Fear God, Not People, 1-12
12:1 Meanwhile, when many thousands of the crowd had gathered so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 12:2 Nothing is hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing is secret that will not be made known. 12:3 So then whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms will be proclaimed from the housetops.
12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. 12:5 But I will warn you whom you should fear: Fear the one who, after the killing, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! 12:6 Aren’t five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten before God. 12:7 In fact, even the hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are more valuable than many sparrows.
N.T. Wright (Jesus and the Victory of God) idiosyncratically understands ‘those who kill the body’ to be the Romans, whereas ‘the one who can destroy both soul and body in hell’ is Satan, the real enemy. But, as France remarks, ‘No such power is attributed to Satan in the Bible, nor is the Christian bidden to fear him.’
“Be afraid” – On fear as a motive, Heb 4:1.
“In hell” –
‘It is noteworthy that in both Gospels, immediately after the warning that the condemnation of God is to be feared, comes the encouragement that the protecting love of God is to be trusted: the God who takes note of the fall of a single sparrow knows every hair of his children’s heads.’ (Lk 12:6-7; Mt 10:29-31) (HSB)
“The very hairs of your head are all numbered” – ‘That is, each one has exercised the care and attention of God. He has fixed the number; and though of small importance, yet he does not think it beneath him to determine how few, or how many, they shall be. He will, therefore, take care of you.’ (Barnes)
12:8 “I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge before God’s angels. 12:9 But the one who denies me before men will be denied before God’s angels. 12:10 And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but the person who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven. 12:11 But when they bring you before the synagogues, the rulers, and the authorities, do not worry about how you should make your defense or what you should say, 12:12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that moment what you must say.”
“The Son of Man” – “I” in Mt 10:32
‘Now confession of Christ, though it is regarded by the greater part of men as a trifling matter, is here represented to be a main part of divine worship, and a distinguished exercise of godliness.’ (Calvin)
v9 ‘Some argue that only an explicit repudiation of Jesus attracts God’s eternal wrath, referencing Luke 12:8–9. However, Jesus says “the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost” (Luke 19:10). In other words, he came offering grace to a world that was “condemned already” (John 3:17–18).’ (Timothy Philips, in EDBT, art. ‘Hell’)
The Parable of the Rich Landowner, 13-21
12:13 Then someone from the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.” 12:14 But Jesus said to him, “Man, who made me a judge or arbitrator between you two?” 12:15 Then he said to them, “Watch out and guard yourself from all types of greed, because one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” 12:16 He then told them a parable: “The land of a certain rich man produced an abundant crop, 12:17 so he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ 12:18 Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 12:19 And I will say to myself, “You have plenty of goods stored up for many years; relax, eat, drink, celebrate!” ’
People often brought their disputes to the Rabbis in order to get a ruling on how to settle them. Jesus declined to involve himself in disputes about money, but he did use the occasion to teach about it.
v15 See 1 Tim 6:6-10.
This warning ‘applies to citizens of any culture who set their hearts on piling up more and more of what they have enough of already.’ (Robinson, Expository Preaching, 97). Here is an example, then, of a biblical passage in which, for the preacher, the homiletical idea may be identical with the exegetical idea. It needs no modification or adaptation.
This man could not see beyond himself. ‘There is no parable which is so full of the words, I, me, my and mine. A schoolboy was once asked what parts of speech my and mine are. He answered, “Aggressive pronouns.” The rich fool was aggressively self-centred. It was said of a self-centred young lady, “Edith lived in a little world, bounded on the north, south, east and west by Edith.” The famous criticism was made of a self-centred person, “There is too much ego in his cosmos.” When this man had a superfluity of goods the one thing that never entered his head was to give any away. His whole attitude was the very reverse of Christianity. Instead of denying himself he aggressively affirmed himself; instead of finding his happiness in giving he tried to conserve it by keeping.’ (DSB)
This man could not see beyond this life. ‘All his plans were made on the basis of life here. There is a story of a conversation between a young and ambitious lad and an older man who knew life. Said the young man, “I will learn my trade.” “And then?” said the older man. “I will set up in business.” “And then?” “I will make my fortune.” “And then?” “I suppose that I shall grow old and retire and live on my money.” “And then?” “Well, I suppose that some day I will die.” “And then?” came the last stabbing question.’ (DSB)
‘One summer afternoon on the River Mississippi, a steamer, crowded with passengers, many of them miners from California, suddenly struck a submerged wreck. In a moment her deck was a wild confusion. The boats were able to take off only one-quarter of the passengers. The rest, divesting themselves of their garments, succeeded in swimming to shore. Immediately after the last had quitted the vessel, a man appeared on deck. Seizing a spar, he leapt into the river but instantly sank like a stone. When his body was recovered, it was found that, while the other passengers were escaping, he had been rifling the miners’ trunks, and round his waist he had fastened bags of gold. In a quarter of an hour he had amassed more than most men do in a lifetime, but he lost himself in an instant.’ (Castle, Quotes and Anecdotes, 51) Lk 16:29
12:20 But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded back from you, but who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ 12:21 So it is with the one who stores up riches for himself, but is not rich toward God.”
