A Problem of Perspective (Luke 13:1-21)
1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all [“likewise,” NASB] perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all [“likewise,” NASB] perish.”
6 Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. 7 So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ 8 “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. 9 If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’ “
10 On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11 and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” 13 Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. 14 Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” 15 The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16 Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” 17 When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
18 Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? 19 It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in [“threw into,” NASB] his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.”
20 Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? 21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into [“hid in,” NASB] a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
One’s perspective makes all the difference in the world. To most of you, a car that is “sick” or “dead” has no appeal. If you own it, you probably will try to think of a way of getting someone else to purchase it, or even to take it off your hands. On the other hand, when I look through the “car” section of the want ads, I have no interest in those cars which are running well. I want the sick and the dead ones.
The son of a farmer looks at cow manure as something which he must endlessly shovel out of the barn—a pain in the neck. The flower gardener, on the other hand, looks at manure as free fertilizer. They delight to get the stuff. They shovel it around the flower beds with joy. A mere matter of perspective.
Our perspective is very much a reflection of who we are. A Christian’s perspective is very much determined by his or her spiritual gifts. To the apostle Paul, John Mark was a liability, a man who could not be counted on, and thus a man who should not be taken along on a missionary journey. To Barnabas, whose gift was encouragement, Mark was an opportunity and a challenge. Mark was a man who needed encouragement, and Barnabas was the man to do it, just as he had ministered to Paul (Saul) in the early days of his Christian walk.
In our text, we find two very different perspectives reflected. One is that of the Jewish leadership and of many of their followers. The other is the perspective of God, as seen in the viewpoint of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In verses 1-5, a certain group of people viewed the tragic and untimely death of a group of men as an indicator of great sin and of God’s wrath. To Jesus this tragedy took on an entirely different meaning, one which He shared with His listeners. The parable of the fruitless fig tree in verses 6-9 is our Lord’s response to the previous incident, teaching Israel about themselves and about God.
The account of the healing of the hunchback, the Israelite woman who had been stooped over for 18 years (verses 10-17) again reveals a very different set of perspectives. The woman’s long-term suffering produced one response, and her healing evoked praise from her and delight for many, but it greatly irritated the ruler of the synagogue, who did not want the Sabbath violated by such “work” as healing. Jesus has an entirely different perspective from this man, as we shall see in our study.
Finally, in verses 18-21 our text ends with two very short parables. These parables, one about a mustard tree (vv. 18-19) and the other about leaven (vv. 20-21), give a divine perspective on the kingdom of God, one, as we might expect, very different from that of most Israelites.
Man’s natural way of viewing things is never the same as God’s (Isaiah 55:6-9), and thus we can only know God’s thoughts from His Word, as revealed to us through His Spirit (1 Corinthians 2:14-16). Let us approach this text as those whose perspective is warped and distorted by sin, and let us look to God to give us that perspective which is like His. Let us listen well to these words of Scripture and heed them as the Word of God.
As we approach this text it is especially important for us to remember Luke’s audience and his purpose in writing this gospel. Other gospels were known to Luke, but he wrote this gospel for Gentile believers. He is not writing to a Jewish audience, as Matthew has done, but he is writing to Gentiles, showing them how a Jewish Messiah, in fulfillment of His promises to Israel, can bring salvation to the entire world.
Our text from this lesson is one which helps to explain why Israel rejected Jesus as her Messiah, and of the way in which God used Israel’s hardness of heart and rejection of Christ to bring about His promised kingdom. The nature of the kingdom of God is very different from that which Israel expected, and it is brought about in a very different manner than they thought it would be. Few texts will give us more insight into the reasons why God took the kingdom away from Israel and gave it, as it were, to the Gentiles.
The Meaning of
the Massacre of the Galileans
Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all [“likewise,” NASB] perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all [“likewise,” NASB] perish.”
Jesus was still surrounded by a multitude of thousands (Luke 12:1), sometimes teaching the masses (e.g. 12:54) and at other times teaching His disciples (e.g. 12:22). Sometimes it was not clear just who He was speaking to (cf. 12:41). At one point in time a delegation came to Jesus with some tragic news—a report that Pilate had recently slain a group of Galileans237 as they were worshipping. He mixed their blood with their sacrifices, we are told (v. 1). We do not know whether those who came bearing this account were Galileans themselves, or (more likely in my opinion), whether they were not.238
There was a meaning to this message. The report was conveyed to Jesus for a reason. Those who were the bearers of this bad news viewed it through their own perspective, a perspective which differed from our Lord’s. Jesus’ response to them exposed both their thinking and the error it betrayed. They had already drawn a false conclusion: these Galileans were greater sinners than others. This false conclusion was based upon a faulty premise: one’s suffering in life is indicative of one’s sin, just as one’s prosperity is proportional to one’s piety.
