In Luke 9:57-62, the we find a difficult saying of Jesus Christ. “And it came to pass, that, as they went in the way, a certain man said unto him, Lord, I will follow thee whithersoever thou goest. And Jesus said unto him, Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of man hath not where to lay his head. And he said unto another, Follow me. But he said, Lord, suffer me first to go and bury my father. Jesus said unto him, Let the dead bury their dead: but go thou and preach the kingdom of God. And another also said, Lord, I will follow thee; but let me first go bid them farewell, which are at home at my house. And Jesus said unto him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” In this passage, there is found three examples of Christ’s radical call to discipleship that are directed toward the theme of the would-be disciples household relations in comparison to devotion to following Christ.
The first instance in Luke 9:57-58 a certain man tells the Lord that he is willing to follow Him anywhere. Tertullian asked the question concerning this verse, “why does this most humane and merciful God reject the man who offers himself to Him as an inseparable companion?”1)Tertullian, Against Marcion, book 4, chapt. 23; in The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 3, p. 386 Christ was merely pointing out what exactly this man was offering. If Christ has nowhere to lay His head, then this man following would be likewise, leaving his home and family to have accept the same living conditions as the Lord. The apostle Paul had “no certain dwellingplace” (1 Corinthians 4:11). This severe call to discipleship was ultimately expressing that the individual would have to be willing to forsake his family.
Skipping to the third example (Luke 9:61-62), Christ is once more offered to be followed by a man under one simple condition, he would first go home to say good-bye to his family. But Christ demanded to be followed immediately. Craig Keener comments, “When Elijah found Elisha plowing, he call him to follow but allowed him first to bid farewell to his family (1 Kings 19:19-21). Jesus’ call here is more radical than that of a radical prophet.”2)Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Intervarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL: 1993), p. 215 Indeed, One greeter than Elijah was present and had all the right to call his followers to a such a radical expectation.
The middle case of Christ’s high calling (Luke 9:59-60) is presented as a command being a present active imperative, “follow me,” contrast to the other two events when the men offer to follow the Lord. The cultural background can easily be neglected causing one to miss the dramatic demands of the Lord. Jews generally consider honoring their parents as their highest obligation to man (Exodus 20:12). Josephus, the first century Jewish historian, wrote:
The law ordains also, that parents should be honored immediately after God himself, and delivers that son who does not requite them for the benefits he hath received from them, but is deficient on any such occasion, to be stoned. It also says that the young men should pay due respect to every elder, since God is the eldest of all beings.3)Josephus, Against Apion, 2.206; in The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 973
King Solomon expressed it would be better to be miscarried than to die without a proper burial (Ecclesiastes 6:3). In honoring one’s parents, the highest duty was to properly bury them when they died which was the eldest son’s responsibility. This perspective is evident in the intertestamental apocryphal book of Tobit, when his father says to him, “My son, when I am dead, bury me; and despise not thy mother, but honour her all the days of thy life, and do that which shall please her, and grieve her not. Remember, my son, that she saw many dangers for thee, when thou wast in her womb; and when she is dead, bury her by me in one grave.”4)Tobit 4:3-4; in The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 79 Later in the same book, Tobit is obligated to take a women to be his bride as the near kinsman, but fears to because a demon is obsessed with her and has killed every former husband she had. His major concern of this situation is dying and not being able to fulfill the needed burial of his parents since he was the only son. “And now I am the only son of my father, and I am afraid, lest if I go in unto her, I die, as the other before: for a wicked spirit loveth her, which hurteth no body, but those which come unto her; wherefore I also fear lest I die, and bring my father’s and my mother’s life because of me to the grave with sorrow: for they have no other son to bury them.”5)Tobit 6:14; in The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 82-83
The difficulty of this passage (Luke 9:59-60) is understanding which burial is intended to be conveyed. The Jewish culture would use the same word for two separate events. The first burial would be performed the same day as the death of the individual (Luke 7:12); while the second burial would take place a year after the first burial. This later burial was done after waiting a year to allow the flesh to deteriorate off the bones so the bones could be collected and placed in a sepulcher (Matthew 23:27). The Mishna was composed about A.D. 200 to codify the laws and practices of the Jews recorded from the oral traditions and teachings of their rabbis. It relates, “When the flesh had wasted away, they gathered together the bones and buried them in their own place.”6)Sanhedrin 6.6; in The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 391 This was the duty of the eldest son to perform in honor of his parents.
