Jesus teaches forgiveness, particularly when sins are inevitable. The disciples ask to have their faith increased. Jesus urges his disciples not to expect a loud thank you and thunderous applause for doing minimal work. He heals ten lepers. Jesus teaches on the Second Coming.
As I write in every chapter:
This commentary and entire website is for everyone, but it is mainly for those in oppressed or developing countries, where Christians cannot afford or have access to wonderful Study Bibles or commentaries. I hope it helps them.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section of Scripture, for discipleship.
The translation is mine. It is not better than the published ones. I offer it only to learn what the Greek really says. It tends to be literal, but pure literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. And I keep things nontechnical.
Links are provided for further study.
Stumbling, Guarding, Sinning, Forgiving (Luke 17:1-4)
1 He said to his disciples, “It is impossible that stumbling stones not come, but woe to anyone through him they come! 2 It would be better for him if a millstone were tied around his neck and thrown into the sea than he would cause one of these little ones to stumble! 3 Guard yourselves!
If your brother sins, rebuke him. And if he repents, forgive him. 4 Even if he sins against you seven times in a day and returns to you seven times and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
The little ones are not children here. The context says they are “easily offended” brothers and sisters—weak ones. If you want a pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section of Scripture telling of Jesus welcoming children, please see 18:15-17.
“disciples”: the noun is mathētēs (singular and pronounced mah-they-tayss), and it is used 261 times in the NT, though many of them are duplicates in the three synoptic Gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it says of the noun that it means (1) “one who engages in learning through instruction from another, pupil, apprentice”; (2) “one who is rather constantly associated with someone who has a pedagogical reputation or a particular set of views, disciple, adherent.”
Jesus turns towards his kingdom community. In Luke 16, he had been speaking to the crowds with an eye on the money-loving Pharisees, so he discussed money. Now he addresses the disciples. And he gets down to the nitty-gritty. He tersely issues clear warnings. He is firm about them. He gets relational, but he exposes the negatives that happen in relationships. More specifically, some children must have been playing nearby, and he took the opportunity to point them out. Matt. 18:6 and Mark 9:42 say that the little ones believed in Jesus. Interpreters say the “little ones” are weak disciples. They are disciples like Lazarus (16:20-22), the prodigal son (15:11-32), tax collectors and sinners (15:1), the poor, crippled, lame and blind (14:13, 21), the man with dropsy (14:1-6) and the woman bent double (13:11-16). The phrase connotes immature pupil or young, immature scholar in rabbinic Judaism, on the scale of worldly of values. Jesus will soon discuss children, but not here (18:15-17). Perhaps the “little ones” are also like certain Roman Christians, as in Rom. 14. Their conscience is so weak that they cannot eat various foods, or they have to keep some days as holy (vv. 5-7). Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind (v. 5). Everyone with their different practices and convictions about food “should make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification” (v. 19).
Then what does causing them to stumble mean?
“stumbling stones”: The Greek noun for the stumbling block or stone is skandalon (pronounced scan-dah-lon), and it is clear we get our word scandal from it, but the meaning back then is not quite the same. The noun means, depending on the context: (1) “trap (symbolically)”; (2) “temptation to sin, enticement”; (3) “that which gives offense or causes revulsion, that which causes opposition, an object of anger or disapproval.”
We are supposed to get angry at and feel revulsion for a skandalon.
“stumble”: some translations say, “causes to sin.” The Greek language adds the suffix –izō to a noun and changes it into a verb. We do that too: modern – modernize. So the noun becomes skandalizō (pronounced scan-dah-lee-zoh). And it means, depending on the context, (1) “cause to be caught … to fall, i.e. cause to sin” a. … Passive: “be led into sin … fall away”; b. “be led into sin or repelled by someone, take offense at someone”; (2) give offense to, anger, shock.”
Jesus does not specify what a skandalon or skandalizō are in this context, but it must be turning children away from believing in him. What would do that? Hypocrisy (talking one way but living another)? Dysfunction and fighting in the household? Meanness?
In extreme cases those two words can mean “cause them to sin.”
“guard”: the verb is in the command form, and it is prosechō (pronounced pros-eh-khoh). It can mean, depending on the context: (1) active: “turn one’s mind to”; a. “pay attention to, give heed to, follow”; b. “be concerned about, care for, pay attention to”; c. “occupy oneself with, devote or apply oneself to … be addicted” [in the sense of complete devotion]; (2) middle: “cling to.” Here it can also be translated: “pay attention to yourselves”; “watch yourselves.” Guarding and paying attention to your mind—the thoughts that cross it—is imperative. Slowing the mind down through meditation on positive and edifying things is beneficial. Scriptural advice: “Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Phil. 4:8, ESV). Thinking on these things steers the mind away from sinning and putting stumbling blocks before little ones and yourselves.
