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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
Luke 13

 

 

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Verse 1

‘Now there were some present at that very season who told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.’

Hot news has arrived from Jerusalem of Pilate’s latest atrocity. Galileans offering their sacrifices in the Temple (anything from two upwards) have at the very time of their bringing their sacrifices been slain in the Temple courtyard on Pilate’s orders. We have no details of this particular occurrence, but it is typical of Pilate. It may be that they had already been marked men, and that Pilate had simply been waiting for them to arrive at the Temple where he could be sure of finding them at the particular feast, or it may be that while in the Temple they were seen as having fermented trouble resulting in a quick and merciless reaction.

The vivid language may not be intended absolutely literally. If they had brought their sacrifices and were waiting for them to be offered, rather than offering them themselves, it would equally apply. Indeed had their blood actually landed on the altar the incident would probably have become even more serious, for it would have been seen as the vilest of sacrilege.

Why the informers told Jesus is not explained. It may be that they hoped to stir Jesus up to supporting retaliatory action, or to trap Him into saying something unwise against the authorities. Or it may be that they were citing them as an example of the kind of people in mind in Luke 12:57-59, who having not become reconciled with God have received their just deserts. But whatever the motive it would appear that someone had suggested that their manner of death clearly indicated their special sinfulness.


Verses 1-5

The Fire Has begun To Fall. Let Them Therefore Learn Their Lesson From It (13:1-5).

Having declared that He will cast fire on earth, preliminary examples of it are now given, one an act of the civil authority, and one an ‘act of God’. But He warns that they must not see the unfortunate people involved as having been selected out by God because they were particularly sinful. Rather it should reveal to them that God’s judgments are continually in the earth and they should therefore learn righteousness from them. For next time it may be them to whom such things occur, and besides, in the end all who are unrepentant will definitely perish. Thus they should take them as a warning and repent before it is too late. They should come to Him to be ‘made straight’ (Luke 13:13). As described in the previous verses let them ensure that they are reconciled to their Accuser before it is too late.

Analysis.

a ‘Now there were some present at that very season who told him of the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices’ (Luke 13:1).

b ‘He answered and said to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they have suffered these things?” (Luke 13:2).

c “I tell you, No. But, except you repent, you will all similarly perish” (Luke 13:3).

b “Or those eighteen, on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, do you think that they were offenders above all the men who dwell in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4).

a “I tell you, No. But, except you repent, you will all similarly perish” (Luke 13:5).

Note that in ‘a’ the position is declared, and in the parallel the consequence. In ‘b’ Jesus asks a question about one example, in the parallel He does the same with another example. Central to all in ‘c’ is the fact that all who do not repent will perish.


Verse 2

‘And he answered and said to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were sinners above all the Galileans, because they have suffered these things?” ’

This confirms that there had been some suggestion that they had brought their suffering on their own heads, or possibly even the suggestion that for someone to be killed while actually in the process of bringing a sacrifice must prove what dreadful sinners they were. The idea has become fixed in some people’s minds that these were particularly sinful Galileans. Note Jesus’ description of them as having ‘suffered’. It connects back with the suffering He is bringing on the world (Luke 12:49). They are examples of the fire that is coming on the earth.


Verse 3

“I tell you, No. But, except you repent, you will all similarly perish.”

Jesus’ reply is that that their deaths do not indicate that they were worse sinners than anyone else. They were not necessarily the more guilty because they died violently. Judgment is not always so direct. And then He seizes the opportunity to apply the lesson. Let them in fact recognise that unless they repent they will all perish similarly. Let the judgments that are in the earth teach them righteousness before it is too late.

Some have seen in this a hint concerning the coming desolation of Jerusalem when many would perish ‘in the same way’ because they had failed to respond to Jesus’ message of love and forgiveness. Had they done so the destruction of Jerusalem would never have happened. But it seems more likely that He is thinking rather of the last Judgment.


Verse 4

“Or those eighteen, on whom the tower in Siloam fell, and killed them, do you think that they were offenders above all the men who dwell in Jerusalem?”

He then takes another example, this time of an ‘accident’ that had happened in the vicinity of Jerusalem. Siloam was the reservoir from which Jerusalem’s water supply came. The tower may have been a watch tower, or it may have been connected with the aqueduct that Pilate built. Whatever tower it was it had clearly simply collapsed. So here the deaths had been purely connected with what could be called ‘an act of God’, that is, something not resulting from men’s actions. Was this then any different?


Verse 5

“I tell you, No. But, except you repent, you will all similarly perish.”

And His reply is that that is no different. Whether applying to a Galileans or to inhabitant of Jerusalem the same principle applies. Sudden deaths are not to be seen as necessarily resulting from the sinfulness of the persons involved. And the same warning is given. If they do not want to perish in a similar way they must repent, for in the end all who do not repent will perish everlastingly.

The implication is clear. Firstly that deaths by violence or accident do not necessarily indicate the special sinfulness of the people involved, and secondly that all such should be seen as a warning to be ready for the day of judgment, and as an indication of the fire that He has come to cast on the earth. Like the debtor in the previous verses they need to be reconciled to God before it is too late.

In The Light Of His Warnings They Should Ensure That Their Lives Are Fruitful So That They Will Not Be Cut Down (compare 3:9).

Jesus now applies His warnings that they be reconciled with God while there is yet time (Luke 12:57-59), and repent before it is too late (Luke 13:1-5) by means of a parable that applies to them the teaching of John the Baptiser (Luke 3:9). It is a warning that if their lives are not fruitful they will face God’s judgment when the proper time comes. Even the fig tree must be ‘made straight’ (Luke 13:13).

