Christianity 201

March 11, 2014

Sermon on the Plain: The Woes

Sermon on the Plain NIV Luke 6

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 everyone speaks well of you,
for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.

While reading the parallel passage to The Sermon on the Mount over the weekend, I noticed that the four woes correspond directly to the four blessings and decided to investigate them more closely.

Matthew Henry characterizes the verses immediately preceding this passage as “Blessings pronounced upon suffering saints, as happy people, though the world pities them;” whereas he describes the woes as “Woes denounced against prospering sinners as miserable people, though the world envies them.”  He then continues,

These we had not in Matthew. It should seem, the best exposition of these woes, compared with the foregoing blessings, is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.* Lazarus had the blessedness of those that are poor, and hunger, and weep, now, for in Abraham’s bosom all the promises made to them who did so were made good to him; but the rich man had the woes that follow here, as he had the character of those on whom these woes are entailed

*[Luke 16: 19-31]

The website states

These woes speak of the opposite way of life, and its consequences. The people described here are those who seek all their happiness in this life and in this world. They have chosen all this and disregarded Christ, and never think of death and what follows. These people live for this world, and never consider what will happen to them when they die. Usually, if they are challenged to consider life after death, they seem to have a sense that this life is not all that there is, and that there is an existence beyond this life, and with this in mind they have a complacent belief that the existence to come after death will be one of blessing. If they think of God they think of one who is always loving and will accept everyone, and they imagine life beyond the grave as being much similar to this life, but somewhat better. They consider the character of God to be love, and never have any thought of his holiness, and any idea of condemnation and eternal rejection by God is totally denied.

The Greek word translated as ‘woe’ has a twofold meaning. On the one hand it has the idea of grief, and so could be translated as ‘alas’. On the other hand it has the meaning of denunciation, which has the idea of total loss and suffering. Both these meanings are present here. Jesus is expressing grief over these people, because he sees their eternal doom, and their total indifference to it, and unbelief in it. Jesus does not want them to suffer eternally, and has grief such as is expressed when he wept over Jerusalem because they rejected him and the salvation he provides. But there is also the pronouncement of an inevitable end in judgement which means that when Jesus comes again at the end of the world, they will be condemned to everlasting punishment in hell. It is such a pity and a sadness that the church today has lost the sense of grief over those who are lost and on the broad way which leads to destruction, because they have the spirit of the world, and do not truly from the heart come to Jesus for the gift of his heavenly and eternal rest.

The point Jesus is making in these woes is not that riches of themselves are wrong or bring eternal death, or that having enough to eat and enjoying some of the luxuries of life and being happy is wrong, but Jesus is expressing a condition of heart which looks to the pleasures and praises on this world as the goal in living, and lives for this world, and puts all the exertion of living into gaining this goal.

Read the entire article by clicking here.

I found it interesting how the passage not only contrasts those with and those without, but how commentators agreed that the audience hearing Jesus speak these words would clearly see themselves as being in one or other faith groups. The Pulpit Commentary affirms this: “These “rich” referred to here signify men of good social position. These, as a class, opposed Jesus with a bitter and unreasoning opposition.” Frank Retief writes,

The Bible often divides people up into two groups – those who believe in and trust God and those who do not. This is what Jesus does here once again. On the one hand there are the poor, hungry and oppressed, and on the other those who are rich, full, and laugh. These are meant to be understood in spiritual terms. The rich, full and satisfied are those who are IN THEIR OWN EYES rich and full toward God, while the poor and the hungry see themselves as unworthy and look to God for His mercy.

Perhaps, in God’s economy, we are seeing another example of the last being first and how riches can be a barrier to entry when it comes to The Kingdom. This is affirmed in Matthew 19:24:

“Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

And this is why, in the Matthew passage certainly, the blessed are blessed; they are the ones who more vividly see their utter dependence on God.

  • For an excellent comparison of the Luke passage to the more familiar Matthew passage, visit