“For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.”
In the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15), we learn the true meaning of the Atonement of the Savior.
President Gordon B. Hinckley once said of the Parable of the Prodigal Son:
“I know of no more beautiful story in all literature than that found in the fifteenth chapter of Luke. It is the story of a repentant son and a forgiving father. It is the story of a son who wasted his inheritance in riotous living, rejecting his father’s counsel, spurning those who loved him. When he had spent all, he was hungry and friendless, and “when he came to himself” (Luke 15:17), he turned back to his father, who, on seeing him afar off, “ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him” (Luke 15:20).
“I ask you to read that story. Every parent ought to read it again and again. It is large enough to encompass every household, and enough larger than that to encompass all mankind, for are we not all prodigal sons and daughters who need to repent and partake of the forgiving mercy of our Heavenly Father and then follow His example?”
Are we not all prodigal sons and daughters?
As President Hinckley suggested, in reading this passage, we should all put ourselves in the place of the rebellious child. Elder Bruce D. Porter says, “The parable of the prodigal son is a parable of us all. It reminds us that we are, in some measure, prodigal sons and daughters of our Father in Heaven. For, as the Apostle Paul wrote, ‘all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23).”
In what ways are we “prodigals”? Maybe we don’t engage in “riotous living” like the prodigal son did, but we still “waste our substance.” Even if we are not overtly sinful, every one of us is more or less guilty of the waste that is sin: the waste of time, opportunities, talents, and resources that could be consecrated to the building up of the kingdom of God.
Elder Porter continues: “Like the errant son of the Savior’s parable, we have come to ‘a far country’ (Luke 15:13) separated from our premortal home. Like the prodigal, we share in a divine inheritance, but by our sins we squander a portion thereof and experience a ‘mighty famine’ of spirit (Luke 15:14). Like him, we learn through painful experience that worldly pleasures and pursuits are of no more worth than the husks of corn that swine eat. We yearn to be reconciled with our Father and return to his home.”
Like the prodigal son in the swine yard, we find ourselves living in a telestial world of sin and impurity, a world that has chosen separation from God. The swine yard symbolizes spiritual death, which is quite simply a rejection of the love of our Heavenly Father. The whole purpose of the Atonement of Christ is to restore us to the love of our Heavenly Father—to be once again “at one” with Him, to belong to Him, to be His child in the eternities.
When he came to himself . . .
To merit this blessing, however, we must do as the prodigal son did “when he came to himself.” This “coming to ourselves” is to realize our true position in relation to God, to recognize the power that sin has over us and to understand the spiritual famine in which we find ourselves because of our own poor choices. We must come face to face with ourselves and repent if we are to qualify for the blessings of the Atonement.
Only true repentance enables us to see ourselves for what we really are—unworthy in every way of the blessing of belonging to our Father’s house. The prodigal son came to see himself in truth “no more worthy to be called thy son.”
And then, happily, through true repentance and obedience to the commandment to return to Him, we can experience the miracle that follows:
“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.” This verse is the essence of Atonement: to be embraced by our Heavenly Father is to be “at one” with Him. Here we truly understand the significance of the temple endowment. “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.”
As Elder Jeffrey R. Holland observes, “Although we cannot minimize the seriousness of some mistakes, we can be washed and pronounced clean from all but unpardonable sin if we will but honor the Lamb of God.”
On his return, the prodigal son hoped only to be received into the house as a servant. “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.” The father’s instructions would have been highly significant to Jesus’ hearers, for they symbolized that the boy was being restored to his high position in the household.
Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him
The “best robe” is a translation of the Greek protostole, meaning “first” or “principal” robe. In Bible times robing ceremonies were associated with the coronation of the king or the divinization of a mortal. In the apocryphal books of Enoch, the prophet Enoch is taken into heaven, a temple of crystalline fire, where his own earthly robes are replaced with white robes signifying that he is accepted into the household of God. This robing ceremony is common among the apocalyptic seers (see the apocalypses of Abraham, Moses, Peter, and so forth); they were all endowed with white, shining robes symbolizing their exalted status. Intriguingly, the Greek term for “robing” is endusis, from which we derive the modern English word “endowment.” The father thus gives the prodigal son a robe in recognition of the boy’s renewed sonship and status as a ruler in the household.
Put a ring on his hand
Among the ancients, the signet ring was the emblem of a man’s identity and authority. As far back as Genesis, we read that Judah had a “signet,” probably in the form of an engraved ring that he used to make covenants with others. Pharaoh gave to Joseph the ring symbolizing his royal power. The Persian king Ahasuerus likewise gave Mordecai a ring as a token of rulership. In the parable, the father thus gives the prodigal son his ring to signify that the boy is a true heir of the family and a bearer of authority.
Put shoes on his feet
In New Testament times, shoes were an important indicator of status. Officials wore high-laced shoes on the street and sandals in the house. Slaves went barefoot. Putting shoes on the boy’s feet thus symbolizes his position as a free man, not as a servant or slave but a member of the household.
These highly symbolic actions constitute the father’s “endowment” of his repentant son.
His former status in the family is restored and his exalted position as an heir re-confirmed. His father’s tender embrace signifies that he is once again “at one” with him.
How is it possible that a son guilty of such atrocious sin can be restored? How can he regain what has been irretrievably lost?
Even if we repent, we certainly cannot claim that inheritance on our own. We can never repay what has been squandered and never make up for all that has been lost. But there is One who can: “There is no flesh that can dwell in the presence of God, save it be through the merits, and mercy, and grace of the Holy Messiah.” Through the Atonement of Jesus Christ we can once again find ourselves “encircled about eternally in the arms of his love.”
Son, thou art ever with me
But one stayed outside. “Now his elder son was in the field . . . and he was angry, and would not go in: therefore came his father out, and intreated him.”
The elder son who has been faithful to his father now resents the blessings bestowed on his brother. He continues to hold against his brother the former sins and will not forgive. In this respect, the elder son slides into sin himself.
As long as he refuses to forgive, the elder son remains outside the family circle. He cannot be “at one” with the others. By this refusal he literally rejects the Atonement. There can be no “at-one-ment” if unkind feelings remain between brothers and sisters. We each therefore have it in our power to include or exclude ourselves from the blessings of the Atonement. We can choose to stay outside if we want to.
Note, however, that the father will continue to “intreat” us to come inside and partake of the feast. He will exclude no one who is willing to come in. The Heavenly Father has infinite riches to bestow, and to bless one takes nothing away from another: “Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine,” the father says to his elder son.
The invitation is to all to “come home,” to come unto the Christ who atoned for our sins, who made it possible for each of us to enjoy once again the warm embrace of our Father in Heaven.
As Elder Holland has said: “God bless us to help each other come back home, where we will, in the presence of our Father, find waiting a robe, a ring, and a fatted calf.”
 Luke 15:24.
 Gordon B. Hinckley, “‘Of You It Is Required to Forgive’,” Ensign, Jun 1991, 2
 Luke 15:13.
 Bruce D. Porter, “Redeemer of Israel,” Ensign, Nov 1995, 15
 Luke 15:17.
 Luke 15:19.
 Luke 15:20.
 Luke 15:7.
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Robe, a Ring, and a Fatted Calf,” Ensign, Aug 1985, 68
 Luke 15;22.
 See 1, 2, 3 Enoch in Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Vol. 1, ed. James H. Charlesworth, Doubleday, 1985.
 Gen. 38:18.
 Gen. 41:42.
 Esther 8:2.
 2 Ne. 2:8.
 2 Ne. 1:15.
 Luke 15:25, 28.
 Jeffrey R. Holland, “A Robe, a Ring, and a Fatted Calf,” Ensign, Aug 1985, 68