John 10:22 starts a new narrative about another confrontation Jesus faced, which occurred at the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah), about two months after the Festival of Tabernacles. During the intervening period, Jesus’ activity appears to have continued in and near Jerusalem and in other areas of Judea.
Luke 10:1-13:21 seems to relate events taking place during this intervening period. According to Luke 9:51-53, Jesus and his disciples passed through Samaria on their way to Jerusalem. The next location mentioned in the account is the home of Martha and Mary, which was located in Bethany. This village was about two miles from Jerusalem. (Luke 10:38, 39; John 11:18) Then, in Luke 13:22, it is stated that Jesus was again on his way to Jerusalem, which seems to have been for the Festival of Dedication mentioned in John 10:22. If the narrative in Luke follows a chronological order, this would place the events related in Luke 10:1-13:21 between the Festival of Tabernacles and the Festival of Dedication, provided that the two trips to Jerusalem mentioned are correctly identified as having taken place for the two festivals mentioned in John 7:2 and 10:22.
As he had earlier sent out the 12 apostles by twos, Jesus did so with the 70 (or, according to other manuscripts, 72). Included among them likely were Matthias and Joseph (Barsabbas, also called Justus). (Compare Acts 1:21-23.) The 70 or 72 disciples were to do a preparatory work in the villages and towns which Jesus planned to visit personally. Considerable potential existed for an ingathering of many disciples. Because there were then only a few available workers, Jesus urged those whom he sent forth to petition his Father, the master of the harvest, to send out more workers into his harvest. Not everyone, however, would welcome his disciples. On account of those who would oppose, the disciples would be like sheep that Jesus had sent out among wolves. (Luke 10:1-3)
When going from town to town and village to village, the disciples were not to carry a money bag, a pouch for supplies, or an extra pair of sandals. As they traveled, they were not to greet anyone whom they met on the way. In that culture, a greeting was not limited to a few words said while passing but involved a prolonged interchange. Therefore, their not engaging in this kind of greeting was indicative of the urgency and importance of the work Jesus had commissioned them to do. (Luke 10:4)
Upon entering a home where hospitality had been extended, they were first to wish for peace (shalom) to come upon it. This would be an expression for all in the house to enjoy a state of well-being. A “son of peace” would be a man who was favorably disposed to the message the disciples proclaimed and desired the security and well-being that resulted from an approved relationship with the Most High. About a householder who proved to be such, Jesus said to his disciples, “Your peace shall rest upon him.” The responsive individual would come to enjoy the same kind of peace or spiritual well-being as they did. If the owner of the house did not manifest himself to be a “son of peace,” the disciples were not to allow themselves to become troubled, but the peace they had wished for the household would return to them. (Luke 10:5, 6)
In whatever home they were welcomed, they were to eat and drink the things provided and not go to another home, where the accommodations might be preferable. Their staying in the home where hospitality was originally extended would show proper appreciation and also make it easier for others to find them to hear their message. It was appropriate for the disciples to receive food, drink, and lodging, for a worker is worthy of his wage. (Luke 10:7)
Wherever they were welcomed, the disciples were to eat what was set before them. While there, they were to heal the sick and tell the people that the “kingdom of God” had come near. Jesus, the one through whom the Most High purposed to reign, was then in the midst of the Jewish people, and they had the opportunity to be part of the realm where he is Sovereign. Accordingly, God’s kingdom had come near to them. (Luke 10:8, 9)
In the event they were not welcomed in a particular town, the disciples were to go into its wide or principal streets and declare that even the dust clinging to their feet they would wipe off against its inhabitants. It was customary for Jews, upon coming into the land of Israel, to shake from their feet the dust that had come from outside the land. According to ancient Jewish sources, that dust was considered to be defiling. In the case of the disciples, the act would show that the people had revealed themselves as having no relationship with God and not desiring such. The disciples thus left the place to experience the consequences from the rejection of Christ by its inhabitants, as it had been made known to them that the kingdom of God had drawn near. The very dust the disciples had wiped off against the unresponsive inhabitants would testify that they had chosen to reject the message that had been proclaimed to them. (Luke 10:10, 11)
In the future time of judgment, it would prove to be more bearable for the inhabitants of Sodom in the time of Lot than for the city that had rejected the message about the kingdom of God. (Luke 10:12) The people of Sodom did not have the opportunity to hear what the unresponsive Israelite city did and so were less accountable for their actions. Therefore, they would not face as severe a judgment. (Compare Luke 12:47, 48.)
Jesus then pronounced “woe,” grief, or distress for the Galilean cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, where he had performed many miracles. If the non-Israelite inhabitants of the Phoenician cities of Tyre and Sidon had witnessed the same works of power, they, in the distant past, would have repented, making visible expression thereof by putting on sackcloth and seating themselves in ashes. Therefore, it would be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for Chorazin and Bethsaida. The judgment would be commensurate with their lesser accountability. (Luke 10:13, 14)
Capernaum, the Galilean city where Peter and Andrew had their home, would not be exalted to heaven, being granted unparalleled honor. It would be debased to the lowest point—Hades or the realm of the dead. This is because the inhabitants of Capernaum witnessed more miracles than many other places and yet the majority of the inhabitants persisted in unbelief. (Luke 10:15)
The disciples represented Jesus. For this reason, when others listened to them, they paid attention to him. Whoever disregarded them, also rejected Jesus and his Father, who had sent him. (Luke 10:16)
When the 70 (or 72) disciples returned, they were overjoyed, telling Jesus that the demons had submitted to them on the basis of his name (the authority that his name represented). He knew that, through his death, the powers of darkness would be defeated. (Compare Colossians 2:15.) No longer could people be kept in a state of involuntary enslavement through fear of what malevolent powers in a superterrestrial realm could do to them. (Compare Hebrews 2:14, 15.) Therefore, he could speak of seeing Satan as having fallen from heaven like lightning. (Luke 10:17, 18)
The disciples had nothing to fear from the powers of darkness. Jesus had granted them authority to trample upon malevolent powers comparable to poisonous serpents and scorpions and, in fact, over all the power of the satanic enemy. No harm could come to them from that source. The disciples, however, had greater reason for rejoicing than the fact that malign spirits had been made subject to them. Their names had been written in heaven. This meant that they would continue to enjoy God’s favor, aid, and blessing. (Luke 10:19, 20)
In that “hour” or at that time, Jesus, under the impulse of holy spirit, was moved to thank his Father that he had hidden the precious spiritual treasures of knowledge from the “wise and the learned” and had revealed them to “babes,” persons who enjoyed no particular prominence or distinction. Among those who were regarded as insignificant, Jesus’ words found hearing ears. In disposition, they were receptive to the Son of God and the message he proclaimed. It pleased his Father to favor them with responsive hearing, allowing those who regarded themselves as wise and learned to continue in their blind state of unbelief. (Luke 10:21, 22)
The Father had committed “all things” relating to having his approval to his Son. Jesus truly knew his Father as no one else did. This is because he is the unique Son, the intimate one whom his Father alone fully knows. Accordingly, in a way that no one else could, the Son revealed the Father to whomever he chose to do so. All to whom Jesus revealed his Father came to know him as persons having an approved relationship with him as his beloved children. It was to those who repented of their sins and came to acknowledge him as the Christ, the Son of God, that Jesus chose to reveal his Father. (Luke 10:22)
Turning to his disciples, Jesus spoke privately to them, telling them that their eyes were fortunate because they could see. Their vision was not obstructed like that of the “wise and learned” who persisted in unbelief. Indicating how favored his disciples were, he told them that many prophets and kings (including David, Hezekiah, Josiah, and other faithful ones) wanted to see what they beheld and to hear what they heard. This is because the devoted prophets and faithful kings looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, whereas the disciples enjoyed close association with him, heard his teaching, and experienced his compassion and love. The disciples actually saw what the prophets and kings wanted to see but did not. (Luke 10:23, 24)
In Matthew 9:37, 38, Jesus expressed the thought about petitioning the “master of the harvest” (Luke 10:2) upon seeing the helpless condition of the crowds, who were like sheep without a shepherd.
When sending out the 12 apostles and the 70 (or 72) disciples, Jesus told them that he was sending them out as sheep among wolves. In Matthew 10:16, the term for “sheep” is the plural form of próbaton. Most manuscript readings of Luke 10:3 have the plural form of arníon, which designation can refer to a lamb, a ram, or a sheep of any age.
