Christian Churches of God

No. 199





Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son

(Edition 3.0 19970510-19990526-20100606)


The parables in Luke 15 have an extended meaning that is not well appreciated. Many apply the parable of the prodigal son to wayward sinners but most do not understand the powerful scope and symbolism of these parables. Nor do many understand that they are interlinked and the central parable, which is itself a key, is found only in Luke.



Christian Churches of God

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(Copyright © 1997, 1999, 2010 Wade Cox)


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Lost Sheep and the Prodigal Son


Luke 15 is directly aimed at explaining the concept of sin and repentance to two classes of people – both the sinners and those who profited by them. A third class was also there as Pharisees and thus there were sinners and the self-righteous.


This lesson by Christ here in Luke is broken into three parts. The first section is the parable of the lost sheep; the second section is the parable of the woman and the lost silver; and the third section is the parable of the prodigal son. Each parable is an interlinked sector of the whole, which explains the love and mercy and forgiveness of God.


The first section of the lost sheep is easily understood. The first six verses tie in the audience, namely the publicans and sinners, to the lost sheep and the search for them that is made by the shepherd. The self-righteous of the Pharisees murmured against this, because they did not see that it was necessary to receive1 or even eat with sinners. Christ addresses these self-righteous people in verse 7 as the “you” to whom he is speaking.


The text in verse 7 lifts the sense out of the physical into the spiritual heavenly realm, and ties it into the loyal Host and the redemption of the lost sinners. The central issue is identified here as repentance. As we will see, it concerns all three parables as the real problem in issue.


Luke 15:1-7 Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for to hear him. 2 And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. 3 And he spake this parable unto them, saying, 4 What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it? 5 And when he hath found it, he layeth it on his shoulders, rejoicing. 6 And when he cometh home, he calleth together his friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost. 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.


The problem here is that all men have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, yet they did not see that. Even Paul after he was converted, still tried to assert that he was blameless in the law (Phil. 3:6). This was a central problem of the sect of the Pharisees and the system they espoused.


We see from the sense of the heavenly Host that the redemption of the entire system is at stake and repentance is extended to all sinners. This sense is developed in these parables, but is not understood or recognised, because of the mainstream Christian world-view and understanding of the doctrines concerning judgment and the resurrection.


The man in the first section is often seen to be Christ looking for the lost sheep. To do that he has to leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go in search of the one. This he does until he finds it. This search is the same search as the woman undertakes from verse 8 onwards. We are looking here at a search for lost sheep that extends from the Host that the shepherd is forced to leave in the wilderness. This wilderness is a place where the ninety-nine might feed freely and is thus not infertile. The search continues so that the sheep is found. Nothing is left to be lost. This extends over the entire Host. When the sheep is found there is rejoicing with Messiah, who comes home with the sheep and celebrates with his friends and neighbours. The sense of this reconciliation is seen also in the third section concerning the prodigal son, and extends further than is commonly thought.


Luke 15:8-10 continues into the section of the woman who searches for her treasures. We deal here with the Holy Spirit symbolised by the woman, who sweeps the house clean in order to restore her treasure to its full amount.


Luke 15:8-10 Either what woman having ten pieces of silver, if she lose one piece, doth not light a candle, and sweep the house, and seek diligently till she find it? 9 And when she hath found it, she calleth her friends and her neighbours together, saying, Rejoice with me; for I have found the piece which I had lost. 10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.


This section concerning the Spirit shows how the house is swept clean and put in order, so that the valuable piece may be found and restored. This section of the parable, which occurs only in Luke, uses the concept of drachmas in verse 8 and 9. The other term is argurion (used in Mat. 26:15; 27:3,5,9; Acts 19:19).


The drachma is less in value, but it seems to have some relationship to the tribute money which was a didrachma or double drachma (Mat. 17:24).


The use of ten pieces of silver is not accidental. There appears to be a parable relating to the fallen Host here and their conversion. The price for Christ was that of a slave at thirty pieces of silver. This was a piece for each of the number of the entities in the inner council of the elohim, as we see in Revelation 4 and 5. They consisted of twenty-four elders plus the lamb at their head and the four living creatures, plus the Most High God. These were thirty in number. Christ stated that a third of the Host had fallen with Satan in the rebellion. This concept is probably represented here in the ten as a third of the thirty. The purpose here is that the Holy Spirit has to make the house clean, in order to restore the lost pieces.


This point was seemingly understood, as it was thought by the early Church that some of the fallen Host responsible for cities and nations did repent and allowed the Church to be established within their areas.


