Jesus tells the Israelites to repent or perish like the ones whom Pilate slaughtered or like those workers on whom a tower fell. He tells the Parable of the Barren Fig Tree. He delivers a woman from a disabling spirit. He tells the short illustration of the mustard seed and leaven. He tells people to enter by the narrow door. Finally, he laments over Jerusalem.
As I write in every chapter:
This commentary and entire website is for everyone, but it is mainly for those in oppressed or developing countries, where Christians cannot afford or have access to wonderful Study Bibles or commentaries. I hope it helps them.
The commentary has a practical application (GrowApp) at the end of each section of Scripture for discipleship.
The translation is mine. It is not better than the published ones. I offer it only to learn what the Greek really says. It tends to be literal, but pure literalism and readability are impossible, so adjustments had to be made. If you would like to see other translations, please go to biblegateway.com.
The Greek terms with brief definitions can be looked up at biblehub.com. However, I hope to bring different nuances to the few words I focus on. A pronunciation guide is also offered. And I keep things nontechnical.
The links are provided for further study.
Repent or Perish (Luke 13:1-5)
1 Some people were present at that very time and reported to him about Galileans whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices. 2 In reply, he said to them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all Galileans because they had suffered those things? 3 No, I tell you, but rather, unless you all repent, you will likewise perish! 4 Or the eighteen on whom the tower of Siloam fell and killed them: do you think these were worse moral debtors than all the people living in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you, but rather, unless you all repent, you will likewise perish!”
These verses are about moral evil (murder) and natural disaster (falling tower).
Some teachers say that the Jews of Jesus’s generation will witness the fall of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20), and the stones of Siloam falling on the eighteen are a warning about the stones falling on the Jerusalemites during the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D, 70. Pilate killing the Jews is a warning to Jews of his generation. If they do not repent, they too will perish when the Romans kills the Jews during the conquest of Jerusalem. If Jews of Jesus’s generation do not repent, then they too will perish as the Jews did in the two reports of recent events.
Fair enough. But I will interpret the events as evil happening by accident (tower falling) and by the will of a human (Pilate).
First let’s look at some basic concepts.
“very time”: the noun here is kairos (pronounced kye-ross and is used 85 times), which speaks more of a quality time than quantity. BDAG is considered by many to be the authoritative lexicon of the Greek NT, and it defines the noun as follows: (1) a point of time or period of time, time, period, frequently with the implication of being especially fit for something and without emphasis on precise chronology. (a) Generally a welcome time or difficult time … fruitful times; (b) a moment or period as especially appropriate the right, proper, favorable time … at the right time; (2) a defined period for an event, definite, fixed time (e.g. period of fasting or mourning in accord with the changes in season), in due time (Gal. 6:9); (3) a period characterized by some aspect of special crisis, time; (a) generally the present time (Rom. 13:11; 12:11); (b) One of the chief terms relating to the endtime … the time of crisis, the last times.
All of this stand in a mild contrast—not a sharp contrast—from chronos. Greek has another word for time: chronos (pronounced khro-noss), which measures one day, one week or one month after another.
No scholar has been able to pinpoint when these events happened, but the Passover is the time when people could sacrifice their own animals (v. 1). In any case, the Jewish historian Josephus says that Pilate was cruel, so this report fits his profile. It is awful to think that these pious Jews were sacrificing animals according to the law (Lev. 1-7), and Pilate killed them on the spot and mixed their blood with animals.
And now let’s reintroduce Pilate.
The Christian creeds remember him as the governor under whom Jesus Christ suffered (1 Tim. 6:13) (see the Apostles Creed). The NT calls him governor while other sources call him prefect (his official title). Pontius was his nomen (tribal name) and Pilate was his cognomen (family name). His praenomen (personal name) is nowhere recorded. He came to power in A.D. 26. He was an anti-Semite. He brought into Jerusalem the insignia of the Roman military bearing the image of Caesar. He planted armed Roman soldiers, disguised as civilians, among the populace. This may have been the historical occasion for Luke 13:1, which says that Pilate mingled Galilean blood with their sacrifices. It is surprising then that he felt pressure from the Jewish authorities to put Jesus to death. However, he could have believed his position in the empire was precarious; John 19:12 says that if he released Jesus he would be no friend of Caesar. The NT writers were eager to show that he was innocent in regards to Roman law. Yet the only way the Jewish Council could convict Jesus was to accuse him of claiming to be king. Pilate’s name does not appear in Judea after A.D. 36/37, and this indicates he was removed shortly after he slaughtered Samaritans on Mt. Gerizim (Holman’s Illustrated Bible Dictionary).
Also see Luke 3:1 for a brief biography of Pilate.
“sinners”: it is the noun hamartōlos (pronounced hah-mahr-toh-loss and used 47 times and 18 times in Luke), and it means, depending on the context, “sinful … sinner, of one who is not free from sin; … of one not careful in the observance of ceremonial duties, unobservant or irreligious person; … of one especially sinful = heathen.” BDAG defines the adjective hamartōlos (pronounced hah-mar-toh-loss and used 47 times) as follows: “pertaining to behavior or activity that does not measure up to standard moral or [religious] expectations (being considered an outsider because of failure to conform to certain standards is a frequent semantic component. Persons engaged in certain occupations, e.g. herding and tanning [and tax collecting] that jeopardized [religious] purity, would be considered by some as ‘sinners,’ a term tantamount to ‘outsider.’” Non-Israelites were especially considered out of bounds [see Acts 10:28].)” “Sinner, with a general focus on wrongdoing as such.” “Irreligious, unobservant people.” “Unobservant” means that he did not care about law keeping or observing the law.
Do you fail to conform to certain standards? Maybe you did break the demands of moral and religious law. The good news: God promises us forgiveness when we repent. Pray and repent, and God will accept you.
“tower of Siloam”: it was probably in Jerusalem, during a building project.
“When he labels these hapless victims as ‘sinners’ and lumps all other Galileans in the same category, he turns the case into an unwelcome reality check intended to force them to come to grips with the real issue facing them. It is not what Pilate has done; it is what God will do to all sinners. No one stands guiltless before God, and all Galileans alike will perish unless they repent” (Garland, comment on 13:2).
“repent”: used twice in these verses, it is the verb metanoeō (pronounced meh-tah-noh-eh-oh), and “to repent” literally means “to change (your) mind.” And it goes deeper than mental assent or agreement. Another word for repent is the Greek stem streph– (including the prefixes ana-, epi-, and hupo-), which means physically “to turn” (see Luke 2:20, 43, 45). That reality-concept is all about new life. One turns around 180 degrees, going from the direction of death to the new direction of life.
Too many fiery preachers never allow their churches to grow, but shriek about fire and brimstone (eternal punishment). Happily, this seems to be changing, and preachers bring up repentance, but also realize that there are many other doctrines in Scripture.
But make no mistake about repentance, because in this context Jesus really is saying, “Repent or perish!”
“perish”: used twice in these verses, it comes from the verb apollumi (pronounced ah-poh-loo-mee), and it means, depending on the context: (1) “to cause or experience destruction (active voice) ruin, destroy”; (middle voice) “perish, be ruined”; (2) “to fail to obtain what one expects or anticipates, lose out on, lose”; (3) “to lose something that one already has or be separated from a normal connection, lose, be lost” (BDAG). The Shorter Lexicon adds “die.” The first definition fits here.
“moral debtors”: it comes from one noun opheiletēs (pronounced oh-fay-lay-tayss), and BDAG, the authoritative lexicon of NT Greek, says it means, depending on the context, (1) “one who is in debt in a monetary sense, debtor”: (2) “one who is under obligation in a moral or social sense, one under obligation, one liable for” … “one who is obligated to do something … one who is guilty of a misdeed, one who is culpable, at fault.” In other words, everyone of us should have done something righteous, but we omitted the righteous action. Or we should not have done a misdeed, but we did. Either way, we are moral debtors before God and often before people. In this context, all the Galileans and Jerusalemites were guilty of the sin of omission and commission. Unless the people in the north (Galileans) and the south (Jerusalemites) repent, they will all perish.
As noted, these verses are about moral evil (murder) and natural disasters (tower falling on people). Jesus’s main point in these verses is that theology must not lead people to false conclusions. Just because people suffer does not mean that God has struck them down. If people at Jesus’s time do not repent and acknowledge that he is the Messiah, then they too will suffer. He is about to predict that armies will surround Jerusalem and destroy it (Luke 21:20-24). Many people will perish at that time, because Judaism, expressed in the temple worship, will sit under judgment (Luke 19:41-45; 21:20-24; 23:26-31; Matt. 21:33-45), though numerous individual priests (Acts 6:7) and thousands of Jews of Jerusalem and Judea converted (Acts 2:41; 4:4; Acts 21:20). God loves people, but he is not enamored with systems.
Therefore, Jesus tells the listeners and us not to think that we are morally superior than those who were murdered or those who were killed by a tower. Accidents happen in the latter case (the tower). And if people die from accidents, don’t foolishly conclude that we are good, and they were bad.
Jesus says that these moral evils and disasters are wakeup calls to examine our own lives. We all eventually die. Unless we repent right now, our afterlife will not be pleasant.
