The teachings of Messiah, 9:51-19:44

1. The meaning and acceptance of the kingdom message

ii] Demands of discipleship


The passage before us consists of three linked sayings. Three would-be disciples express a commitment to follow Jesus. Jesus responds to their requests by making pointed comments regarding the nature of discipleship.


The story of the three candidates for discipleship draws out the nature of kingdom membership. The first candidate is driven by his feelings, but the kingdom is not entered by feelings. The second candidate is invited, but is confronted by a conflict of loyalties. Divided loyalties precludes kingdom membership . The third candidate reveals a weak resolve, but entrance to the kingdom necessitates a determined resolve. The message of the kingdom concerns deliverance and gaining this deliverance must take priority in our life.


i] Context: See 9:51-56. The demands of discipleship serves as the second episode in the section The meaning and acceptance of the kingdom message, 9:51-10:42.


ii] Structure: This passage, The demands of discipleship, presents as follows:

The 1st. candidate for the kingdom, v57-58:

"foxes have dens and birds have their nests, but the Son of Man ......."

The 2nd. candidate for the kingdom, v59-60:

"let the dead bury their own dead, but you ......."

The 3rd. candidate for the kingdom, v61-62:

"no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit ......"


iii] Interpretation:

Commentators always range in their application of Jesus' discipleship demands, and this passage is no exception. Bock argues that "since disciples will suffer rejection from the world, just as Jesus did, they need to place top priority on following Jesus. They cannot look back once they ally themselves to him, for the opportunity to look back will be frequent and the dangers of doing so are great." Ellis is even more demanding: "The whole point of discipleship is that one should become like one's master, and Jesus requires no more than he himself has given. He is the penniless and ever-working one who has sacrificed family and home for the sake of the kingdom." In general terms most commentators would agree with Ellis that "the claims of the Messiah must have priority in the life of a Christian", but the practical application of this truth is where the trouble begins.

In the opening episode of this section, 9:51-57, we learn that the message of the kingdom concerns deliverance, not judgment, now we are reminded that the gaining of this deliverance must take priority in our life. This may well be the whole point of the sayings, such that nothing more need be said. Yet, we tend to feel that more needs to be said. The cross-bearing discipleship image is certainly very powerful, but it is very unlikely that Jesus promotes discipleship in the terms of doing / suffering. Commitment to a suffering messiah, yes, but suffering commitment, no. It is hard to imagine our God as a hedonist, but he does actually want us to enjoy life, and this for eternity. So, again we are confronted with the need to identify with the suffering Son of Man, to bear his humiliation, his cross, and so find in him life eternal.

It is also helpful to note that Jesus uses his discipleship demands in much the same way as he uses his utopian ethic, namely, to both expose sin for a reliance on divine mercy, and give direction to the Christian life.

With the Pharisees / the religious he presents the law in the terms of a divine perfection so forcing a recognition of unrighteousness and thus the need to depend on God's mercy for deliverance. Similarly, with his instructions on discipleship, Jesus' unrealistic expectations force a similar dependence, given that none are "fit for the kingdom of God." Only Jesus is "fit", and we are fit when we are en, "in", him.

The other practical aspect of Jesus' utopian ethic is that it gives direction in the Christian life. It can never be done, but it can be aimed at. So also with these sayings on commitment. Divided loyalties, weak resolve, these are the realities of our day-to-day life, but they don't stop us from striving to stiffen our resolve and firm our commitment to Jesus.


iv] Synoptics:

Paralleled in Matthew 8:18-22.


v] Exposition: A simple exposition of this passage may be found in the linked pew-level Sermon Notes.

Text - 9:57

Three would-be disciples face the stringent demands of discipleship, demands that require unqualified commitment, v57-62: i] "Following Jesus means becoming a stranger and exile on earth", Stein, v57-58. Again in travel mode, Jesus presses on toward Jerusalem. Luke wants us to see the journey within the context of Jesus moving toward the cross. So, on the way Jesus meets three candidates for discipleship, three people who want to join with Jesus on the journey. The first and third candidates volunteer, the second is invited. Jesus tests the commitment of the first candidate, as he does the others, telling him that discipleship is not for fair-weather friends. With the first candidate, Jesus calls for a commitment to the deliverance gained by the lowly suffering servant. Those wanting to follow the Son of Man must accept a humiliated, not a glorious messiah.

poreuomenwn (poreuomai) pres. part. "as they were walking" - they were going. Genitive absolute participle forming a temporal adverbial clause. Luke is underlining the travel motif; Jesus is on the way to the cross.

