The Prodigal Son: An Esoteric Understanding of Ascension

by Joshua Tilghman on July 22, 2012

Almost everyone knows the story of the Prodigal Son. Traditionally, this story has been used to illustrate the hopeless plight of man and his subsequent need for repentance and salvation. This exoteric (literal / outer) interpretation is comforting, but it pales in comparison with the scope and breadth of the esoteric (inner) interpretation. Let’s dissect the story to better understand your reason for being here, what you can look forward to, and the direction you need to take in order to arrive! And yes, all that wonderful information is packed in the simple yet brilliant parable of the Prodigal Son.

When I was young Christian, still limited to the traditional Christian mindset, pieces of this parable were confusing, especially the condition of the older brother. After all, the story is about two brothers. But it wasn’t until I learned the esoteric understanding of the Bible as a whole before I realized the true meaning of this parable. The traditional Christian interpretation, while encouraging, falls short because it fails to address a few basic but very important questions:

1)      If the focus of the story was really about the need for man’s repentance and salvation, why was the older brother never lost and in need of salvation?

When the angry brother confronts his father for killing the fattest calf and throwing a party for the return of the younger brother, the father replies: “…Son, thou art ever with me, and all that I have is thine” (Luke 15:31). Jesus’ point for including the older brother in the parable certainly doesn’t fit the traditional Christian paradigm.

2)      Why does the brother remain ignorant to the blessing of his brother’s return? In other words, why isn’t he able to understand love?

I am going to give you the reasons for the questions above through the esoteric understanding. Not only will this story make more sense, but it will also give you the knowledge of the individual soul’s reason for having the physical experience. You will also come to realize that upon close inspection, The Prodigal Son builds upon the story of Adam, Eve, and the fall from Paradise.

As the story goes, the younger of the two brothers comes to his father and asks for his inheritance.

“…A certain man had two sons: and the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living” (Luke 15:11-12).

The Greek word used for living above means existence, not goods or wealth. This is our first clue into the esoteric interpretation. The Father represents the unified state of consciousness before the fall. Dividing up his living is symbolic of consciousness fracture into the subconscious and waking conscious states for experience on the material, or earthly plane of existence.

Jesus then states that the younger brother “took his journey into a far country.” The far country is symbolic of experience in material consciousness. It represents life on the physical earth, and just as Abraham realized that he was a sojourner on this earth and looked for a heavenly city, the younger brother in this parable will have a similar awakening.

The question we must now ask ourselves is why? Why would the father choose for the individual to experience life on the physical plane? Is physical existence with the accompaniment of the ego necessary for something grander? Keep this question in mind. We will return to it when we discuss the plight of the older brother who was angry at the end. As you will see, it all comes back to LOVE.

Next in the parable Jesus tells us that the younger brother spent everything he had on “riotous living.” Then a famine arose in the land, and the younger brother “began to be in want.” The younger brother now had to endure the hardships of the physical plane. These hardships are really symbolic of physical experiences in general. As you’ll soon learn, all physical experiences—whether painful or pleasant—become both necessary and good.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God…” (Romans 8:28).

Physical experience is the reason for your being here. It is through physical experience that the soul has the opportunity to grow. It doesn’t matter whether the physical experiences are ones of pleasure or pain. They are all opportunities for the self-recognition of the Christ nature within.

As I have stated on this blog before, you cannot truly KNOW what cold is without experiencing heat. You could not appreciate love without KNOWING fear. You cannot KNOW the victory of the cross until you have first experienced the cross!

The experience of the ego-centric life on the physical plane provides the experiences and opportunities for us to progress to the resurrection of Christ consciousness. The traditional Christian mindset learns to judge certain experiences in life as negative. While they may be painful, they are certainly not meant to be viewed as negative, and they certainly aren’t meant to be viewed as evil, either. They are only so if you believe that they are.

As we continue with the parable we learn that the younger son has an awakening through all his riotous living. In other words, somewhere along the journey he realizes his connection to Spirit (the Father).

“And when he came to himself, he said…I will arise and go to my father…” (Luke 15:17-18).

The Prodigal son then has awakened to the divine Christ nature within as a result of the opportunities life on the physical plane presented.

As we near the end of the parable, Jesus tells us that the son comes home and the Father is filled with joy. It is important to note here that his Father isn’t angry; God will never judge your experiences, and he certainly won’t place you in an eternal hell. Upon your awakening, your experiences cannot be judged, for the awakening process itself requires a non-judgmental attitude in the first place. This is part of going beyond the ego.

Now I want you to pay attention to what the Father says about his lost son:

“And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it and let us eat, and be merry: For this my son was dead, and is alive again: he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry” (Luke 15:23-24).

