The Elder and Younger Son[1]

Luke 15  And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12  And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living. 13  And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living. 14  And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15  And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16  And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17  And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger! 18  I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19  And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 20  And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him. 21  And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son. 22  But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet: 23  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25  Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. 26  And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27  And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound. 28  And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. 29  And he answering said to his father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends: 30  But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31  And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32  It was meet that we should make merry, and be glad: for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.


This illustration is one part of three illustrations that make up Luke 15.  The main focus of the illustration is to show the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes that there is righteous joy when a lost, or wayward son returns home.  The son is human, has an eternal soul, and has feelings.  The joy felt in a human home when a wayward son returns is very great.  In this same manner, there is joy in heaven when one sinner repents.  The scribes and Pharisees ought to rejoice when one sinner repents.  No one should ever look down their long nose at anybody!


I.   There are many applications to parables and Scripture.  There is only one interpretation.  I have heard this parable preached many different ways, with many different applications.  I want to give you the proper Biblical interpretation. 

A.     The parable can be interpreted as:

1.       The Gentiles coming into the kingdom of God.

a.       The Gentiles would be the younger, rebellious brother.

b.       The Jews would be the elder, more faithful brother.

2.       The entering in of more saved sinners into God's kingdom.  An application like this would fit us today.  When people are saved, and join the church we are already a member of, we ought to be very happy for them, and accept them.  We don't need to think that our control of the church will be diminished.  Actually, we shouldn't have control of the church.  The church belongs to Jesus Christ - He is the head.  He should have control.  When our control is diminished, that is good, especially when the control of Christ is increased.

a.       The younger brother would represent the "new" converts.

b.       The elder brother would represent the "older" converts.

B.     The truth is that these two thoughts are one and the same.

1.       Christ wants the Pharisees and scribes to understand that they ought to have joy when Gentiles, Samaritans, publicans and sinners seek Christ and His righteousness.

2.       Christ wants us to understand that we ought to have great joy when a fallen, rebellious sinners is saved.


II.   In the previous two parables, the sheep and the coin do not seek Christ.

A.     In this parable, the younger son is pictured as seeking Christ.

1.       This "seeking" is very similar to the way the lost coin and the lost sheep sought their rightful owners.

2.       They didn't "seek" at all!

B.     The young son seeks Christ only because God has first enlightened his conscience that there is a better way.

1.       If God didn't put this light into the heart of the younger son, there would be no light there at all.

2.       He would continue in the filth of this world, not knowing there was a better way, or even a different way.


III.   Notice some things about the condition of the lost sinner.

A.     The lost sinner is selfish.  He desires to get all he can and is impatient of delay.

B.     Sinners waste their blessings, and reduce themselves to a state of want and wretchedness.  Living in sin causes spiritual weakness and being unsatisfied with those things we do have.

C.     Sinners do not think about the future.  They don't think about the future result of their sinning here on this earth or in the world to come.

D.     Afflictions are often used to bring sinners to God.  When sinners have plenty, they often forget about God, but when they come into affliction, their remembrance turns to their father.  But notice that he first turned to his own source of comfort (the citizens of that country) before he turns to God.

E.      Some of their miseries:

1.       He has spent all -- there is nothing left of all that he left home with.  He finds no comfort in anything.

2.       He is away from God and his Christian friends.  This is because he left them.

3.       His condition is very bad.

a.       Physically.

b.       Emotionally.

c.       Spiritually.

F.      Verse 15 - The sinner goes to the wrong source for comfort and help.  He will not seek his father yet, instead he tries new things and different ways trying to find comfort.  He finds no help or comfort at all.  There is nobody who really cares for him like he wants.

G.     The repentance required in the gospel is the return to a right mind, (verse 17).  When the young man left home, he was not thinking on things as he ought to.  Now he is repentant, looking on this world as in vain, ---- eternity is near and awful; and none acts with a sane mind but he who acts on the belief that he must soon die; that there is a God and a Savior -- a heaven and a hell.

H.     When the sinner returns he knows:

1.       He is in great danger of dying.

2.       That God is willing and able to save him.

3.       He has a hope that God will give him salvation and forgiveness.

4.       He resolves to go to God.

5.       He will confess he is no good and has sinned against the father.

I.        True happiness is a voluntary act.  It is not forced.

J.       The real penitent feels that his sins have been committed against God, not against people.  (Verse 18)

K.     He is also willing to acknowledge his offences against his parents, brothers, friends, and all men. (Verse 18)

L.      A real penitent is humble, (Verse 18).  He has no wish to conceal anything, or to be thought more highly of than he ought.

