Friday, March 30, 2012

Are Mans’ Days Limited to 120 Years?


And the LORD said, My spirit shall not always strive with man, for that he also is flesh: yet his days shall be an hundred and twenty years. (Gen. 6:3)

From the verse above, many wonder if God was teaching that man’s maximum life span was going to be 120 years or if he was teaching that it was going to be 120 years until The Flood.  Let’s have a look… 

The 120 Years Refers to Life Span

If man’s life span was reduced to 120 years, then those who follow this interpretation must explain how those born after The Flood managed to live longer.  The following list provides a sampling of some of those people. 

Arphaxad
438
Gen. 11:10-13

Sarah
127
Gen. 23:1
Salah
433
Gen. 11:14-15

Abraham
175
Gen. 25:7
Eber
464
Gen. 11:16-17

Ishmael
137
Gen. 25:17
Peleg
239
Gen. 11:18-19

Isaac 
180
Gen. 35:28
Reu
239
Gen. 11:20-21

Jacob 
147
Gen. 47:28
Serug
230
Gen. 11:22-23

Aaron
123
Num. 33:39
Nahor
148
Gen. 11:24-25

Moses
120
Dt. 34:7
Terah
205
Gen. 11:32





Indeed there seems to be a problem with their interpretation, but they do have a logical explanation.  They correctly observe that the overall trend is down; and so when God said that man’s years would be 120, they take it to mean that there would be a gradual decline rather than a steep drop – and Scripture seems to support this view.  Joseph later dies at 110 (Gen. 50:22) followed by a continual drop as one continues reading through Scripture.  Even today there are only a handful of people who make it beyond 100.  But while this is logical, it isn’t necessarily biblical.  Here’s why.  

To begin, the immediate context of Genesis 6:3 is that of impending judgment against man for sin via The Flood and not life expectancy – and so the context of the passage doesn’t support that interpretation. 

Second, the language of the verse is given in specific rather than general terms.  The verse says that a man’s days “shall be” 120 years which is definite; it doesn’t say or imply that a man’s days will be “limited” or “reduced” to a 120 years maximum.  This is a meaning that has been read into the text that the text itself doesn’t support (eisegesis).  In other words, if the life span interpretation is correct, then from this same verse you must also teach that we should be dying on our 120th birthday or in the 120th year of our life.  And of all people in the Bible, Moses is the only one recorded as having done so (that this author could find, anyway).      

Third, limiting man’s years on earth is no real deterrent to sin.  People back then didn’t know how long they were going to live any more than those living today, and so the limiting of a man’s life offers no real deterrence to sin.  In 2 Peter 2, Peter uses the story of The Flood to remind us that judgment is coming (again) and so we’d all better “get onboard” unless we all want to go to Hell.  So again, the context is one of impending judgment and not life-span.  In addition, people living longer in sin is actually more harmful than having lived fewer years because the Bible teaches that those who sin more will receive more punishment; and so in this regard, having fewer years of life is actually more beneficial to the sinner than living longer. 

And fourth, if the 120-yr life span was a curse upon the ungodly, then why are the righteous descendants of Noah smitten with it?  Including us!  Why are God’s people being held accountable for the sins of the ungodly that were destroyed in The Flood?  The answer should be obvious – something is wrong with this interpretation.  It implies that both saint and sinner will suffer the same judgment, and that is anathema.  Selah. 

The 120 Years is Prophetic

Others believe that God was saying that it was going to be 120 years until The Flood.  They compare Noah’s age in Genesis 5:32 (500) and his age in Genesis 7:6 (600) which is a difference of 100 years, but not the 120 years mentioned in Genesis 6:3.  So to explain where the other 20 years went, they often say that God was only speaking in general terms.  But why does God need to speak in general terms when he knows exactly when something is going to take place?  It’s no more difficult for him to say “100” than it is “120.”  If God was speaking in general terms, then his “prediction” was off by 20%.  Men often speak in general terms, but not God – not when he’s giving dates or prophetic timelines.  Speaking in general terms over specific matters only leads to frustration and resentment.  If I tell you that I’m going to meet you for dinner at 5:00 p.m. but I don’t show until 9:00 p.m., you’re going to be frustrated and resentful.        

But if both of these interpretations are incorrect, then what’s the answer?  It’s actually very simple.  In short, the 120 years are prophetic but for different reasons than described above.  There are two possible outcomes. 

(1) God told Noah when he was 480 years old that The Flood was going to come.   

Genesis 6 is actually a continuation of the story from Genesis 4 and not Genesis 5.  Genesis 5 is a pause or break from the narrative that provides us with chronological and genealogical information; and so it wasn’t 120 years from Noah when he was 500 years old in Genesis 5, it was 20 years prior sometime during the narrative when only reading Genesis 4 and Genesis 6. 
  
(2) God was “talking to himself” in Genesis 6:3 but told Noah 20 years later when he was 500 years old.

Thus, the 120 years is preserved and so God’s people need not hide behind the implication that God was wrong, which is the subtle undercurrent behind the thoughts of many who are trying to explain the perceived disparity in numbers.  The context of the verse is not one of life span but one of judgment and we should all be mindful of it.  Selah.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Eternal Security, Security of the Believer, OSAS, and King Saul

Whether for the sake of curiosity or part of the debate on eternal security, many wonder if King Saul was saved.  For the most part, the notion that a Christian lose their salvation is mostly a New Testament argument; but if an Old Testament saint can be found, then I'd be proven wrong and the doctrine of salvation maintained by works justified.  Of course we first have to determine if he was saved; and if he was, whether or not he ever lost his salvation. Many won’t like the answer, but the answer is obvious: Saul was a saved man.  This we’ll presently demonstrate.  And in so doing, the answer to the second question will be, or should be, evident.

1 Sam. 10:6 And the Spirit of the LORD will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.  
1 Sam. 10:9 And it was so, that when he had turned his back to go from Samuel, God gave him [Saul] another heart: and all those came to pass that day.   
If these two verses don't refer to salvation, then what are they referring to?  But there's more.  In speaking to the witch at En Dor, Samuel told Saul that he and his sons would be with him the next day because King Saul and his sons were going to die in battle.  

1 Sam. 28:19 Moreover the LORD will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and to morrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me: the LORD also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.  
Now Samuel was a saved man, and he says here that when Saul and his sons die, that they’ll be with him.  This is clearly teaching that Saul and his sons are going to Heaven.[1]  Furthermore, 1 Sam. 15:35 says:

And Samuel came no more to see Saul until the day of his death: nevertheless Samuel mourned for Saul: and the LORD repented that he had made Saul king over Israel.  
Samuel is dead at the time of Saul's death, and yet he says that he’ll not see him until the day of his death.  From 1 Sam. 28:19, we learn that this passage was both prophetic and that it teaches that Saul went to the same place as Samuel.  Samuel saw Saul when he visited the witch at En Dor and in Heaven after he died.  Saul went to see the medium in the night and later that same day he was slain.  Thus, again, a true prophecy on two accounts: the correct prophecy that Saul would die later the same day along with the prophecy from 1 Sam. 15:35. Now since Samuel and Saul are in the same place, then it goes without saying that if Samuel wasn't saved, then neither was Saul.  But Samuel was saved and so King Saul is with him.
     
But many suggest that since Saul was rejected by God that it meant that he lost his salvation (1 Sam. 15).  Hogwash!  King Saul was rejected as king and not as a “Christian.”  It should also be noted that he wasn't removed from the throne right away.  That didn't happen until some 15 years later and it happened by his own hand when he committed suicide on the battlefield (1 Sam. 31:4).

