The Parable About Prayer and the Unrighteous Judge

The most common interpretation of the parable about the unrighteous judge is that we need to keep praying for God to change our situation –and ultimately He will do what we ask as long as we’re persistent.

The problem with that teaching is that it puts doubt in our hearts about our faith and relationship with Him –because He doesn’t make everything happen the way that we ask for in prayer.

There’s an old adage about the sportsman who prays for sunny weather and the farmer who prays for rain. Which one does God honor? –The one who’s most diligent in prayer? The one who lives the best life? The answer is that God does what is best for everyone –not just some. We just don’t see things from His perspective.

And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

My goal here is to stimulate your thoughts by offering a different view of a familiar passage so that you will then ask God to personally reveal the message that He wants you to know –not only for this parable but for all of what you read in the Bible. God’s purpose for the Bible is to develop an endearing relationship of trust between you and Him.

The Parable…

Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart, saying,

“In a certain city there was a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man. There was a widow in that city, and she kept coming to him, saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’

For a while he was unwilling; but afterward he said to himself, ‘Even though I do not fear God nor respect man, yet because this widow bothers me, I will give her legal protection, otherwise by continually coming she will wear me out.’”

And the Lord said,

“Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?

I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:1-8)

The Wrong Interpretation

Although it’s appealing, the following interpretation is dead wrong.

Jesus said that the widow represents God’s elect –that must be us Christians. Even the unrighteous judge –a worldly person with power and authority over others– granted the widow justice. And it isn’t as though we’re asking God for something unreasonable –we merely want to be treated fairly –to have our godly desires honored. Since we’re God’s children, He’ll do much more for us than that judge did. All we have to do is keep praying because He will make them a reality at just the right time.

Setting The Parable Right

Those representations above seem to fit the parable nicely. However, that interpretation doesn’t convey the message that Jesus was teaching His disciples. –Let me explain.

“God’s Elect” (the Widow)

Somehow, the meaning of the term “God’s elect” has become obscured. Some think that they are the Hebrews –others believe that they are the church –still others say it’s both.

“Elect” or “chosen” simply means selected, picked out, appointed, etc. However, before trying to decide which group of people it applies to, we should ask the question “what were (or are) these people elected to do?” The Old Testament identifies the Hebrews as a “chosen or elected” people. God chose them for a specific purpose: They were to represent Him –to bear His message– wherever they went in this world. They did it by 1) carrying His standards for acceptable behavior, 2) being recipients of His compassion, mercy, forgiveness and patience, and 3) being heirs of His promises.

Their interactions with God provided physical examples showing that: everyone is guilty of sin; the end result of sin is death; a substitute can die in place of the sinner; and all have a monumental choice to make: live by trusting God to make good on His Promise –or die rebelling against Him. Some of the Hebrews were rewarded for trusting God –the rest were punished –there was no middle ground.

Those people were intentional pictures of spiritual realities. As a whole, the Hebrews were “chosen or elected” to convey God’s message of salvation. It took both –the faithful and the faithless– to make up the “elect.” You can decide for yourself if that same picture also fits the organized religious church for our New Testament times.

Jesus’ Death (Justice Demanded)

Nearly the half of the Gospel of Luke is a record of Jesus’ last days on earth. Chapter thirteen says a Pharisee informed Jesus about a plot to kill Him.

Just at that time some Pharisees approached, saying to Him, “Go away, leave here, for Herod wants to kill You.”

And He said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I reach My goal.’ Nevertheless I must journey on today and tomorrow and the next day; for it cannot be that a prophet would perish outside of Jerusalem.

O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it! Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you will not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Luke 13:31-35)

Then, four chapters –and just a few days– later we read a famous passage in Luke 17:22-35 where Jesus talked about His death and second coming. The parable about prayer is a continuation of these very topics.

The unrighteous judge: At the time, Israel was subjected to Rome’s rule –enforced by its governors and brutal armies. To minimize the amount of oversight needed (costly personnel and supplies), an arrangement had been made for Israel to have a limited self-government. Its leaders could stay in power as long there was no civil unrest and no disobedience to Caesar.

The true widow: Jesus said that the widow represents God’s elect. You might ask “Why did He characterize Israel as a widow?” It was because they followed their religious leadership instead of the One who established them as a unique people –who faithfully led and protected them –who set them apart to be His witness to the world. She had abandoned Him. Effectively, He was dead to her. Due to her faithless, adulteress heart, there had been no prophets –no contact from Him– for the four hundred years leading up to Jesus’ birth.

Her appeal for “justice”: We saw in Luke 13:31 above, that those leaders had already begun their appeals against Jesus to the Roman officials who would serve as the judge at Jesus’ trial. The leaders claimed that they needed legal help against Jesus because He had broken Roman law –supposedly causing civil unrest and disobeying Caesar (Luke 23:1-5).