We now proceed to the third section of the  prodigal son. In this section, the man is portrayed as having two sons. This section deals with the man who is God the Father. The symbolism is here reduced to the finite characteristics of the leaders of the Host, namely Christ and Satan. The far-off place is the wilderness of sin and the place of traffic and merchandise for which Satan was condemned, and for which he fell from grace (see Isa. 14:12-19; Ezek. 28:12-19). Let us now examine the text from the point of view that God has a faithful and obedient son, and a prodigal or wayward son, and then look at the reactions of the Father in dealing with the Host, as they repent. This attitude is not what we expect, nor what we ourselves might do in the same circumstances.


Luke 15:11-32  And he said, A certain man had two sons: 12 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. 13 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. 14 And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. 15 And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine. 16 And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 17 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! 18 I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee, 19 And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. 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. 21 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. 22 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: 23 And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry: 24 For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. 25 Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing. 26 And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant. 27 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. 28 And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and entreated him. 29 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: 30 But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf. 31 And he said unto him, Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine. 32 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. (KJV)


Here we see Christ places the reactions in his own mouth for the purpose of showing the love of God to Satan and the Host and all of His sons. Christ will not be angry. Otherwise he would not have gone to preach to the demons in Tartaros after his resurrection. He died to save them and us (cf. 1Pet. 3:18-22).

Let us look at what is happening in the text above. The second son could not wait for the bounty that was to be bestowed upon him. Being in the form of God he sought to grasp equality with God. Christ the elder son did not seek to grasp this equality (see Isa. 14:12-19; Ezek. 28:12-19 and Phil. 2:5-8).


Ezekiel 28:12-19  Son of man, take up a lamentation upon the king of Tyrus, and say unto him, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom, and perfect in beauty. 13 Thou hast been in Eden the garden of God; every precious stone was thy covering, the sardius, topaz, and the diamond, the beryl, the onyx, and the jasper, the sapphire, the emerald, and the carbuncle, and gold: the workmanship of thy tabrets and of thy pipes was prepared in thee in the day that thou wast created. 14 Thou art the anointed cherub that covereth; and I have set thee so: thou wast upon the holy mountain of God; thou hast walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire. 15 Thou wast perfect in thy ways from the day that thou wast created, till iniquity was found in thee. 16 By the multitude of thy merchandise they have filled the midst of thee with violence, and thou hast sinned: therefore I will cast thee as profane out of the mountain of God: and I will destroy thee, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire. 17 Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness: I will cast thee to the ground, I will lay thee before kings, that they may behold thee. 18 Thou hast defiled thy sanctuaries by the multitude of thine iniquities, by the iniquity of thy traffick; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of thee, it shall devour thee, and I will bring thee to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold thee. 19 All they that know thee among the people shall be astonished at thee: thou shalt be a terror, and never shalt thou be any more. (KJV)


Satan as the anointed covering cherub was cast from the mount of God as profane and he is brought down to the sides of the pit and dies like any man. The word is definitely "man" in the Hebrew. He declares himself a god and is slain by the Host before whom he declared himself God. He was in Eden and was the anointed covering cherub.


He is then resurrected as a man and the people in the Second Resurrection look upon him and say "Is this the MAN that troubled the nations." He thus assumes human form and is able to die and be cast into the Lake of Fire as a dead carcass if he does not repent (cf. Isa. 14:11-17).

Satan is to be removed and changed so that this being is not to be anymore. Thus, there is a process of restoration to be undertaken with the Host in order to deal with them, as well in the final judgment (see the paper The Judgment of the Demons (No. 80)).


At the resurrection Satan is given a new form and his power as Satan is removed and a new spirit is given to all the sons of God of the fallen Host. All who have fallen short of the glory of God will be given a chance in the Second Resurrection.

The Churches of God have always understood this text of Ezekiel as referring to Satan.


The end of the text in Ezekiel 28 refers to the Judgment by the House of Israel which is the elect of the Resurrection.

Christ remained steady and loyal and was always by the side of God. Yet, we saw from the first section that he had to go away to recover the sheep that were lost. This was only by example and self-sacrifice. Thus one cannot read the three parables in isolation, as people attempt to do. This text in Luke is the complete sequence, but the parable was not meant to be fully understood until the demons had the full chance to repent.


Philippians 2:5-11 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (RSV)


We see from Luke 15:13 that not many days after Satan was given the power and wealth, he went into a far country and wasted his substance with riotous living. This essentially is the message in Ezekiel and Isaiah. In the full story he took a third of the Host with him (Rev. 12:4).


