Luke 15:20
And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
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(20) When he was yet a great way off.—In the story of the parable we must think of the wanderer as coming back weary, foot-sore, hungry, and in rags. In the interpretation, the state of the penitent is that of one who is poor in spirit, hungering and thirsting after righteousness (Matthew 5:3; Matthew 5:6), with knees that are feeble and hands that hang down (Hebrews 12:12), conscious of his nakedness and needing something else than the “filthy rags” of his own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6) to cover it. And he is yet “a great way off”—not as yet near the home of peace, the light of the Father’s countenance—but even there, there comes to him the joy of all joys, the love of the Father finds him, and he is conscious of the love. There is the contact of his soul with the Divine Presence which answers to the Father’s kiss.

Luke 15:20. And he arose and came to his father — Having taken the resolution of returning to his father, he put it immediately in execution; setting out just as he was, barefooted, and all in rags, and being obliged, doubtless, to beg his way. But did his father receive him? Was he welcome? Yes, heartily welcome. And, by the way, we have here an example, instructing parents, whose children have been foolish and disobedient, if they repent and submit themselves, not to be harsh and severe with them; but to be governed, in such a case, by the wisdom that is from above, which is gentle and easy to be entreated. Herein let them be followers of God, and merciful as he is. The passage, however, is chiefly designed to set forth the grace and mercy of God to poor sinners, that repent and return to him, and his readiness to forgive them. But when he was yet a great way off — Having only come within sight of home, and his nakedness, and the consciousness of his folly, probably, making him ashamed to proceed further, his father — Happening to be looking that way; saw him — Before any of the rest of his family were aware of the circumstance; and had compassion — Εσπλαγχνισθη, his bowels yearned, to observe the wretched condition he was in; and immediately, as if he had forgotten the dignity of his own character, and all the injuries he had received, he ran to his child, and fell on his neck and kissed him. The son advanced diffidently and slowly, under a burden of shame and fear; but the father ran to meet him with his encouragements. This shows our heavenly Father’s desire of the conversion of sinners, and his readiness to meet them that are coming toward him. His eyes are on those that go astray from him, he is continually looking to see whether they will return to him, and marks and cherishes the first inclinations which they manifest so to do.

15:17-24 Having viewed the prodigal in his abject state of misery, we are next to consider his recovery from it. This begins by his coming to himself. That is a turning point in the sinner's conversion. The Lord opens his eyes, and convinces him of sin; then he views himself and every object, in a different light from what he did before. Thus the convinced sinner perceives that the meanest servant of God is happier than he is. To look unto God as a Father, and our Father, will be of great use in our repentance and return to him. The prodigal arose, nor stopped till he reached his home. Thus the repenting sinner resolutely quits the bondage of Satan and his lusts, and returns to God by prayer, notwithstanding fears and discouragements. The Lord meets him with unexpected tokens of his forgiving love. Again; the reception of the humbled sinner is like that of the prodigal. He is clothed in the robe of the Redeemer's righteousness, made partaker of the Spirit of adoption, prepared by peace of conscience and gospel grace to walk in the ways of holiness, and feasted with Divine consolations. Principles of grace and holiness are wrought in him, to do, as well as to will.He arose, and came - Was coming. But here is no indication of "haste." He did not "run," but came driven by his wants, and, as we may suppose, filled with shame, and even with some doubts whether his father would receive him.

A great way off - This is a beautiful description - the image of his father's happening to see him clad in rags, poor, and emaciated, and yet he recognized "his son," and all the feelings of a father prompted him to go and embrace him.

Had compassion - Pitied him. Saw his condition - his poverty and his wretched appearance - and was moved with compassion and love.

And ran - This is opposed to the manner in which the son came. The beauty of the picture is greatly heightened by these circumstances. The son came slowly - the father "ran." The love and joy of the old man were so great that he hastened to meet him and welcome him to his home.

Fell on his neck - Threw his arms around his neck and embraced him.

