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What Is The Spiritual Significance Of The Fatted Calf?

Hi D____,

Thank you for your question.

If you really want an in depth answer to this question, you can go through the series on the law of the offerings which is posted on  iswasandwillbe.com  But the short answer is that the fat around the kidneys and the caul was not to be eaten by the offerer. The fat represents the good health and the well being of the sacrifice. Good health and well-being are not possible while one is living in false doctrines and lies. Only when one "comes to himself" and sees himself as starving with the "husks being fed to swine" does he ever "return to his Father" where his Father's servants are all well fed. Until that time he "needs no repentance." What the fatted calf represented in the law of the offerings was the fact that this offerer was giving of his best to God. He was giving God a "fatted calf" or goat or sheep.

So in Luke 17 the fatted calf is our inheritance in Christ, and at the same time the 'fatted calf' is Christ and the spiritual nourishment that is His Word in us.

Lev 3:16  And the priest shall burn them upon the altar: it is the food of the offering made by fire for a sweet savour: all the fat is the LORD'S.
All the phraseology and all the words of the New Testament have their roots and foundations in the Old Testament. The "fatted calf" was kept up and fattened in preparation for or in the event of any special occasion. So when we read in Genesis that Abel brought of the firstlings of his flock "and of the fat," we understand that Abel was giving God exactly what God had required of mankind. God requires our very best. He will settle for nothing less:
Mal 1:7  Ye offer polluted bread upon mine altar; and ye say, Wherein have we polluted thee? In that ye say, The table of the LORD [is] contemptible.
Mal 1:8  And if ye offer the blind for sacrifice, [is it] not evil? and if ye offer the lame and sick, [is it] not evil? offer it now unto thy governor; will he be pleased with thee, or accept thy person? saith the LORD of hosts.
God had told both Cain and Abel to bring of the very best of the herds or the flocks a blood offering. Abel had done so. In obeying God and bringing of his very best - "of the fat" - Abel had "done well."

Cain, on the other hand, could not see the need for all that bloody mess. The spirit of Cain to this very day does not see the need for suffering, much less death. The whole issue of "the cross" and of having to die before becoming acceptable to God, just seems so very messy and unnecessary to the natural man.
John 12:24  Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit.
Why should Cain, who tilled the ground and raised grain with the sweat of his own brow, have to go to Abel, who kept flocks, and get his sacrifice from Abel? Never mind the  fact that God had killed an animal to cover their nakedness. God would just have to settle for a grain offering of the ground, of Cain's own efforts and of Cain's own works.

In depending upon his own logic and his own human reasoning, Cain disobeyed God. In his resentment of his brothers position with God, Cain disobeyed God.
Gen 4:1  And Adam knew Eve his wife; and she conceived, and bare Cain, and said, I have gotten a man from the LORD.
Gen 4:2  And she again bare his brother Abel. And Abel was a keeper of sheep, but Cain was a tiller of the ground.
Gen 4:3  And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the LORD.
Gen 4:4  And Abel, he also brought of the firstlings of his flock and of the fat thereof. And the LORD had respect unto Abel and to his offering:
Gen 4:5  But unto Cain and to his offering he had not respect. And Cain was very wroth, and his countenance fell.
Gen 4:6  And the LORD said unto Cain, Why art thou wroth? and why is thy countenance fallen?
Gen 4:7  If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? and if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door. And unto [Hebrew - 'el - Strong's #413] thee shall be his desire, and thou shalt rule over him.
Cain had disobeyed God's instructions. He had not "done well." In the end Cain was promised rulership over sin, but in the interim, sin was "at the door" and sin's desire is not 'unto' but "against" us. It is an incredible revelation that the very next verse translated the Hebrew word used for 'unto' in verse seven, is "against" in verse eight. For a more in depth look into this Truth read The Head of Christ Is God on iswasandwillbe.com
Gen 4:8  And Cain talked with Abel his brother: and it came to pass, when they were in the field, that Cain rose up against [Hebrew - 'el - Strong's #413] Abel his brother, and slew him.
1 John 3:4  Whosoever committeth sin transgresseth also the law: for sin is the transgression of the law.
A better translation of 1 John 3:4 would be "sin is lawlessness." We are all lawless by nature and by birth:
Psa 51:5  Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.
And this birth in sin is the result of being formed "in the Potter's hand of the dust instead of perfected spirit:
Jer 18:4  And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter: so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it.
So both Cain and Abel were born sinners. But Abel, typifying Christ, had obeyed the instructions they had both been given for approaching their Maker. Cain had disobeyed the instructions that a meal offering was never to be given to God except it be given upon a blood offering. The meal offering typifies what we do for God and our fellow man through Christ in us. When we leave out the "fatted calf" offering to God, we are saying that this meal is our works separated from the Lamb, separated from Christ. But this is the Truth of that matter:
John 15:5  I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
Bringing out the fatted calf is acknowledging the fact that our very best is only in Christ. Christ is that fatted calf which we offer to God. We can do nothing of ourselves. The spiritual application of the 'fatted calf' is the giving of our own lives in service to God. Service to God has very little to do with things that others see and acknowledge publicly. Our service to God is to be done in a way that "our left hand does not know what our right hand is doing:"
Matt 6:1  Take heed that ye do not your alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in heaven.
Matt 6:2  Therefore when thou doest [thine] alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, They have their reward.
Matt 6:3  But when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth:
Matt 6:4  That thine alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.
That is the meaning of the fatted calf.