‘You fool!’ – ‘In what has he been a fool? Not in his foresight and planning; in these he has been exemplary. Nor was he wicked (Lk 12:45) or unjust (Lk 18:6). His folly is his oblivion to God. There are many forms of pride, but the worst of them is to think that one has no need of God. He does not acknowledge the source of his blessings. Rather, he gathers to himself and serves himself, and as such is a practical atheist. He has succumbed to the wilderness temptation of Jesus to live from bread alone (Lk 4:3–4).’ (Edwards)
‘This very night your life will be demanded from you’ – A person might spend a working lifetime accumulating for a comfortable retirement, only for death to tap him on the shoulder and say, “You have forgotten me, my friend.”
“If we desire to end our days in joy and comfort, let us lay the foundation of a comfortable death now betimes. To die well is not a thing of that light moment as some imagine: it is no easy matter. But to die well is a matter of every day. Let us daily do some good that may help us at the time of our death. Every day by repentance pull out the sting of some sin,that so when death comes, we may have nothing to do but to die. To die well is the action of the whole life.” (Richard Sibbes)
To be rich toward God is the equivalent of storing ‘treasure in heaven’ (Lk 12:33; 18:22).
‘The Bible recognizes that the possession of material wealth brings with it great dangers. For example, there is the danger of failing to acknowledge that God is the source of the blessing. (Dt. 8:17-18; Hos 2:8) There is the related danger of trusting in riches. (Ps 52:7) This danger of trusting in riches is so great that our Lord said that it was extremely difficult for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven, explaining the hard saying by the paraphrase ‘those who have riches’. The disciples rightly concluded that all men have this besetting sin; to which our Lord replied that God alone can change the heart. (Mk 10:23,27) Another spiritual danger associated with riches is materialism, that is, making riches the centre of one’s interest. This was the case of the wealthy farmer in Lk 12:21, who was not rich towards God; and of the church of Laodicea. (Rev 3:17) This temptation that wealth brings is described in the parable of the sower, (Mt 13:22) where the deceitfulness of riches chokes the word, so that it becomes unfruitful in the life.’ (NBD)
Exhortation Not to Worry, 22-34
12:22 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear. 12:23 For there is more to life than food, and more to the body than clothing. 12:24 Consider the ravens: They do not sow or reap, they have no storeroom or barn, yet God feeds them. How much more valuable are you than the birds!
Of course, it is proper to provide for the material needs of ourselves and our dependents. What Jesus is opposing is over-anxiety about these things.
We can spend so much time and energy on the provision of food and clothing that we miss out completely on the life they are intended to support.
‘What is the “Therefore” there for? It is a logical connective directing attention to what has preceded: Because transient earthly treasures do not satisfy and do not last, Mt 6:19-21, because moral and spiritual vision is easily distorted and darkened, Mt 6:22-23, because a choice must be made between God and Money, Mt 6:24, because the kingdom of God demands unswerving allegiance to its values, Mt 6:19-24, therefore do not worry, and in particular do not worry about mere things.’ (Carson, on Matthew)
v24 ‘If this light-hearted illustration were pressed too literally, it might suggest that the disciple has no need to grow and harvest food. But the point is that God sees that even the birds are fed, and a disciple is more valuable to him than a bird. What is prohibited is worry, not work..’ (France, on Matthew)
“God feeds them” – ‘God feeds the birds not by miraculous supply of food but through natural processes involving the earth and the birds’ use of their faculties. Likewise, the child of God, though sometimes the recipient of a miracle, is usually cared for by normal means.’ (Ryrie)
On the necessity of work: ‘God gives every bird its food, but he does not throw it into the nest.’ (Josiah Holland)
12:25 And which of you by worrying can add an hour to his life? 12:26 So if you cannot do such a very little thing as this, why do you worry about the rest?
