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In Luke 19:1-10 we read the story of Zacchaeus which ends like so:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold."

And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost."

(Luke 19:8-10 ESV)

Clearly Jesus announces that salvation has come to the man's home. Less clear (to me anyway) is the why. I can see several possible interpretations of the text:

  • Salvation came to Zacchaeus because he was generous in giving away his money and paying back those he had wronged. (I get this from the flow of the text, Jesus responding to Zacchaeus.)
  • Salvation came to Zacchaeus because by turning from his tax collecting, he turned from Rome and was reconciled back to the Jewish community. ("He also is a son of Abraham.")
  • Salvation came to Zacchaeus because Jesus had called him down from the tree and gone with him to his house. ("The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.")

Which of these (if any or many) is to be preferred? And why?

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4 Answers

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Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

tl;dr;

Analysis of the grammar indicates that Zacchaeus is on the verge of a large shift in his understanding of his place and power as well as the nature of of whom this Jesus is. Jesus, having demonstrated the capacity to know the hearts of humans, understands the eternal implications of this shift.

Specific Context

Jesus meets Zacchaeus in Jericho while on his way to Jerusalem for the last time. The account closely follows the story of the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30), in which Jesus declares that “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” The people following him asked, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus’ reply was that “What is impossible with men is possible with God” (vv. 25-27). Jesus, then, for the third time, foretells his own death–the specific reason for this journey to Jerusalem. On the way into Jericho he once again identifies with a social outcast, this time a blind beggar, and heals him because of his faith. Once in Jericho he encounters Zacchaeus, “concluding his public ministry in Galilee and Judea.”

Not only was Zacchaeus πλούσιος (“rich”), he was also the chief tax collector, a position that indicated that he was directly employed by the Roman Empire. As chief tax collector, he would have been a district manager, in a sense, over a tax-collection territory. The size of this territory was never revealed in the narrative, but Jericho and its immediate vicinity were renowned for their wealth as an oasis city with fruit, fig, balsam-wood, and other produce. The city was also a primary toll station for transit between Arabia and Judea. Zacchaeus was well positioned to be wealthy even without his occupation but both are probably mentioned to “heighten the stress on his wealth.”
Exposition and Interpretation

Commentators and scholars see this as a fairly straightforward situation that demonstrates exemplary use of wealth and material resources. As a historical event narrated by Luke, the story lends itself to a straightforward analysis through appropriate use of critical methods. Because of this it also risks over-analysis which may lead to a distorted perspective and understanding, such as extreme ascetism or even legalism.

vv. 1-4 Since Zacchaeus is small he is overwhelmed by the crowd in his attempts to see Jesus. He overcomes this by climbing up into a sycamore tree to get a better view. Sycamores are common in the area and their branches are long, plentiful, and grow close to the ground. This would have made it quite easy for Zacchaeus to follow through on his desire to see Jesus.

vv. 5-6 Jesus notices him in the tree and, as Gillman says, “speaks with divine necessity: ‘I must stay at your house today’.” Zacchaeus knew the appropriate response and actually did it, coming down to meet Jesus. Once again the onlookers grumbled against Jesus. Zacchaeus was not only a religious outcast but also a social outcast since he represented the oppression of the Roman government.

Once Zacchaeus has come down out of the tree the text states that he received Jesus joyfully. The timeline in this story becomes a bit ambiguous. ὑπεδέξατο (“received”) is an aorist verb which denotes an indefinite amount of time. As the Greek default tense the aorist is simply stating that this is, in fact, what happened, and no further assumptions may be made about this. Gillman takes this to mean that Zacchaeus accepted Jesus’ invitation to invite him into Zacchaeus’ home and that makes contextual sense.

v. 7 The shift to the imperfective aspect of διεγόγγυζον (“was murmuring”) may indicate that the crowd grumbled and began their murmuring that didn’t stop throughout the occasion. Speaking on his own behalf Zacchaeus notes that he gives half of his goods to the poor. This would have been an extravagant donation, given that rabbinic law actually discouraged giving in excess of twenty percent of one’s goods.

