A Call to Repent, 1-5

13:1 Now there were some present on that occasion who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.

Sacrifices – This places the incident in Jerusalem.

‘As in most cultures, in ancient Judaism, when something bad happened to someone, people wondered what the person had done wrong. Pilate’s cruelty here fits the sort of conflicts he had with the Jewish community and the presence of Galilean pilgrims at the holy days celebrated in Jerusalem. (Pilate was present at the feasts to ensure that order was maintained.) The “tower in Siloam” may have been on Jerusalem’s city wall above the pool of Siloam; it may have been associated with Pilate’s construction of an improved water-supply system for the city.’ (NT Background Commentary)

‘Just about this time Pilate had been involved in serious trouble. He had decided rightly that Jerusalem needed a new and improved water supply. He proposed to build it and, to finance it with certain Temple monies. It was a laudable object and a more than justifiable expenditure. But at the very idea of spending Temple monies like that, the Jews were up in arms. When the mobs gathered, Pilate instructed his soldiers to mingle with them, wearing cloaks over their battle dress for disguise. They were instructed to carry cudgels rather than swords. At a given signal they were to fall on the mob and disperse them. This was done, but the soldiers dealt with the mob with a violence far beyond their instructions and a considerable number of people lost their lives. Almost certainly Galilaeans would be involved in that. We know that Pilate and Herod were at enmity, and only became reconciled after Pilate had sent Jesus to Herod for trial. (Lk 23:6-12) It may well be that it was this very incident which provoked that enmity.’ (DSB)

13:2 He answered them, “Do you think these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered these things? 13:3 No, I tell you! But unless you repent, you will all perish as well! 13:4 Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them, do you think they were worse offenders than all the others who live in Jerusalem? 13:5 No, I tell you! But unless you repent you will all perish as well!”

“You too will all perish” – lit. “You will all perish in a similar manner” (Nolland, WBC); “…in the same way” (Wright, The Day the Revolution Began).  Cf. the slightly different expression in v5.

According to Wright, Jesus is speaking, not of eternal punishment, but of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans (AD 70):

‘Jesus is not speaking of people ending up in “hell”  (Gehenna?)…He is speaking, rather, of Roman troops and falling buildings within Jerusalem, as he is again in the climactic warnings in Lk 19:42–4, in his symbolic action in the Temple (Lk 19:45–46), and in his interpretation of that action in the following two chapters. Judgment is coming upon God’s people as upon the tenants in the vineyard for their refusal to pay attention not just to a string of prophetic messengers, but to the owner’s son himself (Lk 20:9–19). But the climax of that parable tells its own story. The owner’s son, Jesus himself, will indeed be killed—and Luke has told the story in such a way as to say that in this large-scale scenario as well as the smaller ones with Barabbas and the dying brigand Jesus will take upon himself the death he had prophesied for the impenitent nation. Somehow, as in the dense and paradoxical summaries in the book of Acts, the wickedness of the people’s rejection of his message will converge with the overarching saving plan of Israel’s God, so that the death Jesus dies will be the death he had predicted for them.’ (The Day The Revolution Began)

Elsewhere, Wright insists that ‘repentance’ here (as elsewhere in the NT) cannot mean merely an individual turning from sin.  This, he says, is a political and eschatological repentance, a repentance that describes the behaviour required if Israel’s exile is really to come to an end.  (Jesus and the Victory of God)

Jesus refuses to speculate on why disaster strikes. All he will say is that the victims were not greater sinners than those who were spared. There is a great lesson here about not speculating beyond what God has revealed. We are not permitted to remain as detached observers, demanding that God answer our questions about his wisdom and justice. No: we are players on the stage.

The tower of Siloam – probably a part of the wall of Jerusalem near the Pool of Siloam.

