The Parable of the Good Samaritan is one of the unique parables narrated by the Lord Jesus Christ as it is found only in the Gospel of Luke in chapter 10:30-37, and it conveys the principle of high morality in the salvation that has been provided to the fallen humankind. The reason for Jesus to expound this parable was to answer a test question posed to him by a lawyer, which was: “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” (Luke 10:25). Jesus, knowing that this was a learned lawyer who posed this question, replies in turn with two questions for the lawyer to answer: “What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?” (Luke 10:26). The lawyer answers correctly by reciting two scripture portions in the Old Testament: ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind’ (Deut. 6:4-5) and ‘your neighbor as yourself’ (Lev. 19:18b). Perhaps this lawyer has heard Jesus speaking about this subject in other occasions in his public ministry, when he had answered one lawyer’s question: “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law? (Matt. 22:35-40) or, another scribe’s question: “Which is the first commandment of all?” (Mark 12:28-34). This lawyer may have carefully noted the statement of Jesus in Matt. 22:40 that “on these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets”. Jesus commends the lawyer for his correct answer with this reply: “You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.” (Luke 10:28). The lawyer, who may have been one of the self-justified Pharisees (Luke 16:14-15; 18:9-10), wanting to have the last word persists in asking Jesus a second question: “And who is my neighbor?” (Luke 10:29). In order to answer this second question, Jesus narrates this profound parable, which is commonly called as ‘The Parable of the Good Samaritan’. As we study this parable in detail, we can discover precious truth concerning the universal salvation that is still relevant to us in this post-modern age.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan
As we look into this parable in verse 30, we are told of a certain man who went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and fell among thieves. It is interesting to note that we do not know the name, race, tribe, color, profession, sexual orientation, family background or denominational persuasion of this individual who made this perilous journey. So, this unnamed individual can represent the entire humankind, through the first man Adam, who sinned and fell away from the ‘glory of God’ (Rom 3:23). Romans 5:12 says that “therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…”. This certain man made a ‘conscious and deliberate’ decision one day to travel down from Jerusalem to Jericho and this relates to the ‘conscious and deliberate’ decision that Adam made when he took the forbidden fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from his wife Eve and ate it (Genesis 3:6b) in disobedience to the commandment of God in Gen 2:16-17.
Jesus however was very specific in giving the names of two cities - Jerusalem and Jericho – between which this man travelled. He said that a certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho. If we examine the physical location, the geographical setting as well as the spiritual aspects of these two cities, we can see that Jesus was totally accurate in his narrative that this man literally went down from Jerusalem to Jericho.
From the geographical aspect, Jerusalem is a hilly city so the altitude varies but it is approximately 750 Meters (2,500 feet) above sea level. Jericho lies 260 meters (853 feet) below sea level, making it the lowest town on earth. So, when this man was traveling from Jerusalem to Jericho, he was literally going down a downward decline of 1,010 meters (3,353 feet). In a way, the man had consciously decided to go down from a blessed city (Jerusalem) to a cursed city (Jericho). When we examine the scriptures, we see that Jerusalem was originally called Salem (Gen. 14:18), a Jebusite city (Josh. 15:8; Judg. 1:8, 21) that was captured by David and made capital of Israel (2 Sam. 5:6-9). It was referred to as Zion, the city of David (2 Chr. 5:2), and used figuratively as God’s Kingdom (Ps. 125:1; Heb. 12:22; Rev. 14:1). It was in this city that King Solomon built the temple of God, and this city symbolizes the dwelling of the presence of God in the Old Testament times. This was the city that Christ entered as King (Matt. 21:4-11), the place where the resurrected Christ commanded his disciples to tarry (Acts 1:4), and thus became the birth place of the Christian Church in Acts 2. Jerusalem means foundation of peace (Heb. 7:2). In the eschatological sense, this city is referred to as the Holy City, or the heavenly capital of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:2).
