Luke 15 Study Notes


15:1-2 On tax collectors and sinners, see note at 5:29-30. Then and now, to share a meal with someone typically indicates that you accept them.

15:3-7 Though it might be considered reckless to leave a flock of ninety-nine sheep to search for the lost one, Jesus’s story emphasizes how much God cares for every lost sinner and how joyfully he responds when each one is found.

15:8-10 To search for a lost coin (Gk drachma; worth about a day’s wage for the average worker) indoors required lighting a lamp since very few homes had windows. This search also required sweeping the house because the floor was earthen. Joy in the presence of God’s angels speaks of God’s joy over a repentant sinner.

15:11-12 Although this well-known parable (vv. 11-32) is usually called the parable of the prodigal son, the other son and the father are also important characters. It was unusual, but not unheard of, for a father to settle his estate before his death. Since the older son got a double portion of his father’s estate, the younger son’s share (share . . . I have coming to me) would have been one-third of the estate.

15:13-16 The younger son had no intention of returning to his family. It is impossible to know whether his foolish living included prostitutes (v. 30) or if that was just an angry accusation made by the older brother. The irony of the penniless younger son’s new job was that pigs were unclean animals to Jews (Lv 11:7). Pods were seed casings of a tree used as food for cattle, pigs, and sometimes the poor. He was at rock bottom in his new life.

15:17-19 It took extreme poverty and hunger to prompt the younger son to come to his senses and realize that, in spite of all he had done, the correct course of action was to return and become one of his father’s hired workers. To do so, however, it would be necessary to confess that he had sinned greatly and was not worthy to be called his son. This is a vivid picture of a person “hitting bottom” and finally realizing the magnitude of his sin.


Greek pronunciation [meh tuh nah EH oh]
CSB translation repent
Uses in Luke’s Gospel 9
Uses in the NT 34
Focus passage Luke 15:7

The Greek verb for repent (metanoeo) and the related noun for repentance (metanoia) signify a change of mind. More than just an intellectual change of mind is in view; rather, both terms refer to a change in one’s way of thinking that results in different beliefs and a change in the direction of one’s life. The verb pisteuo (meaning believe) is much more common than metanoeo, though both words refer to concepts foundational to salvation (Mt 4:17; Lk 15:7,10; Jn 3:16). Repent and believe may be understood as opposite sides of the same coin. Repent means to turn from one’s allegiance to sin and unbelief, whereas believe means to place one’s trust in Christ. Thus when one is mentioned the other is implied.

15:20-23 That the father saw his son coming from a long way off indicates that he habitually looked for his return. Perhaps the normal parental reaction to the younger son’s return would be anger or at least deep disappointment, but this father’s response displayed: (1) compassion, (2) love (threw his arms around his neck, and kissed him), (3) celebration (a feast), and (4) joyful restoration of status for his son (a robe of distinction, signet ring of family authority, sandals worn by a son, in contrast to barefoot slaves).

15:24 This is the point at which the parable ties in to the two previous stories about God’s joy in saving the lost. The father’s celebratory attitude depicts the way in which God the Father receives repentant sinners. This contrasts with the contempt the Pharisees and scribes displayed for sinners who came to Jesus (v. 2).

15:25-30 Instead of the story ending on a note of joy and celebration, as might be expected, the spotlight shifts to the older brother. Unlike the father’s positive attitude, the older brother (1) was surprised at the return of his sinning brother, (2) was offended and jealous at the father’s celebration, (3) became angry at the father’s forgiving love, (4) declared his own self-righteousness, and (5) focused on his brother’s sinfulness rather than his newfound repentance. Jesus’s representation of the religious leaders in the character of the older brother was a scathing rebuke of their self-righteousness.

15:31-32 The rebuke of the religious leaders continues. They did not understand (1) the opportunity for a close relationship with God, (2) the generosity of his grace, (3) his joy at the salvation of sinners, or (4) the profound transformation of conversion. Perhaps most crucial of all, however, is the reminder of kinship to the sinners intended in the phrase this brother of yours. Like the older brother in this story, the religious leaders refused to accept their Jewish brethren, the “sinners.”