The Discipler's Commentary
Luke Chapter 13

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Overview of Luke 13

In chapter 13, we will see the 6th & 7th time Jesus uses the word “repent” or words related to repent (“repentance,” “repentant”). The call for repentance will be found another seven times in Luke’s gospel. Obviously, the call for repentance was not unimportant to Jesus and not lost on Luke. The call for true repentance will go unheeded by an official in the synagogue where Jesus heals a woman who has been burdened with an 18-year affliction. Jesus will also continue teaching on the nature of the kingdom of God and how one enters in. He will issue serious warnings about who will be saved in the end times. Lastly, Jesus will be warned about Herod’s intent on killing Him. This will result in a lament over the capital of Israel, Jerusalem.

What to look for in Luke 13

  1. As you read each paragraph ask, “How is God speaking to me personally through His word?”
  2. Find the two times Jesus uses the word “repent.”
  3. Look for another conflict Jesus raises by healing a woman on the Sabbath.
  4. Note Jesus’ teaching on who will and who will not enter the kingdom of God.
  5. Ask what the Pharisees’ motive was for warning Jesus that King Herod’s intended to kill Him.
  6. Look for Jesus’ teaching on the mustard seed and the leaven, and ask how this applies to the kingdom of God.
  7. Look for the relationship between Jesus’ call for repentance and His teaching about who will enter the kingdom of God.

13:1-3 “Now on the same occasion” refers back to the events and teachings that occur in chapter 12. Little is known about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with sacrifices, as it is nowhere else mentioned in Scripture. Some believe these Galileans were part of the Zealots, fanatical Jews who resorted to violence to disrupt Roman occupation. Pilate, the Roman governor assigned to Judea (3:1), was a cruel man when it came to teaching the Jews a lesson, and apparently had his own priests add the Jews’ blood during their pagan sacrifices. This would have been particularly abhorrent to the Jews, therefore causing them to hate the Romans even more.

Likewise, nothing is known about the tower of Siloam incident. It was obviously a construction site accident near the pool of Siloam.

The point Jesus is teaching here, however, has nothing to do either with Pilate or with the construction workers. Common Jewish belief at the time was that God exacted judgment on those who had sinned badly, and therefore the Galileans and the construction workers must obviously have sinned badly to experience such terrible deaths. Jesus teaches against that doctrine however. The call to repent is for all men and women; all are under judgment for sin, and those who proposed the question cannot assume they are any less sinners than those who experienced horrible deaths. It is a warning for them, as they themselves may suffer death when Jerusalem is destroyed by the Romans in AD 70.

It is the nature of the flesh to elevate oneself above others spiritually. Christians are as guilty of this as any other religion. We look for some reason to consider others greater sinners than ourselves. We judge them on the basis of church attendance, knowledge of the Bible, whether or not they smoke or drink, or even what Bible version they use. Contrary to what some Christians believe, homosexuality is no worse than adultery, and greed no less a sin than pornography when it comes to the kingdom of God. In an earthly system of justice, some crimes are deemed worse than others (e.g., murder vs. theft). But in the kingdom of God, sin of any kind is a blanket of darkness that casts a shadow over all mankind. As Paul writes in Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Whereas mankind may exact heavier judgments for certain types of crimes, when it comes to God’s holiness, everyone is in the same boat—all have sinned and therefore stand in judgment. All mankind, regardless of whether they are great sinners or lesser sinners, stand in need of a Redeemer, and that Redeemer—the only One who settles the issue of sin—is Jesus Christ.

The tendency for Christians to create hierarchies of spirituality is ultimately a failure to love one another, for it is far easier to judge others who are not like us than to love them. In God’s kingdom, the greater the sinner, the greater the love that is needed. It is those who feel they are the spiritual elite who neither understand the true nature of God’s love nor offer love to others, especially to those they consider undeserving and involved in “greater sin.”

