There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
-Luke 13:1-5, ESV
This passage is often misunderstood, but in it the Holy Spirit teaches us a vital principle for the life of a Christian.
This teaching is presented by Luke as having been in a large crowd with “many thousands of the people” (12:1) Some of the people in the crowd were his disciples, some were Pharisees, most were onlookers of neither group.
The discussion turned to current events. Pilate had murdered some Galileans and mingled their blood with their sacrifices. This would have been not only a terrible dishonor, but it would have defiled their sacrifice.
Christ interprets their intention and asks the crowd a rhetorical question. Does their suffering indicate that they are worse sinners than someone who did not suffer in the same way?
The answer comes back from Christ.
He tells the people that they will likewise perish if they do not repent.
To reinforce this, Christ brings up the example of the collapsed tower of Siloam. The Scripture gives us no real details about this event, but tells us that 18 people died when the tower fell on them. He again asks: Does their death indicate that they are worse sinners than someone who did not die in the same way?
Again, he tells them that they will perish if they do not repent.
The point of this teaching is that when we look around and see evil, whether it is evil perpetrated by man (moral evil) or evil that happens free of human agency (natural evil), that we ought not look at those who died and try to understand why it happened to them. We should not look at them and wonder for what sin God is punishing them. Rather, we should look to ourselves and realize that it is us who deserve death. We deserve to be murdered by a tyrant… we deserve to be crushed by a tower… we deserve to be gunned down in a night club.
And he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. And he said to the vinedresser, ‘Look, for three years now I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and I find none. Cut it down. Why should it use up the ground?’ And he answered him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and put on manure. Then if it should bear fruit next year, well and good; but if not, you can cut it down.’”
Jesus then proceeds to tell a parable. Our English editors do us no service by introducing uninspired section headings. This parable is related to the teaching which proceeds it.
In this parable, he notes that a man approaches a fig tree looking for fruit. The man finds none and approaches the one who tends the plants and admonishes him to destroy the tree so the ground can be used for something else.
The gardener replies that the man should give the tree another year to bear fruit, and if it does not… it should be destroyed.
In the context the meaning of the parable is clear. When compared with John 15, it becomes even more clear. God is the Vinedresser, and he is delaying judgment because he desires people to bear the fruit of repentance.
So, when confronted with a tragedy like this, we can either be dug up by the Vinedresser, cultivated, and bear fruit (IE Repent)… or we can persist in our fruitlessness and be destroyed. (IE Continue to stand in judgement of the sin of others instead of repenting ourselves)
Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. – Jesus