E. Instruction about the kingdom 13:18-14:35
The larger division of the Gospel that records Jesus’ ministry on the way to Jerusalem and the Cross continues with more teaching about the coming kingdom. The parables of the kingdom that begin this section (Luke 13:18-21) introduce this section. The difference in Jesus’ teaching in the present section is a matter of emphasis rather than a clear-cut change. The subtlety of this distinction is observable in that the commentators differ over where they believe the sections divide. Jesus’ discipleship training also continues in this section.
The setting for what follows is secondary to the attitude of the Pharisees who were present. They had already decided to do away with Jesus (Luke 11:53-54). Now the Pharisees and lawyers were watching Him like vultures waiting to pounce on their prey at the first opportunity (Luke 14:3). Views of the Sabbath were a major source of disagreement between Jesus and the Pharisees (cf. Luke 6:1-5; Luke 6:11; Luke 13:10-17). Quite possibly this leading Pharisee, perhaps a member of the Sanhedrin, had set a trap for Jesus by inviting him to his house for a Sabbath meal. Jesus had already violated Sabbath traditions on at least seven different occasions (Luke 4:31-39; Luke 6:1-5; John 5:1-9; Luke 6:6-10; Luke 13:10-17; John 9). Table fellowship implied friendship, but clearly this was hypocritical on this occasion.
The healing of a man with dropsy 14:1-6
4. Participants in the kingdom 14:1-24
This section contains the record of several incidents that happened when Jesus was the dinner guest of a leading Pharisee. Jesus had just announced that He would leave Jerusalem desolate (Luke 13:35). The present section justifies Jesus’ condemnation by showing that the root of Israel’s problems lay with her leaders, specifically the Pharisees. It also gives the rationale for Jesus excluding many Jews from the kingdom and admitting Gentiles (Luke 13:28-30).
The text does not say that the host had planted the sick man among his guests to test Jesus, but that seems likely. Luke’s description of the man’s presence implies that. Luke said: there he was in front of Jesus. The name of the man’s disease is misleading. Dropsy (Gr. hudropikos, edema) is a condition that causes the body to swell up due to the accumulation of fluid in the body tissue or the body cavities. It often results from a faulty heart or kidneys. [Note: Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible, s.v. "Diseases of the Bible," by R. H. Pousma, 2:134.] The rabbis regarded this disease as the result of immorality. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 579.]
Jesus took the initiative and asked the Pharisees and lawyers for their opinion thus shifting the burden of proof to them. He asked for their interpretation of what the Mosaic Law allowed (cf. Luke 6:9). When they raised no objection, He proceeded to heal the man (cf. Luke 6:10). Jesus could have waited a day, but He performed the miracle on the Sabbath to launch the teaching that followed. Perhaps he dismissed the man to remove him from the arena of controversy and to center the discussion on the issue rather than on a person.
Jesus proceeded to show the logic of His action (cf. Matthew 12:11). The Old Testament and rabbinic tradition permitted saving a son and even an animal in such a situation (cf. Exodus 23:4-5). [Note: Mishnah Shabbath 128b.] Jesus implied that the sick man belonged to Him. This was the case since Jesus is the possessor of heaven and earth. His critics had no reply since Jesus’ logic was irrefutable. Moreover they already knew what He believed about the relative importance of helping people and observing the Sabbath (Luke 6:1-11; Luke 13:10-17).
This incident set the stage for the discussion that followed. That seems to be its primary purpose in Luke’s narrative. This fact accounts for the lack of development that Luke gave this incident. Above all else it established Jesus’ authority to teach the lessons that followed immediately.
Customarily people reclined on low couches for important meals, such as this one, resting on their left sides. Where a person lay around the table indicated his status. In the typical U-shape arrangement, the closer one was to the host, who reclined at the center or bottom of the U, the higher was his status. Jesus’ fellow guests had tried to get the places closest to their host that implied their own importance.
The parable of the seats at the wedding feast 14:7-11
Jesus next gave the assembled guests a lesson on the importance of humility. By identifying this teaching as a parable (Luke 14:7) Luke informed his readers that the lesson has importance in people’s relationship to God, not just interpersonal relations. Jesus gave the parable originally to correct the pride of the Pharisees.
Jesus’ teaching from here on in this section centers on the concept of being invited (called, Gr. kaleo, Luke 14:8 [twice], 9, 10 [twice], 12 [twice], 13, 16, 17, 24).
