Chapter 18: Luke 15–17

New Testament Student Manual, 2014


Introduction and Timeline for Luke 15–17

The events recorded in Luke 15–17 occurred as Jesus traveled from Galilee toward Jerusalem, including in the area of Perea, near the end of His mortal ministry. Luke recorded several of the Savior’s parables, including the well-known parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son (see Luke 15). These three parables illustrate our responsibility to diligently seek out those who have become separated from God, the joy that attends their return to Him, and the love God has for all of His children. Through the parable of the unjust steward (see Luke 16:1–12), the Savior taught that we need to be constantly preparing for the Day of Judgment. Through the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the Lord rebuked self-righteous and covetous Pharisees (see Luke 16:19–31), warning that their attitudes would bring suffering upon themselves in the next life if they did not repent. From the parable of the unprofitable servant (see Luke 17:7–10) and the Savior’s healing of ten lepers (see Luke 17:11–19), we learn the importance of living in gratitude to God and recognizing our indebtedness to Him.

lesson 18 timeline

Commentary for Luke 15–17

Luke 15–17. Perean Ministry

At least some of the Savior’s teachings recorded in Luke 15–17 were given in Perea, the area east of the Jordan River, and constitute what is often called the Perean ministry, a time that lasted no more than a few weeks.

Of this ministry, Elder James E. Talmage (1862–1933) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles noted: “The violent hostility of the Jews in Jerusalem, the headquarters of the theocracy, was such that Jesus withdrew from the city and its neighborhood. The day for His sacrifice had not yet come, and while His enemies could not kill Him until He allowed Himself to be taken into their hands, His work would be retarded by further hostile disturbances. He retired to the place at which John the Baptist had begun his public ministry, which is probably also the place of our Lord’s baptism. The exact location is not specified; it was certainly beyond Jordan and therefore in Perea. … People resorted to Him even there, however, and many believed on Him” (Jesus the Christ, 3rd ed. [1916], 489–90).

Luke 15. Introduction to Three Parables

Luke recorded three of the Savior’s most well-known parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal (lost) son. The common theme in all three parables is that something was lost. In the case of the lost sheep and the lost coin, a search was made to find the lost object. In all three parables, the people involved rejoiced when that which was lost was found.

Something was lost. President David O. McKay (1873–1970) noted that in the three parables found in Luke 15, the sheep, the coin, and the prodigal son each became lost for different reasons. Regarding the sheep, President McKay taught: “How did that sheep get lost? He was not rebellious. If you follow the comparison, the lamb was seeking its livelihood in a perfectly legitimate manner, but either stupidly, perhaps unconsciously, it followed the enticement of the field, the prospect of better grass until it got out beyond the fold and was lost.

“So we have those in the Church … who wander away from the fold in perfectly legitimate ways. They are seeking success, success in business, success in their professions, and before long they become disinterested in Church and finally disconnected from the fold.”

Regarding the lost coin, President McKay taught: “In this case the thing lost was not in itself responsible. The one who had been trusted with that coin had, through carelessness or neglect, mislaid it or dropped it. … Our charge is not only coins, but living souls of children, youth, and adults. They are our charges.”

As for the prodigal son, he taught: “Here is a case of volition, here is choice, deliberate choice. Here is, in a way, rebellion against authority. And what did he do? He spent his means in riotous living, he wasted his portion” (in Conference Report, Apr. 1945, 120–21, 123).

Searching for the lost item. The shepherd who lost his sheep and the woman who lost her coin both sought diligently until they found their valued possession (see Luke 15:4, 8). As disciples of Jesus Christ, we too have a responsibility to seek diligently for those who are “lost” to the blessings of the gospel. While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder Alexander B. Morrison wrote concerning this responsibility: “No part of the leader-shepherd’s role is more important than that which takes him or her out into the highways and thickets of the world to find and bring back members of the flock of Christ who have wandered away, in whom the fire of faith and testimony has dimmed and grown cold. As leaders do so, theirs is the joy expressed so beautifully by the Savior in that powerful parable found in Luke 15 [see verses 3–7]” (Feed My Sheep: Leadership Ideas for Latter-day Shepherds [1992], 28).

