I say to you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repents, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
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EXPOSITORY (ENGLISH BIBLE)Ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.—As regards the men and women among whom our Lord carried on His work, we cannot see in these words anything but a grave and indignant protest, veiled under the form of an apparent concession, against the self-righteousness of the Pharisees. His call to repent had been addressed to all. That all offended in many things; that for a man to say he had not sinned was a lying boast—this was the first postulate of every preacher of the gospel, whatever school of thought he might represent (Romans 3:23; James 3:2; 1John 1:8). Once, indeed, the opposite thought had appeared in the devotional utterance of a penitent Israelite—“Thou therefore, O Lord, that art the God of ‘the just, hast not appointed repentance to the just, as to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against Thee” (Prayer of Manasses in the Apocrypha); but there it was accompanied by personal contrition and confession. The man felt in his humility, how unlike he was to those saints of God. It was reserved for the Pharisees to develop the thought into the conviction that they were the just persons who needed no repentance, and that all their worship should consist in thanksgiving that they were so. (See Note on Luke 18:11.)
In heaven - Among the angels of God. Compare Luke 15:10. Heavenly beings are thus represented as rejoicing over those who repent on earth. They see the guilt and danger of people; they know what God has done for the race, and they rejoice at the recovery of any from the guilt and ruins of sin.
One sinner - One rebel against God, however great may be his sins or however small. If a sinner, he must perish unless he repents; and they rejoice at his repentance because it recovers him back to the love of God, and because it will save him from eternal death.
That repenteth - See the notes at Matthew 9:13.
Just persons - The word "persons" is not in the original. It means simply "just ones," or those who have not sinned. The word may refer to angels as well as to people. There are no "just" people on earth who need no repentance, Ecclesiastes 7:20; Psalm 14:2-3; Romans 3:10-18. Our Saviour did not mean to imply that there were any such. He was speaking of what took place "in heaven," or among "angels," and of "their" emotions when they contemplate the creatures of God; and he says that "they" rejoiced in the repentance of one "sinner" more than in the holiness of many who had not fallen. We are not to suppose that he meant to teach that there were just ninety-nine holy angels to one sinner. He means merely that they rejoice more over the "repentance" of one sinner than they do over many who have not fallen. By this he vindicated his own conduct. The Jews did not deny the existence of angels. They would not deny that their feelings were proper. If "they" rejoiced in this manner, it was not improper for "him" to show similar joy, and especially to seek their conversion and salvation. If they rejoice also, it shows how desirable is the repentance of a sinner. They know of how much value is an immortal soul. They see what is meant by eternal death; and they do not feel "too much," or have "too much anxiety" about the soul that can never die. Oh that people saw it as "they" see it! and oh that they would make an effort, such as angels see to be proper, to save their own souls and the souls of others from eternal death!See Poole on "Luke 15:4" Luke 15:10
Over one sinner that repenteth; for the joy in heaven, is not over sinners as such; for as such, they are not grateful to God, nor to Christ, nor to the angels, nor to saints; only sinners delight in each other, as such; but as repenting sinners, who are truly so: and these are not such, who only legally and outwardly repent; nor all that declare a sense of sin; or that are externally sorry for it; or are terrified about it, and shed tears on account of it; or that cease from grosser sins of life, and outwardly reform: but such who repent in an evangelical way; who are turned to God, and are instructed by his Spirit; who believe in Christ, and have views, at least hopes, of pardon through his blood; and have the love of God and Christ shed abroad in their hearts; from whence arise a true sight and sense of sin, a godly sorrow for it, an hearty loathing of it, shame on account of it, an ingenuous confession, and a real forsaking of it. Now the reason why there is joy in heaven over such persons is, because, without such a repentance, they must perish; and by this they appear to be openly in a state of grace; and become proper subjects of the ordinances of Christ; and this repentance is unto life and salvation; or these are inseparably connected with it; and this joy is abundantly
