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Bible Commentaries
Luke 13

Barnes' Notes on the Whole BibleBarnes' Notes

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Verse 1

There were present - That is, some persons who were present, and who had heard his discourse recorded in the previous chapter. There was probably a pause in his discourse, when they mentioned what had been done by Pilate to the Galileans.

At that season - At that time - that is the time mentioned in the last chapter. At what period of our Lord’s ministry this was, it is not easy to determine.

Some that told him - This was doubtless an event of recent occurrence. Jesus, it is probable, had not before heard of it. Why they told him of it can only be a matter of conjecture. It might be from the desire to get him to express an opinion respecting the conduct of Pilate, and thus to involve him in difficulty with the reigning powers of Judea. It might be as a mere matter of news. But, from the answer of Jesus, it would appear that “they” supposed that the Galileans “deserved” it, and that they meant to pass a judgment on the character of those people, a thing of which they were exceedingly fond. The answer of Jesus is a reproof of their habit of hastily judging the character of others.

Galileans - People who lived in Galilee. See the notes at Matthew 2:22. They were not under the jurisdiction of Pilate, but of Herod. The Galileans, in the time of Christ, were very wicked.

Whose blood Pilate had mingled ... - That is, while they were sacrificing at Jerusalem, Pilate came suddenly upon them and killed them, and “their” blood was mingled with the blood of the animals that they were slaying for sacrifice. It does not mean that Pilate “offered” their blood in sacrifice, but only that as they were sacrificing he killed them. The fact is not mentioned by Josephus, and nothing more is known of it than what is here recorded. We learn, however, from Josephus that the Galileans were very wicked, and that they were much disposed to broils and seditions. It appears, also, that Pilate and Herod had a quarrel with each other Luke 23:12, and it is not improbable that Pilate might feel a particular enmity to the subjects of Herod. It is likely that the Galileans excited a tumult in the temple, and that Pilate took occasion to come suddenly upon them, and show his opposition to them and Herod by slaying them. “Pilate.” The Roman governor of Judea. See the notes at Matthew 27:2.

Verses 2-3

Suppose ye ... - From this answer it would appear that they supposed that the fact that these men had been slain in this manner proved that they were very great sinners.

I tell you, Nay - Jesus assured them that it was not right to draw such a conclusion respecting these men. The fact that men come to a sudden and violent death is not proof that they are especially wicked.

Except ye repent - Except you forsake your sins and turn to God. Jesus took occasion, contrary to their expectation, to make a practical use of that fact, and to warn them of their own danger. He never suffered a suitable occasion to pass without warning the wicked, and entreating them to forsake their evil ways. The subject of religion was always present to his mind. He introduced it easily, freely, fully. In this he showed his love for the souls of people, and in this he set us an example that we should walk in his steps.

Ye shall all likewise perish - You shall all be destroyed in a similar manner. Here he had reference, no doubt, to the calamities that were coming upon them, when thousands of the people perished. Perhaps there was never any reproof more delicate and yet more severe than this. They came to him believing that these men who had perished were especially wicked. He did not tell them that “they” were as bad as the Galileans, but left them to “infer” it, for if they did not repent, they must soon likewise be destroyed. This was remarkably fulfilled. Many of the Jews were slain in the temple; many while offering sacrifice; thousands perished in a way very similar to the Galileans. Compare the notes at Matthew 24:0. From this account of the Galileans we may learn:

(1) That people are very prone to infer, when any great calamity happens to others, that they are especially guilty. See the Book of Job, and the reasonings of his three “friends.”

(2) That that conclusion, in the way in which it is usually drawn, is erroneous. If we see a man bloated, and haggard, and poor, who is in the habit of intoxication, we may infer properly that he is guilty, and that God hates his sin and punishes it. So we may infer of the effects of licentiousness. But we should not thus infer when a man’s house is burned down, or when his children die, or when he is visited with a loss of health; nor should we infer it of the nations that are afflicted with famine, or the plague, or with the ravages of war; nor should we infer it when a man is killed by lightning, or when he perishes by the blowing up of a steamboat. Those who thus perish may be far more virtuous than many that live.

(3) This is not a world of retribution. Good and evil are mingled; the good and the bad suffer, and all are exposed here to calamity.

(4) There is another world a future state - a world where the good will be happy and the wicked punished. There all that is irregular on earth will be regulated; all that appears unequal will be made equal; all that is chaotic will be reduced to order.

(5) When people are disposed to speak about the great guilt of others, and the calamities that come upon them, they should inquire about “themselves.” What is “their” character? What is “their” condition? It “may” be that they are in quite as much danger of perishing as those are whom they regard as so wicked.

