Luke 12 Bible Commentary

McGarvey and Pendleton

(Read all of Luke 12)
12:1  In the mean time1, when the many thousands of the multitude were gathered together2, insomuch that they trod one upon another, he began to say unto his disciples first of all3, Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy4. CONCERNING HYPOCRISY, WORLDLY ANXIETY, WATCHFULNESS, AND HIS APPROACHING PASSION. (Galilee.) Luke 12:1-59
In the mean time. That is, while these things were occurring in the Pharisee's house.
When the many thousands of the multitude were gathered together,
insomuch that they trod one upon another. In their eagerness to get near enough to Jesus to see and hear.
He began to say unto his disciples first of all. That is, as the first or most appropriate lesson.
Beware ye of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. This admonition is the key to the understanding of the principal part of the sermon which follows. The spirit of Pharisaism was one which sought the honor of men, and feared men rather than God. It was a spirit which yield to public opinion, and, though seemingly very religious, was really devoid of all true loyalty to God. There were trials and persecutions ahead of Christ's followers in which no Pharisaic spirit could survive. The spirit of hypocrisy works in two ways: it causes the bad man to hid his badness for fear of the good man, and the good man to hide his goodness for fear of the bad man. It is this latter operation against which Jesus warns, and he follow of which he shows.

12:3  Wherefore whatsoever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light; and what ye have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers1 shall be proclaimed upon the housetops2.
Wherefore whatsoever ye have said in the darkness shall be heard in the light; and what ye have spoken in the ear in the inner chambers. Many fearing the storm of persecution which was soon to come upon the disciples would attempt to conceal their faith, but the attempt would be vain, for one could not even trust his own family (Luke 12:51-53) to keep silent about what was said even in the inner chambers of the home. Bold speech would be best.
Shall be proclaimed upon the housetops. The flat tops of Eastern houses were places from whence public proclamations were made.

12:4  And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body1, and after that have no more that they can do.
Be not afraid of them that kill the body. It would be a time of fear, but the fear of God must dominate the fear of man. Also see Luke 1:30.

12:5  But I will warn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him1.
But I will warn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, who after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. The fear of God should cause them to speak out, though the fear of man bade them be silent (Acts 4:18-21).

12:6  Are not five sparrows sold for two pence1? and not one of them is forgotten in the sight of God.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pence? The Roman "as", here rendered "penny", was worth about four-fifths of a cent. Two sparrows were sold for a penny (Matthew 10:29). For two pennies, an extra one was thrown into the bargain, yet even it, so valueless, was not forgotten of God.

12:7  But the very hairs of your head are all numbered1. Fear not2: ye are of more value than many sparrows.
But the very hairs of your head are all numbered. These words assured them that whatever they might be called upon to undergo they would be at all times the objects of God's special care and providence.
Fear not. See Luke 1:30.

12:8  And I say unto you, Every one who shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God1: Luke 12:8,9
Every one who shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God. These words were intended to strengthen those who loved honor or feared disgrace.

12:9  but he that denieth me in the presence of men shall be denied in the presence of the angels of God1.
But he that denieth me in the presence of men shall be denied in the presence of the angels of God. If the disgrace of being cast out of the synagogue tempted them to deny Christ, or the honors given by their fellow-men seemed too precious to be sanctified for Christ's sake, they were to remember that the confession or denial of Jesus involved eternal honor or disgrace in the presence of the angelic host.

12:10  And every one who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him1: but unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven2.
And every one who shall speak a word against the Son of man, it shall be forgiven him. Persecution would urge them to blasphemy (Acts 26:11). In his hour of trial a disciple must remember the tender compassion of the Master against whom he is urged to speak, and the extreme danger of passing beyond the line of forgiveness in his blasphemy.
But unto him that blasphemeth against the Holy Spirit it shall not be forgiven. See Matthew 12:32.

12:11  And when they bring you before the synagogues1, and the rulers, and the authorities, be not anxious how or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say2: Luke 12:11,12
Before the synagogues. See Mark 1:39.
Be not anxious how or what ye shall answer, or what ye shall say. The captive disciple planning his defense would be tempted to attempt hypocritical concealment or dissimulation. To prevent this, Jesus admonishes his hearers to rely upon the Holy Spirit for their utterance at such times. How fully such reliance was honored is shown in the apology of Stephen before the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:2-53), in Peter's defense before the tribunal (Acts 4:8-20), and in Paul's justification of his course, both before Felix (Acts 24:10-21) and Agrippa (Acts 26:1-29). See also Matthew 10:19; Mark 13:11.