And kissed him - This was a sign at once of affection and reconciliation. This must at once have dissipated every doubt of the son about the willingness of his father to forgive and receive him. A kiss is a sign of affection, 1 Samuel 10:1; Genesis 29:13. This is evidently designed to denote the "readiness of God" to pity and pardon returning sinners. In this verse of inimitable beauty is contained the point of the parable, which was uttered by the Saviour to vindicate "his own conduct" in receiving sinners kindly. Who could "blame" this father for thus receiving his repenting son? Not even a Pharisee could blame him; and our Saviour thus showed them, so that "they" could not resist it, that "God" received returning sinners, and that it was right for "him" also to receive them and treat them with attention.

20. a great way off—Oh yes, when but the face is turned homeward, though as yet far, far away, our Father recognizes His own child in us, and bounds to meet us—not saying, Let him come to Me and sue for pardon first, but Himself taking the first step.

fell on his neck and kissed him—What! In all his filth? Yes. In all his rags? Yes. In all his haggard, shattered wretchedness? Yes. "Our Father who art in heaven," is this Thy portraiture? It is even so (Jer 31:20). And because it is so, I wonder not that such incomparable teaching hath made the world new.

See Poole on "Luke 15:18"

And he arose,.... This shows that his resolution to arise was not of nature, but of grace, by its being put into execution; for it was made and executed, not in his own strength, but in another's. He did not confer with flesh and blood; nor listen to discouragements which might present; as the distance of the way, the danger in it, the cold reception, if not rejection, he might expect from his father: but he arose immediately; he arose and stood upon his feet, in obedience to the heavenly call, being assisted by divine grace; he arose, and quitted the far country, the citizen, swine, and husks, and denied both sinful and righteous self;

and came to his father; his own father; "the father of himself", as in the Greek text, who was so before he came to him; a sense of which he had, and was what encouraged him the rather to go to him: and this coming to him denotes a progression towards him; for as yet he was not come to him, but was at some distance, as the next clause expresses; and means not so much attendance on ordinances, as some inward secret desires after God:

but when he was yet a great way off. This is not to be understood of his state of alienation from God, which is before signified by his being in a far country; but the distance he observed, as conscious of his vileness, and unworthiness; and the humility he expressed on a view of himself; and a sense he had of his need of divine grace: and which is grateful to God; he looks to such that are of an humble, and of a contrite spirit, and dwells among them, and gives more grace to them:

his father saw him; he saw him when in the far country, spending his substance with harlots, and in riotous living; he saw him when among the swine and husks; he saw him when he came to himself, and all the motions and determinations of his heart; he saw him in his progress towards him, and looked upon him with an eye of love, pity, and compassion, as it follows,

and had compassion: God is full of compassion, and pities him, as a father does his children; yea, as a woman's heart of compassion yearns after the son of her womb: he had compassion on him, and his heart of pity moved towards him, he being as one grieved in spirit for his sins, and wounded with a sense of them, and wanting a view of pardon, as starving and famishing, and as naked, and without clothing.

And ran; to him, which shows the quick notice God takes of the first motions of his own grace in the hearts of sensible sinners; the speedy relief he gives to distressed ones; and this points out his preventing grace and goodness.

And fell on his neck; expressive of the strength of his affection to him, Genesis 45:14 and of his great condescension and grace to fall on that neck which had been like an iron sinew, so stiff and rebellious; though now, through divine grace, was made flexible and pliable, and subject to him, and willing to bear the yoke, and to do whatever he would have him; and this was grateful to his father:

and kissed him; as a token of love; and as owning the relation he stood in to him; as a sign of reconciliation and friendship; and was an admission of him to great nearness to his person; and an application and manifestation of great love indeed to him; and a strong incentive of love in the son to him again; see 1 John 4:19.

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.
Luke 15:20-24. God’s compassion in the carrying out of the repentant resolve; after it is carried out, the joyous receiving of him again to perfect sonship.

καὶ ἀναστὰς κ.τ.λ.] the resolution is no sooner taken than its execution begins.