Saul did prophesy and there’s no indication that he ever spoke any false prophecies.[2]  This of course isn't proof-positive because false prophets can give true prophecies.[3]  The difference, of course, is in what direction they're pointing you – towards or away from God; and there’s no indication that Saul ever tried to teach a false gospel although it’s true that he had many personal failures – else he would have been stoned;[4] and so the evidence in Scripture clearly supports that he was a Christian although he was backslidden or carnal, but not apostate.

But then there’s the case of the evil spirit that the Lord sent to trouble Saul.[5]  Some view this as a case of demon possession, but it’s only demon oppression.  When David played his harp, Saul was comforted and the demon left.  But noticeably lacking are the signs that often accompany demon possession such as being thrown to the ground (e.g. Mt. 17:14-18).  

In summation, Scripture clearly teaches that Saul was a saved man.  Granted, he wasn't much of an example (sounds like many Christians today, eh?).  But Scripture makes it clear that he was saved.  That, or else Samuel didn't make it either.  So if King Saul, an Old Testament saint, can constantly rebel against God, seek to kill others, and commit suicide, and still make it to Heaven, then who are we to think that we're in any more danger of losing our salvation than they?  Furthermore, they didn't have the indwelling Holy Spirit nor were they sealed by the Holy Spirit.  We are.  So are we to believe that we're more danger of losing our salvation than they?  Such a thought is ludicrous.  Samson was a womanizing Christian who also killed himself, but yet he’s regarded as a "hero of the faith" (Heb. 11:32).  Again, if a Christian can lose their salvation, then what sins do they have to commit before they finally lose it?  Selah.




[1] Great debate often ensues regarding this occasion.  Conferring with familiar spirits is a sin punishable by death (Lev. 20:6, 27), but notice that the woman was shocked when Samuel appeared.  Why?  She was expecting her familiar spirit and not Samuel!  Also note that Samuel gave godly counsel and a true prophecy; and since when is Satan interested in telling the truth (Jn. 8:44)?  Also note that the prophecy involved Saul and his sons.  Jonathan, one of Saul's sons, was a godly man – a man that entered into covenant with David and constantly sought to defend him from his father – even though he realized that he wouldn't be sitting on the throne (1 Sam. 23:16-17).  We should therefore understand that this is a unique event that God allowed.  If you reject this interpretation, then you must defend how Satan and his demons speak true prophecies.  Satan appears as an angel of light; he isn't one (2 Cor. 11:14).  Selah.
[2] 1 Sam. 10:10-13; 19:19-24
[3] E.g. Caiaphas; Jn. 11:49-52; Mt. 7:21-23
[4] Dt. 13:1-5; 18:18-22
[5] 1 Sam. 16:14-23; 18:10-11; 19:9-10

Security of the Believer, Eternal Security, OSAS, and Hebrews 6:4-6

4For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, 6If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.  – Hebrews 6:4-6
 The thought here is that these are Christians who were once enlightened, had been made partakers of the Holy Ghost, had tasted the good word of the Lord, and experienced God’s power, only to fall away (apostatized).  But let’s have a closer look. 
           
Heb. 5:12 For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat.  13For every one that useth milk is unskilful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.  14But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil. 
To properly understand Hebrews 6:4-6, we must begin at Hebrews 5:12.  To be brief, the context is that of backslidden Christians, and there are several ways to tell.  First, the writer of Hebrews scolds these believers for their lack of maturity.  He’s essentially told them that they should be teachers by now, but they aren’t, and there must be a good reason why.  But the way that you know he’s referring to saved people is because you don’t, or shouldn’t, invite lost people to be Bible teachers.  By definition, these would be false teachers, and the church is supposed to remove them from their presence rather than inviting them in;[1] so this is our first indication that the passage is addressing Christians.   

Second, Paul told these people that they needed to learn (again) the “first principles of the oracles of God;” he didn’t say they needed to repent of their sins.  Similarly, he said they were “dull of hearing”; he didn’t say they were unrepentant.  And so if these are lost people, then it’s the wrong message; and so obviously they’re saved.   

Third, and perhaps most important, spiritual milk is for Christian babies; and you don’t become a babe in Christ until you’ve first repented of your sins and become “born again;” and once this has been done, it is then, and only then, that you’re now ready to be fed the milk of the Word, but not before.  And so what we have here are backslidden Christians and not apostates.            
                       
1Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, 2Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.  3And this will we do, if God permit.  
Therefore is a conjunctive adverb that ties the previous thought of Heb. 5:12-14 with those beginning in Heb. 6:1.  And since Heb. 5:12-14 was speaking of backslidden Christians, then we must keep that same frame of reference beginning in Heb. 6:1.  Had the writer of Hebrews not been talking to Christians, he wouldn’t have said, “let us go on unto perfection.”  In doing so, he’s equated himself – as a Christian – with those of whom he’s writing.  He later says that this “will we do” (3); and in Heb. 6:9, he calls them “beloved” – and you don’t refer to lost people as being “beloved.”  And so what we have here is a mature Christian writing unto his fellow brothers who are backslidden, but still brethren.  Thus we have our fourth indication that the writer of Hebrews is addressing Christians.  But there’s more… 

In v. 1, Paul told them that they weren’t going to lay again “the foundation of repentance from dead works,” etc.  And since 1 Cor. 3:11 defines this foundation as being that of Jesus Christ, and since they’re not going to lay it again, then this means that they aren’t in need of salvation or in need of getting “resaved.”  If they were unsaved, he would have told them to repent, but he didn’t.  He told them that they were going to move on.  They weren’t going to leave these principles behind because they weren’t important, they were going to leave them behind because they’d already been accomplished in their lives; i.e., they were already saved.    

4For it is impossible for those who were [past tense] once enlightened, and have tasted [past tense] of the heavenly gift, and were made [past tense] partakers of the Holy Ghost, 5And have tasted [past tense] the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come [past tense], 6If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame. 
Again, the context of Heb. 5:12-6:3 is that of backslidden Christians and not apostates.  To begin, note the use of the past tenses which clearly demonstrate that these were saved people.  These verses also mean more than having an intellectual perception of the gospel because you don’t partake of the Holy Ghost and not be saved.  You don’t “try” Jesus. 

But v. 6 is where many begin to stumble.  To begin, it’s worthy to note that the “If” found at the beginning of v. 6 isn’t found in any Greek manuscript and could just as easily have been translated “And”.  Furthermore, the Greek word for “fall away” doesn’t mean to become apostate (Gr. apistos), it means to backslide (Gr. parapipto).  The difference here is that an apostate hears and perceives the gospel, but rejects it (def. 2 Pet. 2:19-22).  A backslidden or carnal Christian is one who fails to grow and mature as they should (1 Cor. 3:1-7).  So when the writer of Hebrews says that it’s impossible “to renew them again unto repentance, seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame,” he’s not saying they’ve lost their salvation, he’s saying it’s impossible to get them re-saved because it isn’t necessary!  They’re already saved!  They’re backslidden, not apostate; and the proof of this was established in Heb 5:12-6:3.  And again, v. 1 established the fact that they weren’t going to lay again the foundation of repentance from dead works.  So if these are lost people, it’s the wrong message – and so the context demands that we interpret this as saved Christians who are backslidden.  Furthermore, if this is teaching that a Christian can lose their salvation, then you must also teach that if they change their mind, that God has to reject them!  You simply can’t have it both ways: you can’t teach that a Christian can lose their salvation and then teach that they can get saved again because this verse says it’s impossible to “renew them again unto repentance.”  (Unless you’re interpretation is wrong, of course.)  But the wickedness in this is that it teaches that God has to turn down a repentant sinner!  And he’s never done that!        
           
