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Bible Commentaries
Luke 13

Whedon's Commentary on the BibleWhedon's Commentary

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Verse 1

1. Were present Had come with the intelligence from the metropolis. Jesus is now in eastern Judea.

At that season So as to retail the news in the hearing of Jesus at the close of his discourse.

Told him The Greek word implies that they announced it to him as news. Galileans These importers of news from Jerusalem doubtless know that our Lord is himself a Galilean. He is “Jesus, the prophet of Galilee .” (Matthew 21:11.) If they heard his discourse, they might have recognized the Galilean traits of articulation. His twelve, whom he addressed alternately with the people, are all Galileans; and their dialect, whenever they might chance to utter anything, (as Peter did, Matthew 21:41,) would bewray them. Hence we see a reason why these news-men may have been ready to furnish Jesus a bad piece of information about his fellow Galileans. In the second place, there seems very fair reason to believe, with the best commentators, that these slaughtered Galileans were the fanatic partizans of Judas the Galilean or Gaulonite. This man was an ultra Jew, who took ground against paying tribute to any foreign power, as treason against Jehovah. Pilate would be very well disposed to improve the opportunity to aim a deadly blow at such a set of men upon very slight pretexts. These informants, be it farther noted, are on the side of Pilate, holding that the sinners in the case are undoubtedly the Galileans. They see, therefore, chance to taunt Jesus, as if implicating him in the fanaticism and treason of the Gaulonite’s followers, and warning him of a similar danger.

Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices From the tower of Antonia, which we have elsewhere described (see note on Matthew 21:12; Matthew 26:5,) as having been so built as to command the temple, for the very purpose of instantly repressing all tumults and seditions, for which its courts rendered it a favourite and advantageous place, Pilate was able to pour a destructive volley upon the occupants of any part. These Galileans were in the court of the temple, near the great altar; and probably the process of slaying their sacrificial victims was going on. The arrowy shower of death came, and the blood of the sacrificers and of their sacrifices blended in the same stream!

It was an awful omen! On the victim lies the weight of the worshipper’s sin; but here his own blood is made to mingle with the sin-atoning blood of the slain beast!

Verses 1-10

1-10. The assembled Myriads break up their congregation at the solemn close of the discourse of the last chapter; but a lesser circle remains round our Lord, with whom a colloquy now ensues. Some persons, who, perhaps, have arrived lately from Jerusalem, narrate a cruel slaughter which has just been committed there by Pilate. This draws from Jesus a solemn admonition, which may be considered as an appendix or afterpiece to the main discourse to the Myriads just closed.

Verse 2

2. Jesus answering The two parts of Jesus’s answer at once neutralize their sneer and rebuke the false theology of these informants. These Galileans were not proved by their sad fate to be worse than other Galileans, or than people in Jerusalem, Luke 13:4 For special misfortunes are no proof of special guilt; and the same perdition which these sinners may have incurred will be the fate of all who repent not.

Because they suffered these things Our Lord does not deny that even temporary suffering is a penalty for wickedness; or that all mankind are sufferers because they are sinners. But he denies that the greater sufferings are proof of the greater guilt. Such are the sins of all that they might suffer these same calamities without injustice being done them.

Verse 3

3. Ye Not Galileans only, but ye Judeans and Jerusalemites. And this neutralizes the sneer at Jesus as a Galilean.

Likewise perish This we hold to be addressed to them primarily as individuals, however true it was of the entire nation as such. The likewise does not imply that they will die by a shot from Pilate, or a fall of the tower, or by any violent death; but by death under the wrath of God, which is but the gateway to a death eternal. It was forty years later than the utterance of these words that Jerusalem was destroyed; and but very few then at years of accountability could have suffered its terrible woes. But it is a somewhat singular fact that Jewish writers say that the Emperor Trajan, in the final war with the Jews, mingled the blood of the Jews with their sacrifices!

Verse 4

4. Or those eighteen A more striking instance, as being more purely providential. Of course history makes no mention of so ordinary an accident as the fall of a tower.

The tower of Siloam Siloam is a fountain south-east of Jerusalem, for a full account of which see John 9:7. This tower seems to have stood near the fountain, or perhaps in the locality which received its name from the fountain.

Dwelt in Jerusalem And this brings it home to those informants themselves. Not the poor Galileans alone, but the proud inhabitants of the mountain-girt capital even, must repent or perish.

Verse 6

6. A certain man The man is Jehovah; the fig-tree is the Jew, national or personal; the vine-dresser is the Redeemer. This is a parable in words, as the cursing of the barren fig-tree was the same parable in action. See note on Matthew 21:18-23.

