And he said, A certain man had two sons: 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. 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. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 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! Luke 15:11-17
We find ourselves in the midst of a chapter concerning lost things – a sheep and a piece of silver, along with the subsequent joy of them being found. This is a series of parables which follow criticism by the Pharisees and scribes of Christ reaching out to those who just didn’t measure up to their scrutiny. The truth of it is we are all born lost whether we want to face it or not and until we do, we just keep drifting further away. It is so difficult for those who get puffed up in their religious knowledge to see their own condition. Yet when one of the lost sheep of the house of Israel repents, heaven rejoices.
Jesus begins by letting us know that this parable is about “two sons”. The Prodigal Son is one of the most beloved stories in the Bible. Some of us have heard sermon after sermon on the younger son, but what about considering them both? Keep in mind, though a parable may echo other truths and principles of Scripture, Christ’s purpose with each one (along with the meaning of the word parable itself) is to provide a story which comes along side to illustrate a central truth.
Considering both sons together, we will see this parable’s meaning much more fully.
Let’s not allow our familiarity with the story about the younger son to keep us from what we can learn about the elder. For as soon as most preachers reach the prodigal’s return home, what remains (if even mentioned) is presented as merely circumstantial. On the rare occasion it is actually addressed, the elder brother’s lack of forgiveness toward his brother is casually dismissed due to his work ethic and perceived faithfulness to his father. How this would affect the overall harmony of the parable however, brings this interpretation into question. For those who have ears to hear and eyes to see, there will be no doubt as to the main theme of this parable, with Christ covering it from each perspective.
We could go into all kinds of speculation why the younger son wanted to leave. What is clear is that he just didn’t want to live the way the father wanted him to. So he elected to ask for his inheritance in advance, “Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.” Notice that it mentions how the father split the inheritance between “them” or his two sons. This would not have been an even split. The intended Hebrew/Israelite audience understood that the elder would be receiving the greater portion, possibly 2/3 of the father’s substance, indeed more than 1/2. So under normal circumstances (with the parable making no exception) the younger son probably received at or around 1/3 of his father’s “living”.
So the younger son departs and squanders his inheritance “with riotous living”. Then there “arose a mighty famine” as he kept moving further from home “and he began to be in want”. Out of desperation, he falls in with the wrong crowd and becomes a slave, living off pig slop. Due to his attitude towards his father and own personal choices, he is now helpless and alone. Away from his father, he’s found no care nor love from anyone.
He is lost, but this does not become apparent to him until he loses everything.
It is at this moment we come to the pivotal phrase which encapsulates the heart of this parable, “And when he came unto himself”. Illustrated is the first glimmer of an awakening exhibited through humility and inner reflection. It’s as if he never really knew himself until this moment. Who he thought he was is not who he truly is – “he came unto himself”. How did he get in such a shape? Though things are the worst they have ever been in his physical existence, all he can focus on now is what’s going on in his heart.
Indeed, “when” this occurs, immediately what follows is a change of heart and mind about how he has disrespected and mistreated his loving, gracious father. Oh some would like to pretend Christianity is all about getting the facts and beliefs straight, or getting involved in the right groups or rituals.
But here we find, before anything else is going to take off, we first must get right with God.
“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!” – oh what a fool he realized he had been. Getting right with God isn’t finding out how smart you are, but realizing how stupid you’ve been! After we come to ourselves, we realize how lost we really are. We understand that we are to blame for our own neglect and starvation. He came to appreciate the love of his father by thinking about how good he was even to his slaves. Though we all go through different circumstances, the goal is to find ourselves and realize how wrong we have been toward God. It is only in the moment we find ourselves, that the needed change takes place.
Suddenly, deep within his heart, was the dawning of a newfound self-awareness, a discovery of inner consciousness that arose within him as light from out of darkness. It is therefore clearly established from this first portion that conversion is our central theme – that no matter where we are, we each need a supernatural change to occur within us which is brought on by the power of God’s infinite love.
From this point on, this change within him begins to improve his whole life as he draws closer and closer to the father.
We don’t need no clever expert of Scripture to suddenly arrive on the scene to instruct us on what we need to do or believe – his own personal realization of his neglect of the father’s love did all the work. Though when he left, he thought he knew it all, drifting as far as he could from any godly influence. But when he came to himself, life was empty and at its worst. In spite of his own pathetic existence, within his heart suddenly arose a prodding that convinced him that if he could just get back home to his father, everything would be alright. This portion of the parable depicts the conversion of the lost.
One who refuses to come to himself will not be converted and remain lost, no matter how much he thinks he knows.
