#29. Lamps Belong on Lampstands (Luke 8:16-21)

by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Other online lessons from Luke | Lessons in book format

Text

Luke 8:16-21

[16] "No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light. [17] For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open. [18] Therefore consider carefully how you listen. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him.

[19] Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. [20] Someone told him, "Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you."

[21] He replied, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice."


Exposition

Here's a short saying about lighting a lamp that you can meditate on it all week long!

Herodian Lamp, that would have been common in the time of Jesus
Herodian Lamp, that would have been common in the time of Jesus. Click for larger 34K image.

Lamps and Lampstands in Jesus' Day

In Jesus' day, lamps were made from clay. They were simple, with a reservoir for the olive oil and a "nozzle" on which the flax wick would rest. Household lamps were small enough to be carried in the palm of the hand. The lamp which Jesus was probably most familiar with was the "Herodian" lamp, made on a potter's wheel of thin, light-brown clay, distinguished from later lamp models by its downward-sloping wick nozzle.[1] Picture -- http://jesuswalk.com/images/herodian-lamp-lg.jpg

The point of the parable is simple. When it was dark enough to light a lamp, you'd set it high enough to illuminate everything around --- on a shelf in the stone wall of your home or on a wooden lampstand in the center of the room, allowing 360 degree illumination.[2]

Several Contexts

Jesus probably told this parable scores of times during his ministry. It's found in several places:

Context

Reference

Following the Parable of the Soils

Luke 8:16-18 and Mark 4:21-25

After the "You are the salt of the earth" saying

Matthew 5:15

Following the "Something greater than Jonah is here" saying, and before "the eye is the lamp of your body" saying.

Luke 11:33

Following sayings about a city set on a mountain, and hearing and proclaiming.

Gospel of Thomas 32-33 (apocryphal)[3]

There's a children's song I learned in Sunday school,

This little light of mine, I'm going to let it shine ...
Put it under a bushel? No! I'm going to let it shine."
(MIDI tune) http://jesuswalk.com/images/littlelight.mid

But Jesus may well have had something else in mind in our passage in Luke 8:16. Let's look at it here with fresh eyes to see what he meant by it here.

Lights Aren't Lit to Be Hidden (8:16)

"No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light." (8:16)

Jesus' statement is almost funny -- and he probably smiled when he said it. If you're going to light a lamp, you do it for illumination, not to hide or conceal it. If that were your purpose, you wouldn't light it at all.

What could the lamp could represent? Let's list the possibilities:

  • The disciples who make up the "good soil" that immediately precedes this verse in both Mark and Luke.
  • The "fruit" that results from their "good soil."
  • Jesus, who is the Light of the World.[4]
  • The Word, the truth concerning the Kingdom of God.[5]

Each of these ideas have been argued by able scholars, but they can't all be right! Here's how I approach interpreting this passage.

First, I look at the immediate context. It is followed by a verse about nothing being hidden (8:17), and a familiar saying "Therefore consider carefully how you listen (Greek akouo)" (8:18), very similar to 8:8 in the Parable of the Soils: "He who has ears to hear (akouo), let him hear (akouo)" (8:8). In fact, the word "to hear" appears many times in the Parable of the Soils.

  • "He who has ears to hear, let him hear." (8:8)
  • "... though hearing, they may not understand." (8:10)
  • "Those along the path are the ones who hear..." (8:12)
  • "Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it..." (8:13)
  • "The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear..." (8:14)
  • "But the seed on good soil stands for those ... who hear the word..." (8:15)

The clear theme of the Parable of the Soils is hearing the Word of God, and it appears that this theme stretches from 8:1 where Jesus is traveling from village to city "proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God" to 8:21 where Jesus says that his true family are those who hear God's Word and do it (8:21).

The Light is the Word of God

If hearing the Word of God is the theme of 8:1-21, then I am convinced that the light of the lamp in 8:16 is the Word of God, the message of the Kingdom that Jesus has been proclaiming all over Galilee. Some will hear it and not understand, in others the Word will see a little growth, in others the growth of the Word will be choked, but in still others the Word will produce a crop of obedience, a changed life, and a fruitful ministry.

"No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light." (8:16)

This message of the Kingdom of God must not be hidden or just whispered in secret. Rather, it must be proclaimed openly and clearly "so that those who come in can see the light," so that it will provide illumination and power. Jesus is instructing his disciples here -- Don't stifle the message of the Kingdom but proclaim it openly!

Why would we as Jesus' disciples be tempted to do otherwise?

  • Fear of persecution hinted at in 8:13.
  • Fear of being ostracized from "respectable society," expelled from the central community institution, the synagogue.
  • Fear that we won't be accepted.
  • Fear of ridicule.
  • Fear that this will affect our business.
  • Fear that we will lose our job.
  • Fear.

You don't light a lamp and then hide it's light, Jesus is saying. That is foolish. Rather you place it where it can be seen and provide light to everyone in the house.

My dear friend, have you been tempted to hide the light of the message of Jesus' Kingdom? Jesus is speaking to you and me. What will we do about it?

Nothing Will Be Hidden (8:17)

"For (gar) there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open." (8:17)

This verse begins with the Greek conjunction gar, which is used to express cause, inference, continuation, or to explain.[6] In our verse, the sense is: Don't hide the message now, because everything is now to be revealed.

In the Parable of the Soils, "the secrets (Greek mysterion) of the kingdom" have been given to the disciples (8:10). But the mystery, unrevealed Plan of God, previously unknown, is now revealed. It is now open. We must make it known and declare openly. Some people interpret this eschatologically, that is, when Christ returns everything will be known. Indeed, that is true. But I think it has the present reference is primary. Now is the time to disclose and proclaim the wisdom of God that is now revealed in Jesus Christ. That is the disciples' glory and their vital mission. The word, the lamp, has been lit, and must not be hidden, but set on high so all can see.