From this point on we find an interesting sequence typical of Luke, a man who plants a fig tree, a woman who is bent double and is healed, a man who sows a mustard seed in his garden, and a woman who places leaven in flour. Note the distinction between the sexes. Luke constantly seeks to balance the sexes (see Introduction).

Analysis.

a He spoke this parable, “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none” (Luke 13:6).

b “And he said to the vinedresser, Behold, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and have found none” (Luke 13:7 a).

c “Cut it down. Why does it also act as a burden on the ground?” (Luke 13:7 b).

b “And he answering says to him, “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and feed it with manure” (Luke 13:8 a).

a And if it bear fruit from then on, well, and if not, you shall cut it down” (Luke 13:8 b).

Note that in ‘a’ the owner sought fruit and found none, and in the parallel if it still did not bear fruit it should be cut down. In ‘b’ he speaks to the vinedresser about its condition, and in the parallel the vinedresser answers him by explaining how he might treat its condition. Central to all in ‘c’ is that the tree should come under judgment because it is fruitless.


Verse 6

‘And he spoke this parable, “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it, and found none.” ’

In the Old Testament fruit trees were regularly seen as symbols of Israel, especially the vine in the vineyard (Psalms 80:8-15; Isaiah 5:1-7; Isaiah 27:1-4; Jeremiah 2:21; Hosea 10:1). But a fig tree would be an equally good symbol (Hosea 9:20) for it is often seen in parallel to the vine (Deuteronomy 8:8; 1 Kings 4:25; 2 Kings 18:31; Psalms 105:33; Joel 1:7) and was regularly found in vineyards. Compare the fig tree which Jesus cursed which was clearly figurative of either Israel, Jerusalem or the Temple (Mark 11:13; Mark 11:20).

But Jesus may deliberately have used the fig tree rather than a vine as a symbol so as to indicate individual lives within ‘his vineyard’, one of those planted in the vineyard of Israel, for the vine would have indicated Israel as a whole. The main point of the story, however, is that the tree should have borne fruit, but that the owner finds no fruit on it, presumably at a time when fruit would be expected. It is a picture of many of Jesus’ listeners.


Verse 7

“And he said to the vinedresser, Behold, these three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and have found none. Cut it down. Why does it also act as a burden on the ground?”

It appears that the owner had given it three years in order to see if its fruitless condition was permanent. He wanted to give it every opportunity. But when it still proved to be fruitless he called on the vinedresser to cut it down and prevent it from filling up useful space where another tree could be planted and from taking the nutrients out of the ground to no purpose.


Verse 8

“And he answering says to him, “Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and feed it with manure, and if it bear fruit from then on, well, and if not, you shall cut it down.”

The vinedresser then suggested that the fig tree be given one more chance to prove itself. He will turn over the soil around it and feed it with manure, Then if it produces fruit all will be satisfied, and if it does not then it can be cut down.

The parable is based on the same idea as lies behind John’s words in Luke 3:9. The fig tree represents God’s supposed people who should be fruitful. Over a complete period of three years (a period which is a sufficient and complete test) they had been tested and had not been fruitful. The warning is then of judgment to come because they are fruitless. The owner is probably God the Judge of all the world. The vinedresser is probably intended to be Jesus Who was here to nourish Israel and was giving them one last chance. The vinedresser’s suggestion indicates that this is their last chance. If they remain fruitless they will perish. The words clearly indicate that He considers that the people have been given every opportunity, and are now being given their last opportunity. If the people still fail to respond to His teaching then only judgment awaits them, and He wants them to know that God is in full agreement with Him on the matter. If they will not be made straight then they will perish. It will be noted that parables of fruitfulness occur both sides of the story of the woman who was made straight, stressing that that story is to be seen as more than just a miracle story, but as an indication of God’s purpose for His own, a making fruitful of His elect.


Verse 10

‘And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath day.’

This is the last mention of Jesus teaching in a synagogue, although that is not necessarily decisive, for such visits are usually only mentioned at this stage when specifically connected with incidents, and Luke in the main drops the incidents too, although the latter undoubtedly carried on to the end. It was on the Sabbath day, and Jesus was there, having been invited to teach.


Verses 10-17

The Woman Who Was Made Straight And Delivered From Satan (13:10-17).

This story is central to this section of Luke, as is demonstrated by the chiasmus. We may ignore such literary methods, but we can be sure that Theophilus was fully aware of them. In it Jesus sets free a woman who is totally bent double and releases her from Satan’s power. It is a picture of what He has come to do for Israel, and for all who will respond to Him, and descriptive of what this section is all about, the making straight of people and their deliverance ‘from the power of Satan to God’ (Acts 26:18).

There is an interesting parallel in the passage between the woman who was bent double and the Ruler of the synagogue who could not see past the end of his nose. I remember one day walking in the passageways of the London Underground. Walking towards me was a man who was bent double, so badly that he could not see ahead. He was probably very similar to this woman. I moved to one side to give him room, but from behind me quite unexpectedly came another would be passenger who did not move aside, for he was blind. Before I could give a warning they collided. The doubled up man swore and said angrily, ‘Can’t you see that I am unable to see my way ahead.’ Quickly I said, ‘He’s blind’ and to his credit he immediately apologised to the blind man, and expressed his regret.

A similar thing happens in this story, the collision between a woman who was bent double and a blind man. For the Ruler of the Synagogue was as blind as a man could be. He had just seen an amazing miracle of deliverance, and he wrote it off as a piece of everyday work, as though people regularly popped in to the synagogue to be healed because it was a surgery. He was blind to the glorious working of God, a typical representative of the men who opposed Jesus. And glorious working it was for it was symbolic of what God will do for all who come to Jesus.

