33 minutes | Apr 8th 2020

The Prodigal Son

In this episode, Brother Jonathan goes through the parable of the prodigal son and discusses parables in general. 

 

The Prodigal Son

S4EP4 

Remnant Bible Fellowship

 

  1. Intro
    1. Today we are going to be talking about the parable of the prodigal son, and we’ll also be discussing some things about parables in general.
  2. About Parables
    1. A “parable” is not an allegory. This is one way that the early church got away from handling the scriptures well. If you read some of the interpretations by some early Christian writers, like Augustine or Clement of Alexandria, you see that they distorted the scriptures by using an allegorical method of interpretation. Using that method, you can make the text say anything that you want.
    2. That is not what the parables are for or how they are to be interpreted. The word “parable” comes over into English from the Greek word “parabole”. In BDAG, the two entries define it as “something that serves as a model or example pointing beyond itself for later realization, type, figure (Heb. 9:9); a narrative or saying of varying length, designed to illustrate a truth especially through comparison or simile, comparison, illustration, parable, proverb, maxim.”
    3. In the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Old Testament which was probably the version of the OT used by Christ and the Apostles, the Greek word “parabole” was translated from the Hebrew word “mashal”. In Holladay’s Concise Hebrew and Aramaic Lexicon of the Old Testament, the entry for this word has “saying of any of various categories; proverb; wisdom saying; mocking song”.
    4. You see that this is slightly different from what we think of in English as a “parable”. There are a wide range of forms that fall into the category of parable. In Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart’s excellent book on the basics of hermeneutics, “How to Read the Bible for all its Worth”, they say this:
      1. “The first thing one must note is that not all the sayings we label as parables are of the same kind. There is a basic difference, for example, between the Good Samaritan (true parable), on the one hand, and the Leaven in the Meal (similitude), on the other, and both of these differ from the saying, “You are the salt of the earth” (metaphor), or “Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles?” (epigram). Yet all of these can be found from time to time in discussions of the parables.” (“How to Read the Bible for all its Worth”, Fee and Stuart, 2nd edition, 1993, p. 137)
    5. Its easy to see this when you sit down and read through the parables and see how they are different. Some are stories and some are just sayings maybe a sentence or two long. When you begin to think of the parables with the proper understanding their purpose becomes clearer. Their purpose is to provoke a response from the intended audience. This is why context is so important. You cannot separate passages of scripture of any kind from their intended audience or historical/grammatical context and come to the right interpretation. This is how people end up thinking that they have to wear artificial headcoverings, or do foot-washing as an ordinance, or something that is truly heretical—which headcoverings and foot-washing are not.
    6. Sometimes in the gospels we do have parables that are recorded for us without their original context. This is normal considering the practice of the day. It was not uncommon for parables and sayings to be repeated at various times in diverse situations. This is why we see the gospel-writers place some of the parables and sayings in different places. They are simply using normal rhetorical practices of the day. In addition to that, the Lord most likely repeated these things numerous times. We shouldn’t think that Jesus said everything that He said only once. He traveled and preached the message of the Kingdom of God in many places for a number of years.
    7. But the purpose of the parable is seen in understanding its context and intended audience. We’ll see this as we go through the text of the prodigal son.
  • The Text
    1. The first thing that you must do when studying a passage, especially a parable, is to examine its context. So, with the parable of the prodigal son, which starts at Luke 15:11, we are going to start at v.1.
    2. “Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luk 15:1-2)
      1. This is the beginning of the context for the following three parables given by Jesus. All three of the parables are Jesus’ response to the grumbling of the scribes and Pharisees about Jesus sitting with the non-religious Jews.
      2. The tax collectors were especially hated by the Jews; and not just the religious Jews. Tax collectors, sometimes translated as ‘publicans’, were Jews that opted to work for Rome, whether directly or through a contractor, to receive taxes from the Jews. They were seen as traitors to Israel for working for a pagan king to exact taxes from their own people. The situation made it so that many could be less than honest in their exacting from the people. The tax collectors would mark up the price that they would take from the people to increase their profit margin. This is referred to as “tax-farming”. As a result, many would get very wealthy. An example of this is the man Zacchaeus.
  • You see here a contrast though in the response of the people, and this gives us the three reference points for the next three parables of Jesus’ response. The three reference points are Jesus (who receive sinners who come to Him), the sinners (who are coming to Him), and the scribes and Pharisees (who grumble about Jesus receiving the sinners who come to Him). We will be able to understand the next three parables in light of this situation.
