(14) Warnings and Exhortations (12:1–12)

1Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. 2There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. 3What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

4“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. 5But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. 6Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. 7Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

8“I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God. 10And everyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.

11“When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.”


The opening verse of this section both concludes the preceding section and introduces what follows. The discourse continues to 13:21. Having denounced the glaring inconsistency of the Pharisees’ behavior, Jesus’ warning against imitating their hypocrisy (12:1) makes a fitting conclusion. The sayings that follow are a loose collection of Jesus’ teachings directed to his disciples.

After a warning to beware of the Pharisees’ hypocrisy, two proverbs assure the readers that such hypocrisy will be revealed and judged (12:2–3). Next comes a warning to the disciples about whom they should truly fear (12:4–5) followed by an encouragement that although God is to be feared, they need not be afraid, for this omniscient and omnipotent God values and cares for them (12:6–7). These verses are tied together thematically by the word “fear” (12:4–5, 7). Two additional warnings follow concerning Christian confession and the unpardonable sin (12:8–10). They too are accompanied by words of encouragement, assuring Jesus’ followers of God’s presence and the Spirit’s guidance in times of persecution (12:11–12).


12:1 Meanwhile. Compare Acts 26:12. The following material is closely tied to the preceding woes.

A crowd of many thousands. Luke wanted to show Theophilus that in contrast to the Pharisees and law experts, Jesus was popular among the masses. As Marshall notes: “The implication is that the crowds have increased in size since 11:29. … The situation is similar to that in the Sermon on the Plain and elsewhere (cf. 20:45) where teaching intended primarily for the disciples is given in the presence of the crowds who are thus taught what is involved in discipleship.” See comments on 6:17; Introduction 7 (1).

Began to speak first to his disciples. The adverb “first” can be taken as modifying the verb “speak” or “Be on your guard.” It goes best with “speak.” (Cf. 21:9; Acts 7:12.)

Be on your guard. Compare Luke 17:3; 20:46; 21:34; Acts 5:35; 20:28.

The yeast of the Pharisees. The picture involves not yeast as we think of it today but sourdough (cf. Luke 13:21; 1 Cor 5:6). The reality part of this metaphor is the Pharisees’ pervasive religious influence. The parallel in Mark 8:15 reads, “Pharisees and that of Herod,” and Matt 16:6 has, “Pharisees and Sadducees.” Luke tied this passage more closely to the preceding one by mentioning only the Pharisees.

Which is hypocrisy. The parallels in Mark and Matthew do not spell out what the yeast represents. By his explanatory comment Luke made an explicit connection with the material in 11:37–54, which describes this hypocrisy. For Jewish criticism of the Pharisees (“the seekers after smooth things”) by the Essenes, see 1QH 2:15, 32; CD 1:18; cf. also 1QH 2:34; 4:10. For a self-criticism, see Soṭa 22b.

12:2 This verse and the next are examples of synonymous parallelism. They are proverbs of judgment directed against the Pharisees’ hypocrisy.

Nothing concealed that will not be disclosed. Compare Luke 8:17. The second verb is a divine passive for “God will disclose.” What is on the inside of the cup cannot remain concealed. Hypocrisy is folly, for the true inner self will one day be revealed. The Pharisees’ hypocrisy, greed, and wickedness will be displayed (11:39), and they will be seen as graves full of corruption (11:44). Both in Jesus’ situation and Luke’s, this proverb would be a truism, for a future divine judgment was part of the people’s worldview (cf. Acts 17:31).

12:3 Because 12:2 is true, the events described in 12:3 will also take place.

12:4 My friends. Here and in John 15:13–15 only is this expression used for the disciples. This designation assured them that the preceding words of judgment were directed not toward them but toward the Pharisees. Now Jesus addressed his disciples’ concerns.

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body. Others can bring the believers’ human existence to an end. The prophets experienced this (Luke 11:47), and the church was experiencing it now (11:49). Whether persecution unto death was a present reality for Theophilus and Luke’s readers is not known.

After that can do no more. Since opponents can only bring about physical death, there is no need to fear them, for they cannot affect the believer’s ultimate destiny. The believer’s “real” life is an eternal one to be spent in God’s presence, and no outside power can affect this (cf. Rom 8:35–39).

12:5 But I will show you. Compare Luke 6:47; Acts 9:16; 20:35.

Fear. This refers not to a hopeless terror but to a kind of reverential awe that leads to obedience.