en + dat. "along [the road]" - in [the way]. Locative, expressing space/sphere.

akolouqhsw (akolouqew) fut. "I will follow" - "I will follow you as your disciple."

soi dat. pro. "you" - Dative of direct object after the verb "follow".

oJpou ean aperch/ "wherever you go" - This conjunction o{pou with the particle ean, followed by the subjunctive, forms an indefinite locative clause which explains where the action of "I will be your disciple" is located, namely, "wherever you go (wherever you take me)." Are we to understand he is saying, "I will be your disciple and follow you to Jerusalem and to the cross"?


autw/ dat. pro. "[Jesus replied]" - [Jesus said] to them. Dative of indirect object.

tou ouranou (oV) gen. "[birds have nests]" - [the birds] of heaven have [nests]. The genitive is adjectival, attributive, limiting by describing "birds"; "birds which fly have their nests."

tou anqrwpou (oV) gen. "[the Son] of man" - The genitive is adjectival, relational. Presumably Jesus' messianic sense is intended, but nothing more than "I" may be intended, so Fitzmyer, see 5:24

pou + subj. "[has no place to lay his head]" - [does not have] where [he may lay down the head]. Here the interrogative particle pou, "where", with the subjunctive klinh, "may lay", forms a dependent statement expressing, as an indefinite local clause, what Jesus does not have, namely, "wherever = where he may lay his head". No response by the "certain man" is recorded. Yet, what response is Jesus looking for? It is usually understood that Jesus is teaching would-be-disciples of the cost of discipleship before committing ourselves to the Christian way. Yet, this interpretation rests on the assumption that Jesus is always on about "doing/suffering." Is Jesus teaching the necessary requirement of an obedience that limits our enjoyment of life and brings with it persecution? Putting aside, for a moment, our need for self-flagilation, it is possible that Jesus is describing his own status in the world, not the necessary status of those who would follow him. Jesus is the lowly one, and so the question is, are we willing to become the disciple of this entirely unsuccessful man?


ii] "Discipleship involves the sacrifice of comfort and security, family ties, and family affection", Stein, v59-60. With the second candidate, Jesus exposes his natural reluctance to commit. Religious duty demands that a dead relative be buried. Left unburied, all the relatives would be ceremonially unclean. Yet, Jesus' retort is that the "dead" (in the sense of those who do not, and will not, share the resurrection life of Christ - the spiritually dead) can be left to bury the physically dead. A disciple must commit to the mission of making known the good news of the kingdom, which of course, has nothing to do, one way or the other, with attending, or not attending, a funeral. Leaving aside excuses, it's commit to the mission, or go away.

akolouqei (akolouqew) pres. imp. "follow" - follow. Here Jesus does the inviting; "be my disciple."

moi dat. pro. "me" - Dative of direct object after the verb "follow".

epitreyon (epitrepw) aor. imp. "[first] let [me]" - allow, permit. The request is obviously genuine. The father is possibly dying, which may "delay discipleship indefinitly", Bock. The son is willing to accept Jesus' call, but he first seeks permission to be allowed to fulfill his family responsibility and take charge of his father's burial/illness.

apelqonti (apercomai) dat. aor. part. "go" - having gone. The participle has been attracted to the dative of direct object moi, "me". Matthew uses an infinitive apelqein at this point, producing two awkward coordinating infinitives, "allow me to go and to burry". Presumably he intends both to shape a dependent statement expressing what the man wishes Jesus to "allow/permit"; "first, give me permission that I may go and burry". Luke's use of a participle, instead of an infinitive, followed by the infinitive qayai, "burry", still probably serves to introduce an object clause / dependent statement, expressing what the man wishes Jesus to "allow", namely "to go." The infinitive may be adverbial, final, expressing purpose; "in order that I might burry my father", although more properly part of the dependent statement; "that I may go and burry my father." It is possible that the participle is intended as attendant on the recitative infinitive, a less clumsy syntax than Matthew, or even possibly adverbial temporal, "let me go first", so McKay.


autw/ dat. pro. "[Jesus said] to him" - Dative of indirect object.

