Luke 13:1–17 . . . Bible Study Summary with Videos and Questions
Repent or You Too Will Perish
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. In today's text, we find two very different perspectives reflected. The first is that of the Jewish leadership and their many followers. The other is the perspective of God, as seen in the viewpoint of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. In vv. 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 that he shared with his listeners. The parable of the fruitless fig tree in vv. 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'd been stooped over for eighteen years (vv. 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 didn't want the Sabbath violated by such healing "work." Jesus has an entirely different perspective from this man, as we'll see in today's two-part study.
The Galilean Massacre: It's Meaning (13:1–5)
There were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. In response, Jesus asked, then answered, two questions that you should read now: vv. 1–5.
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., v. 22). Sometimes it wasn't clear to whom he was speaking (cf. v. 41). At one point, a delegation came to Jesus with tragic news — a report that Pilate had recently slain a group of Galileans as they worshiped, mixing their blood with their sacrifices.
This message had meaning; the report was conveyed to Jesus for a reason. The bearers of the bad news viewed it through their own perspective, a perspective that differed from our Lord's. Jesus' response to them exposed both their thinking and the error it betrayed. They'd already drawn a false conclusion: That these Galileans were greater sinners than others. This erroneous 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 the conclusion and its premise as being false. He asked two questions, which he answered with a simple but emphatic, "No!" He immediately changed the focus. The tragedy that befell those Galileans shouldn't 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 awaiting them.
Note: Our Lord turned the attention of these men to another tragedy, also occurring in Jerusalem, at the Siloam Tower, where eighteen men were killed when the tower suddenly collapsed and fell on them. Those men were not greater sinners than others.
Let's compare the differences and similarities between the two groups of men who died. First, those in both groups died. Jesus isn't speaking of suffering in general terms, but specifically of death, warning his audience of the death they'll 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" (i.e., "safe" from divine judgment) than when he was performing his religious ritual of sacrifice? They died offering sacrifices! And the eighteen Jerusalemite men died while standing near a tower, undoubtedly a tower that was a significant part of their defense network. (The tower was that place where guards were stationed, from which an attack from outside the walls of the city would be countered. There couldn't have been a more secure place to be, yet they died by the tower, under its rubble. What they viewed as their salvation became their destruction.)
Judaism, from the perspective of the self-righteous and lost Israelite, was his salvation: Being a physical descendant of Abraham was all that one needed to live in the coming kingdom. Every typical Israelite agreed. Jesus' words likely sent chills down the spine of every listener. The Lord calls upon all of his hearers to repent. The word "repent" isn't new; here it underscores the fact that those who are listening are sinners, too.
Of course, there's a general (and important) sense in which "salvation" or "being saved" should be understood. But in today's text our Lord's teaching is critical and timely. If Jesus' listeners think that the two groups of people had died suddenly and unexpectedly because of their sins, it's nothing compared to what lies ahead for them. They needn't bother pondering the sins of others; instead, let them repent of their own sins, and quickly!
A Fruitless Tree Used in a Parable (vv. 6–9)
Our "Repent or Perish" section concludes with a parable: the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree (vv. 6–9), which you should read now . . . A man looks for fruit on his fig tree for three years straight, finding it fruitless; first year, he was hopeful; second year, disappointed; third year, disgusted. "Cut it down," he tells the gardener, "it's just wasting space in my garden." But the gardener isn't quite ready to give up on it. Cultivation and more fertilizer he prescribes. He'll loosen the soil around the roots to let air in, and add manure to provide organic material that ought to give it a growth spurt. One more year, he requests, and then, if it doesn't do anything, if it doesn't bear any fruit, I'll cut it down.
What does this fruitless tree parable mean? The fig tree likely refers to Israel, since it fits the context of Jesus' other sayings about Israel (see the Parable of the Wicked Trustees/Tenants in 20:9–16). Today's parable is one about of mercy. The tree deserves to be cut down, but the gardener still has hope for it. He wants to give it one more chance.
But the parable also talks about any individual whose life doesn't bear good fruit. Seeking fruit — good fruit — is one of the themes of John the Baptist's and Jesus' teachings (Luke 3:8–9; 8:15; 20:10; Matthew 7:19–20; 12:33; 21:43; John 15:2, and 15:16).