7For the earth which drinketh in the rain that cometh oft upon it, and bringeth forth herbs meet [fit] for them by whom it is dressed [tilled], receiveth blessing from God: 8But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh [near] unto cursing; whose end is to be burned. 
The writer of Hebrews then gives us an example to prove his point.  Paraphrased, God brings rain upon the earth to water the fields that have been planted.  Some of these fields produce good fruit while others produce bad fruit viz. thorns and briers.  And so the fields that produce thorns and briers are burned.  The earth doesn’t burn, only the “bad fruit” does – the thorns and briers.  And so the context here is one of fruit and not salvation, or the loss of it.    

But note that the fields that produced thorns and briers are “near” unto cursing.  They aren’t cursed, but they’re close to it.  Fields can be reworked, fertilized, and planted in an attempt to make them fruitful, which is exactly the problem with these people in Hebrews, and this is exactly what Paul is trying to get them to do – to move forward and not be slothful (12).  They’re saved; but because of their backslidden state, they’re not being very fruitful.  But what does it mean that they’re nigh (near) unto cursing?  Again, being cursed and almost being cursed are two different things.  These people aren’t unsaved – they’re only close to it.  1 Peter 4:17-18 clarifies the matter:

17For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God18And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear? 
Our sin against God is so great that we’re only barely saved, but that’s good enough.  And so we, as Christians, shouldn’t ever think more highly of ourselves than we should.  But did you notice the contrast?  It’s our works that’ll be tried by fire and not us.  The earth wasn’t burned, but the fruit was.  Works are done not to earn, retain, or maintain salvation, but to determine the amount of eternal rewards we’ll receive.  1 Cor. 3:11-15 sums this and the context of the entire passage very well when it says:

11For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.  12Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble; 13Every man's work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is.  14If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward15If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire. 
And so it should be clear that the context of this passage is about backslidden Christians and their inability to produce good eternal fruit and not about Christians losing their salvation.  The context simply doesn’t allow for that interpretation.  The proof of this continues in v. 9.   

9But, beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things that accompany salvation, though we thus speak [so roughly]. 
Of all that’s been discussed, notice that the writer of Hebrews says that it all pertains to “things that accompany salvation” and not salvation itself; and as previously demonstrated, the things that accompany salvation are works that produce fruit.  Works aren’t needed to earn, retain, or maintain salvation, but to earn rewards.  All Christians produce fruit.  The only question is, how much? 

10For God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labour of love, which ye have shewed toward his name, in that ye have ministered to the saints, and do minister.  11And we desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end: 12That ye be not slothful, but followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

Verses 10-12 further support this interpretation.  The Christians in Hebrews have produced some godly fruit.  But at the same time, they should be much farther along than they are.  They should be teachers by now but they’re not.  They should be ministering to others, but instead they’re needing to be ministered to.  Hence, their backslidden state has led them to become unproductive.  Not spiritually lost, or having lost their salvation, just unproductive – just like the field that produced the thorns and briers.  The field isn’t burned, only the “bad fruit.”

Suffice it to say that righteous fruit can only be produced from a righteous soul, and a soul can only be made righteous through faith and salvation in Jesus Christ.[2]  At one time these people produced good fruit, but had since lapsed into a backslidden state, and so the writer of Hebrews is trying to spur them into action.  You don’t resave Christians, but you do chasten them.  Hebrews 6 therefore is not teaching that a Christian can lose their salvation, but how to deal with Christians in a backslidden state.  The idea is to encourage them forward in meekness and gentleness so they can obtain all that God has for them in this life (Gal. 6:1-2).  Selah.






[1] Tit. 1:10-11; Rev. 2:2 etc.
[2] Mt. 7:17-19; Lu. 6:43

Eternal Security, Security of the Believer, OSAS, and 2 Peter 2:20-21

20For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.  21For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them 2 Peter 2:20-21 
 From the above,  the reasoning is that those who’ve "escaped the pollutions of the world" only to become "entangled" again are those who were once Christians but have since lost their salvation; and as the verse says, it seems that it would’ve been “better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them,” which they apparently did.  But unbeknownst to many, the key to properly understanding these verses hinges on identifying who the "they" are in v. 20.  Let's have a closer look. 

20For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning. 
 To begin, note that Peter didn’t say that “we” were in trouble of becoming entangled again; he said “they” were.  This implies a contrast.  Observe how the chapter begins:

1But there were false prophets also among the people [holy men; 1:21], even as there shall be false teachers among you [the church; 1:1], who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. 
Again we see a contrast between false brethren and the people of God.  The verses that follow go into greater detail as to who they are, what they teach, and what will become of them (2-19).  These are extremely wicked people who are purposely seeking to corrupt the body of believers.  They bring in damnable heresies and preach a false gospel (1).  They speak evil of the truth (2) and will seek to take advantage of God’s people for their own personal gain (3, 14).  They despise authority and are arrogant (self-willed; 10).  They’re called “natural brute beasts” (12), spots and blemishes (13), and are seen as “having eyes full of adultery” (14).  They are wells without water (17)[1] and seek to corrupt God’s people through the lusts of the flesh (18).  In v. 19, they’re called "the servants of corruption," etc.; and so these are extremely wicked people: wolves in sheep’s clothing.  But not only are they well-defined and elaborately described, they’re also contrasted with God’s people.  Peter said there’d be false teachers “among the people” and “among you” (1).  He said they’d pursue their own lusts as they dined “with you” (13).  Specifically, they’re contrasted with Noah and Lot (5-9) as are the ungodly angels (4) from the godly (11).  And so the context of the passage is one of contrast.  So while it’s written to Christians, it’s not about them, although it is for their learning.  Again, the passage is one of contrast and not Christian entanglement and seducement back into worldly pleasures.  So who are the “they” spoken of in v. 20?  Specifically, they’re “the servants of corruption” found in v. 19, which is but another name for the false prophets and teachers spoken of beginning in v. 1, so they’re one in the same.       

20For if after they have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.  
The assumption here is that having the knowledge of salvation is the same as having obtained salvation.  Salvation requires a decision, but until that decision is made, there is none.  This verse only says they’ve escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the gospel; it doesn’t say they’ve escaped the pollutions of the world through salvation.

If a prisoner escapes from jail, his escape is only temporary because the authorities will soon be after him.  The reason for this is because he’s still a criminal, even though he’s escaped.  If he weren’t a criminal, they wouldn’t be chasing after him.  Eventually he’ll be caught and returned to prison, except this time he’ll be worse off than before because now the authorities will lengthen his sentence, so at best his escape was only temporary and this is exactly what’s being said about these false prophets and teachers.  They’ve only temporarily escaped the pollutions of this world through the hearing of the gospel.  But having failed to repent of their sins, their old sin nature eventually catches up with them – entangling and overcoming them again.  They weren’t able to permanently escape because they didn’t allow themselves to be transformed by the renewing of the Holy Spirit (Tit. 3:5); and so their “escape” was only temporary.  And not only that, they’ll be worse off than before because they’ve furthered hardened their hearts to the hearing of the gospel.   
     
It therefore goes without saying that the only way to permanently escape the clutches of sin and death is to repent of our sins.  We need some sort of transformation to occur so that once we escape we’re no longer considered fugitives, which only occurs through salvation (2 Cor. 5:17).  But since those in v. 20 were “captured” again, it proves they were never saved.  For as Hebrews 2:3 says, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so [a] great salvation”?