vv. 8-9 An initial reading may leave one with the option to take the present tense verb δίδωμι (“I give away”) as an iterative present which would indicate that this was a customary action. This perspective would need to view ἀποδίδωμι (“I restore/repay”) as a tendential present which implies that Zacchaeus was just on the verge of doing the action. This, then, is what ultimately caused Jesus to declare that salvation had come to Zacchaeus’ house. It is probably more preferable to treat both presents as tendential, since an iterative would imply that Zacchaeus will periodically give away his ill-gotten gain. This does not match the context or the tone of the narrative which is that of a shocking reconciliation of a traitor, nor does it match the immediacy of Jesus’ declaration that “Today salvation has come.” Additionally, Metzger argues for the possibility that Zacchaeus is not pledging to give half to the poor and keep half of his wealth but to give away his half of all that he owns, on the basis of an early Greek uncial that includes a possessive, genitive pronoun. If true, this is even more radical of a gift and transformation than previously thought!

Perhaps the most important part of this story, though, is Zacchaeus’ motivation. τοῖς πτωχοῖς δίδωμι (“to the begging I give”), arranged as such, places πτωχοῖς in the emphatic position. Thus Zacchaeus’ motivation for giving is not to detach himself from his possessions but to make a significant contribution to Jesus’ mission to the poor. It is because of this concern that Jesus declares salvation upon him and his family.

I'd cite my sources here, but there are a lot. Feel free to find them in this specific section in my thesis which can be found here.

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In Dr. Thomas Constable's commentary (click the "Constable's Notes" tab), he posits a fourth option:

Jesus’ assessed Zaccheus’ promises as an evidence of saving faith. Salvation had come to that house because Zaccheus had exercised saving faith and had thereby proved to be a genuine descendant of Abraham, the spiritual father of all believers. His faith and works proved that he was a spiritual son of Abraham and not just one of his physical descendants (cf. Gen. 15:6; 22:1-19). Now he could enter the kingdom, not because he was a Jew physically but because he was a believer in Jesus.

“This ['He also is a son of Abraham'] will seem to be an irrelevant remark unless we recognize that the principal tension in the story is caused by the rejection of Zacchaeus by the Jewish community.”


Although brief, the Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 252) has a very similar take on this verse.

Jesus' words, Today salvation has come to this house, did not imply that the act of giving to the poor had saved Zaccheus, but that his change in lifestyle evidenced his right relationship before God. Zaccheus, a son of Abraham by birth, had a right to enter the kingdom because of his connection with Jesus. That was Jesus' mission—to seek and to save those who are lost (cf 15:5, 9, 24).

(All emphasis theirs—they bold words quoted from the text.)

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I don't think Dr. Constable is necessarily wrong; but part of my asking the question was because I didn't find his commentary quite compelling. "Faith" is never mentioned in the passage. –  Soldarnal Nov 11 '11 at 2:04
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@Soldarnal - Although Luke doesn't explicitly mention "Faith", using a cross reference to Gal 3:7 allows us to assume that Luke was implying it... Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. –  Jed Nov 11 '11 at 5:39
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Also, there are several passages (Ephesians 2:8-10, James 2:14-26) that demonstrate, while works are not salvific, they are normative for those who are saved. –  GalacticCowboy Nov 11 '11 at 13:43
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@Jed - To my mind, I guess I feel it doesn't do justice to Luke's own voice to explain him simply by using Paul. As I've been thinking through this text lately, I think the beginning half of Luke 3, particularly verses 3-14 and especially verse 8 have far more weight. –  Soldarnal Nov 11 '11 at 19:13
    
That's not to say that I don't think systematics is not possible or even undesirable. Indeed, at some point I will want to consider how Luke and Paul (and James) all harmonize. –  Soldarnal Nov 11 '11 at 19:18
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Zaccheus was saved because God chose him to be a type of Christ.

His name means 'pure' and as the chief tax collector in a tree he portrayed Christ on the cross in the same manner as the serpent which was lifted up in the wilderness. Jesus was pure as he bore the sins of man. The tax collector represents sin because we cannot serve God and mammon.

He also represented Jesus being 'least' in stature. Jesus humbled himself and came to serve all men. He is the greatest in the kingdom because he made himself least in this world.