Analysis of the passage.

a He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath day (Luke 13:10).

b There was there a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and she was bowed together, and could in no wise lift herself up (Luke 13:11).

c When Jesus saw her, he called her, and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity” (Luke 13:12).

d And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God (Luke 13:13).

e And the ruler of the synagogue, being moved with indignation because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, answered and said to the gathered crowd, “There are six days in which men ought to work” (Luke 13:14 a)

d “In them therefore come and be healed, and not on the day of the sabbath” (Luke 13:14 b).

c But the Lord answered him, and said, “You hypocrites, does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?” (Luke 13:15).

b “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, these eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath?” (Luke 13:16).

a And as he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and the whole crowd rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him (Luke 13:17).

Note that in ‘a’ he is teaching in the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and in the parallel the crowd rejoice at the glorious things done by Him. In ‘b’ the woman is bound, and in the parallel she is loosed. In ‘c’ Jesus looses the woman, and in the parallel speaks of the loosing of domestic animals. In ‘d’ she is healed, and in the parable the crowd is told not to come to be healed on the Sabbath. In ‘e’ in striking contrast to all that happens around him the Ruler of the Synagogue declares his sterile regulation, ‘there are six days in which men ought to work’. The point here is that he was totally blind to the fact that it was God Who was working.


Verse 11

‘And behold, a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and she was bowed together, and could in no wise lift herself up.’

‘And behold.’ This may well indicate that He suddenly spotted her while He was teaching. What He spotted was a woman who was bent double and could not straighten herself. In view of the connection with an evil spirit it was probably skoliasis hysterica, a partly psychological condition. Others see it as spondylitis ankylopoietica indicating a fusion of the spinal bones. The one may, of course, have resulted in the other.

The woman had been affected in this way by an evil spirit for ‘eighteen years’. A connection with the ‘eighteen’ who perished at Siloam may well be in mind, with the thought that she too was suffering because of sin in the world. She was bowed double and could not lift herself up. She was a picture of a world bent double by sin, and unable to stand tall.


Verse 12

‘And when Jesus saw her, he called her, and said to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” ’

When Jesus saw her He called out to her, “Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity.” This was probably the equivalent of a command to the evil spirit to leave her, for with Jesus deliverance from evil spirit was always by His word.


Verse 13

‘And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.’

But while released from the evil spirit she had been so long in that condition that she could not straighten herself, and so Jesus went over to her and laid His hands on her and immediately she was made straight. And the not unsurprising result was that she glorified God. By this it was openly revealed that Jesus could make crooked people straight.

It should be noted that nowhere else does Jesus cast out evil spirits by any other means than His word. Thus here also we should see that He casts out the evil spirit by His word before He touches her. The evil spirit is to be seen as unclean in an unusually in depth sense. The earthly Jesus wants no contact with unclean spirits, for they cannot be made clean. The laying on of hands is then used in order to heal the physical impediment so as to give assurance to the woman.


Verse 14

‘And the ruler of the synagogue, being moved with indignation because Jesus had healed on the sabbath, answered and said to the gathered crowd, “There are six days in which men ought to work. In them therefore come and be healed, and not on the day of the sabbath.”

But the ruler of the synagogue, who led the synagogue committee, was angry. Possibly he recognised that he might be called on by certain of the Pharisees to explain why he had allowed this to happen in his synagogue on the Sabbath day. An enquiry might even have led up to a beating. But the fact of his anger suggests that we are to see his feeling as personal as well.

And yet his anger is directed at the crowd. Perhaps he felt wary of challenging a person with the powers that Jesus had. Or indeed perhaps he did not wish to. He may even have been secretly sympathetic, but dared not show it, while recognising that he had to make some protest. Perhaps he even acknowledged that as the miracle had happened God was clearly not displeased with it this time (it is so difficult accusing someone whose miracles actually happen of not being pleasing to God. It took certain types of Pharisees to argue like that). It may be that it in fact was the reaction of the crowd that angered him, as they surged around and clamoured for more. So he covered himself by rebuking the people who were gathered there. He pointed out to them that there were six days in every seven in which men should work, and therefore that if they wished to be healed they should come on a day other than the Sabbath. The weakness of his position comes out in the fact that Jesus was not a doctor. Had He been the ruler may have had a point. But everyone knew that only God could have done what had happened that day. Possibly that was what the ruler had recognised and had thus felt that it would probably be unwise to rebuke God by rebuking Jesus. He would feel that he was on safe ground in rebuking the crowd.

In Pharisaic eyes, however, he was totally in the right. The only healing that was allowed on the Sabbath was dealing with possible life threatening conditions to the minimum required.


Verse 15

‘But the Lord answered him, and said, “You hypocrites, does not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?” ’

Jesus answer was not to the ruler alone. He addressed the group of bristling opponents. He clearly saw that there were a group whose attitude demonstrated their backing of the ruler’s words, for He addresses them in the plural. He accuses them of saying one thing and doing another (as being ‘hypocrites’) because, as all knew, they were all ready to loose their ox or ass on the Sabbath day so as to lead it to watering as long as it was not being used for work (some members of the communities connected with Qumran would have said they were wrong even to do that). Later it would be stipulated that they could also pour water into its trough, although could not themselves hold a bucket to its mouth, and that too may already have applied. So relaxation of the Sabbath was allowed for domestic animals even when their lives were not in danger.


Verse 16

“And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound, lo, these eighteen years, to have been loosed from this bond on the day of the sabbath?”

