What does Luke 15:7 mean?
ESV: Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
NIV: 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.
NASB: 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 people who have no need of repentance.
CSB: I tell you, in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who don’t need repentance.
NLT: In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!
KJV: I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
NKJV: I say to you that likewise there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine just persons who need no repentance.
Verse Commentary:
Jesus finishes the parable of the lost sheep. He is explaining why He is willing to eat and socialize with the kind of people that self-righteous Pharisees think should be shunned. These "sinners" are lost. Many have made foolish decisions that led them away from God. They are like a sheep who wanders off into danger. Whether the choice was wise or not, they are helplessly separated and in need of rescue. Jesus is a good shepherd (John 10:11). The rest of the flock doesn't need His direct oversight at that moment, so He goes searching for the lost one (Luke 15:1–6).

At the beginning of this parable, Jesus invited the Pharisees to gauge themselves as shepherds. If they are, they are poor examples, like the abusive religious leaders in Ezekiel 34. Now, Jesus frames the story to identify the Pharisees as the ninety-nine sheep who do not need to be rescued. The Pharisees don't understand. To them, the purpose of feasting with someone is to build your reputation and show off that you associate with righteous people. Their default response to tax collectors and sinners is to publicly denounce them (Luke 18:11–12).

Jesus visited this theme early on in His ministry. When He invited the tax collector Levi, also known as Matthew, to follow Him, Levi responded by inviting Jesus to a banquet with his friends, including other tax collectors. The Pharisees grumbled then, too. Why, they thought, would someone who purports to be a teacher of spiritual truths associate with people who have abandoned God? Jesus pointed out that that's why He came: to save the lost (Luke 5:27–32).

The parable of the lost sheep is one of three such stories Jesus uses to show God's heart toward the lost. It illustrates how God reacts when people reject Him through foolish choices: He goes after them (Luke 15:3–7). In the parable of the lost coin, Jesus describes people who don't know they're lost and have no idea they're in need of rescue. Again, God goes after them (Luke 15:8–10). In the last parable, the prodigal son, the lost are flagrantly rebellious. In this case, God waits until they are humbled, their hearts are softened, and they come toward home voluntarily. Then He runs out to greet them, eager to restore them as His children (Luke 15:11–32).

The celebrants in the three parables intensify. Here, there is joy "in heaven." Next, there is rejoicing by unnamed parties "before the angels" (Luke 15:10). Finally, it is the Father, Himself, who rejoices (Luke 15:22–24).

A similar parable in Matthew describes a naïve God-follower who goes astray. The focus is more on God's desire that the lost be reconciled than the celebration of the repentant (Matthew 18:10–14).
Verse Context:
Luke 15:3–7 contains the parable of the lost sheep. This is Jesus' first response to the Pharisees who demand perfection and reject repentance (Luke 15:1–2). The story typifies sinners who abandon faithfulness to God the way a stupid sheep wanders into danger. When the shepherd finds the lost animal, he rejoices. Later parables refer to those who don't know they're lost (Luke 15:8–10) and those who are intentionally rebellious (Luke 15:11–32). Matthew includes a similar parable to the lost sheep in a slightly different context (Matthew 18:10–14).
Chapter Summary:
To answer criticisms that He associates with sinners, Jesus tells three parables. A shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep to rescue a single lost member. A woman searches diligently to locate a lost coin. A father eagerly forgives his wayward son when the young man returns in humility and repentance. All these lead to celebration. In the same way, Jesus teaches that God cares about restoring those who have fallen, and we should mirror His joy whenever that happens.
Chapter Context:
Luke 15 contains three parables with the theme of something "lost." The lost sheep, coin, and son represent sinners who leave God foolishly, unknowingly, or rebelliously. God seeks the foolish and the ignorant and waits patiently for the rebel to return to Him in humble repentance. Next is a collection of teachings on the differences between worldly and kingdom living (Luke 16:1—17:10). After two more groups of a miracle, teachings on the kingdom, and teachings on salvation (Luke 17:11—19:27), Jesus will enter Jerusalem and prepare for the crucifixion.
Book Summary:
Luke was a traveling companion of Paul (Acts 16:10) and a physician (Colossians 4:14). Unlike Matthew, Mark, and John, Luke writes his gospel as an historian, rather than as a first-hand eyewitness. His extensive writings also include the book of Acts (Acts 1:1–3). These are deliberately organized, carefully researched accounts of those events. The gospel of Luke focuses on the earthly ministry of Jesus Christ. Luke's Gentile perspective presents Christ as a Savior for all people, offering both forgiveness and direction to those who follow Him.
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