The conclusion: The “widow” (Israel’s religious leaders) went to the “unrighteous judge” (Pilate and Herod, who neither feared God nor respected them) for help against “her opponent” (Jesus, the Messiah of Israel).

Jesus’ Second Coming (Will There Be Faith?)

Earlier, I mentioned that this parable was preceded by a famous passage in chapter seventeen where Jesus talked about His death and second coming. Verse eight is the key to recognizing that second part.

And the Lord said,

“Hear what the unrighteous judge said; now, will not God bring about justice for His elect who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them?

I tell you that He will bring about justice for them quickly. However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:6-8)

It begs a set of questions: What will the justice be? When will it be meted out? And what is the significance of “finding faith on the earth?” Their answers are rather intertwined –I’ll try to keep the explanation succinct.

When people are afflicted, their complaints to God can be emphatic and long. They want a solution based on their own desires –appealing to His fairness or justice. However, when God brings about justice –pronouncing His rewards and His punishments– it will be based on His standards.

It also says that God will quickly bring about justice for His elect. Of course, people’s expectations –and God’s decision– of what “quickly” means, are vastly different (2 Peter 3:7-9). He has already announced the timeframe for punishing Israel’s (His elect’s) tormentors. It is the second half –the last three-and-a-half years– of the tribulation period. It’s even titled the Great Tribulation and it’s when Jesus will lead His army to totally destroy Israel’s enemies. Shortly thereafter, eternal judgment will come.

Jesus asked “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” Obviously, He said this to His disciples when He was here –so He was referring to His future return –His second coming. His question was intended to penetrate their hearts. Upon His first coming, He didn’t find a people living by faith –searching and waiting for the Son of Man to appear. Instead, they rejected and crucified Him –their King.

The following Hebrews chapter nine passage explains that the purpose of Jesus’ first coming was for Him to be the prophesied sacrifice that paid for sin –once and for all.

Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own.

Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:23-28)

It goes on to say that the purpose of His second coming is to bring salvation to those who have put their faith in Him. And that’s the reason for His question. “When the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”

What Does All of This Have to Do with Praying?

You might ask “what does Jesus’ death and second coming have to do with Him telling the disciples to pray and not lose heart?”

During those last three years, more or less, the disciples had become greatly dependent upon Jesus. They had left their old lives behind and their meaning and purpose for life had become “being with Him.” His crucifixion was going to take place in just a few days and their lives were going to be turned upside down. So Jesus was preparing them for what was to come.

  • The religious would claim that they had no need for this Jesus who died so He told two more parables. The first dealt with the self-righteous using the example of man who looked down on others with indignation (Luke 18:9-14). Next, He exposed the hearts of those who were worldly-dependent using the story of the wealthy young ruler (Luke 18:18-27).
  • He spoke to the disciples directly –without hints or parables– describing how His life was going to end (Luke 18:31-34).
  • Two more men appeared in their path to show the faith of the meek –the opposite of the self-righteous depicted in the parables above. Bartimaeus, the blind man, couldn’t “see” the miracles but he knew that Jesus was the One to put his faith in (Luke 18:35-43). And Zaccheus, the tax-collector –a most despicable man– showed his reliance upon God by a willingness to give up his worldly-wealth (Luke 19:1-10).
  • Using another parable, Jesus told them that everyone has the opportunity to receive God’s promise of eternal life. Those who don’t choose it –and live religiously under the law instead– will receive eternal punishment (Luke 19:11-27).
  • When they reached Jerusalem, Jesus rode on a donkey for the everyone to see (Luke 19:28-38). It’s written in the law that all of the Passover lambs had to be inspected by the whole community for three days before their slaughter. This was the beginning of the three days of “inspection” before He would be slaughtered as the Lamb of God.
  • The disciples saw Him weep about His coming rejection and the curse that would come upon the city (Luke 19:41-44).
  • They saw that those who questioned Him couldn’t find any fault with Him (Luke 19:45-48). No spot or blemish was allowed on the sacrificial lamb who would die in their place.
  • Jesus told another parable. This time it was pointed at the religious leaders –and they understood its meaning. He told how they had killed the prophets that God sent –and how they were also going to kill God’s own Son (Luke 20:9-18).
  • They watched as Israel’s religious leadership had grown in anger and plotted against Him. Soon, its wrath would turn against His disciples (Luke 21:12-19).
  • Judas Iscariot was one of their own. He had experienced the Jesus’ presence and wonders just as they had. Still, he was going to be the betrayer (Luke 22:1-6).

It was in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus told them twice more to pray –pray that they not lose hope (Luke 22:39-46). With all of the turmoil engulfing their lives, they were to remember all they had learned from Him –and that it was His story that the prophets had told long in advance of His coming.

Their lives were on the brink of change. They would no longer be trusting in the One they could see –but in the One they knew and couldn’t see. The first verse of Hebrews chapter 11 gives us insight into faith. “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.”