Jesus rejected both the conclusion and its premise as being false. He asked the question, which He answered with a simple, but emphatic, “no.” Then He immediately changed the focus. The tragedy which befell those Galileans should not be viewed as an opportunity to judge those who died at the hand of Pilate to be great sinners. Instead, it should be perceived as a warning to all sinners, namely themselves, of a judgment which awaits them.
Before we turn to the words of our Lord, found first in verse 3 and then repeated in verse 5, let us first take note that our Lord turned the attention of these men to another tragedy. This was also a tragedy which occurred in Jerusalem, at the tower of Siloam.239 Here, 18 men were killed when the tower in Siloam suddenly collapsed and fell on them. These men were not greater sinners than others either.
Some point out that while the Galileans died at the hand of man (namely Pilate), the 18 people who died in Jerusalem died at the hand of “nature,” at what we would call an “act of God.” We may also conclude that while the first group of men who died were those from Galilee, the second group seems to be those who lived in Jerusalem. If these Jerusalemites tended to look down their noses at the Galileans, Jesus will provide them with an example of their own peers dying in a similar way, tragically, prematurely, unexpectedly. While they compared Galileans with themselves, Jesus compared Galileans with Galileans (v. 2), and Jerusalemites with Jerusalemites (v. 4).
There are differences between these two groups of men who died, but the similarities seem more striking to me. First, those in both groups died. Jesus is not speaking of suffering in general terms, but specifically of death. He also warns His audience of the death which they will experience. Second, both groups died in a similar way—quickly, unexpectedly, tragically. Third, both groups died at a place and time when they may have felt very safe. When would a legalistic Jew feel more spiritual and “closer to God” (thus “safe” from divine judgment) than when he was performing his religious ritual of sacrifice. They died while offering sacrifices! And the 18 men who died in Jerusalem died while standing near a tower, undoubtedly a tower that was a significant part of their defense network. The tower would be that place where guards were stationed, the place from which an attack from outside the walls of the city would be countered. Where could anyone have stood that would have made them feel more secure? And yet they died by the tower. Literally, they died under the rubble of that tower. That which they viewed as their salvation was their destruction.
Judaism, from the perspective of the self-righteous (and lost) Israelite, was his salvation. Being a physical descendant of Abraham was all one needed to be assured of a place in the coming kingdom. This was what the typical Israelite thought. Jesus’ words should have sent a chill down the spine of every listener. These people all died doing that which made them feel safe and secure.
Jesus’ words, as I understand them, and as they are twice stated in our text, are specifically directed toward the nation of Israel:
“I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all [“likewise,” NASB] perish.
The Lord calls upon all of His hearers to repent. The word “repent” is not new, but here it underscores the fact that those who are listening are sinners, too. Would they play the mental game of weighing the sins of those who died? Jesus let them know they were sinners. Would they ponder the death of those Galileans? Let them recognize that they, too, will die. Will they look at these few as especially sinful? Then they must be told that they will all die in a similar way.
I do not think that our Lord is speaking of death in a general way. He is not saying that all men will eventually die, and thus they must repent of their sins in order to be ready for their time of death. Jesus is speaking to the nation Israel. Jesus is speaking to that generation of Israelites which has seen God’s Messiah and has failed to accept Him as their King. This generation will perish, but it will, as a group, face an even more terrible death than those about whom they have just been speaking. That generation of Israelites will come to a tragic ending themselves, the sudden and irreversible destruction that will come when Rome comes in full force to annihilate the inhabitants of Jerusalem and to destroy the city.240 I believe that this is what Peter was referring to in his powerful sermon, recorded by Luke in the Book of Acts:
And with many other words he solemnly testified and kept on exhorting them, saying, “Be saved from this perverse generation!” (Acts 2:40).