“your brother”: the term is generic in this context. It could be translated as “brother or sister.” I kept it as brother because it is a bother to write: “forgive him or her” and so on. I think the meaning of “brother” can apply to a family, but includes the larger Christian community, as well.
“sins”: it is the verb hamartanō (pronounced hah-mahr-tah-noh), and BDAG, considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the NT, says it means, depending on the context: “to commit a wrong (in the sense ‘transgress’ against divinity, custom, or law”). Then it is used in a variety of contexts: “with a fuller indication of that in which the mistake or moral failure consists” … (so the details of the sin are clarified); “with indication of the manner of sinning” (e.g. lawbreaking); “with indication of the one against whom the sin is committed” (against God or in front of the youth’s father in Luke 15:18).
Let’s look at the related noun hamartia (pronounced hah-mahr-tee-ah). A deep study reveals that it means a “departure from either human or divine standards of uprightness” (BDAG, p. 50). It can also mean a “destructive evil power” (ibid., p. 51). In other words, sin has a life of its own. Be careful! In the older Greek of the classical world, it originally meant to “miss the mark” or target. Sin destroys, and that’s why God hates it, and so should we.
“rebuke”: it is the verb epitimaō (pronounced eh-pea-tee-mah-oh), and it means “rebuke, censure, warn.” I like rebuke or warn here. In other words, there is nothing wrong with approaching your sibling or Christian brother and cautioning him. But the hypersensitive should not be so easily offended. That’s too self-focused.
“repents”: it is the verb metanoeō (pronounced meh-tah-noh-eh-oh), and “to repent” literally means “changed mind.” And it goes deeper than mental assent or agreement. Another word for repent is the Greek stem streph– (including the prefixes ana-, epi-, and hupo-), which means physically “to turn” (see Luke 2:20, 43, 45). That reality-concept is all about new life. One turns around 180 degrees, going from the direction of death to the new direction of life.
“forgive”: it comes from the verb aphiēmi (pronounced ah-fee-ay-mee), and BDAG defines it with the basic meaning of letting go: (1) “dismiss or release someone or something from a place or one’s presence, let go, send away”; (2) “to release from legal or moral obligations or consequence, cancel, remit, pardon”; (3) “to move away with implication of causing a separation, leave, depart”; (4) “to leave something continue or remain in its place … let someone have something” (Matt. 4:20; 5:24; 22:22; Mark 1:18; Luke 10:30; John 14:18); (5) “leave it to someone to do something, let, let go, allow, tolerate.” The Shorter Lexicon adds “forgive.” In sum, God lets go, dismisses, releases, sends away, cancels, pardons, and forgives our sins. Likewise, we should forgive those who sin against us because God forgives us every day.
Please read these verses carefully and devotionally:
10 He does not deal with us according to our sins,
nor repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Ps. 103:10-12, ESV)
18 Who is a God like you, pardoning iniquity
and passing over transgression
for the remnant of his inheritance?
He does not retain his anger forever,
because he delights in steadfast love.
19 He will again have compassion on us;
he will tread our iniquities underfoot.
You will cast all our sins
into the depths of the sea. (Mic. 7:18-19, ESV)
In this verse 3, however, Jesus is talking about one person forgiving another. Yet the principle of letting the offense go still applies here, whether from person to person or God down to the repentant human.
And then Jesus uses the number of completeness: seven. We should not take the number so literally that we will not forgive our brother on the eighth sin in the one day. No, we should be completely willing to forgive him, however many times he sins against us, every day. Does this mean be a doormat? No, because forgiveness is not the only response. Remember, Jesus said to rebuke and warn him, too. “Yes, I forgive you because God has forgiven me, but I must caution you about your behavior. Don’t do it again.” Only a forgiven heart can fully forgive the seemingly unforgiveable.
“returns”: it comes from the verb epistrephō (eh-pea-streh-foh), and it means, depending on the context: “turn” literally and figuratively; “turn around … turn back, return … be converted.” It can be a synonym for “repent.” I like the idea of your sibling or brother in Christ realizing his mistake after he walked away and coming back and repenting. May we have more of it!
“repent”: see v. 3b for more comments.
“forgive”: see v. 3b for more comments.
In summary, this pericope or passage is about being offensive and being easily offended. Which one are you? Be careful when you get involved in a Christian fellowship. Don’t offend people. On the other side of the coin, don’t be easily offended to touchy. People will say things that offend you (but not someone else). You must get over yourself. Learn to forgive. Say, “This is simply what people do. They say stupid things. I forgive and more on.”
GrowApp for Luke 17:1-4
A.. What is the best way to help little ones maintain their relationship with God?
B.. Study Gal. 6:1-2. What does it mean to warn your brother or sister about sinning against you? How is this done?
C.. Study Eph. 4:32. Why should you be willing to forgive completely (the number seven denotes completeness) every time someone sins against you each day?