On the other hand, Jericho is located 36 km east of Jerusalem, on the road to Amman and at the junction of the highway to Galilee. This city was totally burned with fire by Joshua and the Israelites (Josh. 6:24), and thereafter the curse was pronounced by Joshua in Joshua 6:26 on anyone who would dare to rebuild the city will be cursed, and this will result in the deaths of the eldest and youngest son of the builder. This curse was literally fulfilled in 1 Kings 16:34 as Joshua had prophesied. It is thus evident that this city is doomed for destruction, and is under the perpetual curse of God.
Thus, this man’s decision to travel from Jerusalem to Jericho indicates a fall from the ‘city of the foundation of peace’ to the ‘city of curse’. The parable says that during the course of the travel, this man fell among thieves (Luke 10:30). Taking the analogy further, we can relate the thieves to Satan who is described by Jesus as “the thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy” (John 10:10). Just as the thieves strip this man of his clothing, wound him and leave him on that road to Jericho half-dead, Satan has destroyed humankind through Adam stripping us of his garment of glory and honor (Psalms 8:5), and leaving him (and humankind through him) in that critical helpless condition without any help. Ephesians 2:1, 5 says that humankind (through Adam) became “dead in trespasses and sins”. Our own efforts to clothe ourselves became futile, as Adam and Eve tried to do in the Garden of Eden by sewing for themselves coverings of fig leaves (Gen. 2:7b). The passage in Ezekiel 16:3-6 also describes the condition of humankind as we were thrown in an open field as we were struggling in our own blood. This was the helpless condition of this helpless, wounded, naked man lying by the roadside half-dead. Surely, if real help does not arrive soon, this man would lie due to the lack of medical attention!
It was at this time that a certain priest passes by…going down on that same road (Luke 10:31). We cannot determine as to why this priest should leave his place of ministry in Jerusalem (Was he like Jonah (1:2, 3), the Old Testament prophet who ran away from Nineveh to Tarshish?) to walk down on this 36 km downward pathway. This priest had an opportunity to help this wounded and dying man by the road side, and thus fulfill his priestly obligation of helping the poor and needy. However, the narrative says that the priest, when he saw the wounded man, passed by on the other side. There is no compassion of the priest towards this dying man. On a spiritual analogy, the priest represents the Ecclesiastical LAW (Torah) and the commandments. These Old Testament laws and commandments failed to be an answer to the plight of the Old Testament Israel representing the fallen humankind. In Isaiah 1:4, God moans about this horrific condition using the following words: “Alas, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, a brood of evildoers, children who are corrupters! They have forsaken the LORD, they have provoked to anger The Holy One of Israel, they have turned away backward.”
As the parable continues, a Levite also reaches the same spot in the Jerusalem-Jericho roadside a little later. As the priest did earlier, this Levite came and looked, and passed by on the other side (Luke 10:32). The Levites are people belonging to the tribe of Levi, who assisted the priests in the temple in enforcing the law through WORKS like ceremonies, washings and feasts. On a spiritual analogy, the Levite represents the works that are done by humankind to please God. However, God describes His revulsion of these works in Isaiah 1:11-14: “…bring no more futile sacrifices; incense is an abomination to Me. The New Moons, the Sabbaths, and the calling of assemblies— I cannot endure iniquity and the sacred meeting…” Just like Torah and keeping of the commandments could not help humankind, the works of humankind could not help either.
It was soon after that a certain Samaritan came to where the wounded man was lying. The Samaritans originate from Samaria, and were a mixed breed of descendents born out of Jews and the people from Samaria. They were a despised set of people with whom the Jews had no dealings with (John 4:9b). On a spiritual analogy, the Samaritan represents our Lord Jesus Christ, who came down to His own, but His own did not know or receive Him (John 1:10-11). He was despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3a) as the Samaritans were rejected by the Jews. When this Samaritan saw the wounded man, instead of passing by like the Priest and Levite earlier, the narrative says that he had compassion on the wounded man. This is similar to the compassion felt by God in Ezekiel 16:6-7, and did what the Psalmist (King David) describes in Psalms 40:2. The narrative states explicitly that the Samaritan went to the wounded man (Luke 10:34a), just like Jesus Christ left his heavenly abode and came down to earth in order to rescue humankind from the clutches of sin and death (Phil 2:6-8). This Good Samaritan, an outcast from the Jewish society, and considered unclean, came near by the side of the wounded man to help.