Please read a three-part series, each of which has plenty of Scriptural support:
Each theory teaches punishment in the afterlife, but the debate is over the duration of punishment. It may be surprising to many traditional Christians, but the latter two theories have plenty of Scriptural support. But whichever theory you decide on, please don’t call the other theories heretical or unorthodox, particularly if you believe in eternal, conscious torment. The theory of eternal, conscious torment did not gain momentum until Augustine’s time in the fifth century. Until then, church leaders easily believed in the other theories of annihilation or restoration.
Charismatic theologian and Presbyterian minister J. Rodman Williams (d. 2008) says fire and darkness are just metaphors, which cannot be taken literally, for separation from God and punishment:
These two terms, “darkness” and “fire,” that point to the final state of the lost might seem to be opposites, because darkness, even black darkness, suggests nothing like fire or the light of a blazing fire. Thus again we must guard against identifying the particular terms with literal reality, such as a place of black darkness or of blazing fire. Rather, darkness and fire are metaphors that express the profound truth, on the one hand, of terrible estrangement and isolation from God, and on the other, the pain and misery of unrelieved punishment. It is significant that Jesus in His portrayals of darkness and fire often adds the statement “There men will weep and gnash their teeth.” This weeping and gnashing … vividly suggests both suffering and despair. So whether the metaphor is darkness or fire, the picture is indeed a grim one, even beyond the ability of any figure of speech to express.
One further word: both darkness and fire refer to the basic situation of the lost after Last Judgment. However, we have already observed that there will be degrees of punishment; hence in some sense the darkness and fire will not be wholly the same. Some punishment will be more tolerable than other punishment: some people will receive a greater condemnation, while some (to change the figure) will be “beaten with few blows” [Luke 12:48]. Thus we should not understand the overall picture of the state of the lost to exclude differences in degree of punishment. Even as for the righteous in the world to come, there will be varying rewards, so for the unrighteous, the punishment will not be the same. (Renewal Theology, vol. 3, 470-71).
For the record, Williams did not believe in annihilationism (or terminalism or conditionalism) or universal reconciliation (or restorationism).
However, if you insist on taking the darkness and the fire literally, then you may certainly do so.
Personally, I believe that the topic of punishment in the afterlife is secondary or nonessential, so I like this saying:
“In essentials, unity; in nonessentials, liberty; in all things, charity (love).”
Give people space to choose one of these nonessential, Bible-supported theories. You can still have fellowship with them.
“people”: it is the Greek noun anthrōpos (pronounced ahn-throw-poss), and even in the plural some interpreters say that it means only men. However, throughout the Greek written before and during the NT, in the plural it means people in general, including womankind (except rare cases). In the singular it can mean person, depending on the context. In Luke 2:25; 4:33; 6:6; 7:8, for example, the context says one man or male. So “person” or “people” or “men and women” (and so on) is almost always the most accurate translation, despite what more conservative translations say.
In this pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-koh-pea) or unit or section of Scripture, the doctrine of original or universal sin is being advanced, though it was taught in the OT. We have a sin nature.
And our sins—our very sin nature—disqualify us from appearing before a thrice holy God, to justify or defend ourselves before his heavenly tribunal. We need the grace that Jesus brings through the New Covenant, which he is about to launch in Luke 22:14-20.
GrowApp for Luke 13:1-5
A.. How do these verses change your mind about human evil and natural disasters? Did you used to think you were morally superior to victims like these?
B.. These verses teach that evil, when it happens, serves as wakeup calls. God did not cause it, but what can you learn from it?
Parable of Barren Fig Tree (Luke 13:6-9)
6 Then he proceeded to tell this parable: a certain man owned a fig tree that had been planted in his vineyard, and he came to look for fruit on it and found nothing. 7 He said to the vinedresser, “Look at it! For three years I have been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and find nothing! Therefore cut it down! Why should it deplete the soil?” 8 But he replied to him, “Sir, leave it this year too, until I dig around it and throw manure around the soil; 9 if it were to bear fruit in the near future … but if not, you’ll cut it down.”
“parable”: literally, the word parable (parabolē in Greek) combines para– (pronounced pah-rah and means “alongside”) and bolē (pronounced boh-lay and means “put” or even “throw”). Therefore, a parable puts two or more images or ideas alongside each other to produce a clear truth. It is a story or narrative or short comparison that reveals the kingdom of God and the right way to live in it and the Father’s ways of dealing with humanity and his divine plan expressed in his kingdom and life generally. The Shorter Lexicon says that the Greek word parabolē can sometimes be translated as “symbol,” “type,” “figure,” and “illustration,” the latter term being virtually synonymous with parable.
Here is how we should interpret this parable, in my view:
Owner = God the Father (Is. 5:1-7)
Fig tree = Israel or maybe Jerusalem (Jer. 8:13; Hos. 9:10; Mic. 7:1)
Vineyard = Israel again, which surrounds Jerusalem (Is. 1:8; 3:14; 5:1-7; Jer. 12:10)
However, Bock says that just the nation of Israel is in the vineyard and fig tree (p. 1208).
Fruit = repentance towards and acceptance of the Messiah (Luke 3:8-9; 6:43-45)
Vinedresser = Jesus or another kingdom worker
Three years = merely background information or symbolize Jesus’s ministry (though most commentators say no), plus a little longer
soil = source of kingdom growth (Luke 8:4-8, 11-15)
Cutting it down = judgment
The main point is repentance while Israel still has time (Luke 13:1-5, 31-35; 10:13-16; 11:29-32; 12:13-21).
One background verse:
What misery is mine!
I am like one who gathers summer fruit
at the gleaning of the vineyard;
there is no cluster of grapes to eat,
none of the early figs that I crave. (Micah 7:1, NIV)
“Fig trees yield two crops annually, one around May-June, and the most important one in August-October. The budding of fig trees belongs to the early sings of spring, which is the background for another parable about signs of the times (see Matt 24:32-35; Mark 13:28-30; Luke 21:29-33)” (Garland, comments on 13:6).
“As the vineyard is used in the Old Testament as a metaphor for Israel (Ps. 80:8; Isa 5:1-7; Jer 2:21), the fig tree is used as a metaphor for Judah or Jerusalem (Jer 8:13; 24:1-10; Mic 7:1; Hos 9:1 …). The fig tree then becomes a transparent metaphor for Jerusalem or the temple (Hag 2:18-19); see the cursing of the fig tree in Mark 11:12-14, 20-25). The deaths cited in Luke 13:1-5 occur in Jerusalem, and Jesus takes this as an ominous omen of what lies ahead” (Garland again, comment on 13:6).
Another background passage:
I will sing for the one I love
a song about his vineyard:
My loved one had a vineyard
on a fertile hillside.
2 He dug it up and cleared it of stones
and planted it with the choicest vines.
He built a watchtower in it
and cut out a winepress as well.
Then he looked for a crop of good grapes,
but it yielded only bad fruit.
3 “Now you dwellers in Jerusalem and people of Judah,
judge between me and my vineyard.
4 What more could have been done for my vineyard
than I have done for it?
When I looked for good grapes,
why did it yield only bad?
5 Now I will tell you
what I am going to do to my vineyard:
I will take away its hedge,
and it will be destroyed;
I will break down its wall,
and it will be trampled.
6 I will make it a wasteland,
neither pruned nor cultivated,
and briers and thorns will grow there.
I will command the clouds
not to rain on it.”
7 The vineyard of the Lord Almighty
is the nation of Israel,
and the people of Judah
are the vines he delighted in.
And he looked for justice, but saw bloodshed;
for righteousness, but heard cries of distress. (Is. 5:1-7, NIV)
“three years”: it may be an idiomatic way of referring to a long time that “has tried the patience of the owner (see 2 Cor 12:8). For a long time, the owner has patiently come looking for fruit from this tree” (one more time, Garland, referring to 13:7).
God has planted his vineyard, and evidently he planted a fig tree right in the middle of it. It would have difficult for first-century Israelites to miss the meaning of the two kinds of plants. So does the fig tree in the vineyard represent Jerusalem? Jesus is about to predict its destruction (Luke 21:5-9. 20-24). So I say yes; however one commentator says this interpretation is a stretch, but does not tell us why. In any case, the Father enters the vineyard to inspect the fig tree. He finds nothing on it for three years. This is probably a reference to Jesus’s ministry, as he is heading towards Jerusalem to die. Most scholars agree that he ministered for at least three-and-a-half years. However, some commentators say not to make a big thing of the three years representing Jesus’s ministry.
The owner demands that the fig tree be cut down, but the vinedresser (in English a vinedresser is one who cultivates and prune grapevines, and the Greek says the same thing) asks for mercy in the form of a challenge. Leave it for another year and let me manage it. Yes, Jesus actually used the noun manure. I added “around the soil.” He used it in the right context.
What happens next? The Greek “if” clauses in v. 9 reveal subtle differences. In the first “if” clause, the wording indicates doubt, as if the tree won’t bear fruit. That’s why I have ellipses (three dots), because the Greek ends there and offers no answer. The second “if” clause indicates the most likely answer—it will not bear fruit and the Father himself will cut it down. However, if the Father ordains an instrument like the Roman army to cut it down, then the outcome is the same.
