No excuses for not following Jesus: A study of Luke 9:59-62 in Greek and English


Luke 9:59-62 And He said to another, “Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.”

Luke 9:59-62 ειπεν δε προς ετερον ακολουθει μοι ο δε ειπεν κυριε επιτρεψον μοι απελθοντι πρωτον θαψαι τον πατερα μου 60 ειπεν δε αυτω ο ιησους αφες τους νεκρους θαψαι τους εαυτων νεκρους συ δε απελθων διαγγελλε την βασιλειαν του θεου 61 ειπεν δε και ετερος ακολουθησω σοι κυριε πρωτον δε επιτρεψον μοι αποταξασθαι τοις εις τον οικον μου 62 ειπεν δε προς αυτον ο ιησους ουδεις επιβαλων την χειρα αυτου επ αροτρον και βλεπων εις τα οπισω ευθετος εστιν εις την βασιλειαν του θεου


Today’s post features a section from Luke’s Gospel that emphasizes the theme of discipleship or following Jesus. Robert L. Thomas on page 56 of his reference work: “Charts of the Gospels and the Life of Christ”, mentions passages that are unique to Luke. Luke 9:59-60 gives us the context for what follows concerning Jesus’ response to excuses given for not following Him. Although there are several sections in Luke’s Gospel that are unique to him, Luke 9:61-19:28 exhibits the largest of these sections, representing an almost unbroken section of Jesus’ teachings and miracles that are not recorded by Matthew, Mark nor John. Whenever one reads Luke’s version of Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension; one of the major themes is that of discipleship. Thus, it makes a worthwhile study of this unique section of material in Luke’s Gospel.

How Luke uses the imperative mood to heighten our awareness of what is going on in the text  

The reader probably noted that I highlighted three words in Luke 9:58-62: επιτρεψον (found twice in verses 59 and 61, rendered by the NASB as “permit”); απελθων (found in verse 60 and rendered by the NASB as “go”)  and διαγγελλε (found in verse 60 and rendered in the NASB as “go”). When we refer to the term “mood” in Greek grammar, we are referring to the relationship the verb has to the reality of the situation in the mind of the author. In the Greek verbal system, the various moods express increasing or decreasing levels of direct connection to the reality or involvement of the situation.

The two verbs επιτρεψον = permit me and διαγγελλε = proclaim are what we call “imperative” verbs or “imperative mood” verbs. To speak of an “imperative” verb is described by the reference work: “A Greek Grammar of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature”, page 195, as: “by no means confined to commands, but also expresses a wish or concession.”

The imperative verb’s mood portrays the user of the verb as expressing a wish to be connected to the object of their request – namely in following Jesus. Therefore, in Luke’s report about Jesus’ teaching on the excuses given by people for not following in discipleship, the persons in question use the imperative επιτρεψον = “permit” to express their wishes to “take care of their business” before following the Lord. The particular parsing or grammatical breaking down of επιτρεψον = “permit” is that of being an aorist active imperative 2nd person singular, meaning that the request is for an immediate, one time allowance or exception. According to Greek professor and New Testament scholar Robert Plummer, the “aorist” in Greek communicates an event. Thus, in using the aorist, the person in Jesus’ teaching is not saying how long they will need to go settle the affairs of their relatives.  

There are no excuses for not following Jesus

In other words, the person is asking Jesus to relax the demand of discipleship this one time. The problem with this request is that it is made prior to the potential disciple making the first step. Jesus’ issue here of course is with how this person is viewing the foundation of their commitment to Him. In case people may think Jesus to be insensitive to this person’s request, certain reputable commentators over the years have suggested that this person was looking to get his cut from the estate of his father prior to his death (much like the prodigal son in Luke 15, for example). In any case, Jesus suspects that the person in question has ulterior motives, motives which have, in-effect, pushed Jesus to the back seat.

If Jesus is already viewed as second or third or whatever in a long list of priorities, then how can the person claim to be a disciple that is putting Jesus as the umbrella priority over everything? The Geneva Study Bible has the following note: “The calling of God ought to be preferred without any question, before all duties that we owe to men.” 

With regards to the second man in Jesus’ teaching, his response to him is for the man to διαγγελλε = “proclaim”. The verb here is a present active imperative 2nd person singular, conveying the idea of “communicating the message abroad.”

Whenever we consider the other verbal before this verb, namely απελθων = go, this verb is a participle in the Greek. Participles in regards to their moods refer to the status of the subject performing the action. As verbal adjectives, participles function to describe what is happening relative to the main verb or event in the sentence.

In Greek, it is common to have a participle following an imperative verb, forming a string of commands or one command made of two elements. In this instance, Jesus is using the aorist active participle singular nominative masculine form in απελθων = go to get this fellow to get up, get started and get going. Combined with the imperative verb already discussed (namely διαγγελλε = “proclaim”), the total idea is this: “get going and keep on proclaiming the kingdom of God.” This is Jesus’ way of urging his listeners to stop making excuses. Discipleship ever involves placing Jesus as the umbrella priority over everything. As the Bible Knowledge Commentary notes on these verses:

“Jesus’ words underscore the fact that His message of the kingdom of God was more important than anything else—even family members. The message and the Messiah cannot wait. Jesus’ message was more important than Elijah’s message and demanded total allegiance. Jesus’ servants should not have divided interests, like a farmer who begins plowing and looks back. Since Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, the man had to make up his mind right then as to what he was going to do. Interestingly Luke did not record the outcome of any of Jesus’ conversations with the three men.”

Closing thoughts:

So what excuses do you and I give when it comes to following Jesus? Certainly attending to life’s responsibilities must be done. However, for those who claim Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, the call is to place all priorities under The Priority: Jesus Christ. Whenever we have a proper reference point for our actions, thoughts and words, we will be able to do them with intention and effectiveness. Timing is everything. Following Jesus is a constant, demanding but precious calling for the child of God. 




About pastormahlon

By the grace of God I was converted to saving faith in Jesus Christ at the age of 10 and called into the Gospel ministry by age 17. Through the Lord's grace I completed a Bachelors in Bible at Lancaster Bible College in 1996 and have been married to my beautiful wife since that same year. We have been blessed with four children, ranging from 7-18 years of age. In 2002 the Lord enabled me to complete a Master of Arts in Christian Thought at Biblical Theological Seminary, Hatfield PA. For nearly 25 years I have been preaching and teaching God's Word and have been studying the original languages since 1994. In 2016 God called my family and me to move to begin a pastorate at a wonderful Southern Baptist Congregation here in Northern New York.
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