12:13  And one out of the multitude said unto him, Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me1.
And one out of the multitude said unto him, Teacher, bid my brother divide the inheritance with me. Some one in the multitude, seeing the authority and justice of Jesus, thought it would be wise to appeal to him to assist him in getting his brother to rightly divide the inheritance.

12:14  But he said unto him, Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you1?
Man, who made me a judge or a divider over you? Jesus laid down the general laws of justice and generosity, but he did not enforce these laws by any other power than love (John 14:15). If love toward Jesus did not move this brother to rightly divide the inheritance, the injured party must look to the state and not to Jesus for assistance.

12:15  And he said unto them, Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness1: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth2.
Take heed, and keep yourselves from all covetousness. Jesus made the incident the text for an admonition. Covetousness made one brother say, "Divide", and the other one say, "No, I will not"; so Jesus warned against covetousness.
For a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. A man's goods are no part of his life, and so they cannot preserve it. It is lengthened or shortened, blessed or cursed, at the decree of God. Covetousness is an inordinate desire for earthly possession. Though all ages have committed it, it is the besetting sin of our time. A clear view of the limitations of the power of property quenches covetousness; and Jesus gives such a view in the following parable.

12:16  And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully1:
The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully. This man's sin was not theft or extortion. His wealth came to him honestly as a blessing from God.

12:17  and he reasoned within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have not where to bestow my fruits1?
What shall I do, because I have not where to bestow my fruits? His words betray his sin--his covetousness.

12:18  And he said, This will I do1: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods2. Luke 12:18,19
And he said, This will I do, etc. It is a short speech, but it reveals character. The man's selfishness is shown in that he uses the pronoun "I" six times, and says nothing of anyone else. His covetous love of possessions is shown by the word "my", which he uses five times. Compare his words with those of Nabal at 1 Samuel 25:11.
I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my grain and my goods. The Eastern barn is a pit or dry cistern built underground with an opening at the top. These the man proposed to enlarge by pulling down the walls or sides and extending them.

12:19  And I will say to my soul1, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease2, eat, drink, be merry.
And I will say to my soul. In his speech to his soul he asserts his trust that his "abundance" is a guarantee of "many years" of happy life; but it did not guarantee one day.
Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease,
eat, drink, be merry. See Proverbs 1:32.

12:20  But God said unto him1, Thou foolish one2, this night is thy soul required of thee3; and the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be4?
But God said unto him. God may be represented as saying what he does.
Thou foolish one. His folly was shown in several ways: (1) He hoarded his goods instead of using them for his fellowman; (2) ownership of goods deceived him into thinking that he owned time also; (3) he thought to satisfy the hunger of the soul with the food of the body; (4) in commanding his soul in such a way as to show that he forgot that God could command it also.
This night is thy soul required of thee. The man said "many years" (Luke 12:19), but God said "this night".
And the things which thou hast prepared, whose shall they be? Death generally scatters possessions broadcast (Psalms 39:6; Ecclesiastes 2:18,19). For an echo of these words see James 4:13-15.

12:21  So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God1.
So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God. To be rich in character is to be rich toward God. But we may be rich toward him by making him the repository of our hopes and expectations.

12:22  And he said unto his disciples1, Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for [your] life, what ye shall eat; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on2. Luke 12:22-31
And he said unto his disciples. This passage (excepting
Be not anxious for [your] life, what ye shall eat; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. See Matthew 6:25.

12:23  For the life is more than the food, and the body than the raiment1.
For the life is more than the food, and the body than the raiment. See Matthew 6:25.

12:24  Consider the ravens1, that they sow not, neither reap; which have no store-chamber nor barn; and God feedeth them: of how much more value are ye than the birds!
Consider the ravens, etc. See Matthew 6:26.

12:25  And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit unto the measure of his life1?
And which of you by being anxious can add a cubit unto the measure of his life? See Matthew 6:27.

12:26  If then ye are not able to do even that which is least, why are ye anxious concerning the rest1?
If then ye are not able to do even that which is least, why are ye anxious concerning the rest? If you cannot add one little moment to your life, why should you be anxious about the smaller concerns of property?

12:27  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin1; yet I say unto you, Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these2.
Consider the lilies, how they grow: they toil not, neither do they spin. See Matthew 6:28.
Even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. See Matthew 6:29.

12:28  But if God doth so clothe the grass in the field1, which to-day is, and to-morrow is cast into the oven; how much more [shall he clothe] you, O ye of little faith?
The grass in the field, etc. See Matthew 6:30.

12:29  And seek not ye what ye shall eat, and what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind1.
And seek not ye what ye shall eat, and what ye shall drink, neither be ye of doubtful mind. See Matthew 6:31.