More specifically, here are some passages that Jesus, inspired by the Spirit and guided by the Father, was reenacting (all from the ESV):
… as leaves fall from the vine,
like leaves falling from the fig tree. (Is. 34:4)
When I would gather them, declares the Lord,
there are no grapes on the vine,
nor figs on the fig tree;
even the leaves are withered,
and what I gave them has passed away from them.” (Jer. 8:13)
And I will lay waste her vines and her fig trees, (Hos. 2:12)
It has laid waste my vine
and splintered my fig tree;
it has stripped off their bark and thrown it down;
their branches are made white. (Joel 1:7)
All those passages, above, speak of God’s judgment. The fruitless vines and fig trees are withered at his judgment. Clearly Jesus is using the imagery here.
The parable is about Israel living under the old Sinai covenant. This covenant is about to be replaced (Luke 22:14-23). So does the parable apply to God’s people living within the New Covenant? That depends on whether one believes in once saved, always saved (you cannot lose or drift away from your salvation) or conditional security (no one can take it from you, except yourself). John 15:1-8 indicates that it is possible to live connected to the vine and not bear fruit, so the Father will cut off the branch. So the security in our relationship with God seems conditional. However, I believe it is best not to stray too far from the original context, but perhaps we can ask of our own lives whether we are bearing fruit. If not, God will prompt us by the Spirit, Scripture, and other Christians to help us bear fruit.
In any case, cutting down the fig tree refers to God’s judgment on first-century Israel. Please see my posts on divine judgment and his wrath for a general discussion in systematic theology:
God’s wrath is judicial.
It is not like this:
But like this:
That is a picture of God in judgment.
GrowApp for Luke 13:6-9
A.. Does God give people second, third and many chances? How has he dug around you and fertilized you? What does that look like in your life?
B.. Study Gal. 5:22-23. How do you produce good fruit?
Jesus Heals a Woman Bent Double on Sabbath (Luke 13:10-17)
10 Now, he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11 And look! A woman having a spirit of infirmity for eighteen years! She was bent over and unable to stand up completely straight. 12 When Jesus saw her, he called her forward and said to her, “Woman, you have been freed of your infirmity!” 13 And he placed his hands on her, and instantly she straightened up and began to glorify God. 14 In reply, the synagogue ruler, indignant that Jesus healed on the Sabbath, proceeded to tell the crowd, “There are six days you ought to work; on one of them come and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day!” 15 In reply to him, the Lord said, “Hypocrites! Doesn’t each one of you untie his ox or donkey from its stall and lead it to drink on the Sabbath? 16 Should not this daughter of Abraham, whom Satan had bound—look at her!—eighteen years, be loosed from this bondage on the Sabbath day? 17 After saying these things, his opponents were put to shame, and the entire crowd was rejoicing at all the wonderful works that were done by him.
|Ox or donkey||Daughter of Abraham|
|Bound in a stall||Being bound by Satan|
|Being loosed (physically)||Being loosed (spiritually with physical consequences)|
|Necessity to work six days||Necessity of divine healing / liberation on any say including the Sabbath|
|Garland, p. 544, slightly edited|
This argument is called from the lesser (donkeys and oxen) to the greater (woman). A woman is much more important than oxen or donkeys!
I like the ESV’s section title: “A Woman with a Disabling Spirit.” I wish I had thought of it.
Yes, Jesus honored the Sabbath—or at least he liked to enter a synagogue and teach there (Luke 4:15, 16). He probably knew something dramatic would happen on this day. No doubt he saw the daughter of Abraham coming into the synagogue. He may have even seen her walking through the village or area. He may have met her because he knew she had been like that for eighteen years (see vv. 15-16 for more discussion).
As to the Sabbath, the Spirit, inspiring the writers of the New Covenant Scriptures after Pentecost, frees us from Sabbath obligations (Luke 6:5; Rom. 14:5; Col. 2:16-19). But if you want to take a day or two off, go for it. Just don’t do it because one of the Ten Commandments tells you to. The Ten Commandments contain theological truths and moral laws. Learn and obey them. The Sabbath, in contrast, is a ritual, and the New Covenant frees us from all such rituals.
The Sabbath was the fourth commandment of the Ten Commandments (Exod. 20:8-11 and Deut. 5:12-15), but those verses do not describe how to keep it. In Num. 15:32-36, people found a man gathering wood, and Moses ordered them to stone him to death. So what kind of interpretations can come from that illegal act and punishment? Was plucking heads of grain the same thing? But the disciples—not Jesus, incidentally—were eating them, so does that excuse them, since they were saving their own lives (if we stretch things)? Apparently not, because healing on the Sabbath was questionable behavior, too (Luke 6:6-11). Or in the next passage, maybe the man with the withered hand was not in a life-or-death situation, while the disciples were.
Here are the Mishnah’s thirty-nine categories of work that were not allowed. This comes from the second century, but it does reflect the times of Jesus:
- Sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking.
- Shearing wool, bleaching, hackling, dyeing, spinning, stretching the threads, the making of two meshes, weaving two threads, dividing two threads, tying [knotting] and untying, sewing two stitches, and tearing in order to sew two stitches.
- Capturing a deer, slaughtering, or flaying, or salting it, curing its hide, scraping it [of its hair], cutting it up, writing two letters, and erasing in order to write two letters [over the erasure].
- Building, pulling down, extinguishing, kindling, striking with a hammer, and carrying out from one domain to another.
These are the forty primary labors less one.
The rest of the tractate at another source goes on to define the parameters more precisely.
Religious teachers debated these issues endlessly. In effect, these strict teachers of the law said it was better that people should virtually do nothing on the Sabbath. It is better to be safe than sorry, to be severe and austere than risk too much questionable behavior before a holy God. This is called building a wall or fence around the Torah, so that people would not really break the Torah, but the traditions. Problem: the extra-rules became so strict that people felt oppressed.
“look!” this has often been translated as the older “behold!” I like “behold!” but I updated it. It is the storyteller’s art to draw attention to the people and action that follow. Professional grammarians say that when “look!” introduces a character, then he or she will play a major role in the pericope. Alternatively, when a verb follows “look!” then a significant act is about to take place and the person or people are less significant (Culy, Parsons, Stigall, p. 21). In this case, the woman is introduced by the verb “look,” so she takes priority in the story.
“spirit”: many of our fellow believers in Christ teach that this was not really a spirit, but a disposition of some sort. Of course they are wrong. A spirit really did hold her down. So when does the physical end and the spiritual begin, or the spiritual end and the physical begin? This question is impossible to answer with full precision. So we need the discerning of spirits, a gift which is designed just for this need (1 Cor. 12:7-11). This gift is not for bossing people around or scaring people about a satanic atmosphere; it is for freeing specific people from specific demonic oppression.
Evidently, Jesus used the discerning of spirits to understand that Satan was involved in her condition. But please don’t draw the far-reaching conclusion that Satan is behind every sickness. Sometimes the body just gets weak (“unstrong”) and deteriorates naturally.
“infirmity”: it is the plural of the noun astheneia (pronounced ah-stheh-nay-ah), and the prefix a– is the negation, and the stem –sthen– means “strength” or “strong,” so literally it means “unstrong.” It means, depending on the context, primarily “weakness”; and secondarily “sickness, disease.” The NIV translates it throughout the NT: weakness (most often), weaknesses, weak, crippled, diseases, illness, illnesses, infirmities, infirmity, invalid, sick, sickness, sicknesses. Here it means a physical handicap or infirmity.
I like how Jesus saw her somewhere in the synagogue and called her forward. He called her to himself. What did he say, exactly? “The woman there. Yes, you. Please come forward.” It moves and inspires me that he is about to work a miracle, and he is so confident in his ability to do so that he calls her forth in front of everyone. I hear stories about healing evangelists who get a picture of a disease on someone—like an x-ray superimposed on his body—and call him forward. Then the prayer of healing takes place. Wonderful. I celebrate things like that, like the people are about to do in this pericope or section of Scripture.
“woman”: Some may think that he was disrespecting her by calling her by the impersonal “woman!” But in their culture, it is like saying “ma’am.” That’s a cultural difference between us and them back then. He called her by a title of respect. He was also using his authority. It may have been inappropriate—too familiar—to learn her name in a synagogue setting, where women sat separately from men.
“you have been freed”: it comes from one verb apoluō (pronounced ah-poh-loo-oh and used 66 times, mostly in the Gospels and Acts; see vv. 15-16 for a related verb). It is in the perfect tense (completed past tense) and passive (it is being done for her and on her). BDAG, considered the authoritative Greek lexicon of the NT, says the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “as a legal term, to grant acquittal, set free, release, pardon”; (2) “to release from a painful condition, free”; (3) “to permit or cause someone to leave a particular location, let go, send away, dismiss”; (4) “to grant a request and so be rid of a person, satisfy”; (5) “to dissolve a marriage relationship, to divorce”; (6) in the middle voice, “to make a departure from a locality, go away.” Here the second definition fits best, but the first and third ones are also attractive. It is used only here as a command of healing, but it is used in the medical community of the ancient world to describe the relaxing of tendons and taking off bandages, among other things (Culy, Parsons, Stigall, p. 457). Recall that Luke was called a “beloved physician” (Col. 4:14).