21For it had been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them. 
In the Bible, “the way” is often a reference to a road; but knowing where the road is and actually getting on it are two different things.  Similarly, “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.”  Jesus said that he was “the way” (Jn. 14:6).  And since these people have rejected The Way, they aren’t Christians, nor were they ever.[2]  Furthermore, to repent means “to turn.”  It means to turn and start walking in the opposite direction from whence you came.  But instead of turning from their wicked ways, these people decided to turn from “the holy commandment.”  And what is that holy commandment? 

For the unsaved, it’s to repent (Acts 17:30).  Matthew 22:36-40 sums up the entire law by saying that we’re to love the Lord our God with all of our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves.  In similar fashion, the 10th Commandment says that we’re not to covet, which addresses our desires and motivation for what we do or not do.[3]  In both cases, no man can do either without a changed heart – a changed heart that comes from repentance.  So for the unsaved, the holy commandment is to repent of their sins.  But these false prophets and teachers have chosen to reject the gospel – preferring instead to return to their life of sin.  Matthew speaks of them: “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.  22Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works?  23And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”  

22But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire [mud]. 
The import of v. 22 can’t be understated as it forever provides the context of which 2 Peter 2, and vv. 20-21 in particular, are to be interpreted.  To begin, note that Proverbs 26:11 is only partially quoted.  This isn’t a mistake.  Peter is just referencing the Old Testament enough to let his readers know where he’s taking is queue.  Hence, the lesson of Proverbs 26:11 is more important than an exact quote.  But what does it teach?       

As a dog returneth to his vomit, so a fool returneth to his folly. 
A fool says in his heart that there is no God; so by definition, a fool is someone who rejects the gospel.[4]  But as a fool returns to his folly, so too does a dog to his vomit.[5]  And since they’ve left only to return to the same place from whence they came, this implies NO CHANGE!  And this is exactly what’s happening with these false prophets and teachers.  They’ve temporarily escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of Christ, but in having failed to repent, they’ve returned to the exact same place from which they came – only in a worse condition than before because they’ve hardened their hearts, yet again, to the gospel of Jesus Christ.
   
But to emphasize his point, Peter provides yet another example.  In this case, he’s comparing their fallen state to that of a pig returning to wallow in the mud.  The lesson here is the same as it was regarding the fool and the dog, except this time it would appeal more to a Jewish audience because the Jews regarded pigs as unclean animals, and so this example would be speaking to the false prophets and teachers that came out of Judaism (Tit. 1:10).  But if these verses were about Christians losing their salvation, would God be likening them to fools having returned to their folly, or as dogs having returned to their vomit, or as pigs having returned to the mud?  I don’t think so.  Symbolically, man is an unclean animal (pig).  But when he repents, he becomes a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17).  Flesh can’t change itself; it doesn’t have the power within itself to do so (Jer. 13:23).  The best that can be done with a pig is to clean him up.  But until he repents of his sin, he’s just a pretty pig.  And given the opportunity, he’ll return to the mud because that’s what’s in his nature to do.  Selah.     

Thus it should be clear.  These proverbs are about false prophets and false teachers who never repented because there was never a change in their nature!  This has nothing to do with Christians losing their salvation, but it has everything to do with false prophets and teachers who’ve heard the gospel and rejected it.  And so the contrast here, as it’s been throughout the chapter, is that salvation provides for a new nature and not a pretty pig.  Selah.     

*   *   *   *   *

Summing, God foreknew that we’d have the tendency to read 2 Peter. 2:20-21 as an example of a Christian losing their salvation, and so he provided us with enough examples and contextual evidence to properly interpret the passage.  As demonstrated, the context of the chapter is one of contrast between the saints and false brethren.  It’s a contrast between God’s people and those who claim to be God’s people, but are not.  Had this been about compromising Christians, there would have been examples to this effect, but there are none – quite the opposite, in fact.  If it were, then Lot could have been offered as a good example.  His life in Sodom corrupted not only his morals, but those of his family as well.  His failure to be “in the world but not of it” led to the loss of his wife and incest with his two daughters (Gen. 19).  But despite this, God declared him to be a godly, just, and righteous man (7-9) – a man held in contrast to these false prophets and teachers.  And so the context of this passage is not one about a Christian’s life of compromise, but of contrast between the saint and sinner and of God’s ability to preserve the righteous during times of judgment. 

And finally, 2 Peter 2 provides us with a definition of what it means to be an apostate.  These are people who hear the truth, perceive the truth, may even preach the truth, but ultimately reject it (esp. 19-22).  It also demonstrates that man, in and of himself, doesn’t have the authority, power, or ability, to alter his nature.  Only God can do that.  So if man can’t save himself, then what makes us think he can “unsave” himself?  Selah.      




[1] Note: a well without water is useless.  It’s nothing more than a dressed-up hole in the ground: empty and dry – just like these false prophets and teachers who look good on the outside but with nothing of any use on the inside (i.e. no water: no Holy Spirit, no life).  Selah.
[2] Christianity is also called “the way” (Acts 24:14). 
[3] Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21
[4] Ps. 14:1, 53:1
[5] Note that the –eth ending of “returneth” implies continued or repetitive action – meaning that they do this on a repeated basis.  

Luke 15 and the Parable of the Prodigal Son


There are three parables found in Luke Chapter 15: the first is the Parable of the Lost Sheep (4-7), the second is the Parable of the Lost Coin (8-10), and the third is the Parable of the Prodigal Son (11-32).  But instead of viewing them as three separate parables, we will view them in their proper context as ONE parable consisting of THREE parts; and there are several ways to tell.

First, Jesus said that he was going to teach them a parable, not parables (v. 3).  This is singular and not plural, and so there is only one parable being taught and not three.  Second, because of the common elements in each.  In all three, something was lost, a search was made, that which was lost was found, and then rejoicing.  And third, because of the doctrinal implications.  Some believe that it’s a parable about a backslidden Christian while others believe that it’s about a Christian who’s lost their salvation, while others believe that it’s about a sinner who’s never repented.  They all have their proofs, but the basic problem is that they don’t have the whole story; and because of this it leads them to the wrong conclusions, or the right conclusion based upon incomplete information.  The parable is about two groups of lost people who have never known salvation.  But instead of beginning with the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Verse 11, we’ll instead begin at Verse 1.  Again, the Parable of the Prodigal Son is but the third part of ONE parable – a parable that’s designed to demonstrate God’s love for all sinners no matter what type of sinner they are.  Some are more outward while others are more inward; but they’re all sinners nonetheless, and God wants to reach them both.

The Setting

Jesus is on the east side of the Jordan River in a region known as Perea.  We don’t know exactly where he is other than to say that he’s in that region.  This is just a few months before his death and so he’s on his last great evangelical tour before arriving in Jerusalem.  And as it happens, on this occasion he’s been approached by a mixed multitude of sinners – some more outward, some more inward, but all sinners.  The first group consists of the publicans and “sinners” while the second group consists of the scribes and Pharisees.  
                                                                             
1Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.  2And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.

Publicans were the tax collectors of their day.  These were Jewish men employed by the Roman government for the sole purpose of collecting taxes from their Jewish brethren; and suffice it to say, they weren’t very well liked.  The Jews loathed them more than the Romans because they viewed them as traitors: Jewish men who had chosen to collaborate with the enemy for financial gain.  But as part of their “employment package,” they were allowed to retain a percentage of what they’d collected; and so the more they collected, the more money they made, which of they did, thus making them very unpopular.  Matthew (Levi), one of the disciples of Jesus, had been a tax collector (Mt. 9:9; Lu. 5:27). 