What's good fruit? Souls won to Christ? Probably, however, it's likely that Jesus is thinking of spiritual fruitfulness — good deeds (Matt. 7:20) and the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:19–23). Of course, we're not saved BY our fruitfulness, but FOR our fruitfulness (Ephesians 2:8–10). Alas, people who display no evidence of Christ or his Spirit working in their lives probably aren't real disciples of Jesus (Romans 8:9–17). Thankfully, those who meet Jesus personally and decide to follow him are the ones who change. They repent, experiencing a "changed mind and behavior." They're converted.
[You can see in Warren's commentary on Jesus' Parable of the Barren Fig Tree how Jesus presents both good and bad news: It’s good to know that God is merciful and willing to forgive; sadly, even God’s patient mercy can have limits.]
Healing for a Woman with a Bent Back (vv. 10–17)
At first reading of this passage, you might think that it's about Jesus' opposition to legalism. Perhaps you're convinced that it's about Jesus' victory over Satan's oppression. Possibly you see it as a simple story of love. Whatever its meaning, you ought to find it profoundly moving. Let's see what you think. . .
It seems that this woman's healing is totally out of context; seemingly it's an interruption. That's not the case, however, for, as you'll see clearly when you watch the video clip of this passage, this incident vividly demonstrates the difference in perspective between the Jewish religious leaders and Jesus, a difference that will soon climax on Calvary's cross.
The scene has changed. No longer teaching the multitude, Jesus is teaching in a synagogue where a woman, bound by Satan, had been demoniacally afflicted with a spinal problem for eighteen years. Jesus took the initiative and sought out the woman, laying his hands on her (something he seemingly never did to other demoniacs), 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. The crowd joined her in rejoicing at her healing, but not everyone. Unlike Jesus, some had no compassion for the woman, nor did they rejoice in her deliverance. In contrast to the joy of many, the synagogue ruler was mad; although incensed, he didn't confront Jesus. Instead, he rebuked the people, demanding that, if they wanted to be healed, there were six days in the week for such things; the Sabbath wasn't a day on which to be healed.
Jesus called the man and those who agreed with him "hypocrites." He accused the religious leaders of hypocrisy because of their inconsistent interpretations of Sabbath laws, routinely sanctioning "breaking the Sabbath" for the benefit of their animals, but not for the benefit of this woman, a daughter of Abraham. They'd untie their donkey on the Sabbath to let it drink, but they'd prohibit Jesus from releasing the woman from Satan's grip, her long-lasting bondage. Their perceived compassion was selective, self-centered, and hypocritical.
Delight and humiliation Jesus' stinging rebuke of this hypocrisy brought a two-fold response. The people who rejoiced with the woman loved it, happy with what Jesus was saying and doing. Opponents, however, were humiliated. They weren't sorry; they weren't corrected; they were just put to shame. Likely, one of the most touching parts of this love story is Jesus' words affirming the woman who's been healed, referring to her as "a daughter of Abraham." How much this must have meant to her.
- Q. 1 What lessons does Jesus' account of tragic deaths teach us disciples? (vv. 1–5)
- Q. 2 What does the Fruitless Tree Parable mean to you personally? (vv. 6–9)
- Q. 3 Why in v. 12 do you think Jesus laid his hands upon the woman needing healing?
New International Version (NIV)
[To view it in a different version, click here; also listen to chapter 13]
† Watch this passage-specific video clip from Jesus Film Project titled "Healing on the Sabbath."
Repent or Perish
13 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4Or 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? 5I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish."
6Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. 7So 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. 9If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.'"
Jesus Heals a Crippled Woman on the Sabbath
10On a Sabbath Jesus was teaching in one of the synagogues, 11and 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. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, "Woman, you are set free from your infirmity." 13Then he put his hands on her, and immediately she straightened up and praised God.
14Indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, the synagogue leader said to the people, "There are six days for work. So come and be healed on those days, not on the Sabbath."
15The Lord answered him, "You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie your ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? 16Then 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?"
17When he said this, all his opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.