  1. “So He told them this parable, saying,” (Luk 15:3)
    1. Jesus begins to respond to the religious leaders’ grumbling. The Greek word “de”, a conjunction of lesser force than “kai”, is translated here as “so” in English to make clear that Jesus is indeed responding to them with these parables.
  2. “"What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it? "When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. "And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!' "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.” (Luk 15:4-7)
    1. This parable begins with a man who has a modest flock of sheep—one hundred sheep is a smaller flock than usual. When one of them goes astray, he intentionally leaves the others to go and find it. He then rejoices when he finds it and brings it back. He then celebrates with others that the sheep has been safely brought back. Jesus then ends with the statement that there is joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine “righteous” persons who don’t.
    2. This last statement by Jesus pretty well explains the meaning of the parable. The Father seeks the sinners who go astray. He rejoices when they return to Him. It is God the Father’s desire that sinners be saved and He himself is seeking them to return to Him. This is consistent with the rest of scripture. The Jews, knowing the scriptures, would’ve understood the message. In the prophets God repeatedly used the illustration of lost sheep going astray as sinners. Likewise, it is stated in many places that the Lord desires people to be reconciled to Him. The scribes and Pharisees though were self-righteous and felt that they had no need of repentance. The last statement by Jesus, “have no need of repentance,” may be an ironic jab at the Pharisees and scribes who saw themselves this way. This is more clear in the parable of the prodigal son.
      1. “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” (Isa 53:6)
      2. “"My people have become lost sheep; Their shepherds have led them astray. They have made them turn aside on the mountains; They have gone along from mountain to hill And have forgotten their resting place.” (Jer 50:6)
  • In Ezekiel 34 we see that the Lord is angry with the “shepherds”, or the religious leaders, of that day because they were leading the people away from God. He then goes on to talk about how he will seek them out though they were led astray.
    1. “For thus says the Lord GOD, "Behold, I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out. "As a shepherd cares for his herd in the day when he is among his scattered sheep, so I will care for My sheep and will deliver them from all the places to which they were scattered on a cloudy and gloomy day. "I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and bring them to their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land. "I will feed them in a good pasture, and their grazing ground will be on the mountain heights of Israel. There they will lie down on good grazing ground and feed in rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. "I will feed My flock and I will lead them to rest," declares the Lord GOD. "I will seek the lost, bring back the scattered, bind up the broken and strengthen the sick; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with judgment.” (Eze 34:11-16)
  1. “"Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? "When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!' "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."” (Luk 15:8-10)
    1. The Lord continues along the same line of response. This is clear by how He begins the second parable. The Greek “h[” is a comparative conjunction, translated in English as “or”. He is continuing with another illustration for His audience.
    2. Again, we have something lost, it is found, and it is rejoiced over. The coins spoken of were drachmas. They were worth about a day’s wage each. So here we have a woman with ten days wages and she loses one whole day’s wage. The woman goes looking for it because it is desired by her. So, when she finds it, she naturally rejoices about it.
  • In both this parable and the previous Jesus makes clear what He is saying to His audience. He states “In the same way” in v.10 in this parable, and “I tell you that in the same way” in v.7 of the previous parable. He is explaining to the audience that God the Father desires to see the lost repent and return to Him, and that He rejoices about their return and repentance, in the same way as the shepherd rejoices over a returning sheep and as the woman who finds her lost coin. This is all about the character of the Father toward the lost in contrast with the response of the religious leaders. This becomes clear with the parable of the prodigal son.
  1. “And He said, "A man had two sons. "The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them. "And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. "Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. "And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. "But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."' "So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.' "But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate. Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. "And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be. "And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.' "But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. "But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.' "And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"” (Luk 15:11-32)
