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Bible Commentaries

William Barclay's Daily Study Bible

Luke 17



Verses 1-37

Chapter 17


17:1-10 Jesus said to his disciples, "It is impossible that snares to sin should not arise; but woe to him through whom they do arise! It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea rather than that he should cause one of these little ones to trip up.

"Take heed to yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. Even if he sins against you seven times in the day, and if seven times he turns to you, saying, 'I repent,' you must forgive him."

The apostles said to the Lord, "Give us also faith!" The Lord said, "If you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you would say to this sycamine tree, 'Be rooted up and be planted in the sea,' and it would obey you.

"If any of you has a slave ploughing or watching the flock, and the slave comes in from the field, will he say to him, 'Come at once and take your place at table'; or rather, will he not say to him, 'Get ready my evening meal, and gird yourself and serve me, until I eat and drink, and after that you shall eat and drink yourself'? Does he thank a servant because he has done what he was ordered to do? Even so, you too, when you have done everything you were ordered to do, say, 'We are unworthy servants. We have done what it was our duty to do.'"

This passage falls into four definite and disconnected sections.

(i) Luke 17:1-2 condemn the man who teaches others to sin. The Revised Standard Version talks in these verses about temptations to sin. The Greek word (skandalon, Greek #4625) is exactly the same word as the English scandal. It has two meanings.

(a) It originally meant the bait-stick in a trap.

(b) It then came to mean any stumbling-block placed in a man's way to trip him up. Jesus said that it was impossible to construct a world with no temptations; but woe to that man who taught another to sin or who took away another's innocence.

Every one must be given his first invitation to sin, his first push along the wrong way. Kennedy Williamson tells of an old man who was dying. Something was obviously worrying him. He told them at last what it was. "When I was a lad," he said, "I often played on a wide common. Near its centre two roads met and crossed, and, standing at the cross-roads, was an old rickety sign-post. I remember one day twisting it round in its socket, thus altering the arms and making them point in the wrong direction; and I've been wondering ever since how many travellers I sent on the wrong road."

God will not hold the man guiltless, who, on the road of life, sends a younger or a weaker brother on the wrong way.

(ii) Luke 17:3-4 speak of the necessity of forgiveness in the Christian life. It tells us to forgive seven times. The Rabbis had a saying that if one forgave another three times, one was a perfect man. The Christian standard takes the Rabbinic standard, doubles it and adds one; but it is not a matter of calculation. It simply means that the Christian standard of forgiveness must immeasurably exceed the best the world can achieve.

(iii) Luke 17:5-6 tell us that faith is the greatest force in the world. We must again remember that it was the eastern custom to use language in the most vivid possible way. This saying means that even that which looks completely impossible becomes possible, if it is approached with faith. We have only to think of the number of scientific marvels, of the number of surgical operations, of the feats of endurance which today have been achieved and which less than fifty years ago would have been regarded as utterly impossible. If we approach a thing saying, "It can't be done," it will not; if we approach it saying, "It must be done," the chances are that it will. We must always remember that we approach no task alone, but that with us there is God and all his power.

(iv) Luke 17:7-10 tell us that we can never put God in our debt and can never have any claim on him. When we have done our best, we have done only our duty; and a man who has done his duty has done only what, in any event, he could be compelled to do.

Were the whole realm of Nature mine,

That were an offering far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all.

It may be possible to satisfy the claims of law; but every lover knows that nothing can ever satisfy the claims of love.


17:11-19 When Jesus was on the way to Jerusalem, he was going along between Samaria and Galilee; and, as he entered a village, ten lepers, who stood far off, met him. They lifted up their voices and said, "Jesus, Master, have pity upon us." When he saw them, he said, "Go, and show yourselves to the priests." And as they went they were cleansed. One of them when he saw that he was cured, turned back, glorifying God with a great voice. He fell on his face at Jesus' feet and kept on thanking him. And he was a Samaritan. Jesus said, "Were the ten not cleansed? The nine--where are they? Were none found to turn back and give glory to God except this foreigner?" And he said to him, "Rise and go! Your faith has made you well."

Jesus was on the border between Galilee and Samaria and was met by a band of ten lepers. We know that the Jews had no dealings with the Samaritans; yet in this band there was at least one Samaritan. Here is an example of a great law of life. A common misfortune had broken down the racial and national barriers. In the common tragedy of their leprosy they had forgotten they were Jews and Samaritans and remembered only they were men in need. If flood surges over a piece of country and the wild animals congregate for safety on some little bit of higher ground, you will find standing peacefully together animals who are natural enemies and who at any other time would do their best to kill each other. Surely one of the things which should draw all men together is their common need of God.

The lepers stood far off. (compare Leviticus 13:45-46; Numbers 5:2.) There was no specified distance at which they should stand, but we know that at least one authority laid it down that, when he was to windward of a healthy person, the leper should stand at least fifty yards away. Nothing could better show the utter isolation in which lepers lived.