Increase Our Faith (Luke 17:5-6)
5 And the apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith.” 6 And the Lord said, “If you have faith as a mustard seed, say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea, and it would obey you.’”
There is a great parallel in Mark 11:12-14 and 20-24. I think they are different pericopes which Jesus taught at different times, but their meaning overlaps.
The apostles may have requested a teaching on increasing their faith because Jesus’ demand for forgiveness was so firm and absolute. Only a person of deep faith in him can walk in this level of forgiveness.
Here Luke uses the deeper word for disciple. It means the twelve (Luke 6:13). It refers to the twelve, so they must have been listening and standing near him, while the seventy-two and the women (Luke 8:1-3) may have been in the background. Alternatively, it cannot be ruled out that the seventy-two and the women were considered apostles, if the term is defined as “the sent ones.” That’s the basic meaning of “apostle” in the first place.
Now let’s look at the noun faith. It is pistis (pronounced peace-teace ir piss-tiss), and it is used 243 times. Its basic meaning is the “belief, trust, confidence,” and it can also mean “faithfulness” and “trustworthy” (Mounce p. 232). It is directional, and the best direction is faith in God (Mark 11:22; 1 Thess. 1:8; 1 Pet. 1:21; Heb. 6:1) and faith in Jesus (Acts 3:16; 20:21; 24:24; Gal. 3:26; Eph. 1:15; Col. 1:4; 1 Tim. 3:13). Believing (verb) and faith (noun) is very important to God. It is the language of heaven. We live on earth and by faith see the invisible world where God is. We must believe he exists; then we must exercise our faith to believe he loves us and intends to save us. We must have saving faith by trusting in Jesus and his finished work on the cross.
Forsaking All, I Trust Him
In v. 5, it means total trust and belief and confidence that God is good; he has the best plan for your life; and he will guide you to minister to needy people.
Let’s discuss the verb believe and the noun faith more deeply. It is the language of the kingdom of God. It is how God expects us to relate to him. It is the opposite of doubt, which is manifested in whining and complaining and fear. Instead, faith is, first, a gift that God has distributed to everyone (Rom. 12:3). Second, it is directional (Rom. 10:9-11; Acts 20:21). We cannot rightly have faith in faith. It must be faith in God through Christ. Third, faith in Christ is different from faith in one’s ability to follow God on one’s own. It is different from keeping hundreds of religious laws and rules. This is one of Luke’s main themes in Acts, culminating in the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15) and Paul’s ministry for the rest of Acts. Faith in Jesus over faith in law keeping. Fourth, there is faith as a set of beliefs and doctrines, which are built on Scripture (Acts 6:7). Fifth, there is also a surge of faith that is poured out and transmitted through the Spirit when people need it most (1 Cor. 12:9). It is one of the nine charismata or manifestations of grace (1 Cor 12:7-11). Sixth, one can build faith and starve doubt by feasting on Scripture and the words about Christ (Rom. 10:17).
So how does Jesus answer their request and instruct them to build their faith? In effect he tells them they don’t need to increase their faith by working it up and following a formula. All they need is a very small degree of faith, and then miracles will happen. This answer implies that the apostles and the seventy-two and the women (and us, by extension) sometimes had faith because they saw healings and demon expulsion (Luke 9:1; 10:17). So just have even a little bit of faith. Don’t worry about putting it on steroids. God and the Word and constant prayer will cause it to grow.
Next, Jesus says to speak out the order or command. Here the verb “speak” is the standard one.
The verbs “be uprooted and “be thrown” are in the passive commands. Often verbs in the passive in contexts like this one are called the “divine passive.” That is, God is the one who acts behind the scenes. Just because God is not mentioned does not mean he is not behind those two verbs. We pray and God works it out and “removes” the tree.
Commanding the mulberry tree is a visual image of a spiritual truth—it’s a metaphor. Any deeply and stubbornly rooted thing in your life that is an obstacle to your growth and God accomplishing his promise in your life can be removed with prayer. Speak to it to be uprooted and planted in the sea. Note that it had been rooted and planted in your life, and now you can command to be planted in the sea, far away from you. Of course the image of the tree being “planted” in the sea is designed to appear impossible and laughable. It doesn’t belong there any more than it belongs in your life. It’s as if Jesus instructed us to tell the tree, “Hey, tree! You got rooted and planted in my life, and you don’t belong there. I tell you what! Jump off a cliff and plant yourself in the ocean! Do it, now! And I’ll laugh at you trying to plant yourself in deep salt water like that!”
In the clause about the tree, Jesus is speaking metaphorically and hyperbolically. Hyperbole (pronounced hy-PER-boh-lee) means a deliberate and “extravagant exaggeration” (Webster’s Dictionary) to make a strong point and startle the listener. Modern example: “The ice cream seller is really generous! He piled the ice cream on my cone a mile-high!” No, a “mile high” (1.6 km) is not to be taken literally.