“A single hour” – The word refers to a span, either of height or of time. The latter is more likely here. The fact is, of course, that worry is more likely to shorten life than prolong it.
Tertullian, understanding this text to be referring to height, used it to argue against an actor wearing high shoes or a woman wearing a wig.
12:27 Consider how the flowers grow; they do not work or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his glory was clothed like one of these! 12:28 And if this is how God clothes the wild grass, which is here today and tomorrow is tossed into the fire to heat the oven, how much more will he clothe you, you people of little faith!
Again, the absolutist form of teaching should not be taken as an argument in favour of idleness. As before, the point is not that we should not work, but that we should not worry.
12:29 So do not be overly concerned about what you will eat and what you will drink, and do not worry about such things. 12:30 For all the nations of the world pursue these things, and your Father knows that you need them.
12:31 Instead, pursue his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
“Seek his kingdom” – ‘When Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God he was not referring to the general sovereignty of God over nature and history, but to that specific rule over his own people which he himself had inaugurated, and which begins in anybody’s life when he humbles himself, repents, believes, submits and is born again. God’s kingdom is Jesus Christ ruling over his people in total blessing and total demand. To “seek first” this kingdom is to desire as of first importance the spread of the reign of Jesus Christ. Such as desire will start with ourselves, until every single department of our life – home, marriage and family, personal morality, professional life and business ethics, bank balance, tax returns, lifestyle, citizenship – is joyfully and freely submissive to Christ. It will continue in our immediate environment, with the acceptance of evangelistic responsibility towards our relatives, colleagues, neighbours and friends. And it will also reach out in global concern for the missionary witness of the church.’ (Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 170)
12:32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father is well pleased to give you the kingdom.
“Little flock” – David Reed (Answering Jehovah’s Witnesses) cites from a JW publication:’ “Jehovah has established a limited number, 144,000, to make up the little flock, and has been gathering it since Pentecost 33 C.E. … the general gathering of these specially blessed ones ended in 1935.” The idea of a ‘little flock’ is picked up from Lk 12:32; but the context makes it clear that our Lord is referring to his ‘disciples’, consisting of all who prove faithful (Lk 12:41-53).
12:33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide yourselves purses that do not wear out—a treasure in heaven that never decreases, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys. 12:34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Cf. Mt 6:21
Call to Faithful Stewardship, 35-48
12:35 “Get dressed for service and keep your lamps burning; 12:36 be like people waiting for their master to come back from the wedding celebration, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him.
“Be dressed” – cf v37. Lit., ‘let your loins be girded about.’
12:37 Blessed are those slaves whom their master finds alert when he returns! I tell you the truth, he will dress himself to serve, have them take their place at the table, and will come and wait on them! 12:38 Even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night and finds them alert, blessed are those slaves! 12:39 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.
12:40 You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
12:41 Then Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?”
12:42 The Lord replied, “Who then is the faithful and wise manager, whom the master puts in charge of his household servants, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? 12:43 Blessed is that slave whom his master finds at work when he returns. 12:44 I tell you the truth, the master will put him in charge of all his possessions. 12:45 But if that slave should say to himself, ‘My master is delayed in returning,’ and he begins to beat the other slaves, both men and women, and to eat, drink, and get drunk, 12:46 then the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not foresee, and will cut him in two, and assign him a place with the unfaithful. 12:47 That servant who knew his master’s will but did not get ready or do what his master asked will receive a severe beating. 12:48 But the one who did not know his master’s will and did things worthy of punishment will receive a light beating. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required, and from the one who has been entrusted with much, even more will be asked.
