The Parable of the Prodigal Son

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Contents

Luke 15:11-32

Synopsis of Parable:

A man has two sons, and the younger demanded his inheritance, got it, and ran off. After wasting it and coming on hardship, he returns to his father, to beg to be not a son but a mere servant. The father says "no" and slays a fatten calf for him, and names the younger son his son again. The older brother is upset with this.

Parable Given in Response to:

Jesus gave this parable to a group of people while the Pharisees and scribes were muttering about him.(Luke 15:1, 2.)

Symbolism Chart

Symbol Meaning Verse Found Notes
↓Father God Luke 15:11
↓Younger Son Modern Christians Luke 15:13
↓Swine Rulers of this World Luke 15:15
↓Celebratiton Entrance to the Kingdom Luke 15:23 "Bring hither the fatted calf,
and kill it; and let us eat,
and be merry."
↓Elder Son Ancient Hebrews Luke 15:25

The Parable of the Prodigal Son

As presented in the King James Version of Luke 15:11-32

Luke 15:11And 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 intreated 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.

Explanation of the Interpretation of Symbols

The Father is God Back to Top ↑

Yet another parable where God is in the ruling position, this time not as King, but as a father. This interpretation is never contested by any major denomination, and so does not require explanation.

The Younger Son represents Modern Christians Back to Top ↑

This parable talks about a son who goes away after demanding his inheritance. We on earth are that son. While it is tough to say that we demanded God to give us inheritance, we are now on Earth, whose dominion was given to Adam, (Genesis 1:28-30.) which we inherited by right of birth, and we are now separated from God. Effectively, we, as humanity, are in the same position as the lost son in the parable. In the parable, the father considered his son both lost and dead.(Luke 15:24.) That is how Jesus sees us. That is why Jesus cruelly said, Let the dead [spiritually dead] bury the dead [physically dead], Matthew 8:22 cf. Luke 9:60 to a potential follower that merely wanted to bury his own father; Jesus saw both kinds as dead. That is also why Jesus said that he is not sent but unto the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Matthew 15:24 He came to find his brothers and sisters, who he felt was more his family than his own biological family,(Matthew 12:48-50) even going so far to tell his followers not to call anyone else "father," because there is only one father, and that is God.(Matthew 23:9.)

That is how we are. We are dead to the Father. We are lost in his eyes. And when we die, by default, we will go to Jesus. Since he is the door to the father, it is only through him we can see the father.(John 6:44)

Recall, Jesus sees us as "lost," and unknown. He will tell many people I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity Matthew 7:23 because they are lost. They may think they do the will of the Lord, (Matthew 7:21, 22.) but they don't, and so Jesus does not recognize them. Jesus is interested only in his brothers and sisters.


Consider for a moment the prodigal son's position before he was subjected to poverty. He is in a foreign country with a mighty inheritance. Here are some things that he could do:

  • He could help a crying toddler find their mother. But his father wouldn't care. He is not listening to the will of the father because he is away from the father.
  • He could start a massive and happy family, with many successful children and a happy spouse. But his father wouldn't care. He is not listening to the will of the father because he is away from the father.
  • He could start a massive business and obtain a net worth of a trillion dollars. But his father wouldn't care. He is not listening to the will of the father because he is away from the father.
  • He could find a cure for cancer and make it available to everyone. But his father wouldn't care. He is not listening to the will of the father because he is away from the father.
  • He could create a system to transfer human consciousness to a machine, thus achieving earthly immortality. But his father wouldn't care. He is not listening to the will of the father because he is away from the father.
  • He could contradict Jesus by solving poverty,Matthew 26:9 ensuring everyone has plenty. But his father wouldn't care. He is not listening to the will of the father because he is away from the father.
  • He could end human suffering by any definition known. But his father wouldn't care. He is not listening to the will of the father because he is away from the father.
  • He could start massive movements telling everyone about his father. But his father wouldn't care. He is not listening to the will of the father because he is away from the father. His father would actually probably be confused as to why a dead person is talking about him. How can a dead person speak about the father? How can someone who is separated from the father know what the father wants?

