Let's follow the plain literal meaning of a passage and see where it takes us:
Luke 17:12 And as he entered into a certain village, there met him ten men that were lepers, which stood afar off:
13 And they lifted up their voices, and said, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.
14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
OK. We're lepers that were just told by Jesus to go show ourselves to the priests. Therefore, since we follow the plain and literal meaning of the Bible (words of Christ) we would also go show ourselves to the priests just as those ten lepers did.
Certainly, as we go seek out the priests and desire to follow the words of Christ to the letter, we will be doing something that glorifies God.
However, despite the fact that all ten lepers were cleansed as they went, one of them veered off course (apparently) from the things that Jesus had told him to do. He stopped walking with the other 9 lepers who continued on their way to find the priests as instructed. The one leper, a Samaritan, turned away from that course and back towards Jesus:
Luke 17:14 And when he saw them, he said unto them, Go shew yourselves unto the priests. And it came to pass, that, as they went, they were cleansed.
15 And one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, and with a loud voice glorified God,
16 And fell down on his face at his feet, giving him thanks: and he was a Samaritan.
Surely, we would think, Jesus would reprimand this Samaritan man for failing to follow His command to show himself to the priests as the 'faithful' other 9 were doing.
But no, Jesus did not reprimand him. And Jesus did not commend the other 9. Instead the reverse happened:
Luke 17:17 And Jesus answering said, Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.
Where are the nine?
Why is Christ asking that question? Isn't it obvious where they are? They are at the temple seeking out a priest. They obediently followed exactly what they were told to do by Jesus (the Word).
Yes, they did follow the Word's (Jesus) literal directions. Just as the Jews of old would seek to follow the literal commandments concerning feast days, and the offering of sacrifices, and circumcision, and so on.
Also the nine lepers followed the plain literal words of Christ just as multitudes of professed Christians today as they have been instructed by their pastors and elders and theologians to seek the plain literal meaning of a verse, and no other (that is, do not look for a deeper spiritual meaning).
And yet, let's hear Jesus' determination regarding the nine that continued on their way to fulfill His own command:
17 “Were there not ten cleansed? but where are the nine?
18 There are not found that returned to give glory to God, save this stranger.”
To fail to "give glory to God" is an horrible condemnation. Failing to give glory to God is what the rebel sinner does:
Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
The nine lepers, likewise, came short of the glory of God. Which we can understand to mean that they remained in their sinful condition.
Someone looking at Jesus' command, and the actual acts of the ten lepers to obey, literally, that very command, and then the pronouncement of Christ that the one (Samaritan) who did not follow through and keep the literal command, nonetheless somehow did manage to glorify God.
And the mind boggling fact, that the nine lepers who did everything right, at least in direct accordance with the message they heard from Jesus, nevertheless failed to glorify God. Might scratch their head in confusion. The whole thing seems upside down.
There is, however, a very good explanation for why the nine failed to glorify God and the one Samaritan did bring God glory. The explanation has major implications for all that study the Bible and the manner in which we do it.
The major implications this passage has for those that seek to do the will of God (Christ) are fearful. This passage really ought to frighten all those that think they are doing the will of God because they seek to listen and obey the plain and literal meaning of the Bible. Christ’s statement questioning, “where are the nine?” is a dire warning to the school of thought that the Bible must be interpreted in a literal way.
Is there any explanation for why Jesus said the Samaritan, in turning around from the literal path of going to the temple to find the priests glorified God? And why the 9 lepers who continued on that route failed to glorify God?
Yes. And it’s an explanation that has importance to the understanding of the whole Bible.
In order for us to properly understand why the one glorified God and the nine did not, we must first realize that leprosy in the Bible is a picture of sin. When Christ cleansed a leper it was a picture of a sinner becoming saved and having their desperate and ugly wickedness (leprosy) washed away thus cleansing them from all sin.
Also, we need to know that as the priests fulfilled their role as priests, they were living representations of the great High Priest--who offered up the sacrifice of Himself. The Lord Jesus Christ.
When Jesus told the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests, He was calling upon an Old Testament law that said that very thing:
Leviticus 14:2 This shall be the law of the leper in the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought unto the priest:
3 And the priest shall go forth out of the camp; and the priest shall look, and, behold, if the plague of leprosy be healed in the leper;
4 Then shall the priest command to take for him that is to be cleansed two birds alive and clean, and cedar wood, and scarlet, and hyssop:
5 And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water:
6 As for the living bird, he shall take it, and the cedar wood, and the scarlet, and the hyssop, and shall dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water:
7 And he shall sprinkle upon him that is to be cleansed from the leprosy seven times, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose into the open field.
A leper in the day of his cleansing was to be brought to the priest. This is why Jesus commanded the lepers to show themselves to the priests.
Yet, there has always been a deeper spiritual meaning to the law found in Leviticus 14: it pointed to the cleansing of a sinner (leper) from his sins (leprosy) by Jesus the High Priest (priest of the tribe of Levi).
GOD GLORIFIES HIMSELF BY HIDING HIS WORD IN PARABLES
Once we understand that Christ spoke in parables and without a parable He did not speak. And once we understand that Christ is the Word made flesh and therefore He (the Word) spoke in parables in order to teach us how we must understand the whole of the Scriptures---then we easily understand why the nine lepers failed to glorify God and why the one Samaritan leper did glorify God.
First of all, remember what God says about glory, in:
Proverbs 25:2 It is the glory of God to conceal a thing: but the honour of kings is to search out a matter.
The Hebrew word translated as "thing" and as "matter" in the above verse is the word debar. It is the Hebrew word for 'word'. So, God is saying that it is HIS GLORY TO CONCEAL A WORD. And it is the honor of kings to search out a word. This is why Christ spoke in parables, because in doing so God concealed His word and glorified Himself by doing so. And by speaking in parables the Lord also has presented His elect people, spiritually identified as prophets, priests, and kings in the Bible, with tremendous opportunity for honoring God by searching out the Scripture.
John 5:39 Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life: and they are they which testify of me.
When Jesus told the ten lepers to go and show themselves to the priests--we cannot understand why He asked where they went and how it is they failed to glorify God, until we realize, that, although they kept the outward command, the surface command, or the plain literal meaning of the words they heard from Christ, nevertheless, they failed to keep the deeper spiritual meaning of those same words.
THE DEEPER SPIRITUAL MEANING OF GOING TO THE PRIEST--GO TO JESUS
The deeper spiritual meaning of showing themselves to the priests would have been to go to Jesus Christ Himself. The great High Priest that stood for His people.
The deeper spiritual meaning was this: a sinner (leper) in the day of the washing away of his sins (cleansing of leprosy) was to go directly to Jesus Christ (priests) and no one else.
The cleansed Samaritan leper, probably, in the historical situation did not realize what he was doing. He was simply overjoyed by the fact that the awful disease of leprosy had left him. So, in his great joy he instinctively turned around and sought out Jesus to thank Him for the great act of mercy done to him.
The Samaritans actions beautifully illustrate events that took place when God would grant salvation to sinners.
The law's command to go to the priest in the day of the leper's cleansing (Leviticus 14) was given to instruct the sinner of the great need to go directly to Jesus for salvation.
But the nine lepers did not go to Jesus. Instead, they went to the earthly priests as instructed. And in carrying out the surface command of the Bible they failed to glorify God.
The nine lepers accurately represent those in the churches today and their theologians that tell people to not go deeper into the Bible. They warn against 'spiritualizing'. They call it dangerous.
But the far greater danger is to follow the plain and literal meaning of the text. For any doing so, it is certain that they will fall short of the glory of God.