‘I do think it necessary in these times to remind my readers that a man may commit sin and yet be ignorant of it and fancy himself innocent when he is guilty. I fail to see any scriptural warrant for the modern assertion that: “Sin is not sin to us until we discern it and are conscious of it.” On the contrary, in the fourth and fifth chapters of that unduly neglected book, Leviticus, and in the fifteenth of Numbers, I find Israel distinctly taught that there were sins of ignorance which rendered people unclean and needed atonement. (Lev 4:1-35; 5:14-19; Num 15:25-29) And I find our Lord expressly teaching that “the servant who knew not his master’s will and did it not,” was not excused on account of his ignorance but was “beaten” or punished. (Lk 12:48) we will do well to remember that, when we make our own miserably imperfect knowledge and consciousness the measure of our sinfulness, we are on very dangerous ground. A deeper study of Leviticus might do us much good.’ (Ryle, Holiness)
Not Peace, but Division, 49-53
12:49 “I have come to bring fire on the earth—and how I wish it were already kindled! 12:50 I have a baptism to undergo, and how distressed I am until it is finished! 12:51 Do you think I have come to bring peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division! 12:52 For from now on there will be five in one household divided, three against two and two against three. 12:53 They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”
‘In this section (Lk 12:49-14:24) the tension with Israel continues to grow, so that by its end the Jewish nation’s rejection of Jesus is virtually inevitable. Warnings, rejected sabbath miracles and prophetic laments set the tone. Perhaps typical of the unit is 13:31-35, where Jesus issues a prophetic declaration that Israel’s house is now desolate. Its isolation will remain until it recognizes the Messiah. After this section Jesus’ attention will turn to instructing his disciples in light of his approaching departure. They must be made ready to live in his absence.’ (IVP NT Commentary)
This is one of several mission statements Jesus makes (“I have come to:” Lk 5:32; 7:34; Jn 3:2; 5:43; 7:28; 12:27,47; 16:28; 18:37). ‘Other children are passive in their birth. Jesus was active: he came in order to take upon himself the burden of God’s wrath resulting from the sin of his people, and to suffer the agonies of hell—the hell of Calvary—in their stead.’ (Hendriksen)
The reference to fire appears to suggest judgment. (Lk 3:9,17; 9:54; 17:29)
“I have a baptism to undergo” – This must be a reference to his death. He is to be plunged into a terrible flood. Cf. Psa 42:7.
Compare with Lk 2:14.
The parallel in Mt 10:34 has ‘sword’ instead of ‘division’; the meaning is the same.
We have here a figure of speech (a mashal) that presents an aspect of truth in a striking and apparently paradoxical way. The intent is not to present a universal truth, but to make people think. To be sure, the ultimate purpose of Christ’s coming is to bring peace (see Isa 9:6, and also Psa 72:3, Psa 72:7; Lk 1:79; Lk 2:14; Lk 7:50; Lk 8:48; Jn 14:27; Jn 16:33; Jn 20:19, Jn 20:21; Rom 5:1; Rom 10:15; Rom 14:17; Eph 2:14; Col 1:20; Heb 6:20-7:2, but this is not achieved without tribulation (Acts 14:22) and bitter opposition.
The ‘contradiction’ between this teaching and that of Mt 5:9, for example, is therefore apparent, rather than real.
Contrary to the opinion of some sceptics, this passage offers no support whatsoever to the idea that the Christian faith encourages or necessarily leads to violence.
‘The form of the statement not to expect Jesus to bring peace (“do not imagine;” cf. Mt 5:17) suggests that this would have been the natural inclination of the disciples. Was not the gospel a message of peace (cf. Mt 5:9; 10:13)? Would not the age of the kingdom of God bring peace with it? (cf. Lk 1:79; Isa 9:6; 11:9) The answer must clearly be yes in its final realization and even in some sense in the present. (cf. Jn 14:27) But in the peculiar and unexpected interim period of the proclamation of the kingdom, as has already been shown, strange things may be expected by the disciples and later messengers of the kingdom.’ (WBC)
Looking no deeper than the literal meaning of the words used here, some sceptics see in this verse evidence that Jesus was a warmonger. In a public debate with John Lennox, held in Edinburgh in August 2008, noted atheist Christopher Hitchens declared that there was ‘every evidence’ that Jesus and his disciples meant this saying to be taken literally. There is, of course, no such ‘evidence’ at all. As Lennox was able to point out, everything that we know about Jesus points in the direction of a non-literal interpretation of this saying. In fact, the very next verse will make clear in what sense Jesus did not come to bring peace but a sword: a hard enough saying in its own right, but certainly not supporting the idea that Jesus was a ‘warmonger’.