There is, of course a general (and very important) sense in which “be saved” should be understood, but here the salvation of Peter’s audience specifically includes a salvation from that generation and the destruction which lies ahead for all who persist in their rejection of Christ. This is the same destruction of which our Lord speaks in our text in Luke’s gospel. If Jesus’ listeners think that these two small groups of people died suddenly and unexpectedly for their sins, it is nothing compared to that which lies ahead for them. Let them not bother to ponder the sins of others. Let them repent of their own, and quickly!
The Parable of
the Fruitless Fig Tree
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ “‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
The relationship between the preceding five verses and this parable may not be immediately apparent, but it is clear and direct.241 In the previous paragraph, Jesus was speaking to Israelites as Israelites, and warning them of the destruction which was coming for the nation. This parable of the “fruitless fig tree” is drawing attention to the same thing, only in a different way. The fig tree was a frequently employed and well-understood symbol of the nation Israel.242 Jesus uses this parable to underscore for His audience, once again, the utter failure of Israel to live up to the standards and expectations which God had held for it over its centuries of history. The parable is not only going to underscore Israel’s sinful fruitlessness, but also the nearness of its destruction, in tree-terms, its time for being cut down.
Typical of ancient and modern practice, a fig tree was planted in the midst of a man’s vineyard.243 The farmer expected the tree to be producing figs, and for three years he had come to look for fruit, only to find none. He had concluded (and long experience would confirm) that the tree was never going to produce, and so he ordered it cut down. The vinedresser appealed to him to wait just one more year, and then cut it down if it persisted in failing to produce a crop. The tree was not only fruitless and useless, it used up valuable ground. It should be cut down if it continued not to produce.
Farmers understand this imagery very well. An egg farmer will keep careful record of the production of his hens. A non-producer will not be kept long, but will be put to better use in the stew pot. So, too, with cattle or with other kinds of fruit trees. Useless and unproductive plants are not tolerated, nor should they be. A farmer has the right to expect a return on his investment. This farmer is “fed up” with this fig tree, but he is persuaded to wait one more year. Time for this “tree” is short indeed.
This parable not only teaches the sinfulness of the nation Israel, it also underscores the shortness of the time and thus the urgency for the nation to repent and be saved from the wrath of God which is to come. That “fire” of which John the Baptist has warned (Luke 3:8-9) and more recently our Lord (Luke 12:49ff.) is drawing near in time. Let the Israelites cease to ponder the sins of others and begin to act in repentance concerning their own sins.
Do the “three years” that the owner has waited for figs (v. 7) correspond to the length of time our Lord has already spent preaching the gospel to the nation Israel? Perhaps. I am inclined to think so. This would mean that there is little time left for the nation to repent. Jesus is already pressing toward Jerusalem (9:31, 53; cf. 13:31-35). As the time of His death draws near, so does the time of Israel’s destruction.
While this parable, like the account of the tragic deaths of the Galileans and those who died by the tower of Siloam, conveys a message of warning to the Israelites, it also corrects another error in the thinking of the people. The inference underlying the conclusion of the people in verses 1-5 is that God hastened the death of those who died, in judgment of their (greater than normal) sins. Our parable tells us the exact opposite. The people were wrong to conclude that these people who died prematurely were greater sinners than their peers. God had not come to judge them early because of their greater evil. Indeed, the parable of the farmer and the fruitless fig tree speaks rather of the patience and longsuffering of God with respect to the stubborn rebellion and sin of Israel. This extended time, this delay in judgment, was for the purpose of allowing God’s people further opportunity to repent. While some sinners may very well interpret and apply His delay as an occasion to expand in their sin (cf. 12:45), the righteous will know better. The erroneous conclusion of the people reveals the perspective of the people; the point of the parable reveals the perspective of God.
The Healing of the Hunchback
On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, and a woman was there who had been crippled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten up at all. When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you are set free from your infirmity.” Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God. Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue ruler said to the people, “There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath.” The Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Doesn’t each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.
The next paragraph, you will note, is the longest in our passage. That should tell us something of its significance. At first it would seem that the story of the healing of this woman is totally out of context. It almost seems like an interruption. This is not the case however, for this incident vividly demonstrates the difference in perspective between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus, a difference which will shortly climax at the cross of Calvary.
The scene has now changed. Jesus is no longer teaching the multitude; he is teaching, for the last time in Luke,244 in a synagogue. There was a woman there who had been demonically afflicted with a spinal problem for 18 years. Jesus took the initiative and sought out the woman, laying His hands on her (something Jesus seemingly never did to demoniacs) and healing her instantly and completely.
