Updated: Sep 27, 2022
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INTRODUCTION. In the fifteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus spoke three parables–the
lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son, or sometimes appropriately referred
to as the lost son. It is important to remember to whom Jesus was speaking. Jesus
was surrounded by two groups–the publicans (tax collectors) and sinners who were
the moral outcasts of Jewish society, and the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes.
The Pharisees' concept of God was that He approved of good people but had no use for
sinners. In these three parables Jesus teaches that God seeks the sinner, waiting and
watching for him to come and partake of the blessings of the kingdom, and that there is
great joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. Jesus called the publicans and sinners to repent, and He called the Pharisees and scribes to accept the sinner and rejoice in his
The parable of the prodigal son is about a father and his two sons. The younger son, tiring of parental supervision, asked his father for his portion of the inheritance. The Jewish laws of inheritance were specific–the elder son was to receive a double portion (Deut. 21:17). In this case the elder son would receive two-thirds of the inheritance and the younger son one-third.
After receiving his portion, the younger son went to a far country and spent all he had in
riotous or wasteful living. When a famine arose his only means of employment was feeding swine, the unclean animals Jews were forbidden to eat or touch (Lev. 11:1-8). He even desired the food of the pigs, probably the seed pod of the carob tree of which the pod or husk alone was eaten.
Presently the young man "came to himself" and decided to return to his father, con-
fess his sin, and ask to become a hired servant. There were three classes of servants on a Jewish estate: there were the bondservants who belonged to the master but enjoyed
numerous privileges (Ex. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:39-46); there were the lower class servants who
were subordinate to the bondmen (Luke 12:45); there were the temporary hired servants who were hired on a daily basis. Thus the son intended to
ask his father to make him a hired servant, one of the lowest rank. However, he
never had the opportunity to make the request. While the returning son was still afar off, his father ran to him to greet him. When the young man confessed his sin, his father
interrupted him and ordered that his son be honored with three significant items: the
robe, the best robe, kept for special guests and festive occasions; the ring, the signet ring, symbolizing authority; sandals, signifying sonship, for slaves went barefoot. The fatted calf was killed and there was a merry feast.
Unlike the two previous parables, this one does not end with the joyful celebration.
The father had an elder son who was angry and envious of the honor bestowed upon his brother. As the younger son, the prodigal, symbolized the publicans and sinners, the elder son represented the self-righteous Pharisees who would rather see punishment for sinners than forgiveness. The elder son was a good man, but his goodness was hard and cold, without love and mercy.
The loving father, the real hero of the story, is a reflection of the merciful God. He was
forgiving and rejoiced when his younger lost son repented and was found. He pleaded
tenderly with the elder son to accept his brother and celebrate his return. The father told his elder son, "...all that I have is thine." The inheritance had already been divided, all that remained belonged to the elder son. These words of the father declare the nature of the kingdom of God, for all spiritual blessings are to be found in the heavenly places in Christ (Eph. 1:3).