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.
Jesus went on to explain that just as suffering is no indicator of one’s spiritual state, neither is tragedy. The Pharisees would have seen the previous incident as God’s judgment on the Zealots, but the Zealots would have seen this incident as God’s judgment against those who had compromised with Rome. Again, popular thought would have concluded that the “eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed” must have been much “worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem;” otherwise they would not have suffered such a fate. The Zealots, a group of anti-Roman terrorists, would have said that the aqueduct workers deserved to die for cooperating. The Zealots would have considered Jews working on a Roman project such as this as traitors and therefore deserving of God’s punishment.
Again, Jesus explained that all people are sinners who must repent or they too will perish—and it will be a spiritual death with eternal consequences. He said that neither the Galileans nor the workers should be blamed for their calamity. Instead of blaming others, everyone should consider his or her own day of judgment. People never know when they will die and be called to face their Creator. Just as believers should be ready for any moment when Christ will return, so they should be ready for any moment when they could be taken in death. Whether a person is killed in a tragic accident or miraculously survives is not a measure of righteousness. Everyone has to die; that’s part of being human (See Hebrews 9:27). However, not everyone has to suffer death eternally. Jesus promised that those who repent of their sins and believe in Him will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).
Then after highlighting the need for repentance, Jesus told this parable to show the people that while God is gracious in giving people time to repent, come to him, and grow in him, that patience will not go on forever. In the Old Testament, a fruitful tree was often used as a symbol of godly living (see, for example, Psalm 1:3 and Jeremiah 17:7–8). Jesus pointed out what would happen to the other kind of tree—the kind that took valuable time and space and still produced nothing for the patient gardener. In this way, Jesus warned His listeners that God would not tolerate forever their lack of productivity. (See Luke 3:9 for John the Baptist’s version of the same message.) A fig tree in the fertile soil of a vineyard should certainly have produced fruit—a tree that did not produce “for three years” was probably not going to produce at all. The farmer gave the command to “cut it down” so another, more fruitful tree could be planted in its place.
The gardener, however, intervened and asked the owner to give the tree just one more chance. He even offered to give it special attention and fertilizer. Jesus had come to the nation; the time for repentance had come. The extra attention and love had been showered on the nation in the presence of their Messiah. God’s judgment had been graciously held back. But if the people continued to refuse to “bear fruit” for God—if they continued to refuse to live for and obey him—judgment would come. There would be no more chances. God is merciful toward sinners. But for those who outright reject him, he will not be merciful forever. They will be punished.
In closing remember that Jesus dismissed ideas widespread in His day that accidents or human cruelties were God’s judgment on especially wicked and corrupt sinners. Why else would some die and others live? Jesus did not answer that question but instead pointed to everyone’s need for repentance.
Today people experience grief due to car accidents, airplane disasters, natural disasters, or even violent crime. They often ask why, and they struggle to understand the unfairness of the loss. Jesus pointed to the only answer: God’s grace. Accepting Jesus as Lord and Savior is the only remedy. When disaster strikes, God’s promises will sustain you.
God patiently and steadfastly allows more time. If you have suffered something that has spoiled your life for a long time and many people have given up on you, God will not. Maybe you’ve given up on yourself. However, God has not nor ever will give up on you. Give your problems to Him. Just recognize that God’s patience, though very long, is not forever. As Jesus taught, today is the day to repent!