More guilty – lit. ‘greater debtors’. ‘Maybe we have a clue here. It has been suggested that they had actually taken work on Pilate’s hated aqueducts. If so, any money they earned was due to God and should have been voluntarily handed over, because it had already been stolen from him; and it may well be that popular talk had declared that the tower had fallen on them because of the work they had consented to do.’ (DSB)

‘He declares that those men were not more wicked than others, but that their death was held out to all as a ground of alarm; for if in them God gave a display of his judgment, no more would others, though they might be spared for a time, escape his hand. Christ does not, however, forbid believers to consider attentively the judgments of God, but enjoins them to observe this order, to begin with their own sins. They will thus obtain the highest advantage; for they will avert God’s chastisements by voluntary repentance.’ (Calvin)

‘The lesson drawn from these examples is the audience’s need to repent, but how these illustrations relate to repentance is less clear. One possibility is that the fate of these people was meant as a warning that sudden death was a real possibility and therefore his hearers (and Luke’s readers) needed to prepare by repenting (cf. Lk 12:20).

Another possibility is that these tragedies were meant to teach that unless Jesus’ audience repented, they too would perish. That both groups were killed in Jerusalem may suggest to Luke’s readers, who read this account after A.D. 70, that “you too will perish” (Lk 13:3, 5) had been a call for Israel’s repentance. As they knew, this warning went unheeded and resulted in Jerusalem’s destruction. This interpretation is supported by the following parable, which alludes to the coming judgment, the hostility of the unrepentant synagogue ruler (Lk 13:10-17), and above all by the lament in Lk 13:34-35 (cf. Lk 3:9).

A final possibility is that the two incidents are meant to teach that Jesus’ audience would indeed also perish unless they repented but that the death spoken of was spiritual and eternal. It would be understood that Jesus was using a real incident to illustrate a spiritual reality. Luke probably intended a combination of the last two interpretations, for the temple’s destruction in A.D. 70 was both a temporal judgment on the nation and a spiritual one. As for Luke?s readers, only the latter spiritual judgment faced them.’ (NAC)

‘This warning, along with the reference to Jerusalem (Lk 13:4), could not help but remind Luke’s readers of the city’s tragic destruction in A.D. 70. The exclusion of most Jews from God’s kingdom, a theme repeated continually in Acts (Acts 13:46-47; 18:6; 28:26-30), would also be understood. Despite the respite from judgment, Israel brought forth no “fruit in keeping with repentance.” (Lk 3:8) Jesus foresaw that his preaching, like Jeremiah’s, would also fall on deaf ears, and so he grieved over Israel (Acts 13:34-35; cf. 21:24). The axe, already at the root (Lk 3:9), would be swung and the fallen tree thrown into the fire. Clearly Luke understood the events of A.D. 70 as the fulfillment of this divine judgment. Yet Luke also wanted his readers to understand that what happened to Israel was also a warning to them. After hearing the word, they too had to bring forth fruit (Lk 8:12-15) lest their own repentance be in vain.’ (NAC)

‘What was Jesus doing? He was redirecting the people’s astonishment. The astonishment that prompted these folks to query Jesus is misplaced. They were astonished that people were murdered so cruelly and crushed so meaninglessly. But Jesus says, “What you ought to be astonished at is that you were not the ones murdered and crushed. In fact, if you don’t repent, you yourselves will meet a judgment like that someday.”

‘From this, I infer that God has a merciful message in all such disasters. The message is that we are all sinners, bound for destruction, and disasters are a gracious summons from God to repent and be saved while there is still time. Jesus turned from the dead to the living and essentially said, “Let’s not talk about the dead; let’s talk about you. This is more urgent. What happened to them is about you. Your biggest issue is not their sin but your sin.” I think that’s God’s message for the world in this coronavirus outbreak. He is calling the world to repentance while there’s still time.’ (Piper, Coronavirus and Christ)

Why would Jesus threaten people with perishing?

‘The reason Jesus said that we all likewise would perish if we don’t repent is that we all have exchanged the treasure that God is for lesser things we love more (Rom. 1:22–23), and we all have treated Jesus as less desirable than money and entertainment and friends and family. The reason all of us deserve to perish is not a list of rules we have broken, but an infinite value we have scorned—the infinite value of all that God is for us in Jesus Christ.’