President Thomas S. Monson shared the following account of a faithful home teacher who never gave up, though it took many years to see the fruits of his labors:

video icon“Dick Hammer came to Utah during the Depression years with the Civilian Conservation Corps. During that period, he met and married a Latter-day Saint young woman. He opened his cafe, which became a popular meeting spot. Home teacher to the Hammer family was Willard Milne. Since I knew Dick Hammer and had printed his menus, I would ask my friend Brother Milne when I visited St. George, ‘How is our friend Dick Hammer coming?’

“The reply would generally be, ‘Slowly.’

“The years passed by, and just a year or two ago Willard said to me, ‘Brother Monson, Dick Hammer is converted and is going to be baptized. He is in his 90th year, and we have been friends all our adult lives. His decision warms my heart. I’ve been his home teacher for many years—perhaps 15 years.’

“Brother Hammer was indeed baptized and a year later entered that beautiful St. George Temple and there received his endowment and sealing blessings.

“I asked Willard, ‘Did you ever become discouraged teaching for such a long time?’

“He replied, ‘No, it was worth the effort. I am a happy man’” (“Home Teaching—a Divine Service,” Ensign, Nov. 1997, 47).

Rejoicing when the lost item was found. Joy is a central message of these parables (see Luke 15:6, 9, 23–24, 32). Elder James E. Talmage wrote: “The three parables … are as one in portraying the joy that abounds in heaven over the recovery of a soul once numbered among the lost, whether that soul be best symbolized by a sheep that had wandered afar, a coin that had dropped out of sight through the custodian’s neglect, or a son who would deliberately sever himself from home and heaven. There is no justification for the inference that a repentant sinner is to be given precedence over a righteous soul who had resisted sin. … Unqualifiedly offensive as is sin, the sinner is yet precious in the Father’s eyes, because of the possibility of his repentance and return to righteousness. The loss of a soul is a very real and a very great loss to God. He is pained and grieved thereby, for it is His will that not one should perish” (Jesus the Christ, 461).

In speaking about these three parables, Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles taught: “Why did Jesus teach these parables? He wanted us to know that none of us will ever be so lost that we cannot find our way again through His Atonement and His teachings” (“That the Lost May Be Found,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2012, 100).

Luke 15:1–2. “All the Publicans and Sinners for to Hear Him”

Jesus directed the three parables found in Luke 15 to the Pharisees and scribes who murmured because He associated with publicans and sinners (see Luke 15:1–2; publicans were especially detested among the Jews). These parables reminded those who presumed to be spiritual leaders that they had responsibility toward the spiritually lost. They were to seek out those who were lost and rejoice when any of them found their way back. The Gospels record numerous instances when the Savior reached out to those who were lost, in need, or in trouble, setting an example for all those who seek to serve others (see Mark 5:1–8; Luke 5:29–32; 19:1–10; John 9:35–38).

The Prophet Joseph Smith (1805–44) said that one interpretation of the parable is that the “hundred sheep represent one hundred Sadducees and Pharisees” and since they did not accept and follow the Savior’s teachings, He would go outside the sheepfold to search for “a few individuals, or one poor publican, which the Pharisees and Sadducees despised.” When He had found the “sheep that are lost” who would repent and receive Him, they would have “joy in heaven” (in History of the Church, 5:262). This interpretation helps us understand that the Savior’s words were a rebuke to help the Pharisees and scribes recognize their own need to repent, for the Lord commands “all men everywhere to repent” (D&C 133:16; see also Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8; D&C 18:9, 42).

