Jesus Christ told the story of the prodigal son, found in the New Testament of The Holy Bible, to illustrate many different themes. The most obvious is the theme of forgiveness, portrayed by the prodigal son’s father and brother. However, there is a theme underlying the entire story that is quite hidden and often overlooked by most readers. This theme is the most important and most profound one of them all.
The prodigal son is representative of mankind in general. The story of his riotous living and experience in the pig’s sty is a parable of man’s experience with God and the state of natural man’s soul. Jesus’ story, or parable, illustrates to His disciples who man is and how he relates to God.
The story of the prodigal son begins with the son asking his father for the inheritance he would eventually received upon the death of his father. His father agrees to this and gives it to him. When the prodigal son receives his inheritance, he takes off.
This action illustrates man’s attitude toward God. Man constantly wants a variety of things and some may even pray to God to get these things. The prodigal son asks his father for his “prize,” as humankind asks God for objects and blessings for themselves. After getting this “prize” or inheritance from his father, the son leaves. This shows that the son wanted the blessings his father could provide, but he did not want his father. Again, this is a picture of how all humankind wants happiness and the things that cause happiness. However, they neither care for the Father that provides these blessings, nor do they respect Him as the Father and love Him.
Now the prodigal son leaves his father’s house, but he does not just move down the street or a few miles away. He goes to a far country. The reason he goes to a far country is to get as far away from his father as possible. Apparently, in his father’s house were rules and a righteous standard of living. The son does not like these rules, so he goes to a far country where he will no longer be subject to his father’s living standards.
The prodigal son’s venture to a far country is, in today’s society, most clearly seen in the yearly phenomenon known as Spring Break. Every year, millions of college students flock to places like Daytona Beach to goof off, act wild, and live riotously. These young adults do not act the way they do during Spring Break as they do at their homes for the simple reason that, at the beach, countless miles away from their homes, they are not subject to house rules. They are free to do whatever they want and are surrounded by strangers, who are unable to tell their parents on them. Thus, is the reason for the prodigal son’s distant move.
Now, Jesus deems him the “Prodigal Son” because he is wasteful and profligate. Jesus says he not only wastes his inheritance, but he also wastes his life. This is a clear picture of the lostness of every man’s life and soul without the Father. The son becomes so destitute that he has to work in a pig sty.
Now Jesus is telling a story to Jewish people, who are not allowed to have anything to do with pork. Pork is taboo, despised, and unclean to the Jewish people, so Jesus is trying to make a point about just how lost this son is. The son is living with pigs and eating the food scraps they leave just to survive. This is the description of man without God – life in a pig sty.
Jesus does not say how long the prodigal son stays in the pig sty. Nevertheless, the question is why does he stay for even five minutes, when he can go straight home and back to his father? Well, the son does not know much about his father, but he is not totally ignorant of him. He realizes that his father will not approved of his behavior and the way he wasted his inheritance. He is afraid of the wrath of his father, so he stays away. The son prefers living with pigs, eating with pigs, and wasting his life rather than confronting the wrath of his father.
So, the prodigal son lives with the pigs, just as man is naturally morally and spiritually dead. The son prefers not to be in the pig sty, but he does not want to go back to his father and face his father’s wrath. He wants to live the way he pleases, away from his father, but without facing the consequences, or in this case, the pig sty.
Natural man is the same way. Man prefers to do what he wants and what he thinks is fun, but without facing the negative consequences. Spiritually, he likes to sin as much as he wants and live the way he wants, without facing the wrath of God. He wants God’s benefits, but not God, Himself. Rather than facing God and asking for forgiveness, he hides in sin and stays in the pig sty.
In order for man to come out of his spiritual deadness, he must be awakened. After working for a time in the pig sty, the prodigal son finally comes to himself. He awakens and decides to go back to his father’s house. He plans to tell his father, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you,” because he realizes that what he has done is truly a sin.
Every man lives his life in the pig sty for at least a time, but most of them stay there because they are unaware that they are living in sin. They are dead to that realization. The prodigal son, however, realizes that he has sinned against his father and against heaven. He seeks his father’s forgiveness, and in the end, we find that the father forgives and accepts his son back into the family.
This story illustrates many things, but most importantly, it opens the eyes of the reader to the natural hopeless state of man. It shows him that an awakening is necessary for man to see his fault and to come to the Father for forgiveness.