So Jesus pronounces her healing in the completed past tense, as if it had already happened in the Spirit and in his vision or mind. It was a done deal. Such faith!
“infirmity”: see v. 11 for more comments.
“He placed his hands on her.” This is part of healing, as well. It offers the personal touch, literally. Jesus was not allowed to touch and unclean woman, but he did anyway.
Renewalists also believe that power can be transferred from one person to the another, as the Spirit wills (Luke 6:19; 8:41-48). The most remarkable example is when many people from all over Israel, and Tyre and Sidon, touched him. “And the entire multitude was trying to touch him because power came out of him and healed them” (6:19). Such a display of manifest power is stunning. He laid hands on other people too (Luke 4:40; 6:13).
She instantly or immediately was straightened up. And therefore she instantly and immediately praised or glorified God. How did she do this? She probably lifted her hands straight up to give thanks. She tested her back. She moved and twisted around. She bent forwards and backwards. Then she shouted her praise—or probably did that. Wouldn’t you? Luke often notes that praise comes out of a healing or another blessing (2:20; 4:15; 5:25-26; 7:16; 17:15; 18:43).
Sigh. The synagogue ruler could not look past the law. Jewish doctors could treat a person on the Sabbath when a life was threatened or death was imminent, but this woman was not in imminent danger or at death’s door. She had this condition for eighteen years. He and she could have waited another day, on (our) Sunday, for example. But he looked past the traditions and healed her.
Quick sidebar comment: the synagogue ruler said one ought to work on the other six days. He was right about that, at least. Jesus didn’t disagree. Work is honorable.
The synagogue official sees the world only through the prism of law, and it distorts his reasoning. He does not see the woman as an individual afflicted by Satan and desperate for release, but rather as a nuisance who gets in the way of his ultimate concern, namely, maintaining Sabbath restrictions. She is not in a life-or-death situation, and it was not hurt for her to be bent over one more day. The ruler also cannot see that this healing is a divine work but equates what has happened with “human work.” Jesus’’ response, however, makes clear that it is a divine liberation, like Israel’s liberation from the bondage in Egypt” (Garland, comment on 13:14).
Hypocrites could be translated as “Inconsistent ones!” Originally, the term comes from the Greek play actor on the stage. They wore masks and played roles. There were stock characters, such as the buffoon, the bombastic soldier, or the old miser. In this context hypocrites appeared one way, but in reality they were different. They appeared outwardly religious, but inwardly they were full of dead men’s bones. They wore religious masks. The synagogue ruler was blinded by legalistic tradition. Jesus used the plural of the noun, probably because experts or teachers of the law and Pharisees were in the synagogue, nodding their approval for what the ruler had said.
Jesus’s response was perfect. He uses the argument of the lesser (ox or donkey) to the greater (daughter of Abraham). If you benefit your own livestock on the Sabbath, then this daughter of Abraham must be benefited.
“should”: It comes from the word dei (pronounced day), and in some contexts it denotes a destiny orchestrated by God, as it does here. (Compare the French il faut, “one must” or “it is necessary,” if you know this language.) The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). In Luke it often means divine necessity; that is, God is leading things: Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 12:12; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 18:1; 19:5; 21:9; 22:37; 24:7; 24:26, 44; Acts 1:16; 1:21; 3:21; 4:12; 5:29; 9:6;, 16; 14:22; 16:30; 17:3; 19:21; 20:35; 23:11; 25:10; 27:21; 27:24, 26. In this context, the question demands the answer “yes.”
“Satan”: he is an evil spirit being, with a mind, will and perhaps even emotions. We can see this emotional side when demons shriek as they leave someone. They cry out when they are defeated. Satan is the leader of all demons, and here he stands in for demons generally. We should not make too much of Jesus invoking him by name, because he personally did not likely possess that part of this woman’s body. In v. 11 Luke informs us that “a spirit” of infirmity had attached itself to her. We say “Satan attacked me” when we mean a demonic attack generally. It’s the same thing here. Jesus was speaking in general terms. This daughter of Abraham was, in part, under the thrall or bondage of Satan’s kingdom.
See my posts about Satan in the area of systematic theology:
Yes, if people back then untied (verb luō and pronounced loo-oh) their oxen or donkeys to lead them to water, then shouldn’t this daughter of Abraham be loosed (also luō) from her infirmity—look! for eighteen years?
The verb luō is the stem of apoluō in v. 12. Luō means, depending on the context, literally (1) “loose, untie, set free” … figuratively “break untie, free, release”; (2) “break up, tear down”; (3) “destroy, bring to an end, abolish, do away with … repeal, annul, abolish” (Shorter Lexicon). In untying an ox or donkey, it is the first literal definition. In loosing the woman from Satan’s grasp, it is figurative first definition. But I like how Luke used both terms to express the spiritual truth of freedom, in a kind of wordplay. And I like how he used the related verb apoluō in v. 12. The whole pericope is about freedom from disease and Satan.
“look at her”: it is the verb “look” again (see v. 11 for more comments), and “at her” has been added word because I can Jesus pointing to her and saying, “Look at how long she had been tied up by Satan—eighteen years! She is of much more value than an ox or donkey!” While he is saying that, she is praising God, testing her physical healing about leaning backward and forward and twisting around.
Where did Jesus learn she was bound for eighteen years? (a).. He had met her before and asked her, but waited to heal her until the Sabbath; (b).. he did in fact interview her in the synagogue just before he healed her; (c).. someone told her either when he saw her from a distance or in the synagogue. We don’t know. But it is important to ask this question because those of us who believe in divine healing want to follow Jesus’s example of ministry. My best guess is that he asked her just before he spoke healing to her and laid hands on her. “How long have you had this spirit of infirmity?” She told him. Then: “Woman, you have been freed of your infirmity!” Wow. Faith!
“Is a person not as important as a beast of burden (see 12:7; see 1 Cor 9:8-10)? Animals are unbound on the Sabbath; this woman was unbound on the Sabbath. The difference is that she was unbound by God, and she was not set free from a stall but from the captivity of Satan” (Garland, comment on 13:15).
“He clarifies that her restoration by God’s power means that God’s working through Jesus to restore Israel and to throw off the shackles of Satan. Luke looks at Jesus ministry as a battle with Satan (10:18; 11:14-23; 22:3, 31) and at disease as evidence of Satan’s tyrannous influence (Acts 10:38).
If animals were bound or tied up in their stables or barns, and they are unbound or untied, then this woman can be unbound or untied from Satan’s control (Stein, comment on v. 16).
The crowds are dividing into two big opinions: “The healing leaves no room to sit on the fence” (Bock. p. 1219).
First-century Israel was an honor-and-shame society. Verbal and active confrontations happened often. By active is meant actions. Here the confrontation is both verbal and acted out. Jesus healed the deformed woman, so he won the actual confrontation, and this victory opened the door to his verbal victory with religious leaders who were binding people up with traditions. They needed to be loosed from them. He even called the leaders “hypocrites!” It may seem strange to us that Jesus would confront human opponents, because we are not used to doing this in our own lives, and we have heard that Jesus was meek and silent.
More relevantly, for many years now there has been a teaching going around the Body of Christ that says when Christians are challenged, they are supposed to slink away or not reply. This teaching may come from the time of Jesus’s trial when it is said he was as silent as a sheep (Acts 8:32). No. He spoke up then, as well (Matt. 26:64; Mark 14:32; Luke 23:71; John 18:19-23; 32-38; 19:11). Therefore, “silence” means submission to the will of God without resisting or fighting back. But here is about to reply to the synagogue ruler and defeat him and his bad traditions. Get into a discussion and debate with your challengers. Stand toe to toe with them. In short, fight like Jesus! But you don’t have to call them hypocrites (or you could), unless you have no hypocrisy lurking inside you.
Of course, caution is needed. The original context is a life-and-death struggle between the kingdom of God and religious traditions. Get the original context, first, before you fight someone in a verbal sparring match. This was a clash of worldviews. Don’t pick fights or be rude to your spouse. Discuss things with him or her.
Now the crowds were (temporarily) on his side because of the miracle they saw and the liberation they felt from the religious leaders’ draconian rules and traditions. What a relief for them and for her! The two cases parallel each other—she was loosed from her physical bondage, and they were loosed from their religious bondage.
GrowApp for Luke 13:10-17
A.. This passage is all about liberation from Satan’s bondage, which included physical deformity. How has God worked to free you from Satan and any physical ailments?
B.. This passage is also about liberation from religious bondage. Have you ever allowed added-on traditions and added ritualistic rules to interfere with your relationship with God?
Mustard Seed, Yeast, and the Kingdom (Luke 13:18-21)
18 Then he proceeded to say, “What is the kingdom of God like and to what will I compare it? 19 It is like a mustard seed which a man took and planted in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and wild birds nested in its branches.”
20 He said further: “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like yeast which a woman took and hid in forty-seven pounds of wheat dough until the whole was leavened.”