So if they were willing to loose domestic animals on the Sabbath day so as to water them (not a life threatening condition as other provision could have been made), why did they cavil at Jesus for loosing from her tether a woman who had been bound for eighteen years, who was of far greater worth than a domestic animal as she was a daughter of Abraham (a full Jewess)?

‘Daughter of Abraham’ may well indicate that He was asserting that she was a godly woman, something that some may have doubted because of her condition. See Luke 3:8 where children of Abraham signifies those who claim to be in the right with God. Was it not right then to also loose her on the Sabbath?

‘Eighteen years’. This was three times six. Possibly He was saying that they should recognise that she had completed not just ‘six days’ but six years, three times over, and had not been loosed on any of them, because they were unable to loose her, and thus it was right that at last she be loosed by God on the ‘seventh’ day, the Sabbath, on a day when God was at work.

‘Loosed.’ Compare Luke 4:18. This example was probably chosen to be the centrepiece of this section in which the word of deliverance and the Kingly Rule of God is in mind precisely because it illustrated so well Jesus’ commission to ‘loose the captives’ and to ‘loose those who are oppressed’.

It should be noted that Jesus does not just defend His healing on the Sabbath, but seems to suggest that it was right that it happen on the Sabbath. This might be seen as confirming that to Him the Sabbath pointed forward to the ‘rest’ of the people of God into which He wanted all to enter. It was thus the most suitable day for healing and revealing the compassion of God. After all Satan had still been at work in the woman on the Sabbath day. Was he then to have it as his sole preserve?


Verse 17

‘And as he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and the whole crowd rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.’

‘All his adversaries were put to shame.’ The result of His words was that all His adversaries were put to shame (compare Isaiah 45:16 which is within the Servant narratives and may thus to Luke be Messianic, and contrast Isaiah 50:7). But meanwhile we must not lose sight of the wonder that had been done before their eyes. Luke does not for he declares ‘the whole crowd rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.’ They gave glory to God and their full approval to what He had done (compare Exodus 34:10). Such an ascription is a tendency of Luke, see also Luke 2:20; Luke 5:25-26; Luke 7:16; Luke 13:13; Luke 17:15; Luke 18:43; Luke 23:47; Acts 3:8-9; Acts 4:21; Acts 11:18; Acts 13:48; Acts 21:20.


Verse 18

‘He said therefore, “To what is the Kingly Rule of God like? and to what shall I liken it?”

Note how the ‘therefore’ connects these illustration of the Kingly Rule of God with the previous passage. Having again revealed His continuing power over Satan, and His continuing deliverance of people from his control, Jesus now intends to make clear to His disciples that the Kingly Rule is already present and active in their proclaiming of it.


Verses 18-21

The Kingly Rule of God Will Grow From Small Beginnings Just as A Mustard Seed Becomes a Great Bush And A Little Leaven Leavens The Whole Lump (13:18-21).

Having revealed how Jesus can loose men from Satan’s power, and can make the crooked straight, Luke now gives us two parables of Jesus which illustrate how that is going to come into effect by the spread of the Kingly Rule of God, not by a sudden eruption of force, but by the gradual spreading of its growth and influence. They bring home a slightly different message from the parable of the fig tree which illustrated the fact that men will be judged by the fruit they bear. Both, however, connect with fruitbearing. They are in parallel in the chiasmus for the section. Note here how Luke, in his typical way, introduces one example where a man is involved, and one where a woman is involved. All, both men and women, are to be involved in the spreading of the Kingly Rule of God. But they represent two slightly differing angles. The mustard seed growing to become a large bush emphasises its gradual growth to large proportions. The leaven working throughout the flour emphasises the influence that spreads from man to man and woman to woman until all are reached.

Analysis.

a He said therefore, “To what is the Kingly Rule of God like? and to what shall I liken it?” (Luke 13:18).

b “It is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his own garden, and it grew, and became a tree, and the birds of the heaven lodged in its branches” (Luke 13:19).

c And again he said, “To what shall I liken the Kingly Rule of God?” (Luke 13:20).

b “It is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened” (Luke 13:21).

a And he went on his way through cities and villages, teaching, and journeying on to Jerusalem (Luke 13:22).

Note how in ‘a’ he asks what the Kingly Rule of God is like and in the parallel describes how it progresses. In ‘b’ He says it is like a grain of mustard seed and in the parallel says that it is like leaven. Central to all in ‘c’ is the question, what is the likeness of the Kingly Rule of God? That was the question of the hour.


Verse 19

“It is like to a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his own garden, and it grew, and became a tree, and the birds of the heaven lodged in its branches.”

Jesus then pointed out that it was like a grain of mustard seed, the smallest seed known to the farmers of Palestine. Yet when a man sowed this tiny seed it grew until it became a large bush, sometimes even up to twelve feet (four metres) high, so large that the birds, who loved the small black mustard seeds, could come and lodge in its branches (compare especially Ezekiel 17:22-24, where a sprig planted in Israel will grow until it is a blessing to all the world so that the birds nest in its branches; and Daniel 4:21 where the birds represented captive nations). Of all the herbs it was a phenomenon. No other herb grew like it. Thus the Kingly Rule of God would grow from small beginnings (Luke 12:32) by the spreading of the word, becoming larger and larger, and would reach out even to other than Jews as ‘the birds of the air’ gathered on its branches to partake of its blessings.

