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The second Kingdom parable in Luke 15 was like the first, in that Jesus again drew His theme from Scripture. Both the lost sheep and the lost coin represented the House of Israel in the prophetic picture, although Jesus applied these themes more locally. Hence, we see two levels emerging—the local application and the broader prophetic meaning.
This is as it should be, of course, because everywhere in Scripture the national promises ought to be personalized. This is part of the law of impartiality, where God judges nations and individuals by the same law. So the Kingdom parables deal with Judah and Israel on a national level, but yet Jesus applies them to the religious leaders and the outcasts from the temple.
The publicans (tax-gatherers) and sinners (excommunicated ones) are thus equal to harlot Israel that was cast out of the land many years earlier (Jer. 3:6). The grumbling scribes and Pharisees, on the other hand, are equal to the hypocritical leaders of Judah who were not cast out in times past but were worse in the sight of God than Israel.
We read in Jer. 3:11-15,
11 And the Lord said to me, “Faithless Israel has proved herself more righteous than treacherous Judah. 12 Go, and proclaim these words toward the north and say, ‘Return, faithless Israel,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not look upon you in anger. For I am gracious,’ declares the Lord; ‘I will not be angry forever. 13 Only acknowledge your iniquity, that you have transgressed against the Lord your God and have scattered your favors to the strangers under every green tree, and you have not obeyed My voice,’ declares the Lord. 14 ‘Return, O faithless sons,’ declares the Lord; ‘for I am a master [or husband] to you, and I will take you one from a city and two from a family, and I will bring you to Zion’. 15 Then I will give you shepherds after My own heart, who will feed you on knowledge and understanding.”
Jesus was fulfilling this prophecy on a personal level during His ministry on earth. He was calling the faithless ones to faith and the sinners to repentance. Many of the sinners and outcasts in His day responded to the voice of the Shepherd and did in deed return to God. They did not respond to the harsh indictment of the religious leaders but to the love of the Shepherd, who fed them with “knowledge and understanding.”
What Jesus did on the local level He was also to do on a prophetic level with the lost sheep (or coin) of the House of Israel, as the prophets foretold.
Those Israelites had been scattered by the Assyrians when Samaria was taken in 721 B.C., as we read in 2 Kings 17:18,
18 So the Lord was very angry with Israel, and removed them from His sight; none was left except the tribe of Judah.
One of the keys to understanding prophecy (including Jesus’ parables) is to see the distinction between Israel and Judah. Whereas Israel was “carried away into exile to Assyria” (2 Kings 17:6), Judah was spared for another century. When Assyria later fell to Babylon, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar soon conquered Judah and took them to Babylon for seventy years. Seventy years later, when Babylon was conquered by the Persians, the Judahites (“Jews”) were allowed to return to resettle the old land and to rebuild Jerusalem.
The divine plan allowed this resettlement in order that the Messiah might be born in Bethlehem to fulfill the calling of Judah. However, the Israelites did not return as a nation, although a few individuals from some of those tribes remained in Judah. The prophets never treat those individuals as tribes. The tribal units, such as they may have existed, resided in the princes of those tribes, all of whom were taken into exile.
When we understand the two levels of prophecy that are seen in the Kingdom parables, we then can comprehend a more complete picture of God’s intention and of Christ’s mission on the earth. The parables in Luke 15 and 16 start with Israel alone and then reveal the two sons, Israel and Judah, and Jesus makes the religious leaders to be the primary representatives of Judah.
Jeremiah made it clear that there were two kinds of Judahites, just as there are two kinds of people in every nation. Some are good, and some are bad. Jeremiah 24 pictures these as two kinds of “figs,” some very good, and some very rotten (Jer. 24:2). In that context, the good figs are those who are repentant and who submit to divine judgment. They agree with God, knowing that God is righteous in all His judgments upon the nation for their lawlessness. The evil figs are those who refuse to submit to divine judgment, believing that God’s judgments are unrighteous.
The majority were “evil figs,” and their rebellion caused Judah to be taken into captivity to Babylon for seventy years, rather than serving out their sentence in their own land. This same rebellion still remained during Jesus’ ministry, though it was manifested in their hatred for Rome instead of Babylon.