Followers of Jesus must learn to read the Bible on its own terms, without their wearing monochrome glasses, in which every word appears the same literal color in different contexts. Yes, most of it can be taken literally, like the histories or the commands of the Torah and Epistles. But in significant sections of Scripture, the Bible is not a “flat,” one-dimensional book, on one simplistic level. It is multi-layered. And this verse about the tree is a case in point. It is not to be interpreted literally and simplistically.
Objection: you’re saying the mulberry tree would not be uprooted and thrown into the sea, like the fig tree actually withered in Mark 11:20-21. No, I’m not. It did wither, but it was an action parable. Jesus had a higher purpose than seeing a tree dry up from the roots, just for fun. What I do mean, however, is this. Don’t stand in front of a mulberry tree and command it to “be uprooted” and “be thrown” into the sea. You can surely, however, command an obstacle in your personal walk with God—like a disease—to be uprooted and thrown into the sea (so to speak). Remember that those verbs are the divine passive. God is their subject. God causes the tree to “be uprooted” and “be thrown.”
Renewalists love verses like vv. 5-6 because they love to confess out loud and speak out and pray out loud. This is solid teaching. Personally, my prayer life is done with an open voice, when I take my prayer walks. But as noted, I remember that those verbs are the divine passive. God is their subject. God uproots and throws the tree into the sea, so to speak.
As I have written in other similar verses in this commentary, let’s never forget that faith rests on the will of God. Certain extra-super-confident and human-centered Renewalists must be very careful about commanding God or things in nature to happen because we want them to. They have flipped the script one hundred and eighty degrees. Events depend on their words, their confession, their faith, their psychological certainty. However, even Jesus said he does what he sees the Father doing: Jesus “can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son does also” (John 5:19). Word-of-Faith teachers say they read the Word and understand what the will of God is, so they can command things. Part of that is true because of what Jesus just said in 17:6, but also certain excessive Word-of-Faith teachers often misinterpret Scriptures which seem to indicate they can boss God around, like humans calling things into existence. (They base this on Rom. 4:17, but the verse clearly says God is the one who calls things into existence.) Or they believe that they can “legislate” reality because they are the ekklēsia or “assembly.” However, super-extra-confident faith-filled and Spirit-filled Christians must get a personal word from God. They must abide in Christ and his words abide in him so that they can hear from God about each individual and unique case. “If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you (John 15:7). They must ask according to God’s will (1 John 5:14). They must not launch out on their own and believe that God shall and must heal everyone, and if he didn’t, then they must not have had enough faith or spoken the right confession out loud. Somehow it’s their fault. No.
In my own life, I have heard from God that a sickness in a relative was “not a sickness unto death.” She has been cancer free for a long time (over a decade and a half if I recall). I also received a personal word that another relative was going to be taken home, so I should not pray for his healing (he died a few days later). No amount of commanding and pleading and rebuking and legislating would have altered the outcome. And to be honest, I have seemingly heard from God about yet a third relative and believed God would heal him, but he died. I was going through a time of personal deception in my life, but even in this case I relented and realized in his last hours that he would not be healed. I had been deceived, but I have not given up on healing because of this disappointment (even after another relative lectured me about how wrong I was). It’s in the Word. I never give up on the clear teaching of Scripture. People need to follow what Jesus said in this passage and actively do faith, not pull back or go inside their shells like a turtle and give up. Disappointments happen down here on earth. It’s the human condition.
Yes, healing is in the atonement, but not everyone will be healed in their current bodies when God says that the ultimate healing is for them to be taken from the broken-down earth-suits and brought into his presence, where there is no more disease or brokenness—the ultimate healing, also won for us in the atonement.
Pray for healing fearlessly and with active faith!
More directly relevant to these verses is this post about decreeing:
We have to be careful about believing that our words create or cause things to come into existence. Yes, speak to already-existing obstacles, and then God may answer your words, if it is his will, but to create something out of nothing is God’s jurisdiction, not yours.
GrowApp for Luke 17:5-6
A.. What is the best way to build your faith?
B.. What is your personal “tree” that has taken root in your life and doesn’t belong there? How do you command it to be “planted” in the ocean—a deliberately absurd image to show how much power you have over it.
Don’t Serve Minimally and Demand Applause (Luke 17:7-10)
7 “Who of you having a servant plowing the ground or tending sheep who comes in from the field will say to him, ‘Get in here quickly and recline at table!’? 8 On the contrary, will you not say to him, ‘Prepare something for me to eat and put on an apron to serve me until I eat and drink, and afterwards you can eat and drink!’? 9 You won’t thank the servant because he did what he was ordered to do, will you? 10 In the same way, you also, when you have done everything commanded of you, should say, ‘We are useless servants, because we have done only what we were required to do.’”
