Characters and Meanings

The Father

The Father was a wealthy man with two sons, who reflected divine love.  There is no mention of a mother in the parable; as a result, the father may have been a widow.  Some may say the father represents God, the Heavenly Father, but the parallelism between this and the other two parables, suggests that the father is actually a symbol of Christ.

The Prodigal Son

The main understanding behind the word “prodigal” is “wastefulness, immoderation, excess, and dissipation” (MacArthur).  The prodigal son was young, possibly an adolescent, and unmarried.  He was undisciplined and was ready to “sow his wild oats”.  The representation of the prodigal son is a person living in rebellion without Christ, and later in the parable we find that sometimes we have to hit rock-bottom before we come to our senses and recognize our sin.  Therefore the prodigal son were the tax collectors, sinners, and us.

The Elder Son

The begging of chapter fifteen, in Luke, clearly states the elder son representing the Pharisees and religious leaders whom accused Jesus.  The Pharisees wore religion and righteousness on their sleeves but never in their hearts.  They did not believe in Christ and forgiveness of sins.  The older son is bitter and yearns for materialistic things and not a relationship with his father. “Unfortunately, the lesson of the elder brother is often overlooked in many of the popular retellings, and he is the main reason Jesus told the parable” (MacArthur).  Jesus wants all who do not believe in their hearts, like the elder son and Pharisees, to repent and come back to Him.  There they will find all that they need; Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6).  We just need to believe and repent.

How do we apply this parable to our life?

We can all relate to the Prodigal Son with our own sinful wants and desires.  We may look for ourselves before that of another; anything that may be pleasing to us is what we strive for.  As the prodigal lived a sinful life, he hurt his father in the process.  Just as we may hurt God, our Heavenly Father, with choices that are sinful and that are not a blessing by God.  He loves us, just as the father loved his disrespectful son, and  He loves us more than we can imagine.  “The Prodigal Son represents a typical sinner who comes to repentance”, after hitting rock bottom (MacArthur).  And the best part is” the father’s patience, love, generosity, and delight over the son’s return” portrays divine grace (MacArthur).  Although, the heart of the elder son was the focal point of the story because his unbelief, like the Pharisees and scribes that Jesus spoke to, used outside righteousness as a cover for their unrighteous hearts.  In other words, the elder brother’s story is a warning to the hearts that need awakened to the reality of their own sin and being redeemed by Christ.  Therefore, Jesus Christ earnestly looks for us, waiting for us to believe and repent.  When we do, it is a glorious day and a celebration will be prepared.