Luke 15:3–7. Parable of the Lost Sheep

Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin (1917–2008) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles applied the message of the parable of the lost sheep when he taught about why people stray from the Lord and Church activity:

“Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed. …

“Brothers and sisters, if only we had more compassion for those who are different from us, it would lighten many of the problems and sorrows in the world today. …

Some are lost because they are weary. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed. With all the pressures and demands on our time and the stress we face each day, it’s little wonder we get tired. Many feel discouraged because they have not measured up to their potential. Others simply feel too weak to contribute. And so, as the flock moves on, gradually, almost imperceptibly, some fall behind” (“Concern for the One,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2008, 18–19).

While serving as provost of Brigham Young University, Elder Bruce C. Hafen similarly explored the application of the parable of the lost sheep, explaining that at certain points in our life, each of us might be like the lost sheep and in need of help:

“The lost sheep are not just the people who don’t come to church. … The lost sheep is a mother who goes down into the valley of the dark shadows to bring forth children. The lost sheep is a young person, far away from home and faced with loneliness and temptation. The lost sheep is a person who has just lost a critically needed job; a business person in financial distress; a new missionary in a foreign culture; a man just called to be bishop; a married couple who are misunderstanding each other; a grandmother whose children are forgetting her. I am the lost sheep. You are the lost sheep. ‘All we like sheep have gone astray.’ (Isaiah 53:6; emphasis added.)

“The times of feeling lost are not always times when we have wandered from the straight and narrow path. Not at all. We may be precisely where the Lord would have us be” (The Broken Heart: Applying the Atonement to Life’s Experiences [1989], 60).

The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd, by Del Parson

Luke 15:8–10. Parable of the Lost Coin

The coin became lost through its owner’s negligence. The woman in the parable can represent anyone who has responsibility to watch over and spiritually care for someone else. In our day, we can apply the Savior’s parable by remembering that a lack of attention or proper care from other Church members may contribute to a member of the Church becoming lost. President Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) taught how we can help prevent this from happening, especially with new members of the Church:

“There must be warmth in the work of the Lord. There must be friendship. There must be love unfeigned. There must be appreciation and thanks expressed. There must be constant nurturing with the good word of God. All of these are small things, so easy to do, and they make so great a difference.

“I have come to feel that the greatest tragedy in the Church is the loss of those who join the Church and then fall away. With very few exceptions it need not happen. … It is not an easy thing to make the transition incident to joining this Church. It means cutting old ties. It means leaving friends. It may mean setting aside cherished beliefs. It may require a change of habits and a suppression of appetites. In so many cases it means loneliness and even fear of the unknown. There must be nurturing and strengthening during this difficult season of a convert’s life” (“There Must Be Messengers,” Ensign, Oct. 1987, 5).

woman with coin

A woman finds a lost coin and rejoices, by Paul Mann

On another occasion, President Hinckley taught: “With the ever-increasing number of converts, we must make an increasingly substantial effort to assist them as they find their way. Every one of them needs three things: a friend, a responsibility, and nurturing with ‘the good word of God’ (Moro. 6:4). It is our duty and opportunity to provide these things” (“Converts and Young Men,” Ensign, May 1997, 47).

Elder M. Russell Ballard taught why we must reach out to those who are struggling to be active in the Church: “Every soul is very precious to our Heavenly Father. We must never forget that through the Atonement, the Lord Jesus Christ paid a great price for the redemption of each one of us. His suffering must not be in vain because we fail to nurture and teach those who are striving to be active in the Church” (“Are We Keeping Pace?” Ensign, Nov. 1998, 8).

Luke 15:11–32. Parable of the Prodigal Son

Though the text of Luke does not give a name to the parable found in Luke 15:11–32, it has become known as the parable of the prodigal son. The word prodigal means wasteful and recklessly extravagant. The parable actually tells of two sons, one wasteful (see Luke 15:11–24) and the other resentful (see Luke 15:25–32), both of whom need to be reconciled to their father.

Luke 15:12–13. “Give Me the Portion of Goods That Falleth to Me”

According to the customs of the Savior’s time, a son received his inheritance only after his father died. For a son to demand his inheritance before his father’s death (see Luke 15:12–13) would have been an enormous offense. The son’s request would have been seen as a rejection of his father, his home, his upbringing, and even his entire community.

