Luke 19:1-10


This account brings us close to Holy Week. The so-called "Journey Account" began at 9:15 and ends at 19:27.

Lenski: It was Thursday before the Passion week.
Arndt: The time is several days before Holy Week.
Ylvisaker: The distance from Jericho to Jerusalem was any easy day's journey, about 150 stadia.

Luke 19:1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through.

Luke 19:2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy.

The first two words in Greek draw our attention to something noteworthy. In this case it refers to the entire account, for it is a remarkable account of the divine-human Jesus intent on saving a social outcast. The first two words suggest the phrase "of all things." The name "Zacchaeus" is stressed. This verse is actually three independent statements. It is an example of parataxis where we would prefer hypotaxis. This sense is: "And of all things, a man by the name of Zacchaeus, who was a chief publican, and furthermore, a wealthy one." 

Luke 19:3 He wanted to see who Jesus was, but being a short man he could not, because of the crowd.

We would say: "He wanted to see what Jesus looked like." 

Luke 19:4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.

"And so" is "and therefore." "Having run forward toward the front" has been called pleonastic which means that the Greek says more than is necessary. But it is pleonastic only from the English point of view. The Greek emphasizes the utter interest of Zacchaeus. Was he merely curious or was he already a believer? Well, we just don't know for sure. But we do know that Zacchaeus sought Jesus zealously, for whatever reason or motive. Zacchaeus really wanted to see Jesus.

Luke 19:5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today."

Had someone told Jesus who Zacchaeus was or was Jesus exercising His divine omniscience on this occasion? "I must" is always used, with reference to Jesus, of divine necessity, very often saving necessity. In view of this, Jesus surely was exercising His omniscience. Zacchaeus must have been very surprised when the man, whom he wanted to see, stopped and addressed him. That becomes apparent in the next verse.

Luke 19:6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

"He came down hurriedly and welcomed Him joyfully." We are not yet at Zacchaeus' house but are told that he welcomed Jesus joyfully. Jesus was already Zacchaeus' guest, though we are not yet at Zacchaeus' house. That's conversion.

Luke 19:7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a 'sinner.'"

Does "all the people" denote only Jesus' enemies or does it include some Christians as well? The context seems to indicate that here it includes also some Christians. Imagine the situation: They were attending Jesus on His way to Jerusalem. All of a sudden Jesus interrupts His journey and speaks to an outcast. Christians, too, sometimes grumble when an outcast is converted. It just might be that  "all the people" here includes not only Jesus' enemies but also some of Jesus' friends.

No wonder we have "of all things" back in verse 2. This was exceptional, or at least not what they had anticipated." To be the guest" implies spending the night.  "They began and continued to grumble." The grumbling became audible through their words. It must have jolted Jesus' followers quite some when He announced that He would spend the night in the house of a person whom no one regarded as an acceptable person.

Fahling: Jesus would not stay with one of the many priests who make their home at Jericho, but rather chose to spend the night in a publican's house.

Luke 19:8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

The courageous reaction of Zacchaeus is compared to the grumbling of the crowd. By the way, in verse 5 we have the invitation of Jesus; then in verse 6 the joyful reaction of Zacchaeus to Jesus; then in verse 7 the grumbling reaction of those following Jesus; and, finally, in verse 8, the courageous reaction of Zacchaeus toward the crowd and Jesus.

"Stood up" clearly means we are now in his house. Our attention is called to the remarkable change which has taken place in this man. He himself says: "Look here." "Lord" is vocative and not merely "sir." Zacchaeus started out as rich. By doing what he did in verse 8 he must have come close to joining the ranks of the poor. He both "gives" and "restores." The Christian does both. He loves his neighbor as himself. And if he does harm, he does his best to make it good. The "if" in verse 8 is not used for uncertainty. It is a virtual confession of wrong doing. Translate "if I have cheated" with "in cases in which I have cheated" to bring out the true meaning.

Ylvisaker: The Law, which Zacchaeus knew from his early childhood, demanded a fourfold reparation if a thief had destroyed the stolen property (Exodus 22:1); if, on the other hand, the goods that had been removed were still intact, they should be restored 'double' (Exodus 22:4-9). And if the thief or swindler should 'confess' and of his own accord decide to make restitution, he should add the fifth part thereto (Leviticus 5:16).

This verse clearly indicates that Zacchaeus, by the Word and invitation of Jesus, had become a child of God. By the way, with this verse compare Luke 18:11-12. There the Pharisee speaks of works of supererogation, works which he thinks make him acceptable to God. But, in 19:8, Zacchaeus speaks of works of sanctification, fruits of faith, promises of love, and restitution. There is a vast difference between the two.

Luke 19:9 Jesus said to him,  "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham." 

Does Jesus speak "to him" or "concerning him?" It cannot be decided with finality but the meaning of what Jesus says is clear without making that decision. Note that Jesus had used "today" in verse 5 and here repeats the word. It denotes certainty and urgency. Salvation is present, not future. "Salvation" clearly means deliverance from the guilt of sin, the power of death, and the devil. In this verse "house" means  "household." In verse 5 it meant "house." "Household"  here might indicate that Zacchaeus was married and had children and that all became Christians. Compare Acts 16:31. "Son of Abraham" likely means "believer," not just "a member of the Old Covenant people." He is like Abraham in that he has true saving faith.

Luke 19:10  "For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." 

The "for" is explanatory. Verse 10 explains verse 9. Zacchaeus became a believer because of what is said in verse 10. In fact, verse 10 tells us why anyone becomes a believer. There is no other way. Look at John 14:6. Jesus calls Himself "the Son of man." This denotes the incarnate Christ, the God-man, with stress laid on His humanity. The Father has given this humanity of Jesus all thing, see Luke 10:22, and only through this God-man do people know the Father. He came into this world for a two-fold purpose: to seek and to save. Both are effective aorists which means on should add something like "really" to both infinitives. Not only is He concerned about saving. He is equally concerned about seeking.

Who was looking for whom on this occasion? In verse 3 we are told that Zacchaeus was "seeking" to see Jesus. In verse 10 we are told that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost, in this case Zacchaeus. It may look like man is looking for Jesus but the reverse is the truth. Who planned it all this way that Zacchaeus would have opportunity to see and seek Jesus? Jesus Himself.

It has often been said that Luke 19:10 is the theme of the Gospel of Luke.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Gospel Texts, Sundays After Pentecost, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 73-75. Used with permission.

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