afeV (afihmi) aor. imp. "let" - allow/permit .. let [the dead]. The sense of the words "let the dead bury their own dead" is a matter of some debate: i] Allow those in sheol to worry about each other, and let the living worry about the living, cf. Fitzmyer; ii] "Let the spiritually dead burry their dead"; iii] In more general terms it may mean something like, "don't get yourself worked up about the death of a relative, focus on the living. What's important is the proclamation of the gospel to the living, for only they can hear it, believe and be saved." This doesn't mean that Jesus is telling him he can't go to his father's funeral, but rather, that he must get his priorities right. Louw argues the the phrase is idomatic, meaning "you understand me wrongly; this is not what is at stake." Tannehill also argues that Jesus' striking language serves to make a point and should not be taken literally. Discipleship is not concerned with the attendance, or non attendance, of a relative's funeral, but rather is focused on the communication of the gospel. There is a possible allusion to Ezekiel 24:15-24.

qayai (qaptw) aor. inf. "bury" - [allow those who are dead] to burry [their own dead]. Forming an dependent statement expressing what Jesus want the man to "allow/permit", namely for the dead to burry their dead.

apelqwn (apercomai) aor. part. "you go" - going. The participle is possibly attendant circumstance and therefore read as an imperative. Yet, also possibly temporal; "when / while / as you go / are going, proclaim the kingdom of God"

diaggelle (diaggellw) pres. imp. "proclaim" - The present tense implies continuation, "preach / proclaim / communicate far and wide."


iii] Another family responsibility denied - a conflict of loyalties, v61-62. With the third candidate, Jesus again confronts a potential disciple, hesitant and in two minds. Visiting, or not visiting, one's parents has nothing to do with a decision for Christ. What is necessary is a clear decision, because a person in two minds doesn't have the aptitude for kingdom service. The imagery here comes from Elijah's call of Elisha, 1Ki.19:20ff.

de kai "still" - but and. "And another also said", AV.

eJteroV "another [said]" - "A different person said to Jesus ....."

soi dat. pro. "[I will follow] you" - Dative of direct object after the verb akolouqhsw, "I will follow."

epitreyon (epitrepw) aor. imp. "[but first] let" - allow, permit.

moi dat. pro. "me" - to me. Dative of direct object after the verb "allow" = give permission to me.

apotaxasqai (apotassw) aor. inf. "say good-by" - to say farewell. Lit. give up. Forming an object clause / dependent statement of perception expressing what the man wants Jesus to "allow", namely to say good-by to his family at home.

moi dat. art. "[and say goodby to my family]" - to the ones [in the house of me]. The verb apotassw, "say farewell", takes a dative of direct object, "say farewell to ...." This dative article serves to turn the prepositional phrase "into/in my house" into a substantive, "the ones in my house" = "my family", ie. it serves as a nominalizer.


epibalwn (epiballw) aor. part. "[no one] who puts [his hands to the plow]" - having put, having laid. The participle is adjectival, attributive, limiting "no one" / nobody. Read as forming a relative clauses; "who puts his hand ......"

blepwn (blepw) aor. part. "looks [back]" - looking [to the things behind]. This participle is also adjectival, attributive, limiting "no one", but possibly adverbial, temporal; "and then looks back." The illustration is of a potential disciple in two minds. The present tense underlines this sense; "while still looking back." The proverb is often applied to believers who are pondering the "bright lights", or even now wandering off into them, but again, this interpretation reflects the tendency, within the Christian church, for guilt and flagellation. Clearly, Jesus is calling on a potential disciple to decide to follow, or to go his own way. Visiting his mum (sorry "mom" for my US friends) and dad plays no part in the decision. If we think visiting, or not visiting, is the point of Jesus' words, then we have definitely missed the point.

euqetoV adj. "[is] fit" - fit, well fitting. A person who is of two mind, when it comes to putting their trust in Jesus, is not "suitable" for membership in the kingdom of God, they do not have the "aptitude" for the task. As with the man who wanted to burry his father, this man is similarly reminded of the urgent need for a clear decision.

th/ basileia/ (a) dat. "for service in the kingdom" - to the kingdom. The dative is often treated as a dative of interest, expressing fitness for the kingdom; "is useless for the kingdom", Phillips, is of "any use to the kingdom", Barclay. Culy suggests a dative of reference / respect and this seems a better approach because, as Johnson notes, in this context "kingdom" probably means "preaching the kingdom of God" = "preaching the gospel". A person in two minds does not possess the necessary aptitude required of a disciple with respect to the business of preaching the gospel.

tou qeou (oV) gen. "of God" - The genitive is probably best treated as adjectival, possessive, but possibly ablative, expressing source/origin, even verbal, subjective.


Luke Introduction



[Pumpkin Cottage]