(6) We must repent. We must all repent or we shall perish. No matter what befalls others, “we” are sinners; “we” are to die; “we” shall be lost unless we repent. Let us, then, think of “ourselves” rather than of “others;” and when we hear of any signal calamity happening to others, let us remember that there is calamity in another world as well as here; and that while our fellow-sinners are exposed to trials “here,” we may be exposed to more awful woes “there.” Woe “there” is eternal; here, a calamity like that produced by a falling tower is soon over.

Verse 4

Or those eighteen - Jesus himself adds another similar case, to warn them - a case which had probably occurred not long before, and which it is likely they judged in the same manner.

Upon whom the tower in Siloam fell - The name Siloah or Siloam is found only three times in the Bible as applied to water - once in Isaiah 8:6, who speaks of it as running water; once as a pool near to the king’s garden in Nehemiah 3:15; and once as a pool, in the account of the Saviour’s healing the man born blind, in John 9:7-11. Josephus mentions the fountain of Siloam frequently as situated at the mouth of the Valley of Tyropoeon, or the Valley of Cheesemongers, where the fountain long indicated as that fountain is still found. It is on the south side of Mount Moriah, and between that and the Valley of Jehoshaphat. The water at present flows out of a small artificial basin under the cliff, and is received into a large reservoir 53 feet in length by 18 feet in breadth. The small upper basin or fountain excavated in the rock is merely the entrance, or rather the termination of a long and narrow subterranean passage beyond, by which the water comes from the Fountain of the Virgin. For what purpose the “tower” here referred to was erected is not known; nor is it known at what time the event here referred to occurred. It is probable that it was not far from the time when the Saviour made use of the illustration, for the manner in which he refers to it implies that it was fresh in the recollection of those to whom he spoke.

Verse 5

I tell you, Nay - It is improper to suppose that those on whom heavy judgments fall in this world are the worst of people. This is not a world of retribution. Often the most wicked are suffered to prosper here, and their punishment is reserved for another world; while the righteous are called to suffer much, and “appear” to be under the sore displeasure of God, Psalms 73:0. This only we know, that the wicked will not always escape; that God is just; and that none who do suffer here or hereafter, suffer more than they deserve. In the future world, all that seems to be unequal here will be made equal and plain.

Verse 6

This parable - See the notes at Matthew 13:3.

Vineyard - A place where vines were planted. It was not common to plant fig-trees in them, but our Lord represents it as having been sometimes done.

Verse 7

The dresser of his vineyard - The man whose duty it was to trim the vines and take care of his vineyard.

These three years - These words are not to be referred to the time which Christ had been preaching the gospel, as if he meant to specify the exact period. They mean, as applicable to the vineyard, that the owner had been “a long time” expecting fruit on the tree. For three successive years he had been disappointed. In his view it was long enough to show that the tree was barren and would yield no fruit, and that therefore it should be cut down.

Why cumbereth it the ground? - The word “cumber” here means to render “barren” or “sterile.” By taking up the juices of the earth, this useless tree rendered the ground sterile, and prevented the growth of the neighboring vines. It was not merely “useless,” but was doing mischief, which may be said of all sinners and all hypocritical professors of religion. Dr. Thomson (“The Land and the Book,” vol. i. p. 539) says of the barren fig-tree: “There are many such trees now; and if the ground is not properly cultivated, especially when the trees are young - as the one of the parable was, for only “three” years are mentioned they do not bear at all; and even when full grown they quickly fail, and wither away if neglected. Those who expect to gather good crops of well-flavored figs are particularly attentive to their culture - not only plow and dig about them frequently, and manure them plentifully, but they carefully gather out the stones from the orchards, contrary to their general slovenly habits.”

This parable is to be taken in connection with what goes before, and with our Saviour’s calling the Jewish nation to repentance. It was spoken to illustrate the dealings of God with them, and their own wickedness under all his kindness, and we may understand the different parts of the parable as designed to represent:

  1. God, by the man who owned the vineyard.
  2. The vineyard as the Jewish people.
  3. The coming of the owner for fruit, the desire of God that they should produce good works.
  4. The barrenness of the tree, the wickedness of the people.
  5. The dresser was perhaps intended to denote the Saviour and the other messengers of God, pleading that God would spare the Jews, and save them from their enemies that stood ready to destroy them, as soon as God should permit.
  6. His waiting denotes the delay of vengeance, to give them an opportunity of repentance. And,
  7. The remark of the dresser that he might “then” cut it down, denotes the acquiescence of all in the belief that such a judgment would be just.

