The Prodigal Son’s Older Brother

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Q. In the parable of the Prodigal Son I understand the father forgiving his younger son and showing him grace. But what about the older brother? The parable left us hanging without knowing what happened in the end. What’s your view?

A. First, let’s look at the context:
Lk 15:1-2 Now all the tax collectors and the sinners were coming near Him to listen to Him. Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.”
Jesus responded by telling them three parables: the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son. So from the context we know that the Prodigal Son has to do with correcting the Pharisees and scribes for not receiving sinners.

Secondly, let’s examine the text to see what it says about the older brother. He was mentioned in passing in Lk 15:11, but became the focus of attention in v 25-32. Taking everything at face value, my observations are as follows:

His Positive Traits:
• Hardworking v 25 his older son was in the field, presumably working
• Obedient v 29 For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours
• Loyal v 31 you have always been with me
These are commendable qualities.

His Negative Characteristics:
• Angry v 28 he became angry, first with his brother
• Bears grudge v 28 was not willing to go in
• Self-righteous v 29 For so many years I have been serving you and I have never neglected a command of yours
• Jealous in comparing himself to others v 29 yet you have never given me a young goat
• Unforgiving; no love for his brother v 30 this son of yours vs. his father’s v 32 this brother of yours. His brother means less to him than celebrating with his friends.
• Angry with father v 30 you killed the fattened calf for him.
The negatives tell where his heart was, and far outweigh the positives which looked so good on the surface.

Now my interpretation:
• It is quite obvious that in the parable the father represents God, the older brother the Pharisees and scribes, and the younger brother the tax collectors and sinners.
• The attitude of the two sons are mirrored in the parable of the Pharisee and Publican in Lk 18:9-14.
• The older brother is self-righteous and looked down on his younger brother – Lk 18:9, 11-12 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt … The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ Compare his “I serve”, “I never neglect”. He was angry even with his father, who did everything graciously (see below) and represented the perfect Heavenly Father.
• The younger brother is truly repentant – Lk 18:13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ Compare Lk 15:18-19 Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in your sight; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me as one of your hired men. (Also v 21) He was justified rather than his brother. (Compare Lk 18:14)
• The parable of the Prodigal Son is open-ended because Jesus wanted the Pharisees and scribes to learn to be like the Father, compassionate (v 20), forgiving (v 22), joyful when his child repents (v 23-24, 32), reaching out even to self-righteous sinners (v 28 pleading), generous (v 31 all that is mine is yours), but He left the choice to them. He will not impose His will on them, even though it’s for their own good.

Lastly, application:
• Who do you identify with in the parable? Do you see yourself as the prodigal son, a sinner not worthy to be called the Father’s child, but grateful for the grace bestowed on you?
• Or do you see yourself as the older brother, trusting in your good deeds and even faulting the Father for being too kind to sinners, not realizing that the very thing you are proud of is what disqualifies you from being justified.
• A few may identify with the father in the parable, in which case “Congratulations!” You have learned to see the world through your Father’s eyes and feel through His heart. He loves His children and welcomes them anytime they repent. Hope we all learn that.

When was Abraham born?

Q. The young earth view of 6,000 years says Abraham was born around 2000 BC, how did they get this ?

A. They based the age of the earth on chronologies in the Bible. Different authors have written on this approach, with some variations in the results depending on which manuscript was used, but they are all in the range of thousands of years, not billions. The most famous is Archbishop Ussher, who wrote The Annals of the World in 1650.

He started with the genealogies in Gen 5 and 11, which established the period of time:
• from Creation to birth of Noah (Gen 5) to be 1,056 years;
• from the birth of Noah to the time Abram entered Canaan (Gen 11) to be 1,027 years.

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He then used several other passages given in the chart below to establish the time from Abram’s entry into Canaan to the final deportation of the Jews to be 1,337 years. From secular history and archeology he knew the final Jewish exile to be 584 BC. So he back calculated the age of the earth since creation to be:
1,056 + 1,027 + 1,337 + 584 BC = 4004 BC

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Since from Gen 5 and 11 Abram was born 2,008 years after Adam, people deduce that he must be born in:
4004 BC – 2,008 = 1996 BC, or 2000 BC in round terms. (QED)

Exposé of Hong Kong Riot

If you understand Cantonese, my brother has done an excellent analysis of the factors behind the riot in Mongkok, Hong Kong during Chinese New Year (Part 8).