13:6-9 The subject of this parable is a fig tree. The fig tree in Scripture is often symbolic of the nation of Israel, and represents peace and prosperity. This parable is directly related to the preceding, warning about the need for repentance. The reference to fruit harkens back to John’s preaching in chapter 3: “Therefore, bear fruits in keeping with repentance…” (v. 8). The clear teaching of this parable is that “for three years”—the three years of Jesus’ ministry—God will be looking for fruit in Israel as a result of His ministry. He will find little. There will be yet another year of grace—represented by the early church—for Israel to accept Jesus as their Messiah (the “fertilizer” being the presence of the Holy Spirit). After that, judgment will come if there is no fruit. (The grammatical construction in the Greek implies there will, indeed, be no fruit.) This judgment happens in AD 70 when the Romans destroy Jerusalem and Herod’s temple.

So, what is the fruit that God will be looking for? First and foremost, the fruit is the acceptance of Jesus as the Messiah in spite of His crucifixion; that all of Israel’s leaders will recognize Jesus as Messiah by virtue of His resurrection and, as Zechariah wrote, “…they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn…” (Zech. 12:10).

The other fruit that Jesus is referring to in this passage is the acceptance of the new covenant; that is, the covenant ruled by grace and not by the law, and characterized, not by sacrifices, rituals and feasts, but by relationships based on the new commandment, “Love one another” (John 15:12).

13:10-17 A little clarification is needed regarding the woman in this parable. It is unlikely the spirit actually bent the woman double (although this is not completely out of the realm of possibility; we know nothing of the woman’s background.) It is more probable that the spirit caused the sickness which caused the woman to be bent double. Severe deformities of the spine in elderly women is usually the result of what is called osteoporosis; that is, a loss of calcium in the spine associated with decreased amounts of estrogen as a result of menopause. (However, this “bent double” condition can also be seen in other diagnoses such as idiopathic kyphoscoliosis, tuberculosis or infection.) This poor woman, whose age is not mentioned, had apparently become progressively “bent double” over a period of 18 years. Because of this, it is likely she was older, and her deformity was the result of osteoporosis.

Notice, too, that Jesus “called her over” to Him. There is no indication that He cast out a demon, as the word “demon” is not used here. We can assume, however, that the spirit was not a benevolent one. The woman is “freed” from the sickness which caused her to be doubled over, and therefore freed from the power of the spirit that caused the sickness.

The primary concern of this incident, however, is the calloused response of the synagogue official. He cares more about the law than he does the woman! Note that the synagogue official refers to the fourth commandment regarding the Sabbath. The first part of his statement captures the essence of the commandment. It is the second part—“…so come during them and get healed, and not on the Sabbath day”—that is not found in the fourth commandment or anywhere in the Torah. It comes instead from “the traditions of the elders” regarding what a Jew could or could not do on the Sabbath.

How did the Jewish leaders get to the point that they began caring more about the Sabbath laws than they did about people? The 4th commandment refers to doing no work on the Sabbath; that it is to be holy day set aside for rest. The problem the Jews began to ask is, “Well, what constitutes work?” To address that question, beginning at the time of Ezra and to some extent, before him, the Jews began defining what constitutes work. Thus evolved a complex system of rules and laws (almost 2,000 about the Sabbath), that defined what constitutes work. One of those laws, for example, stated that healing by a physician or rabbi could not take place on the Sabbath, as it had been determined that healing constituted work. Healing could wait for another day. That is why the synagogue official suggested another day. (However, the law stated that it was okay to take a beast of burden to a watering hole to drink!) It’s this illogical, calloused, non-compassionate system of rules and laws that Jesus abhorred and condemned so passionately. Additionally, those Sabbath laws, called “the traditions of the elders,” became equal to or greater in authority than Scripture itself. The whole point of the fourth commandment had been lost, as they were given to help God’s people, not hurt them. This, too, angered Jesus.