‘Garden.’ In Matthew 13:31, in a different context, the mustard seed was sown in ‘the field’, i.e. the countryside. That the latter did happen is supported in Rabbinic sources. This would suggest that in Palestine there were different agricultural approaches towards the growing of mustard ‘trees’ from seeds, which is quite likely, for they were herbs. They could thus be grown in the countryside, or in gardens. There is thus no need to require a Gentile environment because of the use of ‘garden’, although it is always possible that Luke is translating in accordance with the general custom of his readers in growing mustard bushes.


Verse 20

‘And again he said, “To what shall I liken the Kingly Rule of God?”

Jesus then asks the question a second time. Among the Jews something vouched for a second time was seen as certain and secure.


Verse 21

“It is like to leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, until it was all leavened.”

But He has another purpose in the second illustration and that is to introduce women into the equation. So He selects as His second example a woman’s occupation, bread-making. The woman puts a little leaven in the flour and soon it spreads throughout the whole. In the same way, so should women (and all) spread the Good News of the Kingly Rule of God from one to another until it has reached all.

Leaven is a piece of dough kept back from the previous batch which has fermented. It is put within the new dough and ferments the whole, until the whole is affected. And here the thought is that it is used because it results in a better product. It is an apt picture of the God’s word. It is introduced from outside and commences its work once it is received, and goes on until the whole is affected. It stands here too as a warning. Do not think that you can receive but a little of Christ. Once Christ is allowed in He will not cease His work until the whole is transformed.

‘Three measures of meal.’ A standard measurement signifying sufficient for the task in hand.


Verse 22

‘And he went on his way through cities and villages, teaching, and journeying on to Jerusalem.’

Having established the principle Jesus then went out to put it into practise. He went through their cities and villages preaching, and this preaching would necessarily include the preaching of the Kingly Rule of God. Indeed in a sense that was what all His preaching was about, the Kingly Rule of God in its many forms. And as He did so He went on towards Jerusalem. For it was what He would accomplish at Jerusalem that would cause the triumph of the Kingly Rule of God.


Verse 23

‘And one said to him, “Lord, are the ones who are being saved few?”

This is the first outright use of the word ‘saved’ in the main body of Luke apart from in a context where it can have a double meaning (i.e. healed - Luke 7:50; Luke 8:36; Luke 8:48; Luke 8:50; Luke 17:19; Luke 18:42), although compare Luke 6:9; Luke 9:24; Luke 9:56 where ‘saving’ to eternal life is clearly in mind (see also Luke 8:12; Luke 17:33; Luke 18:26; Luke 19:10). It does, however, link back to Luke 1:77 where John was to bring ‘the knowledge of salvation’ to His people, to Luke 1:69 where the ‘horn of salvation’ was coming from the house of David, to Luke 2:11 in which was declared the coming of ‘a Saviour’ Who would be ‘the Lord Messiah’, and Luke 2:30 where Simeon declares, ‘My eyes have seen your Salvation’. Thus we have been expecting ‘salvation’ at some stage to come to the fore. Here it probably has the same meaning as inheriting eternal life with all that that involves of being transformed (compare Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15). Their eyes are firmly fixed on the coming of the heavenly Kingdom.

If we compare Isaiah 49:24-25 LXX with Luke 4:18 salvation is seen as the aim of the Servant for His own, and this ties in with the deliverance of the woman who was Satan’s captive (Luke 13:16). Compare also Isaiah 51:14; Isaiah 59:1; Isaiah 60:16 (LXX). Thus to be ‘being saved’ means to be in a position where they are being delivered spiritually from Satan’s power, and have been given eternal life, are experiencing His saving power in their lives, and are guaranteed the eternal hope of eternity in the presence of God.


Verse 23-24

‘And he said to them, “Strive to enter in by the narrow door, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter in, and will not be able.”

The Lord refuses to answer their technical question (it was a popular question among some of the learned). Rather than thinking speculatively, they should be thinking personally. The question is, Are they themselves being saved? He therefore tells them to strive (agonise) to enter in by the narrow door, the door into the Kingly Rule of God. The idea has been compared with that in Matthew 7:13-14 but it was clearly spoken at a different time, and the emphasis, while similar, is not the same. Matthew is talking about passing through a gate with the purpose of walking in a way, and the emphasis is on the way. Here the emphasis is on the need for a decision to pass through a door. It is clearly a difficult decision, and the door is ‘narrow’ (stenos). Only few can enter at a time, and others are pressing in to get through it. The word ‘stenos’ is associated with the ideas of affliction and sorrow, and this ties in with Luke 9:24. It is a door that is demanding, and yet it must be entered before it is too late, and it takes effort. They must not be satisfied until they have passed through the door. The Kingly Rule of God suffers violence, and the violent are to take it by force (Matthew 11:12). This door signifies commencing the hard way of discipleship. It signifies thrusting all else aside and choosing to enter under the Kingly Rule of God. Nothing must be allowed to stop them entering it (what a contrast to our ‘easy believism’). We can compare here Jesus declaration, ‘I am the door, by Me if any man enter in he will be saved’ (John 10:9). The idea is the same. Response to the Shepherd King assures salvation. They will, of course, then enjoy the presence of the master of the house, but that is not described here. The concentration is on the decision to enter, and the determined effort that they should put into it.

We should note that then as now salvation was a gift. But Jesus was making them aware of the final cost of the gift. It would initially cost them nothing, all they had to do was press through the door, but it would then demand everything. For it is the door to the Kingly Rule of God, and it involves God becoming King in their lives. It is equally true today. Salvation is yours if you but receive Christ. But beware, for you are welcoming in the Kindler of Fire (Luke 12:49). You are a fool if you think otherwise. Any other Christ than One Who will take possession of you is not the Christ of the Gospels. The striving was because of the thought of what they would have to leave behind. There was no room through that narrow door for their baggage.