Part 9 digs deeper to review psychological war tactics, using Ukraine as an example. It dissects the forces behind what’s happening in Hong Kong, a chess piece in the struggle between the US and China for supremacy. Parts of the video is in English.

Things are not always what they appear on the surface. Tough times are coming. Watch and pray, and be prepared.

Lone Ranger Christian?

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Q. My friend told me he does not read reference books in Bible study, saying there are so many different interpretations and opinions that it’s confusing. All he needs is “me and my Bible”. He said, “If you believe everything the books say, you might as well do without books (盡信書不如無書).” He also does not trust leaders in his church, nor well-known pastors. How can I steer him back?

A. While there are many opinions, there are sound rules of hermeneutics by which you can evaluate whether a particular interpretation is valid or not. It is not free for all and everything and anything goes. Your friend has a very high view of himself and a very low view of learning from others. But the fact of the matter is that most things we know we learned from others, our parents, elementary and high school teachers, bosses, books, media etc., even though your friend does not acknowledge them. We always stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us, and passed on the lessons they learned through their words and writings.

The Christian life is never meant to be lived in isolation, but in community. To say that one does not need the wisdom of the church in history, the exhortation of fellow believers, the edification of leaders is to be very arrogant and naive about one’s dependence on the body of Christ.

1 Co 12:21-26 And the eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you”; or again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” On the contrary, it is much truer that the members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary; and those members of the body which we deem less honorable, on these we bestow more abundant honor, and our less presentable members become much more presentable, whereas our more presentable members have no need of it. But God has so composed the body, giving more abundant honor to that member which lacked, so that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it.
• Eph 4:11-16 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.
• Heb 13:17 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they keep watch over your souls as those who will give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with grief, for this would be unprofitable for you.

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There are dozens of “one another” verses in the epistles about how we should relate to each other. For you friend to say “just me and my Bible” sounds pious, but in fact goes against what the Bible taught. There is no place for playing “lone ranger”.

Jesus Never Change?

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Q. You said God never change. Then how can Jesus become a man forever after the incarnation? Isn’t that change?

A. The immutability of God is an attribute where “God is unchanging in his character, will, and covenant promises.” This is based on a number of Scriptures:

Num 23:19 God is not a man, that He should lie, Nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken, and will He not make it good?
•1 Sam 15:29 Also the Glory of Israel will not lie or change His mind; for He is not a man that He should change His mind.”
• Ps 102:26 Even they will perish, but You endure; …
• Mal 3:6 For I, the LORD, do not change; …
• Heb 6:17-18 In the same way God, desiring even more to show to the heirs of the promise the unchangeableness of His purpose, interposed with an oath, so that by two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie, we who have taken refuge would have strong encouragement to take hold of the hope set before us.
• Jas 1:17 Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shifting shadow.

Notice that all the passages refer to God’s character, will, and promise. Immutability does not mean that God is static and therefore never changes. God is dynamic, but always acts according to His nature. He won’t act contrary to His character.

What about Jesus? In the incarnation, God the Son took on human nature and became man. The Council of Chalcedon (AD 451) declared that in Christ there are two natures, deity and humanity, each retaining its own properties, and together united in one subsistence and in one single person (hypostatic union). The Word was unchanged as He entered a union with sinless human nature in a physical body:
Col 2:9 For in Him all the fullness of Deity dwells in bodily form,
God the Son did not change His divine nature at the incarnation. His deity did not mix or blend with His humanity, which would necessitate change. Instead, His deity resides in His humanity in the Person of Christ.

With respect to His divine nature, Jesus as God is immutable or unchanging:
2 Tim 2:13 If we are faithless, He remains faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.
• Heb 1:12 … But you remain the same, and your years will never end.
• Heb 13:8 Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.