47 lbs. = 21 kg; literally “three measures” where one measure = 16 lbs. or 7 kg
This is a very important pericope (pronounced peh-RIH-coh-pea) or section of Scripture because it is about the kingdom of God. These two short parables are similes or “like” or “similar.” This is like that. He is about to compare the kingdom to two ordinary items in everyday life in first-century Israel.
“kingdom of God”: What is it? As noted in other verses that mention the kingdom in this commentary, the kingdom is God’s power, authority, rule, reign and sovereignty. He exerts all those things over all the universe but more specifically over the lives of people. It is his invisible realm, and throughout the Gospels Jesus is explaining and demonstrating what it looks like before their very eyes and ears. It is gradually being manifested from the realm of faith to the visible realm, but it is not political in the human sense. It is a secret kingdom because it does not enter humanity with trumpets blaring and full power and glory. This grand display will happen when Jesus comes back. In his first coming, it woos people to surrender to it. We can enter God’s kingdom by being born again (John 3:3, 5), by repenting (Matt. 4:17; Mark 1:5), by having the faith of children (Matt. 18:4; Mark 10:14-15), by being transferred from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of the Son whom God loves (Col. 1:13), and by seeing their own poverty and need for the kingdom (Matt. 5:3; Luke 6:20; Jas. 2:5).
It also includes the Great Reversal in Luke 1:51-53, where Mary said that Jesus and his kingdom were bringing to the world. The powerful and people of high status are brought low, while the humble and those of low status are raised up. It also fulfills the reversal in 2:34, where Simeon prophesied that Jesus was appointed for the rising and falling of many. It is the right-side-up kingdom, but upside-down from a worldly perspective. Jesus would cause the fall of the mighty and the rise of the needy, and the rich would be lowered, and the poor raised up. It is the down elevator and up elevator. Those at the top will take the down elevator, and those at the bottom will take the up elevator.
Here it is the already and not-yet. The kingdom has already come in part at his First Coming, but not yet with full manifestation and glory and power until his Second Coming.
1 Introducing the Kingdom of God (begin a ten-part series)
The comparisons or similes are revealing. First, the kingdom is compared to a mustard seed, which in his culture, was the smallest seed. Then a person takes it and tosses or plants it in his garden. The Greek verb for “plants” could more literally be translated as “tosses,” as some translations have it. If this is true, then it expresses randomness. But randomness is not the point here. It grows into a tree-like plant. It is not a literal tree, so here it is rhetoric, but the mustard plant could grow to a height of 10-25 ft (3-7.5m). So what is the point of the short parable? It is that the kingdom has a small beginning and is seemingly insignificant to the undiscerning. The mustard seed is a symbol for what is tiny; it was the smallest seed. This is the mystery of the kingdom, for it will have a large ending. Jesus is one God-man, so the beginning of the kingdom at first seems small and even lonely, despite the large number of disciples following him. Now, thankfully, it is going around the globe. But this does not mean the parable teaches the kingdom’s political dominance, as Dan. 2:44 teaches, which wipes out all other kingdoms. Instead, the kingdom that Jesus taught enters quietly into the world, but more specifically into a person’s heart.
Second, the kingdom is compared to a small amount of yeast or leaven. A woman puts it in 47 lbs. (21 kg) (literally “three measures” where one measure = 16 lbs or 7 kg) of wheat dough, and the whole, massive lump of dough rises or leavens. It could feed one hundred people. The point of this simile-parable is the same as the previous simile. The kingdom starts out small, so small that the lump of dough can hide it. The leaven is unobservable. The kingdom is not one a fireworks and great glory, as we see in Dan. 2:44, as noted. In that OT passage the kingdom levels every worldly kingdom in its path. The kingdom that Jesus proclaimed is small and starts invisibly. Then it grows to be massively influential, globally powerful, but only when people surrender to it.
So does this power and influence mean that Christians should take over governments? Not necessarily. The kingdom does not so permeate the world’s political systems that outward righteousness is achieved. Rather, it is better, in my view, to preach the gospel, train the new converts to live righteously and lovingly in Christ, and together, in unity, their righteous lives and deeds will transform society.
“The power is implicit in the kingdom (v. 18), as Jesus’ healing of the woman has just demonstrated” (Liefeld and Pao, comments on vv. 18-19). These commentators say the same thing in vv. 20-21.
GrowApp for Luke 13:18-21
A.. How have you seen the kingdom of God become powerful and influential first in your life and then in society or your corner of society?
Strive to Enter the Narrow Door (Luke 13:22-20)
22 And so he was going through towns and villages, teaching and journeying to Jerusalem. 23 Someone said to him, “Lord, are there a few who are being saved?” And he said to them, 24 “Struggle to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to go in and will be unable. 25 From the time the master of the household gets up and locks the door and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, “Lord, open up to us,’ indeed in reply he will tell you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from!’ 26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ 27 And he will answer, saying to you, ‘I don’t know where you’re from! Go away, all you workers of unrighteousness!’ 28 In that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you are thrown outside. 29 And people will come from the east and west and north and south and take their places at the feast. 30 Watch! Some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”
This pericope (pronounced puh-RIH-coh-pea) or section of Scripture is about national Israel rejecting their Messiah and Gentiles later accepting him.
In Luke 9:51 Jesus became firmly resolved to go to Jerusalem, where he was destined to die. Here Luke gives us our bearings. Jesus is taking the long ministry route before he gets there.
Some translations have “town after town and village after village” or “city after city and village after village.” That translation is more thorough.
The question this man asked is from a Jewish perspective before Jesus’s full story of redemption was revealed. “In Sanhedrin 10:1 it is stated that ‘all Israelites have a share in the world to come.’ Jesus’ audience sensed that his teaching was quite different” (Stein, comment on v. 23).
Salvation included a variety of elements: historically and culturally it is rescuing the Chosen People from the Romans. As to the soul it is God redeeming it and aligning it in a right relationship with him. In Judaism of the day, people believed that national Israel would be saved, with a few exceptions, like denying the resurrection or denying that the law came to heaven or occultic practices. So the man wants to know, after hearing Jesus’s warnings in the previous chapters, whether only a few in Israel be saved. Salvation is not automatic or broad, by virtue of being an Israelite.
Luke often introduces a teaching by a question (1:18, 34; 4:22; 10:29; 11:45; 12:13, 41, 13:1).
The verb for save is sōzō: Since the theology of salvation (soteriology) is so critical for our lives, let’s look more closely at the noun salvation, which is sōtēria (pronounced soh-tay-ree-ah and used 46 times) and at the verb sōzō (pronounced soh-zoh and used 106 times)
Greek is the language of the NT. BDAG defines the noun sōtēria as follows, depending on the context: (1) “deliverance, preservation” … (2) “salvation.”
The verb sōzō means “save, rescue, heal” in a variety of contexts, but mostly it is used of saving the soul. BDAG says that the verb means, depending on the context: (1) “to preserve or rescue from natural dangers and afflictions, save, keep from harm, preserve,” and the sub-definitions under no. 1 are as follows: save from death; bring out safely; save from disease; keep, preserve in good condition; thrive, prosper, get on well; (2) “to save or preserve from transcendent danger or destruction, save or preserve from ‘eternal’ death … “bring Messianic salvation, bring to salvation,” and in the passive it means “be saved, attain salvation”; (3) some passages in the NT say we fit under the first and second definition at the same time (Mark 8:5; Luke 9:24; Rom. 9:27; 1 Cor. 3:15).
Another rarer verb is diasōzō (pronounced dee-ah-soh-zoh and used 8 times), and the prefix means “through.” Here are the occurrences: Mark 14:36; Luke 7:3; Acts 23:24; 27:43-44; 28:1, 4; 2; 1 Pet. 3:20. It means what the regular verb does, but often to be rescued through and up to the very end, like Paul’s ship landing on Malta after going through the storm.
As noted throughout this commentary on Luke-Acts, the noun salvation and the verb save go a lot farther than just preparing the soul to go on to heaven. Together, they have additional benefits: keeping and preserving and rescuing from harm and dangers; saving or freeing from diseases and demonic oppression; and saving or rescuing from sin dominating us; ushering into heaven and rescuing us from final judgment. What is our response to the gift of salvation? You are grateful and then you are moved to act. When you help or rescue one man from homelessness or an orphan from his oppression, you have moved one giant step towards salvation of his soul. Sometimes feeding a hungry man and giving clothes to the naked or taking him to a medical clinic come before saving his soul.
All of it is a package called salvation and being saved.
“struggle”: it comes from one verb agōnizomai (pronounced ah-gone-ee-zoh-my, and gone rhymes with cone; we get our word agony from the stem agōn-). It means: “engage in an (athletic) contest … fight, struggle … strain every nerve.” I could add “strain every muscle.” So what does this verb mean to the original context and to us later on? Does it mean that we have to work our way into salvation, into the kingdom? Is it a physical struggle by religious activity and law keeping, or a mental struggle in the heart? What happens to grace in the struggle?
Jesus is about to tell him about the door, which is Jesus himself. He is called the gate in John 10:1-10, which equals the same thing. He is the access to the kingdom of God, as the rest of this pericope is about to tell us.