In the first century Jewish culture, studying the law of Moses was the highest obligation as the rabbis boasted of being the disciples of Moses (John 9:28). This study of the Law obviously conveyed the expected strict observance of the Jewish interpretation of the Law which included many traditions of men. These religious traditions were only to be halted under the circumstances of performing the funeral procession as burial was a major manor of honoring the dead individual. The Mishna states:
He whose dead [relative] lies unburied before him is exempt from reciting the Shema, and from the Tefillah and from wearing phylacteries. They that bear the bier and they that relieve them, and they that relieve these, they that go before and they that follow after the bier– they that are needful for the bier are exempt; but they that are not needful are not exempt. Both alike are exempt from [reciting the Shema]. Both alike are exempt from saying the Tefillah.7)Berakoth 3.1; in The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 4
The Lord Jesus Christ, in commanding this man to follow Him with such a radical call of discipleship, is literally declaring Himself God by placing Himself as the highest obligation in a person’s life. Following Him is more important than the socially expected practice of burying the father by which would include the cultural interpretation of the Biblical command to honoring one’s father hereby setting Himself over observance of the Law of Moses as One greater than Moses (Hebrews 3:5-6). Similarly, Philo, a first century Jewish author, commenting on the High Priest’s office and the relation it held to God with the necessity of him remaining clean at all times which forced the High Priest to refrain from contact with his own family members when they die (including his parents). “And otherwise too, besides this consideration, the man who has been assigned to God, and who has become the leader of his sacred band of worshippers, ought to be disconnected with, and alienated from, all things of creation, not being so much the slave of the love of either parents, or children, or brothers, as either to omit or to delay any one of those holy actions, which it is by all means better should be done at once[.]”8)The Special Laws, 1.114; in The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged New Updated Version (Trans. C. D. Yonge), (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 544 Christ demanded from His followers the same devotion that was expected from the High Priest in relation to his following God’s commands, revealing that Christ presented Himself as God.
Christ did emphasize honoring one’s parents and rebuked the rabbis for diminishing such an obligation by the tradition of Corban (Mark 7:9-13 cf. Exodus 21:17). However, affections and obedience towards God was commanded over familial relations (Genesis 22:2-12; Deuteronomy 13:6-9; 33:9; 2 Chronicles 15:16; Matthew 10:37; Luke 2:48-49; 9:57-62; 14:26). Philo, commenting on Deuteronomy 13, wrote about exposing the false prophets: “For such an one is an imposter and not a prophet, since he has been inventing speeches and oracles full of falsehood, even though a brother, or a son, or a daughter or a wife, or a steward, or a firm friend… we should think but little of any relationship, and one should relate his recommendations to all the lovers of piety, who with all speed and without any delay would hasten to inflict punishment on the impious man, judging it a virtuous action to be zealous for his execution. For we should acknowledge only one relationship, and one bond of friendship, namely, a mutual zeal for the service of God, and a desire to say and do everything that is consistent with piety. And these bonds which are called relationships of blood, being derived from one’s ancestors, and those connections which are derived from intermarriages and from other similar causes, must all be renounced, if they do not all hasten to the same end, namely, the honour of God which is the one indissoluble bond of all united good will.”9)The Special Laws, 1.315-317; in The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged New Updated Version (Trans. C. D. Yonge), (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 564 God’s call to leave one’s land and family began with the faith of Abraham (Genesis 12:1, 4), and is a common motif in Luke’s writings (Luke 14:12; 18:29-30; 21:16). The hyperbolic expression to “hate” one’s family (Luke 14:26-27) should be understood as to love them less than you love God (Matthew 10:37). Only God can demand such love and devotion which made Christ’s command to follow Him a declaration of His deity.