Him who. This refers to God rather than the Son of Man. As for Satan the believer is not to “fear” him but to resist him (cf. Jas 4:7; 1 Pet 5:9).

Has power to throw you into hell. “Hell” is literally Gehenna , the Hebrew for the Valley of Hinnom. This valley to the south of Jerusalem became a symbol for the place where the unrighteous were forever punished because it was used as a refuse dump where fires were always burning (cf. Mark 9:47–48; cf. also 1QH 3:19–36). This was Luke’s only use of this term.

Yes, I tell you, fear him. The repetition of the command gives added emphasis and weight to this saying.

12:6 Sparrows. These were considered good, cheap food and were sought after by the poor.

Pennies. The assarion (NIV penny) was a Roman copper coin worth one-sixteenth of a denarius.

Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. In God’s providential rule of creation, not even something as inconsequential as the fall of a sparrow occurs apart from his omniscience and will.

12:7 Hairs … are all numbered. This is a second example of God’s omniscience. The divine passive means God has numbered all your hairs .

You are worth more than many sparrows. This example of a fortiori reasoning assures believers that as God’s children they are far more important to God than sparrows. As a result believers can be assured that God knows and rules over every aspect of their lives.

12:8 I tell you. Compare 12:4. This verse introduces the second warning and encouragement in this section. The warnings in this and the next verse are examples of antithetical parallelism.

Acknowledges me before men. This “acknowledgment” involves more than simply a verbal confession. It involves a witness of both word and deed, i.e., this public confession is to be accompanied by a life of obedience to God’s commandments. The Pharisees were criticized because their inner selves did not correspond to their outer profession. In contrast believers are challenged to integrate their outer and inner selves.

The Son of Man. The parallel in Matt 10:32 has “I,” revealing the freedom the Evangelists felt to interchange Jesus’ titles (Son of Man, Christ, Lord) and the personal pronoun. See Introduction 8 (4). For the attempt to distinguish Jesus and the Son of Man in this verse, see comments on 9:26.

Angels of God. This is a circumlocution for “God,” as is evidenced by Matthew’s “my Father in heaven” (Matt 10:33). Compare Luke 15:10; cf. also Acts 10:3. This verse, though a warning, is also a promise. To acknowledge Jesus as Savior is to be acknowledged as his follower (cf. Acts 7:55–56).

12:9 But he who disowns me before men. The same word is used in Luke 22:34, 57, 61; Acts 3:13; 7:35. To be ashamed of Jesus and his words (9:26) is a synonym. Jesus in 9:23 spoke of denying oneself to follow him. To refuse to deny oneself is to disown Jesus. Both put self before God and bring about the loss of life. Whereas 9:23 is an invitation to follow Jesus, 12:9 is addressed to the believing community (cf. Rev 2:13).

12:10 The first half of this verse seems to contradict the previous verse. Luke, however, did not see them as contradictory, for if he had, he would not have placed them side by side. Luke 12:10a may refer to something like what happens in Acts 3:17–21, where a non-Christian speaks against Jesus in ignorance. Luke 12:9, however, is a clear instance of apostasy by a member of the Christian community (cf. 12:4).

Will be forgiven. This is a divine passive, i.e., God will forgive . Although unstated, subsequent repentance is assumed. As Marshall notes: “It would not need to be pointed out to a Jewish audience that the forgiveness promised here is not granted automatically but is conditional on the repentance of the person seeking it.”

Blasphemes against the Holy Spirit. Blasphemy is not limited to speaking evil of the Holy Spirit. It can also mean a hardened attitude toward God and un relenting opposition to what he is doing through his Spirit in leading individuals to faith.

Will not be forgiven. This is another divine passive, i.e., God will not forgive . Compare GT 44.

The second part of this verse is a warning about the unforgivable sin of speaking against the Holy Spirit. What exactly this sin consists of is far from clear. The suggested interpretations include: (1) claiming that Jesus possessed an unclean spirit (cf. Mark 3:28–30); (2) apostasy by a Christian (Luke 12:8–9), as opposed to a nonbeliever speaking against Jesus (as in 12:10a); (3) rejecting Christ after his resurrection, in contrast to doing so before the resurrection; (4) rejection of the disciples’ testimony, which (after Pentecost) was inspired by the Holy Spirit; (5) persistent and unremitting resistance to the Spirit’s work as he brings conviction of sin and reveals the need for repentance and faith. The last probably is the best interpretation, for rejection of the Spirit’s work renders faith impossible and salvation unattainable (cf. Acts 7:51). One thing is clear. Anyone concerned about this sin has nothing to fear, for such a concern witnesses to a sensitivity and openness to the Spirit’s work, which those who have sinned in this way do not possess.