He came This He is the same as the owner in the parable of the wicked husbandman, namely, God the Father Almighty.

Sought fruit Fruit is a very common and very expressive image of men’s moral actions; springing as both do from the natural vigor of the being by which they are produced. But they differ in one important point, that the fruit is a necessary inevitable product, whereas a good or evil deed is free and responsible.

Found none In the beautiful passage of Isaiah 5:1, where the same sad truths are illustrated under the image of a vineyard, the planter not merely finds no true fruit, but he finds the opposite, namely, an evil product. There was not only omission of good, but commission of bad.

Verses 6-9

The Parable of the Fig tree, Luke 13:6-9.

Our Lord now completes both the discourses, namely, of the myriads and its present appendix, with a parable Which contains the substance of the a whole, and closes with the awful sentence “cut it down.” The whole discourse pointed its warnings first at the individual sinner, and then at the collective body, or the organic or governmental system. And these all unite in one; for the same warnings were applicable to each case. The nation is indeed the corporate person; the destiny of the individual is involved in the fate of the nation.

Verse 7

7. Behold these three years The fig produces within this period after planting. This is applied by some to represent the period of the Lord’s ministry. If so the nation was allowed to survive near forty years after the voice of the intercessor had surrendered and ceased on earth.

I come This is a verb of continuity. During the whole three years again and again have I been coming. The visits of God are secret and unrecognized, though they be ever recurring. Our fruitfulness, our barrenness, our production of the wild poison fruit, all take place beneath his watchful but patient eye.

Seeking fruit The master seeks, and seeks from season to season. There may be no fruit; there may be leaves; there may be the leafless branch; in either case he departs in sorrowful disappointment.

Cumbereth the ground Renders the ground barren, absorbing the virtue of the soil only to abuse it. For the sinner can never sin by omission alone. He will commit positive sin, and produce positive evil and destruction.

Verse 8

8. Let it alone It is the voice of the intercessor. No worth or worthiness in the sinner preserves him. He lives upon sufferance, and dies when the pleading voice becomes silent.

Dig about it Hollow the earth around the root of the tree, and then pour in the manure, keeping the soil loose and mellow to catch the nourishing dews and rains that a cherishing heaven may send. Thus from beneath and from around and from above is the sinner beset with mercies to save his soul from death.

Verse 9

9. And if… and if not Upon these two ifs hangs eternity. God may surround and ply him with means; but he leaves it at the last to the man himself to decide, by his own free will, between these two ifs. If God has indeed predetermined the matter, if the barrenness of the tree is the secured consequent of his own previous decree, then the events of the entire parable become a farce, and the lesson becomes an enigma.

Cut it down The echo of the owner’s words in Luke 13:7 . Cut it down, says divine justice; and in due time, still more fatally, Cut it down, responds divine mercy. The nation and the man may, like Jerusalem after the crucifixion, survive a few abandoned years after the sentence has gone forth Cut it down But the day of doom without mercy at last arrives, a type and prelude of a more terrible wrath in the world of retribution.

Verse 10


10. Teaching in one of the synagogues The last great discourse was in the open air. But the synagogue on the Sabbath is still open to our Lord’s preaching in south-eastern Palestine; although the ruler of the synagogue would, if he dare, exclude him.

Verse 11

11. Spirit of infirmity Not perhaps a case of complete possession, but of bodily debility produced under Satanic influence. Stier denies that subjection to Satanic influence is any proof of wickedness, and claims that this woman was afflicted by Satan in spite of her piety, like Job of old. She is found in the synagogue on the Sabbath to hear the words of life; not a word is said of the pardon of her sins; when she is healed she breaks forth in devout songs of praise to God, and she is pronounced by the Saviour, with manifest tenderness, a “daughter of Abraham.”

Eighteen years For that long period Satan had been destroying, but God had been keeping her alive. She had lived and suffered to some purpose; for she had survived to prove, by the very length and obstinacy of her disorder, the true power of Jesus to heal.

Bowed together… lift up herself Her body, if not her soul, bowed to the earth. So does the power of Satan bind the souls of sensual men to the earth. They are unable to look up to the God above them. It is the power of the Redeemer that can loosen their bonds if they apply to him, and give them power to raise themselves up and to use their tongues in praise of his strange mercy.

Verse 12

12. Saw her… called While Jesus is teaching, the debilitated cripple is descried by him in the women’s part of the synagogue, and she comes forth at his command, apparently so bowed down that she could scarce have seen the face of her benefactor if he stood in the pulpit.

