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Luke 13

Dr. Constable's Expository NotesConstable's Expository Notes

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Verses 1-17

D. The instruction of the disciples in view of Jesus’ rejection 12:1-13:17

Teaching of the disciples continues as primary in this part of the third Gospel (Luke 9:51 to Luke 19:10). Jesus’ words to them at the beginning of the present section (Luke 12:1 to Luke 13:17) broadened to include the crowds toward the end.

"The coming judgment and the need for proper preparation are the threads that tie all of chapter 12 together." [Note: M. Bailey, p. 129.]

Verse 1

Luke linked this incident chronologically with the preceding one. Apparently messengers from Jerusalem had just arrived with news about Pilate’s act. This is the usual force of the Greek verb apaggello, translated "reported" or "told." Some Galileans had been in Jerusalem offering sacrifices at the temple. This may have been at Passover since only then did non-priests offers sacrifices. [Note: J. Jeremias, The Eucharistic Words of Jesus, p. 207, footnote 4.] Pilate, the Roman governor of the province of Judea, may have killed them beside the altar in the temple courtyard. However the figure of speech that Luke used to describe Pilate’s action permits a somewhat looser interpretation. There are no extra-biblical references to this event currently extant.

Verses 1-9

6. A call to repentance 13:1-9

Another comment by some people in the crowd led Jesus to give further teaching that He illustrated with another parable. The connecting idea with what precedes is judgment.

The need for repentance 13:1-5

Verses 2-3

Many of the Jews in Jesus’ day believed that tragedy or accident was the direct result of some personal sin (cf. John 9:1-3). Thus they concluded that the Galileans who had perished must have been great sinners. They based this view on a faulty theory of divine retribution (cf. Job 4:7; Job 8:20; Job 22:4-5). Jesus repudiated this theory and viewed the death of the Galileans as the consequence of sin generally. Jesus stressed the error of their view by placing the word "no" (Gr. ouchi) first in the sentence for emphasis (cf. Luke 13:4). He then drew a conclusion. Everyone needs to repent because everyone is a sinner, and all sin brings judgment.

Verses 4-5

Jesus reinforced His point by citing another apparently recent tragedy and repudiating the common view of judgment again. The pool of Siloam lay in the southeastern quarter of Jerusalem. [Note: See the diagram "Jerusalem in New Testament Times" at the end of these notes.] The Greek word opheiletai ("culprits" or "more guilty") means debtors. The Jews used this term as a synonym for sinners (cf. Matthew 6:12; Matthew 18:24). Jesus asserted that people who experience calamities are not necessarily worse sinners than people who do not. More important, all people face God’s judgment unless they repent.

Verses 6-7

This parable as a whole is very similar to Isaiah 5:1-7, though there the plant in view was a grapevine. The fig tree was another popular symbol of Israel (cf. Hosea 9:10; Jeremiah 8:13; Jeremiah 24:1-8; Micah 7:1). By referring to a fig tree and a vineyard together Jesus left no doubt that He was speaking of Israel. God expected to find the fruit of repentance in Israel but found virtually none. He had not found fruit in it for a long time, so He planned to judge it because it was not fulfilling its purpose.

Verses 6-9

The parable of the fruitless fig tree 13:6-9

This parable illustrated the need for repentance, but it also drew attention to God’s grace in allowing time for repentance. This parable should not be confused with the incident in which Jesus cursed a fig tree (Matthew 21:19; Mark 11:13-14) or the shorter parable He told about a fig tree (Matthew 24:32).

Verses 8-9

God was gracious with Israel and gave it more time to bear fruit. The implication seems to be that Israel was in this grace period during the ministry of Jesus. His ministry stirred up the nation and infused elements that should have resulted in fruit. Israel’s response to Him would determine her national fate. Therefore repentance was crucial immediately since the grace period was relatively short.

Perhaps Paul had this parable in mind when he compared Israel to an olive tree and revealed Israel’s fate further (Romans 11:17-24).

Verses 10-11

The Greek phrase kai idou ("and behold" in the NASB and untranslated in the NIV) suggests that Jesus may have suddenly become aware of the woman as He was speaking. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 971.] As usual, Luke noted the extent and duration of the affliction to stress the greatness of Jesus’ cure. Evidently a demon played some part in the woman’s suffering. This meant that Jesus’ healing involved overcoming supernatural as well as natural forces.