Two comments before we go verse by verse: This is about being useful in the kingdom. When we are, God will judge us favorably. When we are not, he will judge us unfavorably. Yes, God really will judge our works for him. This does not determine our salvations, but our rewards or absence of them.
Second, this is another short parable. Literally, the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable.
“servant”: in this passage, the noun for “servant” is doulos (pronounced doo-loss), and it can definitely be translated as slave, and maybe that is the better rendering. But I chose servant because in Jewish culture a Hebrew man who sold himself into servitude to his fellow Jew was like an indentured servant whose term of service had a limit; he was freed in the seventh year. But then the indentured servant could stay with his family, if he liked his owner (Exod. 21:2-6; Lev. 25:38-46; Deut. 15:12-18). So there was a lot of liberty even in servitude, in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).
It is a sure thing, however, that Luke’s Greek audience would hear “slave” in the word doulos. But culturally at that time slavery had nothing to do with colonial or modern slavery.
“the ground”: it was supplied from the context. Plowmen plow the ground.
“sheep”: it was inserted from the context. Shepherds shepherd sheep.
“recline”: in those days, people lay down to eat, with their feet sticking out away from the low table. The translation could be modernized to “sit down at the table.”
Jesus sets up a deliberately odd scene. The servants come in from the field, and you (the head of household) say, “Come into my house and sit down at the table! Let me wait on you hand and foot!” In other contexts, there is nothing wrong with the master serving the disciples. Jesus washed their feet (John 13:1-20), to set an example of how they must serve each other. However, here in this quick parable he is setting up another scene. Don’t expect God to serve you and allow you to dictate where and how you serve. Let him lead. You follow.
A strong word of contrast begins this verse, at the very beginning, which emphasizes the word, so I rendered it as “on the contrary.”
So Jesus says that no, God won’t serve the servant, but the servant will serve him. Are you willing to serve and obey him? Are you willing to submit and surrender to him, or are you a haughty know-it-all? You may know more than the next guy in certain subjects, but you will never know more than God.
“apron”: the term was supplied because of the context: literally “dressing for serving” (a meal) can include an apron. The translation could be modernized to “put on your liveries” or “put on your waiter’s outfit.” The master eats and drinks first; then the servant eats and drinks afterwards. Get your priorities straightened out.
The servant simply did what was ordered of him. He did not go the extra-mile. The lesson we are supposed to draw from these two verses is that when we serve out of duty and obligation and only the minimum work required, then we should not expect thunderous applause.
Paul the apostle: “Slaves, obey your earthly masters with respect and fear and with sincerity of heart, just as you would obey Christ. Obey them not only to win their favor when their eye is on you, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from your heart. Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Eph. 6:5-7, NIV).
The point of the verses from Ephesians is that we are to serve the Lord as slaves from the heart and wholeheartedly.
“useless”: this may stun modern readers, particularly Americans, who have been taught to believe that they are awesome. But taking an inventory of where you are may require you to say some words about yourself that are accurate, at long last! So it works out like this:
“You know, Lord, I have not been living for you at my best. I have not been pursuing excellence.” (Excellence ≠ perfection.) “I have been pursuing my own goals and interests, and I have not put you first. Therefore, I am useless in your kingdom. Lord, I want to turn around and repent. Change me. Make me useful for you and your mission. Give me grace to submit to you. Give me grace to become your servant from my whole heart, not out of duty or requirements. You take the lead, Lord.”
Some have wondered whether this parable endorses rude behavior because the master did not thank the servant, while we do this all the time, nowadays, to servers in restaurants. Yes, it’s polite to thank them, but the context here is different. We don’t have servant-slaves, so we can’t relate. The point here is that God is in charge, and we should do what he calls us to do. We shouldn’t expect him to gush over us when we do the minimum. The point is to do what’s expected without a lot of exaggerated gushing from God.
“Jesus argues that fulfilling one’s duties to God ‘elicits not reciprocal obligation on the part of the master / God.’ … ‘Obedience is based on divine initiative and human obligation, rather than on human initiative and divine obligation’” (Garland, comment on 17:9, citing two other scholars).
I like this promise in Heb. 6:10 (one of my life verses):
God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. (Heb. 6:10, NIV)
God remembers your anonymous hard work for him and his people. He will reward you.
GrowApp for Luke 17:7-10
A.. Do you serve God from duty or your whole heart? Have you been pursuing your own selfish, low-grade goals or his excellent ones (excellence is not the same as perfection)?
B.. How can you change from useless to useful for God and in his kingdom?
