39. Jesus Sternly Rebukes His Disciples (Luke 9:37-56)

Gospel Parallels §§126, 127, 129, 130, 137
Audio (22:25)

James J. Tissot, 'The Exhortation to the Apostles' (1886-94)
James J. Tissot, 'The Exhortation to the Apostles' (1886-94), gouache on gray wove paper, 6.5 x 8.75 in., Brooklyn Museum, New York.

"My son, do not despise the Lord's discipline
and do not resent his rebuke,
because the Lord disciplines those he loves,
as a father the son he delights in." (Proverbs 3:11-12)

I can think of times I have been severely rebuked -- by my parents first, then by teachers, and later by employers. I don't like rebukes. They hurt. They wound me. They make me feel bad about myself and my actions. And they sometimes have a way of shaking me up enough to change.

I happen to be a positive person. I'm an optimist. I try to look on the bright side of things. I try to change negatives into positives in the way I think about them. I keep looking up.

I react against forms of Christianity that employ haranguing to get people to repent. I prefer the power of love to the motivation of fear. But I am in danger of seeing only the Jesus who fits my preferences, and filtering out the real Son of Man who, on occasion, strongly rebuked his disciples. This passage encompasses several of those rebukes, one after another.

We'll look at an overview of 9:37-56 in this lesson, and then come back to examine the passage in greater detail in subsequent lessons. In this lesson, though, we need to talk about the unpopular subject of being rebuked.

"37  The next day, when they came down from the mountain, a large crowd met him. 38  A man in the crowd called out, 'Teacher, I beg you to look at my son, for he is my only child. 39  A spirit seizes him and he suddenly screams; it throws him into convulsions so that he foams at the mouth. It scarcely ever leaves him and is destroying him. 40  I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not.' 41  'O unbelieving and perverse generation,' Jesus replied, 'how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.' 42  Even while the boy was coming, the demon threw him to the ground in a convulsion. But Jesus rebuked the evil spirit, healed the boy and gave him back to his father. 43  And they were all amazed at the greatness of God. While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples,

44  'Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.' 45  But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it. 46  An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. 47  Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. 48  Then he said to them, 'Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For he who is least among you all -- he is the greatest.'

49  'Master,' said John, 'we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us.' 50  'Do not stop him,' Jesus said, 'for whoever is not against you is for you.' 51  As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. 52  And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him; 53  but the people there did not welcome him, because he was heading for Jerusalem. 54  When the disciples James and John saw this, they asked, 'Lord, do you want us to call fire down from heaven to destroy them?' 55  But Jesus turned and rebuked them, 56  and they went to another village." (Luke 9:37-56, NIV)

Why Does Luke Omit Lessons of Faith?

When I first looked carefully at Luke's account of Jesus healing the boy afflicted with an evil spirit, it seemed pretty short compared to Mark's account (Mark 9:14-29). Mark includes a conversation with the father. He records Jesus' encouraging word, "All things are possible to him who believes," and the father's unforgettable response, "I believe, help my unbelief." Matthew and Mark also include the disciples' question, "Why couldn't we cast it out?" and Jesus' answer about faith and prayer. But none of this is in Luke.

Why the omission? I'm sure Luke knew about this conversation. Why is Luke so abrupt? When you read the passage Luke writes under divine inspiration, what stands out is Jesus' stiff rebuke in 9:41 followed by the healing. Luke has a particular lesson of discipleship to teach us in this passage, but the message stands out starkly only when some of the details are blurred and Jesus' rebukes held in focus.