Jesus’ Kingdom parables—when they included Judah as one of the characters—normally focused upon the evil figs of Judah, because theirs was the predominant belief and attitude at the time. So the Prodigal’s elder brother (Luke 15:28) represents the grumbling scribes and Pharisees. The unjust steward in Luke 16 focuses entirely on this evil fig of Judah. Finally, the rich man with five brothers (Luke 16:28) is also Judah, for we read in Gen. 30:20 that Leah had six sons—Judah and his five brothers: Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Issachar, and Zebulun.
With this overview in mind, we can see the progression of revelation in Jesus’ Kingdom parables, and this gives us an understanding not only of the immediate application to those who heard, but also the deeper national prophecies of Israel and Judah.
Luke 15:8-10 gives us the parable itself,
8 Or what woman, if she has ten silver coins and loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? 9 And when she has found it, she calls together her neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin which I had lost!” 10 In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.
The close parallel between the lost sheep and the lost coin are obvious. When something valuable is lost, a search is made until it is found. Then there is rejoicing with the neighbors. The moral of the story is that heaven rejoices when a sinner repents, implying that the sinner was lost and is now found. In this way Jesus answers the objections of the religious leaders in regard to His fellowship with the publicans and sinners who had come to Him.
In each case, it is the owner of the sheep and coin who do the searching. The lost sheep does not wander back to the fold, nor does the lost coin suddenly reappear in the purse. Ezekiel 34 tells us that the Yahweh Elohim was to do the searching, so we know that Jesus Christ is the One who came to earth to search for them.
The lost coin represents the “peculiar treasure” (Exodus 19:5, KJV). The covenant of God was to make Israel His own treasure, or as the NASB renders it, “My own possession.” When Israel was lost many centuries later, they became the “lost coin” in Jesus’ Kingdom parable.
No doubt Jesus taught many parables of the Kingdom which were not recorded by any of the gospel writers, but Luke chose these first two because they conformed to his purpose in healing the breaches. In this case, the lost sheep was found by a man, while the lost coin was found by a woman. In giving equal treatment to men and women, as he so often did, he applied the balm of healing to a serious cultural breach.
At the same time, Luke reminded those who knew the law that Christ was represented in the law of sacrifice as both male and female. (See Lev. 4:23, 28.) Hence, when He was crucified on the top of the Mount of Olives, He was both the Passover Lamb (male) and the red heifer (female), whose ashes were stored “outside the camp,” two thousand cubits outside the gate of the city. All of the sacrifices pointed to Jesus Himself, who, at the cross, would become the great and final Sacrifice for sin.
In that He came to earth for this purpose, He showed Himself to be the One who searches for the lost. Further, He is successful in finding all of them, for the success of His mission depends solely upon His own capability and not upon the capability of the lost sheep or lost coin.
This, then, manifests the nature of the New Covenant, whose success depends on God’s ability to fulfill His vow. It is totally the opposite of the Old Covenant, where salvation depends upon man’s ability to keep his vow in Exodus 19:8: “All that the Lord has spoken, we will do!” By the New Covenant, God says in Jer. 31:33, “I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it.”
This is also prophesied in Deuteronomy 29, where God made a second covenant with all the people at the end of forty years in the wilderness. All the people—leaders, congregation, men, women, children, and aliens alike—were gathered together to “enter into the covenant with the Lord your God, and into His oath which the Lord your God is making with you today in order that He may establish you as His people and that He may be your God” (Deut. 29:12, 13).
Unlike what we see in the first covenant in Exodus 19:8, where the people make an oath (vow) to God, this second covenant was an oath that God took to make them His people. The first oath obligated the people and depended upon their ability. The second oath obligated God and its success depended fully on His ability to keep His oath. Further, He made that oath not only with those present at the time, but “with those who are not with us here today” (Deut. 29:15). No one was left out.
Hence, when we read how the Good Shepherd came to search for His lost sheep, and how the woman searched for her lost coin, these Kingdom parables manifest the New Covenant. In both cases they fulfill the oath of God, rather than the oath of man.
Most people do not think that it is possible for God to succeed in fulfilling His oath, because it seems to depend yet upon the will of men. But God is able to work in the hearts of men to make them His people. He is not limited to this present age in turning the hearts of men to Himself. The few will repent during this present age, but at the Great White Throne, every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess Him by the Holy Spirit. These new believers will still face the judgment of the law according to their works that were done in their life time, but in the end, the law demands a Jubilee that sets all men free into the glorious freedom of the children of God.