We may also remark that God treats sinners in this manner now; that he spares them long; that he gives them opportunities of repentance; that many live but to cumber the ground; that they are not only useless to the church, but pernicious to the world; that in due time, when they are fairly tried, they shall be cut down; and that the universe will bow to the awful decree of God, and say that their damnation is just.

Verse 11

There was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity - Was infirm, or was weak and afflicted. This was produced by Satan, Luke 13:16.

Eighteen years - This affliction had continued a long time. This shows that the miracle was real; that the disease was not feigned. Though thus afflicted, yet it seems she was regular in attending the worship of God in the synagogue. There in the sanctuary, is the place where the afflicted find consolation; and there it was that the Saviour met her and restored her to health. It is in the sanctuary and on the Sabbath, also, that he commonly meets his people, and gives them the joys of his salvation.

Verse 12

Thou art loosed from thine infirmity - This was a remarkable declaration. It does not appear that the woman “applied” to him for a cure; yet Jesus addressed her, and the disease departed. How clear would be the proofs from such a case that he was the Messiah! And how mighty the power of him that by a word could restore her to health!

Verse 13

Glorified God - Praised God. Gave thanks to him for healing her. They who are restored to health from sickness owe it to God; and they should devote their lives to his service, as expressive of their sense of gratitude to him who has spared them.

Verse 14

Answered with indignation, because ... - He considered this a violation of the Sabbath, doing work contrary to the fourth commandment. If he had reasoned aright, he would have seen that he who could perform such a miracle could not be a violator of the law of God. From this conduct of the ruler we learn:

  1. That people are often opposed to good being done, because it is not done “in their own way” and “according to their own views.”
  2. That they are more apt to look at what they consider a violation of the law in others, than at the good which others may do.
  3. That this opposition is manifested not only against those who do good, but also against those who are “benefited.” The ruler of the synagogue seemed particularly indignant that “the people” would come to Christ to be healed.
  4. That this conduct is often the result of envy. In this case it was rather hatred that the people should follow Christ instead of the Jewish rulers, and therefore envy at the popularity of Jesus, than any real regard for religion.
  5. That opposition to the work of Jesus may put on the appearance of great professed regard for religion. Many people oppose revivals, missions, Bible societies, and Sunday-schools - strange as it may seem - “from professed regard to the purity of religion.” They, like the ruler here, have formed their notions of religion as consisting in something “very different from doing good,” and they oppose those who are attempting to spread the gospel throughout the world.

Verse 15

Thou hypocrite! - You condemn “me” for an action, and yet you perform one exactly similar. You condemn “me” for doing to a woman what you do to a beast. To her I have done good on the Sabbath; you provide for your cattle, and yet blame me for working a miracle to relieve a sufferer on that day.

Stall - A place where cattle are kept to be fed, and sheltered from the weather.

Verse 16

A daughter of Abraham - A descendant of Abraham. See the notes at Matthew 1:1. She was therefore a Jewess; and the ruler of the synagogue, professing a special regard for the Jewish people, considering them as especially favored of God, should have rejoiced that she was loosed from this infirmity.

Whom Satan hath bound - Satan is the name given to the prince or leader of evil spirits, called also the devil, Beelzebub, and the old serpent, Matthew 12:24; Revelation 12:9; Revelation 20:2. By his “binding” her is meant that he had inflicted this disease upon her. It was not properly a “possession” of the devil, for that commonly produced derangement; but God had suffered him to afflict her in this manner, similar to the way in which he was permitted to try Job. See the notes at Job 1:12; Job 2:6-7. It is no more “improbable” that God would suffer “Satan” to inflict pain, than that he would suffer a wicked “man” to do it; yet nothing is more common than for one “man” to be the occasion of bringing on a disease in another which may terminate only with the life. He that seduces a virtuous man and leads him to intemperance, or he that wounds him or strikes him, may disable him as much as Satan did this woman. If God permits it in one case, he may, for the same reason, in another.

Verse 17

Adversaries - The ruler of the synagogue, and those who felt as he did.

All the people - The persons who attended the synagogue, and who had witnessed the miracle. It is to be remarked:

  1. That those who opposed Christ were chiefly the “rulers.” They had an “interest” in doing it. Their popularity was at stake. They were afraid that he would draw off the people from them.
  2. The common people heard him gladly. Many of them believed in him. The condition of the poor, and of those in humble life, is by far the most favorable for religion, and most of the disciples of Jesus have been found there.

Verses 18-21

See these parables explained in the notes at Matthew 13:31-32.

Verse 22

Cities and villages - Chiefly of Galilee, and those which were between Galilee and Jerusalem.