12:30  For all these things do the nations of the world seek after1: but your Father knoweth that ye have need of these things.
For all these things do the nations of the world seek after, etc. See Matthew 6:32.

12:31  Yet seek ye his kingdom, and these things shall be added unto you1.
Yet seek ye his kingdom, and these things shall be added unto you. See Matthew 6:33.

12:32  Fear not1, little flock2; for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom3.
Fear not. See Luke 1:30.
Little flock. "Mikros poimnion", the Greek for "little flock", is a double diminutive, indicating at once the extreme smallness of the band of disciples, and also the tenderness of the Master for them.
For it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. They are exhorted to remember that they are the heirs of the heavenly kingdom, and that their treasures are there.

12:33  Sell that which ye have, and give alms; make for yourselves purses which wax not old2, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not3, where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth4.
Sell what ye have, and give alms. The disciples are told to sell their possessions and give, because their official position in the kingdom at that time required it. Compare 1 Corinthians 7:36.
Make for yourselves purses which wax not old. Purses were bound to the girdles, so that if a hole wore in them, their contents were lost.
A treasure in the heavens that faileth not. See Matthew 6:20.
Where no thief draweth near, neither moth destroyeth. See Matthew 6:19.

12:34  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also1.
For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. See Matthew 6:21. Having discussed the folly of amassing and trusting in earthly riches, and the wisdom of trusting in God, and amassing heavenly riches, Jesus passes to a new theme; viz.: a watchful service and its rewards. He may have been led into this theme by some interruption, such as that given at Luke 12:13 or that at (Luke Lu 12:41
), or it may have been suggested to him by his own words about the little flock and the kingdom. The kingdom was not to come in a day, and the little flock must watch patiently and serve faithfully before his coming (Luke 19:11-13).

12:35  Let your loins be girded about1, and your lamps burning2;
Let your loins be girded about. The long Oriental robe had to be lifted up and girded at the waist before the feet could step quickly (1 Kings 18:46).
And your lamps burning. This was needful; for Oriental weddings take place at night.

12:36  and be ye yourselves like unto men looking for their lord, when he shall return from the marriage feast; that, when he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto him1.
When he cometh and knocketh, they may straightway open unto him. Thus honoring him by a speedy welcome.

12:37  Blessed are those servants, whom the lord when he cometh shall find watching: verily I say unto you, that he shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them1.
He shall gird himself, and make them sit down to meat, and shall come and serve them. The apostles had a foretaste of this honor on the evening of the last Passover (John 13:4,5).

12:38  And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third1, and find [them] so blessed are those [servants].
And if he shall come in the second watch, and if in the third. Originally the Jews had three watches (Lamentations 2:19; Judges 7:19; 1 Samuel 11:11); but, following the Romans, they now had four watches. The second and third watches lasted from 9 P.M. to 3 A.M. The first watch is not mentioned because the marriage took place in it, and the fourth is not mentioned because in the latter part of it the day dawns and the virtue of watching was over (Luke 13:35).

12:39  But know this, that if the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched1, and not have left his house to be broken through2.
If the master of the house had known in what hour the thief was coming, he would have watched. Jesus here illustrates watchfulness by a second figure. To some the coming of Jesus will be like that of a master whom they have served more or less faithfully. To others his coming will seem like that of a plunderer who comes in suddenly and deprives them of all they have.
And not have left his house to be broken through. The Oriental houses were mostly made of mud or sun-dried bricks. Hence it was so easy to dig a hole in the wall than that the thief preferred to enter that way rather than to break open the door.

12:40  Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh1.
Be ye also ready: for in an hour that ye think not the Son of man cometh. These words of warning confront every generation.

12:41  And Peter said, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even unto all1?
And Peter said, Lord, speakest thou this parable unto us, or even unto all? Peter wished to know if the exhortation to watchfulness applied merely to the apostles or to all who heard.

12:42  And the Lord said, Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season1?
Who then is the faithful and wise steward, whom his lord shall set over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? The answer of Jesus shows that he especially addressed the disciples, for a steward is distinct from the household. On him the whole burden and care of the domestic establishment rested. Thus Jesus showed that he meant the disciples, yet did not exclude any who heard from profiting by his discourse. Fidelity is the first requisite in a steward, and wisdom is the second. All Christians are stewards; preachers, elders, Sunday-school teachers, etc., are stewards of place and office. Rich men, fathers, etc., are stewards of influence and possessions.

12:44  Of a truth I say unto you, that he will set him over all that he hath1.
He will set him over all that he hath. As Pharaoh exalted Joseph (Genesis 39:4; Genesis 41:39-41).