It begins by coming to the end of ourselves and awakens us from within to want to surrender to our Father’s will:
I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. Luke 15:18-19
Before, he couldn’t get away from his father quick enough. But now, after coming to himself, getting back to his father was all that was on his mind. He “will arise” from his miserable state to meet his father, confessing how much he regrets falling short. He recognizes the seriousness of his rebellion and only the father’s opinion of him matters now. This wasn’t just some sales pitch or rehearsal, but his heartbeat, as he is willing to do anything the father wants him to now.
Notice, it has never been an issue of whether or not he knew who his father is. He knew who his father was before he even left. This is proven by his father giving him his inheritance. Conversion isn’t about racial pride, it’s about being convicted in your heart that you will do whatever it takes to get right with God. Somebody might teach you that knowing you’re an Israelite is being converted to Christ. But until you come to yourself, seeing that you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, it has not happened according to Scripture. Only Israelites can be converted, but making things right with God is about you personally humbling yourself and wanting to come to your Father.
Meanwhile, let us consider both the practicality along with the magnitude of what was going on within him. He now recognizes the value of having a relationship with his father, as his mind moves from how bad his life has become, to how good his father always has been.
Intuitively, his whole state of mind completely changed, as if awakening from the dead.
Concerning his father, his focus was no longer on do’s and don’t’s, but wanting to please his father from the deepest place in his heart. God’s not about just making up a bunch of rules to make our lives more difficult or miserable. After conversion we see obedience to God as our opportunity to prove that we love Him with our all. The younger son now has a newfound ability to spend the rest of his days discovering what life was all about.
This parable depicts what is taught in many ways and in many places of the New Testament – that conversion is when things between us and God are beginning to occur on a much deeper level. Again, conversion can only occur within the heart of an Israelite. Yet coming to the fact that you are an Israelite is not the same as coming to yourself and being converted by the Gospel to Christ. If conversion is about becoming racially awake, this parable would have went much differently. Namely, these brothers would not have known who their father was until the end rather than from the very beginning. With the younger son, his heart was never confused about who his father was, but how he felt about his father, which is the focus of conversion. Though he knew who his father was, he did not respect him, falling short of recognizing his love and goodness.
Conversion is not coming to race, it’s the Israelite personally coming to God.
Coming to race helps us to know who can and cannot be converted, but is not conversion itself. Race, as it relates to Scripture, is established by the Abrahamic Covenant and confirmed by the Apostle Paul, who only preached the Gospel to those nations who came from Abraham’s seed – the so-called ‘lost’ tribes of Israel. Conversion is a profound recognition that the only way to fill the emptiness deep within you is to personally repent and throw yourself at the mercy of God.
One can become racially awake without being converted to Christ or becoming a Christian. There is nothing to indicate in this parable that Christ is illustrating that the transformation that took place within the prodigal son came from him finding out about race. He knew who his father was way before he even left.
The discovering was within himself of his neglect of father’s love, that’s what completely changed the direction of his whole life:
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. 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. 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: And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: Luke 15:20-23
Conversion is about God’s children awakening to His love and grace toward them.
‘You may know how many freckles Netanyahu has on his forehead, but if you have never met God in your heart in the spirit of what this describes, then you have bought into another gospel. No two conversions are exactly alike, but the power involved in this is undeniable by all who have met God. Being converted isn’t optional or something done away with, but necessary to becoming a Christian. It doesn’t have to be in a church building, though it could have been. For this is not between you, anyone else, and God, but just you and Him.
Notice, as he began with his confession, right when he mentions how unworthy he thinks he is, the father immediately interrupted him by blessing him with the robe, ring, and shoes! Of course we feel unworthy when we first repent, at which time we would think we were the most unworthy. But obviously God doesn’t feel that way, even when we first repent. Conversion is our first recognition of becoming aware that we are the sons of God.
Until we repent and believe we do not have the power we need to attain to Sonship, even if we know that we are genetic Israelites. The gifts the father gave him reflect sonship, the purpose of conversion. The Gospel taught in the Bible teaches that conversion results in us through faith becoming aware of our sonship by assuming our position as the sons of God, along with the power to achieve it (John 1:11-13; Romans 8:14-17). Sonship is not about naming and claiming ownership of anything, but becoming faithful stewards of our Father’s richest blessings.
So it was because of a complete change in mentality concerning his father’s love that he came home. Little did he know, but his father was expecting his return. As soon as the father caught the first glimpse of him, he took off running for his son. Obviously the father was glad he had repented and come home, but he did not want his son to feel like anything less than his own son. Your feeling unworthy of God’s blessings is in your head not in God’s heart toward you. This is a lesson we should learn that God wants to bless us and because of His grace, we are worthy! Those who seek to teach you otherwise reveal the lust in there own hearts because they just cannot see it any other way.
