Luke 6:17-26


Are the sermons in Matthew 5-7 and Luke 6 the same sermon or different sermons, delivered on different occasions? This is merely a part of the so-called  "Synoptic Problem,"  a mystery which no human being, this side of heaven, will ever penetrate or solve. Critics are baffled about this  "problem."  But for the believing Christian it is no problem. Both accounts are the Word of God, the very words of Jesus. We simply study the words and lay the so-called  "problem" aside.

Our text divides itself into three parts. These three parts lend themselves as an outline for a sermon.

Luke 6:17 He went down with them and stood on a level place. A large crowd of his disciples was there and a great number of people from all over Judea, from Jerusalem, and from the coast of Tyre and Sidon, 18 who had come to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. Those troubled by evil spirits were cured, 19 and the people all tried to touch him, because power was coming from him and healing them all.


Jesus had spent the night in prayer on the mountain, verse 12. At daybreak He called the disciples and named the twelve as apostles. This brings us to verse 17.

He came down the mountain and stood on a level place. If this was the same occasion as the Sermon on the Mount, this  "level place" does not contradict  "the mountain"  of Matthew 5:1.

Marshall: The same area might appear to be a plain or a mountain, depending on one's point of view.

Note that there are three groups:

Evidently the second group, the large group of His disciples, were people who, like the disciples, had already become Christians. But, clearly, Jesus also drew a large crowd of people from all of Palestine, from the southern to the northern extremities. What an opportunity!

Verse 18 tells us that they came to hear Him and to be healed of their sicknesses. Then special mention is made of those who were troubled by unclean spirits. Note the tense of the verb:  "They were being healed."  Jesus must have taken time with each case.

In verse 19 note carefully the tenses of the verbs:  "All the people were seeking to touch Him because power was coming forth from Him and He was healing all."  Clearly Jesus turned no sick or possessed person away. There must have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of sick and possessed people there on that occasion. What a sight that must have been! And what joy Jesus must have caused! But the greatest joy still lay ahead of them, the words of our text.

Luke 6:20 Looking at his disciples, he said:  "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. 21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. 22 Blessed are you when men hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. 23 "Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their fathers treated the prophets.


DISCIPLES - This word includes both the twelve and the larger group of disciples. The word means  "learner," both in Greek and in Latin. In verse 27 they are called  "the hearers."  In a word, Jesus is addressing the regenerate. Only they could effectively hear and understand what is meant.

Note carefully that the four blessings correspond to the four woes.

Some say that this sermon in Luke is an abbreviation of the sermon in Matthew. How do we know for sure? That would mean that this is virtually Luke's summary of Jesus' sermon. Of course, Luke was moved by the Holy Spirit to write what he wrote. In that sense this idea of an abbreviated sermon is not offensive. But, in any case, we would not like to attribute the beautiful symmetry of this Lukan sermon to anyone but Jesus Himself.

BLESSED - The word has quite a history. In Classical Greek it denoted the happiness of the gods and wealthy people who lived undisturbed by the world's woes. But Christianity put new meaning into this word.  "Blessed"  is the best translation for this word and is a reference is to the religious joy of the person who has a share in salvation. The word appears 50 times in the New Testament. Only in Acts 26:2 and 1 Corinthians 7:40 does it denote mere earthly, human happiness. In all other cases it denotes the spiritual blessedness of the child of God.

Cremer: In the New Testament 'blessed' is a religiously determined concept, expressing the joyfulness of life and the contentedness of him who has experienced the grace of God and salvation, or who shall experience it, and that irrespective of any outward condition wherein he may find himself.
Lenski: 'Blessed' at once recalls Psalm 1:1. 'Blessed' intoned again and again, sounds like the bells of heaven, ringing down into this unblessed world from the cathedral spire of the kingdom inviting all men to enter in.
The word is an adjective placed first in each verse for emphasis. Who are blessed?

THE BEGGARS - The destitute. The down-and-out among men. Jesus speaks of much more than mere physical poverty. There are millions of beggars in the world who curse God and man, who incite rebellion to take the money from the rich to give it to the poor.

