Jesus’ Life and Ministry
When the Lost Son Is Found
WHEN the lost, or prodigal, son in Jesus’ illustration returns to his father’s house, what reception does he receive? Listen as Jesus relates:
“While he was yet a long way off, his father caught sight of him and was moved with pity, and he ran and fell upon his neck and tenderly kissed him.” What a merciful, warmhearted father, so well representing our heavenly Father, Jehovah!
Likely the father had heard of his son’s debauched living. Yet he welcomes him home without waiting for a detailed explanation. Jesus also has such a welcoming spirit, initiating approach to sinners and tax collectors, who are represented in the illustration by the prodigal son.
True, the discerning father of Jesus’ illustration no doubt has some idea of his son’s repentance by observing his sad, downcast countenance as he returns. But the father’s loving initiative makes it easier for the son to confess his sins, as Jesus relates: “Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Make me as one of your hired men.’”
Yet, the words are hardly off the son’s lips when his father goes into action, ordering his slaves: “‘Quick! bring out a robe, the best one, and clothe him with it, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet. And bring the fattened young bull, slaughter it and let us eat and enjoy ourselves, because this my son was dead and came to life again; he was lost and was found.’ And they started to enjoy themselves.”
In the meantime, the father’s “older son was in the field.” See if you can identify whom he represents by listening to the rest of the story. Jesus says of the older son: “As he came and got near the house he heard a music concert and dancing. So he called one of the servants to him and inquired what these things meant. He said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father slaughtered the fattened young bull, because he got him back in good health.’ But he became wrathful and was unwilling to go in.
“Then his father came out and began to entreat him. In reply he said to his father, ‘Here it is so many years I have slaved for you and never once did I transgress your commandment, and yet to me you never once gave a kid for me to enjoy myself with my friends. But as soon as this your son who ate up your means of living with harlots arrived, you slaughtered the fattened young bull for him.’”
Who, like the older son, has been critical of the mercy and attention accorded sinners? Is it not the scribes and the Pharisees? Since it is their criticism of Jesus because he welcomes sinners that prompted this illustration, they clearly must be the ones represented by the older son.
Jesus concludes his story with the father’s appeal to his older son: “Child, you have always been with me, and all the things that are mine are yours; but we just had to enjoy ourselves and rejoice, because this your brother was dead and came to life, and he was lost and was found.”
Jesus thus leaves unresolved what the older son eventually does. Indeed, later, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, “a great crowd of priests began to be obedient to the faith,” possibly including some of these of the “older son” class to whom Jesus is here speaking.
But who in modern times do the two sons represent? It must be those who have come to know enough about Jehovah’s purposes to have a basis for their entering into a relationship with him. The older son represents some members of the “little flock,” or “congregation of the firstborn who have been enrolled in the heavens.” These adopted an attitude similar to that of the older son. They had no desire to welcome an earthly class, the “other sheep,” who they felt were stealing the limelight.
The prodigal son, on the other hand, represents those of God’s people who leave to enjoy the pleasures that the world offers. In time, however, these repentantly return and again become active servants of God. Indeed, how loving and merciful the Father is toward those who recognize their need of forgiveness and return to him! Luke 15:20-32; Acts 6:7; Luke 12:32; Hebrews 12:23; John 10:16.
◆ How does Jesus imitate the example of the compassionate father in his illustration?
◆ What is the older son’s view of his brother’s welcome, and how do the Pharisees behave like the older son?
◆ What application does Jesus’ illustration have in our day?