With His face still set against Jerusalem (Luke 9:51), Jesus continued His journey, prosecuting His case against the adulterous city as He went. Picking up after the parable of the strong man (11:1-26), we will proceed further into that lawsuit.
As I noted before, Jesus fulfilled the prophet’s role of bringing a covenant lawsuit against an unfaithful covenant partner—in this case, Jerusalem. She had been unfaithful. Her idolatries amounted to spiritual adultery. This is why Jerusalem is called the “Great Whore” in Revelation 17-18. Earlier prophets had used the same theme (Jer. 3; Eze. 16:26; 23). Ezekiel 23 teaches that Jerusalem had committed even worse whoredom than her despised sister Samaria. Verses 16-17 say,
When she saw them [the Babylonians], she lusted after them and sent messengers to them in Chaldea. And the Babylonians came to her into the bed of love, and they defiled her with their whoring lust. And after she was defiled by them, she turned from them in disgust. When she carried on her whoring so openly and flaunted her nakedness, I turned in disgust from her, as I had turned in disgust from her sister [Samaria].
This sixth-century BC prophecy is a direct backdrop of Jerusalem’s greater apostasy which Jesus confronted in the first century. Thus we see a direct parallel in Revelation’s portrayal of the Great Whore, “with whom the kings of the earth have committed sexual immorality” (Rev. 17:2; 18:3,9).
During His journey to Jerusalem, Jesus’ primary mode of conveying the judgment message was by parable. He meant to deliver the truth to that city that her self-assurance was misplaced and deadly.
The Parable of the Lit Lamp
The parable of the lit lamp is about the broadcasting of a godly witness clearly to all the world. Jesus says, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light” (11:33).
Jesus had already taught this exact lesson a short time earlier in Luke 8:16-18: “No one after lighting a lamp covers it with a jar or puts it under a bed, but puts it on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.” The difference was the audience. First, in Luke 8:16, Jesus had turned aside amidst the crowd to speak privately to His disciples. He had just told them that He speaks to the masses in parables, but that only a select few would be given the grace to understand them (Luke 8:10). In this passage, Jesus ends with the enigmatic (and seemingly cold) statement, “Take care then how you hear, for to the one who has, more will be given, and from the one who has not, even what he thinks that he has will be taken away” (8:18).
What is the meaning of this? If we try to apply this to all of mankind in general, it becomes vague and esoteric. But if we understand it in the context of Israel and her assumed inheritance in the land, it makes perfect sense. The “one who has” is the one who has faith and understanding. He will be given “more”—that is, the Kingdom. The “one who has not” understanding is the unbelieving Jew who appears to have, and who thinks he has an entitlement to the inheritance of the Kingdom, but does not. From him shall be taken even that which he thinks he has. Jesus wanted His disciples especially to know that a separation among the people was coming, based on His judgment upon the unbelievers and His grace to His chosen.[product id="1430" align="right" size="small"]
In Luke 11:33, however, the audience is difference. Jesus here addresses all the masses with the requirement that God’s people not hide their light—that is, their faithful witness to Him. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus elaborated on this theme: “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden” (Matt. 5:14). This gets to the heart of God’s covenant with His people. They were originally called into the land for the express purpose of being a witness unto all nations:
See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the Lord my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today? (Deut. 4:5-8).
And it was God’s promise that through covenant faithfulness this witness would convert the entire world (Num. 14:21; Ps. 2; 72:5-8; Is.2:1-4; 11:9; Jer. 3:16-17; 31:31-4; Dan. 7:13-14). Isaiah portrays the vision of the enlightened world as the faithful success of that City on a Hill:
It shall come to pass in the latter days that the mountain of the house of the Lord shall be established as the highest of the mountains, and shall be lifted up above the hills; and all the nations shall flow to it, and many peoples shall come, and say: “Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that he may teach us his ways and that we may walk in his paths.” For out of Zion shall go the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He shall judge between the nations, and shall decide disputes for many peoples; and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore (Is. 2:2-4).
Jerusalem was literally a city on a hill, but God’s people had now failed miserably in their God-given mission, as they had so often throughout their history. Isaiah once likened their failure to a pregnant woman in labor: when she should have given birth, she only broke wind:
Like a pregnant woman who writhes and cries out in her pangs when she is near to giving birth, so were we because of you, O Lord; we were pregnant, we writhed, but we have given birth to wind. We have accomplished no deliverance in the earth, and the inhabitants of the world have not fallen (Is. 26:16-18).
Indeed, they had “accomplished no deliverance in the earth.” But God never fails in His promises. So there could be only one reason for this: the people had not kept the covenant, but had kept their light to themselves and hid it from the world. Jesus now confronted them again with the same message.
This understanding of this brief parable is consistent with Jesus’ teaching in the context. Just previous to this parable of the lit candle, Jesus had refused to give the crowds any on-demand miraculous sign of who He was. Instead, He called them an “evil generation,” and stated that they would fall beneath the condemnation of even some pagan nations who, with much less revelation from God, had readily accepted the light. He
This generation is an evil generation………… The queen of the South will rise up at the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon, and behold, something greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up at the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and behold, something greater than Jonah is here (Luke 11:29-32).
The “evil generation” of Jews of Jesus’ day remained absorbed with their entitlement mentality and their faÁade of luxurious international prosperity. And so, Jesus secretly told His disciples that the parable of the lamp meant a great division of inheritance was coming based on those who remained faithful to the covenant (8:16-18). But the second time He tells the parable, it comes as an open rebuke to the failures of that
[product id="433" align="left" size="small"]This is indicated not only by the comparisons to the queen of the South and the men of Nineveh, but also by the condemnations of the representative Jewish leadership directly after the parable: Jesus openly condemns the hypocrisy, pride, and foolishness of the Pharisees (11:37-44), as well as the murderous litigations of the lawyers (11:45-52). They had not only refused the light themselves but had hidden it from others: they had “taken away the key of knowledge” (11:52).