We should also note that there is only one door, and that a narrow one. ‘There is no other name under Heaven given among men by which we must be saved’ (Acts 4:12). Not for Jesus one of many doors. There is only one.

But there will come a day when even that door can no longer be passed through. The implication is that it will have been closed. Hope will have gone. And men will seek to enter in and will not be able. His listeners would rightly have in mind the end of the world. Jesus certainly would too, but possibly He also had in mind the dreadful and savage slaughter that would take place during the coming rebellion against Rome and the destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 13:35), when many would then wish that they had listened to Jesus. However, even more certainly He Himself also has in mind the day of His coming to gather His elect (Matthew 24:31). Both these would be final events which meant that for those caught out it would be too late. They would find themselves unable to truly repent. They would suffer remorse, not spiritual transformation, and they would be lost. All because they had failed to enter through the door while it was open.


Verse 25

“When once the master of the house is risen up, and has shut to the door, and you begin to stand outside, and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us’, and he will answer and say to you, “I do not know you, from where you are,’ ”

Many interpret this of a banquet to which later arrivals are refused entry, but that is not really the impression given here. In such cases the master does not rise up and shut the door, he simply tell his servants to refuse entry to any more. Nor have guests in stories ever striven to enter a banquet through a narrow door, nor is there any hint of a banquet (Luke 13:29 is not part of the parable). More possible is it that night time has come and the doors are shut because no further visitors are expected. Such a situation had previously resulted in the lord having to knock at his own door (Luke 12:36). The picture may therefore be similar to Luke 11:5-7. But that then leaves open the question as to why men come knocking at the door at such an hour. Of course, we can simply say that it was because, like the friend at midnight, they had awoken to their own need. After all, while Jesus was on earth, had he not said that the door would be opened, because ‘to him who knocked it would be opened’. The idea would then be that now that the master of the house has arrived back and is calling His servants to account He has shut the door, and the promise has been rescinded. But it still does not explain why they want to come in. And it also assumes too much by incorporating ideas from other parables.

The impression given here is rather of an emergency situation. It is a picture where the master has taken personal charge and ensured that the door is shut. Thus the thought may well be that danger threatened. He arose and did it himself because it was necessary for him to check the safety of the premises. This would explain why people came clamouring at the door. And it would explain why he would not let them in. You do not let outsiders in at dangerous times.

But what kind of situation would fit in with such a picture? The answer in fact lies in Isaiah 26:20-21. There we have exactly this situation. It is set in the context of the last days and of the Lord coming in judgment, and the command is to ‘enter your chambers and shut your doors behind you’ because of the tribulation that is coming on the world. This would exactly explain why the master rises and shuts the door, and does not leave it to servants. It is because danger threatens (Isaiah 26:20-21; compare Genesis 19:10). It is because end time tribulation has come on the world. Isaiah 26:20 fits the situation exactly for it has in mind the final judgment, as the parable also does here where the last chance is seen to have gone. Others see it as the doors being shut because the guests have arrived, but that is less likely. Quite apart from how unusual that would be, we must not read in other parables.

But the point is that while it was day, and all was going well, they did not want entry. However, now danger loomed and they desperately wanted entry because they recognised that His house would provide their only place of safety. Judgment is coming on the world and they have suddenly awoken to the fact that they have nowhere else where they can find shelter. All they have trusted in is now in vain, and the only one who can possibly help them is this particular householder. But it is too late, the master has shut the door until the danger is past. There is no place of escape. If only they had striven to enter while they were able.

Thus those outside panic. Awful danger is threatening and they have no place of salvation. They are in the same position as the people in Isaiah 2:17-21. But they do not want to flee to caves which cannot protect them. And so they knock desperately at the door and cry, ‘Lord, open to us.’ All too late they recognise the master’s status. But He replies that He does not recognise or acknowledge them. They have never been in His employ, and He has no responsibility for them. They are as good as strangers.


Verses 25-27

The Parable of The Closed Door (13:25-27).

The thought of the failure to enter through the doorway into life now issues in a parable. But there is a change in thought here to a crisis point in the future. The master of the house has risen up and closed the door. And meanwhile there are those who want to enter the house, probably because it will provide shelter from danger (compare Isaiah 26:20-21). This parallels the inability to read the signs of the times and the carrying off of the debtor to suffer the consequences of not responding to his Great Creditor in Luke 12:54-59, which also had in mind states of unreadiness. Here they are like men who have ignored the master of the house. So they too are caught in a state of unreadiness. They have not submitted to His Kingly Rule. They have not come to be made straight and delivered from Satan. And now it is too late. For when they want His protection it is not available.


Verse 26

“Then will you begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets,’ ”

Their desperate reply will be to try to call to His mind past times. They had eaten and drunk with Him, He had taught in their streets. As we know there are many who could have said such, so many that He could not possibly, in His humanness, remember them. There is no doubt now as to Who is indicated by the Master of the house. These are those who have had much to do with Him, but who had rejected His word. They had rejected the fire of His word, now the fire of His anger must come on them.

There are some today who base their confidence and hope on the fact that they participate in the Lord’s Table and hear the Lord’s teaching through His word and though His ministers. But it is not enough to do that. We must enter through the door of full commitment and yielding of ourselves to Him. We must believe in Him. We must open our lives to Him calling on Him that we might be saved and asking Him to do it. But we must ask Him before it is too late. Then He will work faith in our hearts and transformation in our lives.


Verse 27

“And he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know from where you are. Depart from me, all you workers of iniquity.’ ”

And His reply is simply, that He does not know from where they are. They are strangers to Him, for they are workers of iniquity. They have dwelt in places where He would not venture. They have done things that He could not condone. And by their behaviour they have revealed themselves as strangers to Him, as having no part in Him. They are known by their fruits.