Jesus’ instructions to the 12 apostles and the 70 (or 72) disciples about entering a home or a town and leaving an unresponsive place are similar. (Matthew 10:12-15; Luke 10:6, 11, 12)
Jesus’ pronouncement of “woe” and comments about Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum, Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom appear in Matthew 11:20-24 and Luke 10:12-15. In Matthew, the remarks relate to a different occasion and are more detailed about Sodom.
Matthew 10:40, Luke 10:16, and John 13:20 convey the same thought about those who would receive or welcome Jesus’ disciples, but the words appear in different settings.
Matthew 11:25-27 and Luke 10:21-24 contain Jesus’ expression of thanksgiving involving the “wise and learned” and the “babes,” but the setting is different.
Luke 10:23, 24 and Matthew 13:16, 17 relate the same thoughts about seeing and the desire of the prophets. In Luke 10:24, there is also a reference to kings, but Matthew 13:17 mentions “righteous ones.”
To test Jesus, a man who knew the Mosaic law exceptionally well asked what he needed to do to inherit eternal life (or life in the age to come). Instead of giving him a direct answer, the Son of God questioned him about the law and how he read what was contained therein. The legal expert focused on two commandments—loving God with one’s whole heart, whole soul, whole strength, and whole mind, and loving one’s neighbor as oneself. (Leviticus 19:18; Deuteronomy 6:5) Jesus acknowledged the correctness of the answer and then added, “Do this, and you will live.” Wanting to justify himself, the man responded, “Who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:25-29; for comments about the possible nature of the justification, see the Notes section.)
In reply, Jesus related a parable or likeness. While on his way from Jerusalem to Jericho, a man became the victim of robbers. They stripped and beat him, leaving him half dead. Coincidentally, traveling the same road, a priest noticed the battered victim but passed by on the opposite side. Later, a Levite likewise did nothing to help the man. On his way, a Samaritan saw him and was moved with compassion. He approached the helpless man, poured oil and wine on his wounds, and then bandaged them. The Samaritan lifted him onto his mount (which would commonly have been a donkey), took him to an inn, and cared for him there. The next day, he gave two denarii (the equivalent of two days’ wages) to the innkeeper, telling him to care for the man and obligating himself to reimburse him for any other costs the care might require. The Samaritan promised to make any additional payment upon his return. (Luke 10:30-35; see the Notes section for other comments.)
Jesus then asked the questioner about who of the three had proved himself to be the neighbor of the one who had fallen among the robbers. Seemingly, he could not bring himself to say, “the Samaritan” (one whom he would not have regarded as belonging to God’s people), but replied that it was the one who had dealt mercifully. Applying the point of the parable, Jesus said, “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:36) In this manner, he transformed the question, “Who is my neighbor?” into one stressing personal accountability, Am I proving myself to be a neighbor to others, particularly those in need?
The next event narrated in the account took place in Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem. This could suggest that Jesus was questioned in the general vicinity.
There are a number of possibilities about how the legal expert wanted to justify himself. (Luke 10:29) Perhaps he did not believe that Jesus’ response had settled the question but merely called attention to what he already knew. In that case, he would have been justifying the reason for asking the question. Another possibility is that he wanted to justify that he was truly doing what the law required, with the precise identification of the neighbor serving to confirm this. So it may be that he wanted Jesus to define the term “neighbor” in a very specific or limited sense.
In the first century, travelers had to reckon with dangers from highwaymen. (2 Corinthians 11:26) The narrow road between Jerusalem and Jericho passed ravines, cliffs, and caves, and provided numerous locations for robbers to conceal themselves and then quickly to descend upon their victims.
Jesus did not identify the man who fell among robbers as a Jew, a Samaritan, or a Gentile, but simply represented him as a man who was traveling from the elevated city of Jerusalem down to Jericho. (Luke 10:30) Likely the legal expert thought of him as being a fellow Jew.
Whether the priest and the Levite were coming or going to Jerusalem is not specified in the parable.
In view of their being in God’s service in a special way, priests and Levites would have been expected to be more responsive to the needs of others than would the general populace. Jesus provided no reason for the failure of the priest and the Levite. This left it up to the questioner to come up with any justification (fear of possible attack if they lingered in the area, avoidance of ceremonial defilement if the man was dead, or the belief that the victim had rightly experienced divine judgment for his sin).
In the case of the Levite, the expression “having come and having seen” may mean that Jesus represented him as arriving at the location, approaching to take a closer look, but afterward doing nothing to relieve the half-dead man and passing by on the other side. (Luke 10:32)
The enmity existing between the Jews and the Samaritans would have been an excuse for inaction. This feature of the parable makes the point about what constitutes a neighbor even more forceful. The book of Sirach, translated from Hebrew into Greek in the second century BCE, reflects the kind of animosity that existed. “My whole being loathes two nations, the third is not even a people: Those who live in Seir and Philistia, and the degenerate folk in Shechem [the Samaritans].” (Sirach 50:25, 26, NAB)
Olive oil served to soften and soothe bruises and welts. Wine, with its antiseptic qualities, proved useful for cleansing open wounds.
The village to which Jesus next went with his disciples was Bethany, about two miles from Jerusalem. Here Martha extended hospitality in her home. (Luke 10:38; John 11:1, 18)
Focused on preparations for her guests, Martha attended to her many tasks, while her sister Mary seated herself at Jesus’ feet and listened to his teaching. This greatly disturbed Martha, as she felt that her sister should be helping her to accomplish what needed to be done. When she felt overwhelmed and anxious about everything that had been left for her to do, Martha expressed her feelings to Jesus, saying to him: “Lord, does it not concern you that my sister has left me alone to serve? So tell her to help me.” (Luke 10:39, 40)
In response, Jesus said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but of one thing [there] is need. Mary, then, chose the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.” (Luke 10:41, 42) This reply may be understood to mean that the essential was the more valuable spiritual provision. The material ministering had so worried and distracted Martha that she had lost out on the truly good portion, which Mary had chosen. Unlike a meal that only satisfies a need for a short time, the sustaining power of a spiritual provision is not temporary.
According to another manuscript reading, Jesus said that “of a few things [there] is need, or of one.” This may mean that a few things were essential for a meal, but the one thing of greater value was the spiritual provision, the part that Mary had chosen.
This was not a criticism of Martha’s hospitality but a loving reminder that worries and concerns about material provisions should not be allowed to become so distracting as to forfeit spiritual benefits. They were the words of one who deeply cared about Martha. According to John 11:5, “Jesus loved Martha and her sister.”
The intimacy Jesus expressed in his relationship with his Father must have deeply impressed his disciples and would have been especially noticeable in his prayers. This may have prompted a number of the disciples to want to know how to draw closer to the heavenly Father and to express themselves in their own prayers. On one occasion, after he had finished praying, one of his disciples (probably a newer disciple who had not heard his earlier teaching) approached him and, also speaking for others, asked that he teach them to pray, just as John the Baptist had taught his disciples. (Luke 11:1) In response, Jesus repeated what he had said earlier (in what has come to be commonly known as the Sermon on the Mount).
According to the oldest extant manuscripts, prayer is addressed to the Father. Many later manuscripts read, “Our Father who [is] in the heavens,” as does Matthew 6:9. When directing their petitions to the Father, those praying would be expressing themselves as members of the family of his beloved children. (Luke 11:2)
The petition that God’s name be hallowed or sanctified could be a plea for him to make himself known as the holy God through a direct intervention in the affairs of humankind or an appeal that the number of people who honor him (the bearer of the name) would continue to increase. It is likely that the petition is directly related to the next one, “Your kingdom come.” (Luke 11:2) This suggests that the hallowing of God’s name relates to the sanctifying of his own name, making himself manifest as Sovereign by revealing his power. (Compare Ezekiel 38:23.)
Asking for God’s kingdom to come would mean praying for his sovereign will to be expressed. The ultimate result would be that competing demands from other rulerships would cease to exist. (Compare Daniel 2:44) In the world of mankind, believers have an alien status, for they are in the realm where God reigns by means of his Son. Their loyal submission to God’s will can result in suffering for them. To persons who are part of the world that is in a state of rebellion against God, believers may come to be objects of intense hostility. Therefore, the appeal for the kingdom to come expresses the believer’s desire for all the problems associated with disregard for God’s will to end.
