A Commentary on The Elder Brother
I have always loved to meditate on Luke 15 as no other portion of Scripture. I am sure I am not alone. Things said here are found nowhere else in the Gospels. Reading through John MacArthur's new book, A Tale of Two Sons (Nelson, 2008), reminded me anew of the power of the three parables related here (some say it is really only one parable). But rather than commenting now on either the sheep, the silver, or the son (all three lost, but found), let us look briefly at "The Elder Brother" in the closing, Luke 15:25-32.
First, notice that this brother called his returned, prodigal brother, "This thy son" (v. 30). This is in contrast to what his father called him, "This my son" (v. 24), and "This thy brother" (v. 32). The stay-at-home brother did not say, "This my brother has returned," but "This thy son came."
A. T. Robertson points out that this is "contempt and sarcasm." And the elder brother says "came" (Greek, elthen), not "came back" or "came home." That tells you a lot about this brother's true attitude, and what Christ is picturing for us about the hyper-religious Jews of that day.
Going back to the beginning of the chapter (which we always must do), we read of the "murmuring" of "the scribes and Pharisees," after seeing "the publicans and sinners drawing near" to our Lord, "to hear Him" (vv. 1-2). Note these two classes here: (1) Proclaimed sinners draw near to hear; (2) Religious hypocrites crowd around to jeer. The same still occurs today all across the world. One teacher, but two crowds. Some listen with open ears, others mock and murmur at those who do. Still, these Pharisees proclaim the pure gospel unknowingly, don't they? Listen to them: "This Man RECEIVES sinners, and eats with them." That is the glorious truth of the one, true gospel, straight from the lips of proud, self-righteous Pharisees! The Lord Jesus Christ is the true friend and Savior of ALL "poor" sinners, then, now, and always.
Secondly, note that this elder brother says something he does not know to be true. He states, "This thy son came, who has devoured thy living with harlots" (v. 24). How did he know that? Verse 13 may mean that, but at the time he could not have known that to be true. And, isn't this the sad case with a lot of religious people? They speak things and say things that are NOT always true. The Pope of Rome goes around advocating "The Worship of Mary," and newsmen and quasi-religious people think it is so. People see "ministers of the gospel" living in luxury, while condemning others, and every Christian and minister is lumped into the same pot with all "the hypocrites." Hypocrisy takes on many forms, and a multitude of shades. Beware of it, dear brethren. This elder brother may not have gone to the "harlots," but he too was "eaten up" with bad attitudes and a cold, loveless heart.
Thirdly, Why does this story about the prodigal and his brother end so abruptly? It seems so on purpose. Sin in sinners, even religious sinners, is an awful affront against the holiness of Almighty God. And where do we come in here? We are one of these two brothers. And note that the father (representing Christ) speaks lovingly even to this elder son, calling him Teknon, "Child" (or "Son") in verse 31. Again, to quote A. T. Robertson: "A real father could do no less. One can well imagine how completely the Pharisees and scribes were put to silence by these three marvellous parables. The third does it with a graphic picture of their own attitude in the case of the surly elder brother."
Meditate long on the above main thoughts. Plus, take just a moment to think on these precious words, which must have made this elder brother very "angry" (v. 28): "Music and Dancing" (v. 25), and "Safe and Sound" (v. 27). There is truly much to "celebrate" in the gospel of God's wondrous grace! So the main point here is to truly "rejoice" with those "in heaven" that "dead, lost" sinners have amazingly "come to life" and have been "found." All glory to King Jesus!