What is the significance of the three parables in Luke 15?

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Question / Comment -  What is the significance of the three parables in Luke 15?


a) Can you please explain the sequential significance of the parables in Luke 15? Why lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son? Can we change the order?

b) Can you explain the trinity concept in these three parables? Please specifically enumerate the parable of the lost coin: Is it a woman or the lamp that symbolizes the Holy Spirit? 

c) Also if you can give the Jewish background concerning the parable of the lost coin. I read that the ten coins are those that a woman wears on her forehead. But I do not comprehend. I also hardly hear anyone preach on this parable. Most of them focus only on the lost sheep and the lost coin.

It is a long question. Sorry to bother you, Sir. You can take your time. God bless and thank you in advance.

JPN Reply:


I have written a little about these three parables in one of my studies on the Holy Spirit so I'll include parts of that and add some other thoughts. Each parable was directed at the Pharisees to answer their grumblings about Jesus eating and drinking with 'sinners'. They show the heart of God towards lost sinners and the joy in heaven when a sinner repents. Each parable has a specific focus and point (in order) to the role of the Lord Jesus, the Holy Spirit (through the Church) and the Father in salvation. In terms of whether the order is specific, all I would say is that it starts with the Lord Jesus (for He came first to seek and save that which is lost), then it has the role of the Holy Spirit through the Church (for the Spirit was sent and the Church began after Jesus ascended) and finally it has the overall role, joy and grace of the Father in seeing those who repent come back through both ministries. I'll quote from what I wrote in my study here : https://jesusplusnothing.com/series/post/holy-spirit-bible-study-hound-heaven

"In Luke 15 Jesus gave three parables about this search for the lost... Have you ever considered in what ways these three parables are linked together? Let's look at all three briefly, with a bit more focus on the second parable as it specifically relates to the work of the Spirit through believers."

Parable /
Person Pictured

Parable of the lost sheep
Work of the Son - as the great Shepherd

Luk 15:3-7 Then Jesus told them this parable: (4) Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Does he not leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? (5) And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders (6) and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.' (7) I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who do not need to repent.

This parable pictures Jesus as the Shepherd who was willing to leave all that He had to go out and find the lost.2 He was actively looking for the one that was lost during His ministry on earth, even willing to go to the cross to pay the price for the sheep's redemption. The use of 'sheep' in this parable pictures the sinner as, well, stupid! Sheep are prone to wander and become lost! They don't want to be lost or separated but once lost they can't find there own way home and need the help of the shepherd to rescue them. Thus it is with fallen humanity so the fact that the Great Shepherd left all to look for the lost is something believers should, and will. be eternally thankful for!

Parable of the lost coin
Work of the Holy Spirit, through the Church

Luk 15:8-10 Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? (9) And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.' (10) In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

This parable pictures the work of the Holy Spirit, through the church (pictured by the woman). She uses the light (the word) to try find the lost coin in a dark house. The coin that is lost represents the helplessness of the sinner to be saved in their own strength and goodness. Just as a lost coin cannot make itself 'found' again by itself, so the sinner cannot save themselves. Jesus said that salvation was impossible for man... but all things are possible for God! But the Holy Spirit is searching and uses believers in this search to find those that are lost! 

Parable of the prodigal son
Joy of the Father in receiving back the wayward repentant son!

Luk 15:11-20 Jesus continued: "There was a man who had two sons. (12) The younger one said to his father, 'Father, give me my share of the estate.' So he divided his property between them. (13) Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. (14) After he had spent everything, there was a severe famine in that whole country, and he began to be in need. (15) So he went and hired himself out to a citizen of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed pigs. (16) He longed to fill his stomach with the pods that the pigs were eating, but no one gave him anything. (17) When he came to his senses, he said, 'How many of my father's hired men have food to spare, and here I am starving to death! (18) I will set out and go back to my father and say to him: Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. (19) I am no longer worthy to be called your son; make me like one of your hired men.' (20) So he got up and went to his father. "But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him...