Incidentally, they weren’t liked by the Romans either.  They were a conquered people and thus considered inferior.  But they were tolerated because they performed a vital function for the Roman government: the collection of taxes.  It’s much easier for a Jew to collect taxes from a Jew than it would be for a Roman because a Jewish man knows the “ins and outs” of Jewish business practices.  No one likes to pay taxes much less having to pay them to someone viewed as a traitor; and so these men lived in a gray area of existence somewhere between their Jewish roots and their Roman conquerors.  Hated by all, most were probably miserable and ashamed: countrymen without a country.  And yet, their greed and love of money afforded them enough temporal pleasures to satiate the leanness of their souls.

"Sinners," in the context of this story, is a general term which includes all those who were outwardly rebellious.  These were the drug dealers, prostitutes, drunks, thieves, etc.  If you told them they were sinners they’d probably agree.  Whether they repented or not is of course another story, but they’d probably at least admit it.  But despite their sinful state, on this day, this cast out and rejected bunch has come to hear what Jesus had to say.  They wondered at the gracious words which proceeded from his mouth because never in their lives had they heard such a man as this (Lu. 4:22).  His words were with such power and authority that even the unclean spirits obeyed him (Mk. 1:27; Lu. 4:32 etc.).  People were healed of sickness and disease and the hungry, both physically and spiritually, were fed.  This group didn’t must have known that the laws of God couldn’t be kept by mere outward observance.  Perhaps even a few of them were former members of the Sanhedrin.  But in either case, they had to have realized that the laws of God couldn’t be kept in the energy of the flesh.  Unfortunately, what they didn't realize that grace and truth could be received through Jesus Christ (Jn. 1:17). 

The second group in attendance consisted of the scribes and Pharisees.  They too have come to hear the Word of the Lord, but for entirely different reasons to trap Jesus in his words and to find fault.  "This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them," they sarcastically reply.  To their understanding, God’s laws were kept by outward observance.  Outwardly they wouldn't sin, but inwardly they were ravenous wolves.  They were white washed sepulchers who looked good on the outside but inside were full of dead men’s bones, rot, and decay (Mt. 23).  They longed inwardly to do what the publicans and sinners were doing outwardly.  However, the 10th Commandment, Thou shalt not covet, means that you shouldn’t even want to break the other nine commandments or the 10th (Ex. 20:17; Dt. 5:21).  The 10th Commandment simply showed that keeping the laws of God is and has always been a condition of the heart.  As James 2:10 says, “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”  In short, they had a form of godliness but denied the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5). 

Consequently, their ignorance led them to believe that Christianity required a dress code.  In other words, if you didn't fit their description of what a Christian looked like, then you weren’t one.  These men simply judged themselves by themselves (2 Cor. 10:12).  They thought their salvation rested in the Scriptures and not in the One of whom the Scriptures spoke (Jn. 5:39).  Their mentality was, "I walk and I talk like a Christian; therefore, I am."  Sound familiar?  And yet, despite their overwhelming ignorance, Jesus loved them and desired that they too repent.

Needless to say, both groups were as sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36).  The first group of publicans and sinners were lost and may have even realized they were, but they had no idea how to get home.  The religious leaders certainly weren’t preaching the gospel; and so they were caught between the disparity of their sin and the error of the religious leader's doctrine.  And yet, Jesus had love and compassion for them because they were sinners in need of a Saviour, and to seek and save those such as these was the very reason why he came (Lu. 19:10). 

The second group was also spiritually lost.  However, they had no idea they were lost.  They had no idea because they thought that the laws and commandments of God were kept by outward observation and not inward commitment.  To their understanding there was no need for them to repent, and this is why they had earlier rejected John the Baptist's call to repentance and now they were rejecting Christ's!  Preachers who preach repentance are seldom popular.  But in either case, they were lost.  For as 2 Chronicles 6:36 says, "for there is no man which sinneth not."  And because they considered themselves to be saved, they felt no need to preach repentance to others.  Their hearts were so wicked that they had no compassion toward the lost!  They only appeared to be saved people because of their outward religious appearance (and they were religious).  These men were not your average preacher or Bible teachers.  These men were the theologians of their day.  Selah. 

Then Jesus comes – claiming that he is God and receiving sinners and eating with them!  On numerous occasions Jesus said or taught that he was God, but this didn’t fit their description of what they thought God was like.  Unfortunately, they failed to realize, as we often do, that when it comes to God's Word, God is not interested in what we think.  He gives us the ability to form an opinion, but not the right.  To them, then, Jesus was a doctrinal problem.  A doctrine which they sought to destroy, and did, in one sense, when they hung him on the cross. 

So Jesus is in a predicament.  He needs to demonstrate the love of God to the publicans and sinners while at the same time revealing to the scribes and Pharisees that they too are sinners in need of repentance; and yet do so in a fashion which will allow them both to see the error of their ways without immediately provoking them into a doctrinal battle.  So Jesus begins with a series of parables in an attempt to try and accomplish that very thing.  And since Jesus has claimed to be God, everyone wants to know how God feels about sinners.

Parable of the Lost Sheep

               3And he [Jesus] spake this parable [singular] unto them, saying,

               4What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?  5And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing.  6And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.  7I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.

 Salvation is a personal decision that must be made individually by each and every one of us.  Jesus emphasizes this point when he begins, “What man of you…”  By starting with a question, he’s asking each and every one of them to place themselves into the role of a shepherd and to think and react as any good shepherd would do.  He’s using an example of which they’d all be familiar.  He’s asking them to “picture the scene,” as it were, in their mind’s eye.  And Israel being an agrarian society, this would have been understood by all; and so Jesus is simply making the story more personal.  And so as they begin to imagine themselves as shepherds watching over their sheep, the Holy Spirit begins to woo them toward salvation.

However, a problem develops.  One of the sheep has gone astray, and as any good shepherd would do, he leaves the others in the wilderness to go and find the missing one.  At first this would seem irresponsible; however, common sense dictates that the 99 would have been left with another shepherd or placed into a pen of some sort.  To leave them alone in the wilderness to go and find the missing one would have only made a bad situation worse.  Therefore, they were either left with another shepherd or placed into a pen or cave for protection.

But why would the shepherd leave the 99 in search of the one?  If the animal couldn’t be found it was the shepherd that had to pay for the loss; and in those days, a shepherds' pay was nominal (Gen. 31:38-39; Ex. 22:9-13), and so the loss of even one animal was potentially devastating.  However, if the lamb had been killed by a predator or suffered death as the result of an accident, then all that was necessary was for the shepherd to do was to retrieve the slain lamb (or a portion thereof) and present it to the owner.  Upon doing so, no loss of wage was incurred.  Hence, every sheep was of immediate personal value and worth whether they were his or another's.  In fact, just the shepherd's willingness to leave the other 99 is a demonstration of just how valuable this one lost sheep was worth to the shepherd.  Sheep are natural wanderers and have the tendency to go wherever their little noses lead them.  The result is that they usually find themselves in a whole lot of trouble.  That’s of course if they even perceive that they’re lost in the first place.
 
But finally, the shepherd finds the sheep.  He places it atop his shoulders and begins to rejoice.  He doesn't beat or chide the animal.  Instead, he simply places it upon his shoulders and carries it to the fold.  The sheep didn't have to earn his way back nor perform any works of penance.  He just rests in his shepherd's strength.  Thus the shepherd has taken it upon himself to bear the responsibility in caring for the sheep.  Clearly, to that shepherd that sheep was of great value.  And if the shepherd delighted in finding the sheep when it was lost, how much more when it is back in the fold?  The excitement is just too much.  He has to share it with others.  He calls his friends and neighbors, asking them to rejoice with him. 