Another interesting factor of this text is that in the parallel passage in Matthew 8:18-22 is inserted within a larger context which rebukes the Israelites for having less faith than a Gentile (Matthew 8:10-12) and the rebuke to His disciples for having “little faith” (Matthew 8:26). Following Christ is not easy believe-ism. Alfred Edersheim beautifully articulated the thought and application of this passage.
The expression ‘to follow’ a Teacher would, in those days, be universally understood as implying discipleship. Again, no other duty would be regarded as more sacred than that they, on who the obligation naturally devolved, should bury the dead…. We would rather abide by the simple words of Christ. They teach us this very solemn and searching lesson, that they are higher duties than either those of the Jewish Law, or even of natural reverence, and a higher call than that of man…. When the direct call of Christ to any work comes—that is, if we are sure of it from His own words, and not (as alas! to often we do) only infer it by our own reasoning on His words—then every other call must give way. For, duties can never be in conflict—and this duty about the living and life must take precedence of that about death and the dead. Nor must we hesitate, because we know not in what form this work for Christ may come. There are critical moments in our inner history, when to postpone the immediate call, is really to reject it; when to go and bury the dead—even thou it were a dead father—were to die ourselves!10)Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 2, p. 133
It should also be noted that this call to discipleship is a call to repentant faith and salvation. This is not establishing two separate kinds of Christians, one a disciple who is following Christ, and the other a half-hearted hardly evidencing fruit in their life but claims assurance of salvation because they prayed a prayer. To love God is to love Him with ALL your heart, soul, mind, and strength (Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12-13; 11:13; Matthew 22:37; Mark 12:30; Luke 10:27). If its not whole hearted, its a feigned love (Jeremiah 3:10). One simply cannot serve two masters. He will love the one and hate the other (Matthew 6:24; Luke 16:13). Christ is the master calling all to this radical discipleship which is why He demands a person to count the cost before responding to the invitation (Luke 14:27-28). The statement of the Lord, “Let the dead bury their dead,” means those who are “spiritually dead” place worldly obligations above following Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ warned of those false professions that would be choked out with cares of this world (Matthew 13:22).
Ignorant apostate preachers, such as Curtis Hutson, deride the term “Lordship salvation” and deny the gospel which was preached by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.11)see Dr. Curtis Hutson, “A Perversion of the Gospel: Lordship Salvation,” https://www.jesus-is-savior.com/BTP/Dr_Curtis_Hutson/lordship_salvation-perversion_of_gospel.pdf He presents a Straw-man argument that if one needs to make Christ Lord to be saved then if they ever sin after salvation Christ was not put as Lord so they must have lost their salvation. This characterization of sinless perfection has never existed in history. Those who hold the heresy of sinless perfection think they grow in sanctification until they become sinless, but none have implied that they have to be perfectly sinless from the moment they get saved. Hutson further preached his anti-repentance heresy, stating, “If repentance means turning from sin, and turning from sin means to stop sinning, then a person must live a sinless life in order to be saved.”12)https://www.gotothebible.com/HTML/repentance.html So he again define repentance with a straw-man argument of sinless perfection. He further stated about repentance: “A second faulty idea is that repentance is sorrow for sin.”13)https://www.gotothebible.com/HTML/repentance.html So there is no emotional response to the offenses against the Holy God. Hutson also preaches, “to say that repentance is a change of mind that leads to a change of action, is to give a wrong definition to the word.”14)https://www.gotothebible.com/HTML/repentance.html To Hutson, repentance is nothing but a change of mind, a mere intellectual endeavor. If he was correct you can teach someone to think their way into heaven, which would be a works based salvation. In fact, this false gospel of Hutson is more akin towards Gnosticism, earning salvation through knowledge. This accursed gospel of Curtis Hutson is what the serpent preached to Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:4-6; 2 Corinthians 11:3; Galatians 1:6-9). Back in 1923, John Gresham Machen wrote, “So fundamental is the conviction of sin in the Christian faith that it will not do to arrive at it merely by a process of reasoning; it will not do to say merely: All men (as I have been told) are sinners; I am a man; therefore I suppose I must be a sinner too.”15)J. G. