The Prodigal Son .... Bob Moore

According to Origen Proverbs 22:21 originally said, "And do thou portray them [the scriptures] in a threefold manner." The three manners he referred to are the historical application, the spiritual application and the prophetic one. Each issue of Pilgrims Promise will discuss the prophetic meaning of one of the episodes in the Bible. This issue examines the prodigal son.

Jesus often used parables to convey his teachings. One was the prodigal son. It is recorded in Luke 15:11-32.

It begins, "A certain man had two sons: 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. 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. And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want. And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into the fields to feed swine. And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him. 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! I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee. And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants. And he arose and came unto 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."

While this parable has significant spiritual applications about the everlasting mercy God extends to the repentant, it, like all scripture, also has prophetic applications. Perhaps the best way to discover its predictions is to identify the people symbolized by the two sons.

The parable of the prodigal son is the third in a series expressly given to the scribes and Pharisees who criticized the Savior for eating with sinners. These legalists believed that their interpretation of the law so accurately conveyed the commandments of God that those meticulously following it would always remain with Him. They are represented by the older son, who, when the younger traveled to a far country, remain with the father. Since the Pharisees rejected the Savior and resisted the apostles, their descendants, the Jews, are also symbolized by the prodigal son. They believe that they have remained with the father and many of them strictly observe the commandments as they believe they were given to Moses.

The prodigal son, when made poor though his own wantonness, was forced to feed swine, desiring even the husks the pigs ate. His circumstance was horrible to the Jews. Their law said pigs were unclean. Living and eating with them seemed just punishment for one who had both separated himself from the heavenly Father and squandered the inheritance He gave.

If the older son represented the Jews, the younger son represented the Israelites, the northern nation of the Hebrews. After the reign of Solomon, the ten tribes revolted from the throne of David. They called their new nation Israel. Sometimes they called it Ephraim because their leader, Jeroboam, was of the tribe of Ephraim. They are the younger son because their nation was newer than the southern kingdom of Judah.

The nation of Israel was more idolatrous than the southern kingdom. Their wickedness moved God to destroy their nation and place them in captivity over a century before the southern kingdom suffered a similar fate under Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. During the Babylonian captivity both Hebrew nations were subjects of the same oppressor. The Jews lived in Babylon and the Israelites in Persia.

When Cyrus freed the Jews so that they could return to Jerusalem, he also freed the Israelites. Ezra wrote to both groups inviting them to gather with him in Palestine under the authority he had from the king of Persia. Israel refused. Josephus, the Jewish historian, recorded that when the Jews left Babylon "the entire body of the people of Israel remained in that country." A little later, but still during the life of Ezra, the Israelites left Persia to go to their chosen destination. Ezra said, "They took counsel among themselves, that they would leave the multitude of the heathen, and go forth into a further country, where never mankind dwelt, that they might there keep their statutes, which they never kept in their own land. And they entered the Euphrates by the narrow passage of the river. For the most High then shewed signs for them, and held still the flood, till they were passed over. For through that country there was a great way to go, namely, of a year and a half: and the same region is called Arsareth." Arsareth is an ancient name for Armenia.

When the nation of Israel refused to gather with Ezra to Jerusalem, they, like the prodigal son, took their inheritance from their heavenly Father and went into a far country. God evidently stayed the Euphrates river so they could pass through some narrow passage. Once in that far country they squandered their inheritance until they forsook the law of Moses. They became indistinguishable from the Gentiles to whom they became bound because of want.

The parable of the prodigal son predicts a time when the nation of Israel bound in the ways of the Gentiles will return to God. Jeremiah prophesied of this event, saying, "The Lord liveth, which brought up and which led the seed of the house of Israel out of the north country, and from all countries whither I had driven them; and they shall dwell in their own land" (Jer 23:8). Elsewhere he said, "Behold, I will bring them from the north country, and gather them from the coasts of the earth, and with them the blind and the lame, and the woman with child and her that travaileth with child together: a great company shall return thither. They shall come with weeping, and with supplications will I lead them: I will cause them to walk in a straight way, wherein they shall not stumble: for I am a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn" (Jer 31:8-9).

The gathering of the house of Israel is a great event that remains unfulfilled. The return of the Jews to Jerusalem is only a prelude to that event. When the two nations gather, they will no longer bicker. Isaiah said, "Ephraim shall not envy Judah, and Judah shall vex Ephraim" (Is 11:13). God will be God of both and they will bask in His bounty.