‘The sword [Matthew’s version] Jesus brings is not here military conflict, but, as [Mt 10:35f] show, a sharp social division which even sever family ties…As long as some men refuse the Lordship of God, to follow the Prince of peace will always be a way of conflict.’ (France)
‘When some great cause emerges, it is bound to divide people; there are bound to be those who answer, and those who refuse, the challenge. To be confronted with Jesus is necessarily to be confronted with the choice whether to accept him or to reject him; and the world is always divided into those who have accepted Christ and those who have not.’ (DSB)
‘In the “liberal” West people who have become Christians have occasionally been disowned and disinherited by their families and have lost their jobs. And under totalitarian regimes of the right or the left there has been and still is untold suffering for Christ.’ (Carson)
These verses (v52f) define the kind of ‘division’ that Jesus came to bring.
Reading the Signs, 54-59
12:54 Jesus also said to the crowds, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you say at once, ‘A rainstorm is coming,’ and it does. 12:55 And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat,’ and there is. 12:56 You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky, but how can you not know how to interpret the present time?
A cloud rising in the west – A cloud from the west would be coming from the Mediterranean Sea and thus would be full of rain.
What things are we good at predicting?
‘People tragically fail to realize how serious things are. They can tell a change in the weather from the direction of the wind, but they cannot read the signs of the times and act accordingly.’ (NBC)
When the south wind blows – A wind from the south would bring hot air from the desert.
“Hypocrites!” – ‘This reveals that the crowd’s sin was not due to simple”] ignorance (12:48a) but to willful ignorance.’ (NAC)
“You know…you don’t know” – ‘He was indignant that people could use their reason to make sense out of weather patterns but not the divine working of God in history.’ (Piper, Coronavirus and Christ)
“You don’t know how to interpret this present time?” – ‘”This present time” is literally this time. Luke may have sought to avoid Matthew’s “signs of the times” (Mt 16:3) due to Jesus’ refusal to give signs. (Lk 11:29-31) “This present time” refers to the time in salvation history marked by the coming of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ ministry, not to events leading either to the war of A.D. 70 or to the parousia. For Luke and Theophilus, this time referred to the “Christ event,” i.e., the time from the events of Lk 1:5 on.’ (NAC)
Among the things they should have noticed were
The witness of John the Baptist
Jesus’ signs and wonders. ‘They were blind to the fact that “the blind receive their sight, the lame walk…the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor” (Lk 7:22; cf. Lk 4:18-21).’ (NAC)
The warnings of Jesus
The witness of the prophets
There were, of course, some who did know how to interpret this present time. These included Simeon and Anna.
Clear the Debts, 57-59
12:57 “And why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 12:58 As you are going with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, so that he will not drag you before the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 12:59 I tell you, you will never get out of there until you have paid the very last cent!”
This verse belongs with the next one: the judgement is a legal dispute, where one person is in debt to another.
‘They fail to realize that they are like a person being hauled off to court by an accuser. A wise person will try to get a settlement long before arriving in court and being sent off to a term in prison. Now is the time to respond to Jesus; soon it will be too late.’ (NBC)
‘Here Jesus refers to the ancient practice of debt imprisonment (mentioned also in the Old Testament, e.g., Le 25:39-41 Am 2:6). In debt imprisonment, one would have to depend on friends to come up with the needed funds; one would not be released unless they did so. Luke substitutes a Greek officer for Matthew’s Jewish one, (Mt 5:25) making the story more intelligible for his own readers.’ (NT Background Commentary)
‘The assumption is that the defendant has a bad case which will inevitably go against him. “Every man,” Jesus implied, “has a bad case in the presence of God; and if he is wise, he will make his peace with God while yet there is time.”‘ (DSB)
‘If a person were going to court, knowing he could lose the case and spend some time in jail, (Lk 12:59) then he would certainly try to reconcile with his adversary on the way to the courthouse. So too, a person who is under the threat of judgment should reconcile with God while there is still time.’ (ECB)
We may not think we have a problem with our sin; but the point is that God has a problem with our sin.
‘Time flies’, we say, and so it does. Servants of the gospel should always have a sense of urgency. There are some things which should not be put off, especially making our peace with God.
A lepton (‘cent’, NIV ‘penny’) was the smallest coin in circulation, worth only a fraction of a penny. In the ancient world, family members had to pay the full debt before a jailed debtor could be released.