So why the struggle? Six explanations can be offered.
First, the door is opened from the inside, and it is narrow. God opened it. However, no one can stroll in and depend on national heritage. Jesus is countering the view that belonging to Israel means automatic access to the kingdom.
Second, striving parallels the struggle of listening, as Proverbs exhorts us to incline the ear to acquire wisdom (e.g. Prov. 2:1-5). One must be diligent to listen; one must struggle to listen and obey his teaching (Luke 6:46-49). Then God will gladly open the door to them who are not arrogant about heritage.
Third, repentance can take work for some people. Many people refuse to repent because it is difficult to give up sins. Capernaum and other cities did not repent, and Jesus denounced them for their refusal (Luke 10:13-16). Evidently, arrogance blocked their way in. They refused to struggle to give up their arrogance in rejecting their Messiah. In contrast, the sinful woman humbly repented, and Jesus said that her faith saved her (Luke 7:36-50). She entered the narrow door, while the unrepentant cities did not. Her struggle to give up bad things was still existed, but it was easier for her. She exercised her faith to repent and surrender. She did not have to do a lot of activity. Her mind was made up, and she expressed her repentance by moistening his feet with her tears and drying them with her hair. But her sorrow and repentance came first.
Fourth, the struggle involves rushing to come into the kingdom. The door is about to shut. One must not sit at ease in pride and lollygag. Running to get into the narrow door is like an athletic contest, but the struggle is in the soul, not in a physical 100m sprint. Some people just struggle in their souls, while others give in easily. Will they make it on time?
Fifth, Jesus said that he was called to bring division in a Jewish family (Luke 12:49-53). Jews who converted their Messiah—and they should do this—would undergo persecution from within their own family. They might be tempted not to walk through the narrow door in the first place. This mental wavering and overcoming it also speaks of struggling to enter the kingdom. They struggle to overcome their family’s opinion and probable rejection of them.
Sixth, Jesus said that individual people must pick up their cross and die daily—surrender their entire lives to him (Luke 9:23-27). This dying daily to self or losing one’s self and changing involves a struggle not only to enter through the narrow door, but to stay in the kingdom.
In sum, the struggle is not caused by God, but by each individual who has to exercise his or her mind to change. Repentance means “change of mind.”
Jesus exhorts his audience to labor hard to enter through the narrow door … The idea is not to work one’s way to God, but to labor hard at listening and responding to his message. The concept is very much like passages in the Proverbs that exhort one to incline the ear to wisdom and pursue it like riches (e.g. Prov. 2:1-5) … The narrow door imagery suggests that fewer may enter than expected. There is no automatic entry. The narrow (… elsewhere in the NT only at Matt. 7:13, 14) door, like the narrow way, pictures the way of righteousness or entry into God’s presence and blessing … Getting through the door presupposes favorable response to Jesus’ message (Luke 13:3, 5) … A door is often an image of entry into the banquet of eschatological blessing at God’s palace or is related to the image of the great wedding (Matt. 7:7-8, 13; 22:12; 25:10, 21; Luke 24:23) … The Lucan stress is not only that the door is narrow so that people come in the right way, but also that it is only open for a short time (13:25) (p. 1234-35).
It is an internal struggle, and only grace and the Spirit can lead and sustain people to overcome their refusal based on pride and sin. God wants everyone to enter, but he can see that everyone will not. He does not cause their refusal, which would make God to be the author of sin expressed in arrogance or refusal to come to him. Rather, everyone has access to the door, if he or she wants it. Sadly, however, not everyone does want it, out of their own free will. Refusal and acceptance implies choice built into those words. Therefore, the struggle centers on the will, not on law keeping within the old Sinai covenant. Will people drop all their mental baggage so they can enter the narrow door, or will they hold on to their mental baggage and be unable to enter through it? Grace is needed through the whole struggle. So in this pericope grace is not pushed aside, but is implied behind the scenes, as the rest of the post-Pentecost epistles, inspired by Jesus through the Spirit, teaches us.
“unable”: this is the verb ischuō (pronounced ee-skhoo-oh), and it means “be strong, powerful, able… Be strong enough … win out, prevail” (among other things). Jesus said that many will seek or try to enter, but they won’t be strong enough to enter? Why not? Self-effort does not work. So this verb teaches against working to enter into the kingdom by one’s own strength and will power. It is as if people are trying to scale a wall that cannot be scaled, when all they have to do is walk through the narrow door—through Jesus.
Stein is right: “The analogy should not be pressed into the idea that the difficulty is due to one’s inability to earn / acquire this right. The reason some are not able to enter does not have to do with being good enough but with the willingness to repent (cf. 13:3, 5), which they refuse to do. The main point of the verse centers on the need to make sure one is part of the ‘few’ who have through repentance and faith experienced God’s mercy and grace” (comment on v. 24)
The time is getting short. Jesus is about to enter Jerusalem and die and be resurrected. Then the call of the gospel will go forth in Jerusalem and Judea and beyond. After Pentecost came, with the outpouring of the Spirit, many priests converted to the Lordship of Jesus (Acts 6:7) and so did thousands of Jews of Judea and Jerusalem (Acts 2:47; 4:4; 21:20). So many Jews will enter into the kingdom, but it will not be based on their Israelite heritage, but they will have to go through the narrow door by surrendering to their Messiah. And Gentiles will have to enter through the same door, too.
When the head or master of household (Jesus) says that he does not know where the crowds are from or have come from and refuses them entry, he is saying that they were not truly with him. He seems to say, “You seem foreign to me; I won’t allow you to take shortcuts. I never knew you to begin with, even though we share the same Israelite heritage! The door is shut and you cannot come in!”
This echoes Noah’s ark and the closed door (Gen. 7:16; 1 Pet. 3:20-21). It was too late for those outside it, and Christ is our ark today.
“The door into the banquet will be forever shut” (Bock, p. 1236).
Then the crowds will begin to say, “Hey, wait a second! You don’t know where we are from? We ate and drank with you. You taught in our streets, as you went through our towns and villages. We’re not foreigners or Gentiles! We’re Jews!” Eating and drinking and listening implies fellowship as the crowds are doing right now. After all, Jesus is speaking to them, but are they repenting and obeying his teaching? The next verse answers the questions.
“It is significant that Jesus’ identity as the householder is made clear by their appeal.
21 Not everyone saying to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one doing the will of my Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t we prophesy in your name? And in your name expel demons? And in your name do many miracles?” 23 And then I’ll declare to them, “I never knew you! Depart from me, you practitioners of lawlessness!”
The same idea is repeated here in Luke 13:22-30.
Jesus will reply to their objections and pleas: “You may have listened to my teaching, and I showed up at your feasts, like at Simon the Pharisee’s house [Luke 7:36-50], but you did not repent and truly follow me or obey my teaching! Sinners and tax collectors did, however!” Then Jesus will add: “Depart from me, you workers of unrighteousness!” This clearly teaches that they did not repent.
“unrighteousness”: it comes from the noun adikia (pronounced ah-dee-kee-ah), and the a– prefix negates, and the dik– (pronounced deek) stem is related to “righteousness” and “just judgment.” Therefore, the negated noun means “injustice, wrong, wickedness, wrongdoing, unrighteousness.”
The crowds of people who were tagging along and enjoying the newcomer—”what was his name again? ‘Jesus,’ was it?”—and getting miraculously fed bread and being miraculously healed, simply put, did not repent from their unrighteousness and come to a saving knowledge of their Messiah.
As noted, Matt. 7:22-23 says that some will claim that they have worked miracles and prophesied and expelled demons in Jesus’s name, but he will say that he never knew them, adding that they must depart from him, calling them “workers of lawlessness.” They too were tagalongs who did not know him intimately. Proof? They worked lawlessness, while doing those mighty works. So it looks like Jews were working miracles and such like, as was the man who was expelling demons in Jesus’s name (Luke 9:49-50), but they did not know. Jesus said the man should be allowed to keep up his demon expulsion, but Jesus gave no indication that the man knew Jesus personally. He was a distant follower of sorts. However, the man was at risk of being told to depart, if he did not come to follow Jesus fully and closely. The seven sons of Sceva cast out demons in Jesus’s name, but they were frauds, so demons attacked them (Acts 19:11-16), so they were not even claiming to be close followers of Jesus. But their episode still speaks of the danger of not following and knowing Jesus fully.
In any case, this passage speaks of Jesus’s authority to judge and exclude people. God will judge also, but apparently he will also deploy his Son to do this. Later on, Matthew’s Gospel will say that the twelve apostles will judge the twelve tribes of Israel (19:28), so they too are involved in part of the judgment.
Four-part series on how one should not practice lawlessness, particularly church leaders:
Jesus is speaking to a Jewish audience, so of course he will use the three patriarchs and the prophets as leaders up in paradise or some place of bliss, in Abraham’s bosom. But where is “there” for those who have not repented? It is outside the door. Matthew says that these rejected people—rejected only because they rejected the Messiah first—will be cast in outer darkness (8:11-12). This verse in Luke also speaks of people being thrown outside, as if Jesus and his angels were “bouncers” at a feast, and people who did not belong were trying to get in. The bouncers told them the door is shut. Yes, Jesus will exclude people who do not surrender to him and struggle to walk through the narrow door. But the good news is that anyone can walk through the door, because it is opened from the inside, and it always remains open, until final judgment.