The petition about being given our bread “according to the day [each day or day by day]” probably is to be understood as being for the needed or the essential sustenance for the day. (Luke 11:3) There is uncertainty about the Greek expression epioúsios that is linked to “bread.” Even Origen (185? to 254? CE) had not heard this word used in common speech or seen it in other writings. Therefore, he concluded that it was a coined expression. In association with bread, the words including epioúsios have been rendered, “the food we need” (CEV), “the bread we need” (Phillips) “our bread for the coming day” (Wuest), and “our daily bread” (NAB, NIV, NJB, NRSV, REB).
Sin is a failure to reflect the image of God in thought, word, or deed. It is an offense against him and frequently also a transgression against a fellow human. The petition to be forgiven of sin is coupled with an acknowledgment of a forgiving spirit. The heavenly Father is willing to forgive in a large way all who repentantly turn to him. Therefore, in imitating his compassionate example, the petition includes, “for also we forgive everyone who is in debt to us” (on account of having sinned against us).
For one not to be brought into temptation would include being strengthened to resist temptation and to be shielded from circumstances beyond one’s strength to endure. Many manuscripts add, “but deliver us from the evil [or the evil one].” To be delivered from “evil” would mean to be safeguarded from anything that could plunge one into sin, interfering with maintaining an approved relationship with the heavenly Father. If the meaning is the “evil one” or the devil, this would be a petition to be protected from becoming his victim as one induced to follow a God-dishonoring course. (Luke 11:4)
By means of a likeness or parable, Jesus next stressed the importance of persevering in prayer. A man woke up his friend at midnight, requesting that he lend him three loaves of bread. Unexpectedly, one of his friends had arrived from a journey, and he had nothing to offer him to eat. The one whom he had disturbed told him not to trouble him, for the door had already been locked, he and his children were in bed, and he was in no position to get up and give him anything. Although he would not respond to the request on the basis of friendship, Jesus did say that he would do so because of his friend’s persistence. (Luke 11:5-8)
On account of the slow means of travel available in ancient times and unfavorable conditions along the way, guests from distant parts often arrived late at night. Not to give them something to eat would have been considered a serious breach of customary hospitality. In small homes, the whole family would sleep in one room. Therefore, someone’s getting up in the middle of the night to respond to a request for bread would have disturbed everyone.
Applying the parable, Jesus gave the admonition to persist in asking, seeking, and knocking. The one asking would receive, the one seeking would find, and the one knocking would get a response. (Luke 11:9, 10) This is a general principle. A request cannot be granted without first being made. Lost items cannot be found if no effort is made to look for them. The door is not opened to a person who does not knock.
No father among those to whom Jesus spoke would have handed a serpent to a son who asked for a fish or given him a scorpion if he requested an egg. So if flawed (literally, “bad” or “evil”) fathers know how to give good gifts to their children, how much more so will the heavenly Father “give holy spirit to those asking him!” (Luke 11:11-13) It is inconceivable that a father who had concern for his children would give them something harmful instead of needed food. Therefore, the heavenly Father would give only what is good, and his answers to prayers would always be in the best interests of those who persevere in prayer.
All appropriate prayer is offered with the understanding that God’s will be done. While not in every case corresponding to the petitioner’s request, the answer always will be in harmony with God’s love. The heavenly Father is not a reluctant giver who must be persuaded to respond, but those who pray rightly demonstrate earnestness, sincerity, and faith through persistence in their supplications. God’s giving holy spirit would include strengthening and sustaining those in distress by means of his spirit and providing them with his spirit’s guidance and motivating power to resist temptation and maintain upright conduct.
According to the belief of the multitude, demon possession caused a certain man to be mute. Whether Jesus effected the cure and expressed himself in a manner that accommodated the common view or whether this involved an actual case of demon possession cannot be determined with certainty. When Jesus expelled the demon or freed the man from the agent responsible for his muteness, he could speak, and the many people who witnessed this were amazed. Certain ones, however, blasphemed Jesus, maintaining that he expelled demons by Beelzebul (Beelzebub), the ruler of the demons or the devil. Others, wanting to test Jesus, asked him to show them a sign from heaven. They wanted to see some spectacular sign from heaven that they felt was needed to establish whether he was the promised Messiah. (Luke 11:14-16; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
Aware of the thinking of those who persisted in unbelief, Jesus said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself becomes desolated, and house falls upon house. If, then, Satan also is divided against himself, how will his kingdom stand?” This should have caused those who misrepresented Jesus as being in league with the demons to think seriously. Divisions or rifts cause ruin, as when one house collapses on another house. It was inconceivable that Satan would be working against himself, destroying his own realm. (Luke 11:17, 18)
If the casting out of demons could be used as evidence that one was in league with Beelzebul (Beelzebub), this would raise a serious question, By whom did the “sons” of Jesus’ opposers exorcise demons? It is likely that these “sons” would have been disciples of the unbelieving Pharisees. Their own followers thus condemned them, exposing the inconsistency of the judgment they had made about Jesus’ works of power. (Luke 11:19)
The Son of God then continued, “But if I cast out the demons by the finger of God, then the kingdom of God has come to you.” (Luke 11:20) An act accomplished by the “finger of God” denotes one that is effected by God’s power. Through the working of divine power, Jesus revealed himself to be the promised Messiah. Therefore, in him as the king to whom his Father had granted authority and power, the reign of God had come. Jesus’ powerful works confirmed that he was in possession of God-given royal authority.
Whenever a well-armed strong man guards his own courtyard, intruders could not enter his house. Therefore, his possessions would be safe. If, however, someone with greater strength came and overpowered him, he would be stripped of his protective armor and deprived of his possessions. (Luke 11:21, 22) Accordingly, Jesus’ powerful works demonstrated that he had far greater authority than existed in the realm of darkness, for all injurious elements had to yield to his command.
In view of Jesus’ great God-given authority, the wise course would have been for individuals to take a firm stand on his side. There was no middle ground. As Jesus said, “The one not with me is against me, and the one not gathering with me is scattering.” (Luke 11:23)
Jesus made use of a common view about unclean spirits to illustrate the sad spiritual condition that existed among the people. Upon leaving a man, an unclean spirit passes through waterless areas in search of a resting place, but does not find one. Therefore, this spirit decides to return to its original home, which it then finds swept clean and well-arranged. (According to numerous manuscripts, the house is also described as “unoccupied.”) Leaving again, the unclean spirit finds seven (a complete number) of other spirits more evil than it is. All these wicked spirits then enter the man and take up permanent residence, and his final condition comes to be worse than the first. (Luke 11:24-26)
In Matthew 12:43-45, the same parable appears and concludes with an application to the “evil generation.” The Israelites had ceased to be enslaved to the kind of idolatry that existed before the Babylonian exile. From that standpoint, their house had been cleaned up and put in order. This, however, did not protect them from being victimized by worse “demons” and coming into an even graver spiritual plight.
Among the influential members of the nation, legalistic views began to crowd out the importance of growth in love, justice, and compassion. The men who exercised teaching authority formulated regulations and commands that went far beyond the requirements of the Mosaic law. This legalism spread like leaven among the people and brought spiritual ruin to them. The scrupulous observance of humanly devised commands interfered with the proper display of love, justice, and mercy. It obscured spiritual vision, making it impossible for the majority to recognize Jesus as God’s Son on the basis of his powerful works, exemplary life, and sound teaching. The hostility that developed among those poisoned to the greatest extent by legalism led to their wanting to kill Jesus.
Besides the few who became Jesus’ disciples, many others were impressed by his works and words. One woman, emotionally moved by what she heard expressed how fortunate the mother was who had given birth to and nursed a son such as he was. Jesus, though, stressed that fortunate or in an enviable state of well-being or happiness are those who hear and heed God’s word. (Luke 11:27, 28)
As the crowds increased in number, Jesus focused on those who wanted to see some spectacular sign to convince them about who he was. He referred to them as an “evil generation,” for they persisted in unbelief despite all the powerful works they had seen. They would not be granted the kind of sign they were seeking. The only sign they would be given would be the “sign of Jonah,” which sign pointed forward to Jesus’ resurrection on the third day after his death. (Luke 11:29)
Just as Jonah had been a sign to the Ninevites, so the Son of Man would be a sign to the evil generation then living (the generation that persisted in unbelief). Jesus contrasted the course of non-Israelites living in the past with that of his fellow Jews. In the judgment to come, “the queen of the south,” by her course of action, would condemn the then-existing generation for their unbelief. She came from a distant land to hear Solomon’s wisdom, but someone greater than Solomon was in their midst, but they paid no attention to him. The people of Nineveh likewise would condemn the unbelief of Jesus’ contemporaries. This is because they believed Jonah and repented, but the majority who saw and heard one greater than Jonah refused to believe him and act accordingly. (Luke 11:30-32)
Jesus’ next words illustrated the seriousness of continuing in spiritual darkness, choosing to act in a manner that is contrary to the purpose for which light or enlightenment is made available. A person does not place a lit lamp in a storage space or under a container but on a lampstand, to provide light for those who enter the house. For the body, the eye serves as a lamp. By means of the eye, the body or the individual perceives everything that light makes visible. Without sight, a person’s world comes to be a world of darkness. Whenever the eye does not function properly, images are distorted or obscured, and the visual perceptions cannot be trusted. (Luke 11:33, 34; regarding Luke 11:33, see the Notes section.)