Her response was almost instantaneous. She began glorifying God. Here was worship like this synagogue had probably never seen before. Many of the crowd joined her in rejoicing at her healing. Many, but not all. The ruler of the synagogue and some others (cf. vv. 15, 17) were not happy at all. Unlike Jesus, they had no compassion on the woman, nor did they rejoice in her deliverance. In contrast to the joy of many, the ruler of the synagogue was mad. He was incensed, but he did not confront Jesus. Instead, he went about rebuking the people, demanding that if they wanted to be healed there were six days in the week for such things, but not the Sabbath.
Jesus called the man and those who agreed with him245 hypocrites. There was much about this ruler’s objections which were hypocritical. For example, he says that there are six days on which people can be healed. How many healings do you think occurred in that synagogue? Do you think that this woman could have come back on the following day and been healed? Not if Jesus were gone. I suspect that this woman was a “regular” at this synagogue, but she had not found healing (let alone sympathy) in 18 years. How could the ruler of the synagogue dare to even suggest that healing would be available at some other time?
Another form of hypocrisy, as I read between these lines, is that this man was to be a leader in worship, as well as in teaching. While most of those present were actively praising God—worshipping as they had never done before—this leader was doing everything possible to “shut down” what was going on.
The greatest hypocrisy however must be that which Jesus chose to highlight. Jesus accused the religious leaders of hypocrisy because they would routinely sanction “breaking the Sabbath” for the benefit of one of their animals, but not for the benefit of this woman, a daughter of Abraham. They would loose their donkey on the Sabbath, and let it drink,246 but they would prohibit Jesus from loosing this woman from Satan’s grip, from her bondage, which had lasted now 18 long years. Their compassion was selective, self-centered, and hypocritical.
Jesus’ stinging rebuke of this hypocrisy brought a two-fold response. The people who rejoiced with the woman loved it, rejoicing over all that Jesus was saying and doing. The opponents, however, were humiliated. They were not sorry. They were not corrected. They were just put to shame. Their day, they must be telling themselves, will come. So it will seem.
What was the difference in perspective, in the thinking of the Jewish religious leaders, which brought about this totally opposite response to the healing of this woman? How could they be indignant when the people were ecstatic? I believe that the answer is really quite simple. The Jewish religious leaders felt that they were righteous, deserving of divine blessings. The others seemed to know better. The Jewish leaders therefore not only refused and rejected the grace of God (as seen in the woman’s healing), they despised it. How could this be? They felt that both divine blessing and divine indignation were God’s response to man’s deeds. They thought legalistically. In their minds, EVERY ACTION HAS AN EQUAL AND CORRESPONDING RESPONSE FROM GOD.
When you read the Mosaic Covenant, this is precisely what you find. When Israel sinned, God brought chastening and discipline. When Israel obeyed the law which God gave, God blessed them. Thus, we can see how those who came with the report of the tragic slaughter of the Galileans revealed a legalistic outlook. If something really bad happened to people, they must have been really bad. If something really good happened to them (e.g. prosperity or long life), they had to have been good. In the words of the song Julie Andrews sings in the Sound of Music, “I must have done something good … ”
What the Israelites had forgotten was that the Mosaic Covenant was temporary and provisional. The promises God made to Abraham would not be fulfilled through the Mosaic Covenant, but through a new covenant. This new covenant was prophesied and described, for example, in Jeremiah 32 and 33. The blessings of God and the coming of the kingdom of God would not be the result of Israel’s obedience to the law, but due to the righteousness of Messiah, and through His death on behalf of sinners, bearing the condemnation of the law which man’s sins merit (Isaiah 52:13–53:12).
Why would Israelites reject the Messiah and the new covenant which He came to establish? Why would they prefer the condemnation of the law to the blessings of forgiveness and eternal life in Christ? There is only one answer: These Israelites were self-righteous. They did not regard themselves to be sinners, but rather as those who were righteous before God and thus deserving of His blessings on the basis of their good works. They would, in contemporary terminology, “rather do it themselves.”
It is the difference between Jesus’ perspective and that of His opponents which is spelled out in the final two parables of our passage. Let us consider them and their message as we attempt to draw this lesson to a conclusion.
