WHAT IS THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE PARABLE OF THE GOOD SAMARITAN?
by Shawn Brasseaux
Anyone familiar with the Holy Scriptures has heard of Christ’s Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37). Yet, almost no one grasps its significance. How can this classic passage, the Parable of the Good Samaritan, enlighten us concerning God’s purpose and plan for the nation Israel?
We read from Luke chapter 10 for the context: “ And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?  He said unto him, What is written in the law? how readest thou?  And he answering said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy strength, and with all thy mind; and thy neighbour as thyself.  And he said unto him, Thou hast answered right: this do, and thou shalt live.”
The “lawyer” here is a scholar of the Law of Moses, a theologian of Judaism, Jewish religion. He has come to test or challenge the Lord Jesus Christ. Of course, as with all religious people, he is obsessed with works—doing—to have eternal life. Upon asking the Lord as to what he should do, the Lord forces him to answer his own question: “What is written in the law? how readest thou?” Being an “expert” of the Law, the lawyer is one of the few in his ranks who knows his Hebrew Scriptures. Jesus commends him for correctly summarizing Moses with two passages. “Firstly, Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God is one LORD: And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might” (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). “Thou shalt not avenge, nor bear any grudge against the children of thy people, but thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).
Indeed, if one can keep the Law perfectly, it results in eternal life. Unfortunately, sinners cannot perform flawlessly, so the Law is simply the knowledge of sin instead of the knowledge of salvation (Romans 3:19-20).
The scholar of the Law of Moses, evidently under conviction, retorts in verse 29: “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” Has that lawyer really kept the second part of the Law—not merely loving God with all his being but also loving his neighbor as he loves himself? The Lord now issues that famous story to drive the point home!
“ And Jesus answering said, A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves, which stripped him of his raiment, and wounded him, and departed, leaving him half dead.  And by chance there came down a certain priest that way: and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side.  And likewise a Levite, when he was at the place, came and looked on him, and passed by on the other side.  But a certain Samaritan, as he journeyed, came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,  And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.  Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?  And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.”
With spiritually-mature hearts and minds, let us explain the Parable of the Good Samaritan. In ancient times, the road between Jericho and Jerusalem was lengthy, steep, winding, and lonely. Caves and crevices made excellent places in which thieves could hide as they waited to assault and rob any passersby (particularly merchants). Such was the case of the unfortunate soul traveling this route in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (verse 30). As the Lord delivers this message, His audience knows all too well its plausibility. Having departed Jerusalem and heading toward Jericho—the order highly important, as we will see later—the traveler is beaten up and his clothes are taken. Suffering extensive injuries, he lies helplessly, dying on the side of the road.
By “chance” or coincidence, and not by Divine design, a priest is using that route when he encounters the dying man. Nevertheless, the priest does not come to his aid; he moves to the farther side of the road and continues his journey (verse 31)! A Levite, also traveling, then makes his way to see the dying man. While the Levite looks upon the vulnerable soul with a bit more sympathy, he too “switches lanes” and carries on with his trip (verse 32)! Finally, a Samaritan arrives on the scene, and is moved with such compassion as he beholds a most terrible sight (verse 33). Here is a naked man, bloodied and bruised, and left to die! The Samaritan rescues him, tending to his injuries and paying for his recovery in an inn (verse 34). In closing, the Samaritan speaks to the innkeeper, promising to return one day and recompense in full any debts accumulated (verse 35). Paraphrased, Jesus thus reasons: “Lawyer, you go love your neighbor like that Samaritan esteemed that hopeless soul” (verses 36-37).
Circa 722 B.C., the Assyrian Captivity of Israel’s 10 northern tribes began. Scripture says in 2 Kings chapter 17: “ Until the LORD removed Israel out of his sight, as he had said by all his servants the prophets. So was Israel carried away out of their own land to Assyria unto this day.  And the king of Assyria brought men from Babylon, and from Cuthah, and from Ava, and from Hamath, and from Sepharvaim, and placed them in the cities of Samaria instead of the children of Israel: and they possessed Samaria, and dwelt in the cities thereof.  And so it was at the beginning of their dwelling there, that they feared not the LORD: therefore the LORD sent lions among them, which slew some of them.  Then one of the priests whom they had carried away from Samaria came and dwelt in Bethel, and taught them how they should fear the LORD.  Howbeit every nation made gods of their own, and put them in the houses of the high places which the Samaritans had made, every nation in their cities wherein they dwelt.” (See also verses 30-32.)
After removing Israel from the Promised Land, the King of Assyria settled Gentiles therein. These idolatrous heathens subsequently intermarried with the Jews, creating a hybrid religious system of paganism and Mosaic Law. Children resulting from these unions were the Samaritans of Christ’s earthly ministry. Such national/religious differences caused great animosity between these “half-Jews/half-Gentiles” and the pure-blooded Jews. As chapter 4 of John bears out, “For the Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (verse 9). Therefore, to a Jew, Jesus making the Samaritan a “hero” in that famous parable was the equivalent to Him commending a Gentile!