That is our position. We can only do one thing on Earth to please the father, nothing else will do. When the lost son returned, the father was so overjoyed he slew a fattened calf in celebration. What would the father have done if the son didn't come alone? What would the father have done if the son also found another brother, and another sister, and brought them home with them? The celebration would have been massive. The father would have said, "I thought I lost a son, but instead I have gained three children!"

Such is the case for us. When we die, and leave this Earth and go to see Jesus at the judgment, we cannot bring our money with us. We cannot bring our house. We cannot bring our accomplishments. The only things we can bring with us are other people. Everything else is a lost cause. Even the greatest painting on this earth will be destroyed when Earth is.(As Jesus assured us would happen in Matthew 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33.) This is also why Jesus says not to store worldly treasures;(Matthew 6:19-20.) they are pointless. This is also why Jesus had to go early to prepare us houses,(John 14:2.) because we will lose everything.(Besides, it would be rude of the father to demand that we give up everything and go to him, only for him to not even give us a place to lay our head.) That is also why Jesus tells us to deny ourselves,(Matthew 16:24.) because we want only earthly things, and they'll all be destroyed anyway.

So we can bring brothers and sisters back to God, and he would be pleased with us. Is there anything else we can do on this earth? There is possibly one more thing we can do. Even though the lost son would still be denying his father's will, I believe that if the son sent letters to his father, his father would be happy to hear how his son is doing. There is nothing preventing the son from sending a letter to his father. Having come from the father's home, he knows the father's address. The father wouldn't respond, of course. To him, the son is lost. There is no address that could be given to the mailman. But this father cared deeply about his lost son, so he would be happy to hear from him.

Luckily, there is an analogy that we earthly children can perform. We can pray. God may not answer our prayers, but it is doubtless that they will please him. The prayers may be sloppy, repetitive, embarrassing, halting, they could even ask for vain things, but they will still please God. The child that the father lost is thinking of the father!

Perhaps a more earthly analogy would be better: Any parent could tell you that if their dead child sent a letter from the grave to them, even if it was about simple things like the status of a toy they received in the land of the dead, they would be immeasurably happy to receive it. Even if they cry at the fact that they cannot send a letter back through the grave. Even if the letter tears open the patched hole in their heart that was created at the death of their child. They would still be happy beyond anything to receive it.

If you can understand this, then you can begin to understand the animosity that Jesus had for the Pharisees and scribes when they prayed out loud.(Matthew 6:5) Imagine if the lost son, instead of sending letters to his father, publicly displayed them so that the people in the foreign nation would see the connection between the son and the rich father, and so give the son business? That is how Jesus saw the pharisees, as using their connections to God to gain worldly things that God does not care one bit about. That is abomination.


Earlier the question arose, "How can someone who is separated from the father know what the father wants?"

To answer this, first we need to understand who Jesus is. He is the prophesied messiah,(Deuteronomy 18:15-19.) who came to earth to spread the gospel of the kingdom of God.(Matthew 4:23, 9:35; Mark 1:14.) It is sadly outside of the scope of this article to speak more on this subject, so instead we will say this following sentence is an assumption: Jesus is the Israelite Messiah, therefore everything Jesus is recorded as saying in the canonical gospels is true. If you made only this one assumption and built your entire belief system off of this one assumption, you would do better than most of Christendom.

Because we assume Jesus speaks only the truth, then we know that the only way to God is through Jesus, because he said so. Therefore, if we want to follow the will of God, and go through the door that is Jesus to him, then we must follow Jesus. Thus is it the will of God to follow Jesus.

Simple enough… but what does Jesus want us to do? He wants us to listen to him, and to follow him. There are many things that he wants us to do. He said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. Matthew 22:37, 38 And in second place, he says, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Matthew 22:39

Under the assumption that Jesus spoke only truth, anything that contradicts Jesus is a lie. So when the self-proclaimed prophet says, "For all the law if fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself,"Galatians 5:14 he must be a liar, if only by omission of the truth. We should consider ourselves lucky that Jesus told us to follow him, and not to follow other people that claim to follow him. We would be hopelessly lost by these contradictions if that were Jesus's will.

The Swine are the Rulers of the World Back to Top ↑

The swine were happy creatures, getting fed even as the foreign country underwent a famine. They even had a servant: the lost son of the father. It is easy to see that the analogy for these swine would be those who are content with their lives here on earth, and all the more happy to make others serve them. They are disgusting.

