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Bible: What Does Luke 13 Teach Us About Parables, Repentance, Healing, The Narrow Gate, and Jerusalem?
The Fig Tree
Responding to the self-righteous attitude that thought Pilate killed certain worshiping Galileans because they were “worse sinners” than all other Galileans, Christ avers (with His characteristic question-answer teaching method) that such was not the case.
Instead, He stresses the need for every person to repent in order to avoid “perishing” (vv. 1-5).
[The inscrutable God allows evil men to persecute worshipers of God.
Even though tragic events [like the “accident” at the tower of Siloam (v. 4)] often happen in this fallen world, the Lord maintains sovereign control.
It is paramount, therefore, that everyone recognize his need to “get right with God” before death takes him, whether by "accident" or by "natural causes." ]
Christ’s parable in verses six through nine highlights Israel’s need to bring forth fruits of repentance before its time to respond to God’s offer of the kingdom expired.
Using the familiar symbol of the fig tree (representative of the LORD’s people, Israel) [v. 6], He (in the role of the owner of a vineyard) reasons with “the keeper of his vineyard” that for three years He has sought in vain to obtain “fruit” from his property (v. 7).
[This hint shows that Jesus related this story toward the end of His earthly ministry.]
The keeper pleads for mercy, promises to give the tree more attention during the present year, and agrees that, if it remains barren at the end, the owner may cut it down (vv. 8-9).
Jesus and Pharisees
At this point, Luke inserts the account of Jesus’ conflict with Pharisees after He had healed a woman whom “a spirit of infirmity” had bound in a hunched-over position for eighteen years (vv. 10-17).
[This writer cannot determine why Luke put this episode here, unless he purposes to cite an instance of the hypocrisy of the Jews’ misguided leadership in a context dealing with the unfruitfulness of the nation.]
Their opposition stems not so much from the fact that Jesus healed her, but that He performed this cure on the Sabbath.
Addressing the crowd, the synagogue ruler angrily commands the infirm among them not to come for healing on that day (v. 14).
Christ counters this man’s objection by citing a particular type of work that they all do on the Sabbath—provide water for their animals (v. 15).
From that pointed example, He reasons perfectly that a human being—especially a true believer whom Satan has distressed for so long—should certainly be released from bondage on that day (v. 16).
This statement elicits two disparate reactions:
(1) public shame upon His enemies; and
(2) exceeding joy from the multitudes (v. 17).
The Narrow Gate
Salvation: Easy or Difficult?
Is salvation difficult?
Two familiar parables—“The Mustard Seed” (vv. 18-19) and “The Leaven” (vv. 20-21)—follow.
Jesus starts both truncated versions of these extended similes with similar questions, thinking to Himself out loud (so to speak) what common things He should compare the kingdom of God to (vv. 18, 20).
In each case, Christ’s answer stresses the kingdom’s astounding growth from small beginnings (that is, a seed; a piece of leaven) to universal influence over its environment (a large tree with nesting birds; totally leavened measures of meal) [vv. 19, 21].
As Jesus journeys toward Jerusalem, He continues to teach in cities and villages (v. 22).
While fielding a difficult question about the extent of salvation (v. 23), Christ verbally paints a scene which focuses on those who will seek to enter the kingdom through the “narrow gate” (the Lord Himself), but will not be able (v. 24).
[His opening imperative, “Strive,” is enigmatic. In what way does one strive to enter the kingdom?
Does not striving involve rigorous labor?
How does that square with walking through the “door” and exercising simple faith?
The verb form, derived from the word “agony,” Gingrich’s Lexicon explains as “strain every nerve” (4).]
From the context, one understands that Jesus is describing the millennial supper—“sit down in the kingdom of God”—with patriarchs, prophets, and a worldwide throng all included (vv. 28b-29).
He, the Master of the house, has already shut the door, posting a figurative “No Admittance” sign on it, for He has allowed in only those whom He knows personally (v. 25).
Though these “seekers” know Who Jesus is and may even have eaten with Him, these criteria for entrance fail to meet Christ’s standard: “I do not know you, where you are from” (vv. 26-27a).
He commands them to leave, branding them “workers of iniquity” (v. 27b).
[Their evil works, therefore, identify them as those who do not know the Lord.]
Thus, many Jews—people privileged to have acquaintance with Jesus—will finish last and be forced to stand outside the kingdom, weeping bitterly and gnashing their teeth (v. 28a-30b).
On the other hand, those OT Israelites who suffered mistreatment for God’s sake, and those Gentiles who never saw Jesus in their lives yet believed in the messengers’ word, will enter the kingdom and finish first (v. 30a).
Expulsion from The City of the Great King
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That same day Christ receives advance warning from some Pharisees (of all people!) that Herod Antipas sought His life (v. 31).
Jesus’ return message for this “fox”: “I’m going to continue My healing ministry for two more days (v. 32a), and arrive in Jerusalem in three days (v. 33a).
Nowhere but Jerusalem will I ‘perish’, and then I will be ‘perfected’ on the third day (vv. 33b, 32b).”
[His calling this ruler a “fox” signifies Jesus’ recognition that Herod used deceit and cunning to capture his prey.
The “day following” when He supposedly arrives in Jerusalem (v. 33), and the “third day” when He is “perfected” [resurrected?] (v. 32b), are not the same day.]
Having mentioned Jerusalem in passing, the Lord laments “the city of the great King” whose leaders kill God’s prophets.
By their unwillingness to repent, the Jews have frustrated His continual, long-time desire as the God of the Old Testament to nurture and protect His people (v. 34).
[By giving His creatures limited freedom of choice, God has bound up His complete joy with their desire to return to Him.]
He prophesies that Jerusalem’s temple will become desolate (v. 35a).
[Ryrie notes that the Romans destroyed the building(s) first (A.D. 70), and then Emperor Hadrian expelled the Jews from the city sixty-five years later, thus leaving the temple empty (136).]
Only when Israel truly welcomes their Messiah at His second coming will Jerusalem see Him again (v. 35b; cf. Ps. 118:26).
[Matthew seems to link this lamentation with Jesus’ blistering denunciation of the Jewish leaders (see 23:2-39).
With the continuative “Then” (Matt. 24:1), he even appears to indicate that the Lord was already in Jerusalem, not three days outside of it.]
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