In ancient esoteric literature, the meaning of being dead has nothing to do with physical death. Why do you think Adam and Eve didn’t die the physical death the day that ate the fruit? To be dead represents the state of the soul in the physical body before it is awakened to the Christ nature within! It surely isn’t about a resurrection after physical death, for if you fail to be resurrected in this life, you must go round the mountain again (Yes, I mean reincarnation). So realize that the physical body is the tomb (though a holy one) for the spirit to first experience spiritual death and then to experience spiritual resurrection. And even though the body is a tomb, it is holy! A holy journey requires a holy vehicle.

Now we need to discuss the older brother. We have already seen his reaction. He is angry and is unable to love. Why? It is obvious that the older brother doesn’t recognize his connection with Spirit. He hasn’t been awakened. In other words, the older brother “is ever with [the Father]” and has access to all that the Father has. However, the older brother cannot enjoy love because he is not awakened!

And this is the reason that Jesus stated that both great and misunderstood statement found in Luke 7:47:

“Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven: for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.”

Now do you see why the older brother could not enjoy love? He had not experienced the fall and the awakening that his brother had. We could compare this older brother to the Christian who has been in church all his life and remains untainted by the vices of the world. Sometimes it seems like they are clueless and have no common sense as to the realities of life. They judge the silliest things and make anything they don’t understand an act of evil. (I was once one of these so-called loving Christians, so please realize I am in no way judging.) In the same way the older brother represents the part of our consciousness which remains in the ignorance of the ego.

It is experience that is the greatest teacher! It was the gift of the fall that provided the greatest love experiment God could provide. The fall of man, or the experience of consciousness on the physical plane was therefore meant to be one of the biggest and grandest opportunities for spiritual consciousness development in the history of the cosmos!

How can this knowledge of the Prodigal Son parable help you?

First of all realize that your fall was a necessary blessing, not a curse! In fact, the greater your experience (riotous living), the greater is your opportunity for self-realization. You must understand that although the opportunity to experience this fall has been your greatest opportunity, you must now take advantage of it and see the reality of your fall. The Apostle Paul taught us that he learned to be content in every situation. Ultimately, not to judge his experiences as good or bad. Instead he learned to take the experience for what it was: an opportunity for consciousness expansion, and hopefully, the realization of the Christ nature within!


{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

Paul Young August 4, 2012 at 4:04 pm

You absolutely NAILED this one, Josh. I might add that the killing of the fatted calf in the story represents the sin offering of the Old Testament, showing that the sin offering is a happy occasion, not a sad one (and has nothing to do with the literal slaying of a cow). The law is spiritual (Rom. 7:14), and the sacrifice of the fatted calf symbolizes the reward for coming back inside (where the “Father” is (Eph. 4:6)), and forsaking the famine (metaphoric of life without the Word of God (the inner Christ (Rev. 19:13), which is our meat and drink (John 6:55)).

As you so eloquently state, life is cyclical and empirical. We must experience going outside in order to realize it’s dark out there. It’s all night on the outside. All of the light is on the inside. (What a paradox to physical life!!) Outer darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30) vs. inner light (Christ, which dwells in us (1 John 4:4), is the light that is called “Day”) (John 1:1-10; Gen. 1:3-5).

The penalty of “sin” (or “wickedness,” both of which can be defined simply as “departing from the Father”) is death, which this story portrays in such an inspirational way when we truly come to understand it.

Once again, a ton of thanks. You are truly doing a great work here.


Joshua Tilghman August 5, 2012 at 9:05 am


You’re welcome. Looking into the deeper mysteries of the Bible is more fun than work. You also make a couple of good points about the fatted calf. I’ll have to look more into that. And as you say, the law is spiritual, and the letter of the law (literal interpretation) kills!


Lu god November 4, 2012 at 5:07 am

The fatted calf could represent a life fully lived. The say god doesn’t want sacrifice but a contrite heart


Joshua Tilghman November 4, 2012 at 10:28 am

Very true. Thanks for commenting and giving food for thought.


Paul Young May 7, 2013 at 7:12 pm

Lu god, you hit on something big here. In Psalms 40:6, David makes a very profound statement: “Sacrifice and offering thou didst not desire; mine ears hast thou opened: burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.” I believe the key phrase in this verse to be “mine ears hast thou opened.” In Ps. 51:16 he also talks about God not delighting in burnt offering. Then in verse 19 he goes right back to God’s delight in the burnt offering. What’s so interesting about this verse is that later on in the chapter verse, David goes right back to talking about the burnt offering. All that is necessary for spiritual understanding is to admit that we are blind. Once we do that, we open the door for “Christ” to teach us. Until we do that, we are left to grope in the dark, eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (man). A “broken and contrite heart” represents the greatest of sacrifices, when we truly come to understand what that means.

A consistent phrase throughout the New Testament is “he who has ears to hear, let him hear.” The Bible is written in a spiritual language, which is why natural man has so much difficulty understanding it, and why there is so much dissension among the religious populus as to its true meaning and intent. We must learn to “speak in tongues” (of course, not from the literal perspective, but this means simply to understand the spiritual language — it’s “another tongue”). For example, honoring mother and father has nothing to do with our natural parents.