    1. This parable is different from the other two in that it not only describes the Father’s desire to see the lost repent and return but it also includes a part directly relating to the response of the religious leaders within it.
  2. “And He said, "A man had two sons.” (Luk 15:11)
    1. We begin with this statement by Jesus that shows us the three points of reference again: a man and his two sons. These correspond to God, the sinners, and the religious leaders.
  3. “"The younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' So he divided his wealth between them.” (Luk 15:12)
    1. The idea of a son, especially a younger son, requesting his inheritance from his father while he was still alive was highly unusual. This may show the character of the younger son being less than respectful to his father. Being the younger son, and not the firstborn, according to the Law of Moses he would receive less than his older brother.
      1. “"But he shall acknowledge the firstborn, the son of the unloved, by giving him a double portion of all that he has, for he is the beginning of his strength; to him belongs the right of the firstborn.” (Deu 21:17)
    2. So the younger son would receive a third of the inheritance, and his older brother would receive two-thirds. The fact that the father would do this is odd because even in the Apocrypha (a set of books that were not accepted by the Jews as part of scripture but were nevertheless accepted for historical record) this was looked down upon.
      1. “Give not to son or wife, brother or friend, power over thee while thou livest; and give not thy estate to another, lest thou repent, and thou entreat for the same.” (Sir 33:20)
  • Even in the proverbs the idea of taking an inheritance early was considered foolish.
    1. “An inheritance gained hurriedly at the beginning Will not be blessed in the end.” (Pro 20:21)
  1. “"And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living.” (Luk 15:13)
    1. The young man quickly leaves and goes far away from his family and the authority of his father. He then proceeds to squander his money. The verb underlying squander is one that emphasizes scattering. It’s very descriptive of being wasteful and reckless. The young man did not invest his money, or try to build for himself a home and life by patience and wisdom, he simply lived recklessly in indulgence. This shows the intent and heart of the young man was desiring the pleasure of the world.
  2. “"Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be impoverished. "So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. "And he would have gladly filled his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him.” (Luk 15:14-16)
    1. Now the young man is brought very low. He has wasted all of his money, he is impoverished, he then becomes a servant to a gentile, and even goes so far as to be hired by a gentile to feed pigs. The idea of this was detestable to a Jew. Pigs were considered unclean by the Law of Moses. This would’ve resonated very deeply with Jesus’ original audience.
    2. Not only was this young man foolish and intentionally go live recklessly and foolishly, but he then became defiled by working for a Gentile feeding an unclean animal. The young man was himself defiled and unclean in their sight. He was even brought so low as to desire to feed on what the pigs dig. He was envious of the pigs’ food. The image to Jesus’ audience was of a significantly out-of-the-way young man.
  3. “"But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! 'I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men."'” (Luk 15:17-19)
    1. Here is where the young man realizes his foolishness in leaving his father’s household. This is his moment of repentance. He makes up his mind to go home and humble himself to his father; and being satisfied with just being a servant to his father and not a son anymore. He realizes what he has done.
  4. “"So he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. "And the son said to him, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'” (Luk 15:20-21)
    1. The young man does exactly as he planned. He gets up and returns to his father. His father, seeing him coming, runs to his son and embraces him. Embracing was a sign of acceptance. The son begins to confess his sins to his father, including his understanding that he has sinned against God. This practice of referring to “heaven” or “in the presence of the angels” was common among the Jews because they revered the name of God so much that they avoided saying it. This is called circumlocution. But the young man is acknowledging his sin in the sight of God and is humbling himself before his father.
  5. “"But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet; and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and has come to life again; he was lost and has been found.' And they began to celebrate.” (Luk 15:22-24)
    1. Now, in response to his son, the father does much more than his younger son desires, and clothes him fine clothes. He puts a ring on his hand, which was a symbol of authority. He puts sandals on his feet, because slaves were the ones who walked barefoot in those days. He restores him to his place of sonship before the father. He brings out the fattened calf and the father and his servants rejoice to have him back. He acknowledges that his son was as good as dead and lost but now is alive again and found.