(Piper)

Warning to Israel to Bear Fruit, 6-9

13:6 Then Jesus told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came looking for fruit on it and found none. 13:7 So he said to the worker who tended the vineyard, ‘For three years now, I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree, and each time I inspect it I find none. Cut it down! Why should it continue to deplete the soil?’ 13:8 But the worker answered him, ‘Sir, leave it alone this year too, until I dig around it and put fertilizer on it. 13:9 Then if it bears fruit next year, very well, but if not, you can cut it down.’ ”

‘The fig-tree occupied a specially favoured position. It was not unusual to see fig-trees, thorn-trees and apple-trees in vineyards. The soil was so shallow and poor that trees were grown wherever there was soil to grow them; but the fig-tree had a more than average chance; and it had not proved worthy of it. Repeatedly, directly and by implication, Jesus reminded men that they would be judged according to the opportunities they had…Never was a generation entrusted with so much as ours and, therefore, never was a generation so answerable to God.’ (DSB)

‘In the parable of the fig tree (Lk 13:6-9) the necessity of repentance before the crisis of the final judgment is underlined again. Executions and accidental deaths are not definitive signs of God’s judgment; (Lk 13:1-5) but if an individual is not bearing fruit, then judgment is certain. God, however, patiently waits for fruit to appear, giving people every possible chance to produce fruit. Nevertheless, people cannot put off the day of judgment forever, idly thinking that it will never come.’ (Lk 13:8-9) (ECB)

‘The situation of the nation was like that of a tree that produced no fruit. It was fit only for destruction, and the ground which it occupied could then be used for a healthy tree. But just as the owner was prepared to feed it and give it another chance, so God was prepared to allow Israel an opportunity for repentance. If the people failed to respond, their fate would be their own responsibility.’ (NBC)

On the Lord’s unwillingness that any should perish, see 2 Pet 3:9 n

We are not told whether the fig tree ever bore fruit: that is left uncertain.

‘That God does not punish sinners immediately does not mean that he approves of their sin. Rather, his patience shows he is merciful and they should repent while there is time.’ (Geneva Study Bible)

‘To be within the pale of Revealed Religion and the Church of the living God is a high privilege, and involves a solemn responsibility. The owner of the vineyard, having planted a fig tree in it, “came and sought fruit thereon;” for in the natural course of things fruit, in such a case, was to be expected. But when does God come, seeking fruit from men thus privileged? Not at the day of judgment; for though he will come and demand it then, the parable represents the tree as still in the ground after the lord of the vineyard has come seeking fruit, and as allowed to remain with a view to further trial. It is now, therefore, or during our present state, that God is coming seeking fruit from us. Are we favoured with a Christian education and example? He comes, saying, ‘Any fruit?’ Have we been placed under a faithful, rousing ministry of the Gospel? He comes, asking, ‘What fruit?’ Have we been visited with crushing trials, fitted to bring down pride, and soften the heart, and give the lessons of religion an entrance they never had before? He comes, demanding the fruit. Alas, of multitudes the report must still be – “and found none”!’ (JFB)

‘Patience is characteristic of God’s dealings with sinful men, who are fully deserving of his wrath. (Isa 48:9; Ho 11:8) his protecting mark on the murderer Cain (Gn. 4:15), his providential rainbow sign to a world that had forfeited its existence (Gn. 9:11-17; cf. 1 Pet 3:20), his many restorations of disobedient Israel, (Ho 11:8-9) his sparing of Nineveh (Jonah), his repeated pleadings with Jerusalem, (Mk 12:1-11; Lk 13:1-9,34; Rom 9:22) his deferment of Christ’s second coming (2 Pet 3:9) – these are all expressions of his patience. Christians are to show a like character.’ (Mt 18:26,29; 1 Cor 13:4; Gal 5:22; Eph 4:2; 1 Thess 5:14) (NBD)

Healing on the Sabbath, 10-17

13:10 Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath, 13:11 and a woman was there who had been disabled by a spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not straighten herself up completely. 13:12 When Jesus saw her, he called her to him and said, “Woman, you are freed from your infirmity.” 13:13 Then he placed his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.