The Greek word for “simple” is haploús and can denote what is sound or properly focused and, in a moral sense, can mean “straightforward,” “sincere,” “guileless,” and “generous.” When the eye is properly focused and provides clear images, the whole body is filled with light. The manner in which one views matters is a reflection of the inner moral or spiritual condition. Therefore, a distorted or corrupt view, plunges the whole person into a realm of darkness. (Luke 11:34) That was true of those who persisted in unbelief. Their distorted view of Jesus gave evidence of a deep moral and spiritual darkness. He, therefore, called upon those hearing his words to examine themselves, to consider whether the “light” in them was not “darkness.” (Luke 11:35) When the people refused to benefit from the light that Jesus offered, comparable to his putting a lamp on a lampstand, they continued to walk in a realm of darkness.
Only if the whole body or the whole being is filled with light, with no part being in obscuring or distorting darkness, can the individual correctly evaluate the evidence and make wise decisions. The entire being would have the light comparable to what a lamp provides, enabling the individual to see what is needed to follow the right course. (Luke 11:36)
It should be noted that Jesus’ mission did not include correcting popularly held views regarding sickness and other afflictions. The people then living could not have comprehended what humans have learned over the centuries since then and will continue to learn. To make himself understood, Jesus had to express himself in terms familiar to the then-existing generation. That required accommodating his parables and responses to their belief system or their limited knowledge. Therefore, it is not always possible to determine whether the accounts in the Scriptures reflect this accommodation or express what the actual situation was.
Clear evidence of accommodation is the parabolic saying about the demon that leaves a man and searches for a resting place as it passes through dry areas devoid of human habitation. It was a common belief that demons had their haunt in desolate places, including towns and cities lying in ruins. To convey an important truth, Jesus made use of this belief when formulating his parable.
In Luke 11:33, the Greek word that designates a storage place or hidden place is krypte, and the related verb krypto means to “hide” or “conceal.” The oldest extant papyrus manuscripts (P45 and P75) do not include the words about the container (módios, meaning “bushel,” “bushel basket,” or “vessel”).
After Jesus finished speaking to the crowds, a Pharisee invited him for a meal. The account does not reveal the Pharisee’s objective, but Jesus’ later words suggest that the motive may have been questionable. Jesus, though, did enter the home and reclined to partake of food. (Luke 11:37)
It surprised the Pharisee that Jesus did not first “immerse” (a form of baptízo, meaning “baptize” or “immerse”) before eating. (Luke 11:38) The Pharisee must have been disturbed to see what he would have considered to be a serious violation of the tradition of the elders. According to ancient Jewish sources, immersion was one way to cleanse the hands ceremonially. (Tosefta, Yadayim, 2:3)
Jesus must have noted the Pharisee’s reaction and then spoke about the more important purity. “You Pharisees,” he said, “clean the exterior of the cup and the dish, but your interior is full of greed [or plunder] and badness.” In view of their failure to be primarily concerned about their inner moral condition or their deep inner selves, Jesus spoke of them as “senseless,” and asked them, “Did not the one who made the exterior also make the interior?” The Pharisees would have agreed that God is the Creator of the whole person, including the inmost self. Jesus then exhorted them to give “for alms” the things of the interior, with the result that all things would be clean to them. (Luke 11:39-41) The rightly motivated generous giving in response to needs made the whole person clean. It revealed the purity of the deep inner self, which could not be produced by means of ceremonial cleansing with water.
Jesus then pronounced “woe,” grief, or distress for the Pharisees, as he continued emphasizing where their attention should be directed. They scrupulously tithed mint (an aromatic plant), rue (an herb with bitter gray-green leaves), and a variety of other herbs. (Luke 11:42) Instead of “rue” (péganon, a third-century papyrus manuscript (P45) reads “dill” (ánethon).
With their emphasis on external minutiae, the Pharisees made themselves guilty of failing to manifest the more important justice and “love of God.” As Jesus called to their attention, they were under obligation to practice justice and love. Compassionate care and concern for others should have been the discernible evidence of their love for God. At the same time, they were not to be neglectful about tithing. The Mosaic law did include commands about tithing, and Jesus upheld the law when he added that those things should not be neglected or carelessly overlooked. (Luke 11:42)
Through the tradition of the elders, an extensive body of commands came into existence. These commands went far beyond the requirements of the Mosaic law, and often made it appear to be harsh and unreasonable. There were times when the commands of men interfered with doing just, compassionate, and loving deeds. On an earlier occasion, Jesus used the example of corban to illustrate this. According to the tradition of the elders, a son could not help his needy parents with any part of what he had declared to be “corban” or an offering for God, even though he continued to retain control over the property. (Mark 7:11-13) Similarly, the many traditional stipulations about what constituted work caused the Pharisees to consider the loving and compassionate relief that Jesus brought to the sick and afflicted on the Sabbath as something evil.
“Woe to you Pharisees,” Jesus continued, reproving them for loving the “front seats” in the synagogues and having others greet them in the marketplaces. The front seats faced the audience. They were the seats of honor reserved for synagogue officials and notable guests. Wanting to be known for their godliness, the Pharisees desired to be seen occupying these seats of honor. When passing through the marketplaces, they wanted to be greeted or respectfully acknowledged as pious men. While craving to appear holy in the sight of others, they did not reflect the loving and compassionate disposition and inner purity associated with true godliness. (Luke 11:43)
When again pronouncing woe for them, Jesus likened the Pharisees to unidentifiable burial places over which people walked inadvertently. According to the law, anyone who touched a grave would be ceremonially defiled for seven days. (Numbers 19:16) When likening the Pharisees to unseen graves, Jesus exposed them as being seemingly clean on the outside but internally impure. What they appeared to be in the eyes of others concealed their inner defilement. (Luke 11:44)
One of the legal experts or scribes who heard Jesus’ words objected, “Teacher, the things you say also insult us.” In response, Jesus did not spare exposing those who knew the law well and also declared woe for them. (Luke 11:45, 46)
He accused them of loading the people down with heavy burdens but being unwilling to lift a finger to lighten their load. As persons learned in the law, the scribes should have been concerned about conveying its true meaning and spirit to the people. Instead, they burdened them with many additional regulations that went far beyond what the law required. Although they must have been aware of the oppressive effect the many rules and regulations had on the people, they were unwilling to look at matters reasonably and humanely. As Jesus said, they refused to lift a finger to ease the burden, doing nothing to eliminate unreasonable regulations. (Luke 11:46)
After voicing another expression of woe for them, Jesus called attention to their building of the tombs of the prophets whom their “fathers” or ancestors had killed. It appears that the legal experts felt that they were distancing themselves from the wrongs their forefathers had committed, making amends by giving attention to the tombs of the prophets who had been unjustly killed. They did not, however, give serious consideration to the factors that had given rise to the murderous hatred their ancestors manifested. The building of the tombs was merely an outward act. In disposition, the legal experts did not differ from their forefathers. Their building of the tombs constituted a testimony or an acknowledgment of their link to murderous ancestors. In spirit, the legal experts, despite their building of the tombs, approved of what their forefathers did. (Luke 11:47, 48)
The “wisdom of God” may be understood to mean what God, in his wisdom, expressed through his Son. To the unbelieving generation, he would send prophets and apostles. When killing and persecuting those sent, the people would add to the record of bloodguilt that began with the murder of Abel and continued to be made for centuries thereafter. When the priest and prophet Zechariah spoke out against the people for transgressing God’s law, he was stoned at the order of King Joash and died “between the altar and the sanctuary.” (2 Chronicles 24:20-22) Jesus reference to “the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” thus represented all the blood that had been unjustly spilled “from the founding of the world” or from the beginning. The unbelieving generation would be charged with all this blood. This pointed forward to the dreadful calamity associated with the Roman military campaign that totally desolated Jerusalem. (Luke 11:49-51; see the Notes section for additional comments on Luke 11:49)
Another reason the legal experts were to experience woe involved their having taken away the “key of knowledge.” They knew full well what the law said and should have been able to identify the promised Messiah. Among the people, they should have been the first to respond in faith and used their knowledge to promote faith among the people. Instead, they refused to impart the vital knowledge that was available to them, depriving the people of what they needed to know to become part of the realm where God reigns by means of his Son. The experts of the law did not want to enter that realm, and their attitude and actions served to prevent those wanting to enter from actually doing so. (Luke 11:52)
Jesus’ words greatly angered the Pharisees and scribes. In a spirit of hostility, they questioned him about many things, with the intent of trapping him into saying something they could use against him. (Luke 11:53, 54)
Ancient Jewish sources contain numerous rules about tithing. The following are examples: A man who wanted to lighten his load by trimming away the leaves of vegetables should not throw them away until he tithed them. (Tosefta, Demai, 4:2) If a man gave his female neighbor a container of food for her to cook for him and he had not added the spices, he should scruple about the tithing of the spices. (Tosefta, Demai, 4:31) If fruits found in the road are not then eaten but are stored for later use, they should be tithed. (Tosefta, Demai, 4:3)
In Luke 11:49, the “wisdom of God” is personified as speaking. The words about sending prophets and apostles parallel those in Matthew 23:34, where Jesus referred to himself as sending “prophets and wise ones and scribes.” As the representative of his Father, Jesus expressed his Father’s wisdom or his Father’s wise purpose.