And these faithless leaders stood as representatives of the evil generation as a whole. God’s vengeance, therefore, would come upon the whole as well: “the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world. . . . Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation” (11:50-51).
Jesus then goes on to warn the people against the “leaven of the Pharisees” (12:1), and the need for boldness in being a witness to Him (12:8-12). A great judgment was coming—a judgment in which those who only thought they had the inheritance would lose everything, and only those who upheld the true light would receive the Kingdom.
The Parable of the Rich Fool’s Inheritance (Luke 12:13-21)
As major theme in the judgment of the Great Whore (Rev. 17-18) is her abuse of wealth. God had blessed the nation, but she trusted in the wealth itself rather than in God. Rather than becoming a witness to all the nations by her adherence to God’s laws (again, the original purpose—Deut. 4:5-8), she took her favored position for granted and indulged in luxury and whoredom. She assumed that her wealth was her reward, rather than a tool to accomplish her mission. As a result, she would lose both.
Jesus expresses this particular condemnation of Jerusalem in the parable of the rich fool. The blessings poured in, but rather than use them for God’s glory, the fool heaped them up for himself. But then came the day of reckoning:
The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, “What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?” And he said, “I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.” But God said to him, “Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:15-21).
This again is paralleled in the condemnation of the Great Whore:
As she glorified herself and lived in luxury, so give her a like measure of torment and mourning, since in her heart she says, “I sit as a queen, I am no widow, and mourning I shall never see.” For this reason her plagues will come in a single day, death and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for mighty is the Lord God who has judged her……
The fruit for which your soul longed has gone from you, and all your delicacies and your splendors are lost to you, never to be found again! (Rev. 18:7-8, 14).
References to her soul’s lust for luxury, and her sudden, tragic loss of it, continue through the end of Revelation 18.
This parable, like many, was given in direct response to the comments of an individual. A man had said to Jesus, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me” (12:13). The word “tell” here is in the imperative: the guy wanted Jesus to use His influence and command his brother to divide the inheritance. Jesus responded with the parable.
As an aside, getting God to tell our brothers how to act is most people’s view of religion. We want God to make someone else do something to benefit us. We never embrace sacrifice and dominion first as an avenue to prosperity. (This is well illustrated in use of State power to redistribute wealth and “benefits”: You pay at gunpoint, I benefit, and we’ll call it democracy and tolerance; and in the end I’ll say it was God’s answer to prayer. Thus is armed robbery called compassion; thus are moral wrongs called human rights. But I promise, I’ll still call you “my brother.” Just pay up.)
The whole spiritual import of this parable deals with fallen man’s greed: his insatiable lust for more. Instead of using God’s capital for God’s glory, we use it for our own, thereby essentially saying that we’re God. The issue goes right to the heart of man’s fall.
The immediate eschatological issue here, however, transcends the mere individual. Inheritance is a central covenantal issue. The land was a symbol of Israel’s inheritance from God, passed down from generation to generation. But the possession of the land into perpetuity was based on Israel’s faithfulness to God’s covenant, else the land would spew her out. The coming great divorce meant that she would lose all right to that covenantal inheritance; her reckoning was coming soon. Israel was the rich fool. The barns and storehouses would not be emptied, but would be left to another to inherit.[product id="1445" align="right" size="small"]
Jesus then turns away from the crowd to instruct His disciples privately. This, in essence, answers God’s question concerning the rich fool’s left-behind stores: “whose will they be?” It answers the question of “Who will inherit?” The answer is obvious: only the faithful of Israel will inherit. And the faithful are Jesus’ disciples. So He reveals to them the fuller teaching about wealth and priorities in God’s Kingdom (vv. 22-34).
We have seen this action of Jesus before, and will see it again. Jesus confounds the unbelieving Jews with parables they can’t understand or receive, but then graciously unfolds the meaning to His disciples. As we saw already in Luke 8:10: “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of God, but for others they are in parables, so that ‘seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.’” The pattern is: confusion for the unfaithful, revelation for the faithful. Confusion is judgment, revelation is grace. In the immediate context this means judgment for unbelieving Israel, grace for the children of the Kingdom.
And the teaching Jesus gives them here, as we said, goes directly to the issue of inheritance. The heart of the teaching (12:22-34) is in verses 29-32:
And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried. For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you. Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.
Don’t be like the gentile nations—the rich fools—ignoring God, striving for wealth itself as an end. Rather, little flock—the disciples, not the left-behind Jews—seek ye first the Kingdom of God. This is about priorities. The inheritance of the Kingdom follows the faithful.
Where the Great luxury-devouring Whore Jerusalem had failed, Jesus instructs His disciples to succeed. Instead of selling yourself to the kings of the earth, uphold the Kingdom of God to them as a witness. Instead of striving after the treasures as if they were an end in themselves, use the treasures as a means to strive for the Kingdom. And toward this goal of spreading the Kingdom—the very goal for which the original covenant called—God would be absolutely pleased to give them treasures and the Kingdom.
Based on the continuity of themes—wealth, Kingdom, inheritance— Jesus’ teaching to the disciples should be considered of one piece with the parable of the rich fool. The section of Scripture, Luke 12:13-34, should be taken as a whole. And the immediate message was the disinheritance of Israel—who had wasted and sqaundered its calling—and the transfer of the Kingdom to the New Testament Church. This blessing, we are told, is the “Father’s good pleasure” (12:32).
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