Crippled by a spirit – The Gospel writers normally distinguish carefully between symptoms brought about by demons and those associated with physical disease.  In this case, it is clear that her physical symptoms (curvature of the spine) were demonic in origin.  See also v16, where Jesus refers to the woman has having been ‘bound by Satan’.

Nolland (WBC), however, says that ‘it remains uncertain whether we should consider a “spirit of weakness” as descriptive of a demon (see “spirit of festering” in 1QapGen 20.26; cf. v 16; “spirit of divination” in Acts 16:16) or whether it is simply an idiom for having a debilitating ailment. “Satan bound” in v 16 is not a decisive indicator, since “healing all who were oppressed by the devil” in Acts 10:38 is best taken as referring to healing in general. In all other respects the language of the account suits a healing better than an exorcism).’

13:14 But the president of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the crowd, “There are six days on which work should be done! So come and be healed on those days, and not on the Sabbath day.” 13:15 Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from its stall, and lead it to water? 13:16 Then shouldn’t this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be released from this imprisonment on the Sabbath day?” 13:17 When he said this all his adversaries were humiliated, but the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful things he was doing.

On the Kingdom of God, 18-21

13:18 Thus Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? To what should I compare it? 13:19 It is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the wild birds nested in its branches.”
13:20 Again he said, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? 13:21 It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed with three measures of flour until all the dough had risen.”
Lk 13:18,19 = Mk 4:30–32
Lk 13:18–21 = Mt 13:31–33

Writing in the IVP Women’s Bible Commentary, Catherine Clark Kroeger suggests that because kneading dough requires the use of hands, we learn here that women’s ‘hands-on ministry of positive nurture and practical outreach permeates society far beyond their numerical strength.’  This is a rather strained application.  However, it is true that Luke often does pair male and female examples in his Gospel, confirming his assumption that both are equally valued in God’s kingdom.

The Narrow Door, 22-30

13:22 Then Jesus traveled throughout towns and villages, teaching and making his way toward Jerusalem.
13:23 Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?”

“Are only a few people going to be saved?” – Morris says that ‘The question was very relevant in view of the confused religious state of the day. There is evidence that it was widely discussed (e.g. 4 Ezra 7:55ff.), and that the rabbis held widely differing views (e.g. Sanhedrin 97b). But it seems to have been firmly held that all Israel would be saved, except for a few blatant sinners who excluded themselves (Sanhedrin 10:1).’

Edwards agrees that answers given by the rabbis varied from, ‘all Israelites have a share in the world to come’, to ‘the Most High … made the world to come for the sake of a few’.

Matthew Henry remarks that this question may have been (a) captious: designed to catch Jesus out; or (b) curious, prompted by idle speculation; or, (c) surprised: prompted by the consideration of the strictness of Christ’s law, and the sinfulness of the world; (d) enquiring: prompted by a sincere desire to know the truth.

Exclusive and inclusive

‘The gospel of Jesus Christ is entirely exclusive, admitting no other, alternative ways of salvation. And, at the same time, the gospel of Jesus Christ is entirely inclusive, meaning, it’s for everybody. Everyone in the whole wide world is invited in, into God’s house, into the great feast of salvation, but only through the one and only Savior of the world, the Lord Jesus Christ. (Source)’

Questions about salvation

1. The inquisitive question

Luke 13:23 – “Are only a few people going to be saved?”

Answer: it matters not if they are few or many, if you are not one of them.

2. The incredulous question

Matthew 19:25 – Who then can be saved?

Answer: God is able to save all, whoever they are.  Wealth is no aid, poverty no barrier.

3. The imperative question

Acts 16:30 – “What must I do to be saved?”

Answer: God delights to reply to such a person, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”

Quit quibbling about salvation and receive it.

