Jesus and Zacchaeus – Saving What Was Lost

Zacchaeus in the Sycamore Awaiting the Passage...Luke 19:1-10. 1 He came to Jericho and intended to pass through the town. 2 Now a man there named Zacchaeus, who was a chief tax collector and also a wealthy man, 3 was seeking to see who Jesus was; but he could not see him because of the crowd, for he was short in stature. 4 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree in order to see Jesus, who was about to pass that way. 5 When he reached the place, Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” 6 And he came down quickly and received him with joy. 7 When they all saw this, they began to grumble, saying, “He has gone to stay at the house of a sinner.” 8 But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Behold, half of my possessions, Lord, I shall give to the poor, and if I have extorted anything from anyone I shall repay it four times over.” 9 And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost.

Salvation. Jesus’ words in v. 9 are literally: “Today salvation has happened to/in this house(hold), because also this one is a son of Abraham.”

What is the “salvation” that has happened? “Salvation” (soteria) is a rare word in Luke. All the other occurrences are in the Benedictus (Zechariah’s song of praise – 1:69, 71 & 77), which are in references to John the Baptist’s ministry. The related word also translated “salvation” (soterion) occurs in the Nunc Dimittis (Simeon’s cry of praise in 2:30) and in a quote from Isaiah (3:6). So outside of two songs and an OT quote, the noun “salvation” only occurs this text. (Neither of these words occur in Mt or Mk and only once in John – although we have already encountered a related verb “to heal/save” (sozo) and will again in v. 10 below.

What happened to or in this house(hold)? Although this “salvation” declaration comes after Zacchaeus’ promises to give away money, we must note

Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down quickly, for today I must stay at your house.” (v.5)

And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house because this man too is a descendant of Abraham. (v.9)

The “salvation” event was Jesus himself coming to the house. The salvation wasn’t just for Zacchaeus, but for everyone else in the house(hold) – wife, children, slaves, guests?, etc. They had been in the presence of Jesus and that is salvation. (This narrative anticipates the household conversions in Acts 10:1-11, 18; 16:25-34; 18:1-11).

Descendant of Abraham What about Abraham? The verse makes it sound like Zacchaeus is saved because he is a son of Abraham – and that it had nothing to do with Jesus. However, we look at another Lucan verse about children of Abraham. John the Baptist declares: “Produce good fruits as evidence of your repentance; and do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God can raise up children to Abraham from these stones. Even now the ax lies at the root of the trees. Therefore every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Luke 3:8-9)  Being a child of Abraham is not about a biological connection, but bearing fruit worthy of repentance. As Paul stresses in Romans 4, the children of Abraham are those who live like Abraham, i.e., in a faith relationship with God. Zacchaeus has just promised to bear the proper fruit.

For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost. The question then becomes what are we seeking? Hopefully the answer is a saving and right relationship with Jesus that bears fruit in the world. Maybe the harder question is what enslaving prejudices do we bring that hold us and others back?  We know Zacchaeus, or people like him, and we more easily hold on to our assessments than to change our opinions about them.  We pigeon-hole people, we interpret all their present behaviors upon our past conclusions about them as people.  We believe what God can do in us, but others….. sometimes that is harder to believe. It is that moment we can perhaps more clearly see what we do not seek and what we assume is lost.


Luke 19:9 descendent of Abraham:  literally, “a son of Abraham.” The tax collector Zacchaeus, whose repentance is attested by his determination to amend his former ways, shows himself to be a true descendant of Abraham, the true heir to the promises of God in the Old Testament. Underlying Luke’s depiction of Zacchaeus as a descendant of Abraham, the father of the Jews (Luke 1:73; 16:22–31), is his recognition of the central place occupied by Israel in the plan of salvation.

Luke 19:10 the Son of Man has come to seek and to save what was lost: The assertion in 19:10, “seek and to save the what was lost [zētēsai kai sōsai to apolōlos],” concludes the Zacchaeus story and sums up the saving message of Luke’s central section: Jesus has come to seek and save the lost. This formulation echoes Yahweh’s self-description in Ezek. 34:16 as the true shepherd who will seek and save the lost sheep of Israel: “I will seek the lost [to apolōlos zētēsō], and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”



  • R. Alan Culpepper, Luke in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995) pp. 340-43
  • Joel B. Green, The Gospel of Luke (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 1997) pp. 666-73
  • Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke, vol. 3 of Sacra Pagina, ed. Daniel J. Harrington (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 1991) pp. 283-88
  • Jerome Kodell, “Luke” in The Collegeville Bible Commentary, eds. Diane Bergant and Robert J. Karris (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1989) pp. 968-70
  • Leon Morris,. Luke: An introduction and commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries Vol. 3: (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1988) pp. 288-90
  • G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI;  Nottingham, UK: Baker Academic;  Apollos, 2007) p. 353–54
  • Brian Stoffregen, “Brian P. Stoffregen Exegetical Notes” at


  • Gerhard Kittel, Gerhard Friedrich and Geoffrey William Bromiley, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 1995, c1985).
    K. H. Rengstorf, diagongýzō, 1:728–37
    J. Schneider, hēlikia, 2:941–43
    W. Michaelis, ideín, 5:315–82
  • H. R. Balz & G. Schneider, Exegetical Dictionary of the New Testament  (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1990)
    P.-G. Müller, anablepō, 1:76

Scripture –  Scripture quotes from New American Bible by Confraternity of Christian Doctrine, Inc., Washington, DC.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.