The point here is this: beasts of burden were being treated with more compassion than a person who was ill. This phenomenon highlights a terrible breakdown in love, which is the ultimate teaching of Scripture in terms of human behavior. What should have happened is that the synagogue official should have rejoiced and given glory to God that this poor woman had been healed. He should have been glad and overjoyed for her! Before, doubled over, everyone would have considered her under judgment by God for having committed some terrible sin. Now, she is standing upright and no longer has that stigma of judgment. But what does the official do? Instead, he criticizes Jesus. This is how twisted the law had become.

There’s one last point of irony here. Jesus points out in verse 16 that she was healed on the Sabbath day. Thus, she experienced a “rest” from Satan’s bondage. Obviously, this statement flies right over the head of the official who is blinded by the agenda of the law.

13:18-19 This is the first of two similes on the kingdom of God. But in what way are these illustrations on the kingdom of God related to the above incident in the synagogue? Most likely the answer lies in the response of the crowd. They were not only “rejoicing over all the things being done by Him,” but quite possibly over His teaching about the Sabbath. The purpose of the Sabbath was not to put people into bondage, but to be healed by rest. The woman was allowed to rest from her affliction, which was the true meaning of the Sabbath. Therefore, the people were sensing perhaps a freeing from the binding laws being held over them by the officials.

The mustard seed was often ground into a paste and used for medicinal purposes. Perhaps the “sickness” issue above reminded Luke of Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God. The mustard plant can grow up to 15 feet tall (3 meters) and become large enough for a bird to light on. Such, then, is the freedom that comes from being freed from bondage to the law.

13:20-21 The second simile reinforces the first. It’s all about something quite small turning into something quite big. A small teaching on the Sabbath can produce great fruit. Leaven (yeast), which more often than not in Scripture is a type of sin, here is used in a positive way by Jesus, lest everyone think all leaven is bad.

The gospel can start out as something small in a person’s life, only to become the dominating “plant” in one’s life. Such is the result of someone who is freed from the law and introduced to the kingdom of grace and love. Grace is freeing, and once one is freed from the law, love becomes the dominant force for producing fruit in one’s life.

13:22-30 “…Proceeding on His way to Jerusalem” does not mean this is the final trip. Jesus actually made a number of journeys to Jerusalem from the surrounding areas. Luke is placing the emphasis on Jesus’ intent, not His actual itinerary. Regardless, Jesus never stops teaching.

The question in verse 23, “Lord, are there just a few being saved?” seems to come out of nowhere. Why did someone suddenly ask that question? Some commentators postulate that the crowds were actually dwindling somewhat, and the question is one of puzzlement over numbers. A better solution, however, is that personal doubts were being raised as a result of Jesus’ teaching (v. 22). In this case, Luke has placed the question before the teaching, as a literary method of stating what Jesus was teaching. In reality, the question may actually have come after, or as a result of the teaching, and Luke has used the question to explain what Jesus was teaching on His journey to Jerusalem.

The other odd thing about the question is the use of the word “saved.” This is the sixth time in Luke’s gospel where he uses the Greek word sozo (saved), but the first that seems to refer to salvation for eternal life (with the exception of Jesus’ own words in 9:54). Jesus uses two metaphors. The first, “narrow door,” indicates the way to salvation; the second (house) indicates the destination, that is, the kingdom of God. The word “strive” means to make it one’s earnest goal, and the “narrow door” implies there are many wider doors that take neither striving nor sacrifice. “…Seek to enter” refers to entering the kingdom of God. The rest of the parable focuses, not on those who strive, but on those who choose not to strive, and is specifically directed to all the Jews who eventually reject Jesus as the Messiah.

The message in this parable is this: Jews believe they will be saved simply because they are Jews; that is, children of Abraham. However, though expecting to enter into the kingdom of heaven because of their heritage, they will be denied by the “head of the house” which is God. The narrow door is Jesus Himself, and choosing to accept Him as Messiah will not be an easy task; there will be persecution, rejection and hardships along the way.

Verse 29 is a prophecy referring to the Gentiles who will be saved, simply because they will choose receive Jesus as the Messiah. And in

Verse 30, though the Jews consider Gentiles to be “last,” they will instead be “first” to enter the Kingdom of God.