more, than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance; by whom are meant, either such who are really righteous persons; not naturally and of themselves, nor legally by the deeds of the law, but by the imputation of Christ's righteousness to them: and who need no repentance to be added to their righteousness, it being perfect of itself; nor the grace and principle of repentance, because they have it, and it cannot be lost; or change of life and manners, which is not to be seen in such: and the more joy over repenting sinners, than over these is, because the salvation of the one is before certain to them, and the other is unexpected: but to this sense it may be objected, that saints, even righteous persons, need frequent conversions, and the continual exercise of the grace of repentance; nor does it seem feasible, that there should be more joy over a repenting sinner, than over one, whose life, through grace, is a series of righteousness: rather therefore, such who seem to be just, or are so in their own opinion, are here meant; for only such sort of righteous persons and repenting sinners, are opposed to each other, as in Matthew 9:13 moreover, the occasion and scope of the parable, determines this to be the sense; the Scribes and Pharisees, that murmured at Christ's receiving sinners, are the ninety and nine just persons, who were only outwardly righteous before men, and trusted in themselves that they were righteous, perfectly righteous, and without sin, and so stood in no need of repentance for it; now there is more joy in heaven over one repenting sinner, than over all these: hence learn, that a self-righteous person, is an impenitent one; that a repenting sinner is more regarded in heaven than a self-righteous man: our Lord here seems to have regard to a conceit of the Jews, who distinguish between penitents that were allowed to be righteous, and such who never were guilty of any notorious crime, and so were perfectly righteous, and needed no repentance, and were preferred to penitent sinners: some of them say (u), that
"the prophets did not prophesy (good things and comforts), but , "to penitents"; but as for , "the perfect righteous", to them belongs that, "eye hath not seen", O God, "besides thee".---But R. Abhu says, the place in which "penitents" stand, the "perfect righteous" do not stand.''
Though Maimonides seems (w) to understand this, as if it gave the preference to penitents; his words are these:
"let not a penitent man imagine that he is afar off from the excellency, or degree of the righteous, because of the sins and iniquities he has committed, the thing is not so; but he is beloved and desired before the Creator, as if he had never sinned; for his reward is great; for lo, he hath tasted the taste of sin, and hath separated from it, and hath subdued his evil imagination: the wise men say, the place where "penitents" stand, the "perfect righteous" cannot stand; which is as if it was said, their degree of excellency is greater, than those who never sinned, because they have subdued their imagination more than they.''
However, these instances, with others that might be produced, show that the Jews had a notion of some men being perfectly righteous and without sin; which they oppose to penitent sinners, and which our Lord here designs, and seems to describe in their own language, and serves to confirm the sense given; See Gill on Hebrews 12:23.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.
EXEGETICAL (ORIGINAL LANGUAGES)Luke 15:7. ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, in heaven, that is, in the heart of God. Heaven is a synonym for God in Luke 15:18; Luke 15:21.—ἢ = more than, as if πλέον had preceded, so often in N.T. and in Sept = Hebrew מִן. The comparison in the moral sphere is bold, but the principle holds true there as in the natural sphere, even if the ninety-nine be truly righteous men needing no repentance. It is rational to have peculiar joy over a sinner repenting, therefore God has it, therefore Christ might have it. This saying is the third great word of Christ’s apology for loving the sinful. For the other two vide on Matthew 9:9-13 and Luke 7:36-50.
 Septuagint.7. I say unto you] I—who know (John 1:51).
in heaven] See Luke 15:10; Matthew 18:13.
