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What the Bible says about Parable of the Prodigal Son
(From Forerunner Commentary)

Luke 10:25-37

The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) differs from most other parables in that it is so simple and concrete that a child can understand its basic point. However, it is also an insightful and memorable exposition of practical moral principles. That so many religious and secular people understand it shows the effectiveness of its simplicity and depth. Unlike other parables, each figure in the story does not necessarily represent a spiritual equivalent. The whole narrative describes working compassion as contrasted to selfishness, of hate compared with love.

In the parable's introduction (Luke 10:26), Jesus uses a technical term regularly used by the scribes or lawyers when consulting one another about a matter of the law: "What is your reading of it?" The lawyer gives the only right answer—the necessity of loving God and his neighbor (verse 27). He then asks the question—"Who is my neighbor?" (verse 29)—that prompts Jesus into giving His parable. The lawyer believes that no Gentile is his neighbor, although it seems he suspects they really are. This parable makes clear who is our neighbor and how we should respond to his needs.

Martin G. Collins
Parable of the Good Samaritan

Luke 15:11-13

Here we witness the prodigal son, driven by excessive pride, heading down a dangerous path away from the security of life at home with his father. Not only did he display a foolhardy lack of patience, but in that time, to demand an inheritance early was considered an act of disrespect toward one's father. It was as if he were saying, “Father, I wish you were already dead.” However, despite his son's insolence, the father showed no anger and gave the boy what he had demanded.

Ted E. Bowling
The Elder Brother

Luke 15:13-17

The question at this point is still, "How are we trying to find satisfaction in life?" We could reword it, "How are we trying to find love, joy, and peace?" The Parable of the Prodigal Son touches on this issue.

Like the young man, we yearn for a feeling of well-being, peace, security, fun, and happiness. Also like him, we pursue after them, attempting to produce them in virtually every way but the Father's way. We, like him, experience the same empty, hollow, something-is-missing feelings.

Some may remember a popular song of a few decades ago sung by Peggy Lee titled "Is That All There Is?" The lyrics dealt with this very subject. The singer recounts having tried so many supposedly exciting and fulfilling things in life yet having found no lasting satisfaction in any of them. Following each experience, she concludes by asking the question, "Is that all there is?" The song clearly expresses that such a life is not truly fulfilling.

What is missing from such a life is the true purpose of life combined with the effort of fulfilling it by living the required way. The three offerings in Leviticus 1-3—the burnt, meal, and peace offerings—broadly define God's way of life: doing all things within the context of His purpose in love. As we have seen, I John 5:3 defines love as keeping the commandments, and the essence of love is sacrificial giving.

Though without the Spirit of God, some people (psychologists, for instance) have figured out much of this. The part they have not determined through observing humanity is the true purpose of life because God has not revealed it to them. They have, however, found that the essence of love is sacrifice and that doing the right things produces a sense of well-being.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Offerings of Leviticus (Part Four): The Peace Offering

Luke 15:13

The far country symbolizes forgetfulness of God (Deuteronomy 8:11, 14, 19), the condition Paul describes as "alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4:17-19). All the dissatisfied young man wants to do is to satisfy his senses and desires. After disillusionment, destitution, and degradation, the prodigal, feeling no longer worthy to be called a son, decides to ask his father to make him one of his servants.

The far country is the place people go to remove themselves as far from God the Father as possible. It represents the world, the place where evil flourishes, where it is the norm, popular, and acceptable. In it, the perversions of society—lying, adultery, abortion, homosexuality, and many others—are tolerated and even celebrated (I John 2:15-17).

The far country signifies the abode of the ungodly, those with whom the prodigal son feels most comfortable. The righteous cause him discomfort because he cannot over-drink, smoke, cuss, or tell dirty jokes when he is with them. The godly stifle him because he feels pressured to produce the fruit of self-control. The far country is the state of mind that is enmity toward God (Romans 8:7).