Listen Carefully (8:18)

"Therefore consider carefully how you listen (akouo). Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him." (8:18)

Why does Jesus warn us again about hearing? Because the danger of self-deception is great. The seed that fell on the hard-packed soil of the path and bounced off is a reference to the closed-minded attitude of the Pharisees who thought they knew better than anyone else, and "rejected God's purpose for themselves" (7:30). The Wise and Foolish Builders (6:46-49) is about those who heard Jesus' words and put them into practice vs. those who heard the same words but did not apply them. So in 8:18 Jesus warns again, "Consider carefully how you listen" (NIV) or "Take heed, then, how ye hear" (KJV). Jesus' brother James (who is mentioned in the next verse), gives disciples a similar warning in his epistle:

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." (James 1:22-24)

This is critical, since "Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he thinks he has will be taken from him" (8:18b). Those who go under the name "Christian" but haven't really followed Jesus and put into practice his teachings will hear, in the last day, "I never knew you" (Matthew 7:21-23).

Jesus' Mother, Brothers -- and True Family (8:19-21)

"Now Jesus' mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, 'Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.'
"He replied, 'My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice.' " (8:19-21)

This seems harsh to me. But to the ears of Jesus' disciples, raised in a culture where family was preeminent, and held together with the unbreakable bonds of blood -- much more than in individualistic America -- these words were doubly harsh. The disciples must have been utterly shocked![7]

Jesus intended for them to be shocked so they would never forget the lesson he was teaching: "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." Hearing God's word and putting it into practice is the message that must be indelibly tattooed upon our minds.

The message of the Gospel, the Word of God, must never be silenced or hidden, but proclaimed even more widely. That is Jesus' clear directive. The lamp that is lit to be placed on a lampstand to give light to all who enter. The time for secrecy is past -- now everyone must know.

Take heed how you hear this, my dear disciple friend. Take heed and put it into practice, that you might be Jesus' true kinsman.


Prayer

Lord Jesus, you have said this with such power and finality -- hear and do, hear and put into practice, hear and proclaim. Let me never be ashamed of You and your Word as sometimes I have been. Forgive me. Let me proclaim it as fearlessly as you and your disciples did. In Your holy name, I pray. Amen.


Key Verses

"No one lights a lamp and hides it in a jar or puts it under a bed. Instead, he puts it on a stand, so that those who come in can see the light." (Luke 8:16)

"My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." (Luke 8:21)


Questions

JesusWalk: Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
All 120 lessons now compiled as a 808-page e-book and paperback. Get your copy for easy reference
  1. What or whom does the lighted lamp represent in 8:16? A disciple? Jesus? The Message? Tell why you identify it in the way you do.
  2. Why must the lamp be placed on a lampstand rather than hidden? What does this mean in the Twenty-First Century?
  3. In view of 8:18, is there any hope for people who think they are Christians, but be don't really "get it"?
  4. Why would Jesus speak so disrespectfully of his family as he seems to in 8:21?
  5. If you must state a single theme of Luke 8:1-21, what would it be?


References

  1. Gerhard F. Hasel, "Lamp," ISBE 3:68-69. Also see Avraham Negev (ed.), The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (Revised Edition; Thomas Nelson, 1986), pp. 218-220. See also http://members.tripod.com/~Oil_Lamps/j.htm
  2. Robert Houston Smith, "Lampstand," ISBE 3:69-71. No specimens of wooden lampstands have yet been found in archeological excavations, and lampstands of bronze or iron were rare.
  3. The Gospel of Thomas is not part of the Bible, nor should it be considered authoritative like the accepted New Testament canon. However, it probably does contain some sayings that may be authentic sayings of Jesus. "Jesus said: A city that is built on a high mountain and fortified cannot fall, nor can it remain hidden. Jesus said: What thou shalt hear in thine ear, proclaim to the other ear on your roof-tops. For no man lights a lamp and sets it under a bushel, nor does he put it in a hidden place; but he sets it upon the lamp-stand, that all who go in and come out may see its light." Gospel of Thomas, 32-33.http://www.goodnewsinc.org/othbooks/thomas.html
  4. William L. Lane, Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (NICNT series; Eerdmans, 1974), p. 165. Joachim Jeremias, The Parables of Jesus (Second Revised Edition; Scribners, 1972), pp. 120-121, sees this in terms of Jesus' mission, that in spite of the danger, the "lamp" has now been lit, and must not be extinguished until the mission is complete.
  5. C.H. Dodd, The Parables of the Kingdom (Revised Edition, Scribners, 1961), pp. 112-113.
  6. BAGD151-152.
  7. Roman Catholics believe these were step-brothers, due to their belief in the perpetual virginity of Mary. Protestants see these as other sons of Mary. But since this has no bearing on the meaning of the passage, let's not make an issue out of it.

Copyright © 1985-2014, Ralph F. Wilson. <pastor@joyfulheart.com> All rights reserved. A single copy of this article is free. Do not put this on a website. See legal, copyright, and reprint information.

Sign up now!To be notified about future articles, stories, and Bible studies,why don't you subscribe to our free newsletter,The Joyful Heart, by placing your e-mail address in the box below. We respect your privacy and never sell, rent, or loan our lists. Please don't subscribe your friends; let them decide for themselves.
FirstLast
E-mail
Country(2-letter abbreviation, such as US)
Preferred FormatHTML (recommended) Plain text