What does Luke 7 mean?
Chapter Commentary:
Luke 7 continues Luke's pattern of describing Jesus' Galilean ministry by alternating stories with calls to faithfulness. This chapter presents six events which describe reactions to Jesus and His ministry. Interestingly, the events are arranged in a chiastic structure. "Chiasms" group related stories in a pyramid form and are common in the Bible and ancient literature. The form for this passage may be:

A. The faith of the generous: the centurion (Luke 7:1–10).

  B. The blessed powerless woman: the widow of Nain (Luke 7:11–17).

    C. John the Baptist: doubt and encouragement for continued faith (Luke 7:18–23).

    C' John the Baptist: the two reactions to his and Jesus' message (Luke 7:24–35).

  B' The blessed powerless woman: the sinful woman (Luke 7:36–40).

A' The faithlessness of the generous: Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:41–50).

Luke 7:1–10 gives the first account: the faith of the generous other. A centurion in Capernaum who built the local synagogue sends Jewish elders to ask Jesus to heal his servant. Unlike others who have sought Jesus' help, the Gentile military commander trusts that Jesus is powerful enough to heal over distance. He does not expect such a prestigious teacher to condescend to enter his home. Jesus marvels at his faith and heals the man's servant. Simon the Pharisee is a foil for the centurion (Luke 7:39–50). He doesn't realize who Jesus is, nor does he understand the depth of his own sin, and his actions prove it.

Luke 7:11–17 records the first story of a powerless woman. While walking into Nain, Jesus raises the dead son of a widow. Luke does not record any interaction between the woman and Jesus beforehand. Nor does he note if those in the funeral procession recognize Him. The passage merely says He acts out of compassion. In response, the townspeople fear Jesus and glorify God. The companion event is that of a sinful woman who anoints Jesus in thanks for His forgiveness (Luke 7:36–38)—giving her eternal life.

Luke 7:18–23 contains the first of two stories about faith and John the Baptist. This account shows that despite Jesus' works, John still has a misunderstanding of who Jesus is. John is in prison and sends disciples to ask Jesus if He is the one they have waited for, or should they expect another. Jesus reassures John with descriptions of His ministry that demonstrate how He fulfills Old Testament prophecy.

In Luke 7:24–35, Jesus describes the two reactions the people have to John and Jesus' different lifestyles and their shared message. John fasts while Jesus feasts, but they both teach repentance. Those who know they need forgiveness don't care about the different lifestyles; they love the message. The religious leaders who think they need no forgiveness reject both.

Luke 7:36–38 is the second story of a powerless woman. While Jesus eats at a Pharisee's house, a sinful woman washes Jesus' feet with tears, her hair, and precious perfume. Like the widow of Nain, she has no power in Jewish society. Yet she knows Jesus forgives and loves her. Her response to Jesus' work in her life mirrors the widow's neighbors who glorify God (Luke 7:16).

Luke 7:39–50 finishes with the foil for the faith-filled centurion. Simon the Pharisee has invited Jesus to a banquet; but unlike the centurion or the sinful woman, he has given the bare minimum in courtesies. Like the religious leaders in Luke 7:24–35, he does not properly see his condition in comparison to Jesus.

Luke 8:1–3 is not, of course, in this chapter, but it completes the series of stories. We learn that Jesus has many disciples but it is women who financially support Him. Like the centurion, they are outside of the respected Jewish male culture but show their faith with their lives, and like the sinful woman, they understand the honor Jesus deserves. Their story helps transition to a subtle call to salvation through the Parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4–8).

Between Luke 4 and 9 are numerous ties between Jesus and the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha. Several are included in Luke 7; these show that Jesus is a prophet and a healer and is willing to minister to Gentiles. The Hebrew symbolism may seem out of place considering Luke was a Gentile writing for Gentiles. Yet Luke worked with Paul, who always started his evangelism in a local synagogue, arguing that Jesus of Nazareth fulfilled the Jewish Scriptures' prophecies about the Messiah (Acts 9:20; 13:5, 14; 14:1; 17:1; 18:4, 19; 19:8). Invariably, the Jews as a community would reject Paul's message—except in Berea (Acts 17:10–12)—and he would move on to the Gentiles. In his Gospel, Luke does something similar. He describes how Jesus fulfills the Jewish Scriptures and how the Jews rejected Him, but he also proves that Jesus always intended to save Gentiles, as well as the Jews.

Luke's pattern continues with stories of faith, teaching, and powerful miracles. Directly after the account of the practical faith of the women, he records the Parable of the Sower. The parties mentioned in Luke 7:1—8:3 loosely fit: John the Baptist, for example, the seed choked by thorns; the Pharisees are like rocky soil; the centurion is a picture of the good soil, and the women are a picture of the good soil that yields a hundredfold with their faithfulness. The examples continue. Jesus' mother and brothers (Luke 8:19–21) are like the Pharisee who had the background information of Jesus' past—the Pharisee had the prophecies while Jesus' family had His birth—but can't accept it. The frightened disciples in the storm (Luke 8:22–25) are like the concerned John the Baptist. The man with a demon receives unsought, miraculous grace (Luke 8:26–39) just like the widow of Nain. Jairus, fearful for his daughter's life and demanding that Jesus come in person (Luke 8:40–42, 49–56) serves as a foil for the trusting centurion. And the woman who dares to touch Jesus' robe (Luke 8:43–48) is the faith-sister of the sinful woman who trusts Jesus for more than physical healing.

