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Bible: What Does Luke 9:46-62 Teach Us About True Greatness and the Cost of Discipleship?

Updated on October 9, 2016

Jesus With His Apostles


True Greatness

Luke 9:46-47a

The occasion when Christ teaches His men about true greatness also features variations among the gospels.

[But, first of all, one must note that Matthew inserts the incident involving Jesus, Peter, and the paying of taxes to Caesar between the Lord’s prediction of His death and resurrection, and His discussion of greatness; the other writers do not include it (see Matt. 17: 24-27).]

As they walk on the road to Capernaum, the disciples become embroiled in a dispute over which one of them would be greatest (in the kingdom) [v. 46; cf. Mk. 9:34].

Not until they settle down in a house in the town does Jesus explore the matter by asking them a rhetorical question, having already perceived what they had been discussing (v. 47a; but see further discussion below).

[Knowing that they desperately needed instruction on the definition of true greatness, Christ first attempts to induce them to talk about the subject with Him, the Master of Humility, so that they would realize their perceptions about greatness are in error.]

Since they knew that they were engaged in boasting among themselves, and since they did not want Jesus to know about it, they “kept silent” (Mk. 9:34a).

[Strangely, Matthew indicates that they actually did ask: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (18:1).

So, did they say nothing until someone (under conviction) blurted out this question at the last moment?

Or did they remain quiet throughout, and Christ simply “perceived the thought of their heart” without knowing the subject of their dispute beforehand?

A third possibility exists.

He might have learned what they were arguing about from the blurted-out question, and then deduced from it the error of their thinking.

Given Matthew’s statement, the third theory seems most plausible.]

Luke’s text omits the Lord’s primary instruction—showing humble servanthood toward everyone is the key to greatness in the kingdom: a point that only Mark picks up (see Mk. 9:35).

Jesus and Child


True Greatness Defined

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Having asserted this truism, Jesus now drives it home with an object lesson, “borrowing” a little child from the family in whose house they stayed (perhaps).

While Luke writes that Jesus “set him by Him” (v. 47b), Matthew states that Christ “called a little child to Him, and set him in the midst of them” (18:2).

Showing the Lord’s affectionate nature, Mark indicates that after He had set him in their midst, He took him “in His arms” (9:36).

Then Jesus lays down a general principle. Luke—his diction perhaps a little too particular—designates receiving “this child in My name” as equivalent to “receiving” both Christ and the Father (“Him who sent Me”) [v. 48b].

[Both Mark and Matthew more properly broaden the subject, the former to “one of these little children” (9:37) and the latter to “one child like this” (18:5).]

In other words, if one “receives” such a child—i.e., accepts and loves a child who humbly believes in Christ (cf. Mt. 18:2)—“in Jesus’ name,” i.e., as though he were Christ Himself, one manifests a trait—humility—necessary not only for entrance into the kingdom, but also for greatness in that realm (v. 48c; cf. Mt. 18:3-4).

Spokesperson John (the apostle) breaks into the conversation (if, in fact, his dialogue with Jesus about the exorcist comes next chronologically in the text), and reports how the twelve did not allow this non-follower to continue his practice (v. 49).

[Luke writes, “Now John answered and said,” indicating that he is either responding to Jesus’ last word on servanthood (taking off on the phrase “in My name”), leading the group on a tangent (improbable), or he is speaking on another occasion (most logical).]

Christ corrects their sectarian decision, thus permitting those who work “miracles in My name” yet who do not follow His band, to proceed with their ministry (v. 50; cf. Mk. 9:39-40).

[Numbers 11:26-29 provides an OT example of this mentality.

For some reason two elders—Eldad and Medad—stay in the camp, yet God endues them with the Spirit and the ability to prophesy (v. 26).

Fearful of a power struggle, young Joshua pleads for Moses to stop them from possibly gathering a following (vv. 27-28).

But Moses, confident of his God-given role, dismisses Joshua’s anxiety, expressing his wish that all Israel had the Spirit upon them.]

The Apostle John


Luke ceases now to discuss various offenses against believing children—both Mark and Matthew, however, devote lengthy passages to this subject (10:42-48; 18:6-9)—and moves on to consider reactions to a different kind of offense.

[No other evangelist records the following incident.]

He recounts the occasion when a certain Samaritan village did not receive Jesus (as its Messiah [?], as a prophet [?]), because they recognized that “His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem” (vv. 52-53).

[This scene occurred “when the time had come for Him to be received up” (v. 51).

It is curious that Luke should refer to the ascension here, and not to the “departure,” i.e., death (cf. 9:31).

One may, however, consider the Ascension as the last step in the Jesus’ departure from the world.]

The “Sons of Thunder”—James and John—explode presumptuously, desiring to kill their enemies “Elijah-style.”

Endued with power but devoid of godly wisdom, they need Jesus to clarify the issue for them (vv. 54-55; cf. 2 Kings 1:10-12).

Christ reminds them that His mission statement does not include destroying unbelievers; rather, it purposes to save them (v. 56).

Whether the following three brief encounters occur immediately after Jesus’ missions lesson (“as they journeyed on the road,” v. 57) or earlier in His ministry (shortly after delivering the Sermon on the Mount) is debatable (vv. 57-62; cf. Mt. 8:19-22).

[Again, chronology does not seem to matter too much with the evangelists.]

Cost of Discipleship

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Luke now focuses on “the cost of discipleship.”

The first individual he cites—his identity is unspecified by Luke, but Matthew designates him a scribe (see 8:19)—asserts his willingness to follow the “Lord” unreservedly (v. 57b).

[Matthew writes that the scribe addressed Jesus as “Teacher.”

Is Luke’s “Lord” equivalent to “Sir” or “Master”?

Is this scribe a believer, or simply one who sought a good teacher from whom he could learn?]

Perhaps drawing upon His omniscience, Christ zeroes in on this man’s blind spot regarding discipleship, admonishing him not to make determinations based on emotions, but to “count the cost” more seriously.

In other words, he must ask himself, “Have I completely considered all the ramifications of this decision?”

He wants him to realize that he may have to go “homeless”—sacrifice the comfort of “hearth and home”— to fulfill his words of commitment (v. 58).

The text does not supply the scribe’s response, but one can guess it.

The second person Christ Himself calls into service—the man does not volunteer for discipleship as did the scribe (v. 57)—but the candidate offers Him an unacceptable excuse—“Lord, let me first go and bury my father” (v. 59).

[Ryrie asserts, “The father had not died; the speaker meant that he was obligated to care for him until he died” (New Testament Study Bible 127).]

Jesus’ rejoinder discloses to the appointee that his responsibility to proclaim the message of the kingdom supersedes his duty to his parent.

When faced with this choice, disciples should allow the spiritually “dead” (relative?) to care for the physically dead (v. 60).

A third party lays down a condition to his following Jesus: saying good-bye to relatives and friends at home (v. 61).

[This “disciple” puts his agenda before the Lord’s, thus showing that he is not fully obedient to Christ as Master of his life.]

God calls disciples to be singly devoted to Him; unresolved commitments to those who “are at my house” cause crooked furrows.

One who keeps looking back to the “good times in the past” cannot serve the Lord acceptably in the present (v. 62).

© 2013 glynch1


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