Luke has lined up for us a whole series of failures of Jesus' disciples, and one rebuke after another. Dear friends, as hard as it may be to receive a rebuke, let's listen to the Holy Spirit's message through Luke's Gospel and learn from it. Here's the progression over the next several verses:

  • Rebuking Unbelief (9:37-41a)
  • Rebuking the Unclean Spirit (9:41b-43)
  • The Disciples' Inability to Understand Jesus' Coming Betrayal (9:44-45)
  • Rebuking Pride in the Disciples (9:46-48)
  • Rebuking Intolerance in the Disciples (9:49-50)
  • Rebuking Racial Bigotry in the Disciples (9:51-56)

Rebuking Unbelief in the Disciples (Luke 9:37-41a)

As Jesus and the three disciples come down from the mountain they meet "a great crowd" and a lot of confusion. The disciples seem to have lost control, and are arguing with the scribes, rather than ministering to the needs of the people (Mark 9:14). A father whose son shows signs of demon-induced seizures speaks to him:

"'I begged your disciples to drive it out, but they could not."
'O unbelieving and perverse generation,' Jesus replied, 'how long shall I stay with you and put up with you? Bring your son here.'" (9:40-41)

Jesus seems angry and frustrated -- emotions we see elsewhere in confrontations with the Pharisees and at the cleansing of the temple. But where is his anger directed in this passage? There are three choices: (1) the crowds (9:37), (2) the disciples (9:40), or (3) the father (9:23-25).

Jesus' words echo those of Moses' song in Deuteronomy 32:5. Moses calls the Israelites "a warped and crooked generation." Jesus' expression in 9:41 uses two Greek words. The first is apistos, "faithless, unbelieving."342 It can refer to lack of faith as well as lack of faithfulness. The second word is diastrephō, "make crooked, pervert."343 We see the word in the Apostle Paul's exhortation:

"Do everything without complaining or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a crooked and depraved (diastrephō) generation, in which you shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life...." (Philippians 2:14-16a)

It's so easy to bend with the times, to begin to approve in our heart what is acceptable in our culture, but contrary to the spirit of God's Word. When we conform in that way, we become perverted, and when we teach or communicate those values, then we pervert others. Christians who want to be true to the Lord must always stand somewhat outside our culture, a part but not a part, living in our culture but not letting its sins pollute and take over our own value system. Jesus taught his disciples:

"If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you." (John 15:19)

Only we can decide the degree to which we choose to identify with our "unbelieving and depraved" generation. But let's not be surprised at the Lord's rebuke.

In our passage, Luke 9:40-41, who is Jesus rebuking? The crowds? Yes. The disciples? Yes. They didn't have the faith or prayer life to heal the boy with seizures, and had left ministry for controversy with their opponents. The father? Yes. He didn't really believe at this point, and has a rather bland request when Jesus finally appears on the scene: "If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us" (Mark 9:22). Jesus, in effect, rebukes him, too: "'If you can'?" said Jesus. 'Everything is possible for him who believes'" (Mark 9:23). And the man responds quickly and positively to the rebuke: "I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24).

If I were one of the disciples on that day, I would have felt stung at Jesus' rebuke:

"O unbelieving and perverse generation, how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?" (Luke 9:41)

He sounds like a mother who has come home to a messy house and is dressing down her children. My cheeks would have flushed, my stomach would have knotted up, and inside I would be grieving for offending him.

Dear friends, sometimes we need a rebuke to wake us up and show us where we are really headed. Better a rebuke than something more severe.

"He who listens to a life-giving rebuke
will be at home among the wise.
He who ignores discipline despises himself,
but whoever heeds correction gains understanding." (Proverbs 15:31-32)

Rebuke in Christian Ministry

In Greek, the common word for rebuke is epitimaō, "rebuke, reprove, censure," also speak seriously, warn" in order to prevent an action or bring one to an end.344 Jesus uses the same word in rebuking the disciples in 9:55. It is a word of authority. Jesus rebukes evil spirits (Luke 9:41-43; Mark 3:12; 9:25), diseases (Luke 4:39) , and the elemental forces of nature (Mark 4:39).

It is also a word describing how Christian brothers are to relate to each other in a spirit of forgiveness: "So watch yourselves. If your brother sins, rebuke (epitimaō) him, and if he repents, forgive him" (Luke 17:3). Pastors are to minister with correction and rebuke where appropriate. Paul says to young Timothy:

"Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct (elenchō), rebuke (epitimaō) and encourage -- with great patience and careful instruction." (2 Timothy 4:2)

A related word is Greek elenchō, which has the root meaning "bring to light, expose," and is used to mean "convict or convince someone of something, point something out to someone" and "reprove, correct."345 This word, too, describes the ministry of Christian leaders.

"Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning." (1 Timothy 5:20)

"He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute (elenchō) those who oppose it... Therefore, rebuke (elegchō) them sharply, so that they will be sound in the faith." (Titus 1:9, 13)

"These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke (elenchō) with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you." (Titus 2:15)

"And you have forgotten that word of encouragement that addresses you as sons: 'My son, do not make light of the Lord's discipline, and do not lose heart when he rebukes (elenchō) you...'" (Hebrews 12:5)

"Those whom I love I rebuke (elenchō) and discipline. So be earnest, and repent." (Revelation 3:19)

Do you allow the Lord to correct you? Do you allow the Lord to correct you through your pastor or another Christian brother or sister? If part of being a Christian leader is loving our Christian brothers and sisters enough to rebuke them in Christ when appropriate, we must be able to receive a rebuke graciously ourselves and learn from it, rather than bristle at it. Pride prevents us from receiving a rebuke; humility allows us to receive, learn, and grow.

Rebuking the Unclean Spirit (Luke 9:41b-43)

The word "rebuke" (epitimaō) is also used in relation to the demon that is causing seizures in the boy. In this passage, Jesus' rebuke is in the form of command for the demon to leave the boy. Jesus had given the Twelve power to cast out demons, but they had slipped back on this occasion to the point that they no longer had the faith to rebuke the demon themselves. In effect, Jesus had to clean up after his disciples who had failed to do the job he had called them to do.

We've spent considerable time examining Jesus' ministry of casting out demons in Luke 4:31-37 and 9:26-39. I've written at greater length about the subject in an essay, "Demonization and Deliverance in Jesus' Ministry" in the Appendix. But I want to make a couple of observations about the deliverance of this boy with seizures:

1. The boy's symptoms look a lot like what we call epilepsy. We could -- but won't -- make two incorrect assumptions. (a) Just because this boy's problem seems like epilepsy, does not mean we should assume that all epilepsy is demonic. (b) Nor, because it was like epilepsy, does not mean we should assume that Jesus was wrong about its demonic nature just because he didn't understand about neural dysfunction in the brain. Rather than generalize, it is safer to learn that symptoms like this boy had could have a demonic cause. We need to ask God for the spiritual discernment that Jesus had so that we might minister appropriately to those who are ill today, so we can discern the root cause and deal with that, rather than just with the presenting symptoms.

2. Casting out a demon is a subset of the healing ministry. Notice verse 42b: "But Jesus rebuked (epitimaō) the evil spirit, healed (iaomai) the boy, and gave him back to his father." If we are to have a full-orbed healing ministry, it sometimes must include dealing with the demonic.

The Disciples' Inability to Understand Jesus' Coming Betrayal (Luke 9:44-45)

"While everyone was marveling at all that Jesus did, he said to his disciples, 'Listen carefully to what I am about to tell you: The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men.' But they did not understand what this meant. It was hidden from them, so that they did not grasp it, and they were afraid to ask him about it." (9:43b-45)

This is the second time that Jesus has predicted his sufferings. We looked carefully at his First Prediction in Luke 9:22. The disciples didn't understand him then. In fact, Peter had rebuked (epitimaō) Jesus himself (Matthew 16:22), which Jesus didn't let him get away with.

Jesus' prediction is a bit different here. "The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of men" (9:44). The verb is Greek paradidomi, "hand over, turn over, give up" a person, as a technical term of police and courts, "hand over into (the) custody (of)."346 But it can also refer to "the reprehensible act of betrayal, whereby a free man of good repute, who may well be innocent, is ruined."347 At the end, ironically, it is one of Jesus' select disciples who delivers him to the authorities in the Garden of Gethsemane with the falsest kind of kiss.