The objection might be raised that God is not showing love and mercy to the Jews by keeping them out of the kingdom. But one must remember, truth always trumps love. The truth is that Jesus is the Messiah, the only begotten Son of the Father, who will die for the sins of all mankind. God has shown no greater love than to offer His son as a sacrifice for sin. And Jesus Himself has shown no greater love than to offer Himself willingly as the sacrifice, the suffering servant. So God is not withholding love from the Jews who reject Jesus—He is offering greater love to those who accept Him. The Jews can accept Jesus as Messiah at any time, and thus experience the full love of God. Instead, they have chosen not to.

13:31-35 The motive of the Pharisees is probably not a desire to protect Jesus, but to keep Jesus from fulfilling His mission toward Jerusalem. (Compare the words “at the same time” with verse 22). One must consider the possibility that Satan is behind their words. Their warning, in fact, is probably contrived, as nowhere else in the gospels is it stated that Herod had plans to kill Jesus.

Jesus’ use of the word “fox” is a Hebraism for someone who is sly and cunning, so Jesus is playing along with ploy of the Pharisees to let them know that He has no intention of changing His plans to travel to Jerusalem, whether there is a real threat or not. “Today, tomorrow, and the third day” in verse 32 are not a timetable for His arrival, but an affirmation of His intent. The “third day,” of course, refers to His resurrection.

Verse 33 is a statement of irony, not historical fact. It is ironic that the city that is supposed the be the center of God’s presence is the very city where God’s presence in the form of Jesus will be rejected. Those who brought the truth of God to Jewish spiritual leadership (e.g., Jeremiah, Isaiah) were in fact killed by those very same leaders.

Verses 34 & 35 provide intimate insight into the love of Jesus for His people. There is wailing, weeping and grieving undergirding the words, “O Jerusalem…,” as David wept over his son Absalom. There is great compassion here, for Jesus knows well the fate of His people and the tragedy that is coming. There is anguish underlying the fact that He will be rejected, that they “would not have it.” It is a desperate cry of exasperation and frustration, as well as indignation. Jesus’ heart is broken over His people.

There is a wonderful personal application that can be gleaned from Jesus’ mourning over Jerusalem. Many sincere Christians mourn for family members or friends who reject Jesus Christ. This can often bring tears during intercessory prayer for loved ones. Although mourning for lost loved ones is agonizing, there is a glimmer of blessing in that God is allowing His children to suffer the same frustration and mourning He does over the lost. When the Christian mourns over lost loved ones—or any lost person for that matter—he or she is sharing God’s mourning over the lost, and in this case, Jesus’ mourning over Jerusalem.

“Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” refers not only to Jesus’ triumphal entry on Palm Sunday, but to Jesus’ second coming when “every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess…that Jesus is Lord.” It will be a fulfillment of Zechariah 12:10.

Questions for Your Personal or Group Reflection

  1. In this chapter, how has God spoken to you through His word? Of the many principles presented in chapter 13, what principle stands out most to you? Once you identify the principle, what do you intend to do about it in the form of action?
  2. What is repentance and what does it mean? What are the consequences for failing to repent? Is there anything—anything—of which you need to repent? And, does repentance mean only to confess something, or does it mean to actually do something about it?
  3. Reread the paragraph about Jesus healing the woman bent double. What should the reaction of the synagogue official have been?
  4. In that same healing, ask yourself why was the crowd rejoicing so much? Was it just because of what Jesus did in the form of healing, or was it possibly something Jesus said that caught the crowd’s attention?
  5. How can you participate in turning a mustard seed into a great bush? How can you become leaven in your home, your school, your workplace, or your church?
  6. In verse 24, Jesus teaches, “Strive to enter through the narrow door….” What does that mean to you? What does the “narrow door” represent in your life? How might the concept of the narrow door relate to your relationships, and in particular your willingness to “love one another” and to “love your neighbor as yourself”?
  7. Reread verse 34. Over whom have you wept lately?

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