“in that place”: The Greek says ekei (pronounced eh-kay), which means “there” or “that place.” Unfortunately most translation don’t pick up on the ambiguity of their translations: “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Here it is more awkwardly but accurate: “The weeping and the gnashing will be there.” The standard translation (“there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth)” makes “there” into the wrong kind of adverb, or at least it is not clear in English. The clearer translation is as I have it.
Weeping and gnashing or grinding of teeth speaks of anguish and remorse and a traumatic reaction (Bock). It describes mourning, rage and despair. (See these verses for gnashing: Acts 7:54; Job 16:9; Pss. 34:16; 36:12; 112:10; Lam. 2:16). Gnashing or grinding teeth may refer to the enraged baring their teeth or despairing gnashing of teeth of the damned (Lane). Weeping expresses despairing remorse, while gnashing teeth means rage (Marshall). Matthew uses it often (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Since weeping indicates remorse, the idea that hell is locked on the inside because people want to be there is not quite accurate.
For three views of hell and punishment, see my three posts, scroll back up to vv. 1-5.
Yet in all these theories of punishment in the afterlife, you decide. I suggest that God has not made the details as clear as some in the eternal conscious torment camp have led us to believe because he wants us to focus on kingdom living right now and reach as many people as possible. I therefore consider the details of punishment in the afterlife to be a secondary doctrine. Whichever theory you land on, please follow this wise advice: “In the essentials, unity; in the nonessentials liberty; in all things charity (or love).”
“kingdom of God”: see v. 18 for more comments.
This verse tells us that the whole world, broadly speaking, will come into the kingdom. Gentiles will be allowed in because they have no nothing to lose. They don’t have an Israelite heritage to lose. All they have to do is give up their paganism and sin and degradation—so the new life is better than their old one. They will surrender in greater numbers than the Jews, even on a percentage basis, in the Greco-Roman provinces in the first century and eventually around the globe
The main thrust of God’s plan today is about the Gentiles. Now they are destined to take the gospel to the whole world, including Israel. Messianic Jews (those who have converted to the Messiah) are included in God’s global project of taking the gospel to the world, as well. And the resurrected Jesus guides everything from heaven and by his Spirit in his church, both redeemed or saved Gentiles and redeemed or saved Jews.
Remember: Jesus had said that he was called to bring division in the family (Luke 12:49-53). So Messianic Jews will have to struggle to overcome persecution within their own family and community.
“As Acts 10-11 makes clear, God’s active work is required to actualize the universal implications in the passage. A pattern in God’s salvific [saving] activity is alluded to here; but the patterns has a surprising feature, a feature that would shock Jesus’ Jewish audience. The gathering of people from every nation and race for the banquet has not been anticipated” (Bock, p. 1239).
“kingdom of God”: see v. 18 for more comments.
Life in the kingdom is often depicted as a great banquet feast (e.g. Luke 14:7-11; 12-24; 15:32), which speaks of fulfillment and satisfaction and victory over the world, the flesh and the devil. It usually denotes the new eschatological age, but the feast can start now, for those who are intimate with Jesus.
Here is the culmination or payoff verse. In Luke 1:51-53, Mary sang that the poor and humble will be exalted, while the rich and powerful will be demoted. In Luke 2:34, Simeon said that Jesus was appointed for the falling and rising of many. This is called the Great Reversal. And here we have it expressed in another form. Some who are last (the Gentiles) will be first through the narrow door and enter the kingdom, while some who are first (Israelites) will be last. In fact, the entire pericope taught us that they will be thrown outside.
“The absence of definite articles on the grammatical subjects of the verse shows that not all the last are elevated nor are all the first demoted, only some of them. Those who appear to be close may in fact end up far off. Some Gentiles who are distant will end up near, while many Jews will miss the promised kingdom” (Bock. p. 1240).
“watch”: it is usually translated as “behold!” See v. 11 for more comments.
GrowApp for Luke 13:22-30
A.. This pericope speaks of going through the narrow door, Jesus. How did you enter? How much baggage did you have to give up to fit through the narrow door?
B.. “Struggle” here can mean, among other things, difficulty and hesitating in repenting. Did your repentance and surrender take a short or long time? How did it happen?
Jesus, Herod, and Jerusalem (Luke 13:31-38)
31 At that very moment some Pharisees came up and said to him, “Go away from here right now because Herod wants to kill you!” 32 And he said to them, “Go and tell that fox, ‘Watch me! I am casting out demons and I am accomplishing healings today and tomorrow and on the third day I will accomplish my course! 33 But I must keep going today, tomorrow and the following day, because it’s not possible for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem!’
34 Oh! Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which kills prophets and stones those who have been sent to you! How I wanted to gather together your children in the way that a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 Look! Your house is abandoned in regards to you! I tell you, you will in no way see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!’” [Ps. 118:26]
The Pharisees were either sincere about protecting Jesus, or they maliciously intended to spook the Messiah and provoke him to run off up north or to the desert.
Herod was tetrarch of Galilee in the north, who was also Herod the Great’s son and was co-named Antipas. He ruled over Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C. to A.D. 30. Herod was curious and confused about Jesus (Luke 9:7-9). As seen here, the Pharisees used Herod’s name to scare Jesus to run away, but the Lord would have none of it, calling him a fox (Luke 13:31-32). Herod was in Jerusalem during the Passover during Jesus’ trial. Pilate sent Jesus to him because he found out Jesus was a Galilean and under Herod’s jurisdiction (Luke 23:6). He plied him with many questions, hoping to see a sign, but Jesus did not answer (23:9). Herod and his soldiers ridiculed him, dressed him in an elegant robe, and sent him back to Pilate (23:10).
“go away … right now”: this takes care of two verb of going. When they are doubled up, grammarians tell us the emphasis should be translated intensely. So some translations have “quickly.”
“Pharisees”: You can learn more about them at this post:
This group, among others, were the Watchdogs of Theology and Behavior (David E. Garland, Luke: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament [Zondervan, 2011], p. 243). The problem which Jesus had with them can be summed up in Eccl. 7:16: “Be not overly righteous.” He did not quote that verse, but to him they were much too enamored with the finer points of the law, while neglecting its spirit (Luke 11:37-52; Matt. 23:1-36). Instead, he quoted this verse from Hos. 6:6: “But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Matt. 9:13; 12:7). Overdoing righteousness, believe it or not, can damage one’s relationship with God and others.
“third day”: go to biblegateway.com and look up third day. It is amazing how significant the phrase is at various stages in Israel’s history. Also, Jesus said that he will be raised on the third day (Luke 9:22), so he is referring to that world-changing event.
Jesus did not take the bait. He was not scared off. He proclaimed to the malicious Pharisees that he was destined to complete his mission. He was expelling demons and performing healings. Nothing or no one would deter him.
A fox may look cute from a distance, but it kills sheep and lambs, even when it has no need to eat it just then. Jesus’s adjective was a perfect description of this ruler.
“Watch me”: “me” has been added, and “watch” could be translated by the older “behold.” See v. 11 for more comments.
“accomplish my course”: “my course” is implied. The verb is in the middle / passive voice, the passive indicating that the action was being done to Jesus. But professional grammarians teach me that it should be considered middle, something Jesus accomplishes, and the present tense in this context has a future force to it (Culy, Parsons, and Stigall, p. 471). Most translations say something like—he will finish his course or accomplish his goal. So he may mean that he has to finish things in Galilee, and then go to Jerusalem. However, he stayed in Galilee longer than three days, so the the sequence of three days cannot be literal. Further, he is about to say that he must die in Jerusalem. He was about to finish his mission under the Father’s guidance and protection, and the death—the actual nailing to the cross—would be done to him, in the passive sense of the verb. His ultimate goal is to be a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28 // Mark 10:45).
In sum, his reference to three days means both his ministry up in Galilee and then his death and resurrection in Jerusalem. Once again, go to biblegateway.com and look up the terms “third day.” It is amazing how many times the phrase appears in significant contexts. Once again, Jesus is fulfilling an OT theme, even though Luke does not quote a specific OT verse.
“must”: It comes from the word dei (pronounced day), and in some contexts it denotes a destiny orchestrated by God, as it does here. (Compare the French il faut, “one must” or “it is necessary,” if you know this language.) The Greek verb means: “it is necessary, one must … one ought or should … what one should do” (Shorter Lexicon). In Luke it often means divine necessity; that is, God is leading things: Luke 2:49; 4:43; 9:22; 12:12; 13:16, 33; 15:32; 17:25; 18:1; 19:5; 21:9; 22:37; 24:7; 24:26, 44; Acts 1:16; 1:21; 3:21; 4:12; 5:29; 9:6;, 16; 14:22; 16:30; 17:3; 19:21; 20:35; 23:11; 25:10; 27:21; 27:24, 26. Here Jesus will complete his mission to die.
