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The Elder Brother of the Prodigal Son

by Bob Myhan

Many people fail to realize that the third parable of Jesus recorded in Luke chapter 15, is nowhere, in the inspired text, called “the Parable of the Prodigal Son.” In fact, the parable is given no name either by Jesus or by Luke. A more accurate designation would be “the Parable of the Two Sons,” since there are two sons in the parable.

It is also important to notice the background for the parable.

Then all the tax collectors and the sinners drew near to Him to hear Him. And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:1-2)

Jesus spoke the parable to illustrate difference in attitude between the sinners who had repented at His preaching and the self-righteous Pharisees and scribes who had refused to accept the sinners who had repented. The prodigal, or wasteful, son represents the sinners who were repenting at the preaching of Jesus, while his elder brother represents the Pharisees and scribes.

The younger son, though he had left his home and had wasted his inheritance, had returned home with a humble and contrite heart. The father forgave him and treated him as though he had never left. Likewise, “there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (Luke 15:10).

  1. But the elder son was self-willed, in that he "would not go in" to celebrate his younger brother's return (v. 28). The Bible clearly condemns our being self-willed (II Peter 2:10; Titus 1:7).
  2. He was also self-righteous, in that he claimed, "I never transgressed your commandment at any time" (v. 29). Such an attitude is the result of pride and arrogance, and is also condemned in the Bible (Luke 18:10-14; Romans 10:1-3).
  3. He was self-centered; he complained, "....you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends" (v. 29-30). The Bible teaches that we should be centered on others, rather than on self (Philippians 2:1-4; Romans 12:3).
  4. He was just plain selfish; he did not want to share his material possessions with his brother (v. 31). Those who are centered on others will share their possessions with them (Luke 3:11; Acts 2:44).

In short, he had all the wrong attitudes toward self, which resulted in the wrong attitudes both toward his brother and toward his own material possessions.