PARABLE OF THE PRODIGAL SON
The key to understanding this parable is found inverses 1,2. The tax collectors and others who were irreligious and living very bad lives loved to hear Jesus preach and often drew near to hear him. The scribes and Pharisees criticized Jesus for being friendly and eating with this class of people. This parable has reference to the two classes of Jews named in verses 1,2.: Pharisees and scribes and tax collectors and sinners; religious leaders of Israel and the people who professed to be keepers of God's law and the wayward Jews who had little or no interest in religion. The primary reference in the parable is to the two classes of Jews in the days of Jesus, those who professed to the keep the law of Moses and those who made no such profession. But the story has a wider application in the religion of Christ.
The father in the story represents God and His attitude toward lost people. Jehovah God is not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance. This story represented God's attitude toward all the Jews when Jesus lived, good and bad, and by implication it teaches God's has the same attitude toward all kinds of wayward people among the Gentiles in the religion of Christ. Under the law of Moses, Pharisees. and wayward Jews were brothers in the same family, for all of Israel was the family of God; and God loved and cared for both classes of people. The entire human race is God's property; they belong to Him. Under the Christian religion Jews and Gentiles are really brothers and are the the two divisions of mankind. Under the Christian religion God classifies both Jews and Gentiles as wayward sinners and in need of God's mercy and forgiveness. This story tells us the entire human race is God's earthly family, brothers and sisters in Adam and Eve. The are His valuable creation and property, and He is always casting a loving glance towards them. When a member of the human race decides to make his or her life right with God, He receives them the like the Father in the story.
The younger son in the story represents the wayward and sinful part of the Jewish nation when Jesus did His teaching among them. This wayward son is called the prodigal, and the popular name given to this story is “The Parable of the Prodigal Son..” It is not so-called in the story. The word prodigal means extravagant, wasteful dissolute, and this characteristic is given to the younger son in v. 13. This son represented a very large class of people in Israel who cared little for God and His way of life. However, I
think this was an extreme case. This wayward son was as bad as sons can become, and the Greek says he lived like a man who could not be saved. He was beyond help, and the Greek had no word better than to say he is a person who cannot be saved from the life he has gotten into. Few of the publicans and sinners in Israel had sinned so deeply as this young man did. He doubtless lived in the fast lane, became a drunkard and ended up a homeless man on the streets. But God wants us to know that no one gets too bad to come home.
Some people sneer at this part of the story. It is a poor man's way, they tell us, of creeping into heaven. How could a man who lived like this deserve to go to heaven after wasting his life on wine, women and song? But is it not better to enter heaven thus, with bowed head, than not to go at all? Is it not better to consecrate a few months, or perhaps years of a wasted life to God's service, to attempt to undo a wasted life than to go on sinning to the end? God says he wants such people to come home, and that settles the matter, and that is enough silence all critics.
Now for a few words about the elder son. What a terrible attitude and personality he had. How unlikeable. The elder brother represented the Pharisees and religious leaders who were incensed with Jesus giving so much attention to sinners and associating with them. The elder son had no just complaint. He had already received his share of the estate. It was no money out of his pocket, but he didn't want his brother to have any whatsoever. It wasn't any clothes off his back or sandals off his feet, but he didn't want his brother to have a robe and sandals. It wasn't any food out of his mouth, but he didn't want his brother to have any of the fatted calf. He was envious and jealous and criticized his father for not treating him as good as his son who lived in debauchery.. He showed disrespect for his father. Let us avoid the attitude of the elder brother. Christians are the religious part of the human race. Let us not look down on our earthly brothers and sisters who have gone wrong and wasted their lives. Let us be glad when they come home, and let us praise God for His love and mercy in receiving them. Let us rejoice like the angels in heaven do when such a one comes to himself and returns to God.
What happened a few weeks later, when Jesus was tried and crucified by the Jewish leaders and what happened forty years later when the city of Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed and the city burned to the ground and untold thousands of Jews put to death--- that tells us what subsequently happened to the elder son of this parable.