(Pickering, 1,000 Subjects, slightly adapted)

So he said to them, 13:24 “Exert every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. 13:25 Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, then you will stand outside and start to knock on the door and beg him, ‘Lord, let us in!’ But he will answer you, ‘I don’t know where you come from.’ 13:26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 13:27 But he will reply, ‘I don’t know where you come from! Go away from me, all you evildoers!’

Why is such striving necessary to “enter” the narrow gate?

First, because SATAN is striving to destroy your soul. “Be careful! Watch out for attacks from the Devil, your great enemy. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for some victim to devour!” 1 Peter 5:8

Second, because natural appetites of the FLESH are striving to destroy you: “Dearly beloved, I beseech you as strangers and pilgrims–abstain from fleshly lusts, which war against the soul.” 1 Peter 2:11

Third, because the whole WORLD is arrayed against you. It will seek to draw you by its alluring promises, its Delilah-like deceits, and fatal enticements. Unless you overcome the world, the world will overcome you to the eternal destruction of your soul.

Arthur Pink

He said to them – As Edwards observes, Jesus does not directly address that questioner, but uses this as an opportunity to teach those gathered around him.

Jesus refuses to speculate, but instead challenges his hearers to a personal response.

“Make every effort to enter through the narrow door” – The underlying word – agōnizesthe – was used of athletic contests and military combat.

‘The term agōnizomai suggests that “the few” will have to contend with “the many” (hoi polloi) for entry through a space too narrow in a time too short.’ (Luke Timothy Johnson)

‘The questioner may have hoped that Jesus would relax the rigors of discipleship, but he steadfastly maintains them (Lk 9:23; 12:33; 14:26–27).’ (Edwards)

“I tell you” – Although the question was asked by one person, ‘you’ here is plural: Jesus is addressing the crowd.

As usual, Jesus refuses to answer speculative questioning head-on, but rather responds to it with a command and a warning.  ‘As interesting as the question is of whether God will save the lost in far away places, a more fundamental question for all of us to answer is whether we have a relationship to God. Jesus challenges each one of us where we stand with God.’ (Evans, NIVAC)

Many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to – See also Jn 7:34.  As Stein (NAC) remarks, we should not press this analogy too far.  No-one who sincerely seeks admittance on God’s terms will be turned away (1 Chron. 28:9; Isa. 55:6; Lk 11:9; Acts 10:35).  But many try on their own terms, and they will find the door shut fast to them.

‘This do-or-die resolution must characterize Jesus’ followers, for many call him Lord, but few follow him as such.’ (Edwards)

v25 As Wilcock says, Jesus’ answer stresses that it is time that is limited, not numbers.

13:28 There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves thrown out. 13:29 Then people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and take their places at the banquet table in the kingdom of God. 13:30 But indeed, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”

‘The parallels in Matthew and Mark indicate that Jesus used this proverb primarily to signify the admission of Israel’s outcasts (tax collectors, sinners, the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind) and the exclusion of the religious elite (Pharisees, scribes, lawyers, priests). Luke and his readers, however, also would have understood this in terms of Acts 13:46; 18:6; and 28:28, i.e., the unbelief of much of Israel and the inclusion of the Gentiles.’ (Stein, NAC)

‘Jesus has turned the question around. His questioner had asked, “Will the saved be few?” Jesus replies with the question, “Will the saved be you?”’ (Bock, IVPNTC)

Going to Jerusalem, 31-35

13:31 At that time, some Pharisees came up and said to Jesus, “Get away from here, because Herod wants to kill you.” 13:32 But he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Look, I am casting out demons and performing healings today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will complete my work. 13:33 Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the next day, because it is impossible that a prophet should be killed outside Jerusalem.’

“That fox” – Although we tend to associate the fox with slyness and cunning, in Jesus’ day it would suggest treachery.

13:34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those who are sent to you! How often I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would have none of it! 13:35 Look, your house is forsaken! And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”

Lk 13:34,35 = Mt 23:37–39

‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’ – Jesus quotes from Psa 118:26.