Luke 15:13. “A Far Country”

Not long after the father divided his inheritance between his sons, the wasteful son gathered his belongings and left—disclosing his immaturity as well as his desire to be free of parental guidance or restraint. The reference to “a far country” (Luke 15:13) probably means a Gentile country and reflects the extremity of the younger son’s rebellion. Elder Neal A. Maxwell (1926–2004) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles likened this detail to each of us: “Like the prodigal son, we too can go to ‘a far country,’ which may be no further away than a vile rock concert. The distance to ‘a far country’ is not to be measured by miles but by how far our hearts and minds are from Jesus! (see Mosiah 5:13). Fidelity, not geography, really determines the distance!” (“The Tugs and Pulls of the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 36).

Luke 15:14–17. The Prodigal Took Up Employment Feeding Swine

Swine, or pigs, were considered “unclean” according to the law of Moses (Leviticus 11:7); thus, the prodigal’s demeaning employment feeding swine reflects how far he had fallen, and it would have been considered an additional sign of dishonor. It was in these desperate circumstances that finally “he came to himself” (Luke 15:17)—an idiom suggesting that he awoke to a recognition of the awful situation he had fallen into because of his transgression (see Mosiah 2:40). Elder Neal A. Maxwell observed, “Of course, it is better if we are humbled ‘because of the word’ rather than being compelled by circumstances, yet the latter may do! (see Alma 32:13–14). Famine can induce spiritual hunger” (“The Tugs and Pulls of the World,” Ensign, Nov. 2000, 36).

The Prodigal Son

The Prodigal Son, by Wilson Ong

Luke 15:20–24. “His Father Saw Him, and Had Compassion, and Ran” to Him

At the time this parable was given, one who had done the acts the prodigal son committed would have faced public scorn and ridicule upon his return. Consequently, those listening to the Savior’s parable would have been startled by the father’s uncharacteristic response. The father saw the returning son “when he was yet a great way off,” which implies that the father had regularly been watching the horizon, hoping to see his son returning. He had not given up on his son. Then, rather than waiting for his son to come to him and beg for forgiveness, the father “had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck [embraced him], and kissed him” (Luke 15:20). The father publicly embraced and kissed his son in an act of forgiveness and reconciliation and then brought him the rest of the way home.

The “best robe,” the ring, the shoes (slaves went barefoot), and slaying the fatted calf for a feast (see Luke 15:22–23) all show that despite the son’s disgraceful actions, the father accepted the returning prodigal as his son, not as a servant or a sinner.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles spoke of the hope that the image of the prodigal’s father provides to all of us: “The tender image of this boy’s anxious, faithful father running to meet him and showering him with kisses is one of the most moving and compassionate scenes in all of holy writ. It tells every child of God, wayward or otherwise, how much God wants us back in the protection of His arms” (“The Other Prodigal,” Ensign, May 2002, 62).

The parable of the prodigal son teaches us much about the nature and attributes of our Father in Heaven. Like the father in the parable, God will not control us, keep us from straying, or keep us from making selfish, foolish errors. Yet His love never diminishes. He is so anxious to have us return that He will run to us when we are still “a great way off” (Luke 15:20). He knows us so well that He can recognize our better selves when no one else can. Each of us, male or female, will be able to recognize something of ourselves in each of the sons in the parable.

The parable also teaches us about what the Savior does for us when we turn from sin and return to Him. Through the Atonement, He runs to welcome us home and does not require us to make the trek of repentance alone.

For a modern-day example of a young man who spent his life in “riotous living” and then found his way back into full activity in the Church, see the story told by Elder Neil L. Andersen of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in the commentary for Luke 7:36–50.

Prodigal Son

Prodigal Son, by Liz Lemon Swindle. His father ran and kissed him.