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Luke 15 (Part Three)

Luke 15:14-19

The Parable of the Prodigal Son unveils a clear progression from awareness of pain arising from want and recognition of sin then on to sorrow for what he had become and done. Repentance, forgiveness, and acceptance were the fruit.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Beatitudes, Part Three: Mourning

Luke 15:17-24

Scripture pictures sinfulness as a path of folly and madness, and repentance as restoration to sound-mindedness. "When he came to himself" is commonly applied to a person who recovers from being deranged. Jesus indicates that the folly of the younger son is a type of insanity, as it is with all sinners: A kind of madness is in their hearts (Ecclesiastes 9:3). They are at odds with God, indulging in evil obsessions, contrary to their better judgment. Vincent's Word Studies explains, "This striking expression—came to himself—puts the state of rebellion against God as a kind of madness. It is a wonderful stroke of art, to represent the beginning of repentance as the return of a sound consciousness." Misery and desperation may stimulate reason in a sinner when he comes to himself. Once the younger son comes to realize his distorted and unrealistic view of himself and humbly repents, he can be restored to sonship (II Corinthians 7:10-12).

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Luke 15 (Part Three)

Luke 15:17-20

The young man was forced to accept a demeaning job, feeding and caring for swine, in order to survive. He had sinned against his father and was beginning to pay the price. However, verses 17-19 indicate he had begun awakening to the reality of his sinful actions and their rightful consequences. In short, he is ready to repent.

It is important to note that the prodigal son did not escape the consequences of his actions—he had sinned against God—but God humbled him and opened his eyes. Then verse 20 indicates how willing his father—representing God—was to forgive and show compassion even before the son had the chance to utter the words that he had prepared to tell him. God, we learn, looks upon the heart.

Ted E. Bowling
The Elder Brother

Luke 15:25-31

The older brother represents the Pharisaical attitude that resents God's interest in sinners—the same attitude in the early church that looked suspiciously at the inclusion of Gentiles. His self-righteousness manifests itself in jealousy and envy. Today, the elder son is like those who, in self-righteousness, shun brethren who do not live up to their standard of righteousness (Proverbs 20:6; Galatians 6:3; Titus 3:5). Such people do not realize that their self-righteousness is as the filthy rags of the prodigal son (Isaiah 64:6).

Martin G. Collins
Parables of Luke 15 (Part Three)

Luke 15:25-30

At this point, Jesus forces us to consider the story of the prodigal son's elder brother. The elder brother did not feel like joining his father's celebration. We can imagine that he was likely full of resentment that had built up over the years of his little brother's absence. The elder brother may have had to shoulder more of the work around the farm. What is more, his brother's reckless behavior probably tarnished the family name and caused both his father and himself anguish and pain, as they likely wondered if they were ever to see him again.

Perhaps the greatest source of resentment is exposed in verses 29-30, when the elder son responds to his father's pleadings. It is noteworthy that the elder brother refers to himself five times in verse 29. However, considering the circumstances, it is easy to understand his frustration. He felt betrayed, disrespected, unappreciated, and perhaps even unloved. He had likely just finished another hard day's work, made harder for all these years by his little brother's absence. He was not in a forgiving mood, nor was he ready to accept—much less celebrate—his little brother's return to the family. He had long since declared, “I am done with him!”

Ignorant of all the facts of his younger brother's difficulties, leading to his repentance and return, the older brother reacted with typical, carnal emotion. Instead of trusting his father, his emotional outburst, fueled by the same pride that had nearly destroyed his younger brother, led him also to sin against his father. In his anger and self-pity, he lost sight of what was truly important. In addition, he failed to recognize the futility of trying to change or control what others do. Therefore, he also failed to control what he did have power over—his attitude and response.

The lesson here is not unlike what is related in Genesis 4. Cain allowed his pride to fuel great resentment against his righteous brother, Abel. This pride transformed Cain into a miserable murderer. However, we should keep in mind that even without murdering someone, unchecked resentment can also inspire harsh words that have deathly power. Proverbs 18:21 admonishes us, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.”