Fortunately, we are so loved that even the hairs of our head are all numbered.(Matthew 10:26-33.) Jesus says not to worry about what we'll eat or drink or wear. After all the fields grow lilies, even though the lilies don't work.(Matthew 6:25-34.) If you find yourself like the lost son, feeding swine while you're starving yourself, then consider leaving those swine just like the prodigal son did.

The Celebration is our Entrance to the Kingdom Back to Top ↑

The whole reason Jesus came to Earth was to preach the gospel of the kingdom. It was the second thing he did after being baptized.(First spending 40 days in the desert tempted by Satan. Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12, 13; Luke 4:1-13.) He felt the need to preach it everywhere, saying I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also: for therefore am I sent. Luke 4:43 God instructed Jesus to preach it. The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor. Luke 4:18 And it was not enough that he alone preach it, for he said, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. Mark 16:15

It is these words that Moses spoke about when he wrote, And it shall come to pass, that whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him. Deuteronomy 18:19 This is the same prophet that the people were looking for when they asked John, What then? Art thou Elias? And he[John the Baptist] saith, I am not. Art thou that prophet? And he answered, No.John 1:21 The people recognized Jesus when they said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world.John 6:14

And Jesus demanded the same as God. He said, He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day. John 12:48 This echoes what Moses wrote, Whosoever will not hearken unto my words which he shall speak in my name, I will require it of him.Deuteronomy 18:19

The point of expounding on this is to show that it is Jesus's words that are critical, no one else's. And Jesus preaches the gospel of the Kingdom. Most of everything he teaches is about the gospel of the Kingdom, including most of the parables.

To enter the kingdom is the entire purpose of Jesus's first coming. Do not be deceived though, the kingdom is not a country. My kingdom is not of this world: if my kingdom were of this world, then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now is my kingdom not from hence. John 18:36 Neither are there signs of the kingdom. The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you. Luke 17:20, 21 It is within us.

Jesus said to repent because the kingdom was near. Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. Matthew 4:17 The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel. Mark 1:15 To repent, for Jesus, means to completely change your mind such that you are able to enter the kingdom. We know this because he said, I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Luke 13:3, 5 and And if any man hear my words, and believe not, I judge him not: for I came not to judge the world, but to save the world. John 12:47


Now that we understand how important the kingdom is to Jesus, we can understand a few more sayings. Jesus also said, 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. Luke 15:7 and Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth. Luke 15:10 Someone that turns away completely from sin and enters the kingdom brings great joy to God.

This repentance is much the same as what the prodigal son went through. Instead of insisting on him doing things his way, he adopted the will of the Father, and returned home. He did not stay in his foreign country to feed the pigs. This is the same repentance that Jesus asks of us: change your mind completely about anything preventing you from entering the kingdom, including family,(Matthew 8:22; Mark 10:29; Luke 9:60; 18:29. He even said He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. Matthew 10:37.) country,(Mark 10:29.) money,(Matthew 19:23; Mark 4:19; Luke 8:14, 18:24.) the future,(Matthew 6:34.) or even our own life.(Matthew 16:25; Mark 8:35; Luke 9:24; 17:33.) Jesus even tells us to deny ourselves, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Mark 8:34

Do not worry though, Jesus promises that God will take care of us if we seek after the kingdom, if we listen to Jesus. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. Matthew 6:33 cf. Matthew 6:25-34; Luke 12:22-34

Do not be afraid to let God slaughter a calf for you. He has set up this world precisely so you can seek the kingdom of God.(Matthew 6:33; 7:7; Luke 11:9; 12:31)

The Elder Son is likely the Hebrews Back to Top ↑

Lastly, we come to the elder son. This likely represents those faithful in Israel before Jesus's coming. Much like the first round of day-laborers in the Parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard who complained to the master of the house that those who worked less are receiving the same payment as those, so too does the elder son show displeasure at the father slaughtering a calf for the lost son who did not listen and obey the father. There is not too much more to say here.

In Conclusion Back to Top ↑

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most impactful parables. It shows us with a plain example the situation that we, as humans, are in. It begs us to repent towards God, and to listen to his son.

It also shows us the dynamic between the father and us. We are a world apart, and filthy, and doing nothing for God. He wants us by his side, nowhere else.

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