The Parable of the Prodigal Son

Jesus Christ often spoke in parables to teach his disciples and followers about the secrets of God’s kingdom. He also shared important life lessons through stories to capture the interest of the listeners.

All these earthly stories have a heavenly meaning that we can grasp and apply to our own lives and situations. 

One of Jesus' parables that’s quite popular is The Parable of the Prodigal Son also referred to as the Parable of the Lost Son in the Bible. It offers us important life lessons as Christians.

This is a relatable Bible story about redemption, grace, forgiveness, and a father’s love. At one point or another as Christians, we may find ourselves in the shoes of the Prodigal son. We need our Father’s love yet sin often entangles us and leads us astray. 

This parable has deep meaning and important moral lessons for us as believers.  

It’s a wonderful story of God’s unconditional love which is not dependent on our loyalty to Him. Let’s dive deep into this important and famous story!

illustration of prodigal son being hugged by his father

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Story of the Prodigal Son

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is found in the New Testament in the Gospel of Luke. Before this one, Jesus had taught about the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin. 

All three parables are famous parables and they are about recovering the lost, which is the implicit explanation for why Jesus welcomes and eats with sinners: they are lost, and he wants to find them.

The story's main characters are introduced in the beginning, a father and his two sons. This is the full story from Luke 15:11-32 (NIV).

“Jesus continued: “There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the estate.’ So he divided his property between them. “Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living. 

What Do the Characters in the Prodigal Son Represent?

There are three main characters in the Parable of the Prodigal Son: 

  • The father represents God the Father, who desires a relationship with his creation – us! Even when we are far away from God, He looks upon us with compassion.
  • The younger son – also known as the prodigal son – represents people who are far off from God and choose the ways of the world over the ways of God.
  • The older son represents those who are obedient to living according to God’s ways and believe that they are in right-standing with God because of their obedience and good works.

What a story, right? We will take a look at the 3 main characters in this parable. 

The Younger Son

The younger son requests a share of his father's estate, which would have been half of what his older brother would have received. The father agrees and patiently fulfills his son's request rather than criticize him and warn him about his decision.

He travels a long journey to a distant country and squanders his inheritance in the foreign land on selfish, shallow fulfillment, losing everything.

Prodigal means spending money or using resources freely and recklessly in a wasteful and extravagant manner and that’s what the younger son did. 

When he had spent his money and was in a financial crisis there was a natural disaster in the form of famine, which he failed to plan for. At this point, he hires himself out to a Gentile and ends up feeding pigs, a job that the Jewish people despised. 

This was the only job he could do and because he was desperate, he took it. For him, this was a fall from grace and a heartbreaking turn of events. From his father’s house where he had honor and respect, he was now at the bottom of the ladder. 

He longed to eat the pig's food because he was so underpaid and hungry. To make matters worse, in his worst season when he was down and out, he was lonely and didn’t have any friends or family around him.

When the prodigal son begins to reflect on his miserable situation, he comes to his senses. He understands that life is better even for his father's servants. He has a fresh perspective on his father because of his difficult circumstances.

His heart awakens with hope and he remembers that he has a home and a loving father to go back to. 

The son shows that his repentance was sincere when he came up with a plan of action. He confessed his sin, gave up his rights as a son, and accepted the position of a servant. 

He realized that he was not entitled to his father's acceptance and that the only thing he could give his father was his service. Returning home, the prodigal son is prepared to fall at his father’s feet and beg for mercy. 

His father’s welcome takes him by surprise. He receives him gladly and warmly and even plans a huge feast to celebrate his return. 

rear view of a dad walking down a dirt road holding his toddler son's hand

The Father 

In the Prodigal Son Parable, the father was a patient man who wanted his children to learn important life lessons. He gave his son the inheritance he asked for and let him go to another country. 

He missed his son and probably longed and awaited his son's return.

When he saw the younger son coming, he was moved with compassion even though he was still a long way off. He ran over to his lost son and embraced and kissed him. 

When the wayward son starts to deliver his prepared speech, his father interrupts him and gives orders to honor his son, giving him the best robe, the best ring, and the best feast. 

The father gladly extends forgiveness and welcomes his son back into the family, without interrogating or lecturing him. Instead of criticism and judgment, he celebrates his son and shows him grace. 

The Older Son

The older son hears music and dancing as he comes from the field. One of the servants tells him that his younger brother has returned home, and he hears the sound of celebration for his brother's safe return. 

The father’s welcome enraged him and he refused to enter his father’s house. His father approaches him and begs him to come inside.

Instead, he expresses his displeasure in what he viewed as unfair treatment from the father celebrating the younger son. 

The father responds gently saying all that the father possesses is for the older son, and the older son was always by his father’s side but they had to be happy and rejoice. 

The elder son's actions and words reveal many aspects about him. His father's relationship with him was based on merit and hard work. He tells his father that because he has been working so hard and has always been obedient, he deserves a party because he has earned it. 