Isaiah 61:1 prophesied that Jesus would preach good news to the poor. That was fulfilled in Luke 4:18.

Mere earthly poverty and destitution are no blessing. It can lead to all kinds of evils. Jesus is speaking about the poverty of the repentant sinner who is anything but rebellious. He is speaking about the beggar who says:  "God be merciful to me, the sinner."  He is speaking to the man who says:  "Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling."

Thus far Jesus has stated a fact. Now comes the promise:  "Because yours is the kingdom of God."  Note the word:  "Yours"  and yours only.  "Is" not  "shall be."  Modern critics want us to think that the Kingdom of God (heaven) is always eschatological, in the future. It often is but not always. Jesus and the Baptist made that plain:  "Repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand."  It is here in the Gospel. Like Luther said:  "The Kingdom ours remaineth."

The Kingdom does not automatically belong to those suffering from poverty, but it is also true that the poor, James 2:5, often see their need more quickly than do the wealthy. God has a peculiar love for the needy. Furthermore, by and large the children of God are not wealthy people because they are constantly giving much of their money to Kingdom work

Now we come to the second blessing. On the analogy of the fourth blessing all of our version take the first line of the first three as second person plural vocative. That is surely correct because in all cases the promise is put in the second person plural.

For the second blessing Matthew has the fuller form:  "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness."  For this Luke has:  "Blessed are you who hunger now."

There is no blessedness in merely having an empty stomach. Starvation is a judgment of God, not a blessing. The text says  "you who are hungry" not "you who are forced to be hungry."  The latter would denote mere physical starvation. These are the people who have the gnawing desire to be and live as God would have then live. They are the opposite of the self-satisfied, the opposite of the self-righteous. Like Paul who said  "not having my own righteousness" in Philippians 3:9. Like David who said  "I am poor and needy" in Psalm 40:17 and 70:5. Or the people of whom Mary spoke in Luke 1:53.

The qualifying adjective for the first three blessing (poor, hungry, weeping) are figurative. The second and third are explanatory of the first, qualities of those who are constantly repenting of their sins. Look at the first of Luther's 95 Theses.

The hungering are promised:  "You will be filled."  This is not merely eschatological, in the future, and it is not millennial, in a supposed 1000 year reign of Christ on this earth, but now. It is future only from the standpoint of the first line  "blessed are you who hunger now."

Repentance precedes absolution. Before God can fill you, you must realize your emptiness. The man who sighs:  "My life is so empty" could easily be a fit subject for the Gospel.

Lenski: To be hungering and to be sobbing are only expositions of being beggarly.

This covers all weeping in the life of the Christian whether caused by contrition, by his own sins, by deprivation of earthly goods, etc. God promises:  "Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy,"  in Psalm 126:5.

Kretzmann: Such as feel deeply the distress of sins and their consequences and live in constant sorrow because of them.

The promise reads:  "Because you will laugh." David says:  "Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning," in Psalm 30:5. And if it by chance does not come in this life, surely in heaven it will:  "The voice of weeping shall no longer be heard in her (Jerusalem), nor the voice of crying."  Isaiah 65:19.

Yes, even the Old Testament already promised joy after sorrow, Isaiah 60:20. It was prophesied that Jesus would  "console those who mourn in Zion," in Isaiah 61:3. To the remnant in Israel God promised that He would  "turn their mourning to joy."

Shortly before Calvary Jesus promised:  "You will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; and you will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will be turned into joy."  John 16:20. The laughter mentioned in our text is like the laughter of a child, exuberant and innocent.

Now we move on to verse 22. In verses 20-21 Jesus used figurative language to describe the Christian. Now He becomes literal. In Greek verse 22 is a general statement on the analogy of a present general condition. It is true in each case:  "You are always blessed whenever men hate you," etc.

Hatred is a product of the flesh of the unregenerate. But it might also be a product of the flesh of Christians. Do Christians ever hate each other? An embarrassing question indeed! They do.

Jesus came to His own but His own received Him not. Early in His ministry they began to persecute Him. John 5:16. They excommunicated the healed man who was born blind. John 9:34. They excommunicated and stoned Stephen. Acts 7:58-59. In the book of Acts they followed Peter and Paul like bloodhounds.