And as it was with the lost sheep, so it is with us.  In the world system, we weren't looking for God, but God was looking for us.  The sheep wasn't looking for the shepherd; the shepherd was looking for the sheep!  Having found us, God places us atop his shoulders and bears all the responsibility to make sure that we make it home because we were once all as sheep going astray (Is. 53:6; 1 Pet. 2:25).  Jesus is the Shepherd of our souls, and as Isaiah 9:6 says, "the government shall be upon his shoulder" – keeping us there until the redemption of the purchased possession at which time we will be with our Father evermore (Eph. 1:13-14).  For now, we’re strangers and pilgrims, ambassadors, given authority to proclaim the gospel in a foreign land (Heb. 11:13-16).  Kings have authority in their own land; ambassadors are given authority by and from the king to represent him in foreign lands.  Selah.

And so when a sinner repents, all of heaven rejoices.  The celebration of the shepherd finding his lost sheep is likened to the celebration which occurs in heaven.  God is so thrilled that he calls and invites his angels to celebrate with him!  And if this is how God felt about us when we were lost, how much more now that we are in the fold?[1]

Parable of the Lost Coin

               8Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it?  9And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost.  10Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

Again, Jesus is once again placing the listener into the story by asking them to “picture the scene” in their mind’s eye; the intent of which is to lead them into making a decision.  The first parable asked, "What man," whereas this one begins, “what woman...:” the idea, again, was to make the story more personal by appealing to both men and women.  Men would value the significance of the lost sheep a little more than a woman, while the women would value the loss of the coin a little more than a man.  In either case, Jesus equally ministers to all those present so that there are none with any excuse (Rom. 1:20). 

But in this case, a woman has lost a coin which on the surface may not sound too bad.  But in those days a woman could be divorced at any time, and the only possessions that she was allowed to have were those attached to her body.  And so gifts of gold, silver, gems, coins, jewelry, and other precious valuables were often melted down into some wearable fashion such as earrings, amulets, necklaces, bracelets, rings, etc., or sewn directly into their garments.  And so the loss of any of these could be devastating.   

So she lights a candle and searches for her lost coin.  Likely there wouldn’t have been very much natural light – even during the day because the typical home was constructed without windows.  The reason for this is to deter any would-be thieves or robbers.  They are known for their skill in burrowing through clay walls without making any noise.  They typically wouldn’t enter through the door because it’s a form of covenanting and so many were hesitant to violate its sanctity.  As John 10:1 says, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”  But they weren’t too proud to enter through a window or through the roof.  Thus, to have a window would only encourage them, and so they were often omitted in construction. 
           
Compounding the problem is the flooring.  The wealthy usually had floors of stone while the rest had dirt.  In both cases, floors were often covered with straw to act as a type of insulation between them and the often cool and sometimes damp ground.  Therefore, if an item was lost, finding it amongst the straw and dirt could be a laborious endeavor.  Nevertheless, the woman prevails in finding the lost coin as did the shepherd in finding his lost sheep.  She then calls her friends and neighbors and asks them to share in her joy.  This celebration is also likened to the celebration in heaven over a sinner who repents.

                                               Comparison of the First Two Parables

In comparing these first two parables to the two groups of people, the first group of publicans and sinners are like the sheep.  They’re lost and may even realize they’re lost, but they’re unable to do anything about it because they don’t know the way home.  The scribes and Pharisees surely aren’t preaching the gospel to them.  The second group of scribes and Pharisees are like the coin.  They are "lost as sin" but have absolutely no idea that they’re lost, neither of which alters the fact that they still are.  Their hearts are hard – just like to coin of whom they’re likened.   

In both parables, the shepherd and the woman searched until the lost valuable was found.  The shepherd searched until he found it while the woman searched diligently until she found it.  The emphasis placed upon the woman's diligence is a result of the fact that the coin would have been much more difficult to find – just like the heart of the scribes and Pharisees.  Nevertheless, the coin and their wicked hearts could both be reached.  Whether they repented or not is of course another story, but the opportunity is there.  Also note that it was the shepherd and the woman who took the initiative.  The sheep wasn't looking for the shepherd; the shepherd was looking for the sheep.  Likewise, it was the woman looking for the coin and not the opposite.  The publicans and sinners, just like the sheep, may come to the realization that they’re lost, but they’re unable to do anything about it because they don’t know the way home.  The coin was incapable of receiving revelation as were the scribes and Pharisees due to their hardness of their heart.  And so at this point Jesus has given two parables, each to address the two separate groups present, but now’s he’s going to combine the two into one parable.  

Parable of the Prodigal Son

A prodigal is someone who spends his money foolishly and lavishly.  And in this story, there is a son who’s done just that; hence, this is how this parable came to be known as The Parable of the Prodigal Son.  But as previously mentioned, this parable is actually the third part of one parable.  The first parable demonstrated the lost condition of the publicans and sinners.  Like the sheep, they are lost and are possibly aware they’re lost – none of which alters the fact that they’re still lost and unable to find their way home.  The second parable demonstrated the lost condition of the scribes and Pharisees.  Like the coin, they’re lost and have absolutely no idea that they’re lost, but they’re still lost.  But in this third parable, Jesus is going to combine both of these groups and illustrate that we are all sinners and that we all need of a Saviour whether our sins are more outward or inward (Rom. 3:23).  The scribes and Pharisees may not have understood the first two parables, but they’ll understand this one because Jesus is going to give everyone an example that they’ll be able to understand.  Again, whether they repent or not is another story; but the opportunity is once again being afforded to them. 
           
The first two parables also demonstrated how the scribes and Pharisees should have acted toward the lost: with compassion.  The third is going to demonstrate how they have been acting: with disdain.  The father in this story will typify Father God in that he, like the shepherd and the woman, is going to search for as long and as hard as it takes in an attempt to bring the sinner to repentance.  Jesus is doing that very thing.  The younger son will typify the publicans and sinners and the elder will typify the scribes and Pharisees.  And as we will see, the goodness of the father is going to expose the true condition and nature of each of the son's hearts.  Selah.  

               11And he said, A certain man had two sons:

               12And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.  13And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

The younger son has asked for his inheritance; and in the land of Israel, a father's inheritance was divided amongst the male children with the firstborn to receive the double portion (Dt. 21:15-17).  So in this case, the inheritance would be divided into three equal parts.  Two-thirds would be given to the elder son and one-third to the younger.  Normally inheritances weren’t given until the death of the father.  However, it wasn’t uncommon for a father to go ahead and divide up his land and give it to his sons beforehand – usually the result of them getting married and starting their own families.[2]  The sons were then allowed to farm the land and reap the fruits thereof, although it’s true that they were still accountable to their father.  In other words, the land was not really theirs until their fathers' death.  But in this case, the son is doing neither.  His father hasn’t died and he has no intention of staying; and so for all practical purposes, his father is dead to him.  He’s only interested in his father for what he can get out of him.  The father knows his son is a rebel and that he cares nothing for him.  Yet despite this, because of his great love for him, he obliges him by dividing up the property and giving him his portion.  For as Romans 2:4 says, "Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"  In short, sometimes God blesses people with the intent of bringing them to repentance.  Love always warns.  God's messages of repentance are warnings to bring us to repentance in order to keep him from having to bring judgment.  If he wanted to simply bring judgment, why warn?  It was better than the alternative.  The penalty for a rebellious son who failed to repent was death by stoning;[3] and it seems quite apparent that they’ve had this conversation.  The choice was either the stone pile or leave Israel, and the boy evidently chose the latter.  It should also be noted that this father was not breaking the laws of God by not putting his son to death.  These laws were written for the nation of Israel, as a nation, when they were "in the land," although we’d be wise to follow them.  If this boy would have remained in the land of Israel, then yes, he would have been put to death – else his father would have been in sin.  But in this case, the boy went into a far country out from under the laws of Israel.  And so the father, knowing his son, gave him a choice.  Stay in Israel and die, or leave Israel and live.  But he did so in the hope that he’d return with a changed heart because that’s the only way he could come back and stay – else the father would have to have him stoned.  It takes love to fulfill the laws of God.  Selah!  

