Our Lord once told a beautiful story of a father’s love for his two sons. The one son was selfish and had no concern for his father or any of his family. He was concerned with getting his portion and living the high life. This “high life” that he lived turned out to be a disaster for him. The far country turned out a place of slavery and poverty, while he came to know the hard way that living as his father’s son was so much better that living the high life in the far country. The entire parable is below:
And [Jesus] said, A certain man had two sons: And 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. And 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. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. And 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! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And 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. And 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. But 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: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill [it]; and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. And 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: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. It 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. [Luk 15:11-32]
As we look at just the beginning of this parable, we see the younger son taking that which was his and wasting it. The place that Israel had in God’s dealings cannot be ignored here. They were said to be a peculiar treasure above all people (Ex 19:5). They were richly blessed, but squandered the inheritance. They wasted it all until they were sent off into captivity and the nation stayed in poverty until even this time when the Lord was speaking. The Old Testament history books are full of this witness. To show Israel as the younger son, see this verse from the prophet Hosea:
When Israel [was] a child, then I loved him, and called my son out of Egypt. [Hos 11:1]
And from Romans:
Who are Israelites; to whom [pertaineth] the adoption (sonship)…[Rom 9:4]
While by way of application we can see ourselves as wayward sinners whom the Father is waiting for to come home, the Lord was speaking directly about the “lost sheep of the house of Israel” to whom He was sent. (Mt 15:24) Let us remember our place as strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. (Eph 2:12) If we think this takes away from the depth of the illustration, think of what it adds to it. The father in this story ran out to meet his “prodigal son” and fell on his neck and kissed him welcoming him home. Now think of the kindness of the Father who runs out to meet a stranger and welcomes him into his family and gives him the position of a son, giving him all spiritual blessing in heavenly places in Christ.
Blessed [be] the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly [places] in Christ: According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love: Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will… [Eph 1:3-5]
Welcoming the wayward son home is great love. What greater love in welcoming the stranger, even the enemy!
Now the father receiving his wayward son was not an odd illustration. What father would not welcome his wayward son back and celebrate his homecoming? Someone may have a story or experience that is different from this, but this is the normal way as would be expected. That is why the Lord gave this illustration. Israel was yet being invited to return to God in repentance, and the Lord Jesus received the sinners that came to Him. Israel will yet be received:
And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplications: and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him, as one mourneth for [his] only [son], and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for [his] firstborn. [Zec 12:10]
For if the casting away of them [be] the reconciling of the world, what [shall] the receiving [of them be], but life from the dead? … And so all Israel shall be saved: as it is written, There shall come out of Sion the Deliverer, and shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob: For this is My covenant unto them, when I shall take away their sins. [Rom 11:15, 26-27]
And not as Moses, [which] put a vail over his face, that the children of Israel could not stedfastly look to the end of that which is abolished: But their minds were blinded: for until this day remaineth the same vail untaken away in the reading of the old testament; which [vail] is done away in Christ. But even unto this day, when Moses is read, the vail is upon their heart. Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. [2Co 3:13-16]
Israel will yet be received, when the nation comes to the Lord in repentance, just as this “prodigal son” came to his father.
This brings us to the elder brother. It is often proposed that the elder brother is representative of the Pharisees, and that because he was angry and would not go in to rejoice in his brother’s homecoming. I have found this to be a difficulty because of some phrases used by our Lord in the story:
- Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment. (vs. 29)
- Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. (vs. 31)
- And in the parable of the 100 sheep: I 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. [vs 7]
I can see how the ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance could be thought of to represent the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, but the scripture says of Zacharias and Elizabeth in the first chapter of Luke:
And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. [Luk 1:6]
From this description of just Israelites during the period of our Lord’s ministry, it seems that the ninety-nine just persons that need no repentance cannot describe the Pharisees.
But when [John the Baptist] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance: [Mat 3:7-8]
I also cannot see it said that the elder brother represented the Pharisees when he said Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment. (vs. 29) While it has been said that he should have been taking his place as a son and not a servant, and that was his problem, or that this was another show of self-righteousness, the father does not tell him his faults or tell him that he is wrong in his assertion. What he does say is Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. (vs. 31) This could hardly be said of a “generation of vipers”!
So then, who is the angry elder son? Let us go back to the beginning of chapter 15 to see what the Lord was addressing in the first place with these parables:
And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. [Luk 15:2]
Note what the Lord says of Himself to His disciples:
All things that the Father hath are Mine: therefore said I, that He shall take of Mine, and shall shew [it] unto you. [Jhn 16:15]
Now you will ask yourself, “Is this writer saying that the angry older brother represents the Lord?”
Hardly! He represents the contrast of the Lord. He represents what the Lord was not. The scribes and Pharisees were murmuring against Him about receiving sinners, so he painted them a picture of what they wanted. The Lord Jesus received with joy sinners who came to Him in repentance, just as the father in the story told his son that he should. He received sinners in the way that the older brother should have received his repentant brother. The scribes and Pharisees were murmuring against Him for doing this very thing. But He answered with the father’s words:
It 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.
That the Son has the same attitude toward His sheep, for He said:
I and [My] Father are one. [Jhn 10:30]
Now by way of application to Christians today, the repentant believer who was living in the slavery and poverty of sin in the “far country” is always welcomed back to the Father’s house, for he never stopped being His son. And if we are in the company of those who are living for the Lord, we should, as He does, rejoice over the one coming home. I had a hard time writing that line because it is hard to say of myself or anyone that we need not consistently return after straying. But that is not the issue. It is welcoming the wayward brother home. Now the unsaved person has a different problem. He needs life, for he is dead in trespasses and sins. He needs to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and in His death and resurrection life and be saved. (Acts 16:31, 1Cor 15:3-4) If YOU are not saved, that is a call to you. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the Savior and in His death for You! Believe that He lives because He finished the work of your redemption and salvation. Do not wait!
Now [is] the accepted time; behold, now [is] the day of salvation. [2Cor 6:2]
If YOU are a Christian living in the “far country”, look to the Savior. As He came to seek and to save the lost sheep of the house of Israel, so now He delights in your return. Not to be given eternal life again, but to sit in the place at His table that is yours by grace, and is still waiting for you to occupy.
For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost. [Luk 19:10]