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Macmillan Company (New York, NY: 1923), p. 106
Indeed, the ignorance of the historical culture and customs have caused such shallow preaching that turns God’s grace into lasciviousness (Jude 4). The New Testament is a covenant that is extended from the Old Testament, which indicates the necessity of understanding the background of such covenant relationships. “It is clear that the Sinai covenant and its renewal ceremonies in biblical times (Josh 8:30-35; 24:2ff.; 2 Kings 17:35ff., 23:1-3; Neh 9-10) are an adoption of the written political treaties of both the parity and vassal types current in the ancient New East during the second and first millennia B.C.E. Particularly, the vassal type with its demand for exclusive loyalty aptly suited the belief in one God.”16)Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading & Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity (ed. Martin Jan Mulder and Harry Sysling), Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2004), p. 19 God called Israel out of Egypt to become their new King (2 Samuel 12:12) and this blood covenant that originated the Passover festival was re-instituted through the blood of Christ on the cross (1 Corinthians 11:25). The first covenant liberated Israel from the oppressive reign of Egypt’s king, making God their King. The New Covenant liberates us from the slavery of sin (John 8:34, 36) that it may no longer reign over us (Romans 6:12-14), as a call to loving obedience to Christ as our new God-King (John 14:15; 15:10). Salvation has always been through faith in the Old Testament (Genesis 15:6), as well as the New (Ephesians 2:8-9); but it is a repentant faith in which one turns from the oppressive master of sin to Jesus Christ as their new Lord with an obedient heart (Romans 6:17).
|↑1||Tertullian, Against Marcion, book 4, chapt. 23; in The Ante-Nicene Father, (ed. Allen Menzies, D.D.), Hendrickson Publishers (Peabody, Massachusetts: 1896, Fifth Printing, 2012) Vol. 3, p. 386|
|↑2||Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, Intervarsity Press (Downers Grove, IL: 1993), p. 215|
|↑3||Josephus, Against Apion, 2.206; in The New Complete Works of Josephus (Revised and Expanded) (Trans. William Whiston, Introduction and Commentary by Paul L. Maier), Kregel Publications (Grand Rapids, MI: 1999), p. 973|
|↑4||Tobit 4:3-4; in The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 79|
|↑5||Tobit 6:14; in The Apocrypha (ed. Manuel Komroff, Barnes & Noble Books (New York, NY: 1992), p. 82-83|
|↑6||Sanhedrin 6.6; in The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 391|
|↑7||Berakoth 3.1; in The Mishna (Trans. Herbert Danby), Hendrickson Pub. (Peabody, MA: 1933, 2016), p. 4|
|↑8||The Special Laws, 1.114; in The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged New Updated Version (Trans. C. D. Yonge), (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 544|
|↑9||The Special Laws, 1.315-317; in The Works of Philo: Complete and Unabridged New Updated Version (Trans. C. D. Yonge), (Peabody, MA: 1997), p. 564|
|↑10||Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, Macdonald Publishing Co. (Mclean, VA: 1883, 1886), Vol. 2, p. 133|
|↑11||see Dr. Curtis Hutson, “A Perversion of the Gospel: Lordship Salvation,” https://www.jesus-is-savior.com/BTP/Dr_Curtis_Hutson/lordship_salvation-perversion_of_gospel.pdf|
|↑12, ↑13, ↑14||https://www.gotothebible.com/HTML/repentance.html|
|↑15||J. G. Machen, Christianity and Liberalism, Macmillan Company (New York, NY: 1923), p. 106|
|↑16||Mikra: Text, Translation, Reading & Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Ancient Judaism & Early Christianity (ed. Martin Jan Mulder and Harry Sysling), Baker Academic (Grand Rapids, MI: 2004), p. 19|