The meal in the Pharisee’s house was not a wedding feast. Jesus used that type of banquet in His parable because He was speaking of the messianic banquet at the beginning of the kingdom. Then Israel would unite with her Messiah. Evidently Jesus’ point was that the Jews present should learn a spiritual lesson about the kingdom from the simple social situation He described. Everyone realized that seeking a prominent place for oneself at a banquet could lead to personal embarrassment. Jesus’ hearers were to learn from this not to seek prominence for themselves but to humble themselves. In relation to the kingdom this meant being willing to forego present prominence, which the Pharisees so desired, and humbling oneself by associating with Jesus as a disciple. The implication was that those who so humbled themselves now would experience exaltation by God in the kingdom when it began (Luke 14:11).
The reason one should humble himself is that someone else has invited him. He is a guest, not the host. Jesus further stressed this dependent relationship by using passive verbs. This was not only to avoid direct reference to God out of respect but to present God as the exalted host. A person’s position in the kingdom depends on God, not on his own self-seeking.
This verse expresses the principle involved (cf. Luke 13:30; Luke 18:14; Matthew 23:12). Self-exaltation leads to humiliation whereas humility results in exaltation (cf. Proverbs 25:6-7). The principle operates in the present and in the future. It operates in social situations and in kingdom situations.
This parable then was a lesson for the Pharisees especially, but also for Jesus’ disciples and everyone else present, on the importance of humility. Participants in the kingdom and honored guests in the kingdom would be those who humbled themselves by following Jesus.
The lesson about inviting guests 14:12-14
Jesus addressed the former parable to His fellow guests, but He directed this teaching particularly to His host. This lesson, like the former parable, could have applied only to social relationships. However, Jesus’ teaching was never simply ethical. It always had a spiritual dimension (cf. Luke 6:32-36). Jesus was teaching on both levels. If the Pharisees did not perceive or rejected the lesson about Jesus’ ministry, they could at least profit from the ethical instruction. In much of Jesus’ teaching the alternatives were not really "do not do this but do that" as much as "do not do as much of this as that." This was common Semitic idiom, and it accounts for Jesus’ strong statements.
The principle that Jesus recommended to His host for selecting guests is one that God had used in inviting people to the messianic banquet. Inviting those who could not repay the favor resulted in the greater glory of earthly hosts as well as the divine host. If earthly hosts behaved as the heavenly host, that behavior would demonstrate true righteousness, and God would reward it. Otherwise they would only receive a temporal reward from their guests. This lesson vindicated Jesus’ ministry to the "have nots" and explained why He did not cater to the "haves" (cf. Luke 4:18; Luke 6:20-21). It also indirectly appealed to the Pharisees to receive Jesus’ invitation to believe on Him for blessing.
"We cannot be certain that the ruler of Luke 14 was a silent believer like the ones mentioned in John 12. Perhaps he was not, because he had invited Jesus to dinner at the risk of criticism from his fellow Pharisees. But one thing we do know is that he was a believer, for if he had not been, then a guarantee of reward could not have been given to him.
"What a fortunate host this man was! In return for this dinner, he gets from our Lord an invaluable lesson in Christian etiquette. If a believer uses his hospitality to entertain people who have no way of repaying him for it, God Himself becomes the Paymaster. And the resurrection of the just, which includes of course the Judgment Seat of Christ, becomes the payday!
"When was the last time that you or I extended hospitality in such a way that it would only be repaid to us in that future resurrection payday? Maybe we should rethink our guest lists!" [Note: Zane C. Hodges, "Stop and Think! (Luke 14:13-14), Rewardable Hospitality," The KERUGMA Message 3:1 (Spring 1993):3.]
The fellow guest who voiced this comment appears to have understood that Jesus had been talking about the kingdom and not just about social propriety. Alternatively his or her comment may have been simply a pious reference to the kingdom, but this seems unlikely. The speaker seems to have assumed that he or she would be one of the blessed referred to. The speaker may have intended to correct Jesus’ implication that some of those present might not participate (Luke 14:13-14; cf. Luke 13:28-29). Jesus used the comment as an opportunity to clarify who would participate. A similar though obviously different parable occurs in Matthew 22:1-14.
The parable of the great banquet 14:15-24
Jesus continued to use the meal in the Pharisee’s house to teach about the messianic banquet and the kingdom to come. He had taught the importance of humbling oneself to participate (Luke 14:7-11) and had justified that requirement (Luke 14:12-14). Now He invited His hearers to humble themselves so they could participate and warned those who rejected His invitation of their fate.