Here the separation is similar to being separated socially. To be shunned socially is very painful.

To be despised is what the malefactors did to Jesus on the cross, Matthew 27:44, Mark 15:32. Compare the similarity between 1 Peter 4:14 and our text.

And finally, to throw one's name out as an evil thing is the height of hatred. And why is it done? For the sake of the Son of man. That, of course, means that the individual sticks to the person, Word, and work of Jesus. What a paradox! You are blessed when such things happen to you.

Now we move on to verse 23. To rejoice and to leap for joy denotes exultation indeed. Why? It is the joy of expectation.

Does the text denote a special degree of glory? Commentators debate this point. Perhaps it is best not to invoke the principle of  "degrees of glory" at this point because some exegetes are not even convinced that there is such a thing. Furthermore, Jesus is hardly promising something that is earned by the Christian.

Let us add a word here about reward and merit. We teach that rewards have been offered and promised to the works of the faithful. We teach that good works are meritorious - not for the forgiveness of sins, grace, or justification (for we obtain these only by faith) but for other physical and spiritual rewards in this life and in that which is to come, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:8: 'Each shall receive his wages according to his labor.' Therefore there will be different rewards for different labors. Apology, Tappert 133,193

At the same time we must remember what Jesus tells us in Luke 17:10:  "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'"

The first  "for" in the verse gave the reason why they should rejoice and leap for joy. The hope of everlasting life is held before them. The second  "for", also explanatory, simply gives the precedent for such suffering.

The covenant people, their fathers, treated the prophets in the very same way. Look at Stephen's words in Acts 7:52 and the Old Testament passages listed there.

Before we move on to verse 24 we mention that both the blessings and the woes are exclamatory. the blessings read  "Oh the blessedness of those who . . "  and the woes read  "Alas the woe which come to . . ."

Luke 6:24 "But woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort. 25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you will mourn and weep. 26 Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for that is how their fathers treated the false prophets.


The text notes an abrupt change. All our versions render it with  "but."

Note again that the woes correspond exactly to the blessings.

WOE - Woe, alas, how terrible.

Each woe is addressed to those who are walking the wide way to destruction. However, there is a difference. The first three woes are directed especially to the unregenerate (but are a warning to Christians as well). The last one, verse 26, includes the regenerate.

Lenski: We see God's adverse judgment on those who imagine that they have all they need and can do without the kingdom of God, its pardon, sonship, and promise of heaven. They hold their heads high, talk boldly and proudly, and are well satisfied with themselves.

They are the ones who put their trust in money, see Mark 10:23 and 1 Timothy 6:9. Like the rich man in the parable they receive their good things in this life, Luke 16:25. They are paid in full without any expectation of more.  "Because you are paid in full with that which consoles you."  Their solace will end with death. The Gospel is called the  "consolation of Israel"  in Luke 2:25. The unregenerate have their consolation and comfort in this life.

The second woe is simply a commentary on the first woe. The verb in this verse denotes lasting results, that is, so long as this life lasts. They are so full that they need no forgiveness, no Gospel. They are the self-righteous or those who god is their belly, who mind earthly things.

"You will hunger."  Like the virgins in the parable, who had no oil, they will be shut out of heaven. That will be their hunger.

The third woe is again a commentary on and an expansion of the first woe and is the very opposite of the third blessing. We are reminded of the third stanza of LW #462:  "Then fright shall banish idle mirth, And hungry flames shall ravage earth."

This brings us to the final woe. This last woe is directed especially to the apostles and to all Christians. For examples of false prophets see Isaiah 56:9-12, all of Ezekiel 13, and II Timothy 4:3.

Note that the second part of verses 23 and 26 correspond exactly except for one word. Verse 23 describes what evil men did to the true prophets. Verse 26 describes what evil men did to the false prophets. They enjoyed their false teaching and therefore spoke well of them.


Adapted from Exegetical Notes, Series C Luke-John, Festival Season Sundays Gospel Texts, by Harold H. Buls, Concordia Theological Seminary Press: Ft Wayne IN, 1979, pp. 30-33. Used with permission.

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