Lu god May 7, 2013 at 7:23 pm

Paul. I received a reply to my post a couple of days ago and deleted it before reading it. Today I was looking through the trash to find it and couldn’t. All of a sudden, your reply post to my email! Your post says your May 7th, but you could have written it earlier. I don’t know. Whatever happened, this is mind boggling.


Paul Young May 7, 2013 at 9:19 pm

Actually, just wrote it a couple of hours ago. One of the things I have learned in spiritual life is that there truly are never any coincidences or “mistakes” in life. We just need to learn how to interpret the data we receive. Spiritual life truly is mindboggling. 🙂

Paul Young August 4, 2012 at 4:33 pm

I just had an epiphany as I was meditating on this after I finalized my last reply.

The fatted calf represents the Christ (the sacrifice for sin). Though the good son never left the father, yet as you point out, he hadn’t truly learned to love. It wasn’t until AFTER the wayward son comes “home” that the father explains this concept of love and the importance of making ready the fatted calf to the “good son” (for this my son was dead, and is alive), that they BOTH “party” (the essence of life in The Father – eating the flesh and drinking the blood of Christ). This represents the meat and drink in the Father’s house.



Joshua Tilghman August 5, 2012 at 9:07 am


Wow indeed. I think your on to something here. As I said, I am going to revisit the text and think on your idea a little bit. Thanks for taking the time to point that out in your comments, for others to see as well!


Bernhardt Adjedi Cadbury November 10, 2012 at 6:34 pm

Hi Josh, Talking of Adam and Eve story not literal or historic, have you considered what really happened during Maitreya’s initiation in Lemuria. Can you please throw more light on this. Thanks.


Joshua Tilghman November 11, 2012 at 10:13 am

Hi Bernhardt,

I am familiar with the theories regarding Lemuria, but I have never probed much into Maitreya. I didn’t even know there was a connection between Maitreya and Lemuria. But I can tell you that it probably isn’t meant to be literal either. Even Atlantis is just another brilliant myth to explain the human condition. Don’t get me wrong, I do believe the earth was very different before and during the last Ice Age and that there were many advanced civilizations now buried beneath the oceans, but we have to be careful in differentiating between what was real and what was meant to be deep spiritual truths.


anny May 4, 2013 at 7:36 am

The elder brother cannot awaken because he was never asleep and because of that he also cannot consciously experience love. But does he not experience a mini fall here? He gets angry which is after all something from the realm of emotions and the deep sleep. So maybe he does get some sort of awakening after all in order for him to also experience love consciously. After all, All is One, so maybe the Father and the elder son get to share in the experiences of the younger one and maybe this is a way to express that? Just an idea popping up but what do you think?


Paul Young May 7, 2013 at 6:47 pm

Hi Anny (and Josh — hope all is well with you these days).

Your post brings a few thoughts to mind. “It is appointed to ALL men once to die.” This death, of course, is not a physical death, but spiritual death. I believe both sons are dead here, but the son who doesn’t leave the Father is “dead in Christ.” Because he is with the Father, “restoration” (“resurrection”) is possible, and that is what he is receiving through the firsthand instruction from same. He is learning real love through the Father by observing the Father’s response to his wayward son.

The definition of sin is “eating from the wrong tree” (which is man — “cursed be the man that trusts in man” (Jer. 17:5); the “tree of the field is man” (Deut. 20:19); “I see men as trees walking” (Mark 8:24)). The eldest son never leaves the Father, and therefore has no need for a sin offering (which is what the fatted calf represents — “all that I have is yours,” says the Father).

As an aside, those who loudly preach the doctrine of hell fire have absolutely no knowledge of the “love” and “mercy” of the “Father.” They know not what those phrases mean.


Marina January 27, 2014 at 1:27 pm

Josh’s illuminating interpretation of the Prodigal Son parable reminded me of the famous painting “The Return of the Prodigal Son” by Rembrandt on which the Father is portrayed as blind which in itself is a powerful metaphor. He sees with the inner eye. It is this kind of vision that allows one to see things in their true light by penetrating into the spiritual realm.
Regarding the other son’s rancor: it is the Prodigal Son’s experience he garnered on his journey that counts and that the Father values so highly. A journey from “Paradise Lost” to “Paradise Regained” . In the words of the Father, “this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’”


james July 10, 2014 at 3:00 pm

josh just finished your blog on the prodigal was laid out so beautiful been doing what jesus said to do ye first the kingdom god and all the right things will be given to you on your journey.and about the fatted cow in the old testament god was asking why they were slaughtering animals for the blood .which we know could not atone for sin.any way ty so much for your in sight.never know the journey could be so beautiful as to learn of who and what we are god bless..peace love and light..


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