The passage further says that the Samaritan bandaged the wounds of the wounded man by pouring in oil and wine. While the oil was meant to soothe and ease the pain (acting like a pain killer), the wine was meant to purify and cleans the wound (acting like an antiseptic). On a spiritual analogy, both oil and wine can be linked to our Lord Jesus Christ. The oil that the Samaritan carried can be inferred as olive oil (prevalent during those times in the land of Israel) that was extracted by crushing the olive fruit. In the similar vein, Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities (Isaiah 53:5), and it pleased the Lord to bruise Him (Isaiah 53:10a). The wine used on the wounds signifies the blood of Jesus Christ that was shed on the cross of Calvary to cleanse us from all our sins (1 John 1: 9). Gal. 3:13 says that Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”).
While analyzing verses 34-35 of Luke 10, all the aspects of the Good Samaritan’s care for the dying man highlight the merciful, tender and bountiful care of Jesus Christ towards the sinful humankind through the following actions of His saving grace: (1) He bound up His wounds – to heal him of all the past hurts inflicted by Satan; (2) He poured oil and wine on his wounds – giving him the anointing (Psalms 92:10) and divine life (Matt. 9:17); (3) He placed the wounded man on his own donkey that signifies his lowly life (Zech. 9:9); (4) He brought this wounded man to an inn, which signifies the church as well as the God’s protective hands (John 10:28-30; Psalms 27:1-2); (5) The inn is under the care of the inn-keeper, which may refer to the Holy Spirit (John 16:7, 13); (6) The Samaritan hands out two denarii to the inn-keeper, which may signify the first fruit of resurrection; and lastly, (7) the Samaritan promised that he would repay at his return whatever more was spent, declaring that whatever the church spends in this age (on one who is saved by the Lord) will be repaid at the His coming back. Our Lord Jesus has promised that He will come back again soon (John 14:1-3; Rev. 22:20a), and this has been even confirmed by the angels in Acts 1:11. So, in these brief two verses (Luke 10:34, 35) the entire process of salvation, the earthly life saved believer, and the second coming of the Lord are portrayed as part of the spiritual analogy.
The parable concludes with a question from Jesus back to the lawyer about who the neighbor was for the wounded man who fell among the thieves. The lawyer correctly infers that it was the Good Samaritan who showed mercy to the wounded man, and Jesus finishes his lesson with the words: “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37b). The lesson learned here is that we should love our neighbor as ourselves, and show mercy and compassion to others in times of their need even if they are unable to pay back in return (Prov. 3:27; Matt. 5:44; James 1:27a)
Through the parable, Jesus attempted to unveil the following truths: (1) The entire human race has been condemned to death under the law, and unable to take care of the fallen nature; (2) It is only the Lord Jesus who can provide complete salvation for humankind (John 14:6; Acts 4:12). As believers left on this earth and waiting for the return of our Lord Jesus Christ (who may come back any time), there are five things for us to do in our daily lives:
1. Focus on the kingdom of God through prayer, reading His word and worship,
2. Face life’s problems with other believers through fellowship,
3. Fortify our Christian faith and growth through discipleship,
4. Find and use our talents for the glory of God through service and ministry, and
5. Fulfill our life’s mission through compassionate evangelism and witnessing (Matt. 9:36-38).
Above all, we need to watch – watch and pray that we do not fall into temptation (Matt. 26:41a), watch and stand fast in the faith (1 Cor. 16:13), and finally, watch out for the soon return of our Lord Jesus Christ (Matt. 24:42) who is coming very soon back to earth.