At a time when a crowd of thousands thronged around him to such an extent that they were stepping on one another, Jesus cautioned his disciples to watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees. He then identified this leaven as hypocrisy. (Luke 12:1)
The Greek word for “hypocrite” (hypokrités) came to be the designation for an actor. In ancient Greek theater, the actors wore large masks by means of which they could also amplify their voices. Therefore, in a negative sense, the term hypokrités came to be applied to persons who played a part, dissembled, or represented themselves outwardly in a manner that concealed their real selves.
Hypocrisy is like leaven, for it will spread in an environment where group acceptance or recognition takes on undue importance or where fear prevails. An ever-increasing number of people will resort to pretense and conceal their real feelings and motives. In the case of the Pharisees, what they represented themselves as being and the esteem in which others came to hold them differed markedly from their real identity.
It appears that Jesus’ next words about things becoming known are linked to hypocrisy. For a time, individuals may be able to conceal their true selves, but exposure does come eventually. (Luke 12:2) According to Matthew 10:26, Jesus expressed the same thought at the time he sent out the twelve apostles. They were not to give in to fear but courageously proclaim the glad tidings about Christ. What they had learned from Jesus when he taught them privately, they would declare publicly. In this way, what had been covered would be uncovered. If the disciples failed to make known the truth to those who deserved to hear it, they would be concealing their identity as Christ’s disciples and thus prove themselves to be hypocrites.
Jesus made the disciples aware of the fact that what they shared with others privately would become known. The teaching may have been conveyed in the dark as if hidden from others under the cover of darkness, but it would become known in the light publicly (as in broad daylight). Though whispered behind closed doors and out of the hearing of others, the message would come to be proclaimed publicly like announcements made from roofs so that all could hear. (Luke 12:3) This would develop because those who heard privately would not keep it to themselves but would talk about it to others, and eventually the word would spread.
Referring to his disciples as “friends,” Jesus implied that they would be exposed to serious danger because of their testimony about him. He did so when admonishing them not to fear those who can merely kill the body but can do nothing more. (Luke 12:4)
God is the one whom the disciples were to fear or for whom they were to have the highest reverential regard. After rendering the body lifeless, he can assign it to Gehenna. (Luke 12:5) For one to be tossed into Gehenna would signify experiencing the dreadful judgment of complete loss of any relationship with the Most High and all the blessings associated therewith. This judgment is final, with no possibility of any change, and is comparable to being thrown into a garbage dump where fires burn continually and maggots consume whatever the flames do not reach. (Compare Isaiah 66:24.)
Jesus next called attention to the certainty of his Father’s remembrance of his disciples, which remembrance assured them of an eternal relationship with him. Five sparrows, which birds people with limited means would eat, could be obtained for two assarii (the equivalent of what a common laborer would have earned after working for one and a half hours). Two sparrows cost one assarion, indicating that the fifth one was free. (Matthew 10:29) Even though these small birds had little commercial value, Jesus added that not one of them is “forgotten before God.” This assured the disciples that his Father would not forget them, for the hairs of their heads were all numbered. To the Most High, everything about them was precious. Making an application, Jesus continued, “Fear not. You are more valuable than many sparrows.” As persons the Almighty highly valued, the disciples had no reason to fear what they might yet have to face from hateful unbelievers. Their eternal future would prove to be secure. (Luke 12:6, 7)
All who confessed being at one with him, acknowledging belonging to him even when faced with grave danger, Jesus (the “Son of Man”) would acknowledge as being united to him as his disciples and friends before the angels of God. This acknowledgment before his Father’s angels would also constitute an acknowledgment before his Father whom these angels serve. (Luke 12:8) If, however, the individual disowned him before men, claiming to have no relationship with him, Jesus would likewise identify that one before God’s angels as not belonging to him. He would completely disown the person. (Luke 12:9)
Whereas the possibility exists of being forgiven for speaking against the Son of Man, blasphemy against the holy spirit is unforgivable. (Luke 12:10) This blasphemy includes denouncing the good that is accomplished through the operation of the holy spirit as originating from an evil source, which is what certain Pharisees did when maintaining that Jesus did powerful works as an agent of Satan. One who blasphemes the holy spirit deliberately and defiantly chooses to pursue a course in opposition to God’s will.
Jesus admonished the disciples to remain fearless, as fear could lead them to be disloyal to him. If taken to synagogues, rulers, or other authorities for questioning, the disciples were not to worry about how they would make their defense. Jesus assured them that the holy spirit would in that “very hour” or at that time teach them what they would need to say. (Luke 12:11, 12) The spirit’s teaching would be in the form of recalling thoughts that would be appropriate for the occasion and expressing them in a manner that would honor the Son of God. The account in the book of Acts reveals that, with God’s spirit operating upon them, the disciples testified about Jesus, recalling and making proper application of passages from the Scriptures. (Acts 4:8-12; 5:29-32; 7:2-56)
Jesus did repeat teaching that he had provided on other occasions. The setting, however, may point to a different aspect for a particular principle to which he referred. This appears to be the case about uncovering what had previously been concealed. (Matthew 10:26; Luke 12:2)
Often Jesus repeated the same thoughts, and the wording of the narratives may be similar. The words of Luke 12:3-9 regarding fearlessness in confessing Christ parallel those of Matthew 10:27-33. Matthew 12:31, 32 and Mark 3:28-30 are more detailed about blaspheming the spirit than is Luke 12:10, but the sense is the same. Comments about the aid the holy spirit would provide are found in Matthew 10:19, 20; Mark 13:11; Luke 12:11, 12; 21:14, 15, and John 14:26.
From the crowd, a man spoke up, requesting that Jesus tell his brother to divide the family inheritance with him. The Son of God refused to take sides with the man in the inheritance controversy, saying, “Who set me as judge or arbitrator over you?” According to the Mosaic law, the firstborn received a double portion of the inheritance. (Deuteronomy 21:17) The account does not specify whether this was a factor in the man’s desire for Jesus to intervene nor does it give any indication why the man felt that his brother should divide the inheritance with him. In his response, Jesus stressed guarding against all kinds of covetousness, for the man did desire a considerable portion of what his brother had. De-emphasizing the value of material property, Jesus added that one’s life is not a matter of abundant possessions. (Luke 12:13-15) Great riches cannot be used to preserve one’s life indefinitely and have no bearing on one’s eternal future.