"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight." [Note: C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, p. 9.]

The woman’s physical condition was similar to Israel’s spiritual condition (cf. Luke 4:18-19). She may have had spondylitis ankylopoietica, a fusing of the spinal bones, or skoliasis hysterica, a hysterically induced paralysis, or some other condition. [Note: See J. Wilkinson, "The Case of the Bent Woman in Luke 13:10-17," Evangelical Quarterly 49 (1977):195-205.]

Verses 10-17

7. A sign of Jesus’ ability to effect change 13:10-17

There are several thematic connections that tie this pericope with what has preceded and show its role in the development of Luke’s argument. Jesus had just called the nation to repentance (Luke 13:3; Luke 13:5). Now He showed that change was possible with His power. He had pictured Israel in need of fruit (Luke 13:6-8). Now He illustrated His restorative powers. He had called the people to believe in Him (Luke 12:54-59). Now He gave them a sign that He was the Messiah. He had called the multitudes hypocrites because they refused to respond to the clear evidence before them (Luke 12:56). Now He called them hypocrites again because they refused to act to relieve suffering on the Sabbath (Luke 13:15).

"While in Luke 4:31 to Luke 8:40 there seemed to be a clear distinction between the crowd, which was favorable toward Jesus, and the scribes and Pharisees, who were not, Jesus begins to issue harsh warnings to the crowd in Luke 11-13, and, as Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the crowd’s attitudes are hardly distinguishable from those of the scribes and Pharisees, who reject Jesus’ teaching on riches (Luke 16:14), think that proclaiming Jesus as king deserves a rebuke, and grumble when Jesus associates with tax collectors and sinners." [Note: Tannehill, 1:157-58.]

Verses 12-13

Perhaps Jesus called the woman to Himself rather than going to her so everyone present would see what He would do. Again Jesus healed the woman with a word. His touch communicated compassion and linked the cause with the effect visually. Her recovery was instantaneous and she began glorifying God, the source of her blessing (cf. Luke 2:20; Luke 5:25-26; Luke 7:16; Luke 17:15; Luke 18:43; Luke 23:47; Acts 3:8-9). She recognized thereby that Jesus was God’s instrument of blessing.

Verse 14

As previously, Jesus’ works proved controversial and provided another opportunity for Him to teach. The synagogue official showed more concern for Sabbath observance then for human suffering (cf. the previous Sabbath controversies in Galilee [Matthew 12:9-13] and in Jerusalem [John 5:16]). Instead of praising God with the woman he criticized her and Jesus indirectly. Perhaps he felt safer addressing the people than Jesus. His advice to the assembled crowd amounted to keeping them from entering the kingdom (Luke 11:52). [Note: Martin, p. 240.]

Verses 15-16

Jesus’ argued from the lesser to the greater again. A person is much more important than an animal (cf. Luke 14:5). The Jews regarded women as less important then men. Jesus viewed her as a daughter of Abraham, a very exalted title that described a female descendant of the revered patriarch. Perhaps the Jews had denied this woman this title concluding that her affliction was due to some great sin that she had committed (cf. Luke 13:2-5). Jesus freed her from her alien master who had bound her for 18 long years. Jesus’ compassion refused to allow her to suffer one more day. Since the Sabbath was a day of worship and rejoicing, it was appropriate that Jesus healed her then.

"As a result of Jesus’ command, the fever ’released her.’ While the verb apheken (’released’) is shared with the parallel accounts, in Luke it is placed in a context where it has the full force of release from an oppressive confinement and illustrates the ’release (aphesin) for captives’ of which Jesus spoke in Luke 4:18." [Note: Tannehill, 1:84.]

Verse 17

Jesus’ action caused a double reaction. His opponents felt humiliated because Jesus’ obviously had divine power and compassion, but they had been criticizing Him (cf. Isaiah 45:16). The multitudes rejoiced because they appreciated Jesus using His power for the welfare of the people despite their hypocritical leaders’ opposition (cf. Exodus 34:10).

This miracle is a concrete example of Jesus’ authority and the truthfulness of His assessment of the spiritual condition of Israel and her leaders.