Verse 28

“There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, within the Kingly Rule of God, and yourselves cast forth outside.”

Those who have found the door closed against them will then have the chagrin of seeing all those whom they had previously honoured entering as faithful servants (Luke 12:44) into the heavenly Kingly Rule of God, while they themselves are cast out and put with the unfaithful (Luke 12:46). They will be in such anguish at it that they will ‘weep and gnash their teeth’ (not here a picture of Hell, but of deep and unbearable disappointment). Some, however, see it as gnashing their teeth in anger at the One Who had done this to them, as they ‘look in through the door that was closed against them’ and see what they have missed. But it is likely that we have now moved on from the parable (and besides the door was closed).

‘Weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Weeping expresses sorrow and regret (see Luke 6:25; Acts 20:37; James 4:9; James 5:1), the gnashing or grinding of the teeth pictures anger and hatred (compare Job 16:10; Psalms 35:16; Psalms 37:12; Psalms 112:10; Lamentations 2:16; Acts 7:54)

‘Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets.’ Apart from Jesus and possibly John the Baptiser they had honoured the memory of all these great men. But while they honoured the faithful servants, they did not honour the lord of the house. It is their rejection of Jesus which has sealed their fate. It is no good looking back to figures of the past if we ignore the One Who towers above them all and Who is present with us to save. Their chagrin would be increased by the fact that they had always considered themselves to be sons of Abraham and therefore heirs of his promises, and now they were to be excluded from them.

‘Yourselves cast forth outside.’ The fact that they are ‘expelled’ demonstrates that this is not talking about the door that they refused to go through, or the door that was shut against them. As they had not passed through those they could not be ‘thrust forth’ from them. So these words are not to be seen as a continuation of the parable, but rather as an explanation of the consequences. They will be thrust out from any hope when they face judgment on their future, as with the servant in the parable (Luke 12:46).


Verses 28-35

The Consequences Of Their Rejection (13:28-35).

The parable having been completed the actual facts are now described. Having been refused entry through the door of salvation they will suffer the deepest possible regret. This passage parallels that where there were stewards both good and bad who would be called to account (Luke 12:41 on), for He had come to send fire on earth which would cause great disruption and judgment and division between families (Luke 12:41-53). Here too God’s stewards are called to account, and here also everything will end in judgment for those who have rejected Him.

Analysis.

a “There will be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth, when you shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, within the Kingly Rule of God, and yourselves cast forth outside” (Luke 13:28).

b “And they will come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and will sit down (recline) within the Kingly Rule of God” (Luke 13:29).

c “And behold, there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last” (Luke 13:30).

d In that very hour there came certain Pharisees, saying to him, “Get you out, and go from here, for Herod desires to kill you” (Luke 13:31).

c And he said to them, “Go and say to that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am perfected’, nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem’ (Luke 13:32-33).

b “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you would not!” (Luke 13:34).

a “Behold, your house is left to you desolate, and I say to you, ‘You shall not see me, until you shall say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ” (Luke 13:35).

Note that in ‘a’ there is desolation, while there are also those who bless the Lord, and in the parallel there is desolation, while Jerusalem, representing Israel, will not be able to come to Him until they bless Him. In ‘b’ the prophets and those who believed them will come from everywhere to the Kingly Rule of God, while in the parallel those who slew the prophets, whom He wished to gather to Him, will not come. In ‘c’ the first will be last and the last first, and in the parallel we have the contrast between Herod and Jesus. Central to the whole is Herod’s desire to kill Jesus.


Verse 29

“And they will come from the east and west, and from the north and south, and will sit down (recline) within the Kingly Rule of God.”

And even worse for them to see would be those who would flood in from all parts of the world, as the prophets had prophesied, who would also as faithful servants take their places in the Kingly Rule of God. The idea would include returning ‘exiles’ who have subsequently believed (Isaiah 11:11-12; Isaiah 11:15-16; Isaiah 45:6; Isaiah 49:12 and often), but both Jesus and Luke probably saw it as including Gentiles as well (Isaiah 42:6; Isaiah 49:6). It would seem as though all the world was included, and yet they would be left out!

‘Recline.’ They will share in the Messianic banquet while their Master serves them (Luke 12:37).


Verse 30

“And behold, there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last.”

For at that final day everything will be turned upside down. The humble and rejected will be exalted. Those at the back of the picture will be brought to the front. Those who were God’s ‘nothings’ will become great. Those at the back of the queue will be brought to the front. While those who saw themselves as hugely important will find themselves ignored and left out. Those who sought the first place will be given the last. As the parallel in Luke 13:32-33 demonstrates, the great king of the Jews (of Galilee and Peraea) will come to nothing (this is not stated but is clearly implied), while the dishonoured prophet Who is going up to Jerusalem to be rejected and to die will ascend the throne of Heaven.


Verse 31

‘In that very hour there came certain Pharisees, saying to him, “Get you out, and go from here, for Herod desires to kill you.” ’

We do not know how genuine this warning was. Perhaps these were Pharisees who admired Him. But it may simply be that they hoped by this means to frighten Him off and prevent Him from carrying on with His work. Or they may even have hoped to drive Him into Judea where they had more influence and could get rid of Him themselves. Or Herod might have asked them to warn Him off (his conscience was still burdened by what he had done to John the Baptiser).