He soon leaves and ventures into a foreign country.  Once there, he begins to waste his money on riotous living.  His money affords him many of the finer pleasures that this new land has to offer.  He attempts to fit into the crowd and to be just like one of the boys.  He tries to please everyone – hoping they’ll give him their loyalty and devotion in return.  They say that you can’t buy love, but he sure seems to be trying.  However, how long this lasts remains to be seen.

               14And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.  15And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.  16And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.  17And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!  18I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

Famine soon covers the land and prices begin to rise.  At first he's not alarmed.  He has plenty of money.  His father was evidently very wealthy because he had many hired servants who always had plenty to eat (v. 17).  So although he only received one-third of his father's inheritance, it’s still more than enough to sustain him for quite some time.  But he’s beginning to feel a prick in his heart as the Holy Spirit begins wooing him unto repentance.  Unfortunately, his pride keeps him from doing so.  His heart tells him otherwise, but he begins to reason, and reason is the first cause of rebellion and is as the sin of witchcraft – another sin that is punishable by death (cp. 1 Sam. 15:23 and Ex.22:18; Lev. 20:27). 

But famines occur slowly, and as the money dries up, so does his soul.  Prices continue to rise.  Only more sharply now than before as the severity of the famine deepens.  As a result, the money dissipates much sooner than anticipated.  Speaking of the lustful attitude of the children of Israel when they rejected God's manna and asked for flesh, Psalms 106:15 says, "And he gave them their request; but sent leanness into their soul."  His “friends” forsake him and he’s soon alone in the world.  He goes to work for a citizen of that country feeding swine (pigs).  It was considered a disgrace for a Jew to have to tend swine because they were an unclean animal (Lev. 11:7-8; Dt. 14:8).  He wouldn't work for a father who loved him; but now he's working for someone who doesn't even like him.  He looks over at what they are eating and they’re eating better than he is!  He would have liked to have eaten what they were eating.  But the detestable nature of pig slop wouldn’t allow for it; he’d simply throw it up, if he could even get it down in the first place; so it was better for him to remain hungry.  Evidently, the wages he’s receiving aren’t even enough to keep him from feeling the pangs of hunger.  He begins to beg and no one gives him anything.  At home he was treated as a son.  In the world, he’s treated as less than an animal.  
Finally, "he came to himself."  He can't go any lower.  He remembers the goodness of his father and how well even the hired servants were treated – and he was a son!  Assuredly his father would hire him before he would hire another stranger!  Scripture reveals that blessed are those who hunger for righteousness because they will be filled (Mt. 5:6).  And in all respects this boy is hungry.  And so on his way home, he begins to rehearse what he’s going to say.  He wasn’t going to say that he’d made a mistake or an error, he was going to say that he’d sinned – good confession!  It's hard to tell someone that you've sinned.  Yet, it’s easier to forgive them because they’re usually being honest.  When we simply tell someone that we've made a mistake, the other person is much more likely to walk away wondering if we really meant it or not.  All too often we try to make sin sound less than what it really is.  Selah.
 
But the deceitfulness of sin has caused him to believe that he was no more worthy to be called a son.  He was never worthy to be called a son in the first place!  He was a son, but not worthy to be called a son.  He was a rebel and most rebels don't realize that they’re rebels until after they’ve left home.  Worse, his guilt feelings have led him into legalism.  He wants to work to please his father, which again illustrates that he knew nothing of his father's nature.  He thinks that he can earn his father's love and affection by working as a hired servant.  His father couldn't love him any more or less than he already does.  You can't earn that which you already possess.  He simply hasn’t come into the knowledge or experienced the love of his father because of his rebellious disposition!  But despite this, there is evidence of a sincere desire to repent, and so the boy must be granted the benefit of a doubt.  Meanwhile, the scribes and Pharisees are intently listening.  The story is beginning to come to a climax and the question is being pondered, Will this father receive this younger son – a sinner? 

               20And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.  21And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.  22But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
  
Biblical repentance not only includes confession, but repentance as well (Pr. 28:13).  Biblical repentance requires that we change directions and turn away from sin and this is what the younger son did when he arose to return to his father's house.  Earlier, he couldn't wait to get away from his father, but now he can't wait to get back.  Along the way, he continues to rehearse what he’s going to say.  But while he is yet "a great way off," his father sees him and immediately runs to him.  He was able to see him from such a great distance because in the land of Israel they farmed in the valleys and built their homes and cities on the hilltops (Mt. 5:14).  But this father has been looking for the return of his son since the day he left.  He never stopped looking because he never stopped loving – even with the knowledge that his son was living in sin.  He has compassion for his son and compassion is always based first upon a commitment to serve.  Scripture records that when Jesus had compassion on the people, he did at least one of three things.  He healed them, delivered them, and fed them, physically and spiritually; and as we will see, this father will do no less.  Tears of joy begin to run down his face as he runs to greet his son.  And by the time the child is able to do or say anything; his father has already thrown his arms around him and kissed him on the neck.  For years this father has been praying for his son to return.  He didn't pray for the famine or that he would have to work for a pig farmer.  He simply prayed and asked God to change his heart. 

But did you notice?  The father didn't allow him to finish saying what he’d earlier rehearsed (vv. 18-19).  He didn't allow his son to say, "make me as one of thy hired servants."  This father had no intention of allowing him to work for his salvation.  To say otherwise is to say that we can earn our salvation through works of the flesh apart from God.  This father has waited in eager expectation to receive a son, not a slave!  He steps back and takes another look at him.  He's a mess.  He stinks just like his performance but that doesn't matter.  His son was home.  If our salvation was based upon our performance, then none of us would make it!  The only "work" which God allows us to perform is to believe on him (Jn. 6:29).         

Immediately the father calls for his servants and they’re instructed to bring the best robe, a ring, and shoes, and to place them upon him.  In the blood covenant ceremony, one of the first things that the two covenanting parties did was exchange robes, symbolizing an exchange of natures.  So in this case, the reception of the robe symbolized the son receiving his father's nature.  He was never worthy to be called a son, he only thought he was.  But because of the father, now he’s worthy.  And this is true of us, when we accept Jesus, we are and become the adopted sons of God (Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 8:14-17; Gal. 3:29-4:7; 1 Jn. 3:1-3 etc.).  However, not only is he worthy to be called a son, but a prince.  As such, not only does he receive a robe, but a ring as well.  This ring was a signet ring which was used to seal important documents.  They were also used as "credit cards."  And so every time the son made a purchase, his signet ring meant that any debt that he incurred his father would pay.  And this is exactly what Jesus has done for us.  Any sins debts that we incur our Father pays through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ.  Selah.
 
It only takes one sin to condemn us to hell, just like it did Adam and Eve.  This boy is spiritually bankrupt.  He left full, but has returned empty.  He had no money, no credit, no reputation, no friends, etc.  This ring simply demonstrates that any debts he incurs after becoming a son, the father will pay (1 Jn. 1).  And finally, shoes were placed upon his feet.  In Biblical times, people who were slaves were not allowed to wear shoes.  As Romans 6:16 says, " Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness??"  In other words, you are a slave to whom you choose to serve.  Sin always promises freedom but really does nothing more than bring about bondage and slavery.      

