The Parable of the Lost Son

Mike Johnson

 There are three very well know parables recorded in Luke 15.  They are: the Parable of the Lost Sheep, the Parable of the Lost Coin, and the Parable of the Lost Son.  The setting in which Jesus presented these parables is recorded in verses 1-2.  The publicans and sinners had drawn near to Christ which prompted the Pharisees and scribes to murmur.  They said, “This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.”  This reaction seemed to have prompted the three parables.  In this article, we will examine the Parable of the Lost Son.  This parable is only recorded in the book of Luke and is looked upon by many as the most beautiful of all parables.

The Departure

The first part of the parable reveals that a man had two sons, and that the younger of the two brothers requested his inheritance.  In verse 12, he said, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me.”  His father complied with the request.  (Deuteronomy 21:17 indicates that a firstborn son would receive a double portion of his father’s property.  So in the case where there were two sons, the older would have two-thirds while the younger would receive one-third.)  The son left home with his inheritance and went to a far country.  Verse 13 says that he wasted his substance with riotous living (NASB  “loose living”).  Later, his brother accused him of devouring his wealth with harlots (V. 30).  So the young man plunged into loose and reckless living.

The son wanted to be free from his father desiring to leave his influence and control.  From a spiritual standpoint, many are like this today as they depart from their Father (God) and seek to be independent of His way.  John 8:32 says, “and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.”  The only true freedom is found “in Christ.”  Also, in the parable, the son went into a “far country.”  This would represent a state of “departure” or “forgetfulness of God.”  He had once been in his father’s household, but now he has departed from him.  Spiritually, many today are in the same position as they have departed from their heavenly Father.

His Condition

Verses 14-16 reveals the condition of the son after he left his father.  After the young man had wasted his money, a great famine came and he began to be in need.  Verse 15 says that he joined himself to a citizen of the country who sent him into his fields to feed swine.  This might be called the first step in his degradation.  It is assumed that the young man was a Jew.  The Jews viewed swine as unclean animals so this young man had gone from a position of being a son in a wealthy family to the position of a swine feeder which was an especially deplorable occupation for Jews. Verse 16 shows another stage of his degradation.  It says that he desired to eat the husks that were used to feed the swine.  (It is thought that these were the long bean-shaped pods which came from the carob tree.  These pods were used by the poorest of the people.)  The NASB says, “And he was longing to fill his stomach with the pods that the swine were eating. . . .”  He was that hungry.  The young man had fallen far.

Consider  a few principles.  When one is near his Father, God, he is a very wealthy individual from a spiritual standpoint; when one is a faithful child of God he has many rich spiritual blessings.  He has the hope of eternal life; he can have confidence in his prayers.  However, when a person departs from God, that person is in a state of being very poor spiritually.  This person is in a dishonorable and shameful condition which might be paralleled to the sons shame (vs. 14-16).  Various passages in God’s Word also describe the shameful position of the apostate.  II Peter 2, speaking of some who had escaped the pollutions of the world and were again entangled therein, says, “But it is happened unto them according to the true proverb, the dog is turned to his vomit again, and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”  Revelation 3:16 says, “ . . . because thou art lukewarm and neither cold nor hot, I will spew thee out of my mouth.”  The son in the parable left his Father and was in a very shameful state.  Similarly, if we leave God, we will be in a very shameful state and would need to come out of it.

His Realization

The son, being in a position of feeding swine, became so hungry that he desired their food.  Verse 17 points out that 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!”  He now sees his error in requesting his share of the estate, going into a far country and spending his money on loose living.  He now begins to appreciate his father’s home which he had so eagerly left.

In like manner, the apostate needs to “come to himself.”  He has departed from God and must recognize his pitiful and lost condition.  Recall Peter’s words, “The dog is turned to his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.”  The apostate must recognize the danger that he has put his soul in, the blockades and hardships that he might put before his family who might be trying to do right, and finally, he needs to consider that he is hurting the body of Christ.  The son “came to his senses” (NASB), and certainly the apostate today needs to “come to his senses” before it is too late.

The Decision

Verses 18-19 shows him contemplating a course of action after coming to the realization about his condition.  He decided to go back home to his father.  He would tell his father that he had sinned before him and against heaven, and was no more worthy to be called his son.  He would ask his father to make him a hired servant.  Remember, the son was without money, and he was a long way from home.  Without money, the journey home would be even more difficult.  Will the young man simply think about what he needed to do, or will he have the courage to carry out his plan?  Many apostates think about what they need to do, even decide on a course of action but never follow through with it.

The Action

Verses 20-21 show that the son acted upon his decision.  He returned to his father and confessed his sin to him.  He did not delay in coming back once he made his decision.  Also, he did not make excuses for his sin.  He could have said, “people took advantage of me,” or “I would have made it fine if the famine had not come.”  Instead of making excuses, the young man simply acknowledged his sin to his father (note I Jn. 1:8-10, James 5:16, Acts 8:22).

People react in a variety of ways when confronted with their sins.  Many make excuses while others try and shift the blame.  In the Old Testament when David was confronted with his sin (II Samuel 12:13), he said, “I have sinned against the Lord.”  In contrast, when Uzziah was confronted with his sin by the priests, he became enraged (II Chron. 26:19).  It is important that we react properly regarding our sins.

The first reaction came from the young man’s father (vs. 20-24).  The father was exuberant about his son’s return.  He forgave him and prepared a feast for him.  This illustrates God’s willingness to forgive us when we return to Him, and the joy in heaven which results.  Luke 15:7 says, “I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.”

The second reaction came from the older brother (vs. 25-32).  He did not have the same attitude as his father as he refused to accept the younger brother.  We need to be careful today and not respond as this brother when people return to the Lord.  We need to react as God reacts toward those who return, and we must be willing to forgive.

In conclusion, this parable teaches the same general lessons as the first two parables of this chapter.  They all show God’s attitude toward lost people and His attitude toward their return.  In the Parable of the Lost Son, the father represents God, the younger son represents people who have departed from God, while the oldest son represents individuals who have an improper attitude toward those who return.  In the context (vs. 1-2), the principles taught would apply to the self-righteous Pharisees and the attitude toward others such as the publicans and sinners who might desire to do right.