When Jesus saw the picture of his own destiny in Zaccheus, he invited himself to dinner to finish the picture, since when he came off the cross, he went to the marriage supper of the Lamb.

As a bride of Christ figuratively, his actions of giving away his possessions and restoring what he had taken completes the picture since Christ and his bride are 'fruitful'.

Jesus sees the hand of the Father in the intimate details of what happened and declares salvation because of the presence of the hand of God in it all.

We too are chosen to be types of Christ and God works in the details of our lives to make us look more like Jesus every day.

'Why' is always because God chose to, 'How' is always the cross. There is no merit toward salvation in giving things away, nor by giving up his job, nor by being called down from the tree. Jesus was merely declaring what God had done by the fruit that he saw.

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Even though the OP says "why" was he saved, I think he means it more in the sense of "how," given the rest of the question. In that light, I'm not sure "Zaccheus was saved because God chose him to be a type of Christ" is an answer to the question because it seems like you are there stating that God saved him ("how" unstated) so that he could be a type of Christ. Or am I misunderstanding you? –  Kazark May 26 '12 at 3:58
    
@Kazark, I added ending statement in response. –  Bob Jones May 26 '12 at 5:20
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Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. Jesus is making this statement regarding salvation as a reference to his statement previously to Zacchaeus when he was in the tree, "make haste, and come down; for to day I must abide at thy house. Jesus' repeating of the noun "oikos-house/home" shows a connection between the two references. Jesus first said "I" am going to your house, and his second reference was, "salvation" has come to your house. Conclusion, Jesus = salvation.

First, I think we need to recognize Zacchaeus' actions throughout this passage to understand what Jesus recognized from Zacchaeus' actions regarding the inward reality of Zacchaeus' heart and motivations to his actions.1

This gives precedence for this type of practice and what I will attempt to do below.

List of Zacchaeus’ actions that I believe expose his heart in the text:

"he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see Him"

This is the first action we see from Zacchaeus. The text doesn't specifically say what we can we deduce from this action but lets consider a few things. The text explains to us that he was the chief tax collector meaning he was the head of the department. Also that he was a rich man.

Further the text says he wanted to see Jesus but couldn't because of the great crowd, so his response was to climb the tree. Now obviously he could have responded in many ways - Lets say he walked away because of the difficulty with the crowd. What could we deduce by that action is that it wasn’t that important for him to “see” Jesus. So lets consider what the text says he did - climbed the tree.

  • Do regular people typically climb trees? - maybe
  • Do distinguished people climb trees? - unlikely
  • Do distinguished rich people climb trees? - more unlikely
  • Do distinguished rich people climb trees in front of crowds of people?- NO

So I conclude that it was paramount in the heart of Zacchaeus to see Jesus, because he was willing to do whatever it took, even if it meant his pride, affluency, and reputation, just to get a glimpse of Him. Remembering that Zacchaeus had no clue that Jesus would recognize him at all.

Also we have to look at Jesus’ response to Zacchaeus climbing the tree, to get a glimpse of what Jesus deduced from Zacchaeus’ action.

Jesus saw him, and out of all the people in the crowd, wanted to stay/remain (greek - meno - abide, continue, lasting, live) with him in his house. To me that is evidence that He wanted to begin a relationship with Zacchaeus.

Look at Luke 10 - where the seventy are sent out. In verse 7 this same greek word meno is used. Jesus says,

“Stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house.”

I believe that the itinerant Jesus was going to do the same thing that he told the seventy sent out. If the person receives you remain there as long as you are in that city.

So again, I conclude, like I said earlier, Jesus believed that it was paramount in the heart of Zacchaeus to see Him, since Zacchaeus was willing to do whatever it took, even if it meant his pride, affluency, and reputation, just to get a glimpse of Him.

Final conclusion of Zacchaeus first action:

By Zacchaeus’ actions we see his heart's motivation and by Jesus’ response we see Zacchaeus’ hearts motivation.

