The Urgency of Repentance (Luke 13:1-9)

Submitted by admin on Mon, 2008-06-09 11:17.

Posted in | printer-friendly version »

When certain ones told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices, Jesus used the opportunity to stress the urgent need for the people to repent. (Luke 13:1-3)

No reference in the works of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus specifically refers to a slaughter of Galileans in the temple precincts, resulting in their blood being intermingled with that of the sacrificial victims. He does, however, mention an incident in Jerusalem when Pilate’s efforts to quell an uprising led to the loss of many lives. Pilate had sent soldiers in nonmilitary dress among the Jews who had gathered to protest the use of money from the temple treasury to build an aqueduct to bring water to the city from a distant stream. When his efforts to dismiss the crowd failed and the people began to reproach him, he gave a predetermined signal to the disguised soldiers. Many Jews perished from the severe blows the soldiers inflicted, and others were wounded. (Antiquities, XVIII, iii, 2; War, II, ix, 4)

The account in Luke 13 does not report why the incident about the Galileans was mentioned to Jesus. His response suggests that those who knew about this occurrence believed the Galileans to have perished on account of their great sin. He raised the rhetorical question as to whether they thought the Galileans who thus suffered were greater sinners than all the other Galileans. His own answer was, “No.” Jesus then stressed what the people should do. “Unless you repent, you likewise will all be destroyed.” This reply implied that the time for repentance would prove to be limited. (Luke 13:1-3)

Jesus then called attention to another incident, asking whether the 18 who were killed when the tower in Siloam fell on them were greater “debtors” (sinners) than all the other inhabitants of Jerusalem. Again, Jesus answered this rhetorical question with his own “No,” and added the same words about repentance. (Luke 13:4, 5)

By means of a parable, he emphasized the need for urgent positive action. A man planted a fig tree in his vineyard, but found no fruit on the tree when the time for harvesting figs came. This prompted him to tell the vinedresser that the barren tree should be cut down, as it had not produced any fruit for three years. The owner felt that it was senseless for the barren tree to waste the ground. (Luke 13:6, 7)

The vinedresser suggested that the tree be left standing for another year and to be fertilized with manure. If it then bore fruit, the tree would remain. “But if not,” the vinedresser said to the owner, “you can cut it down.” (Luke 13:8, 9)

It appears that Jesus here alluded to his activity among the people, with the nation being like the barren fig tree. Fruit associated with repentance was woefully lacking, for the majority persisted in unbelief. The time for Jesus to continue laboring among them would soon end. Only a brief period remained for them to make positive changes and to be recognized as God’s people. If they failed to repent, a severe judgment would follow.


For fig trees to be planted in vineyards provided the advantage of having two crops. A good grape harvest could at times offset a poor yield of figs, whereas an abundant crop of figs in other years might compensate for a poor grape harvest.

Fruit trees were subject to taxation. Therefore, unproductive trees were a financial liability.