To reinforce his admonition, Jesus related a parable. A certain rich man enjoyed exceptionally abundant yields from his land, but his storage capacity proved to be too limited for his crops. He decided to tear down his storehouses, replacing them with larger ones for his grain and other goods. He would then address his “soul” or himself with the words, “You have many good things stored up for many years [to come]; rest, eat, drink, and rejoice.” (Luke 12:16-19)
The manner in which Jesus formulated the expressions reflected the rich man’s ignoring the uncertainties of life and leaving no room for God in his plans. On this basis, Jesus then referred to God as calling this rich man “senseless” and telling him that the very night in which he had congratulated himself on his plans his soul or life was demanded from him. This left him with the question as to who would come to have the goods he had accumulated. Applying the lesson of the parable, Jesus said that this is what happens to the person who “stores up treasures for himself but is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:20, 21) With the attention focused solely on possessions to secure personal comfort and pleasure, such an individual gives no thought to those in need and so fails to please God as one who uses his abundance to benefit others.
Jesus did not specify how the rich man’s life was threatened. He thus let those who heard his words draw their own conclusions about the various ways in which this could have happened.
It is noteworthy that Jesus refused to be made a party in the inheritance dispute but stressed the need for being rich toward God. His example serves as a reproof to those who consider themselves authorized to pass judgments respecting similar matters by virtue of the position they may occupy within a movement professing to be Christian.
The enlargement of underground storage places would have required removing their confining sides. This may explain why Jesus had the rich man plan to tear down his storehouses and then to build larger ones (instead of erecting additional structures).
Just as one’s making the acquisition of riches the all-consuming desire can lead to spiritual ruin, so can undue anxiety about one’s obtaining the essentials for sustaining life. Therefore, Jesus admonished his disciples not to worry about food and clothing, “for the soul is more than food, and the body more than clothing.” One’s soul or life as a person involves more than just having food to eat, and the body is more than an object to be clothed. There is more to life as humans than merely existing to eat and to wear garments. (Luke 12:22, 23; compare Matthew 6:25, where the same thoughts are recorded.)
Jesus exhorted the disciples to consider the ravens. These birds do not sow seed, harvest crops, or own structures for storing food. Nevertheless, they do not suffer want, for “God feeds them.” Through God’s providential care, the birds are able to find food. The disciples would have been able to answer Jesus’ rhetorical question about their worth, acknowledging that they were of far greater value than birds. This should have given them the confidence that the heavenly Father’s concern for them was such that they would be able to procure life’s necessities. “By worrying, who among you,” asked Jesus, “can add a cubit [about 18 inches] to his life span?” The disciples were fully aware that anxiety could not increase the length of their life for the briefest period. If, therefore, they could not do something as insignificant as adding a minuscule fraction to their life span, why, then, should they worry about the rest? (Luke 12:24-26; compare Matthew 6:26, 27, where the same thoughts are expressed.)
As for clothing, the disciples should take note of how the lilies (common flowers) grow. They do not labor nor spin (spin nor weave, according to another manuscript reading). Nevertheless, Jesus, who had seen the splendor of King Solomon’s garments, could say that this wealthy monarch was not as impressively attired as the lilies. These common flowers of the field quickly fade and may on the next day, when dry, be tossed into an oven to start a fire. As God has so beautifully arrayed the short-lived blooms of common flowers, would he not much more so clothe Jesus’ disciples, especially since they are very precious to him? God’s Son referred to the disciples as those of little faith, suggesting that they tended to worry despite the abundant evidence of his Father’s providential care for the creation. (Luke 12:27, 28, which verses repeat the thoughts found in Matthew 6:28-30)
Jesus instructed the disciples not to make what they are to eat and drink the prime object of their seeking or obtaining nor were they to worry. Life’s essentials were the very things the “nations of the world” (the people without knowledge of God) did seek. Their efforts to obtain life’s necessities completely consumed them. The disciples, though, were to remember that their heavenly Father knew what they needed. This should have encouraged them to seek God’s kingdom, confident that all that they truly needed would be given to them. (Luke 12:29-31; note that this is a repetition of Jesus’ earlier teaching [Matthew 6:31-33].)
For the disciples to seek God’s kingdom would mean for them to have an earnest desire to have him as their Sovereign, submitting themselves to do his will, looking to him to bless their efforts to obtain life’s necessities, and maintaining faith in him as the one who would aid them in their time of need. Just as the birds do what they can to find the provisions available to them, Christ’s disciples demonstrate themselves to be willing and exemplary workers, conscientiously using their God-given abilities to make a living. At the same time, they avoid giving in to unproductive worry, as that would call into question their faith in God’s ability to care for them.
In an unbelieving world, disciples of Christ may face difficulties and hardships. At the time Jesus taught his disciples, they were very few in number. The majority of their fellow Israelites had not responded in faith. Being greatly outnumbered, they may well have been apprehensive about what the future might hold for them, especially as they became more aware of the kind of hostility that was directed against Jesus. He, therefore, admonished them not to be afraid. While they appeared to be just a “little flock” of sheep surrounded by many unbelievers, the heavenly Father, in his good pleasure, wanted to give them the kingdom, making them part of the realm where he is Sovereign and granting them all the associated blessings. (Luke 12:32)
In keeping with what God had in store for them, they should focus on giving to those in need. Instead of acquiring extra possessions, they would be selling possessions and, with the funds obtained therefrom, relieve the plight of the afflicted. In this way, they would be making purses for themselves that did not wear out with use, for the heavenly Father would look favorably upon their generous and rightly motivated giving. The record of giving would come to be like a treasure deposited in heaven, which the Most High would richly recompense. This treasure is secure, for no thief can steal it and no moth (in its destructive caterpillar stage) can ruin it. The hearts of the devoted disciples or their affections and desires would be where their treasure is, centered on their heavenly Father and pleasing him. (Luke 12:33, 34, which passage parallels Matthew 6:19-21) For those whose treasure is on earth, their thoughts and actions are not ennobling. They merely exist to eat, drink, and engage in some temporary form of merriment.
Jesus exhorted his disciples to be like watchful servants, with their loins girded and their oil lamps lit. To have greater freedom of movement for working, servants would pull their robes between their legs and then tuck the garments under their girdles. After the daylight hours had passed, they relied on their lamps for illumination. God’s Son wanted his disciples to be like servants waiting for their master to return from marriage festivities and to be ready immediately to open the door in response to his knocking. (Luke 12:35, 36)
Jesus pronounced the servants fortunate, happy, or in an enviable state of joy for being prepared to welcome their master. Continuing with a solemn introductory “amen” (truly), Jesus said that the master would honor his watchful servants, having them recline at a table and girding himself to serve them. (Luke 12:37) This would be the manner in which a master would treat his friends and honored guests.
Marriage celebrations could end at various times of the night. Therefore, waiting for the return of the master required that the servants remain awake for many hours, busying themselves with various tasks. If the master arrived in the second watch (between 9:00 p.m. and midnight) or the third watch of the night (between midnight and 3:00 a.m.) and found them awake and watchful, they would indeed be happy. (Luke 12:38)
Reemphasizing the aspect of preparedness, Jesus referred to a householder who would have remained watchful and prevented his house from being broken into if he had known when the thief would arrive. With a direct application to his disciples, Jesus said to them, “You also, be prepared, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.” (Luke 12:39, 40) Thus Jesus indicated that there would be no way for anyone to determine just when he would return in glory, requiring that his disciples always be in an acceptable condition regardless of when this might prove to be.
Peter then raised the question, “Lord, are you telling this parable to us or also to all?” Jesus responded with a question, “Who really is the faithful and wise steward whom his master will put in charge over his servants, to give them their [daily] ration at the [appropriate] time?” If that steward, who was also a slave, faithfully discharged the responsibility which he had been given, he would be happy at his master’s arrival. (Luke 12:41-43)
Jesus had entrusted Peter and the other apostles with the responsibility to be teachers of fellow believers and to look out for their spiritual well-being. In subsequent centuries, others in the community of believers have rendered such service. At the time of his return in glory, Jesus will identify all who have ministered faithfully according to his instructions, proving themselves to be loving and caring slaves of their fellow servants. Like the slave of the parable, they would then have abundant reason to be happy. Continuing with the parable, Jesus added that the reward was certain and likened it to the master’s putting the faithful steward in charge of all of his possessions.
In the community of believers, a danger exists that those who are looked to as teachers and for loving and compassionate care and concern will misuse their position. Instead of continuing to minister as slaves, they may take on the role of abusive masters, forgetting their accountability to the Lord Jesus Christ. While they may speak of his coming, their bearing, words, or actions would deny that they really believed that he would return to judge them personally.