Context doesn't suggest a strong, deliberate connection between the stories and the types of soils. However, it seems reasonable that Luke surrounded the Parable of the Sower with examples. At the least, these are examples of Jesus' interactions with a variety of types of people and their varied responses. Next is a section of events where Jesus calls His disciples to a deeper, sacrificial faith (Luke 9:1–50). Then, He starts His journey to Jerusalem and the cross.
Verse Context:
Luke 7:1–10 records the story of a Gentile centurion with humble faith. The centurion's servant is dying, so he sends messengers to only ask for healing, assuming Jesus doesn't need to be physically present. Jesus is amazed at his faith. Matthew 8:5–13 also records the story; John 4:46–54 is a different event. The centurion's faith contrasts Simon the Pharisee. Simon invites Jesus to a banquet without realizing his unworthiness to have such a guest (Luke 7:39–50). Jairus is another foil (Luke 8:40–42, 49–56) while the Syrian general Naaman serves as a prophetic parallel (2 Kings 5).
Luke 7:11–17 is the story of Jesus in the village of Nain. There, Jesus raises to life the only son of a widow. The people are terrified, but praise God. The mother parallels the sinful woman caught powerless in a male-dominated society (Luke 7:36–38); the boy is like the demoniac who cannot ask for healing (Luke 8:26–39). Luke again ties Jesus to Old Testament prophets, specifically Elijah, with the healing of the son of the widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17:8–24), and Elisha, who raised the Shunammite woman's son (2 Kings 4:18–37).
Luke 7:18–23 speaks about John the Baptist's expectations regarding Jesus. He understands how Jesus has fulfilled the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah in His healing and good news. Yet Jesus hasn't completed every aspect of prophecy yet. He has not freed the prisoners—like John—nor judged the wicked. Jesus doesn't criticize John. He simply asks him to be patient. Next, Jesus describes the different reactions to His and John's contrasting lifestyles, though both come with the same message. John's doubt is also recorded in Matthew 11:2–6. Later verses tie Old Testament prophecy to John with references to Malachi 3:1 and to Jesus via several passages in Isaiah.
Luke 7:24–35 records Jesus making an interesting observation. John lived an ascetic, monk-like lifestyle in the wilderness; Jesus eats and drinks alongside moral and social outcasts. Yet both preach the same message of repentance of sins. The sinners and tax collectors respond to both John and Jesus, drawn to the message without concern for their lifestyles. Stubborn religious leaders, however, claim to judge their lifestyles; what they really can't accept is the message proclaimed by Jesus and John. This section is also depicted in Matthew 11:7–19.
Luke 7:36–38 presents a repentant woman who understands she is forgiven. Like those baptized by John, she proves that those forgiven of their sins respond with love for God (Luke 7:29–35). This is a truth the watching Pharisee doesn't understand (Luke 7:39–50). This woman is like the widow of Nain: helpless in the face of evil and relying completely on Jesus for rescue (Luke 7:11–17). This is not the same event as Matthew 26:6–13, Mark 14:3–9, or John 12:1–8.
Luke 7:39–50 places Simon the Pharisee at center stage. Unlike the centurion (Luke 7:1–10), Simon misreads his standing in comparison to the greatness of Jesus. He's somewhere between the humble who accept Jesus and the arrogant who flatly reject Him (Luke 7:29–34). Simon has invited Jesus to dinner, given Him the minimum hospitality, and silently judged Him. This contrasts with the repentant woman who interrupts dinner to bless Jesus (Luke 7:36–38). Jesus goes where Simon doesn't expect: Simon understands neither forgiveness nor love.
Chapter Summary:
Luke 7 presents a chiasm: a set of themes mirrored around a reflection point. The humble centurion (Luke 7:1–10) contrasts the legalistic Pharisee (Luke 7:39–50). The widow of Nain (Luke 7:11–17) and the sinful women (Luke 7:36–38) have nothing to offer but gratitude for Jesus' blessings. In the center are John the Baptist and his disciples who struggle to trust that Jesus is worth following (Luke 7:18–23), then the sinners who do choose to follow Jesus and the religious leaders who refuse (Luke 7:24–35).
Chapter Context:
Luke 7 continues Jesus' mission primarily to the people of Galilee expressed as a series of pointed events and teachings punctuated by calls to follow Him. He has finished teaching the rigors of discipleship (Luke 6:17–45) and invited the crowd to place their faith in Him (Luke 6:46–49). Here, Luke describes different reactions to Jesus' miracles and message. Next, Jesus will reveal the mechanics of and reactions to His call (Luke 8:4–21) before showing His great authority over nature, demons, sickness, and worldly powers (Luke 8:22—9:17). After a final call to the disciples to deepen their faith (Luke 9:18–50), Jesus will turn toward Jerusalem (Luke 9:51—19:27).
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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