Cleansing Ten Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)
11 And so it happened that as he was going to Jerusalem, he passed through the middle of Samaria and Galilee. 12 He entered a certain village, and ten men with skin disease met him at a distance. 13 They raised their voice and said, “Master, pity us!” 14 He looked and said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests!” And it happened that as they were going away, they were cleansed. 15 One of them, seeing that he was healed, turned around, and with a loud voice glorified God. 16 He fell right in front of his feet, thanking him. And he was a Samaritan. 17 Jesus responded and said, “Weren’t ten cleansed? But where are the nine? 18 Were none of them found returning to give glory to God except this foreigner?” 19 And he said to him, “Stand up and go. Your faith has healed you.”
Luke reminds us that Jesus had firmly resolved to go to Jerusalem (see Luke 9:51). Samaria is between Judea, Jerusalem, and Galilee. So apparently he was crisscrossing the land both east and west and north and south. I trust that he was being led by the Spirit, just based on the entire Gospel of Luke and the Book of Acts, abbreviated Luke-Acts. The double-book is very charismatic, and Jesus was filled with the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22; 4:18). Here he needs to meet the ten lepers.
“skin disease”: The standard translation is leprosy. Nowadays scholars say the word was generic for skin diseases. Let’s call the ten men “lepers” for convenience.
A leper was required by law to wear torn clothes, let his hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of his face, and cry out “Unclean! Unclean!” in order not to contaminate someone else (Lev. 13:45-46).
45 “Anyone with such a defiling disease must wear torn clothes, let their hair be unkempt, cover the lower part of their face and cry out, ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ 46 As long as they have the disease they remain unclean. They must live alone; they must live outside the camp. (Lev. 13:45-46, NIV)
It is moving how Luke writes that the ten lepers met him—from a distance. Usually meeting people happens up close and personal. They were following the law.
“They raised voice”: that is a literal translation. It means they shouted at him because they were standing at a distance. The noun voice is in the singular, as if they were united and called for the same blessing. No, they did not say “pity us” in unison, but at different times. One: “Pity us!” A second one: “Pity us!” A third one: “Have mercy on us!” And so on. They all wanted to be healed. They were not like all the disabled and sick sitting at the pool of Bethesda, all of whom wanted healing, but they also seemed to be in competition with each other (John 5:2-17). Unity is better than discord.
“Master”: it is the noun epistatēs (pronounced eh-pea-stah-tayss), and it literally means “over-stander” or “he who stands over” (think of our “overseer” or “he who watches over”). Luke alone uses this word: 5:5, 8:24 (twice), 8:45, 9:33, 9:49, 17:13. The NIV always translates it as “master.” It denotes a person of high status and leadership.
They had heard that he had a healing ministry, and as the master he could heal them.
Jesus looked at them, as they stood off at a distance. He didn’t wave them off. They could see that they had faith to be healed. He said to them that they should go and show themselves to the priests. This was required by law (Lev. 13:17 etc.). Then as they went their way, they were cleaned. Amazing. Somehow his vocal pronouncement—out loud—communicated healing to them. Yet, he did not say they were healed but that they were to show themselves to the priests. And the priests might say the lepers were unclean. But in the lepers’ case, the priests would pronounce them clean. Somehow the lepers’ faith was in the mix, as seen in their unified cry for Jesus to show mercy on them.
The Samaritan saw that he was healed. He actually saw his sin was cleared up. He must have held out his hands and arms in front of him, rubbed his face. He may have asked a passerby, “Look at my face! Is the disease still there? No? I’m healed! I’m healed!”
“healed”: this verb is iaomai (pronounced ee-ah-oh-my), and it means, unsurprisingly, “healed, cure, restore.” The noun, incidentally, is iasis (pronounced ee-ah-seess), and it means “healing, cure.” Here it is the passive form of the verb, so we are talking about the divine passive, which is an understated way of saying that God was working through his Son to heal the lepers.
Incidentally, the noun is used three times: Luke 13:22; Acts 4:22, 30. In other words, only Luke uses the noun.
Then the one leper turned back and with a loud voice glorified God. “I praise you, God!!! Thank you, God!!! I glorify you, God!!!” It must have been an exciting and moving scene. (And now you know why Pentecostals do what they do!)
His next response is also very moving to outsiders like me. He actually fell at Jesus’s feet. He no longer had to cry out, “Unclean! Unclean!” Then Luke writes that the ex-leper actually thanked Jesus. “Thank you, thank you! Thank you, Jesus.”
He was a Samaritan. Why did Luke write this tidbit?
See this link for more about Samaritans:
It is known from other passages that Jews and Samaritans did not like each other (John 4:9). In fact, some extra-devout Jews walked around the entire region instead of passing through it.
Now the focus goes back to Jesus, who responds to the touching scene. He was surprised. He is about to point out another Reversal. Recall that in Luke 1:51-53, Mary said that Jesus and his kingdom would bring low the powerful and people of high status, while the humble and those of low status would be raised up. It also fulfills the reversal in 2:34, where Simeon prophesied that Jesus was appointed for the rising and falling of many. It is the right-side-up kingdom, but upside-down from a worldly perspective.
