1. There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.
Some now come to the Lord carrying a message. They tell him of certain Galileans. There were three regions in Israel at this time: Galilee, Samaria, and Judea. Judea was the southern portion of Israel, where Jerusalem, the capital, was. It was the former land of Judah-Israel, where, when the kingdom split in half, those loyal to the house of David resided. Samaria was in between the other two, and was the land of the half-Jews. Along with Galilee, the northern part of Israel, Samaria made up the part of the territory that, previous to the captivity, had been known as “Israel.” It was dominated by the tribe of Ephraim, whereas the southern part of Judea had been dominated by Judah. In the north, many of the Israelites had intermingled with other nations, and so Samaria was the land of the half-Jews. In Galilee, however, most of the inhabitants were relatively full-blooded Jews, and so Galilee was actually tied with Judea to make up what was considered by most as the land of Israel at this time, even though Samaria lay in between these two territories. Galilee in the north was where the Lord and most of His disciples called home.
Apparently a group of Galileans had been suspected of some treacherous acts against Rome. This would not be unusual, as the Israelites hated being under the rule of the Roman polytheists, and there were constantly those who sought to rebel and to overthrow the Roman rule. These were in general regarded as true patriots by their fellow Israelites, and were respected by the people, though of course they were hated by the Roman occupiers. At any rate, these Galileans were suspected of some kind of treason, and so Pilate, the Roman governor, had sent soldiers to kill them. It so happened that they had been tracked down by these soldiers while at the temple making a sacrifice. The soldiers, zealously carrying out their duty, had killed them on the spot, and their blood as they were killed had mingled with the blood of their sacrifices. To a Jew, there was hardly anything more tragic that could happen to you than this.
2. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things?
The Lord replies to these messengers, and His reply reveals what these men were thinking by bringing up the story of these men. Now we would have to get into the mindset of the Israelites of the day to understand the import of this. Human sacrifice was considered an abomination to the Lord, as every Israelite knew. No true Jew would ever have considered offering a human sacrifice on God’s altar. Therefore, having your own blood mingled with your sacrifice, as had happened to these men, would have been a great offense. This was a terrible violation, and would have been considered a most terrible death by any Israelite. There could hardly be a greater calamity in their estimation.
In this minds, such a tragic event could not have happened by chance. They would assume that God must have rejected the sacrifice of these Galileans and been very angry with them. In their minds, this had to indicate that these men were under some kind of curse from God. Otherwise, how could He allow them to die in such a repugnant way? They would have been certain that these Galileans were somehow the worst of sinners, having some secret sin that they hid from everyone, in order to merit such a death. Otherwise, they would have thought, the Lord would not have allowed this to happen while they were making a sacrifice. No doubt this was the idea that these men had who brought the topic up to the Lord. They thought that these men must have been some sort of terrible sinners for God to have allowed this awful thing to happen to them.
3. “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.
The Lord in a simple but sweeping denial declares utterly incorrect this common assumption that almost everyone in Israel would have made. He reveals that these men were, in fact, not worse sinners than anyone else. In fact, He declares, if anyone does not submit to God, he will likewise perish. I do not believe that He referred to how they would end this life, or that they would have their blood mingled with that of a sacrifice. Instead, He is referring to death in God’s kingdom, when all those who die by God’s hand will indeed suffer the worst shame and reproach because of it, and be rightly considered by all as cursed by God.
This word “repent” is the Greek metanoeo, and means “have the aftermind.” God wanted these people to have such a mind that they would serve Him no matter what that might mean in the future. That is what God was calling upon His people to do at that time. And unless they had such a submissive heart to Him, Christ reveals, they too will perish, just as these unfortunate Galileans had.
4. “Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem?
In order to emphasize His point, Christ brings up another tragic incident wherein eighteen people were killed when a tower fell on them. Siloam was a fountain and a pool in the city of Jerusalem, as we learn from John 9:11, where the Lord commanded the blind man to wash there. Apparently, there was a tower overlooking the pool, and it had fallen on these people, probably while they were in the very act of purifying themselves. Some assumed that this meant these people must have been terrible sinners, and that God refused to accept their purification, and so made this tower to fall on them to punish them, and to indicate their uncleanness in His sight.