The Mustard Seed and the Yeast
Then Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? What shall I compare it to? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in [“threw into,” NASB] his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air perched in its branches.” Again he asked, “What shall I compare the kingdom of God to? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into [“hid in,” NASB] a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.”
Before we consider the meaning of these two very brief parables, let us draw back for a moment to think through the gospel from a broader point of view, as it is explained in the context of all the gospels, and in the remainder of the New Testament. We know that Israel did not, as a nation, turn to Jesus as God’s Messiah, and that the nation as a whole rejected Him, agreeing with His crucifixion. We know also that Jerusalem was destroyed and that the nation was scattered, not to be brought back to the land until a few years ago, and they are still in a state of unbelief so far as Jesus is concerned. We know that the Jews rejected the grace of God and that the gospel has subsequently (and consequently) gone out to the Gentiles, and that God is now working through the church, rather than through Israel, although in a future day this will change (cf. Romans 9-11). The Messiah and the message which Israel rejected, some of the Gentiles (and a few Jews) have believed. These two parables describe this, I believe, in somewhat veiled language.
The Parable of the Mustard Seed
The first parable is that of the mustard seed. Elsewhere the emphasis falls upon how small the seed is and how great the tree which results (cf. Matthew 13:31-32). Here, however, Jesus places the emphasis on the action of the man, who carelessly casts the mustard seed aside, into his garden. The NIV is clearly inaccurate here, veiling the clear sense of the language. The NASB says it literally, the man threw the seed into the garden.247 He did not “plant” it (another word, which is found above in verse 6). This parable must be understood in contrast to the parable above, of the fruitless fig tree. The fig tree was purposely planted (a different word in verse 6 than our word here in verse 19), and it was carefully tended and nurtured. This mustard seed was cast into the garden. I am inclined to think it was a part of his throwing compost into the garden, as fertilizer. The man did not intend for a tree to grow here, and surely not a mustard tree. The birds which gathered in it would only tend to steal the things growing in the garden (as any of us farmer-types know from painful experience).
The message of this parable is simple and pointed, I believe. Jesus has warned Israel of God’s impending wrath. They have been the fruitless fig tree that is about to be cut down. The mustard tree is that tree which God has chosen to replace it with. The imagery of a tree, providing a place of protection for birds, is one commonly associated with the Gentiles in the Old Testament.248 It is the careless “casting away” of the seed by Israel which results in the great tree of the largely Gentile “kingdom.”
Isn’t this amazing? Many of the Jews wanted to “work” for their place in the kingdom of God by meticulously “keeping the law.” No wonder the ruler of the synagogue was so upset about “breaking the law” as he saw it at least. But in striving to earn God’s blessings, they rejected their own sinfulness and thus the Savior as well. When they threw salvation away, the fig tree was cut down, but the mustard tree flourished. The rejection of Messiah by Israel has brought salvation to the Gentiles.
The Parable of the Leaven
The second parable in this pair is that found in verses 20 and 21. Here, Jesus likens the “kingdom of God” to the leaven which a woman seeks to hide in three pecks of meal. The NASB speaks of the leaven as being “hidden” in the three pecks of meal, while the NIV says it was “mixed into a large amount of flour.” The word clearly means to “hide” (cf. its use in Luke 8:17; 18:34; 19:42; Matt. 13:44; 25:25). While the woman attempts to hide the leaven, the result is the opposite, for it permeates the entire portion of meal.
You will remember that God saved Israel to be a “light to the Gentiles.” The Jews did not like the Gentiles, as the book of Jonah graphically reveals. They did not want to share their blessings with the Gentiles, and thus they sought to “hide” the truth and keep its blessings only to themselves. It was foolish and futile for the woman to attempt to “hide” the leaven in the meal. So, too, it was foolish and futile for the Israelites to try to “hide” the light of the gospel from the Gentiles. You will recall that Jesus spoke clearly about the salvation of the Gentiles to His people, and that their reaction was a violent one (cf. Luke 4:16-30). In the very act of their trying to prevent the gospel from going forth to the Gentiles they only caused it to spread more quickly and effectively. In the book of Acts Luke will demonstrate that Jewish persecution in Jerusalem will only scatter the church and the gospel more and more.
