There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.”
He also spoke this parable: “A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard, and he came seeking fruit on it and found none. Then he said to the keeper of his vineyard, ‘Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit on this fig tree and find none. Cut it down; why does it use up the ground?’ But he answered and said to him, ‘Sir, let it alone this year also, until I dig around it and fertilize it. And if it bears fruit, well. But if not, after that you can cut it down.’ ” – Luke 13:1-9.
Previous to the exhortation that follows, Jesus admonished the people to realize their predicament, that judgment was just around the corner. Then here, Jesus took the sudden and terrifying deaths of some innocent people to illustrate their tragic circumstances. Still stunned by the grisly murders, the people were, in effect, told by Jesus that they faced a similar fate—but it would be eternal death, much worse than physical death.
Jesus used a current event to drive home a point. The people were wondering whether those who had suffered so much were being specially judged by God. But Jesus forced them to consider whether they themselves were still under God’s judgment, a fate even more horrifying than what happened to the people that Pilate murdered. Jesus often used this way of teaching. He didn’t let people sit back and analyze a subject; instead, he frequently confronted them, pressing them to reevaluate their lives in light of God’s perfect law. We all need to set aside a time to evaluate our speech, thought, and actions, according to God’s standards and still leave enough time to confess our faults to the Lord and to receive the forgiveness we need to start fresh.
As most of us already know, Pontius Pilate was the Roman governor of the province of Judea from A.D. 26 to 36. The city of Jerusalem, the site of Temple, lay within his jurisdiction. Pilate was known to be a harsh man, and held outright contempt for the Jewish people. Being stationed to rule such people in a far outpost of the Roman Empire probably hurt his pride and made the prospect of further promotion highly unlikely, so he took pleasure in demonstrating his authority over the Jewish people. At one point, he impounded money from the temple treasuries to build an aqueduct; another time, he insulted Jewish sensibilities by bringing imperial images into the city.
Pilate had a small contingent of soldiers, and his main duty was to keep the peace (called Pax Romana) that ancient Rome imposed on all its conquered territories. While no other historical source refers to the event that the people asked Jesus about, it is completely in Pilate’s character for it to have happened. Galilee was a hotbed for fanatics who sought to bring down Rome by force. Galilee, itself was out of Pilate’s jurisdiction, but when some Galileans arrived in Jerusalem, they were murdered. Pilate may have heard that these people were plotting a revolt.
Jesus, true to His style, used this event to teach a lesson about suffering and evil in the world.
We need to understand that Jewish theology attributed individual suffering to individual sin. While the Pharisees would also have liked to see Israel freed from Roman control, they were against the use of force that many in Israel (such as a group called the Zealots) were advocating. Some people, such as the Pharisees and their followers, would have thought that these Galileans who were murdered must have been “worse sinners than all other Galileans” because they had suffered in that horrific way. The Pharisees, who were opposed to using force to deal with Rome, would have said that the Galileans deserved to die for rebelling.
However, Jesus explained that suffering has nothing to do with one’s spiritual state. In fact, all people are sinful, and unless all people repent, they “will all likewise perish.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that everyone will be killed in such a manner. It could mean that death will be sudden with no second chance to repent, or it could mean that Jesus’ listeners would suffer at the hands of the Roman conquerors (which the entire nation did in A.D. 70 when Jerusalem was destroyed and millions of Jews were killed).
To Be Continued