Now, let us delve into the symbolism. The man leaving Jerusalem for Jericho represents wayward Israel, forsaking the center of God’s presence and words (cf. 1 Kings 11:36; Isaiah 2:3) and preferring a cursed, idolatrous city as its destination (cf. Joshua 6:26; 1 Kings 16:29-32). As the thieves robbed the traveler, so Satan’s evil world system spoiled and fatally wounded Israel. Distracted, unrighteous (lacking spiritual clothes), and now dying, she can do nothing to save herself. Her sin has found her out!
Along walks a Levitical priest, but this Jew cannot help the man, for the man is mortally wounded and unable to offer a sacrifice. Here comes a Levite, a teacher of the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 31:9-13,24-26; Deuteronomy 17:18; 2 Chronicles 15:3; Ezra 7:6,10-11). However, while this Jew can teach the man what he needs to do according to Moses’ instructions, the dying man cannot perform according to the LORD’S strict rules and regulations. The priest and the Levite, both having looked at the unfortunate soul and gone on their way, can do nothing for him. All hope is lost!
Suddenly, there appears a Samaritan—a societal outcast in Israel. He notices the dying man and pities him, applying antiseptic wine and soothing olive oil to treat his wounds. Whereas the Jews (priest and Levite) did none of this, the Samaritan takes it a step further. He pays to lodge the man in a hotel, that he recover from his injuries. The next day, the Samaritan entrusts the man to the innkeeper, and finally leaves after promising his return. Here, Christ turns Israel over to the 12 Apostles (cf. John 19:25-27; Luke 19:12-27), dies, resurrects, and ultimately ascends to His Father’s right hand wholly rejected. He is coming again to repay them for their service (Matthew 16:27; Revelation 22:12)! Indeed, the Samaritan of that noteworthy parable symbolizes Jesus Christ Himself and His work on Israel’s behalf!
Let us return to verse 29, the question that led to that renowned parable: “But he, willing to justify himself, said unto Jesus, And who is my neighbour?” This lawyer, wishing to be made right in God’s sight on the basis of keeping the Mosaic Law, was endeavoring to find an escape. He assumed “love thy neighbor as thyself” simply meant “seek the highest good of those who live literally right next-door to thyself.” The parable he subsequently heard, however, corrected his erroneous belief. To say the least, he was shocked to learn this magnificent story would be Jesus’ response to his self-centered inquiry!
To briefly recapitulate the Parable of the Good Samaritan. A man was traveling when thieves assaulted, robbed, and left him for dead. Whereas neither a (Jewish) priest nor a (Jewish) Levite came to his aid when they encountered him on that lonely road, a Samaritan (half-Jewish/half-Gentile) came from afar to tend to his wounds and pay for his recovery. After relaying this story, the Lord Jesus asked the lawyer, “ Which now of these three, thinkest thou, was neighbour unto him that fell among the thieves?  And he said, He that shewed mercy on him. Then said Jesus unto him, Go, and do thou likewise.” The lawyer, being Jewish, knew the “good guy” was indeed a Gentile, but he could not even bring himself to say, “The Samaritan was neighbour unto him that fell among thieves.” His lame, simple reply was, “He that shewed mercy on him,” upon which hearing Jesus retorted, “If you want to keep the Law perfectly, you go and follow that Samaritan’s example!”
The lawyer in Luke 10:29 was incorrect. Using Jesus’ definition, a “neighbour” is anyone we encounter in life whom we can and should help—not necessarily someone whose house is next to ours, but even complete strangers. Here was the original teaching of Leviticus 19:18, as JEHOVAH God Himself described for us here during His earthly ministry (verses 30-35). To show the impossibility of a sinner keeping the Law, the Lord ordered the lawyer to love everyone (!) he met to the degree (!) the Samaritan loved the wounded traveler (verses 36-37). Yet, have carefully examined that well-known story, we can look at it with mature spiritual eyes to see more than the common, simple Sunday school children’s lesson of “Jesus wants us to do good to others.” The Parable of the Good Samaritan illustrates what the Lord Jesus Himself did and will do for Israel.
Whereas the Law of Moses (the priest and the Levite) could do nothing but condemn Israel as a nation of sinners worthy of death (spiritual and functional), Christ (the Samaritan) offered them grace, forgiveness, and restoration through the New Covenant. He delivered her from deception in Satan’s evil world system by imparting spiritual light to her (preaching during His earthly ministry). When they rejected Him to the point of crucifixion and exile to Heaven, He temporarily left her in the care of His 12 Apostles, kingdom doctrine being their “goods” to trade until His Second Coming (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 12:35-48; Luke 19:11-27). When He returns from His Heavenly Father’s right hand, He will bless Israel with the New Covenant, forgiving their sins and making them His kingdom of priests (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Ezekiel 36:25-28; Acts 3:19-21; Romans 11:25-32; 1 Peter 2:9,10). No more will they be helpless and hopeless, for the Samaritan was “neighbour unto them!”
» Who were the Samaritans?
» Why did Peter and John need to lay hands on the Samaritans for them to receive the Holy Ghost?
» Does God give us “points” for trying to be good?