the truth by their unrighteousness, refusing to believe in Jesus even though God proved who he was by raising him from the dead. A person who rejects the Scriptures has rejected all of God’s revelation.

Luke 15

Chapter fifteen is probably one of the most well-known chapters in Luke, yet it is also frequently misunderstood. The key to the whole chapter is found in the first three verses. The Jewish religious leaders were unhappy that Jesus spent time with sinners, so Jesus told them a parable. The rest of the chapter is the same parable told three different ways. In this parable:

  • God is portrayed by the shepherd, the woman, and the father
  • The “sinners” are the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son
  • The “non-sinners” are the other sheep, the other coins, and the other son

Notice in these scenarios that the lost items/son were already a part of the group/family but became lost. Something happened so that they had become separated from the group – the sheep left the pasture, the coin left the pouch, the son left the house. Jesus gave this parable to demonstrate to the religious leaders that those “sinners” were still Jews who were born into the promises God made to Israel. However, when he came and offered the Kingdom, not all of them had accepted him, making them “lost” but still sheep, coins, and sons. Ironically, the religious leaders considered themselves to be “in,” yet many of them were just as lost as the sinners they despised, because they were also rejecting Jesus.

This parable is often used today to portray God as looking for unbelievers to be saved. While it is true and can be proved from other Scripture that he wants people saved, unbelievers were never a part of the family from which they could leave. A more accurate principle from this chapter that applies to Christians is that God does not stop “looking” and “waiting” for those who are already part of the family but have wandered away. Sometimes we call these “backslidden Christians.” For those who have not wandered off, we must continue to do the Father’s work cheerfully and celebrate when our wandering brothers and sisters come back, because this makes the Father exceptionally glad (Galatians 6:1; James 5:19-20; 1 John 5:16; Jude 22-23).