No story in all the gospels so poignantly shows man's ingratitude. The lepers came to Jesus with desperate longing; he cured them; and nine never came back to give thanks. So often, once a man has got what he wants, he never comes back.

(i) Often we are ungrateful to our parents. There was a time in our lives when a week's neglect would have killed us. Of all living creatures man requires longest to become able to meet the needs essential for life. There were years when we were dependent on our parents for literally everything. Yet the day often comes when an aged parent is a nuisance; and many young people are unwilling to repay the debt they owe. As King Lear said in the day of his own tragedy.

"How sharper than a serpent's tooth it is

To have a thankless child!"

(ii) Often we are ungrateful to our fellow-men. Few of us have not at some time owed a great deal to some fellow-man. Few of us at the moment, believed we could ever forget; but few of us in the end satisfy the debt of gratitude we owe. It often happens that a friend, a teacher, a doctor, a surgeon does something for us which it is impossible to repay; but the tragedy is that we often do not even try to repay it.

Blow, blow, thou winter wind,

Thou art not so unkind

As man's ingratitude.

(iii) Often we are ungrateful to God. In some time of bitter need we pray with desperate intensity; the time passes and we forget God. Many of us never even offer a grace before meat. God gave us his only Son and often we never give to him even a word of thanks. The best thanks we can give him is to try to deserve his goodness and his mercy a little better. "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." (Psalms 103:2.)


17:20-37 When Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, "The kingdom of God does not come with signs that you can watch for; nor will they say, 'Look here!' or 'Look there!' For--look you--the kingdom of God is within you."

He said to his disciples, "Days will come when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man and you will not see it. And they will say to you, 'Look there! Look here!' Do not depart, and do not follow them. For, as the flashing lightning lights up the sky from one side to another, so shall be the Son of Man in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Even as it was in the days of Noah, so it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, they were being given in marriage, until the day on which Noah entered the ark and the flood came and wiped them all out. In the same way, so it was in the days of Lot. They were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building, but, on the day on which Lot went out of Sodom, fire and brimstone rained from heaven and wiped them all out. It will be the same on the day on which the Son of Man is revealed. If, on that day, anyone is on the housetop, and his goods are in the house, let him not come down to take them. In the same way, if anyone is in the field, let him not turn back. Remember Lot's wife! Whoever seeks to gain his life will lose it, but whoever loses it will preserve it alive. This is the truth I tell you--on that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other will be left. Two women will be grinding together. One will be taken and the other left." They said to him, "Where, Lord?" He said to them, "Where the body is, there the vultures will be gathered together."

Here are two very difficult passages.

In Luke 17:20-21 Jesus answered the question of the Pharisees as to when the kingdom of God would come. He said that it would not come with signs that watch for. The word he used is the word used for a doctor watching a patient for symptoms of some disease which he suspects.

We are not quite sure what Jesus went on to say. The Greek may mean two things.

(a) It may mean, the kingdom of God is within you. That is to say, the kingdom of God works in men's hearts; it is to produce not new things, but new people. It is not a revolution in material things that we are to look for, but a revolution in the hearts of men.

(b) It may mean, the kingdom of God is among you. That would refer to Jesus himself. He was the very embodiment of the kingdom, and they did not recognize him. It was as if he said, "The whole offer and secret of God are here--and you will not accept them."

Luke 17:22-37 speak of the Second Coming of Jesus. Out of this difficult passage we can pick only the things which are certain--and in truth they are enough.

(i) There will be times when the Christian will long for the coming of Christ. Like the martyred saints he will cry out, "How long?" (Revelation 6:10.) But he will need to learn to light a candle of patience and wait. God takes his own time.

(ii) The coming of Christ is certain, but its time is quite unknown. Speculation is vain. People will come with false prophecies and false predictions; but we must not leave our ordinary work to follow them. The best way that Christ can come upon a man is when he is faithfully and humbly and watchfully doing his duty. As a great commentator said, "No man will foresee it, and all men will see it."

(iii) When that day comes the judgments of God will operate, and of two people, who all their lives lived side by side, one will be taken and the other left. There is a warning here. Intimacy with a good person does not necessarily guarantee our own salvation. "No man can deliver his brother." Is it not often true that a family is apt to leave the duties of church membership to one of its number? Is it not often true that a husband leaves the duties of the church to his wife? The judgment of God is an individual judgment. We cannot discharge our duty to God by proxy nor even by association. Often one will be taken and another left.

(iv) When they asked Jesus when all this would happen, he answered by quoting a well-known proverb. "Where the body is, there the vultures will be gathered together." That simply meant that a thing would happen when the necessary conditions were fulfilled. That means for us that God will bring Jesus Christ again in his good time. We cannot know that time; we dare not speculate about it. We must live so that whenever he comes, at morning, at midday or at evening, he will find us ready.

-Barclay's Daily Study Bible (NT)


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Barclay, William. "Commentary on Luke 17:4". "William Barclay's Daily Study Bible". 1956-1959.

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