Luke 19:1–10 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Sight, Wealth, and Moral Standing
Jesus, near the end of his journey to Jerusalem, was passing through the border town of Jericho, wherein we learn of a man named Zacchaeus. He's not simply a tax collector but a chief tax collector, which means, as Luke's gospel explains, that he's rich. He wanted to see Jesus, but because he's short he couldn't see over the crowds, so he climbed a tree. When Jesus arrived at the place where Zacchaeus has perched himself, he called him down and invited himself to Zacchaeus' home, which simultaneously brought Zacchaeus joy and scandalized the crowd, because they knew that Zacchaeus was a sinner. That's the summary; let's dig deeper into this brief passage.
Three details in Luke's account stand out, particularly in relation to passages that have come just before this one. First, sight is critical in each. Earlier, it was the tenth leper's recognition that he'd been healed that caused him to alter his course (see our summary of 17:15). In the passage immediately before this one (Luke 18:35–43's summary), a blind man received sight and, in response, followed Jesus and glorified God. Now, Zacchaeus desires to see Jesus, but even as he tries to catch a glimpse of this prophet, Jesus looks up, calls him down, and honors him by visiting his home.
A second significant detail is wealth. Luke, more than any other evangelist, has been consistently concerned about matters of wealth and the treatment of the poor. In the previous chapter (see chapter 18's summary), a rich man, when asked to give away all he had, departed Jesus in sadness. When Jesus declared that it's nearly impossible for the rich to enter the kingdom of God, the disciples — who believed that wealth was a sign of God's favor — were incredulous. In contrast, in today's story, another rich man receives Jesus with joy, giving (or promising to give) half of his wealth to the poor while restoring (or promising to restore) fourfold any amount he may have defrauded. Immediately, Jesus announced that the impossible had happened: "Salvation has come to this house" (v. 9, shown below).
Finally, Zacchaeus was short, not just in physical stature, but also in terms of moral standing among his neighbors who, no doubt, despised him; hence their reaction when Jesus invited himself to Zacchaeus' home. This wasn't the first time that bystanders became outraged by Jesus' behavior. Think of Simon's reaction when Jesus allowed a woman, who everyone knew to have a poor reputation, to wash his feet with her tears (see summary of 7:39), and the reaction of the Pharisees to the sinners and tax collectors who loved to listen to Jesus (15:1–2's summary). Nor was this the first time that tax collectors had figured prominently in Jesus' ministry. As noted earlier, their delight in Jesus' teaching prompted the grumbling that in turn occasioned Jesus' "Lost" parables (Week 52 and Week 53). And at the outset of the previous chapter, it's the penitent tax collector, not the righteous Pharisee, who returned home justified (18:14).
Jesus Frees Another Tax Collector
Tax collectors weren't new to Jesus. At the start of his three-year ministry, he called tax-collector Levi (a.k.a. Matthew) to follow him; Matthew did so without hesitation. For "Follow me," the Greek akoloutheo has several meanings; the specific meaning in this passage is "to follow someone as a disciple." It goes along in the tradition of the Rabbinical master-pupil relationship. Early on in Jesus' ministry, he'd attracted tax collectors; worse yet, at least in the eyes of the Pharisees, he received them warmly. In Luke 5:30, Jesus was accused by the Pharisees for eating and drinking with "tax collectors and sinners."
It would seem that the two terms, "tax collectors" and "sinners" were synonymous to the Pharisees. Apparently to them, there was hardly a lower form of life. Jesus must have deeply offended the Pharisees when he told the parable of the penitent tax collector and the self-righteous Pharisee (18:9–14), especially when it was the penitent tax collector who went away justified while the Pharisee went away unjustified.
Zacchaeus wasn't simply an IRS agent; he was a "chief tax collector" who became rich (v. 19). His wealth very likely came, in part, from his crooked dealings (cf. 3:12–13). For some unexplained reason, Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus, making a diligent effort to see him as he passed through Jericho. But Zacchaeus had a problem — he was a short man. Yet he came up with a plan. He looked down the street, knowing where Jesus would have to pass. There he found a tree. Perhaps not much of a tree, but a tree nonetheless. He could climb that tree and be able to see Jesus pass by.
While this rich little man was quite different, in many respects, from last week's blind beggar Bartimaeus, he's also similar to him. Both men wanted to see Jesus; both men wouldn't be stopped by hindrances; and both men were rewarded by the Master. The difference between the two was that Bartimaeus called out to Jesus; he wanted to be noticed and summoned to come to Jesus. Zacchaeus, however, may have wished to remain unnoticed. Nevertheless, Jesus definitely took note of Zacchaeus, although Luke doesn't tell us why. Jesus stopped, looked up, called him by name, and told him that he must stay at his house. Why the "must"?
As a chief tax collector, Zacchaeus was considered the same as a Gentile: a sinner. Such a person shouldn't be accepted into the hospitality of one's home, Pharisaism would say (cf. 5:29–30). One should never enter the home of such a person, to accept his hospitality, and to eat his food. In the process of doing so, one would defile himself, in violation of the law, as interpreted by Pharisaism. Yet, Jesus not only accepted invitations, he invited himself, which brought an immediate, strong reaction (v. 7), which wasn't merely the reaction of a few; Luke tells us that they all began to grumble. Did this "all" also include the disciples? Perhaps. The explanation for our Lord's actions is clearly revealed in v. 10.
Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost" (vv. 9–10). The purpose of our Lord's coming still wasn't clear. First and foremost, Jesus came to save sinners. Yes, he'd later establish the kingdom of God on earth, but the basis of this kingdom, that which Christ must accomplish at his first coming, was the forgiveness of man's sins. Men couldn't enter into the kingdom of God in their sinful condition. Jesus came to bear the penalty of man's sins, and to provide them with his righteousness. This was the foundation of the kingdom.
Jesus came to seek and to save sinners. To do so, he had to associate with sinners. Thus, while it may have offended the sensitivities and social mores of his day, Jesus went where sinners were, so that they could hear the gospel and become saved.
What a beautiful picture of the tension that's maintained here between the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man. The blind man called out to the Savior for mercy and he received it. Zacchaeus didn't call out to the Lord, but the Lord called to him. The Scriptures clearly teach that no one who truly comes to Jesus for mercy, on the basis of faith, will be turned away. They also teach that anyone who comes to Christ for salvation doesn't come on his own initiative but is drawn by God.
It's only after reporting the grumbling of all who beheld Jesus going to the house of a "sinner" such as Zacchaeus that Luke informs us of the change that faith had brought to this man. It would seem that even before Jesus entered his house, Zacchaeus had spoken to Jesus of his intended purposes, as a result of Jesus' coming into his life as he had. Zacchaeus would, he said, give half of his possessions to the poor and repay fourfold anyone whom he had defrauded (v. 8).
Zacchaeus the sinner had become a saint. Salvation came to his house. He'd never be the same again. Yet, while the crowds could finally rejoice and praise God for the sight that blind Bartimaeus received (18:43), there's no record of praise to God for Zacchaeus' salvation. Hopefully, at least, Zacchaeus had let out a sigh of relief.
- Q. 1 Can you befriend sinners without corrupting your moral character?
- Q. 2 Why is it important to affirm that salvation is totally of the Lord, never of man?
New International Version (NIV) [To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 19]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Jesus and Zacchaeus."
Zacchaeus the Tax Collector
19 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 3He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. 4So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way.
5When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.
7All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."
8But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."
9Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."