    2. This is so far consistent with the two previous parables. Something is lost, it is sought, it is found, and there is rejoicing. The parable up to this point shows that this is the heart of God for the lost. He desires them to come to Him. He seeks them and rejoices when and if they return. But now Jesus continues with the parable to illustrate in this context how the religious leaders were acting toward the repentant sinners who came to Him.
  6. “"Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. "And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things could be.” (Luk 15:25-26)
    1. Just as the older son inquires about what people are celebrating the scribes and Pharisees inquired about Jesus’ ministry.
  7. “"And he said to him, 'Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf because he has received him back safe and sound.'” (Luk 15:27)
    1. The scribes and Pharisees saw that multitudes of sinners, irreligious Jews, were coming to Jesus and were being changed. They were putting off their sins and being healed of everything from sickness to demonic possession. These non-religious Jews of every kind were repenting and being made right with God.
  8. “"But he became angry and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began pleading with him. "But he answered and said to his father, 'Look! For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a young goat, so that I might celebrate with my friends; but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him.'” (Luk 15:28-30)
    1. Now this first part of v.28 is very telling. The older brother was angry when he heard about this and he was not willing to go in. Where was his love for his brother? Was he not glad to see his brother safely return?
    2. In the same way, the religious leader recoiled at the effects of Jesus’ ministry. Sinners were coming to God and they were angry because it was not through them or because it was not being done in a way that they thought was acceptable. When, if they truly followed the Law and the Prophets, they would’ve understood that this was the heart of God. He wants the wicked to forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and for him to return to His God who would abundantly pardon him. (Isaiah 55:6-7) The sacrifices of God are a broken and a contrite heart. (Psalm 51)
  • Where was the love of the Pharisees toward these people? Why couldn’t they rejoice over the fact that these people were repenting? It may be seen in what the older brother says. He seems like he almost begrudgingly has obeyed his father and was more concerned with what he could get out of it. Likewise, the religious leaders were more concerned with their system that they had and keeping their place. Even later on in Jesus’ ministry the leaders were more concerned that the Romans would not come and take away THEIR place and THEIR nation—as though it belonged to them and not God. (John 11:48)
  1. The irony is that the celebration by the Father and his servants has made the older son to separate himself from the celebration and go outside of it out of resentment. Just like the Pharisees would not enter in to the Kingdom of God because they did not like the nature and character of Jesus’ ministry.
    1. “"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” (Mat 23:13)
  2. “"And he said to him, 'Son, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. 'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"” (Luk 15:31-32)
    1. The Father reminds the son that he has always been with him and all that belongs to the father is his. He had continually been with his father. The father’s love and compassion for his younger son is set in contrast to the self-centeredness of the older son. It is right for the father to rejoice that his younger son has returned.
    2. The parable ends openly with no mention of the older son’s response. Likewise, we don’t see the Pharisees and scribe’s response in this passage. It is likely that Christ was still offering an entrance to the Kingdom at that time. Later though we see that the religious leaders would by-and-large reject Christ and be shut out. Christ himself would make many statements expressing their condemnation as a result. (Matthew 23)
  • It is the response of the crowd that is being provoked. Christ uses the parables to address the scribes and Pharisees and by setting up these parables He intends to shine light on the situation and provoke a response from them. He compares the situation of God seeking the lost and rejoicing at their repentance to a shepherd seeking lost sheep, a woman seeking a lost coin, and (to address their response) a reckless son returning to his father.
  1. The original audience would’ve clearly understood these parables. Whether they would respond with acceptance was another matter. Many of the parables are misunderstood because they are separated from their context and not made clear to a modern-day audience in regards to cultural references.
  2. Christ’s main point that He was trying to make clear was that God desires the sinners of the world to come to Him in humility and repentance. He would accept them if they came in that manner and He would rejoice to do so. We, as Christians, should have the same attitude toward the lost. We should really be examining ourselves to see if we are reacting to the lost around us as the Pharisees, who just looked down on the people, or the Father, who in compassion seeks them and rejoices when they come.
  3. One thing to keep in mind is that everyone of us who are truly Christians was at one time that younger son who humbled himself and came to the Father. I’m very grateful that when we do come to Him we don’t encounter someone with the older brother’s attitude.