The Samaritan was despised, but he showed the most gratitude. Jesus said in Luke 7:47 that if someone has been forgiven much, he will love much. As the despised Samaritan, he must have felt like the extra-outcast. So he felt his healing more deeply. God himself did not reject the Samaritans, by virtue of their being Samaritans. God loved them as much as he did the extra-pure Jews or anyone else.
Jesus would cause the fall of the mighty and the rise of the needy, and the rich would be lowered, and the poor raised up. It is the down elevator and up elevator. Those at the top will take the down elevator, and those at the bottom will take the up elevator. The Samaritan and the other lepers took the up elevator, but the Samaritan rode the luxury one, due to his demonstrative gratitude.
There were ten who were cleansed. Where were the nine? It is implied that they were the “pure” Chosen People. They are the ones who walked away, grateful, no doubt, but not grateful enough to turn around and thank the Healer, who was overturning cherished traditions.
Then Jesus tells the grateful Samaritan to stand up and go. His faith has healed him.
“faith”: here the Samaritan’s faith was directed at Jesus and his need. He didn’t get distracted with complex issues. It means he had confidence and trust that Jesus could heal. See v. 5 for more comments.
“healed”: In this case, the verb is sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times in the NT), and is passive (“be saved”). Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
Here it means “healed” or “cured.”
As noted throughout this commentary on Luke-Acts, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
GrowApp for Luke 17:11-19
A.. Have you ever felt like an outcast? How would you respond if you understood in your heart how much God really accepted you?
B.. When was the last time you were deeply, even noisily grateful for something God did for you? What did he do?
The Coming Kingdom (Luke 17:20-37)
20 When he was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he replied to them, saying, “The kingdom of God does not come with observable signs, 21 nor will they say, ‘Look, here!’ or there!’ For look, the kingdom of God is among you.”
22 He said to the disciples, “The days will come when you will yearn to see one of the days of the Son of Man, but you will not see it. 23 And they will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or “Look here!’ But don’t leave, nor pursue it. 24 For just as flashing lightning shines from one end of the sky to the other end of the sky, so will be the Son of Man in his day. 25 But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation.
26 And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so also will it be in the days of the Son of Man: 27 They were eating, drinking, marrying, and married off, until the day Noah went into the ark and the flood came and destroyed everyone. 28 Likewise, just as it happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, drinking, buying, selling, planting, and building. 29 And one day Lot left Sodom, and fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed everyone. 30 And in accordance with those things it will be on the day when the Son of Man will be revealed.
31 In that day, whoever will be on the roof and his equipment is in the house, let him not come down to get them; and the one who is in the field let him likewise not turn back to the things behind him. 32 Remember Lot’s wife! 33 Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it; whoever would lose his life shall preserve it. 34 I say to you: On that night two will be in one bed, and the one will be taken, and the other will be left behind. 35 Two women will be grinding at the same place, and one will be taken, and the other will be left.” 37 And in reply, they said to him, “Where, Lord?” And he said to them, “Where the body will be, there the vultures will also gather.
See my post:
Actually, start here:
“Pharisees”: You can learn more about them at this link:
They were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (cf. Garland, p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “Go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7, ESV). Overdoing righteousness damages one’s relationship with God and others.
“kingdom of God”: What is it? As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5).
It also includes the Great Reversal in Luke 1:51-53, where Mary said that Jesus and his kingdom were bringing to the world. The powerful and people of high status are brought low, while the humble and those of low status are raised up. It also fulfills the reversal in 2:34, where Simeon prophesied that Jesus was appointed for the rising and falling of many. It is the right-side-up kingdom, but upside-down from a worldly perspective.
Here it is the already and not-yet. The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
“was coming”: the Greek is in the present tense: when the kingdom of God is coming. This tense reflects the Pharisees’ belief and wish (perhaps) that Jesus would finally manifest himself in full military might to overthrow the Romans and all Israel’s enemies. However, he is about to reveal to them that the kingdom is among or within them: in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Then this will launch a description of what the coming of the Son of Man will really be like. But since we are in a narrative, “was coming” is better.
“observable signs”: it is the noun paratērēsis (pronounced pah-rah-tay-ray-seess), and it appears only here in the whole NT. And it means simply: observation. I add “signs” because in Luke 11:29-32 the people were asking for a sign, probably like the ones Moses performed in Exodus. Or maybe they wanted bread from heaven. Whatever the case, it had to be observable. So if you want to translate the noun simply as “by observation,” then that is okay too.
“nor will they say”: They will say it, but it won’t be right. So you could translate it thus: “nor will they (correctly) say.” That’s the implication.
“kingdom of God”: see v. 20 for more comments.
“among”: the Greek preposition is entos, and the Shorter Lexicon says that in Luke 17:21 (here) it may be “within you, in your hearts, or among you, in your midst.” The editors of the lexicon also say that it is an “improper preposition with the genitive,” which probably means it should be used with the dative. But here in this verse it is the genitive. So the editors seem baffled.
