It seems that the most attention is given to the prodigal son and his return to his father and his forgiveness of the son. We need to realize that a good portion of the story includes this story of the elder brother. While the prodigal was lost and separated from his father in a distant country, living riotously, the elder brother was lost while remaining at home. The younger son symbolizes those who are lost like the tax collectors and sinners and the elder brother symbolizes the self-righteous, the Pharisees and scribes of that day and of our own time as well. The father represents God demonstrating His love for each sinner and His joy at the sinner’s repentance.
The return of the prodigal son, the one considered dead had come to life again; the lost son had been found. The father is so thrilled in having his penitent son back home he was celebrating and making merry. The older son had been in the field, “And as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. So he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and because he has received him safe and sound, your father has killed the fatted calf.” He is filled with disdain and contempt for his younger brother even though he had repented. The root of bitterness had been in him for some time apparently. The Hebrew writer said,“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord: looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled” (Heb. 12:14-15). This son could not comprehend forgiveness and restoration to fellowship and therefore resented his father celebrating over this one who had lived an ungodly life. He refused to even go in and welcome his brother back. He immediately launched into an attack on his father who had refused to provide such a celebration for him and instead was honoring his brother for his immorality and ungodly behavior. He said, “But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.” David A Semands in his book, Healing Grace, said, “I am convinced that the basic cause of some of the most disturbing emotional/spiritual problems which trouble evangelical Christians is the failure to receive and live out God’s unconditional grace, and the corresponding failure to offer that grace to others. I encounter this problem in the counseling room more than any other single hang-up.”
This older brother showed absolutely no concern or sympathy for his lost brother who had returned. Are we filled with sympathy and loving concern for those who have fallen away? Are we deeply concerned about them and wanting to restore them? Or, are we like the self-righteous older brother? What is the remedy for self-righteousness? You will find the remedy in the words of the father: “Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours. It was right that we should make merry and be glad, for your brother was dead and is alive again, and was lost and is found.’” First, notice that the father called him “son,” therefore, think of this high and holy position (I John 3:1-3), and act like a son of the Most High God by seeking the lost. Second, the father said, “all that I have is yours.” Think of all of your possessions in Jesus Christ. Paul said, “Blessed is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3; Col. 2:9-10). Jesus has the power to change us from a self-centered person into a Spirit-filled loving and concerned Christian.
— The Elder Brother