This concludes Luke’s section of material that records Jesus’ instruction of His disciples in view of His rejection (Luke 12:1 to Luke 13:17). The general movement of Jesus’ teaching was from lessons about personal discipleship and disciples’ responsibilities to lessons about the coming kingdom.

Verses 18-19

The parable of the mustard seed 13:18-19 (cf. Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32)

The kingdom of God is the messianic kingdom that the Old Testament predicted. It would be an earthly kingdom over which Messiah would rule for 1,000 years (Revelation 20:4-6). It is similar to a mustard seed in that it had a small beginning in the preaching of Jesus, but it will grow to be a very large entity. It will eventually encompass the whole earth and the entire human race (Psalms 2; et al.). Luke did not mention its small beginning, only its large final form.

The reference to the birds nesting in its branches may simply be an insignificant detail. However it is probably an allusion to the tree in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream in which the birds evidently represent the Gentile nations that profit from the tree (kingdom, Daniel 4:7-23). Several Old Testament passages use a tree with birds flocking to its branches to illustrate a kingdom that people perceive as great (Judges 9:15; Psalms 104:12-13; Ezekiel 17:22-24; Ezekiel 31:3-14).

The point of the parable is the final large form of the kingdom. In this context Luke probably wanted his readers to connect the great power of Jesus manifested in the woman’s healing (Luke 13:10-17) and the power that results in the tree’s unusual growth into a worldwide kingdom.

Verses 18-21

1. Parables of the kingdom 13:18-21

The connection with what has preceded that Luke’s "therefore" suggests is probably the reaction of the multitude (Luke 13:17). Since the multitude reacted positively to Jesus, He taught them about the coming messianic kingdom. His previous comments about coming judgment made this teaching appropriate.

These parables occur in Matthew and Mark in a different context. Luke therefore may have reported the same teaching on another occasion, or he may have moved Jesus’ teaching on the occasion Matthew and Mark reported to this place in his Gospel. The former alternative seems more probable.

Verses 18-35

E. Instruction about the kingdom 13:18-14:35

The larger division of the Gospel that records Jesus’ ministry on the way to Jerusalem and the Cross continues with more teaching about the coming kingdom. The parables of the kingdom that begin this section (Luke 13:18-21) introduce this section. The difference in Jesus’ teaching in the present section is a matter of emphasis rather than a clear-cut change. The subtlety of this distinction is observable in that the commentators differ over where they believe the sections divide. Jesus’ discipleship training also continues in this section.

Verses 20-21

The parable of the yeast hidden in meal 13:20-21 (cf. Matthew 13:33)

Jesus’ similar introduction of this parable (cf. Luke 13:18) suggests a similar point, but the fact that He gave a different parable implies a slightly different emphasis. Obviously the pervasive growth idea is present in both parables, but the second parable stresses the hidden nature of the transforming power more than the first one did. The idea of mysterious growth also carries over.

"It is perhaps worth noting also that yeast works from inside: it cannot change the dough while it is outside. But it is also important that the power to change comes from outside: the dough does not change itself." [Note: Morris, p. 225.]

Verse 22

Luke employed similar geographical summary statements in Acts too to indicate divisions in his narrative (e.g., Luke 12:25; Luke 14:27-28; Luke 16:4; et al). They give a sense of movement and progress in material that is essentially didactic. Jesus’ general movement was toward Jerusalem and the Cross, though He seems to have proceeded without haste and with many pauses for teaching. The goal is the important feature, not how Jesus reached it. He gave the following teaching on the way.

Verses 22-30

2. Entrance into the kingdom 13:22-30

Another question led to this teaching. The thematic connection with Jesus’ words implying the small beginning of the kingdom (Luke 13:19; Luke 13:21) should be obvious. As elsewhere, Luke recorded Jesus teaching lessons and using illustrations and expressions that the other Gospel writers wrote that He used in other contexts. Jesus’ repetition is understandable in view of His itinerant ministry and His great skill as a teacher.

Verse 23

Luke did not identify the questioner who could have been a disciple or a member of the ubiquitous crowd. The questioner evidently wanted to know if he or she was correct in concluding from Jesus’ previous teaching (e.g., Mark 10:23-26) that only a few people would experience salvation. For the Jews, and probably for the questioner, salvation meant entering the kingdom as well as entering heaven. The identity of the people to whom Jesus responded is indefinite and unimportant.