12:11 Both the first (Luke 12:4–5) and the last set of warnings (12:8–10) are followed by encouraging words (12:6–7, 11–12).

Brought before synagogues. Compare 21:12. This refers to Jewish persecution.

Rulers and authorities. Compare 21:12. This refers to appearing in Gentile courts.

Do not worry. This encouraging word was not addressed to Christian ministers and teachers who had been negligent in handling God’s word (cf. 2 Tim 2:15) but to Christians facing possible martyrdom.

12:12 For the Holy Spirit will teach you. Jesus gave the reason his followers do not have to worry (Luke 21:14–15). Luke gave examples of this in Acts 4:8–13; 6:10; 7:2–60. John 14:26 and 1 Cor 2:13 mention a similar kind of teaching by the Holy Spirit under different circumstances.

At that time. Compare Luke 7:21; 10:21; 13:31; 20:19; cf. also 2:38; Acts 16:18; 22:13.

The Lukan Message

Luke’s key concern in this passage centers around the requirements and assurances of Christian discipleship. Luke shared this theme with his readers already and would deal with it again. His unique contribution to the account involves a clear warning to beware of religious hypocrisy (12:1). This emphasis is heightened by the extensive description of such hypocrisy given in 11:37–54. The Christian’s inner self and outer demeanor are to be the same. The reader should realize that ultimately nothing will remain hidden, for a day is coming in which everything hidden will be made known. Believers are also admonished concerning the need for fearless confession. They need fear no one but God, for he alone controls their ultimate fate. Therefore, even under persecution, they dare not deny their Lord and become like the seed planted on rocky soil, which believed for a while but in time of testing fell away (8:13). Yet Luke’s readers are also given words of encouragement to help them follow the Lord. They are reminded of God’s omniscience and omnipotence as well as his providential care for them (12:6–8). They need not fear, for their names are written in heaven (10:20), and God has promised to provide for their needs. Even in times of persecution, God will direct and provide for his children through his Spirit (12:11–12).

Two other brief references to important Lukan themes should be noted. One is that despite the animosity of the Jewish leadership, the people still favored Jesus and sought to hear his teaching (see comments on 12:1). The second is the Spirit’s role in the believer’s life. In times of persecution and trial the believer need not fear, for God’s Spirit will be present. Should Luke’s readers find themselves in such a situation, they need not worry about what to say. The Spirit will give them the right words. This does not mean that they should not think about what to say or fail to prepare. It means rather that they can be at peace knowing that the Spirit will guide in the preparation of their defense.

(15) The Parable of the Rich Fool (12:13–21)

13Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

16And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. 17He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18“Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. 19And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20“But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21“This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”


Luke next introduced an account unique to his Gospel (cf. however GT 63, 72). A question from the crowd (Luke 12:13) ties this passage to the preceding one and leads to Jesus’ teaching regarding possessions, and in particular on inheritance rights. Jesus rejected the role of arbiter between brothers. He did not come to reconcile such family disputes. On the contrary, his coming would at times divide families (12:51–53). What this individual needed was not some casuistic legal ruling by a religious teacher but a basic understanding of how possessions relate to the purpose of life. Who one is is far more important than what one possesses. The latter is outside a person; the former is within (11:37–54). Jesus also opposed the request because it arose from greed (11:39). Greed is to be rejected, for the meaning and purpose of life is not found in the accumulation of wealth and possessions (12:15; cf. 1 Tim 6:6–10).

Jesus illustrated the principle, stated as a proverb, with an example parable. In the parable a rich and greedy man, failing to guard himself against covetousness, thinks that success is measured in terms of the abundance of possessions. Although he already possesses more than enough, he can think only of himself (note the frequent “I” in Luke 12:17–19) and his accumulation of more possessions for his personal enjoyment (12:19). But they are not permanent possessions, as he tragically discovers, for what is “invested” with God is permanent, not economic circumstances. When God takes his life, his temporary possessions are all left behind. Instead of being rich toward God, who never entered his thoughts, he lost all he ever worked for and far more besides (cf. 9:25). The parable concludes with an admonition addressed to the brother (12:21) but which Luke hoped Theophilus and his other readers would apply to themselves.