Nothing of His character, will and promise changed as a result of the incarnation.

With respect to His human nature, Jesus as man is mutable or subject to change:
Lk 2:40 The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom; …
• Jn 4:6 … So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. …
• Lk 22:44 And being in agony He was praying very fervently; and His sweat became like drops of blood, falling down upon the ground.

He could grow, get tired, suffer, and die.

One question remains. How did this union happen? I don’t know, because the Bible didn’t explain. All I can say is that God chose not to reveal to us, perhaps because we do not have the capacity to understand it. It is a mystery, but not a contradiction. It is easier to understand if the two natures blend together to form a hybrid, but that’s not what the Bible taught. Just as the Trinity is a mystery, so is the incarnation. I can go only as far as the Bible reveals it, the rest is hidden from us, which I accept by faith.

How did Mary Know?

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Q. Mary anointed Jesus at Bethany in preparation for His burial (Mt 26:7,12; Mk 14:3,8; Jn 12:3,7). Surely Jesus anticipated His imminent crucifixion. However Jesus didn’t mention His betrayal and death until 6 days later at the Passover supper (Mt 26:21-24; Mk 14:18-21; Lk 22:21-22; Jn 12:23-24). So how did Mary know ahead of time?

A. Actually Jesus predicted His death at least three times prior to the Passover supper:

1. Peter’s confession of Christ
Mt 16:21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.
• Mk 8:31 And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
• Lk 9:22 saying, “The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed and be raised up on the third day.”

2. After the Transfiguration and the healing of a boy with a demon
Mt 17:22-23 And while they were gathering together in Galilee, Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men; and they will kill Him, and He will be raised on the third day.” And they were deeply grieved.
• Mk 9:31 For He was teaching His disciples and telling them, “The Son of Man is to be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He has been killed, He will rise three days later.”
• Lk 9:44 “Let these words sink into your ears; for the Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men.”

3. After the rich young ruler, before the request of James and John
Mt 20:18-19 “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem; and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn Him to death, and will hand Him over to the Gentiles to mock and scourge and crucify Him, and on the third day He will be raised up.”
• Mk 10:33-34 saying, “Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes; and they will condemn Him to death and will hand Him over to the Gentiles. They will mock Him and spit on Him, and scourge Him and kill Him, and three days later He will rise again.”
• Lk 18:32-33 For He will be handed over to the Gentiles, and will be mocked and mistreated and spit upon, and after they have scourged Him, they will kill Him; and the third day He will rise again.”

The Bible did not say whether Mary understood Jesus’ words (the disciples didn’t), but she must have heard from them and anointed Jesus because she was so devoted to Him.

Child Birth Sin Offering

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Q. Why is a sin offering needed after child-birth? Atonement for what? Isn’t a birth supposed to be joyful?

A. This requirement is also from Lev 12:

Lev 12:6-7 ‘When the days of her purification are completed, for a son or for a daughter, she shall bring to the priest at the doorway of the tent of meeting a one year old lamb for a burnt offering and a young pigeon or a turtledove for a sin offering. Then he shall offer it before the LORD and make atonement for her, and she shall be cleansed from the flow of her blood. This is the law for her who bears a child, whether a male or a female.

God commanded His creation to “be fruitful and multiply” 11 times:
• Adam and Eve (Gen 1:22, 28);
• Noah (Gen 8:17; 9:1, 7);
• Ishmael (Gen 17:20);
• Jacob (Gen 28:3; 35:11);
• Israelites (Lev 26:9);
• Jewish remnant (Jer 23:3);
• Mountains of Israel (Ezk 36:11).

So how come bearing children requires a sin offering? The answer has to do with the Fall of Man. When Adam and Eve sinned, Eve’s punishment was:
Gen 3:16 To the woman He said, “I will greatly multiply your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”
Not only that, sin and death was passed to all their descendants:
Rom 5:12 Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned
• Ps 51:5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.

As a result, all are born with a sin nature. Every time a child is born, a sinner is brought into the world, needing redemption. Hence the requirement for atonement and sin offering, pointing to their need of the Savior.