The parable pictures the wayward sinner who has left God for a life of sinful and wild living. The son is pictured as willfully rejecting the Father in this parable for a life of excess and you will note, in contrast to the first two parables, he is allowed to go and no one comes looking for him. The consequences of his sinful life must come home to roost before he can come to his senses, repent and return. But once he does, note how God the Father is pictured towards the repentant sinner - He is seen as one running towards his son, embracing and kissing him. 

You asked specifically about the parable of the lost coin. The best explanation of this parable that I have read comes from 'The Numerical Bible'. F.W Grant writes:

“The second parable is that of the woman, in the Scripture the figure of the Church, the instrument of the Spirit. The lamp of the Word is in her hand, and she needs it in the darkness of the night, while Christ is absent. The ‘house’ is the circle of natural ties and relationships; for it is not just a question of public preaching, but of that testimony upon which the success of the preacher after all so much depends, and for which the whole Church, and not any class or section of it, is responsible. Good it is to realize that every soul of man, covered with the dust of sin as he may be, and hidden in the darkness of the world, belongs of right to the King’s treasury, and has the King’s image stamped on him, though with sore disfigurement. Claim him we may, wherever we may find him, for God to whom he belongs. This general evangelism, we may learn from the parable here, is what is the mind of the Spirit for the Church indwelt of Him. Here too there must be friends and neighbors summoned to rejoice,--angelic onlookers who are in sympathy with Him who is always the glorious Seeker, and who sets in motion all the springs of love and pity that flow anywhere in unison with His own.”
F.W Grant, The Numerical Bible

Concerning whether the coins have Jewish significance and are part of a headpiece there are certainly some excellent Bible teachers that believe and teach this. The well-loved H.A Ironside was one of these who writes on the parable of the lost coin:

This is a beautiful picture. One of ten pieces of silver is lost. These pieces of silver were joined together in a chain and given by the husband to seal the marriage ceremony. They were worn across the wife’s forehead and valued as a wedding-ring is among us. If one coin should be lost it was thought to indicate the wife’s unfaithfulness to the husband. Naturally, when one of the coins had disappeared the woman would say, “What will my husband say if he should come home and find I have lost one of these pieces?” In her trouble and distress she lighted a candle and swept the floor carefully, and finally she found the coin which perhaps had rolled into a corner. She went to the door and called her neighbors, saying, “Oh, you will be glad to hear that I have found my coin which was lost!” Then carefully she put it back into the place where it belonged. It was necessary that she be active in order to discover the coin. It could not find its way back to her. In this we see the activity of the Spirit of God working through His people. We have our part in seeking for the lost. It is the light of the Word that reveals their true condition and enables us to find them. The Lord Jesus said, “Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.” “Joy in the presence of the angels.” Notice He does not say what some people seem to think He says. He does not say, “There is joy among the angels,” although I am sure they do rejoice; but that is not what He says; He says, “In the presence of the angels.” Who then are in the presence of the angels? All the redeemed who are absent from the body and present with the Lord-they are in the presence of the angels. Our Lord Jesus says to them, “Rejoice with Me; for I have found that which was lost.” In heaven, where they know so well the worth of a soul, all rejoice when one is saved."

Pastor J. Vernon McGee writes the same thing (may have picked it up from Ironside... not sure)

The coin was probably part of the row of coins which formed a headpiece, signifying her married state. To lose a part of it was like losing a stone out of one's wedding ring. The woman depicts the Holy Spirit whose ministry is to make sure that each one who belongs to the Bridegroom will be present for the wedding. Every coin will be in place. Every one is valuable to Him.

Looking at the three parables it is also important to pick up the JOY in heaven over a single sinner that repents! When I first read these parables, as an unbeliever, this really spoke to me. I thought 'God gets joy if I repent and turn to Him? Wow. Even more so that 99 righteous people that don't need to repent? Wow!' Note the ending of each:

Luk 15:7  "I tell you that in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance. 

Luk 15:10 "In the same way, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents."

Luk 15:32 'But we had to celebrate and rejoice, for this brother of yours was dead and has begun to live, and was lost and has been found.'"

So I hope this helps you. God Bless!