In any case, how should it be translated here? The kingdom is within you or among you? The translation “within you” is a problem because Jesus is addressing the Pharisees, and they are not said to have the kingdom within them. Just the opposite. In many verses he said they were not entering the kingdom and were even denounced (see, for example, Luke 11:37-54; 18:9-14). The kingdom cannot be within them. The better translation is “among you” or “in your midst.” The kingdom is standing in front of them, through the person and teaching and works of Jesus. To see the kingdom coming, look to him.
But make no mistake: today, the kingdom being among and within speaks of relationship. Are you willing to receive it? If so, then you have to receive Jesus. For now, however, his kingdom is the secret kingdom, which, as noted, is not here in full manifestation, glory and power. It is easy to miss it and him, as he truly is.
I have a commentary on these verses, here:
For here and now, let me say that this entire pericope or section or unit is not about a separate, pretribulation rapture, because the ones taken will be destroyed because the vultures will be gathered around them, the corpse. Jesus will be revealed (v. 30) at the powerful and glorious and visible Second Coming (v. 24), at the exact moment when oblivious people lived like they did in the days of Noah and Lot (vv. 26-30). At the glorious and earth-shattering (so to speak) Second Coming, people will be taken off to judgment like the oblivious people were in the Old Testament days, or they will be rescued like Noah and Lot were. There is no intervening separate rapture. This notion has to be sneaked into this pericope. These verses tell us what the coming of the Son of Man will not be like, as much as they tell what it will be like (flashing lightning visible to all).
In light of that above brief comment, let’s now ask the GrowApp discipleship questions.
GrowApp for Luke 17:20-37
A.. How do you prepare for the Second Coming? Does Jesus give us any clues in this passage how to live or not live your life?
B.. Please read 1 John 3:2-3. How does hoping for the Second Coming purify you? What are practical steps you can take?
Summary and Conclusion
This is a great chapter because it begins with the very important topic of forgiveness. Don’t cause people to stumble. Some interpreters say that the little ones are weak believers, while others say they are children. (I say they are weak believers.) Either way, don’t put a stumbling block in front of them Lift them and mutually edify each other. Jesus uses the image of judgment that says if you do cause any of them to stumble, you may as well tie a mill stone around your neck and throw yourself into the sea. This image, of course, is not to be taken literally, nor should it be a kind of punishment in a legal proceeding, as some nations did back in the seventeenth century.
Then in a great passage, Jesus tell us to be willing to forgive at least seven times in a day, if the offender says “I repent.” Please, as disciples, be willing to say that you repent.
Do you have faith? No? Then you can ask God for more. Ask for a tiny bit of faith, as small as a mustard seed, a proverbial object for something insignificantly small. If you want mountain-moving faith, ask God for mustard-size faith. The two sizes—mountain or mustard—are wonderful. We win with the smaller object.
Now we have the famous and true story of ten lepers or those with sin disease who are healed by Jesus, yet only one returned to thank Jesus, by falling at his feet. He loudly praised God. He was a despised Samaritan. Are we willing to be thankful, even when society has rejected us?
Then Jesus says when we have done our duty as servant-slaves, we should not expect our master to gush over us, with lots of hugs and kisses and exaggerated praise, which is popular nowadays. But don’t project your current culture back on to them two thousand years ago. When you have done the bare minimum for God, just say you are a useless servant-slave, and ask God to give you direction and grace to become a servant-slave that goes beyond the call of minimum duty. Become extra-productive, but even then don’t demand that God would gush over you. Mature people don’t need gushing compliments. Leave that for children (if even that!).
Finally, the Second Coming is the clearest teaching of Scripture in the area of eschatology (study of the end times). It will be visible and powerful and earth-shattering, so to speak. People will either be hauled off or taken away to judgment or be ready for the Return, because they had surrendered to Jesus and had become his disciples.
Bock, Darrel L. Luke 1:1-9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 1 (Baker, 1994).
—. Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. (Baker 1996).
Culy, Martin M., Mikael C. Parsons. Joshua J. Stigall. Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2010).
Fitzmyer, Joseph A., SJ. The Gospel according to Luke, I-IX. Vol. 28. The Anchor Bible. (Doubleday, 1981).
—. The Gospel according to St. Luke, X-XIV. The Anchor Bible. Vol. 28A. (Doubleday, 1985).
Garland, David E. Luke. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2011).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans, 1997).
Liefeld, Walter L. and David W. Pao. Luke. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. (Zondervan, 2007).
Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. (Eerdmans, 1978).
Morris, Leon. Luke. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. (IVP Academic, 1988).
Stein, Robert H. Luke: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. The New American Commentary. Vol. 24. (Broadman and Holman, 1992).