Evidence of conversion isn’t just being born with the Holy Spirit and holding the right doctrines that some group requires you to know, but an inner transformation between you and your Creator, resulting in godly character and actions. Assuming your position as a son of God involves this work of the Holy Spirit within and your personal faith in Christ – not just learning ‘a thousand and one ways’ to hate Jews and non-Whites, along with thinking you can magically change any White into a non-White who doesn’t agree with you. Conversion is meant to result in a life of joy and fulfillment, represented in this parable by the father throwing a grand celebration – the closer you get to God, the better your life will be. There are plenty who are racially awake, yet still have no joy in the Lord nor proof of love for their brother or respect for God and His Word.
The father doesn’t mention anything about the squandered inheritance or his son’s past mistakes. This shows the power of God’s forgiveness and that conversion is Him wanting us to have a new start. Our God condescended and took upon flesh to come unto His own and die on the cross for us. Our Father isn’t some stingy, begrudging father some ‘experts’ misrepresent Him to be by their cloaked fear and miserable lives. We sense no hesitancy on the part of this father, as he runs to him, embraces him, and gives him a kiss. God is always looking out for us and wanting what’s best for His children, but we must come to ourselves and repent to see it. As they then begin to celebrate, the father’s heart is overwhelmed to where he puts into words the impact conversion makes:
For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. Luke 15:24
Only God’s power within an Israelite accomplishes conversion.
To say otherwise is not only unScriptural but is an affront to the glory of God. Before conversion we are “dead” within, having no motivation or direction when it comes to spiritual things. When we come to ourselves and recognize our Father’s love through Christ, we inwardly come “alive”. Until then we are simply “lost”, on the downward spiral of vanity and confusion which leads to ruin. Conversion is raising up the spiritual man and awakening to an inner consciousness of God. He’s been there all along, like a sleeping man that’s been hidden. Only by the power of God sounding the alarm within our hearts can we find ourselves like this.
Our Father knows just what we need. It may not be through becoming destitute in a hog pen, but He knows. The power to resurrect one’s self or others is not within any man’s intellectual arguments. There is no objective knowledge or experience that any man has concocted which accomplishes this within us – not even trying to use that we are born Israelites. Going to such great pains to teach that conversion takes place at birth negates the necessity for repentance which is taught throughout Holy Writ. There is a supernatural change we need within, which Christ describes through this father as the spiritual equivalent to being raised from the dead and finding something within we didn’t even know existed, though it was there all along.
But the story doesn’t end there.
You’ve now seen more clearly how our Saviour chose to illustrate the impact of coming to yourself through conversion, from within the heart and mind of the convert, as we run to the loving arms of God.
Now Christ continues by showing us conversion from the perspective of the elder son:
Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 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. And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him. Luke 15:25-28
Bodily and physically, the elder son was in the right place, but what about in his heart?
It is very important that we notice some things here. The elder son was actually so busy in the fields that he didn’t even notice at first that his younger brother had returned home. One of the servants had to fill him in on what was going on. But rather than rejoicing like his father, he is actually disgusted by even the thought of his brother’s return. All he can do is stand there, refusing to go any closer.
The father has to leave the celebration to go find out what’s going on:
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: But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. Luke 15:29-30
On the surface to most of us, the elder son may appear to be so right, having not made the same mistakes his younger brother did. But there’s still something that doesn’t feel right about him. Are you still convinced that he has some right to be this way? Proceed with caution, as there is only one way for this parable to be consistent from beginning to end, and it’s not through seeing the elder brother as justified in his attitude, as our senses may tell some of us. Even more importantly, it is a mirror, where you and I may see ourselves.
If you just cannot relate to the younger son, it may very well be more closely considering the elder that can help you.
Understand, life isn’t always about being able to perceive who’s wrong or who’s right, but ultimately, who’s right with God. It’s very telling how each of us view this elder brother, even crucial for some. Be honest, when you first read this, did you want to pat him on the back for telling it like it is? After all, his younger brother did cause a lot of grief and embarrassment, and now he’s suddenly popped back up and they’re having a party for him?! Go ahead, bring up his past and embarrass him. Maybe we can humiliate him into doing what we want and not messing up again. Yet little does he know but the younger son’s heart now totally belongs to his father – problem solved. But even still, since the elder son does appear to be right and so good, shouldn’t we at least overlook his unforgiving attitude? It’s not hard to get carried away in judgment, but there’s more to consider.