πρὸς τ. πατέρα ἑαυτοῦ] to his own father; no other became the refuge of the unhappy son. There is an affecting touch in ἑαυτοῦ.

κατεφίλησεν] he kissed him again and again; see on Matthew 26:48.

Luke 15:21. The ποίησόν με ὡς ἕνα τ. μισθ. σου of Luke 15:19 is repressed by the demeanour of his father’s love; the deeply moved son cannot bring these words to his lips in the presence of such paternal affection. A psychologically delicate and significant representation.

Luke 15:22. “Filio respondet re ipsa,” Bengel.

στολὴν τὴν πρώτην] a robe, the first that we have in the house—to wit, according to its rank and worth, i.e. τὴν τιμιωτάτην, Euthymius Zigabenus. The idea—the one that had previously been worn by him (Theophylact, Calovius), which would be the righteousness lost in Adam—is opposed to Luke 15:13 in the service of dogmatic interpretation. Moreover, αὐτοῦ would have been added in that connection. With regard to the article after the anarthrous substantive, see Winer, p. 126 f. [E. T. 174 f.]. The στολή is the long and wide overcoat of the people of distinction, Mark 12:38; Mark 16:5; Revelation 6:11. The δακτύλιος, i.e. signet ring (Herod. ii. 0.318), and the ὑποδήματα (slaves went bare footed), are signs of the free man, which he who had returned was to be as a son of the house.

Luke 15:23. τὸν μόσχον τὸν σιτ.] the well-known one which stands in the stall.

θύσατε] slaughter, as at Luke 15:30, not: sacrifice (Elsner).

φαγόντες εὐφρανθ.] not: laeti epulemur (Kuinoel), but: epulantes laetemur. Beware of forced interpretations like the following: according to Olshausen (comp. Jerome, Euthymius Zigabenus, and others), the στολὴ πρώτη denotes the divine righteousness (Revelation 3:18; Revelation 7:13; Revelation 19:8); the ring, the seal of the Spirit; the sandals, the capacity to walk in God’s ways (Ephesians 6:15): according to Jerome, Ambrose, Augustine, Euthymius Zigabenus, Theophylact, and others, the fatted calf is Christ! Comp. also Lange, L. J. II. 1, p. 381.

Luke 15:24. νεκρὸς ἦν κ. ἀνέζ. κ.τ.λ.] is meant by the father in a moral sense: νέκρωσιν μὲν καὶ ἀπώλειαν φησὶ τὴν ἀπὸ τῆς ἁμαρτίας, ἀναζώωσιν δὲ καὶ εὕρεσιν τὴν ἀπὸ τῆς μετανοίας, Euthymius Zigabenus. A well-known mode of speaking of death and life (Matthew 4:16; Matthew 8:22; 1 Timothy 5:6; Ephesians 5:14; Romans 6:13; passages from the Rabbins, Schoettgen, Hor. p. 877 f.; from the classical writers, Bornemann, Schol. p. 97). In favour of this view it is manifest of itself that the father says absolutely νεκρὸς ἦν, which he cannot mean in the literal sense of the words; further, that after the approach related in Luke 15:20 f. his soul could be full only of the moral change of his son’s condition; finally, that he utters the same words, Luke 15:32, to the eldest son, who, being acquainted with the previous condition of his brother (Luke 15:30), could understand them only morally. The utterance of the servant, ὅτι ὑγιαίνοντα αὐτὸν ἀπέλαβεν, Luke 15:27, is not opposed to this; for he speaks thus of the returned son of the house, only generally of his condition as it first presents itself to him, beyond which the slave has not to go. He has the right feeling of discretion, that respectfully, in accordance with his position, it does not become him to repeat the judgment of the father, but rather to abide by that external circumstance (that he has received him back sound). Even this feature belongs to the lifelike delicate points of this history. On all accounts the view is to be dismissed of Paulus, de Wette, and Bleek: νεκρός, dead as far as I am concerned (by his remoteness and his dissolute life, and ἀπολωλώς: lost, in the sense of disappeared).