“today, tomorrow and their third day”: this phrase is perhaps a hint that he was going to spend three days in the tomb, but the phrase should not be taken literally because Jesus is not in Jerusalem yet, and he would be there for a week. In any case, the three-day combination indicates completing his mission, for three often signifies completion.
There is irony in truth. No, it is not possible for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem! Jesus had referred to prophets dying in Jerusalem, and this generation would be charged with their blood (Luke 11:45-51).
Jesus’s tone here is laden with irony bordering on sarcasm. Catch the tone: it simply won’t do for any messenger of God to die outside the holy city!
He had to keep going to complete his mission, and again he repeats the three days concept. It hints, perhaps, at spending three days in the tomb, where his defeat was seemingly concluded, but victory—his resurrection—was inevitable because the Father was guiding and protecting and ensuring his Son’s victory.
“die”: it is the verb apollumi, and see vv. 1-5 for more comments.
For a discussion of Jesus confronting religious leaders generally, see v. 17. Here he was right to call Herod a “fox.” A fox means (1) a person of no significance; (2) a deceiver and cunning person; (3) a destroyer. The latter two meanings fit Jesus’s description (Bock, p. 1247).
The Jesus changed tack, pivoting. His grief was genuine. No irony here. He must have considered the city in his mind, as he paused just now in his travels towards it. He yearned to save her. If only national Israel, represented by the Jerusalem establishment, could have allowed their Messiah to give them a big hug and embrace, just like a hen gathers her chicks under her wings!
“Oh”: it could be rendered as “O,” as a direct address, but there is feeling and pain in the word, so I chose “Oh!”
“Jerusalem, Jerusalem!” Using the name twice indicates a serious call. “Pay attention! Change directions!”
Abraham, Abraham, right before the near sacrifice of Isaac, and the double name stopped it (Gen. 22:11)
Jacob, Jacob, when God was about to name his sons and their sons (Gen. 46:2)
Moses, Moses, from the burning bush (Exod. 3:4)
Samuel, Samuel, when he was a child and was going to be called (1 Sam. 3:10)
Martha, Martha, when Jesus told her not to be so anxious (Luke 10:41)
Simon, Simon, when Satan had asked permission to sift him like grain, but Jesus prayed for him (Luke 22:31)
Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? (Acts 9:4)
Those above doublets are about people, and here Jesus called Jerusalem, a city. But a city is made up of people.
“have been sent”: This participle is in the passive voice, indicating the divine passive, which is an understated way of saying God is in the background, sending the ones who were stoned to death. The rebellious people were not willing.
“willing”: in Greek it is the common verb “want” or “will” or with the negation “they did not want” or “they did not will.” This verb indicates that their hearts were blinded, so as to not want the greatest blessing of all, their Messiah. Because of the Jerusalem establishment’s unwillingness, Rom. 11 says that the Gentiles now have access to God and salvation and the New Covenant, without the law or law keeping, with such things as circumcision. A New Covenant was established for everyone, apart from Moses. Jesus had provoked the Pharisees and experts in the law, and no doubt reports went to Jerusalem about him (Luke 11:53-54).
“abandoned”: it could be translated as “desolate.” It refers to Jer. 12:7, 22:5; 69:25; 1 King 9:7:8. The verb is also used in 19:42-44 and 21:6. Jerusalem was eventually desolated, after Rome destroyed the city and the temple (A.D. 70), and the Jews were kicked out of Jerusalem and after the Bar Kochba rebellion (A.D. 132-35), when they were expelled from Judea. Jesus prediction came true.
Go here and then scroll down to see photos I took of the Arch of Titus, which depicts the aftermath of the conquest:
Now Judaism, expressed in the temple worship, sits under judgment (Luke 19:41-45; 21:20-24; 23:26-31; Matt. 21:33-45), though, as noted, numerous individual priests (Acts 6:7) and thousands of Jews of Jerusalem and Judea converted (Acts 2:41; 4:4; Acts 21:20). God loves people, but he is not enamored with systems.
And now the kingdom has been turned over to the Gentiles, so the gospel can go around all the world, without Judaism encumbering it. The kingdom of God has been streamlined to the basics, without all the rituals and dietary laws and harsh penalties and other things spelled out in the Torah (first five books of the Bible). The Sinai Covenant has been replaced with the New Covenant (Heb. 8, 9, 10), but the New Covenant Scriptures still retained moral law.
Jerusalem will not see Jesus until people cry out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” This was fulfilled in Luke 19:38, but it was done in Luke by a whole crowd of disciples. Matthew places the proclamation after his entry into Jerusalem and his lament (23:39). So combining the two passages in Luke and Matthew, there is an element of the final Second Coming at the end of the age, but I don’t wish to press this interpretation too hard, since there are many other passages that are clearer on the topic.
In any case, back to the main point of this pericope. Jesus will arrive there on his schedule. It is God’s timeline, not a petty king’s. So Jesus does not have to fear Herod. The Pharisees who tried to scare Jesus off can go back to where they came from. Their scare tactic didn’t work. Other commentators said that the Pharisees were genuinely concerned and not trying to scare him away. I don’t agree. The Pharisees were hostile towards him.
“look”: it can be translated as “behold,” and see v. 11 for more comments.
GrowApp for Luke 13:31-35
A.. The Pharisees tried to scare Jesus. Have you ever received a scary report? How did you respond?
B.. The Jerusalem establishment disappointed Jesus, and he lamented. How have you responded when someone disappointed you?
Summary and Conclusion
In 9:51 Luke records that Jesus was firmly resolved to go to Jerusalem.
In this chapter Luke orients his readers to where Jesus is. He was going through the town and villages ministering healing and demon expulsion and teaching out in the open and in synagogues, journeying to Jerusalem. He is getting closer to his final earthbound destiny. He is in no hurry because he must minister to people. Therefore, we should see this chapter in the context of his ultimate mission.
In that light, Luke lays out four themes in this chapter.
First, he proclaims that people must repent or perish. Just because a tower fell on people or Pilate mixed the blood of Galileans with their sacrifice does not mean everyone will escape the fate of all humans—death. Are they ready to die by surrendering to their Messiah and giving their lives to him?
Second, as he nears Jerusalem, Jesus tells the parable of the fig tree (either Israel or Jerusalem) that bears no fruit, in the middle of the vineyard (Israel). The owner (the Father) tells the vinedresser (Jesus) to cut it down after three years of no growth. The vinedresser pleads with the owner to let him work with the tree one more season. If there’s no fruit, then the owner can cut it down. We now know the outcome from our vantage point 2000 years later, but people back then did not know. The fig tree had to be cut down because national Israel did not accept their Messiah.
Third, Jesus told the crowds after a prompting from an unnamed man that the door is narrow. People must strive and struggle to enter it. If they don’t, then he will tell them to depart from them, those workers of unrighteousness. But people from all over the world, in contrast, will enter through the door and take their places at the feast God will provide to them. Gentiles will be glad to welcome King and Lord Jesus. The last (Gentiles) shall be first, and the first (first-century Jews) shall be last. That is the Great Reversal announced by Mary in Luke 1:51-52, which says the poor and humble will be exalted, while the rich and powerful will be demoted, and by Simeon in Luke 2:34. Jesus was appointed for the rising and falling of many.
Finally, some Pharisees, not his friends, tried to scare him, by warning that Herod was intending to kill him. Jesus showed courage and announced to the faux-concerned messengers that he shall accomplish his mission and nothing will stop him or it. Then he ironically—sarcastically—says it’s not possible for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem! So he’ll get there and then die! That’s just what the Jerusalem establishment does—kill holy prophets, the good guys. Killing the good guys makes them the bad guys.
I refer to a community of Bible scholars, who are excellent, but I hope I can simplify things.
Bock, Darrel L. Luke 1:1-9:50. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 1 (Baker, 1994).
—. Luke 9:51-24:53. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. Vol. 2. (Baker 1996).
Culy, Martin M., Mikael C. Parsons. Joshua J. Stigall. Luke: A Handbook on the Greek Text. (Baylor UP, 2010).
Fitzmyer, Joseph A., SJ. The Gospel according to Luke, I-IX. Vol. 28. The Anchor Bible. (Doubleday, 1981).
—. The Gospel according to St. Luke, X-XIV. The Anchor Bible. Vol. 28A. (Doubleday, 1985).
Garland, David E. Luke. Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament. (Zondervan, 2011).
Geldenhuys, Norval. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans 1979).
The Greek New Testament. Fifth Revised Edition by Barbara Aland, Kurt Aland, Johannes Karavidopoulos, Carlo M. Martini, Bruce M. Metzger (United Bible Society, 2014).
Green, Joel B. The Gospel of Luke. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. (Eerdmans, 1997).
Liefeld, Walter L. And David W. Pao. Luke. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary. Rev. ed. (Zondervan, 2007).
Marshall, I. Howard. The Gospel of Luke: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. (Eerdmans, 1978).
Morris, Leon. Luke. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. 2nd ed. Vol. 3. (IVP Academic, 1988).
Stein, Robert H. Luke: An Exegetical and Theological Exposition of Holy Scripture. The New American Commentary. Vol. 24. (Broadman and Holman, 1992).