Verse 32

‘And he said to them, “Go and say to that fox, ‘Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I am perfected.’ ”

But Jesus replies without fear. As in His reply to John the Baptiser He points to His signs and wonders. Let him consider those. (Even for Herod the door was open if he would listen). But Jesus’ words were not this time spoken in the hope that they would be effective. They had revivified the one who lay in Herod’s dungeons, they would leave unmoved the one who sat on the throne. Indeed His reply is probably acknowledging that He knows that He will not have long to live. He has only ‘today and tomorrow’, that is a comparatively short while. Nevertheless He knows that it is within God’s plan, for its ending on ‘the third day’ indicates completeness. Perhaps again He has Hosea 6:1-2 in mind. This would suggest that His perfecting at least includes the resurrection. Meanwhile He will continue His ministry, casting out evil spirits and healing the sick as He has always done. He will not be put off that by Herod’s threats. Let the fox bark as he will. And then in God’s perfect timing His career will achieve all that it has set out to do. He will be ‘perfected’, not at Herod’s choice but at God’s. To his listeners ‘perfected’ signified that He would consider His work complete, to Him it indicated that having risen from the dead as the perfect sacrifice for sin He would be enthroned as Messiah and Lord and share once more the glory of His Father (John 17:5).

“Go and say to that fox.” This is probably saying that Herod is nothing to be afraid of, for he is but a fox, not a lion or a wolf or a bear. He tries to roar, but all he does is bark. Whoever heard of running away from a fox? Some, however, see it as suggesting that he was to be seen as sly in his behaviour (a Jewish view of the fox), or even as despicable, like a scavenger, or a wrecker of vineyards (Song of Solomon 2:15). Or possibly like a fox which is content to linger among the ruins and does not seek to build them up (Ezekiel 13:4). In all cases they are only concerned for themselves and their own welfare. Foxes are of advantage to no one but themselves. But Jesus was not wont to insult people, even kings, so we must see it as a warning not name-calling.


Verse 33

‘Nevertheless I must go on my way today and tomorrow and the day following, for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.’

Yet although there is yet today and tomorrow, and then the next as well, He must use it to go on His way to Jerusalem. Time is short and He does not have time to waste on Herod. For when ‘the third day’ comes He must be at Jerusalem so that He can die there. So until then Herod cannot touch Him.

‘Must (it is necessary).’ Note the sense of the divine necessity. He knows that death awaits Him in Jerusalem and He is determined to be there in God’s timing. There is no other place for Him to die in. It is Jerusalem that has sealed its own fate by its sinfulness and hypocrisy, and must bear the guilt of His death, as it had prophets before Him (Luke 11:51).


Verse 34

“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills the prophets, and stones those who are sent to her! How often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her own brood under her wings, and you would not!”

He then turns His grieving attention to Jerusalem. He may well have said something like this each time He visited it (compare Matthew 23:37), for Jerusalem, the supposed holy city, represented all that He had come to die for. And it probably almost broke His heart. He saw it as the supreme murderer of prophets. Compare 2 Chronicles 24:20-21; Jeremiah 26:20-23. See also 1 Kings 18:4; 1 Kings 18:13; 1 Kings 19:10; Nehemiah 9:26 for murdered prophets not slain in Jerusalem, for in symbol Jerusalem stands for the whole of Israel.

Jesus then declares that His longing had been to take Jerusalem and its people under His wings, like a mother bird does her chickens, gathering them together to Himself. Compare for the idea Psalms 36:7; Psalms 57:1; Psalms 61:4; Psalms 63:7; Psalms 91:4. Thus He was here taking to Himself the prerogative of God. But He points out that they had rejected Him. They had refused to respond. (The Rabbis would later talk about proselytes coming under the wings of the Shekinah, which confirms that this is a totally Jewish picture, for they would not have copied Jesus).

‘How often.’ This seems to confirm a number of visits to Jerusalem, more even than Luke hints at. It confirms what we find in John.


Verse 35

“Behold, your house is left to you desolate, and I say to you, ‘You shall not see me, until you shall say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”

And the result of her rejection of Him could only result in the desolation of her house, either of the Temple or of the city (linguistic considerations might suggest ‘the city’, that is, the people of the city, for it bears a pronominal suffix making it personal to the people). A desolated and forsaken people of Jerusalem would one day bear witness to their failure to receive Him (compare chapter Luke 21:20-24).

And now He was leaving them and they would not see Him again until they greeted Him with the words from Psalms 118:26, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” This may be referring to:

1). To the future visit on which they welcomed Him on His entry into Jerusalem with similar words to these (Luke 19:38). Although if so it would be sarcastic and cynical. But that is unlikely. Pilgrims were welcomed at every Passover with the same words. None would see that as momentous. Yet the momentous first half of the sentence requires an equally momentous second half.

2). It may be suggesting that the total desolation of every Jew as a result of what would happen to Jerusalem would only be remedied for those who turned from it to recognise their true Messiah, to ‘see Him’ and to acknowledge Him. Then their house would no longer be desolate for they would see that in His rising again they had a new Temple (John 2:19-21) of which they could become a part (Ephesians 2:11-22).

3). Or it may be His way of pointing out that although Jerusalem may be desolated, it will yet be renewed, so that some of its inhabitants (Jewish, Arab and other Christians who live in Jerusalem) will welcome Him when He comes in His Messianic glory, as He has promised.

4). Most likely it may be declaring prophetically that one day Jerusalem would reluctantly have to admit what He is, in spite of their unbelief. Jerusalem might fail, but it would have to finally admit that the Messiah that it had rejected had not failed, because they would see Him coming in judgment and in glory (Revelation 1:7).

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on Luke 13:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/luke-13.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, September 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 19 / Ordinary 24
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