Luke 15:25–32. The Elder Son

The older son had been dutiful, but in some ways he too was distant from his father. He did not share his father’s compassion or joy. By refusing to join in the feast, he too publicly brought shame and embarrassment to his father, though not to the extent of the younger son. The father left the feast to seek out his elder son rather than waiting for the elder son to come to him, as culture would dictate. The father offered love and grace to both sons, the faithful and the less faithful. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland explained that one of the lessons we can learn from the elder son in the parable is the self-destructive consequence of jealousy:

video icon“This son is not so much angry that the other has come home as he is angry that his parents are so happy about it. Feeling unappreciated and perhaps more than a little self-pity, this dutiful son—and he is wonderfully dutiful—forgets for a moment that he has never had to know filth or despair, fear or self-loathing. He forgets for a moment that every calf on the ranch is already his and so are all the robes in the closet and every ring in the drawer. He forgets for a moment that his faithfulness has been and always will be rewarded.

“No, he who has virtually everything, and who has in his hardworking, wonderful way earned it, lacks the one thing that might make him the complete man of the Lord he nearly is. He has yet to come to the compassion and mercy, the charitable breadth of vision to see that this is not a rival returning. It is his brother. …

“Certainly this younger brother had been a prisoner—a prisoner of sin, stupidity, and a pigsty. But the older brother lives in some confinement, too. He has, as yet, been unable to break out of the prison of himself. He is haunted by the green-eyed monster of jealousy. He feels taken for granted by his father and disenfranchised by his brother, when neither is the case. He has fallen victim to a fictional affront. … One who has heretofore presumably been very happy with his life and content with his good fortune suddenly feels very unhappy simply because another has had some good fortune as well” (“The Other Prodigal,” 63).

Luke 16:1–12. Parable of the Unjust Steward

On first reading, the parable of the unjust steward may seem to condone the steward’s dishonesty. Careful study shows, however, that the parable teaches the care with which the Saints of God should approach the task of preparing for their eternal future. Knowing that he had but a short time left in his appointed post, the steward wisely tried to secure his future by winning some friends. Elder James E. Talmage explained:

“It was not the steward’s dishonesty that was extolled; his prudence and foresight were commended, however; for while he misapplied his master’s substance, he gave relief to the debtors; and in so doing he did not exceed his legal powers, for he was still steward though he was morally guilty of malfeasance [wrongdoing]. The lesson may be summed up in this wise: … Be diligent; for the day in which you can use your earthly riches will soon pass. Take a lesson from even the dishonest and the evil; if they are so prudent as to provide for the only future they think of, how much more should you, who believe in an eternal future, provide therefor! If you have not learned wisdom and prudence in the use of ‘unrighteous mammon,’ how can you be trusted with the more enduring riches?” (Jesus the Christ, 464).

Luke 16:13–18. Context for the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:13–18 provides the context that led the Savior to teach the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. When Jesus taught the doctrine that you cannot serve God and mammon—meaning worldly riches or gain—this angered the Pharisees, “who were covetous,” and “they derided him.” The Savior then told them that they were justifying their actions but that God knew the intent of their hearts. (See Luke 16:13–15.) The Joseph Smith Translation expands upon Luke 16:16–18, making clear that in the parable Jesus taught to the Pharisees, he was comparing the rich man to them and teaching them what lay in their future if they continued to pervert the right way:

“And they said unto him, We have the law, and the prophets; but as for this man we will not receive him to be our ruler; for he maketh himself to be a judge over us.

“Then said Jesus unto them, The law and the prophets testify of me; yea, and all the prophets who have written, even until John, have foretold of these days.

“Since that time, the kingdom of God is preached, and every man who seeketh truth presseth into it.

“And it is easier for heaven and earth to pass, than for one tittle of the law to fail.

“And why teach ye the law, and deny that which is written; and condemn him whom the Father hath sent to fulfill the law, that ye might all be redeemed?

“O fools! for you have said in your hearts, There is no God. And you pervert the right way; and the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence of you; and you persecute the meek; and in your violence you seek to destroy the kingdom; and ye take the children of the kingdom by force. Woe unto you, ye adulterers!

“And they reviled him again, being angry for the saying, that they were adulterers.