The kingdom of God is like this, Jesus says. The Jews who think they are righteous will reject Christ and will refuse to repent, and thus they will be judged as a nation. The fig tree will be cut down. And in its place will be a mustard tree, as it were, the church. By trying to conceal the truth from the Gentiles, the nation has only proven to have unwittingly spread it abroad—God’s unfaithful and uncooperative evangelists. Let all Israel listen and learn from Jesus’ words of warning and instruction.
This passage concerns the nation of Israel, its rejection of Messiah, its self-righteousness, and the impending judgment which will fall on all those who do not renounce their faith in Judaism and identify Jesus as their Christ, their Messiah. It explains why the kingdom of God was taken from Israel, and why the Gentiles have come to play a very prominent part in God’s program for the church.
This text surely underscores the urgency of Israel’s need to repent, before the time of judgment comes upon that generation. But if it contains a message of warning to that generation, it also speaks to us of the urgency of repentance and of evangelism. If you have not come to a personal faith in Jesus Christ as the Savior whom God sent into the world to bring about the forgiveness of sins, you should sense the same urgency of which Jesus spoke. You see, when Jesus ascended to heaven, to sit at the right hand of the Father, He did so to wait until the Father indicated that it was time to return to judge the world and to deal finally with the wicked. He is coming again, and that coming is soon. Those who have not trusted in Christ as their Savior may soon find themselves standing (or falling) before Him as their judge, even as Paul warns in Philippians chapter 2. Jesus will return to purify the earth with fire, as Peter spells out in the third chapter of 2 Peter. The delay in His coming is not do to His disinterest, but is due to His compassion and longsuffering. He is giving men further time to repent, just as the “fruitless fig tree” was given addition time to produce. But there is a day of judgment and “fire” coming soon. Be ready for it. The only way to be ready is to repent of your sin and to trust in Jesus as the One who died in your place, for your sins.
This text also admonishes Christians that as the time of Christ’s return draws near, we need to be found watching and waiting for Him. We need to be faithful to proclaim and hold forth the gospel, which is the “light” that we are to carry to all men. We are no more to “hide” this light than Israel was to do so. Let us be faithful to call upon men to be ready for the coming kingdom of God.
Finally, let us beware of the same kind of thinking which was typical of the Israelites of Jesus’ day. Let us beware of thinking that those who die early or in some tragic way are worse sinners than we. Let us view a more prosperous and lengthy life not as our reward for being righteous, but as God’s grace.
I find that we Americans often exude the same kind of national pride which typified the Israelites. They thought that God blessed them because they were more pious, more spiritual. This was not so. God blessed His people in spite of their sin, and out of His grace, rather than their goodness. We Americans often think (and even are so bold as to say) that we are prosperous because we are a “Christian nation,” and we send out missionaries, and so on. Any prosperity we have and continue to experience is, in my understanding, solely the outgrowth of divine grace, rather than of human merit. Let us realize that the kingdom of God comes to the earth because of the righteousness of Christ and the grace of God manifested through His Son. And let us be humbled by the fact that the kingdom has come to include the Gentiles because of Israel’s failure and sin, not due to our own righteousness.
237 “‘The Galilean zealots were notoriously turbulent, and Pilate was ruthlessly cruel. Many massacres marked his administration’ (Major, The Mission and Message of Jesus, p. 281)… The fact that Josephus makes no mention of this particular instance of Pilate’s cruelty is of no importance. He leaves many incidents unmentioned. In any case he mentions a sufficient number of Pilate’s actions to make us realize that this Roman ruler was an utter brute who on more than one occasion acted as in this case.” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975 [reprint]), p. 370, fn. 4.
238 If the Galileans were offering their sacrifices in Jerusalem, as it would appear, then the tragedy occurred there. This could mean that the ones who came to Jesus with this report were, themselves, from Jerusalem. They may have been residents of Jerusalem. If so, they would be inclined to look down on Galileans (cf. John 1:46; Matthew 26:69; John 19:19; Acts 1:11; 4:13-16). There may thus have been some pleasure in giving this report.
239 “The pool is Siloam was near the angle where the southern and eastern walls of Jerusalem came together. The tower of Siloam which fell was probably part of the ancient system of defense on the walls in the vicinity of the pool of Siloam.” Geldenhuys, p. 371, fn. 7.