Teaching and journeying - This evinces the diligence of our Lord. Though on a journey, yet he remembered his work. He did not excuse himself on the plea that he was in haste. Christians and Christian ministers should remember that when their Master traveled he did not “conceal” his character, or think that he was then freed from obligation to do good.

Verse 23

Then said one - Who this was does not appear. It is probable that he was not one of the disciples, but one of the Jews, who came either to perplex him, or to involve him in a controversy with the Pharisees.

Are there few that be saved? - It was the prevalent opinion among the Jews that few would enter heaven. As but two of all the hosts that came out of Egypt entered into the land of Canaan, so some of them maintained that a proportionally small number would enter into heaven (Lightfoot). On this subject the man wished the opinion of Jesus. It was a question of idle curiosity. The answer to it would have done little good. It was far more important for the man to secure his own salvation, than to indulge in such idle inquiries and vain speculations. Our Lord therefore advised “him,” as he does “all, to strive” to enter into heaven.

Verse 24

Strive - Literally, “agonize.” The word is taken from the Grecian games. In their races, and wrestlings, and various athletic exercises, they “strove or agonized,” or put forth all their powers to gain the victory. Thousands witnessed them. They were long trained for the conflict, and the honor of victory was one of the highest honors among the people. So Jesus says that we should strive to enter in; and he means by it that we should be diligent, be active, be earnest; that we should make it our first and chief business to overcome our sinful propensities, and to endeavor to enter into heaven. This same figure or allusion to the Grecian games is often used in the New Testament, 1 Corinthians 9:24-26; Philippians 2:16; Hebrews 12:1.

Strait gate - See the notes at Matthew 7:13-14. Dr. Thomson (“The Land and the Book,” vol. i. p. 32) says: “I have seen these strait gates and narrow ways, ‘with here and there a traveler.’ They are in retired corners, and must be sought for, and are opened only to those who knock; and when the sun goes down and the night comes on, they are shut and locked. It is then too late.”

Will seek to enter in - Many in various ways manifest some desire to be saved. They seek it, but do not agonize for it, and hence, they are shut out. But a more probable meaning of this passage is that which refers this “seeking” to a time that shall be “too late;” to the time when the master has risen up, etc. In this life they neglect religion, and are engaged about other things. At death, or at the judgment, they will seek to enter in; but it will be too late - the door will be shut; and because they did not make religion the chief business of their life, they cannot “then” enter in.

Shall not be able - This is not designed to affirm anything respecting the inability of the sinner, provided he seeks salvation in a proper time and manner. It means that at the time when many will seek - when the door is shut - they will not be able then to enter in, agreeable to Matthew 7:22. In the proper time, when the day of grace was lengthened out, they “might” have entered in; but there “will be” a time when it will be too late. The day of mercy will be ended, and death will come, and the doors of heaven barred against them. How important, then, to strive to enter in while we have opportunity, and before it shall be too late!

Verse 25

When once the master ... - The figure here used is taken from the conduct of a housekeeper, who is willing to see his friends, and who at the proper time keeps his doors open. But there is a proper time for closing them, when he will not see his guests. At night it would be improper and vain to seek an entrance - the house would be shut. So there is a proper time to seek an entrance into heaven; but there will be a time when it will be too late. At death the time will have passed by, and God will be no longer gracious to the sinner’s soul.

Verse 26

We have eaten ... - Compare Matthew 7:22-23. To have eaten with one is evidence of acquaintanceship or friendship. So the sinner may allege that he was a professed follower of Jesus, and had some evidence that Jesus was his friend. There is no allusion here, however, to the sacrament. The figure is taken from the customs of people, and means simply that they had professed attachment, and perhaps supposed that Jesus was their friend.

In thy presence - With thee - as one friend does with another.

Thou hast taught - Thou didst favor us, as though thou didst love us. Thou didst not turn away from us, and we did not drive thee away. All this is alleged as proof of friendship. It shows us:

  1. On how slight evidence people will suppose themselves ready to die. How slender is the preparation which even many professed friends of Jesus have for death! How easily they are satisfied about their own piety! A profession of religion, attendance on the preaching of the word or at the sacraments, or a decent external life, is all they have and all they seek. With this they go quietly on to eternity - go to disappointment, wretchedness, and woe!
  2. None of these things will avail in the day of judgment. It will be only true love to God, a real change of heart, and a life of piety, that can save the soul from death. And oh! how important it is that all should search themselves and see what is the real foundation of their hope that they shall enter into heaven!

Verse 27

See the notes at Matthew 7:23.

Verses 28-30

See the notes at Matthew 8:11-12.