He thought his younger brother was unworthy of his father’s forgiveness and favor and disliked him for it. He has no understanding of grace and no room for forgiveness. He got upset because his brother was treated with grace. 

According to him, his wayward brother did not deserve a celebration. He even refused to acknowledge or accept the prodigal son as a brother, referring to him as “this son of yours.” 

He says, “You never gave me even a young goat,” implying that his father is unjust and stingy.

rear waist down view of a dad and son walking away

Parable of the Prodigal Son Meaning

When Jesus told this parable, he was growing in popularity and attracting larger groups of people, among them were tax collectors, who were regarded as particularly sinful people.

The Pharisees and other teachers of the law were enraged because Jesus was associating with and welcoming people who were normally despised and ignored.

What they didn’t realize was that it does not matter how well someone obeys the law if they don’t have love for God and people in their hearts.

“But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” Luke 15:2 NIV

The father in the parable represents God who is our Heavenly Father. He is forgiving, gracious, and merciful. His compassionate disposition toward the lost is represented by the younger son.  

Our God also respects our choices as his children. He doesn’t stop us from making our own decisions but is there to offer us guidance along the way.

The elder brother represents the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law.  While the oldest son was lost in self-righteousness, the youngest son was lost in sin.

The Pharisees thought their obedience of the law would earn them God's righteousness but there was no genuine love for the Lord. 

The father welcomed his son’s return with great joy and gave him gifts that represented the youngest son's return to his rightful position within the family.

Despite what the son had done, the father bestowed him the honor of a son, not a servant. 

rear view of a father and young son walking on the beach

Parable of the Prodigal Son Moral Lesson

What is the main message of the Prodigal Son?

The moral lesson of this parable is about God's love for us as His children. Even in our sinful state, he loves us.

Because of that love, our Heavenly Father is always happy to see us return to him, regardless of how far we stray from him or how much we waste the gifts he gives us. 

As the father celebrated his son's return, a father’s love is waiting for us when we get home, welcoming us with open arms. The prodigal son story is about a relationship between father and child and the depth of a father’s love. 

When we take a closer look, we realize that both sons were each lost in their own way with the older son being self-righteous and the wayward son lost in sin. 

Like the youngest son, we have all at one point or another let our arrogance and sinful nature get the best of us. We have missed opportunities and participated in self-destructive actions, leaving us a broken mess. 

Some of the most profound yearnings we have in our hearts are for acceptance and redemption and all of these desires are realized by the Father. 

Our foolish desire to be independent, like the prodigal son, is the reason why we continue to commit the same sins. A sinful state represents a separation from God. 

Constant dissatisfaction is another sign of a sinful state.  In God, we have everything we need yet we often take this for granted and complain or compare ourselves with others. 

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ. Ephesians 1:3 NLT

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The lure of the world attracts us and we think we will be satisfied apart from God only to end up empty and broken inside. 

In the parable, the younger son discovers the hard way that lust results in a life of dissatisfaction and disappointment. He also discovered that the most valuable things in life are those that we cannot buy or replace.

In the end, he repents of his sin and receives his father’s forgiveness.

The oldest son is a relatable character as well. We have all experienced a sense of being underappreciated for our efforts and work. His reaction highlights the dangers of jealousy and self-righteousness. 

He becomes resentful and refuses to celebrate his brother's return, feeling that it is unfair. This serves as a warning against harboring bitterness, comparing ourselves to others, and failing to show compassion and forgiveness. 

The older son obeyed his father and stayed home but he thought he was better than his brother. Our obedience should be driven by our love for the Lord.

Part of the Parable of the Lost Son just like the Parable of the Lost Sheep and the Parable of the Lost Coin, shows the joy that is experienced in heaven when a lost soul is found. 

It reminds us that our repentance and return to the Kingdom of God bring delight and celebration in the heavenly realms. 

We are also encouraged to prioritize our spiritual journey and experience the joy of being reconciled with God.

No matter which son you can relate to, God shows us patience, kindness, grace, love, and mercy because we are his children.

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Our desire should be to have a loving relationship in obedience to our Heavenly Father and with an awareness that we are his heirs. 

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is one of the most beautiful representations of God's grace found in the Bible. Everybody has sinned and fallen short of God's glory. 

We are all prodigals in the sense that we have all turned away from God, wastefully used our resources, and, to some extent, indulged in sin.

However, our God is a loving father and also a compassionate father who is ready to forgive us through faith and His grace. 

Parable of the Prodigal Son mockup
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He will save the repentant, not because of their deeds but because of his goodness.

The prodigal son's parable's main lesson revolves around God's unconditional love, forgiveness, repentance, humility, restoration, reconciliation, and the importance of embracing a compassionate and forgiving attitude toward others.

Learn about more of the Parables of Jesus!

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