“But he continued, saying, Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery; and whosoever marrieth her who is put away from her husband, committeth adultery. Verily I say unto you, I will liken you unto the rich man” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 16:16–23 [in the Bible appendix]).

In the parable, the Savior did not say that the rich man was an evil man—only that with all the blessings he had been given, he did not give from his great wealth to someone in need. It may have surprised the Pharisees to hear that the rich man went to hell, while Lazarus went to paradise. In this parable, the Savior taught all of us to be wise in how we use the temporal and spiritual blessings given to us.

Luke 16:19–31. What Do We Learn about the Spirit World from the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus?

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus refers to two different conditions in the postmortal spirit world: “Abraham’s bosom” and “hell” (see Luke 16:22–23). The former is depicted as a place of comfort in the company of the faithful (epitomized by father Abraham), the latter as a place of torment. “Abraham’s bosom conjures up an image of one man reclining companionably against another during a feast or banquet (see John 13:23). Bosom also suggests having close fellowship with another (see John 1:18). In paradise, Lazarus was able to have close association with Abraham, the revered father of all Israelites” (Jay A. Parry and Donald W. Parry, Understanding the Parables of Jesus Christ [2006], 156; see also the commentary for John 13:23). Between this abode of the faithful and “hell” there was “a great gulf fixed” (Luke 16:26), which prevented interchange between the two.

spirit prison and paradise diagram

“Abraham’s bosom” refers to paradise, and “hell” refers to the spirit prison. The division between these two places existed before Jesus Christ visited the spirit world between the time of His death and His Resurrection. Before Christ’s death, spirits from paradise could not visit those who were in spirit prison. His ministry in the spirit world bridged the gulf between paradise and the spirit prison, making it possible for the spirits in prison to receive the message of the gospel from authorized ministers sent from paradise (see D&C 138:18–37; John 5:25–29; 1 Peter 3:18–21; 4:6).

spirit prison and paradise diagram

The Savior’s visit to the spirits in prison opened the way for the salvation of the dead, as Elder Bruce R. McConkie (1915–85) of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles explained: “Since our Lord has proclaimed ‘liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound’ (Isa. 61:1), the gospel is preached in all parts of the spirit world, repentance is granted to those who seek it, vicarious ordinances are administered in earthly temples, and there is a hope of salvation for the spirits of those men who would have received the gospel with all their hearts in this life had the opportunity come to them” (Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 3 vols. [1965–73], 1:522).

President Joseph F. Smith (1838–1918) clarified that before spirits can be released from spirit prison, they must hear the gospel and accept it and the saving ordinances must be performed for them: “In relation to the deliverance of spirits from their prison house, of course, we believe that can only be done after the gospel has been preached to them in the spirit, and they have accepted the same, and the work necessary to their redemption by the living be done for them” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph F. Smith [1998], 413–14).

For further insight on the Savior’s ministry in the spirit world, see the commentaries for John 5:25, 28 and for 1 Peter 3:18–20; 4:6.

Luke 16:24–25. The Law of Justice

Lazarus at the Rich Man’s Door

Lazarus at the Rich Man’s Door, by James Tissot. Dogs licked his sores.

The parable of the rich man and Lazarus teaches us about the principle of divine justice. In the parable, the rich man found that after his death, he would have to suffer for a time because of the decisions he had made as a mortal. Lazarus found that after his death, he was blessed and comforted. This teaches us that all the inequities of this life will be made up to the righteous in the next life. Justice is the friend of those who rely on the Atonement of Jesus Christ. As Abraham said to the rich man in the parable, in the next life the injustices of mortality are made right: “Remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou are tormented” (Luke 16:25).

Luke 16:31. “Though One Rose from the Dead”

The parable about Lazarus is the only parable in which the Savior used a proper name for one of the characters. In the parable, a rich man who had gone to hell pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers to convince them that they should repent. Abraham replied that if they would not hear the words of the prophets, “neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” (Luke 16:31). Such persuasion requires a changed heart—not changed messengers. Failing to hear the prophets is the same thing as failing to hear the Savior—the One who did rise from the dead. “He that receiveth my servants receiveth me” (D&C 84:36), the Lord declared. “Whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38).