5. “I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
Christ again utterly denies that this, the common interpretation of this event, was actually the case. Instead, He insists that these eighteen were not any worse than any of the other sinners who dwelt in Jerusalem. His hearers all needed to submit, or they all would likewise perish at the hand of God.
This passage teaches us a very important lesson. Many people even in our day seem to think that God is constantly watching what they do, and if they ever do something wrong He is ready to punish them for it. To them anything from illness to a car wreck can be a sign of God’s displeasure with those involved in it. Such men are always quick to step forward when any tragedy occurs, whether it is a hurricane or tornado or other natural disaster, or a man-made disaster like a building collapsing or even a terrorist attack, and proclaim that those who were caught up in this thing were under the punishment and the wrath of God. These people have the same sort of thought process that these people the Lord Jesus was talking to did. Yet they reveal their utter ignorance of Scripture, for their viewpoint is categorically denied by the Lord here.
The truth is that we live in a world wherein God does not control every event that occurs. If He did, we would already be in His Kingdom, because that is the whole point of Him ruling the earth! Yet now the world is given over to the chaos that we as mankind brought into it by eating of the forbidden fruit. This world is caught up in the war between good and evil, and between the devil and God. As such, much that happens is fallout from the chaos and disorder that this causes. Often disasters and catastrophes happen, and some who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time are hurt or killed by them. This does not mean that God was angry with these people or viewed them as worse than anyone else and more deserving of punishment. Many times these people are no better or worse than those around them who just happened to not get hurt in the disaster. We should not look at such things as a sign of God’s wrath or displeasure, but rather as a sign of the evil and perilous world in which we live. To do anything else is to refuse to believe Christ’s plain declaration here. None should speak against those who suffer from such disasters, for they themselves are just as subject to guilt and punishment as any one of them.
6. He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none.
The Lord now tells a parable. The story is about a man who had a fig tree planted in his vineyard. The purpose a fig tree, of course, is to bear figs, but when this man came and examined his tree, he found that it had no fruit on it.
I believe that the Lord was speaking in this parable of the government in Israel at that time as a fig tree. The purpose of a Godly government is to bear fruit among the people. God’s desire for Israel’s government is that it would benefit the people, and rule over them justly and righteously. Yet when the Lord came to them, He found them not doing these things at all. If anything, the government in Israel oppressed the common people, and did not govern them honestly and according to God’s law. Thus, when the Lord came to them, He found no fruit being borne by them.
7. “Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’
The man in the Lord’s parable becomes frustrated with the fig tree. He points out to the keeper of his vineyard that for three years he has been looking to this tree to bear fruit, and it has not. Since it does not bear fruit, it is just wasting the ground in which it is planted, which could be used for other things. Therefore, he commands him to cut it down, so that a better tree might grow in its place.
The three years here may refer to the three years of the Lord’s ministry, wherein He sought fruit from the government that then existed in Israel, and yet found none produced by it whatsoever. What was the use of retaining that government, then, when it produced nothing of worth in the sight of God?
8. “But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it.
The keeper of his vineyard advises the vineyard owner to try one more time. Leave the fig tree one more year, and let him dig around it to aerate the soil, and fertilize it as well. In this way, he might stimulate it to start to bear.
The word translated “Sir” here is actually Kurie or “Lord” in Greek. This word can represent either Yahweh or Adonai in the Hebrew Old Testament. In this case, it clearly means adonai or “master,” since it would not fit His parable for the keeper of the vineyard to call his master Yahweh, though in the interpretation of the parable the vineyard keeper might indeed be the Lord Himself.
9. “’And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’”
The keeper of the vineyard completes his advice. If after this last year of testing, the tree bears fruit, then it is well, and let it be. If not, however, then cut it down as a worthless tree.
This seems to be the view God took of the government in Israel at this time as He saw their sinful and unsubmissive hearts. He was ready to give up on them after their rejection and crucifixion of the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet He still considered them worth one last chance. Thus in the Acts period He gave them another chance to submit before He gave up on them altogether. Some few of them took this opportunity, but many of them continued to reject Him. Thus, the tree of this government was cut down, even as God planted a new government in its place, one made up of the apostles and rulers that He had chosen. This was His new tree, and the One He would put in the place of the godless rulership that currently existed in Israel.