12:13 Someone in the crowd. Compare 12:1.

Teacher. See comments on 7:40.

Tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me. The OT regulations regarding the inheritance of property are found in Deut 21:15–17; Num 27:1–11; 36:7–9. In the Talmudic literature see B. Bat. 8:1–9:10. Luke did not state what the specific problem was, but this is ultimately irrelevant. What is clear is that the motive behind the question was greed (Luke 11:39), not the fulfillment of Ps 133:1.

12:14 Who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you? This may imply that Jesus did not have the legal standing to make such a decision, but it more likely means that he had not come to deal with such temporary trivia but to offer the world eternal salvation. In light of the arrival of God’s kingdom, issues such as inheritance rights are of little consequence. Better to suffer loss and follow Jesus (cf. Luke 9:57–62).

12:15 Be on your guard. The Greek verb here is different from the one used in 12:1.

All kinds of greed. Greed is an insatiable desire and lust for more and more. It is all-consuming, so that all of life becomes focused on the accumula tion of wealth. There is no room for anything else, not even God. This is why it is so hard for a rich person to enter God’s kingdom (18:25).

Life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. Compare 4:4; 9:24–25; 12:22–34.

12:16 An example parable follows. Like the parable of the good Samaritan (10:30–36), “Go and do likewise” (10:37) can be added, although since this one is a negative example we should add, “Do not go and do likewise.” Compare 1 Enoch 97:8–10.

The ground of a certain rich man. Literally the land of a certain rich man. Compare 10:30; 16:19–31, “Context.” The man already was rich at the beginning of the story.

12:17 He thought to himself. Compare 12:45; 15:17–19; 16:3–4; 18:4–5; 20:13.

What shall I do? Compare 16:3; 20:13. The thought itself was in order. His answer, however, was not. The verb (poiēsō) can be translated either as future tense (“shall”) or as an aorist subjective (“should”—a deliberative subjunctive). There is no significant difference in meaning.

12:18 I will tear down … and build bigger ones. A first-century way of “building his investment portfolio.”

Store all my grain and my goods. “Goods” may indicate that he possessed more than just farm produce.

12:19 At this point the man’s greedy character is clearly seen. If he had been aware of 10:25–37, he would have said, “And I shall be even more able to serve God and those less fortunate than I!”

Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry. This capsulizes the hedonistic life-style he planned to follow.

12:20 Now for the first time God abruptly intruded into the man’s thinking, but it was too late.

You fool! Compare 11:40.

This very night. This is in the emphatic position; no time was available to amend his ways.

Your life will be demanded from you. Here the third person plural (literally They are demanding your soul ) serves as a substitute for the divine passive (see comments on 16:9) and means God is demanding your soul . Compare Wis 15:8.

Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself? One should not introduce at this point a concern for children and family, for this is not a real story but a parable. In light of 12:19 the possessions were to be thought of as totally lost (cf. Ps 39:6). Thus like the millionaire’s accountant when asked how much his employer left when he died, the reply is a succinct, “All!”

12:21 This is how it will be. Jesus applied the parable.

Who stores up things for himself. The fool hoards instead of being concerned for neighbors and for God (Luke 12:33).

Not rich toward God. This is a synonym for “treasure in heaven” (12:33; 18:22). Salvation is by grace alone, and human merit has no standing before God (17:7–10; 18:9–14); however, God grants rewards to those who serve him.

The Lukan Message

Ellis sums up well Luke’s main point and entitles 12:13–34 “To Have or to Live?” Two important themes in this section have come up already and will come up again. These are the issues of priorities (9:23–25; 17:33) and attitude toward wealth (5:11, 28; 12:33–34; 18:22). Here they are intimately associated. In the face of the arrival of God’s kingdom, to be concerned about inheritance rights and goods is folly indeed. Better to focus on the kingdom and allow oneself to be wronged (1 Cor 6:7) than to allow greed (Luke 11:39) to control one’s life. One cannot serve God and Money (16:13). Luke’s remedy in such circumstances was simple. Give to those in need (11:41; 16:9–12; 19:8). One can avoid becoming a slave to possessions by recognizing their temporary quality. The rich fool did not realize that he “owned” nothing. All he had—even his life— was on loan and could be called in at any time. Luke was telling Theophilus: “Friend, order your life in accordance with the one thing that is eternal—God. Let not greed for that which is temporary keep you from eternal treasure!”

—New American Commentary