Verse 31

Came certain of thee Pharisees - Their coming to him in this manner would have the appearance of friendship, as if they had conjectured or secretly learned that it was Herod’s intention to kill him. Their suggestion had much appearance of probability. Herod had killed John. He knew that Jesus made many disciples, and was drawing away many of the people. He was a wicked man, and he might be supposed to fear the presence of one who had so strong a resemblance to John, whom he had slain. It might seem probable, therefore, that he intended to take the life of Jesus, and this might appear as a friendly hint to escape him. Yet it is more than possible that Herod might have sent these Pharisees to Jesus. Jesus was eminently popular, and Herod might not dare openly to put him to death; yet he desired his removal, and for this purpose he sent these people, as if in a friendly way, to advise him to retire. This was probably the reason why Jesus called him a fox.

Herod - Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great. He ruled over Galilee and Perea, and wished Jesus to retire beyond these regions. See the notes at Luke 3:1.

Verse 32

Tell that fox - A fox is an emblem of slyness, of cunning, and of artful mischief. The word is also used to denote a dissembler. Herod was a wicked man, but the “particular thing” to which Jesus here alludes is not his “vices,” but his “cunning, his artifice,” in endeavoring to remove him out of his territory. He had endeavored to do it by stratagem - by sending these people who pretended great friendship for his life.

Behold, I cast out devils ... - Announce to him the fact that I am working miracles in his territory, and that I shall continue to do it. I am not afraid of his art or his enmity. I am engaged in my appropriate work, and shall continue to be as long as is proper, in spite of his arts and his threats.

Today and tomorrow - A little time. The words seem here to be used not strictly, but proverbially - to denote a short space of time. Let not Herod be uneasy. I am doing no evil; I am not violating the laws. I only cure the sick, etc. In a little time this part of my work will be done, and I shall retire from his dominions.

The third day - After a little time. Perhaps, however, he meant “literally” that he would depart on that day for Jerusalem; that for two or three days more he would remain in the villages of Galilee, and then go on his way to Jerusalem.

I shall be perfected - Rather, I shall have ended my course “here;” I shall have “perfected” what I purpose to do in Galilee. It does not refer to his “personal” perfection, for he was always perfect, but it means that he would have “finished or completed” what he purposed to do in the regions of Herod. He would have completed his work, and would be ready then to go.

Verse 33

I must walk ... - I must remain here this short time. These three days I must do cures here, and then I shall depart, though not for fear of Herod. It will be because my time will have come, and I shall go up to Jerusalem to die.

For it cannot be that a prophet should perish out of Jerusalem - I have no fear that Herod will put me to death in Galilee. I shall not depart on that account. “Jerusalem” is the place where the prophets die, and where “I” am to die. I am not at all alarmed, therefore, at any threats of “Herod,” for my life is safe until I arrive at Jerusalem. Go and tell him, therefore, that I fear him not. I shall work here as long as it is proper, and shall then go up to Jerusalem to die. The reason why he said that a prophet could not perish elsewhere than in Jerusalem might be:

  1. That he knew that he would be tried on a charge of blasphemy, and no other court could have cognizance of that crime but the great council or Sanhedrin, and so he was not afraid of any threats of Herod.,
  2. It “had been” the fact that the prophets had been chiefly slain there. The meaning is, “It cannot easily be done elsewhere; it is not usually done. Prophets have generally perished there, and there I am to die. I am safe, therefore, from the fear of Herod, and shall not take the advice given and leave his territory.”

Verses 34-35

See the notes at Matthew 23:37-39.

From the message which Jesus sent to Herod we may learn:

  1. That our lives are safe in the hands of God, and that wicked people can do no more to injure us than he shall permit. Compare John 19:11.
  2. That we “should” go on fearlessly in doing our duty, and especially if we are doing good. We should not regard the threats of people. God is to be obeyed; and even if obedience should involve us in difficulty and trials, still we should not hesitate to commit our cause to God and go forward.
  3. We should be on our guard against crafty and unprincipled people. They often “profess” to seek our good when they are only plotting our ruin. Even those professedly coming from our enemies to caution us are often also our enemies, and are secretly plotting our ruin or endeavoring to prevent our doing good.
  4. We see here the nature of religion. It shrinks at nothing which is duty. It goes forward trusting in God. It comes out boldly and faces the world. And,
  5. How beautiful and consistent is the example of Christ! How “wise” was he to detect the arts of his foes! how “fearless” in going forward, in spite of all their machinations, to do what God had appointed for him to do!

Bibliographical Information
Barnes, Albert. "Commentary on Luke 13". "Barnes' Notes on the Whole Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/bnb/luke-13.html. 1870.
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