In the parable, Jesus spoke of the possibility that the slave or steward would prove to be unfaithful. In his heart or inmost self, he would reason that his master was delaying. Assuming the position of a cruel master, he would deal harshly with fellow servants (both male and female), beating them for not complying with his demands. He would indulge his fleshly desires, eating and drinking to the point of intoxication. (Luke 12:45)
The master would arrive on a day that the abusive steward did not expect and at an hour unknown to him. That worthless slave would then be severely punished (literally, “cut in two” or hacked in pieces), and his portion would be with the unbelievers (those who defiantly persisted in unbelief or unfaithfulness). This is indeed a powerful warning to all who represent themselves as stewards in the service of Christ but who in attitude, word, or deed assume a position of lordship, equating obedience to the unique rules and teachings of their particular movements as constituting loyalty to God and Christ. (Luke 12:46)
In his parable, Jesus referred to other failures on the part of those in his service. He spoke of the slave that understood his master’s will but failed to be in a prepared state and acted contrary to his will. Upon the master’s arrival, that slave would be severely beaten. On the other hand, the slave that did not understand the master’s will but made himself guilty of wrongs deserving punishment would be beaten far less severely. The judgment would be according to the responsibility with which the individual had been entrusted. Much would be required from the one to whom much had been given, and far more would be asked of the one having weighty responsibility. (Luke 12:47, 48)
Jesus’ parables call for sober self-examination. All of us who profess to be his disciples need to think seriously about whether we are prepared to welcome him as his servants who have faithfully labored in his interests, responding with love and compassion to those in need. Ignorance of his will would not shield one from an unfavorable judgment. It is vital that, individually, believers assume personal responsibility for their spiritual lives, making sure that Jesus’ example and teaching serve as a guide in daily living. Whether one’s role may be comparable to that of a steward entrusted with much or a servant with lesser responsibility, all believers need to remain prepared to welcome Christ at his return.
When Jesus spoke of his coming to start (literally, “cast”) fire on the earth, he may have meant the fire of a refiner. (Luke 12:49) A Messianic prophecy (Malachi 3:2, 3) pointed to his role as a refiner’s fire. His works, his matchless example in the display of love, compassion, and justice, and his teaching functioned like a refiner’s fire. This fire tested the deep inner selves of the people and revealed their attitude and motives. By his words and actions, Jesus exposed who among the people were like the worthless dross of the refining process or the precious metal that could be purified and rendered suitable for the realm where his Father is Sovereign and he is the appointed king.
The fire that Jesus started through his miracles, teaching and example proved to be only the initial phase. His desire was that this fire would burst into full flame. (Luke 12:49) This would happen after his death, resurrection, and ascension to heaven, as his disciples would proclaim the news about him and the message would reach far beyond the borders of Judea, Galilee, Samaria, and nearby regions.
The Son of God knew the suffering that lay ahead for him, which included an agonizing death. He referred to the agony that would culminate in his sacrificial death as a baptism with which he had to be baptized or immersed and added, “And how distressed I am until it is finished!” (Luke 12:50) That baptism had to be completed before the “fire” became an unstoppable blaze, spreading quickly to the distant parts of the Roman Empire.
The result would be serious rifts even among close family members, with some putting faith in Christ and others persisting in unbelief and becoming hostile. Therefore, Jesus indicated that those listening to him should not think that he had come to bring peace to the earth, but rather to cause division. His coming forced individuals to take a stand for or against him. Among five family members, three unbelievers might choose to oppose two believers, or two unbelievers might take their stand against three believers. Families would be divided, with a father against his son, or a son against his father, a mother against her daughter, or a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law, or a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. (Luke 12:51-53) Earlier, when sending out the twelve apostles, Jesus had also spoken about the divisions that would come about (Matthew 10:34-36), and the language he used parallels the words of Micah 7:6.
Directing his words to the crowds, Jesus illustrated that they had the capacity to draw sound conclusions on the basis of evidence. Upon seeing a cloud rising in the west, they immediately thought that a rainstorm would come, and it did. This was because the Mediterranean Sea bordered the western coast, and from there the rain-bearing clouds rolled in. Whenever a south wind blew, the people would say that it would get oppressively hot. It would happen, for the hot, dry regions lay to the south. (Luke 12:54, 55; compare the similar thoughts Jesus expressed to the unbelieving Pharisees [Matthew 16:2, 3, according to many extant Greek manuscripts].)
Although the people drew correct conclusions on the basis of appearances relating to the earth and the sky, they did not discern the meaning of the time that had arrived. The Messiah ministered in their midst, teaching and performing works of power. His activity uniquely marked the time. For this reason, Jesus called the people “hypocrites,” for they failed to act according to the evidence and their capacity to evaluate it properly. (Luke 12:56)
He then raised the question, “But why do you not also for yourselves judge [what is] right?” If they could make judgments about other matters, they should have been able to judge rightly concerning him and put their faith in him. (Luke 12:57)
The Son of God then provided an example of sound judgment. While with an accuser on the way to a ruler for judgment, the individual would wisely strive to extricate himself from the dispute. The objective would be to avoid being brought before the judge and then turned over by him to an officer who would enforce imprisonment. Once jailed, the person would have no hope of being released until he had paid the “last lepton” (a coin with the lowest value). In this setting, Jesus’ point about settling a dispute quickly seems to illustrate the importance of making peace with God before the opportunity would no longer be available. (Luke 12:58, 59; the same basic thoughts are also expressed in Matthew 5:25, 26.)
When certain ones told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, Jesus used the opportunity to stress the urgent need for the people to repent. (Luke 13:1-3)
No reference in the works of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus specifically refers to a slaughter of Galileans in the temple precincts, resulting in their blood being intermingled with that of the sacrificial victims. He does, however, mention an incident in Jerusalem when Pilate’s efforts to quell an uprising led to the loss of many lives. Pilate had sent soldiers in nonmilitary dress among the Jews who had gathered to protest the use of money from the temple treasury to build an aqueduct to bring water to the city from a distant stream. When his efforts to dismiss the crowd failed and the people began to reproach him, he gave a predetermined signal to the disguised soldiers. Many Jews perished from the severe blows the soldiers inflicted, and others were wounded. (Antiquities, XVIII, iii, 2; War, II, ix, 4)
The account in Luke 13 does not report why the incident about the Galileans was mentioned to Jesus. His response suggests that those who knew about this occurrence believed the Galileans to have perished on account of their great sin. He raised the rhetorical question as to whether they thought the Galileans who thus suffered were greater sinners than all the other Galileans. His own answer was, “No.” Jesus then stressed what the people should do. “Unless you repent, you likewise will all be destroyed.” This reply implied that the time for repentance would prove to be limited. (Luke 13:1-3)
Jesus then called attention to another incident, asking whether the 18 who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them were greater “debtors” (sinners) than all the other inhabitants of Jerusalem. Again, Jesus answered this rhetorical question with his own “No,” and added the same words about repentance. (Luke 13:4, 5)
By means of a parable, he emphasized the need for urgent positive action. A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard, but found no fruit on the tree when the time for harvesting figs came. This prompted him to tell the vinedresser that the barren tree should be cut down, as it had not produced any fruit for three years. The owner felt that it was senseless for the barren tree to waste the ground. (Luke 13:6, 7)
The vinedresser suggested that the tree be left standing for another year and to be fertilized with manure. If it then bore fruit, the tree would remain. “But if not,” the vinedresser said to the owner, “you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:8, 9)
It appears that Jesus here alluded to his activity among the people, with the nation being like the barren fig tree. Fruit associated with repentance was woefully lacking, for the majority persisted in unbelief. The time for Jesus to continue laboring among them would soon end. Only a brief period remained for them to make positive changes and to be recognized as God’s people. If they failed to repent, a severe judgment would follow.
For fig trees to be planted in vineyards provided the advantage of having two crops. A good grape harvest could at times offset a poor yield of figs, whereas an abundant crop of figs in other years might compensate for a poor grape harvest.
Fruit trees were subject to taxation. Therefore, unproductive trees were a financial liability.
While teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, Jesus noticed a woman with a “spirit of feebleness.” The expression “spirit of feebleness” appears to point to the perception that an evil spirit was responsible for her condition. For 18 years, she had been bent over and unable to straighten up. Seeing her, Jesus called her to come to him and said, “Woman, you are released from your feebleness.” When he placed his hands on her, she straightened up and glorified or praised God. (Luke 13:10-13)
Jesus effected this cure on the Sabbath. This aroused the synagogue leader’s indignation, prompting him to voice his objection. He told those assembled that work should only be done on six days and that they should come to be cured on those days and not on the Sabbath. (Luke 13:14)
In his reply to him, Jesus also included anyone else who shared his sentiments and addressed them as “hypocrites.” He then showed them up as such with two questions. “Does not each one of you release [or untie] his bull or [his] donkey from the stall [or the manger] on the Sabbath and lead it away to drink? Was it not necessary for this [woman], being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound (behold! for 18 years) to be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” (Luke 13:16)
They were hypocrites, for they had no objection to acting to satisfy the need of an animal but were indignant about responding to the need of a daughter of Abraham, one of God’s people. They insisted on the letter of the law respecting a fellow Israelite but violated the very purpose of the law, which was to provide a day for rest and refreshment and for appreciative reflection on God’s blessing. Jesus’ words made his opponents ashamed, but the rest of the assembled crowd rejoiced at all the splendid things he had done. (Luke 13:17)
His reference to “Satan” may have served to accommodate the common belief of those assembled in the synagogue. The various causes for diseases were then unknown, and Jesus’ listeners would not have benefited from hearing explanations to which they could not relate.
The account in Luke 13 appears to indicate that Jesus continued teaching the people, using parables to illustrate features about the kingdom of God. He likened the kingdom to a mustard seed that a man planted in his garden. That seed grew and became a tree. On its branches, birds nested. (Luke 13:18, 19; the same parable is found in Matthew 13:31, 32, and Mark 4:30-32.)
Though a mustard seed is very small, its potential for growth is much greater than that of many larger seeds. The black mustard (Brassica nigra) may grow to a height of 15 feet. In the fall, the hardened branches of the plant can support small birds such as finches. These birds perch on the branches and feed on the seeds. The “nesting” (literally, “tenting”) of the birds is probably to be understood as meaning their perching on the branches (as if having made their home there).
The main point of the parable seems to be that a small beginning would lead to astonishing growth. This proved to be the case as the apostles and other early disciples began their proclamation about Jesus after his resurrection and ascension to heaven. In less than 30 years, the message about God’s kingdom, with its focus on Jesus Christ as the king by God’s appointment, spread far and wide. (Compare Colossians 1:23.) As a result, many thousands ceased to be part of the world alienated from the Most High and identified themselves as subjects of Christ as their king and, therefore, as belonging to God’s realm.
Then Jesus likened the “kingdom of God” to leaven a woman hid in three seahs of flour, which then fermented the whole lump. Three seahs amounted to about 20 dry quarts and so would have been a large batch of dough. Women commonly used leaven, and so nothing of a sinister nature is suggested when Jesus referred to the “hiding” of the leaven. Once the small amount of leaven is in the dough, only the fermentation process reveals its presence. (Luke 13:20, 21; this parable is also set forth in Matthew 13:33.)
The parable suggests a quiet and imperceptible activity of something that appears to be small but produces significant observable results. This agrees with the way in which the message about God’s kingdom spread extensively and led to amazing changes in the lives of persons who responded in faith and became part of God’s realm.
During the course of his traveling to Jerusalem, Jesus used the opportunity to teach in the towns and villages through which he passed with his disciples. (Luke 13:22) The account in Luke 13 does not provide any information about the reason for Jesus’ trip to Jerusalem. Based on John 10:22, he appears to have been on the way to attend the Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah).
The Festival of Dedication (Hanukkah), for which Jesus and his disciples had come to Jerusalem, lasted eight days, starting on the twenty-fifth day of Chislev (mid-November to mid-December). It commemorated the rededication of the temple after the Levite Judas Maccabeus and his forces had recaptured Jerusalem and cleansed the temple of defilement. According to 1 Maccabees 4:52-54, this rededication occurred on the twenty-fifth day of the ninth month (Chislev), in the year 148. (The year 148 in 1 Maccabees is reckoned according to the Greek or Seleucid era and corresponds to 164 BCE.) This was three years after Antiochus IV Epiphanes of the Seleucid dynasty had defiled the temple, and the very day on which swine began to be offered on the altar that had been erected on top of the altar of burnt offering. (1 Maccabees 1:59; Josephus, Antiquities, XII, v, 4)
Probably because of the winter weather, Jesus walked in the Portico of Solomon, a sheltered area of the temple precincts. (John 10:22, 23) The writings of Josephus indicate that Solomon had a portico built on the east side of the temple. (War, V, v, 1) Although this portico was destroyed by the Babylonians, the one that Herod the Great rebuilt centuries later continued to be known as the Portico of Solomon.
Unbelieving Jews surrounded Jesus and challengingly said to him, “How long are you going to keep our soul [us] in suspense? If you are the Christ [the Messiah], tell us outright.” “I did tell you,” he replied, “and you do not believe. The works which I am doing in my Father’s name testify about me, but you do not believe, for you are not of my sheep.” When performing miracles and other works of power, Jesus acted in his Father’s name or as the one whom his Father had empowered and whom he represented. These works revealed that the Father had sent him, providing the needed testimony to verify Jesus’ words and serving to identify him as the Christ, the Son of God. The unbelieving Jews, however, refused to accept this testimony. They demonstrated thereby that they were not Jesus’ sheep, for they did not acknowledge him as their caring shepherd. (John 10:24-26; see the Notes section regarding John 10:26.)
Those who were his sheep listened to his voice, and he knew them, recognizing them as belonging to him. As sheep follow their shepherd, those who put faith in Jesus followed him. From Jesus, they received eternal life, coming to enjoy an enduring relationship with him and his Father. Never would they be destroyed. Their security was firmly assured, for no one could rip them out of Jesus’ hand. (John 10:27, 28)
Manuscripts vary in the reading of Jesus’ words about his Father. According to one reading, what the Father had given to the Son is greater than everything else, and no one would be able to snatch it (or them [there is no pronoun in the Greek text]) out of the Father’s hands. This could mean that the full authority of Jesus is greater than everything else, and, as the ultimate source of that authority, the Father would not permit it to be seized from his hand. A more likely meaning would be that “what” was given refers to the “sheep” collectively and no one would be able to snatch them (or anything) out of his Father’s hand. Their being greater than everything else would then indicate that they are very precious to the Father and under his protective care. This would make them greater than those who would seek their injury. Another reading indicates that the Father, who gave the sheep to Jesus, is greater than all and that no one would be able to snatch the sheep (or anything) out of his Father’s hand. (John 10:29; see the Notes section.) The fact that the Father is greater than all assured the absolute safety of the sheep.
In the care and protection of the sheep, Jesus and his Father are united in purpose. As Jesus expressed it, “I and the Father are one.” (John 10:30; compare the similar expression pointing to oneness of purpose in 1 Corinthians 3:8, where the apostle Paul refers to the one planting and the one watering as being one.)
Upon hearing words that reflected the intimate relationship Jesus enjoyed with his Father and his confidence about being fully at one with him, the unbelieving Jews became enraged. They picked up stones to hurl at him. In response to Jesus’ question for which one of the many good works he had shown them from his Father they intended to stone him, they replied, “We are not stoning you for a good work, but for blasphemy, because you, [although] being a man, make yourself God.” (John 10:31-33)
Jesus then referred to the Scriptures or the holy writings as their “law” and quoted from Psalm 82:6, “I said, You are gods.” In this passage, the psalmist portrayed God as addressing corrupt judges. Since, as Jesus pointed out, it was against these unjust judges that God’s word of judgment was directed (and which word could not be set aside by those to whom Jesus spoke), what basis did they have for accusing him (the one whom the Father had sanctified and sent into the world) of blasphemy for saying, “I am God’s Son”? (John 10:34-36)
If he did not do his Father’s works, they should not believe him. If, however, he did them, and they still did not believe in him, they should at least believe or recognize the good works as being from the Father. Belief in the Father as the source of the good works would have provided them with the basis for believing that the Father was “in” or at one with Jesus and that he was “in” the Father or at one with him. The unbelieving Jews then again tried to get hold of the Son of God, but he slipped out of their hands. (John 10:37-39)
In John 10:26, numerous manuscripts, after Jesus’ words “you are not of my sheep,” add “as I told you.”
Depending upon which manuscript reading of John 10:29 is being followed, translations convey various meanings. “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.” (NRSV) “My Father gave them to me, and he is greater than all others. No one can snatch them from his hands.” (CEV) “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all. And no one can tear anything out of the Father’s hand.” (Phillips) “The Father, for what he has given me, is greater than anyone, and no one can steal anything from the Father’s hand.” (NJB)