In response to Jesus's question in verse 5, we see the second action of Zacchaeus. Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house.” Zacchaeus' response in verse 6, "So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly". Again I believe, for Jesus, this is an outward expression of an inward reality. There are many texts in the gospels that express that there is a prerequisite to having a relationship with Him and that is accepting/receiving of Jesus/the gospel. Here is one:

John 13:20 Jesus says, "Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

By Zacchaeus accepting / receiving Jesus into the place he lives, is expressing the fact that Zacchaeus has nothing to hide and in fact “gladly” receives Jesus into the most intimate place of his life.

The home is the place the family lives and the most intimate place of our lives. No one knows me better than the ones who spend time with me in my home. The more time someone spends in my home the more they know me intimately. I believe if you really want to know someone or be known by someone you have to go to or let them in your “home”.

Jer 23:24 - “Can a man hide himself in hiding places So I do not see him?”

Luke 12:1-3 “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.  But there is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known.  Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have [c]whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.2

The third action that Zacchaeus did that exposes the reality inside his heart is when he stops Jesus on the way to his house and says, “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.”

Many times in the NT it says one must repent to be forgiven of sins (Mark 1:4; Luke 24:47) gladly exposing the darkness in your life so you can come to the light.

Jesus said to the rich man regarding rich men in Matt 19:24, “I say to you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus then tells the man “to go sell everything he has and give to the poor, and come follow me” finally the concluding remarks of the writer says, “when he had heard these things, he became very sad, for he was extremely rich”.

But not Zacchaeus he was glad to give it even without being asked and was following Jesus as he said those things.

Final conclusion of Zacchaeus first action:

By Zacchaeus’ actions we see his hearts motivation and by Jesus’ response we see Zacchaeus’ heart's motivation.

FINALLY WE GET TO THE CONCLUSION OF JESUS AND THE WRITER - LUKE:

Jesus / Luke’s conclusion:

“Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Consider a few things:

  • For Jesus there is a difference between descendants (sperma - greek word for descendants) and calling Abraham there father / being sons of Abraham. (John 8:31-59)
  • Abraham had 2 sons Ishmael born of the flesh and Isaac - miraculously born of faith! The Jews knew that Jesus was making reference to this fact and it offended them. Biblically in Jesus' mind a son of Abraham is a man of faith that produces works that prove he has faith, just like Abraham (Heb 11:17...)
    • What is a “son of Abraham in the eyes of Jesus. Refer back to the text above and Luke 3: 7-9 - John the baptist says bear fruits in keeping with repentance.
    • Matt 8:5-13 (key in on vs’s 10-12 “Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith [l]with anyone in Israel. 11 I say to you that many will come from east and west, and [m]recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven; 12 but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” )
  • Luke also records this but there is not such an emphasis on the Jews, because Matthews gospel was written to the Jews.
    • This passage shows a man who Jesus said, “I haven’t seen such great faith in all Israel” but then in context to the centurion and his faith, many from east and west (other nations) will recline at the table of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob but the “sons of the kingdom” will be cast out. These are in the lineage of but not of the faith of the patriarchs!

Anyone with Faith = The true children of Abraham in the eye of Jesus!

CLOSING PASSAGE:

Who is a son of Abraham? Read Gal 3...

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? 2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? 4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? 5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of [h]the Law, or by hearing with faith?

6 Even so Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness. 7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham. 8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the nations will be blessed in you.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.

10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them.” 11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “The righteous man shall live by faith.” 12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “He who practices them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree”— 14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

As a side-note the name Zacchaeus means pure. This passage exposes that the name fit this man!


1 This is something typical of Jesus expressed in the gospels. As a reference of proof look at Matt 26:6-13, Mark 14:3-11, Luke 7:36-50 regarding the woman with the alabaster of perfume. In short Matthew and Mark say nothing regarding this woman’s inward reality of love for Jesus, although it can be deduced by her actions, but Luke expands the event explaining that Jesus recognized this sinful woman’s internal reality of great love in her heart based on her outward action of pouring out the alabaster of perfume.

2 Also cf. Scriptures of people exposed and receiving forgiveness: John 8:1-11, John 4.

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I edited this to improve the formatting and kept as much as possible. –  Daи Jan 30 at 6:41
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