So the father receives his son and they begin to be merry – for that which was lost has now been found.  A banquet ensues and the father kills the fatted calf.  This wasn't just any calf, but the fatted calf.  Everyone knew that from the day that his son left home that the father had set aside a special calf in anticipation of his sons' return.  This calf was undoubtedly well fed so that it would be large and juicy for the celebration.  The father had great delight in preparing this animal because he knew that if it was ever slaughtered, it would be done in celebration over the return of his son!
At this point, surely the scribes and Pharisees are beginning to understand that this is what any good earthly father would do for his son.  And if this is what any good earthly father will do for his son, how much more would a heavenly Father do for his?  The scribes and Pharisee are probably beginning to think that this is the conclusion of the story.  However, Jesus has only exposed his heart towards the publicans and sinners.  Now he’s going to show the scribes and Pharisees the condition of their heart and their need for repentance.                 
  
               25Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.  26And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.  27And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.  28And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.  29And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 

The elder son has heard the music and dancing and inquires as to why all the revelry.  Upon the explanation that his younger brother has returned and that the fatted calf has been slain, he becomes angry.  Everyone knew about the fatted calf and they all knew that it had been especially set aside for the return of the younger brother.  However, this son's heart is so wicked that he can't rejoice when his brother, a sinner, has repented – just like the scribes and Pharisees (v.2).  He throws a temper tantrum and refuses to join the celebration; and so just as the woman initiated the search for her lost coin, the father initiates the search for his (oldest) son’s heart.  He pleads with him to repent and join the celebration, just as Jesus is now pleading with the scribes and Pharisees.  The son replies that he’s been faithful and that he’s never sinned.  His heart was so hard that he believed that he had never sinned!  He essentially says, "Dad.  You never gave me a kid."  A baby goat is cheaper than a lamb; and so by this statement he’s accusing his father of being unfair.  The wickedness of the fallen nature always finds fault with the Father.  The father didn't need to change his heart (Mal. 3:6; Heb. 13:8), the older son needed to change his.  This son's heart is so hard that he has absolutely no idea that he is lost, just like the coin.  He was deceived into thinking, just like his younger brother, that he didn't need his father, when in all actuality, the love of the father was the only thing he had going for him.  God has to first love us before we can love him back (1 Jn. 4:19).  
           
"But as soon as this thy son was come," he sarcastically replies.  His sarcasm is detected by the father who will correct him out shortly.  He begins to point out his brother's sins.  In doing so, he makes the classic mistake of focusing on the sin rather than the sinner.  His father focused on the sinner and made no mention of his sin.  He felt his brother ought to be punished.  His father made no mention of punishment, why should he?  

               31And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine.  32It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.   

But despite all of the hurt and anger that his son is exhibiting, the father, with all gentleness and meekness, replies by reminding him that the younger son has already received his inheritance, and that all that remains will one day belong to him.  In so many words, he’s also telling him that he would have been happy to throw him a party, but he never asked.  In effect, the father was saying that it was his fault, he’s always been there.  For as scripture says, we serve a God who says that he will never leave nor forsake us (Dt. 4:31; Heb. 13:5 e.g.). 
           
When the younger son left, he left with all.  The father had absolutely no idea whether he’d ever see him again or not.  And so yes, it was appropriate that they should be merry because the son that was dead is now alive, and the son which was lost is now found.  He was alive physically but dead spiritually because he didn’t have the nature and character of his father.  Nevertheless, he’s been received safe and sound, just like sheep in the sheepfold.  The elder brother, in speaking to his father, referred to his younger brother as "thy son."  However, the father in rebuttal refers to him as "thy brother" – thus reminding that he is supposed to be his brother’s keeper and that he’s likewise in the same boat as his younger brother once was; and the only difference is that the younger son was outwardly rebellious while the elder, while although outwardly obedient, was inwardly rebellious – just like these lost scribes and Pharisees in the audience. 
           
Jesus is trying to teach them how to treat sinners.  But they can’t do it because they don’t have the heart; and Jesus is trying to get them to see that because they can’t rejoice when a sinner “comes home,” that they don’t have a heart like God, which in turns means that they need to repent so that they can have a heart like the Father.  A true son should be like his father.  "Like father – like son" is the expression.  So do you see?  The goodness of the father will test our hearts to reveal their true condition.  The Father doesn't have to change his heart, we need to change ours.  The older son was more concerned about the money that had been lost than the life that had been preserved.  May we not allow our hearts to grow so cold.            

By now, the scribes and Pharisees almost certainly understand the parable.  A hushed, ominous silence must have encircled them – the air saturated with the presence of the Spirit of God, wooing them unto repentance.  You could have heard a pin drop.  But there’s no indication given as to how many of them repented, if any.  However, Acts 6:7 records that later many of them did.  Saul of Tarsus, whom we commonly refer to as Paul, was one of them.

                                                                     Conclusion

In our parable, Jesus was dealing with two different types of sinners.  Some more outward, some more inward, but all spiritually lost and in need of a Saviour.  Jesus showed the outward sinners how God felt about them, and then showed them the way home.  Jesus also showed the religious muckety-mucks that they too needed salvation.  They claimed to be serving God, but their heart was far from him as evidenced by the fact that they couldn’t rejoice in seeing a lost person come to salvation. 

The religious leaders accused Jesus of receiving and eating with sinners; and in the parable, Jesus taught them that God does indeed receive and eat with sinners.  And since Jesus was receiving and eating with sinners, then Jesus was subtly claiming to be God.  God, in the flesh, was standing right in front of them, and they couldn’t see it because their hearts were so hard, just like the coin.  But God always accepts repentant sinners, even theologians and Bible college professors.  So if you do not know the Lord, I would encourage you to repent of your sins and ask him to be the Lord of your life.  If you’re already a Christian, and perhaps God has quickened an area of sin in your life, then confess and repent and enjoy continued fellowship with the Father (1 Jn. 1-2:6).  God has great compassion and care for the sinner.  After all, that’s all he has to work with.[4]  Selah.




[1] Note: the context of this parable is to draw a contrast between two groups of lost people.  This is not teaching that God loves the sinner more than the saved – although he does rejoice more when the spiritually lost are found.  The Father's love is consistent.  Neither is it teaching that a Christian can lose their salvation.  Why?  Again, the context of the parable doesn’t allow for that kind of interpretation.  And so when he makes the statement about there being more joy in heaven over the sinner that repents more than the 99 just, it’s akin to saying a new baby boy has just been born.  It’s not that you no longer love your previously born children; it’s just that now there is a new life to behold! 
[2] Isaac received his inheritance before the death of Abraham his father (Gen. 25:5-6).
[3] Deut. 21:18-21
[4] To clarify, for those of us who already know the Lord, we are saved people who sin and no longer sinners by nature.  In Luke 5:8, Peter said that he was a "sinful man," not a sinner.  This truth is also applied in distinguishing a hypocrite from someone who is being hypocritical.  By Biblical definition, a hypocrite is someone who has never repented and accepted Jesus.  This is also true in distinguishing a fool from someone who is acting foolish.  In short, do not allow someone to put you under bondage by referring to you as a "hypocrite" when Biblically you are not.  Simply love them despite their ignorance.  If there is any truth to their accusations, then repent over that area in your life and continue to walk freely – not allowing them to put you again under bondage.