Luke 15:12 says, “And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that is coming to me.’ And he divided his property between them.”
The younger son represents God’s elect among the tax collectors and sinners. The older son, who’s not in this verse, represents the Pharisees and Scribes.
When the younger son makes reference to “the share of property that is coming to” him, he was referring to his rightful inheritance. This son was probably of age, he was choosing to leave his father’s house, and so it was proper for the father, if he chose, to give to his son the part of the estate that would be eventually his.
And so, the father in the parable does so. The division of property among the Jews gave twice as much to the older brother than to the younger brother. In this case, it seems that the younger brother took only money or moveable property, and the older brother stayed and lived on the father’s estate. The lands and the fixed property remained in their possession. Among the ancient Romans, it was customary, when a son came to the age of maturity, if he demanded his inheritance, for the father to give it to him. It’s possible that the Jews, at this time being under Roman rule, may have adopted this custom, and it might be this kind of demand to which the Savior is referring.
Among the Jews, if any inheritance were to be given early, it was usually in the case of a father presumably near death. While his father was still healthy, the younger son had no right to demand his share early. The father could have given it to his son, but not as one who was legally bound, but rather as a favor and gift. This was a selfish demand and a demand he had no right to make. This is like the sinner, who demands everything from God and gives no gratitude in return. And yet the father graciously gave him the inheritance.
This was also an act of foolish and spiteful independency. The son was, in effect, saying to the father, “I don’t need you.” As we’ll see later in the parable, he was wrong.
This verse paints a picture of us of our state of depravity. The difference between us and the younger son in this parable is that we don’t deserve any kind of inheritance. We, as Christians, were not His children until He adopted us. Therefore, we didn’t have a share. And yet we demanded it, didn’t we? We may not have said it verbally or thought it out, but before Christ, we wanted everything from God (or “nature” or “the universe”, what have you) and yet live our lives just for ourselves. We practically were saying to God, the Creator and upholder of the universe, “I don’t need you! Give me what I want and stay out of my life!”
It was in that disposition of His people’s hearts that God sent His only Son to die on the cross for them. What an amazing and incomprehensible love.