εὐφραίνεσθαι] to be glad. The feast is naturally understood according to Luke 15:23.

Luke 15:20-24. Return and reception.—ἦλθεν, etc., he came to his father; no details about the journey, the fact simply stated, the interest now centring in the action of the father, exemplifying the joy of a parent in finding a lost son, which is carefully and exquisitely described in four graphic touches—εἶδεν: first recognition at a distance, implying, if not a habit of looking for the lost one (Göbel, Schanz, etc.), at least a vision sharpened by love—ἐσπλαγχνίσθη: instant pity awakened by the woful plight of the returning one manifest in feeble step, ragged raiment possibly also visible—δραμὼν, running, in the excitement and impatience of love, regardless of Eastern dignity and the pace safe for advancing years—κατεφίλησεν: kissing fervently and frequently the son folded in his arms (cf. Matthew 26:49, Luke 7:38; Luke 7:45). All signs these of a love ready to do anything to recover the lost, to search for him to the world’s end, if that had been fitting or likely to gain the end.

20. And he arose and came to his father] A mere flash of remorse is not enough; a journey must be taken: the back must be at once and finally turned on the far land; and all the shame of abandoned duties and forsaken friends be faced. “The course to the unific rectitude of a manly life” always appears to the sinner to be, and sometimes really is, “in the face of a scorching past and a dark future.”

But when he was yet a great way off] “Now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off, are made nigh by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2:13.

had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck] On this full, frank, absolute forgiveness, see Psalm 103:8-10; Psa 103:12. On the tender Fatherly love of God see Isaiah 49:15; Matthew 7:11, &c.

and kissed him] Literally, “kissed him warmly or closely,” Genesis 33:4.

Luke 15:20. Καἰ, and) No sooner said than done.—εἶδεν, saw) returning back, starving, naked. Comp. Luke 15:22.—[καὶ ἐσπλαγχνίσθη, and He had compassion (the bowels of His compassion yearned over him). This truly is a forgiveness, not even attended with the lowering (contraction) of the countenance in displeasure, or with a frown on the brow, Jeremiah 3:4; Jeremiah 3:12.—V. g.]—δραμὼν, running) out from His house. Comp. ἐξενέγκατε, Bring forth (viz. out of the house) the best robe, Luke 15:22. Parents, under ordinary circumstances, are not readily disposed to run to meet their children.—κατεφίλησεν, kissed him warmly) [How could a son have looked for a more gracious salutation, if even he had managed his property (and behaved) in the best way, when he was abroad?—V. g.]

Verse 20. - And he arose, and came to his father. And so he came safe home; sad, suffering, ragged, destitute, but still safe. But, in spite of this, the parable gives scant encouragement indeed to sin, poor hope indeed to wanderers from the right way, like the hero of our story; for we feel that, though he escaped, yet many were left behind in that sad country. We dimly see many other figures in the picture., The employer of the prodigal was a citizen, but only one of many citizens. The prodigal himself was a servant - one, though, of a great crowd of others; and of all these unhappy dwellers in that land of sin, we only read of one coming out. Not an encouraging picture at best to any soul purposing deliberately to adventure into that country, with the idea of enjoying the pleasant licence of sin for a season and there coming home again. Such a home-coming is, of course, possible - the beautiful story of Jesus tells us this; but, alas I how many stay behind! how few come out thence! 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. But although many who wander never escape from that sad country, it is not because they would be unwelcomed should they choose to return. The whole imagery of this part of the parable tells us how gladly the eternal Father welcomes the sorrowful penitent. The father does not wait for the poor wanderer, but, as though he had been watching for him, sights him afar off, and at once takes compassion, and even hastens to meet him, and all is forgiven. Luke 15:20His father

An affecting touch in the Greek: his own father.


Trench cites an Eastern proverb: "Who draws near to me (God) an inch, I will draw near to him an ell; and whoso walks to meet me, I will leap to meet him."


See on Matthew 26:49.

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