Loosed For Satan’s grasp had fastened and tied her down with her own stiffened sinews and muscles. Jesus lays his hand upon her, through which a heavenly power is poured, and the Satanic spell disappears.

Verse 13

13. Straight and glorified God So that she was doubly straight, namely, in body and in soul.

Verse 14

14. The ruler of the synagogue Who is so great as your little great man, who imitates, of course, the prejudices and follies of his superiors? This official had not dared, for reasons which may appear, to withhold from Jesus the pulpit or the synagogue for preaching. But he understands that the doctors and lawyers maintain that for Jesus to perform miracles on the Sabbath is a desecration of that holy day. He will therefore protest, in the name of the decalogue, against such work.

Answered It is not clear to what he gave answer; but it was most probably to the woman’s praise to God for her release from Satan.

With indignation Which he meant to have considered a holy indignation, prompted by his soul, for God and Moses.

Said unto the people He has not the courage to face Jesus. He therefore falls foul of the innocent congregation, because he dare berate them, being, as he is, ruler of the synagogue, while they are only the synagogue itself.

There are six days The man quotes, without intending a verbal exactness, a very important item in the fourth commandment; namely, that men should work six days, and that that should be the limit of their week’s work.

Come and be healed The coming to the synagogue was Sabbath duty; but the being healed was no work which the people or the woman had done. This man, then, when he whips the people, means the blow for Jesus. He commits the contradiction of supposing that the miracle is really and divinely performed, but wicked on the Sabbath; as if God was breaking his own Sabbath and must be prevented by the people.

Verse 15

15. Hypocrite He belongs to that class whom Jesus has stamped with that terrible name. This man might well have withered, had he known and felt the awfulness of that epithet, pronounced from such lips. It is applied to this man as his share of the name, as applied by our Lord to the whole class of his teachers and masters. Early in his ministry our Lord gave out that there was such a standing class. See Matthew 6:2; Matthew 6:5; Matthew 6:16. Later he began to tell who and which they generally were, (Luke 15:7; Luke 16:3; Luke 22:18.) Later to denounce woes upon them, (Luke 23:14-15,) and finally to assign them their portion, (Luke 24:51.) This cavilling at healing on the Sabbath day was one of the stereotype tests of the hypocrite. See note on Matthew 12:1-9.

Verse 17

17. His adversaries were ashamed For of course this ruler of the synagogue is not without his party to hold to the great doctrine that divine power must not break the Sabbath. But they were at this time ashamed; for the falsity of their excuse was shown by the Saviour so clearly as to be perceived, not only by their own consciences, but by the listening multitude. All the people who had no self-interests in the way; no pride of belonging to the hierarchical party; nothing to prevent their looking at things as they are.

Rejoiced Joined to all these things was the fact of Jesus’s deeds of mercy. These poor people know what it is to suffer, and can realize what blessedness it is to be relieved, and how blessed the relieving power. They cannot see easily that miracles of mercy are works of Beelzebub.

Glorious things Their eyes can see the glory of the things done by him. How happy would it have been for them if no later influence from the malign power of the rulers had ever warped these men so as to prevent their uniting in the cry at the fatal hour, Crucify him, crucify him.

Verses 18-21

18-21. Our Lord, in view of the spirit of faith and joy produced in the hearts of the people in consequence of this miracle, and its triumphant justification, instructs them now, by two parables, in the mysteries of his kingdom. The scene is still within the synagogue; and the continuance of Jesus in discourse shows the effect of his favour with the people in spite of the subdued hostility of the ruler. The two parables occur in Matthew, chapter 13, where see our notes.

Verse 22

22. He went through their cities and villages This is Luke’s general heading for the Peraean ministry of Jesus. The cities and villages were those of the Transjordanic region, including Bethabara and the localities generally of John’s baptisms. See map.

But Luke really gives the teachings of Jesus for the closing two days of the Peraean ministry. See note on Luke 13:31.

Verses 22-35


Jesus went to the Feast of Dedication, John 10:22-40. After which, according to John 10:40, he went to beyond Jordan, (Peraea,) where John at first baptized, and there abode. Many, as John assures us, who had the original testimony of the Baptist, were convinced of its fulfilment in him, and became believers on him. Of this PERAEN MINISTRY Luke here gives an account; covering apparently, however, but the two or three closing days. Jesus, then, as we learn from John, departed to raise Lazarus, and then retired to Ephraim.

A marked fact in this brief account of the Peraean ministry is the conversion of many Jewish publicans and [Gentile] sinners, and the Lord’s defences of them against the malignity of their Phariseean assailants. This contest draws out from Jesus a series of most striking discourses and parables. Jericho and the Jordan region probably abounded in Publicans and a Gentile population.