Verse 24

Jesus did not answer the question directly. Instead of giving an impersonal answer He explained how a person could enter the kingdom. A narrow door pictured an unpopular and difficult entryway (cf. Matthew 7:13). Jesus meant the door was the way He taught in contrast to the more popular way that the religious leaders taught. Striving consisted of believing Jesus in spite of the intrinsic difficulty of believing and the opposition of others (cf. John 10:9). Many people would seek to enter the kingdom through ways other than the narrow door but would be unable to enter. One writer argued that the striving in view involves submitting to Christ’s lordship. [Note: John F. MacArthur Jr., The Gospel According to Jesus, pp. 182-83.] But submitting to Christ’s lordship is nowhere a condition for entrance into the kingdom. Only faith in Jesus is.

Verse 25

The revelation that God would soon shut the narrow door of opportunity to enter heaven and the kingdom should have moved Jesus’ hearers not to delay believing in Him. In one sense anyone can believe as long as he or she is alive. In another sense it becomes more difficult to believe as one procrastinates and as one grows older. However in view of Jesus’ illustration of the banquet that follows, it is more likely that He was thinking of the beginning of the kingdom. When the kingdom began, it would be impossible for unbelievers to change their minds and be saved. Therefore in view of the kingdom’s imminency when Jesus uttered this warning, His hearers needed to believe without delay.

Verses 26-27

When the kingdom began no amount of appeal based only on friendship or familiarity with Jesus would avail. Jesus had extended fellowship to His hearers and had taught them the way of salvation, but they had rejected His offers. Here Jesus identified the person who shut the door as Himself (cf. Matthew 7:22-23). He will also be the person who will utterly forsake and pronounce judicial rejection on unbelievers for their lack of righteousness (cf. Psalms 6:8).

Verses 28-29

The phrase "weeping and gnashing of teeth" elsewhere describes eternal punishment in hell (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 24:51; Matthew 25:30). [Note: See Pagenkemper, pp. 183-86, 188-90.] There is no reason to conclude that it means something else here. Weeping expresses sorrow (cf. Luke 6:25; Acts 20:37; James 4:9; James 5:1) and gnashing or grinding the teeth pictures anger and hatred (cf. Job 16:10; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 37:12; Psalms 112:10; Lamentations 2:16; Acts 7:54). These feelings will arise in people outside the kingdom as they view others within it.

The judgment at the beginning of the kingdom is in view. Evidently God will raise dead Old Testament saints then to enter the kingdom (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2).

The Old Testament revealed that Gentiles would also participate in the messianic banquet that will inaugurate Messiah’s earthly reign (cf. Isaiah 25:6-7; Isaiah 60; Isaiah 62:2-9; Isaiah 65:13-14; Ezekiel 34:12-14; Ezekiel 39:17-20). People coming from the four compass points would be Gentiles rather than the Jews, who lived primarily in Palestine. Jesus said that many Jews would not enter the kingdom (cf. Matthew 8:10-12). Many of Jesus’ hearers were undoubtedly trusting in their Jewish blood and heritage to get them into the kingdom, so Jesus’ words would have shocked them.

Verse 30

The people who are last in this context probably refer to Gentiles whom the Jews regarded as least likely to enter the kingdom (cf. Matthew 19:30; Matthew 20:16; Mark 10:31). The ones who are first were the Jews. They considered themselves to be superior to Gentiles in many ways. They were also the first and the foremost objects of Jesus’ ministry.

Verse 31

This incident followed the former one chronologically. Therefore it is probable that Jesus’ words about Jews not entering the kingdom and Gentiles entering it had caused the Pharisees to gnash their teeth in anger against Him. Luke’s presentation of the Pharisees has been consistently antagonistic, so it is reasonable to assume that their suggestion had a hidden motive. They may have wanted to scare Jesus into retreating rather than continuing on toward Jerusalem where Herod awaited Him. Or perhaps Herod was using the Pharisees to pass on a death threat to Jesus.