Rebuking Pride in the Disciples (Luke 9:46-48)

Not only do the disciples fail to comprehend Jesus' coming suffering, they struggle with each other over who is the greatest. Not just one, but several, argue about it. Jesus' rebuke in this case comes by bringing a little boy into their midst to stand next to him. "He who is least among you is the greatest," he teaches them. It is a needed rebuke.

Rebuking Intolerance in the Disciples (Luke 9:49-50)

When someone besides Jesus' "authorized" exorcism team of disciples begins to cast out demons, the disciples try to stop him. Jesus rebukes them: "Don't stop him. If he's not against you, then he is for you."

Rebuking Racial Bigotry in the Disciples (Luke 9:51-56)

Finally, the disciples wish to wreak judgment upon a village made up of the first century Jews' favorite whipping boy, the Samaritans, half-breed Jews who differed with mainline Jews over the interpretation of the Bible. "Lord, can we call down fire to destroy them?" How could they think that this represented what Jesus stood for? "But Jesus turned and rebuked them, and they went to another village" (9:56).

We'll look at this passage in the next lessons, also, but in this lesson we've focused on Jesus' rebukes to his disciples.

Are We Humble Enough to Welcome Jesus' Rebuke?

Some of us have been at Christian leadership so long that we might assume that we know what we're doing. Our problem, dear Christian friends, is that we think we're right because we're unable to step back for a little distance and perspective. Being married has taught me that sometimes I can be pretty blind, and then arrogant in addition to my blindness.

Part of the health that Jesus wants to work in us disciples is to appreciate Jesus' work in us so that we aren't utterly crushed when he reprimands us. We also need a trust in God that he will chastise us only to the extent he needs to in order to get our attention. He loves us. He takes no joy in humiliating us or grinding us into the ground. That is the work of the destroyer, not the Creator.

But as a disciple, I need to be able to come before my Lord with a humble and listening ear. I need to be able to put down my defensive ego and hear him. I need to regularly ask, "How am I doing, Lord?" and "What should I be doing differently?" If I can come with that attitude, then his rebuke can be gentle rather than harsh.

My fellow disciple, you and I are committed to this goal: instead of identifying ourselves with the "unbelieving and perverse generation" we are a part of, we identify ourselves with Jesus our Lord. We long for his rebuke that we might learn to please him, that we might be his disciples indeed.


Lord, when I look back on my life, I've sure done a lot of stupid, stupid things in the name of being "right." I'm so sorry for my stubbornness and arrogance. Please forgive me. Jesus, I ask you to please rebuke me when I need it, and help me to hear your rebuke the first time so you don't have to repeat it more loudly. I love you. Help me to serve you in a way that makes you proud of me. In your Holy Name, I pray. Amen.

Key Verses

"O unbelieving and perverse generation," Jesus replied, "how long shall I stay with you and put up with you?" (Luke 9:41)


Click on the link below to discuss on the forum one or more of the questions that follow -- your choice.

  1. How many rebukes of the disciples can you find in 9:37-56? List them. (Please do this for your own private study, but don't feel you need to share the list with your discussion group -- it'll be far too repetitious.)
  2. We can't be other-worldly and still be able to communicate to our generation. How can we be "with" them but not "of" them? How can we both identify with our generation and still live differently?
  3. Up to this point in your life, how have you usually responded when you have been rebuked by parents, teachers, employers, spouses, spiritual leaders, etc.? What has been healthy about your response? What has been unhealthy?
  4. What is the necessary preparation for a Christian leader to be able to rebuke those in his or her charge appropriately?
  5. How is it possible to overdo rebuking as a leadership style? How is it possible to be too light on rebuking?
Discipleship Training in Luke's Gospel, by Dr. Ralph F. Wilson
Lessons compiled in 805-page book in paperback, Kindle, & PDF.


Abbreviations and References

[342] Apistos, BAGD 85.

[343] Diastrephō, BAGD 189.

[344] Epitimaō, BAGD 303.

[345] Elenchō, BAGD 249.

[346] Paradidōmi, BAGD 614-615.

[347] H. Beck, paradidōmi, Dictionary of New Testament Theology 2:367-368.

Copyright © 2024, 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.

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