M.    God is willing to receive the true penitent.  None need hesitate to go.  God will never send them away empty.

N.     The joy at the return of sinners is great.  Angels rejoice over it, and all holy beings are glad.

O.     We should not be envious at any favors that God may be pleased to bestow on others.  He has given us more than we deserve, and if it pleases Him to bless others more, then we ought to rejoice also in that.

P.      If God is willing to receive sinners, we should be willing to work and pray that God would save sinners and cause rebellious people to return.

Q.     If God is willing to receive sinners now, then sinners ought to return to Him now.


IV.   The condition of the elder brother.

A.     Romans 3:1,2 - I believe the true interpretation of this parable is that the elder brother represents Israel, who holds the oracles of faith.  There are many applications, only one interpretation.

1.       Any true church of the Lord Jesus Christ, or any true disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ should place themselves “in the shoes” of the Pharisees and scribes.

2.       True disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ should rejoice when the wayward returns.

3.       The wayward should be received and welcomed into the fellowship of believers, but not to doubtful disputations.

4.       Rom. 14:1 - Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations.

B.     He was aware that his younger brother had left.

1.       Since he was older, he would remember the time when the younger brother demanded his share of the inheritance and left.

2.       He would be aware that the younger brother had taken much wealth and prosperity from his family.

C.     He was unaware of the wretched condition his younger brother had fallen into.

D.     If he was aware of the fact that his Father watched longed for the younger brother to return home, he had pushed that thought out of his mind.

1.       If saved people are aware of the condition of lost people, they push that thought out of their minds.

2.       If saved people are aware of the Father's watching and longing for the rebellious to return to the family, they have pushed that thought out of their minds.

3.       If saved people are aware of the joy that would be in the family when the rebellious return, they push that thought out of their minds.

4.       If saved people are aware of the many lives than can and will be saved as a result of a rebellious returning to the family, they either don't care, or push that thought out of their minds.

E.      He was unaware of the fact his younger brother had returned.

1.       He was busy working in the field, but not busy watching and longing for his younger to return.

2.       It is very possible for saved people to be busy working in God's field, yet have no fervent prayer for the lost to be saved.

3.       Saved people can be so engrossed in their own affairs that they are unaware of everything else going on around them.

4.       Saved people can be so engrossed in their own affairs that they will get to the place where they don't care if sinners are saved or not.

F.      He was jealous of the joy of his family when his younger brother returned.

1.       He told his father that his younger brother wouldn't have anything to return to if he (the elder brother) hadn't stayed home, worked hard, and increased the prosperity of the family.

2.       He complains that nobody had recognized his stedfastness, faith, and stick-to-it-ness.

3.       It is very important to realize that the father does recognize the stedfastness of the elder brother.

a.       The father is very thankful the elder brother has remained with him and been faithful.

b.       The joy for the return of the younger brother is not like the thankfulness for the elder brother.

c.       The thankfulness is more solid, secure, and familiar.

d.       The joy at the return of the prodigal son is newer, less concrete and dependable at this point.

[1]There is a great deal of controversy about whether this parable should be interpreted as a lost person receiving salvation, or a saved rebellious person returning to the Lord.  I have applied this parable as a lost person coming to Christ for salvation, but I do understand that many parts of the parable shows a rebellious saved person coming back to the Lord.  The whole point of the parable, however, is not to describe a lost person coming to salvation or a saved rebellious person returning to the Lord.

The whole point of the parable (and the preceding two parables) is found in Luke 15:1,2, "Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him.  (2) And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them."  It was at this point that Jesus spoke the parables of Luke 15 to them (the Pharisees and scribes).  He was instructing them that they ought to have joy when that which is lost (any wayward thing or person) is returned.

The theme of having joy when the wayward is returned flows throughout this entire chapter.  In verse 6,7, Jesus instructs the Pharisees and scribes to have joy when a lost sheep is returned.  In verse 10, Jesus instructs them to have joy when a lost coin is found.  In verse 25-32, Jesus pictures the Pharisees and scribes as the elder brother who ought to have joy when the younger brother is returned.