Verse 23


23. Lord The respectful address, and the confidence of the inquirer in our Lord’s ability to furnish an authoritative answer, show that he is a believer. The question was much debated by the Jewish doctors, some maintaining that all Israelites are saved by birthright, others asserting that the saved will be few; just as but two of the original Israelites arrived in Canaan. We may remark that there can be no reasonable doubt that the word saved in such discourses refers, contrary to most Universalist interpretations, to salvation from hell in a future world. Such was its meaning among the debaters of our Lord’s day.

Verse 24

24. Strive The common remark that Jesus evades the question, as being a query of idle curiosity, is hardly correct. In Matthew 7:14, he says of the narrow way, “ Few there be that find it.” And this word strive, while it gives the reply in practical form, still asserts that salvation is of difficult attainment, and consequently obtained by the few. See notes on Matthew 7:13-14.

Will seek It is one thing to strive and another to seek. And it is to be supposed that the failure arises from seeking to enter otherwise than by the strait gate; and to enter the strait gate is to strive.

Verse 25

25. When once Once for all and forever. The master of the house The hospitable entertainer of his friends for the night.

Is risen up From his evening divan to close the house for the night.

Hath shut to the door Locked for the night’s safety and repose. Ye Our Lord gives his reply to the question in the most admonitory form of the second person plural.

Lord, Lord, open These are not members of his family. They only claim acquaintance Nor is there any intimation of its being a feast. On the contrary, all they ask is an open door and a refuge.

Know you not whence Ye are straggling night-walkers, from I know not what quarter. I cannot recognize you as part of my family or as guests.

Verses 25-30

25-30. The exclusion of sinners from heaven is here compared to the exclusion of night wanderers from a hospitable house.

Verse 26

26. We have eaten and drunk They had perhaps partaken of his miraculous feedings with the five thousand.

In thy presence At the same table, so as to be acquaintances.

Taught in our streets We have heard thee preach. Our Lord here slightly changes the man from householder to preacher; that is, from his parabolic to his real self.

Verse 27

27. Workers of iniquity The word workers here signifies hired operatives. He charges them, therefore, with being the paid fabricators and labourers of wickedness. The householder has entirely disappeared; and in the following verse the house has become a kingdom, the kingdom of heaven.

Verse 29

29. They shall come At the final consummation. For few as the Lord finds the number of the saved now to be, yet when the earthly history of the race closes, immense will be the number gathered from all points of the compass, constituting, perhaps, the vast majority of mankind. The points of the compass are given in their usual order; but it is something of a coincidence that they follow the course in which the Gospel seems in human history to proceed.

Verse 30

30. Last… first The Gentiles, which were last, have become first; the reverse has been the history of the Jews. And so in the following chapters (14-16) the Pharisees and Publicans are reversed from first to last.

Verse 31

Herod’s malignant warning, and the Lord’s reply, Luke 13:31-34.

31. The same day The day on which the question of Luke 13:23 was answered; namely, the first of the two closing days of the Peraean ministry.

Certain of the Pharisees Herodian partizans among the Jews, flatterers and tools at the court of Herod Antipas. (See note on Matthew 22:16.) They were Pharisees in profession, but Sadducees in life and practice. It is this same sort of men, if not this very set, who appear in Luke 20:19-20. They appear here as emissaries sent from Herod to Jesus.

For Herod Jesus in Peraea was within the dominions of Herod, and not far from that very fortress of Machaerus where John had been beheaded by this same Herod Antipas. For the life and character of Herod Antipas, and for the superstitious dread he entertained of Jesus, consult our notes on Matthew 14:1-2.

Will kill thee It is evident that Antipas, equally infidel and superstitious, was actually at the present time afraid of Jesus; equally dreading to have him in his dominions, or to touch him with violence, so as to incur the odium of murdering a second holy man. He therefore sends these spies to frighten Jesus out of his dominions.

Verse 32

32. Go ye and tell These men did not claim really to have come from Herod Antipas. They do not pretend to report Herod’s own words as from him. But Jesus does, in his reply, recognize the fact which they leave unexpressed. He assumes that they came from Herod as with a murderous message, and he sends back his reply to Antipas by them. Our Lord thus unmasks the whole deceit, and holds Antipas responsible for at once his cunning and his cruelty.

That fox Who conceals himself, yet threatens my life through you. Those who charge our Lord here with improper disrespect to his human sovereign, ought to see that the term fox is a just rebuke for Herod’s sin of artfulness.