Now let's look at the scripture you reference in Luke:
Luke 15:17  And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!
Luke 15:18  I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee ,
Luke 15:19  And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.
Luke 15:20  And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.
Luke 15:21  And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.
Luke 15:22  But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put [it] on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on [his] feet:
Luke 15:23  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill [it]; and let us eat, and be merry:
Luke 15:24  For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry.
Luke 15:25  Now his elder son was in the field: and as he came and drew nigh to the house, he heard musick and dancing.
Luke 15:26  And he called one of the servants, and asked what these things meant.
Luke 15:27  And he said unto him, Thy brother is come; and thy father hath killed the fatted calf, because he hath received him safe and sound.
Luke 15:28  And he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.
Luke 15:29  And he answering said to [his] father, Lo, these many years do I serve thee, neither transgressed I at any time thy commandment: and yet thou never gavest me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends:
Luke 15:30  But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou hast killed for him the fatted calf.
The prodigal son in this parable represents God's elect who have come to see that they can of themselves do nothing. "He came to himself" means that he came to realize that all he was capable of accomplishing on his own and of himself was to squander all he had been given. What brings any of us to this point is Christ in us:
John 15:5  I am the vine, ye [are] the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing.
"Without me you can do nothing," does not read 'without me you can do nothing good.'

It was Christ who brought the prodigal son to leave His Father so he could be brought to see his need for salvation. The elder brother is of course the Father's son also. But the elder brother is the "ninety and nine who need no repentance." They may hate their repentant brother but in their opinion they themselves have never done anything that warrants repentance.
Luke 15:2  And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
Luke 15:3  And he spake this parable unto them, saying,
Luke 15:4  What man of you, having an hundred sheep, if he lose one of them, doth not leave the ninety and nine in the wilderness, and go after that which is lost, until he find it?
Luke 15:5  And when he hath found [it], he layeth [it] on his shoulders, rejoicing.
Luke 15:6  And when he cometh home, he calleth together [his] friends and neighbours, saying unto them, Rejoice with me; for I have found my sheep which was lost.
Luke 15:7  I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance.
There are, of course, no ninety and nine; just persons who need no repentance:
Rom 3:23  For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;
But there certainly are ninety and nine who think they are just and are too good to be eating with sinners:
Luke 15:2  And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them.
So the answer to your question is that the fatted calf comes with the best robe, a ring and shoes for our feet. All of these things are taken from the Old Testament and are symbols of what God is doing and will do in His elect:
Luke 15:22  But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put [it] on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on [his] feet:
Luke 15:23  And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill [it]; and let us eat, and be merry:
But the blessing of partaking of the fatted calf will not be ours if we do not first give of our very best to our savior. Here is how that is done:
Col 1:24  Who now rejoice in my sufferings for you, and fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh for his body's sake, which is the church:
"And fill up that which is behind of the afflictions of Christ" should read "the Christ." But  that is another doctrine which is little understood and is also covered elsewhere on iswasandwillbe.com

I hope this has shown you that the "fatted calf" is Christ, working His very best in us to bring us to Himself,  He is working through us as we give of our very best as witnesses to our 'elder brother' and the ninety and nine who still think they "need no repentance." And finally, the fatted calf is what we still have to look forward to as participants in the "marriage supper of the Lamb." The celebration party for the prodigal son and the marriage supper of the Lamb are one and the same thing.

It is "the fatted calf" which symbolizes Christ. Christ is that which is the best of it all.

Mike