It is helpful to compare the elder brother's attitude to that of the Pharisees and scribes, since Christ was aiming this parable directly at them. Just like these Jewish religious leaders, the elder brother was living and judging by the letter of the law, not by its spirit. By all appearances, the elder brother was righteous, but inside, where a person's character forms, he was teeming with hypocrisy and sin.

Ted E. Bowling
The Elder Brother

Luke 15:29-32

What can we learn from the father in this story? After all, if anyone was wronged in this parable, it was the two young men's loving father. Instead of reacting with the bitter hatred, envy, and self-centeredness of his elder son, he handled the situation with love, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. His wise words to his elder son in verses 31-32 help to put everything in its proper perspective.

In essence, the father tells his offended son, “Don't be so short-sighted, lest you become as greedy and foolish as your little brother. All that we have here is yours, so keep your eyes on the bigger picture and the greater reward.”

We all long to feel appreciated—to receive our “fatted calf”—particularly if we strive to sacrifice and work hard in service to others. But we should never lose sight of the fact that the purpose of our faithful service is not for a pat on the back or the approval of others. Otherwise, we are no different from the Pharisees who did their works before men and thus, as Christ declared, “Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward” (Matthew 6:2).

In summation, the Parable of the Prodigal Son contains two important stories and a handful of invaluable lessons for practicing Christians:

» God is our only Judge, and He looks on the heart.

» Our sins have consequences.

» We should always be ready and willing to forgive any grievance as God does—unconditionally—and to seek reconciliation.

» Our walk should be defined by the spirit, not just the letter, of the law.

While both sons' sinful attitudes and actions brought dishonor upon the father, his willingness to forgive them both provided hope for all, just as our merciful Father in heaven provides for each of us. While the narrative ends without revealing what happened to the two brothers, it is worthwhile to imagine that they reconciled—that they healed their relationship and restored honor to the family name.

Because there is hope for reconciliation, we should pray for it—even expect it! Never give up on God. Those who are loyal and faithful and endure to the end will, one day, receive the greatest thanks and exaltation that measure far beyond our ability to envision. For Jesus Christ Himself will welcome those into His Kingdom with a resounding, “Well done, good and faithful servant . . . Enter into the joy of your lord” (Matthew 25:21).

Ted E. Bowling
The Elder Brother

Hebrews 11:6

Notice that Hebrews 11:6 reads, "he who comes to God," and I Peter 2:3-4 uses a similar phrase. "Coming to God" means that one approaches nearer to God, seeks Him, or he walks with Him. It signifies fellowship with Him.

The Bible shows three stages of coming to God. The first is at God's calling when one begins to draw near. It results in justification and the imputing of Christ's righteousness. The second is more continuous, occurring during sanctification, as a person seeks to be like God, conform to His image, and have His laws written, engraved, into his character. The third stage occurs at the resurrection when the individual is glorified.

John 6:44 clarifies our first coming to God: "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day." Nobody comes to God, no one seeks the God of the Bible, until he becomes aware of his need of Him. Nobody comes to God until he realizes he is far from Him and out of His favor—in fact, he is under God's condemnation and separated from the quality of life called in the Bible "eternal life." God reveals a measure of these things through His calling.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son illustrates this (Luke 15:14-19). The son did not return or draw near to his father until he was aware of his need. This sense of need motivates us to seek God and draw near to Him. This sense of need is a gift of God's grace working on a person's mind and is initially given when God summons the individual to approach Him.

Ephesians 4:17-24 covers the second "coming to God":

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness on their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ. If indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.

Verse 30 adds an instructive, albeit sobering, thought: "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption." The Holy Spirit mentioned here is God Himself, who is hurt, sorrowed, by our sinful neglect of His gift. Once He bestows this sense of need, it is a continuous impulse unless we stifle it by neglecting to follow through, as those in the book of Hebrews were doing.

John W. Ritenbaugh
The Christian Fight (Part Five)


 




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