Suffice it to say, it is our individual reaction and attitude in relation to things we cannot explain – such as the mysterious power of the Spirit of God, which reveals where we really stand in our hearts with the One we call ‘Father’. Silence, many times, is wiser than rash declarations of judgment. Focusing too much on the elder brother’s words which appeals to our sensual nature, rather than taking a step back to discern his attitude, is where we can make a fatal mistake. As good as he appears in comparison to his younger brother, does the elder brother reflect the attitude and character of his father? Of course not.
Whether we like it or not, the way to receive Christ’s intended meaning of the entirety of this parable, is not through human reasoning, but through the Spirit.
No matter how right he may be in the eyes of most men, this elder brother reflects the attitude of nothing more than a self-righteous, unconverted Israelite who only cares about himself. Remember, the two previous parables dealt with finding lost things. The younger brother found himself in the hog pen, far away. The elder brother never physically left the father but he’s still lost, and doesn’t even know it.
After all, it is true that the elder son was just as much the father’s son as the younger – genetically. Yet this establishes even further that knowing who your father is genetically or having a racial awareness, is not the same as being converted to Christ. By contrast, the elder son’s reaction to his brother’s return serves to illustrate how one who has not been converted may very well feel about the work of the Spirit of God in a fellow Israelite’s conversion. He does not understand it, therefore all he can do is throw up his brother’s past and brag about how good he wants others to perceive him to be.
Can we deny that what he is most upset about is that his father has forgiven his younger brother?
This alone proves how much he despises his own brother, in spite of the fact that he has repented and the father has accepted him. We already witnessed through the younger brother that an essential element of conversion is humbling one’s self – there’s no humility with the elder brother. Therefore, whatever ‘love’ he may claim to have for others goes out the window, especially when someone else is getting too much attention or recognition. We must each take heed to what we might see in the elder son and ask God to help us recognize if what we see is in ourselves. This is a big reason why Christ extended this beyond the younger son’s conversion, for us all to take an even closer look by contrast, in the direction of personal humility.
Like the elder son, are you always ‘keeping score’, being more concerned about what you may have to give up or lose, rather than helping or gaining a brother? In light of a brother’s newfound spirituality, the unconverted are always prepared to bring up their brother’s shortcomings, while reminding everyone of how impressive they are, proving that their motivation is not love at all. If we know what to look for it is relatively easy to recognize self-righteousness, by how ready we are to become critical and hateful towards our brother, especially one who has struggled, but has genuinely been converted to Christ and changed from within.
The fact is, until one is converted and is walking in the Father’s love, he may only see his brother as a potential rival or even an enemy, especially when it comes to what he thinks belongs to him. The elder son cared more about his image than he did his own brother or even his father’s will, for that matter.
Ultimately, the way we feel about our Father is best reflected by the way we treat our brother.
Do not overlook the subtle audacity of the elder brother when he openly disrespected his father for, of all things, forgiving his brother. In his stubbornness, he refused to even try to comprehend it. This proves that all of his words were nothing more than a shallow diversion to the fact that he really doesn’t love his father anymore than the younger son did when he took his inheritance and left. All he can do is intellectually analyze the situation in terms which have nothing to do with love or forgiveness, but has everything to do with being like a Pharisee.
Yet this loving, patient father still reasons with his stubborn, elder son, trying to help him understand what a wonderful thing that has happened with his brother:
And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 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. Luke 15:31-32
How many more times do you think God will deal with you? The father personally tries to convince the elder son that there was no reason for him to be jealous or upset since it all belonged to him anyway. Yet the elder brother must come to appreciate the love of his father and be changed within his heart, not just his head. By contrast, this adds a whole other dimension to the central truth of this parable. Those who’ve not yet been converted to Christ cannot understand the work of God’s Spirit – words are not enough, it takes God’s power.
There must be a change on the inside in order to be converted to Christ, as is taught here, and throughout the Word of God.
It’s not until we are converted that we have the potential to represent the true nature of God to others. Conversion is what turns us around and gets us on the right pathway to loving and wanting to please our Father. According to Christ twice in this parable, before we are converted, it is as if we are “dead” on the inside, unable to rise beyond the external, carnal realm. When we come “alive again” on the inside, we are able to find our way back home. Until we come to ourselves, we are “lost”. In our hearts, it’s God’s love, that finds us.
The father freely let the younger son go, even giving him his inheritance, yet he was always waiting, ready for him to return. It wasn’t until the younger son returned however, that we can see who the elder son really is deep within. We should be left with no doubt that how we treat our brother totally reflects the way we feel about God, far beyond anything else. Just the appearance of being close to God does not tell the whole story at all. It all comes down to one thing –