240 “‘The fate of these people is a reminder not of their sins—they were neither better nor worse than many others—but of the urgency of the Gospel. Had they only known what was astir, been warned that Pilate was in a black mood or that the building was dangerous, they might have saved their lives. But there was nobody to warn them, and they perished. So this generation, says Jesus in effect, is walking—politically and religiously—straight for disaster. But the warning has been given, first by John the Baptist and now by Jesus. It is a warning to change direction before it is too late’ (T. W. Manson, pp. 565ff.).” Geldenhuys, p. 371, fn. 6.
“The parable here evidently refers to Israel, to whom God gave full opportunity to bear fruit but who remain unfruitful, as appears from their rejection of Him, the promised Christ. But nevertheless God will give them a last chance, and if they should then still persist in unbelief and sin they will be irrevocably cut down from their privileged and protected position as the chosen people of God… The majority, however, refused to repent and thus they drew upon themselves the disasters which accompanied the Roman-Jewish was (A.D. 66-70), when their national existence in the Holy Land was irrevocably cut down.” Ibid, p. 372.
241 “This parable fits in exceptionally well with what is described in verses 1-5, for through this parable Jesus once more calls attention to the urgent necessity of true repentance—a repentance which will bring forth fruit.” Geldenhuys, p. 372.
“The preceding passage has stressed the importance of repenting and this one highlights the fact that opportunity does not last for ever.” Leon Morris, The Gospel According To St. Luke, The Tyndale Bible Commentary Series, R. V. G. Tasker, General Editor (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), p. 222.
“The point is that the absence of judgment here and now cannot be construed as a sign of one’s righteousness. Rather, if judgment does not strike immediately, it is a sign of God’s mercy, not his approval (cf. Acts 14:15-17; 17:30; Rom 2:4ff.; 2 Pet 3:9ff.). One is being given a last chance.” Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: Crossroad Publishing Company, 1984), p. 145.
242 “The fig tree is frequently used as symbolical of the Jewish people (cf. Hos. ix. 10; Joel i. 7). ‘The position of the parable after the preceding narrative points to an interpretation of the fig tree as symbolical of the Jewish people, which is to be allowed yet a short period for repentance’ (Creed, in loc.).” Geldenhuys, p. 373, fn. 1.
John the Baptist (Matthew 3:10; Luke 3:9) warned Israel that she, like a bad tree, was near to the time of being chopped down.
Note the linking of the fig tree with the vineyard in these texts, for example: Joel 1:7; Zechariah 3:10; Micah 4:4; Joel 2:22.
244 “This is the last instance in Luke where Jesus appears teaching in a synagogue. The hostility of the Jewish authorities increased to such an extent towards the end of the Savior’s activities that He would afterwards no longer be allowed to appear in the synagogues.” Geldenhuys, p. 374.
245 In verse 15 we are told Jesus answered him, the focus being on this one man, but then Jesus went on to accuse others with the plural expression, “You hypocrites.” We see in verse 17 that the synagogue ruler and all Jesus’ opponents were being humiliated. The rebuke of this one man was, in effect, a rebuke to the others who agreed with him.
246 “The rabbis were greatly concerned that animals be treated well. On the Sabbath, animals could be led out by a chain or the like as long as nothing was carried (Shabbath 5:1). Water could be drawn for them and poured into a trough, though a man must not hold a bucket for the animal to drink from (Erubin 20b, 21a). If animals may be cared for in such ways, much more may a daughter of Abraham be set free from Satan’s bondage on the Sabbath. In fact Jesus uses a strong term and says she ‘must’ (dei) be loosed.” Morris, p. 223.
247 The word “threw” in the NASB is “planted” in the NIV. The term Ballo seems to have the meaning, “to throw or let go of a thing without caring where it falls” as indicated (among two other choices) by Thayer, p. 93. Thus, in Luke 23:34 (and parallels) it is used for the “casting of lots” of the soldiers. It is found in the very text we are studying in 13:8, for “putting in fertilizer.” One throws manure. In Luke 21:1-4 the term is used to describe those who are “casting” their offerings into the treasury. The “planting of the fig tree” above in Luke uses another term for its planting.
“Plummer here writes: ‘This was a recognized metaphor for a great empire giving protection to the nations’ (in loc). T. W. Manson agrees with this: ‘Both in apocalyptic and Rabbinical literature `the birds of the heaven’ stand for the Gentile nations’ (loc. cit.).” Geldenhuys, p. 378, fn. 4.