just persons, which need no repentance] See Luke 5:32. The ‘Pharisees and scribes’ in an external sense were ‘just persons,’ for as a class their lives were regular, though we learn from Josephus and the Talmud that many individuals among them were guilty of flagrant sins. But that our Lord uses the description with a holy irony is clear from the parable of the Pharisee and the publican (see Luke 18:9). They trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. They did need repentance (carebant), but did not want it (non egebant). It was a fixed notion of the Jews that God had “not appointed repentance to the just, and to Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, which have not sinned against thee” (Prayer of Manasses).Luke 15:7. Ὑμῖν, to you) Most weightily (impressively) the ‘murmuring’ [Luke 15:2] of the Pharisees is refuted by this joy.—χαρὰ) Joy, solemn and festive, upon hearing the tidings of the work of salvation accomplished on the earth.—[ἔσται, shall be) Future; whereby the return of Jesus to His Fatherland seems to be intimated.—V. g.]—ἐν τῷ οὐρανῷ, in heaven) The Shepherd, Jesus Christ, has even especially the spirits of just men as His “friends and neighbours,” inasmuch as they are sharers in this joy the more in proportion as they have the stronger tie of connection with men. In the 10th verse there is a gradation made (an ascending climax) to angels, who are named in that passage rather than men, because there Christ is not regarded as man [in His human nature, but only as God: note, Luke 15:3]. Nor are the angels said to know the fact from their intercourse with the man: for they are not all with the one man; but from the revelation of the Lord, which is equally capable of being vouchsafed to the spirits of just men. Comp. Hainlin’s Sol. Temp. f. 80, and Ven. Weisemann, H. E. P. 1, p. 106. So the other inhabitants of heaven are put in contradistinction to the angels, in Revelation 18:20; Revelation 19:1; Revelation 19:4; Revelation 19:6.—ἑνὶ, one) and much more joy over many; see Luke 15:1.—ἢ,) that is, μᾶλλον ἤ. See ch. Luke 18:14 [δεδικαιωμένος ἢ ἐκεῖνον, i.e. (μᾶλλον ἢ. So . But  Orige and Vulg., ΠΑΡʼ ἘΚΕῖΝΟΝ]. LXX., Psalms 118 :(117) 8, 9, [ἈΓΑΘῸΝ ΠΕΠΟΙΘΈΝΑΙ ἘΠῚ ΚΎΡΙΟΝ Ἢ, (i.e. μᾶλλον ἢ) ΠΕΠΟΙΘΈΝΑΙ ἘΠʼ ἌΝΘΡΩΠΟΝ, etc.] This clause is not added in Luke 15:10.—Οὐ ΧΡΕΊΑΝ ἜΧΟΥΣΙ, have no need) inasmuch as they are with the Shepherd, and have long ago obtained repentance. The righteous is in the (right) way; the penitent returns to the way.
 the Alexandrine MS.: in Brit. Museum: fifth century: publ. by Woide, 1786–1819: O. and N. Test. defective.
 Guelpherbytana: libr. Wolfenbuttel: Gospels def.: sixth cent.: publ. by Knittel, 1763.
 Guelpherbytana: libr. Wolfenbuttel: Gospels def.: sixth cent.: publ. by Knittel, 1763.
 the Vatican MS., 1209: in Vat. Iibr., Rome: fourth cent.: O. and N. Test. def.
 rigen (born about 186 A.D., died 253 A.D., a Greek father: two-thirds of the N. Test. are quoted in his writings). Ed. Vinc. Delarue, Paris. 1733, 1740, 1759.Verse 7. - 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. "But," the Master went on to say, "what I looked for in vain on earth, see, I have found in heaven. What men coldly refused me, the celestials have joyfully given. These understand me. They love both me and my work, do the holy angels." This coldness, even opposition, on the part of the Pharisees and the religious men of Israel to himself and his works, to his teachings of mercy and love, seems certainly to be the reason why Jesus emphasizes, both here and in the next parable, the sympathy which he receives, not on earth from men, but in heaven from beings, inhabitants of another world. Men, have, however, asked - Why do these heavenly beings rejoice over the one more than over the ninety and nine? It is utterly insufficient to say that this joy is occasioned by the getting back something that was lost. Such a feeling is conceivable among men, though even here it would be an exaggerated sentiment, but in heaven, among the immortals, no such feeling could exist; it partakes too much of the sentimental, almost of the hysterical. This higher joy must be due to another cause. Now, the shepherd, when he found the wanderer, did not bring it back to the old fold, or replace it with the rest of the flock, but apparently (ver. 6) brought it to his own home. This would seem to indicate that sinners whom Jesus has come to save, and whom he has saved, are placed in a better position than that from which they originally wandered. This gives us the clue to the angels' joy over the "found one" more than over those who were safe in the old ibid. The Talmudists have taught - and their teaching, no doubt, is but the reflection of what was taught in the great rabbinical schools of Jerusalem before its ruin - that a man who had been guilty of many sins might, by repentance, raise himself to a higher degree of virtue than the perfectly righteous man who had never experienced his temptations. If this were so, well argues Professor Bruce, "surely it was reasonable to occupy one's self in endeavouring to get sinners to start on this noble career of self-elevation, and to rejoice when in any instance he had succeeded. But it is one thing to have correct theories, and another to put them into practice... So they found fault with One (Jesus) who not only held this view as an abstract doctrine, but acted on it, and sought to bring those who had strayed furthest from the paths of righteousness to repentance, believing that, though last, they might yet be first."
See on Matthew 3:2.
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