Did Herod Antipas really want to kill Jesus? He kept trying to see Jesus (Luke 9:9), and when he finally did he was very glad for the opportunity hoping that Jesus would perform a miracle (Luke 23:8). However he proceeded to mock Jesus and to treat Him with contempt (Luke 23:11). It appears that the Pharisees were overstating Herod’s hostility at this time. Their warning posed a temptation for Jesus to depart from His Father’s will for Him, but He did not yield to it.

Verses 31-35

3. Jesus’ postponement of the kingdom 13:31-35

Another comment triggered teaching of a similar nature. The continuing theme is the messianic kingdom.

Verses 32-33

Jesus’ reply to the Pharisees shows that He viewed them as Herod’s messengers. They were as antagonistic to Him as they claimed Herod was. A fox is, of course, a proverbially dangerous and cunning animal that destroys and scavenges (cf. Lamentations 5:17-18; Ezekiel 13:4; 1 Enoch 89:10, 42-49, 55). Jesus walked in the light, but foxes went hunting in the dark. In Jesus’ day foxes were also insignificant animals (cf. Nehemiah 4:3; Song of Solomon 2:15). Jesus viewed Herod similarly.

Jesus explained that He would not run from Jerusalem but would continue moving toward it and ministering as usual as He went. He would reach Jerusalem in three days. This may have been a reference to three literal days, in which case it appears to refer to Jesus’ second visit to Jerusalem rather than to His third and final visit. [Note: Hoehner, p. 62.] This seems unlikely in view of Jesus’ statement about visiting Jerusalem in Luke 13:35. Probably this was an idiomatic expression indicating a relatively short, limited period (cf. Hosea 6:2). [Note: Marshall, The Gospel . . ., pp. 571-72.] In this case the days would refer to the time of present opportunity culminating in the end of that opportunity. [Note: Liefeld, "Luke," p. 974.]

Jesus spoke of the city as His goal because it would be in Jerusalem that He would reach the goal of His ministry, namely, His passion. He acknowledged that He would die there. He viewed dying outside Jerusalem as inconsistent with the tradition of prophets who had died there at the hands of the Jews (1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:10; Jeremiah 26:20-23; Nehemiah 9:26; cf. Acts 7:52). Jesus obviously did not mean that all the prophets died in Jerusalem. He meant that since Jerusalem had killed prophets it was appropriate for Him to die there too.

Verses 34-35

The double reference to Jerusalem, following as it does the name of the city at the end of Luke 13:33, draws attention to it. It was the city of Jesus’ destiny and the pathetic, unresponsive object of His love. Jesus’ lament recalls Jeremiah’s lamentation over Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians (cf. Jeremiah 12:7; Jeremiah 22:5; Lam.). The city was heading for a similar fate under the Romans for rejecting Jesus. The house left desolate is perhaps the temple (cf. 1 Kings 9:7-8), though this could be a reference to the nation as a whole, the city, or the Davidic dynasty.

"The great expectations in the birth narrative for the redemption of Israel and Jerusalem are not being realized in the anticipated way and with the anticipated fullness, because Jerusalem is failing to recognize the time of its visitation. The great expectations aroused at the beginning contribute to the tragic effect of this turn in the plot, for we feel the loss more keenly in contrast to these great hopes." [Note: Tannehill, 1:160. See also idem, "Israel in Luke-Acts: A Tragic Story," Journal of Biblical Literature 104 (1985):69-81.]

The city would not see Jesus until the Triumphal Entry (Psalms 118:26; Matthew 21:1-9; Luke 19:28-38). However, the final and true fulfillment of the prophecy of the people of Jerusalem hailing the arrival of their Messiah is still future (Matthew 23:39). Jesus gave two predictions of the fulfillment of Psalms 118:26. The one here was fulfilled at the Triumphal Entry. The second one that He gave after the Triumphal Entry (Matthew 23:39) will be fulfilled at the Second Coming.

Jesus’ lament constituted a formal rejection of Israel for her rejection of her Messiah (cf. Matthew 23:37-39). Jesus used Jerusalem figuratively (i.e., in metonymy) for the whole nation. However, Jesus rejected her with a broken heart. He continued to offer Himself to the nation, but its fate was now irrevocable.

Bibliographical Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Luke 13". "Dr. Constable's Expository Notes". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/dcc/luke-13.html. 2012.
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