A short time after the parable was given, the Savior’s close friend Lazarus died and the Savior restored him to life (see John 11). In literal fulfillment of Jesus’s prophecy that someone who had risen from the dead would not persuade the wicked to repent, Jewish leaders responded to the raising of Lazarus from the dead by seeking to have him killed (see John 12:10–11). Not too many months later, Jesus Himself would be slain and would rise from the dead, and the Jewish leaders would continue to refuse to be persuaded.

Luke 17:1–4. Sinning and Forgiving

As Jesus continued to teach His disciples, He reminded them that people are certain to encounter things that cause them to sin, but He declared that woe would come to people who tempt others to sin. The “little ones” they offend include those who may not yet be strong in their faith. The Savior’s disciples must watch themselves so they do not cause others to stumble (see Luke 17:1–2). Jesus also taught us to forgive others, even if they trespass “seven times in a day” and then repent each time (see Luke 17:3–4). Forgiveness is required of everyone (see D&C 64:8–10). This important instruction is what led the Savior to teach the parable of the unprofitable servant.

Luke 17:5–10. The Parable of the Unprofitable Servant

After Jesus taught His Apostles about the need to forgive others, they asked Him, “Lord, Increase our faith” (Luke 17:5). Jesus answered by teaching the parable of the unprofitable servant (see Luke 17:7–10). An important point in this parable is that the servant should not expect any special reward or adopt a sense of entitlement simply because he had done his duty. Masters gave their servants food, shelter, and clothing; servants, in turn, were obligated to work for their masters. No matter how well a servant performed his duties, he was still in his master’s debt for all that he had. Similarly, we are eternally indebted to our Heavenly Father and can never fully pay Him back or place Him in our debt. Thus, in answer to the Apostles’ request to strengthen their faith, the Savior taught that faith in God involves recognizing our indebtedness to Him and dependence on Him. To read more about our indebtedness to God, see King Benjamin’s words recorded in Mosiah 2:22–24, 34.

While serving as a member of the Seventy, Elder John K. Carmack taught: “No matter how difficult and impossible the circumstances we face, we must retain the attitude that we are still in the Lord’s debt. Just keeping the commandments, while laudable, may be enough to maintain our faith but not enough to increase it. We must continue sacrificing and serving with no thought of reward. We do it out of love and gratitude for the Lord, to whom we owe everything” (“Lord, Increase Our Faith,” Ensign, Mar. 2002, 56).

Luke 17:6. “Faith as a Grain of Mustard Seed”

For explanation about having faith as a grain of mustard seed, see the commentary for Matthew 17:20.

Luke 17:11–19. The Ten Lepers and Gratitude

Jesus with healed leper

Where Are the Nine, by Liz Lemon Swindle

Although all ten lepers in this account were “cleansed,” only the Samaritan man who returned was made “whole” (Luke 17:14, 19). Bishop Merrill J. Bateman, while serving as Presiding Bishop, taught: “In becoming a whole person, the grateful leper was healed inside as well as on the outside. That day nine lepers were healed skin deep, but only one had the faith to be made whole” (“The Power to Heal from Within,” Ensign, May 1995, 14).

After relating the account of the cleansing of the ten lepers in a general conference of the Church, President Thomas S. Monson shared the following thoughts regarding gratitude: “My brothers and sisters, do we remember to give thanks for the blessings we receive? Sincerely giving thanks not only helps us recognize our blessings, but it also unlocks the doors of heaven and helps us feel God’s love” (“The Divine Gift of Gratitude,” Ensign or Liahona, Nov. 2010, 87).