The use of the term substance (KJV) or property (RSV) is ousia (SGD 3776). This word is derived from ousa (SGD 5607) meaning being. It is used only here in Luke 15. Thus while it means property or substance, the sense is derived from being, or the sense of having. The word is rendered as goods in Luke 15:12, but that is the only time the word is rendered that way, as it is the only time it is rendered substance in the KJV. This term ousia is not simply a material term, as the translators of the New Testament would use it. Its main use comes from philosophy and is derived from the Platonic sense of being. It relates directly to the Godhead and came to be used by the Christian Church to mean the unified Godhead, where God was three hypostases in one ousia. In fact, both terms mean the same thing. One is Stoic the other is Platonic. They both mean real existence or essence of being; that which a thing is (see J Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Harper and Row, 1978, pp. 129,140ff.). Kelly in his work explains the development of the theory of God from Rome and the West into this Platonic system, and also explains deviations from this view (see ibid., pp. 129, 140-142, 158-159, 233-234, 247-250, 253-254, 264-268).


The Gnostics tended to a pluralist theology, where they taught as Irenaeus pointed out (Adv. Her., 3.16.5) that Christ was compounded by two distinct ousia or substances (Kelly, p. 142).


The use of the term in Luke is thus not accidental and it does not refer to material substance only. Rather it uses a powerful allegory to establish that the son in question wasted the substance of his being, which from its use in classical Greek can only have been taken to mean his spiritual essence. This point seems to be deliberately obscured.


The real problem here is that the substance of being given to the second son came to be seen as solely that of the Christ, who existed eternally alongside the Father, who could never be without His Word or logos. A proper examination of this parable destroys the fourth century Nicene theology and, hence, the entire argument relating to the ousia and hypostasis up until that time (through the time of Origen and Paul of Samostata etc.) had to be attacked. Athanasius did this after Nicaea from about 362 CE. The view of divinity was at stake.


It is useful here to explain how Arius and Eusebius of Ceasarea stood in contrast to Athanasius’ writing in the fourth century, trying to explain how Christ participated in the Godhead. Kelly (p. 243) provides a useful summary, which we can use here. Arius and Eusebius of Caesarea held that the Word:


Could not be divine because His being originated from the Father; since the divine nature was incommunicable, He must be a creature, and any special status He enjoyed must be due to His role as the Father’s agent in creation. ... [Athanasius’ approach was] ... Admittedly the Father used the Word as His organ of creation, but to suppose that He needed an intermediary was absurd. On the other hand, by his fellowship with Christ man has been made divine and has become the child of God. Hence the Word Himself must be intrinsically divine, since otherwise He could never have imparted the divine life to men. As he put the matter, ‘the word could never have divinised us if He were merely divine by participation and were not Himself the essential Godhead, the Father’s veritable image. (J Kelly, Early Christian Doctrines, Harper and Row, 1978, p. 243.)


We see from this text that the simple understanding of both parties was wrong. Participation in the divine nature was a biblical fact from 2Peter 1:4.


2Peter 1:3-4 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. (RSV)


Thus Arius and Eusebius were wrong, as the divine nature was extended by the Father and was not dependent upon the activity of the son, other than as a conditional gift, following on from his faithful and obedient sacrifice. Their understanding was limited by Greek philosophy, which did not understand the agape love of God.


The Trinitarians with Athanasius, in holding that the Son must exist eternally alongside the Father, sought to tie the Father and son together to the exclusion of the other sons of God. Their theology was later to see an attack made on the authenticity of 2Peter itself.


This parable in Luke, by its structure and terms, shows that the ousia of the prodigal son was wasted, but it was derived as his inheritance from the Father in the same way that the faithful son was always with the Father and partook of the inheritance of the Father. He was heir of the Father but both sons shared in the inheritance. In this way, all are heirs together with the Messiah as eldest son or prőtotokos of the creation. The Trinity is thus completely false and the divine nature is shared by the sons of God.


There seems little doubt in anyone’s mind that the Father here is God (cf. Companion Bible n. to v. 11) as all creeds ascribe the parable as referring to the relationship between God and His sons. But most do not understand that the entire Host are and were always sons of God as Christ was a son of God.


Under the law, the eldest son was to retain a double portion of the inheritance but the inheritance was shared even if the eldest was hated (Deut. 21:17).


The contrast here with the prodigal son was that after he had been gone many days he began to be in want. He was joined to a citizen of the foreign land. He cleaved to or joined himself to the citizen as a form of slavery. This is also in contrast to Philippians 3:20.

Philippians 3:20 But our commonwealth is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, (RSV)


This word commonwealth or conversation (KJV) is politeuma which means citizenship.


This prodigal (which actually means profligate or wastrel) son was no longer a citizen of the Father and was cleaved to another citizenship. This was the production of the fallen Host divorced from God and which produced the Nephilim who have no resurrection (Isa. 26:14; cf. n. to Companion Bible, and also the paper The Nephilim (No. 154)).