Though our Lord uses this epithet to rebuke the present duplicity of Herod Antipas, yet fox-like cunning was one of the permanent qualities which he either possessed or affected. Wetstein says: “He, like many other princes of his time, shaped his manners after the model of the Emperor Tiberius, who, among all traits of character, prided himself upon his own dissimulation. Then Herod was an old fox, since he had held the government now thirty years and had played the most diverse characters. He played the slave to Tiberius, the master to Galilee, the friend to the Emperor’s prime favourite Sejanus, and to his own three brothers, Archelaus, Philip, and Herod II.; all whose dispositions were most opposite to each other, and to the temper of Antipas himself.”

Today and to-morrow The method of Wieseler, as we have remarked, (p. 101,) furnishes here a very apt adjustment. Most commentators have been obliged to explain this phrase of time to be indefinite. This arises from their inability to indicate any particular period of two or three days which it can be applied to measure. But turn to John 11:6, and we find that after he received, at this very locality, the message of Lazarus’s death from the sisters of Bethany, he abode two days, and then said, Let us go into Judea. Let us suppose that the spies of Herod and the messenger of the sisters arrived at about the same hour, and the two days of John are just these two days of Jesus. Starting on the third day, Jesus would reach Bethany on the fourth, and find Lazarus four days dead. John 11:39. And so, too, if a message touching Lazarus and Herod Antipas arrived at the same time, we see how it happens that in a parable delivered a few hours afterwards a Lazarus and an infidel Rich Man present themselves to view. (See note on Luke 21:19-31.) And we may add that, keeping Antipas in view, we may, perhaps, discover a connection in the passage Luke 16:13-18, which commentators have been so puzzled to find.

The third day I shall be perfected The Greek for I shall be perfected) τελειουμαι , (being, as Van Oosterzee maintains, a present middle,) signifies, I complete or finish; namely my Peraean work.

So fearless and calm was the Saviour’s reply to the despot. Spite of the bloody threat, he will remain his full appointed time; he will perform those cures and dispossessions of demons that excite the tetrarch’s anxiety; he will then leave his work, not half done, but complete and perfected.

This period of two or three days covers, all our Lord’s discourse to Luke 17:10. How should we divide the matter into the days? It is not easy to say. We suggest that on the first day Jesus attends the feast, Luke 14:1-24 and Luke 14:25-35 is delivered to the crowd that followed him as he returned from the feast to his abode. On the second day are the assemblage and discourse, Luke 15:1 to Luke 16:31; while Luke 17:1-10 is uttered to the disciples on his way to Bethany.

Verse 33

33. I must It is the divine order, and no tetrarch’s threats can disturb it. He repeats the allotted time with firm emphasis, that these Herodian Pharisees may see that he utters a fixed fact.

It cannot be Literal, It is not admissible. A rebuking irony upon guilty Jerusalem. That a prophet be martyred elsewhere than in Jerusalem breaks a rule of uniformity. It was indeed done in the case of John and some others: but the exceptions are only sufficient to illustrate the striking uniformity to the rule.

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Verse 34

34. O Jerusalem Jesus reiterated the same apostrophe, in fuller terms, at a later moment, in Jerusalem itself, as his closing sentence before his retirement to the sacrifice of himself for the sins of the world. See notes on Matthew 23:37-39, and cut on opposite page.

Verse 35

35. Your house is left Our Lord speaks as from a future standpoint; namely, his departure by death at the crucifixion. The word desolate is here spurious; but is used in the later utterance of the apostrophe as the sign of utter giving over of the city to its fate.

Not see me In the later utterance Jesus adds ye shall not see me henceforth; as the standpoint of his abandonment, was then already assumed. That sad abandonment still continues, for the vail is still on Israel’s heart. But though Jerusalem be desolate and Israel scattered, His unseen person is still on Zion, and His unseen feet still stand on Olivet. His ever preserving care perpetuates the race in its vicissitudes, waiting for the day when devoted Israel shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of Jesus the Lord. Through what ages his spirit shall thereafter watch over restored and millennial Israel until He shall appear to gather his elect into his kingdom, we cannot say. For in the dim perspective of prophecy distant events and ages are reduced in size; time is almost dropped from the account, and events far asunder are visually made to touch. See notes on Matthew 24:14-29. See, also, Supplementary Note on Matthew 25:0. But when at the consummation of the time he shall appear, every eye shall see him; the guilty shall look upon him whom they have pierced, and mourn; and the true Jerusalem shall say, Blessed is he that COMETH.

Bibliographical Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Luke 13". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/whe/luke-13.html. 1874-1909.
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