The Prodigal Son, Luke 15:1-2, 11-32

by Matt Slick

Theme: Great joy in the salvation of the lost.

1 A son is lost--"Give me my share"
|     2 Goods wasted in extravagant living
|      |     3 Everything lost--"He spent everything-he began to want
|      |      |      4 The great sin--"feeding pigs for gentiles
|      |      |      |      5 Total rejection--"no one gave him anything
|      |      |      |      |   
6 A change of mind--"he came to himself-I perish here"
|      |      |      |      |    6 An initial repentance--"make me a servant"
|      |      |      |     5 Total acceptance--"his father ran and kissed him."
|      |      |     4 The great repentance--"I am no more worthy to be called your son.
|      |   
3 Everything gained--a robe, ring, and shoes
|     2 Goods used in joyful celebration

1 A son is found--"My son was dead and is alive, was lost and is found."


In the beginning of this chapter, Jesus is with the self-righteous.  Yet, He eats with sinners.  When the righteous men of Israel complained about his "obvious" error of eating with sinners, they voice their disapproval.

Jesus' reply was not one of rebuke, but of teaching; hence, several parables.  The first two have three common threads running through each. 1) Something or someone is lost.  2) The lost is sought for.  3) Great joy is shared at the recovery of the thing (person) found.

The third parable mentioned is slightly different in the second thread only.  In it, the one who is lost returns to where he came from.


1. Now all the tax-gatherers and the sinners were coming near him to listen to Him.

2. And both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, "This man receives sinners and eats with them.

Those in need.

Eating was important in this culture because it implied fellowship, a sharing of something in common.  To eat with sinners could be interpreted many ways. Here, Jesus is identifying, reaching out to the sinners.

Jesus is accused of eating with sinners.  He does not rebuke; He does not revile; He teaches.  So should our witness be.  We should be loving of all who sin, accepting of all who repent, willing to humble ourselves before men and God.  Trust Him to do what is right.

11. And He said, "A certain man had two sons;

12. and the younger of them said to his father, 'Father, give me the share of the estate that falls to me.' And he divided his wealth between them.

The prodigal is shown as wishing for his father's death in his request because the estate was never divided among the children until after the father's death.  The father should severely rebuke his son. Instead, the father shows incredible love by granting the request to his son.
13. And not many days later, the younger son gathered everything together and went on a journey into a distant country, and there he squandered his estate with loose living. He could not sell the land in the community during his father's lifetime.  No one would buy it.  So, he travels to a distant land and sells his property, thus losing the right of redemption of the land.
14. Now when he had spent everything, a severe famine occurred in that country, and he began to be in need.


Everything is lost.
15. And he went and attached himself to one of the citizens of that country, and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. Swine is an unclean animal.  It would seem this act was one of disdain by the pig owner, "Here Jew, feed pigs."
16. And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating, and no one was giving anything to him. He was totally rejected by the people around him.  (The Pharisees rejected the tax-gatherers and sinners.)
17. But when he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have more than enough bread, but I am dying here with hunger! His motivation was poverty.  Servants were an honorable class of people.  He could live in the village.  He wouldn't need to live under the same roof as the eldest son.  He'd have to face the scorn of the community though.  It is possible that he may have wanted to pay something back to his father, but, of course, it could not possibly be enough.
18. I will get up and go to my father, and will say to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight;

19. I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men.'"

Is the son truly repentant at this time?

It seems his goal is to become a servant, to earn money, and maybe to begin to repay what he lost.

20. And he got up and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him, and felt compassion for him, and ran and embraced him, and kissed him.

The Father totally accepts his son.

In that culture, older men did not run; it was a sign of humiliation. (Phil. 2:5-8)  The son should run to the father.

21. And the son said to him, "Father, I have sinned against heaven and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son. No bargaining is offered.  He admits his guilt only.  There is no mention of servanthood or earning anything.
22. But the father said to his slaves, 'Quickly bring out the best robe and put it on him, and put a ring on his hand and sandals on his feet' Robe: sign of dignity and honor.

Ring: sign of authority.

Shoes: sign of not being a servant.  Servants did not wear shoes.

23. and bring the fattened calf, kill it, and let us eat and be merry. A whole calf is a lot to eat.  The whole village would be invited. (Note: blood is shed)
24. for this son of mine was dead, and has come to life again; he was lost, and has been found. And they began to be merry. The lost son is found.
25. Now his older son was in the field, and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. Another son is lost.  The duties of the eldest son included reconciliation between father and son.  A host at feasts.  The older son is in the field and not in the house where he should be.  This is a public disgrace to the father.
26. And he summoned one of the servants and began inquiring what these things might be.

27. And he said to him, "Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.

28. But he became angry, and was not willing to go in; and his father came out and began entreating him. The father went out to his son to entreat him.  He did not rebuke as was customary.  Again, the father goes to the son.
29. But he answered and said to his father, "Look! for many years I have been serving you, and I have never neglected a command of yours; and yet you have never given me a kid, that I might be merry with my friends; When addressing the father, it should be as 'Father,' not simply 'Look!' This is very disrespectful (unhumble).

The eldest son gives two complaints: one about the father, and . . . 

30. but when this son of yours came, who has devoured your wealth with harlots, you killed the fattened calf for him."  . . . the other about his brother, the sinner.  (fornication, devoured your life, "ton bion" in the Greek means "the life."  You killed the calf for him and not me.)
31. And he said to him, "My child, you have always been with me, and all that is mine is yours. Teknon, child, a Greek word/term of endearment.

All that is mine is yours, come join the celebration.

32. But we had to be merry and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found. And you were dead in our trespasses and sins, Eph. 2:1.


There are mentioned here two types of sinners: the honest manifest one, the younger son, and the hypocritical sinner, the elder.

There are mentioned two types of repentance: sincere and pharisaical.

The younger son's initial repentance is not sincere, v. 17, because it was motivated by hunger; but, in verse 21, he openly admits his sin.  The older brother is anchored in self-righteousness.  His repentance is not sincere.

God's great love extends to all sinners, the honest as well as the hypocritical.  It endures humiliation.  It exults joyously when there is true repentance.

God desires sons, not servants.

The lessons in this parable are many; however, the two main ones are:

  1. The unconditional love of God to everyone.
  2. The gentleness of Jesus and His not striking back in word or deed.
  3. May we learn to do as Jesus teaches.  See Matthew 5:38-48.

About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.