The mighty famine in that land was due to the fact that it was not run according to the laws of the Father (Deut. 28; see the paper The Blessings and the Curses (No. 75)).


He was then given to feed swine. The symbolism here is that he was unclean ritually and spiritually.


The term began to be in want has application to the severance of the sons of God – for only in verse 24 do they begin to be merry.


This total desolation and hunger is a realisation that he is cut off from his Father’s house and family and the result is desolation. He was perishing from his emphatic assertion of that in verse 17.


He in the end realises that he has sinned against heaven and before God (v. 18). This confession and repentance is enough to restore him to the love of the Father. He did not properly understand the nature of the Father and sought merely to be as one of the hired servants. The term as servants refers to the condition of the Host before the final redemption and the implementation of the full plan of salvation. This ignorance caused the rebellion in the first instance. The loyal Host showed faith even though it had not been fully revealed to them.


This insidious doctrine that the Host were not of the same substance as was Christ and that all were not sons of God in the true sense that Christ enjoyed was taught from the fourth Lateran Council in 1215. The Catholic Church, from this council, taught that the Host called Angels as a corruption of the word for Messenger were created ex-nihilo (or out of nothing) and could not possess the substance of the Father in the same way that Christ possessed the substance (see the paper Socinianism, Arianism and Unitarianism (No. 185)).


The truth of the matter is that all who live in the house of God, possessing the Holy Spirit, are sons of God. Here we see that the prodigal son was to be restored to his former condition. He was given the first robe and a ring was put on his finger. We are all given a robe washed in the blood of the Lamb and that extends to the entire heavenly Host, even up to and including Satan. The first robe here is translated best robe, but it seems that he was given the robe that he had at first, or of first quality. In other words, the robe of salvation washed white in the blood of the Lamb is of a first or uniform quality so that all partake equally of the citizenship of God.


From this point they killed the fatted calf and began to make merry. The sons began to be in want from their alienation, and the entire Host had not been merry from the time of their separation and these wasted years. Here the son was seen as being dead and is alive, was lost and is found. All were under the death penalty and all were saved by the desire of the Father and the efforts of the sons, under the one who was the loyal vinedresser in the fields.


The restoration is effected from the efforts of the eldest son in the fields. He returns and hears the music and dancing and he appears to not fully comprehend the significance of the repentance and the restoration of the son.


This anger on the part of the son is described in similar ways to that of the anger of Jonah over Nineveh and their repentance. The Father entreats the son. The son answers “Lo these many years do I serve thee neither have I at any time transgressed your commandment” (or disobeyed your command; entolen). He also says that “never have I been given so much as a goat that I might make merry with my friends.”

This section deals with the whole question of the Azazel goat and the Atonement that he wrought for the nations as Messiah. His friends, which is what he called the Church (Jn. 15:14-15), were never given merriment during this time he worked in the fields, because they were persecuted, as he was, in the work of the Father.


This contrast is made here to show the mercy of the Father, rather than cast any imputation to the son. The son is making the clear reference to the prodigal as Thy son in reference to the Father. The son here, which can only be Christ, says: “But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!”


This text is made as a reproach to the Father for His seeming unjust leniency. The prodigal has devoured the living of the Father with harlots. This is a reference to Jude 6 and Genesis 6:4. The living is the bios (SGD 979) which is a word meaning life or the present state of existence and, by implication, is held to mean the means of livelihood, but here it literally means the life of the Spirit emanating from God.


This word is distinct from zao (SGD 2198) which is a prime verb to live. This is used for the spirit of the living waters, because what he had at first was distinct from and qualified in such a way as to stand apart from the final gift of God, which is eternal life on a higher plane.


God answers Christ with the following statement, and remember it is Christ speaking here in the Spirit.

Son [child] you are ever with me and all that I have is yours. It was proper that we should make merry and be glad for this your brother was dead and is alive again and was lost and is found.


This text should be compared with Romans 9:4-5 and Matthew 20:14 regarding the comment of God that, all that I have is yours.


Christ here is using this parable in such a fashion as to put words in his own mouth that the self-righteous would use when confronted with the fact of the repentance of the sons of God. Christ is saying here, before the repentance of any of the Host and before his death that such mercy was extended to them by virtue of the love of the Father. Knowing this, he still went ahead and died the death on the stake for their sake, knowing also that they would persecute us before they repented.


Their repentance here is at the second resurrection at the end, when Christ is returning from the fields. Thus, the second resurrection sees the total reconciliation of the creation.


At the end of the Millennium Satan is released deliberately by God to deal with the self-righteousness of the world. That event is known and planned by God and He is responsible for that situation.


When we are confronted with the repentance of the Host, including Satan, we should have the love of the Father and not behave like a jealous elder son. Christ himself stated and understood this point and so should we.

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