12:46  the lord of that servant shall come in a day when he expecteth not, and in an hour when he knoweth not, and shall cut him asunder1, and appoint his portion with the unfaithful.
And shall cut him asunder. Cutting asunder was a punishment prevalent among ancient nations (2 Samuel 12:31; Daniel 2:5; Hebrews 11:37). The definite punishment is part of the drapery of the parable, and does not necessarily indicate the exact nature of the punishment which will be inflicted upon the wicked.

12:48  but he that knew not, and did things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few [stripes]. And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more1.
And to whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom they commit much, of him will they ask the more. The greater the powers and opportunities entrusted to us, the larger the service which the Lord requires of us. Ignorance does not entirely excuse, for we are stewards, and it is the steward's duty to know his master's will. There is a guilt of ignorance as well as of transgression. The parable pointed to those who listened with delight to Jesus, but were careless about knowing his meaning. With Luke 12:48, Jesus passes on to set forth the severe tests to which the fidelity and vigilance of his disciples would be subjected in the times upon which they were about to enter.

12:49  I came to cast fire upon the earth1; and what do I desire, if it is already kindled2?
I came to cast fire upon the earth. A firebrand. The object of Christ's coming was to rouse men to spiritual conflict, to kindle a fire in the public mind which would purify the better part and destroy the worse. But the burning of this fire would excite men and stir up their passions and cause division and discord.
And what do I desire, if it is already kindled? The opposition of the Pharisees showed that this fire was already kindled. What therefore was left for Jesus to desire? His work as a teacher was practically accomplished. But there remained for him yet his duty as priest to offer himself as a sacrifice for the world's sin. To this work, therefore, he glances briefly forward.

12:50  But I have a baptism to be baptized with1; and how am I straitened till it be accomplished2!
But I have a baptism to be baptized with. A flood of suffering; that is, the agony of the cross.
And how am I straitened till it be accomplished! The language here is broken, indicating the strong emotion of him who spoke it.

12:51  Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay; but rather division:
Think ye that I am come to give peace in the earth? I tell you, Nay;
but rather division. Jesus came to conquer a peace by overcoming evil with good; a conflict in which the good must always suffer.

12:52  for there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three1.
For there shall be from henceforth five in one house divided, three against two, and two against three. His warfare was not, as the people supposed, a struggle against the heathen, but against the evil within them and around them. So long as evil abounded, these unhappy divisions would last.

12:53  They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father1; mother against daughter, and daughter against her mother; mother in law against her daughter in law, and daughter in law against her mother in law.
They shall be divided, father against son, and son against father, etc. Jesus here shows the hard plight of the disciple. If he were the young son he would find his father against him, and if he were the aged father he would be persecuted by the boy whom he had raised.

12:54  And he said to the multitudes also, When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass1.
When ye see a cloud rising in the west, straightway ye say, There cometh a shower; and so it cometh to pass. The Mediterranean Sea lay in that quarter, and rains came from thence.

12:55  And when [ye see] a south wind blowing, ye say, There will be a scorching heat; and it cometh to pass1.
And when [ye see] a south wind blowing, ye say, There will be a scorching heat; and it cometh to pass. The south winds of Palestine blew from the equator, crossed the intervening deserts and wildernesses, and were distressingly hot.

12:56  Ye hypocrites, ye know how to interpret the face of the earth and the heaven; but how is it that ye know not how to interpret this time1?
But how is it that ye know not how to interpret this time? That is, this period which began with the ministry of John the Baptist. They could at once read the signs of nature so as to declare what kind of storm was coming (Luke 12:54,55). But with the political storm arising out of conflict with Rome impending over them, and with the spiritual storm which the teaching of Christ was bringing upon them, about to burst, they stood still in ignorant indifference, and made no provision for the times of trouble.

12:57  And why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right1?
And why even of yourselves judge ye not what is right? They had the warnings of both John and Jesus about matters and conditions which were so plain that they should have been able to see them without any warning whatever.

12:58  For as thou art going with thine adversary before the magistrate1, on the way give diligence to be quit of him; lest haply he drag thee unto the judge, and the judge shall deliver thee to the officer, and the officer shall cast thee into prison. Luke 12:58,59
For as thou art going with thine adversary before the magistrate, etc. See Matthew 5:25. The passage here is an appeal to the people to avert the coming disasters. The Jewish rulers looked upon Jesus as their adversary. Accepting their valuation of him, Jesus counseled them to come to terms with him before it is too late.

12:59  I say unto thee, Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the very last mite1.
Thou shalt by no means come out thence, till thou have paid the very last mite. See Matthew 5:26. A mite ("lepton") was their smallest coin, being worth about two mills, or two one-thousandths of a U.S. dollar.