In the parable the host corresponds to God, and the servant (Gr. doulos) is Jesus. The people invited were the Jews primarily. In Jesus’ day a banquet took a long time to prepare. [Note: Morris, p. 233.] Likewise God had been preparing His messianic banquet for centuries.
Those invited refused to participate. They tried to excuse themselves by giving acceptable reasons for not attending the banquet. The three excuses Jesus cited are only representative of many others that other invited guests undoubtedly gave. One man begged off on the ground that he had recently become the owner of some real estate and needed to tend to it. Apparently he was proud of his position as a landowner in his community. Another person with new possessions expressed his greater interest in them than in the invitation. The fact that both of these men inspected their purchases after they bought them shows their love of them since they would undoubtedly have also inspected them before buying them. A third man cited his recent marriage as his excuse implying that pleasure was more important to him. These individuals represent the many who had declined to accept Jesus’ gospel invitation for similar reasons.
The host legitimately felt angry in view of his gracious invitation and sacrificial preparations. Rejection constituted a personal insult. He decided to open the banquet to anyone who would come, not just the people who considered themselves the privileged few who were the most obvious choices (cf. Romans 9:4-5). These people correspond to the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. The other people the host included correspond to those in Jesus’ day whom the self-righteous Jews regarded as deficient, including the publicans, the sinners, and the Gentiles (cf. Luke 14:2-4; Luke 14:13). Even though many of the needy responded there was still plenty of room at the banquet table.
The streets (Gr. plateia) carried all manner of people, and the lanes or alleys (Gr. rhyme) were where the lower elements of society felt more comfortable. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 978.] The servant’s commission was urgent because the feast waited for guests. [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 590.] Note that Jesus now described the host as "master" or "lord" (Gr. kyrie) hinting that God is in view.
The host then sent his servant farther out into the countryside to find guests wherever he could. Those taking refuge against the hedges, fences, and walls (Gr. phragmos) would have been people who were especially destitute and needy. The Jews did not normally put hedges around their fields, so the picture is of the servant going out into the heathen world. [Note: Edersheim, 2:251.] Compelling (Gr. anagkazo) did not involve forcing them against their wills but urging them to come. It manifested "an insistent hospitality." [Note: Manson, p. 130.] These people doubtless represent the remainder of humankind living far from the site of the banquet (i.e., Jerusalem). They are the spiritually needy, Jews and Gentiles alike, both in Jesus’ day and in the ages that followed before the banquet begins at the commencement of the Millennium (cf. Luke 13:28-30). None of those who received initial invitations but declined the host’s gracious offer would enjoy the banquet (cf. Luke 13:34-35).
Thus Jesus’ correction of the original comment (Luke 14:15) affirmed that those who would eat bread in the kingdom would be the objects of God’s favor and therefore happy. However they would be those who responded to God’s gracious invitation that He extended through His Servant Jesus, not those who anticipated the banquet but refused the invitation. This parable would have helped Jesus’ original disciples appreciate their privilege and the urgency of their mission. Likewise Luke’s original readers and all subsequent disciples should learn the same lesson. The parable contains a revelation of God’s program through the church that Israel’s rejection of her Messiah and God’s consequent postponement of the kingdom made necessary (cf. Romans 11).
Luke described a setting different from the preceding meal. Jesus was on the road again heading toward Jerusalem. It was evidently the great size of the multitude that accompanied Him that led Him to say what He did.
The setting of these parables 14:25-27
5. The cost of discipleship 14:25-35
Luke had just recorded Jesus’ teaching about God’s gracious invitation to enjoy the messianic banquet in the kingdom. It was free for all who would respond. Jesus taught elsewhere that responding meant believing on Him. Now Luke recorded Jesus’ teaching that though salvation was free, discipleship was costly. This is important balancing revelation. Salvation guarantees heaven, but it also calls for complete commitment to Jesus, not to secure heaven but to express gratitude for heaven.
"The theme of the cost of accompanying Jesus runs like a refrain throughout Lk. (Luke 9:57-62; Luke 18:24-30)." [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., p. 591.]
Curiosity is one thing, but discipleship is another. There were many people who were accompanying Jesus who were not really following Him in the sense of learning from Him. They simply wanted to benefit from His ministry. Jesus mentioned two qualifications for being His disciple.
