Luke 17-18 points to the opposition Jesus faced from the Pharisees. Jesus used their erroneous, selfish point of view as a foil for instructing His followers about the characteristics of authentic discipleship. Whether Jesus was arguing with the leaders of Israel or performing messianic signs of the kingdom, Jesus demonstrated His supremacy in the revelatory acts of God. Jesus fulfilled a unique, elevated position in the storyline of Scripture.
(1) In Luke 17:11-19, Jesus healed ten lepers by declaring them clean. Because skin diseases can be highly contagious, in Leviticus 13-14 Moses established laws for how priests would identify and treat conditions that could spread by contact. In Num 5:1-4, Moses reiterated the demand that those with skin diseases should be quarantined so that the contamination would not spread throughout the camp. Once the priest could no longer identify signs of infection in the diseased person, the priest would offer sacrifices on behalf of the one who was ill. Those suffering from skin diseases had to endure social and religious separation during the process of cleansing. Shocking it was then when a group of ten lepers approached Jesus begging for mercy, and Jesus declared them clean and told them to go to the priest in Jerusalem so that they could offer a sacrifice and be restored to the community. One of the ten lepers, a Samaritan, did not make it to the priest, though. Luke reported that this man returned, gave glory to God, and fell at Jesus’ feet, thanking Him (Luke 17:16).
(2) In Luke 17:26-37, Jesus argued that the Pharisees should consider the dullness of those destroyed in the days of Noah and Lot, and be prepared for the day of the Son of Man. God told both Noah (Gen 6:9-22; 2 Pet 2:5) and Lot (Gen 19:14) to announce to their audiences the imminent judgment that the Lord was bringing upon them. But Noah’s contemporaries and Lot’s sons-in-law did not give the warning a second thought. Jesus saw the same attitude in the Pharisees. They thought themselves exempt from even the possibility of condemnation, galaxies removed from the wicked of ancient times. But Jesus knew the Pharisees were as culpable as those who ignored Noah while he built the ark (Matt 24:37-38//Luke 17:26-27) and the residents of Sodom as they went about partying while Lot preached repentance. Jesus warned them to look at historical precedent and understand that their present course of pursuing earthly security would prove faulty in the day of His wrath when some would be taken and others left to destruction (Matt 24:39-41//Mark 13:15//Luke 17:30-35).
(3) In Luke 18:20, Jesus cited from the Ten Commandments to confront the rich young ruler who wanted to justify himself by mere obedience to the law. Previously, Luke reported that an expert in the law approached Jesus asking, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). The lawyer’s question prompted Jesus to tell the Parable of the Good Samaritan, arguing that loving one’s neighbor included loving one’s natural enemies. The rich young ruler approached Jesus with the same question, confessing to Jesus that he had kept the commandments (Matt 19:16-22//Mark 10:17-22//Luke 18:18-23). Jesus did not challenge his assertion but said, “You still lack one thing: sell all that you have and distribute it to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me” (Luke 18:22). The young man left “extremely sad,” Luke reported, “because he was very rich” (Luke 18:23). According to Jesus, obedience to the Ten Commandments did not equate to salvation (Exod 20:1-17; Deut 5:6-21). Eternal life is for those who trust Jesus’ word and obey Him.
(4) In Luke 18:31, Jesus stated that the Old Testament predicted His suffering and death at the hands of Gentiles, and the fact that He would rise on the third day. In Psalm 22, the psalmist described his sufferings—sufferings that anticipated what Jesus endured in His trial and crucifixion. In Isaiah 53, the prophet detailed the sufferings of God’s servant. In Ps 16:9-11, the psalmist stated his confidence in God to raise him to eternal life. Jesus told His disciples that the events predicted in texts like these would be accomplished in His forthcoming death and resurrection (Matt 20:17-19//Mark 10:32-34//Luke 18:31-34).