Luke 17:20–21. “The Kingdom of God Is within You”

Many translations of the New Testament render the phrase “the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:21) as “the kingdom of God is among you” because the pronoun you is plural in Greek. The Joseph Smith Translation changes this phrase to read, “The kingdom of God has already come unto you” (Joseph Smith Translation, Luke 17:21 [in Luke 17:21, footnote b]). Both renderings of the phrase point to the truth that Jesus Christ had established the kingdom of God, which is His Church, on the earth at that time and would again establish it in our day.

The Prophet Joseph Smith defined the “kingdom of God”: “Some say the kingdom of God was not set up on the earth until the day of Pentecost, and that John [the Baptist] did not preach the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins; but I say, in the name of the Lord, that the kingdom of God was set up on the earth from the days of Adam to the present time. Whenever there has been a righteous man on earth unto whom God revealed His word and gave power and authority to administer in His name, … there is the kingdom of God” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Joseph Smith [2007], 82).

Luke 17:20–37. Jesus Taught about the Second Coming

For insights regarding the Savior’s teachings on the Second Coming, see the commentary for Joseph Smith—Matthew 1:23; Matthew 24:6.

Luke 17:29–32. “Remember Lot’s Wife”

While instructing His disciples regarding His Second Coming, Jesus admonished them to “remember Lot’s wife” (Luke 17:32). A clue to the meaning of this statement is found at the end of Luke 17:31: “Let him likewise not return back.” Elder Jeffrey R. Holland discussed the significance of these admonitions:

“The original story [of Lot’s wife], of course, comes to us out of the days of Sodom and Gomorrah, when the Lord, having had as much as He could stand of the worst that men and women could do, told Lot and his family to flee because those cities were about to be destroyed. ‘Escape for thy life,’ the Lord said, ‘look not behind thee … ; escape to the mountain, lest thou be consumed’ (Genesis 19:17; emphasis added).

“… The scriptures tell us what happened at daybreak the morning following their escape:

“‘The Lord rained upon Sodom and upon Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven;

“‘And he overthrew those cities.’” (Genesis 19:24–25.) …

“… With the Lord’s counsel ‘look not behind thee’ ringing clearly in her ears, Lot’s wife, the record says, ‘looked back,’ and she was turned into a pillar of salt. …

“… What did Lot’s wife do that was so wrong? … Apparently what was wrong with Lot’s wife was that she wasn’t just looking back; in her heart she wanted to go back. It would appear that even before they were past the city limits, she was already missing what Sodom and Gomorrah had offered her. …

“It is possible that Lot’s wife looked back with resentment toward the Lord for what He was asking her to leave behind. … So it isn’t just that she looked back; she looked back longingly. In short, her attachment to the past outweighed her confidence in the future. That, apparently, was at least part of her sin.

“… The past is to be learned from but not lived in. … When we have learned what we need to learn and have brought with us the best that we have experienced, then we look ahead, we remember that faith is always pointed toward the future. Faith always has to do with blessings and truths and events that will yet be efficacious in our lives. So a more theological way to talk about Lot’s wife is to say that she did not have faith. She doubted the Lord’s ability to give her something better than she already had. Apparently she thought—fatally, as it turned out—that nothing that lay ahead could possibly be as good as those moments she was leaving behind” (“Remember Lot’s Wife” [Brigham Young University devotional, Jan. 13, 2009], 2–3; speeches.byu.edu).

    Points to Ponder

  • Do you have friends or family members who are straying from the Lord and Church activity? Consider the parables in Luke 15, and think about what you learn from them that can help you share your righteous influence and testimony with those who have strayed.

  • What do you learn from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (see Luke 16:19–31) about the relationship between our actions in this life and what happens to us in the next life?

    Suggested Assignments

  • Think of someone in your ward or branch who appears not to have many friends. In the spirit of the Savior’s teachings in Luke 15, think of three things you will do to become a closer friend to this person.

  • During the coming week, take time each day to record the blessings you feel you have received from the Lord (see Luke 17:5–19). With each new day, try not to duplicate what you have written on previous days. At the end of the week, ponder the blessings you have received and consider what they teach about the Lord’s love for you. How has attention to gratitude affected your faith? Express your gratitude to the Lord.