First, one must be willing to give up his or her primary allegiance to family and self. Jesus taught His disciples to love their enemies rather than hating them (Luke 6:27-38). He was not contravening the teaching of the fifth commandment either (Luke 18:20). He spoke positively about loving oneself too (Luke 10:27). He clearly meant hate in a relative rather than an absolute sense here.
Second, a disciple must bear the burden of public identification with Jesus even to death if necessary (Luke 9:23; cf. Deuteronomy 13:4; 1 Kings 14:8; 1 Kings 18:21; 2 Kings 23:3). Luke recorded this command in more detail than Matthew did perhaps because of his Gentile readers’ greater need for challenge and encouragement in view of persecution (cf. Matthew 10:37-38).
"Salvation is open to all who will come by faith, while discipleship is for believers willing to pay a price. Salvation means coming to the cross and trusting Jesus Christ, while discipleship means carrying the cross and following Jesus." [Note: Wiersbe, 1:232.]
"Discipleship means giving one’s first loyalty." [Note: Morris, p. 235.]
The parable of the tower builder 14:28-30
Jesus then told another parable. His point was that those in the crowd who were considering becoming disciples of His should count the cost before they embarked on a life of discipleship.
"The simple fact is that the New Testament never takes for granted that believers will see discipleship through to the end. And it never makes this kind of perseverance either a condition or a proof of final salvation from hell.
"It . . . is simply a theological illusion to maintain that a Christian who has embarked on the pathway of discipleship could never abandon it. In the spiritual realm, this notion is as naive as an earthly father who declares, ’My son would never drop out of school!’" [Note: Zane C. Hodges, Absolutely Free! pp. 80, 82.]
A person who begins following Jesus and then stops following only makes a fool of himself. The Greek word purgos can mean either tower or farm building. Probably many of Jesus’ hearers were farmers.
This second parable makes essentially the same point as the first one. However the cost of failure in this one is not just embarrassment but personal destruction. It is very important to assess the strength of one’s enemy correctly. Jesus was not encouraging people to stop following Him because they feared they could not withstand temptations. He wanted them to follow Him, but intelligently, not naively. There were probably no kings in Jesus’ audience, but the people could easily put themselves in the place of a king.
"Discipleship to Jesus Christ is not an invitation to a Sunday school picnic. It is an invitation to spiritual warfare." [Note: Ibid., p. 84.]
The parable of the king going to battle 14:31-33
Jesus now applied the parables (cf. Luke 14:26-27). Obviously the Twelve had not given away everything they owned, but they had adopted a lifestyle conducive to fulfilling their mission that involved relatively few possessions. Therefore we should probably understand Jesus’ command as requiring a willingness to part with possessions as necessary to follow Jesus faithfully (cf. Luke 12:33). Elsewhere Jesus taught His disciples to manage the possessions that they did have wisely (Luke 16:1-12). A person should not begin a venture without the assurance of sufficient resources to finish it. Similarly one should not begin following Jesus without being willing to sacrifice anything to complete that project successfully.
The importance of following Jesus faithfully 14:34-35
In conclusion, Jesus compared a disciple to salt. Salt was important in the ancient East because it flavored food, retarded decay, and in small doses fertilized land. [Note: Eugene P. Deatrick, "Salt, Soil, Savor," Biblical Archaeologist 25 (1962):44-45.] All of these uses are in view in this passage. Most salt in the ancient world came from salt marshes or the like rather than from the evaporation of salt water, so it contained many impurities. The sodium was more soluble than many of the impurities. It could leach out leaving a substance so dilute that it was of little worth. [Note: Donald A. Carson, "Matthew," in Matthew-Luke, vol. 8 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 138.]
Just as a disciple can cease to follow Jesus, so salt can lose its saltiness. In that case both things become useless. What distinguishes a disciple of Jesus from a non-disciple, what makes him or her "salty," is his or her allegiance to Jesus (cf. Matthew 5:13; Mark 9:50). Farmers added salt to animal dung to slow down the fermentation process so they could preserve it as fertilizer until they needed to use it. [Note: Deatrick, p. 46.] The disciple who does not continue following Jesus faithfully falls under divine judgment, not that he will lose his salvation, but part of his reward, specifically the opportunity for further significant service.
Jesus urged His hearers to listen carefully to what He had said (cf. Luke 8:8). Prospective disciples need to realize the implications of following Jesus and then choose to follow Him faithfully.
"His [Luke’s] main point is that successful discipleship requires Jesus to be a priority in life." [Note: Bock, Luke, p. 401.]
Notes by Lambert Dolphin
January 24, 2023.