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The self-righteous, prideful Jews were horrified at the demand for repentance. How could they acknowledge sinfulness and the validity of God’s condemnation? They compared themselves to others who had met with unfortunate disaster and judged themselves to be worthy of God’s favor. Jesus turns the tables on them once again in this passage as He presses home the urgent need for repentance. As a nation, this was their last chance to repent. By A.D. 70 the die would be cast and the times of the Gentiles would be the new focus of God’s kingdom program during the Church Age.

This is an excellent passage for answering the typical questions that are raised after some momentous disaster. How (or Why) could God let such events transpire? Why were these people killed? What does this mean for me? We are living on borrowed time and must respond to the claims of Jesus Christ while we still have opportunity.

Donald Miller: A section of teaching is now introduced which shows clearly that membership in Jesus’ Kingdom is based on quite different considerations from those which the Pharisees had laid down. Those whom they excluded – the lost sinners – were invited by Jesus into the Kingdom, while the Pharisees themselves were shut out unless they repented. What, therefore, is required for membership in Jesus’ Kingdom?


A. (:1-3) Slaughter of the Galileans by Pilate

1. (:1) Disaster = Sudden and Unexpected

“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him

about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”

Lenski: Kairos is more than just time; it denotes a brief period that is marked and distinguished in some way, here, the period that is marked by what the twelfth chapter reports.

Morris: Some men from Galilee had evidently gone up to Jerusalem to worship and had been put to death by the governor as they were in the act of offering sacrifice. That their blood had mingled with that of their sacrifices was a particularly horrible detail.

2. (:2) Wrong Inference = Uniqueness of the Degree of Sinning

“And He answered and said to them, ‘Do you suppose that these Galileans

were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?’”

Deffinbaugh: They had already drawn a false conclusion: these Galileans were greater sinners than others. This false conclusion was based upon a faulty premise: one’s suffering in life is indicative of one’s sin, just as one’s prosperity is proportional to one’s piety.

3. (:3) Correct Application = Repent Now or Perish

“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Morris: “Likewise” – Perhaps the thought is that the manner of the death of the Galileans gave them no time to repent. Jesus’ unrepentant hearers were setting themselves on a course which meant unrepentant death in due course.

Geldenhuys: At that time it was a generally accepted notion that whenever calamities visited people this was a proof that they were exceptionally sinful and that for this reason God allowed them to be overtaken by such disasters. Here, as elsewhere, Jesus rejects this false idea and warns the Jews who brought the tidings that, unless they repented in time, similar disasters awaited them too. They are not to regard the murdered Galileans as more guilty than themselves.

Lenski: What Jesus says is that, as these Galileans were swept away by death while in their impenitent state and thus perished forever, so all other impenitent men, no matter what the manner of their death may be, would “likewise perish” forever. The matter that Jesus warns his hearers against is not some form of cruel death but the danger of perishing in death.

B. (:4-5) Jews in Jerusalem Killed by Falling Tower in Siloam

1. (:4a) Disaster – Sudden and Unexpected

“Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them,”

2. (:4b) Wrong Inference = Uniqueness of the Degree of Sinning

“were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem?”

3. (:5) Correct Application = Repent Now or Perish

“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”

Lenski: Every calamity that sweeps men away is a divine call to repent and a divine warning to escape perishing forever by repenting in time. Sin is the cause of all evil in this world, and when it works out in striking ways as it did in these calamities it warns against itself and its eternal effects, but does so only because God, through Christ has made a way of escape through repentance.

Deffinbaugh: There are differences between these two groups of men who died, but the similarities seem more striking to me. First, those in both groups died. Jesus is not speaking of suffering in general terms, but specifically of death. He also warns His audience of the death which they will experience. Second, both groups died in a similar way—quickly, unexpectedly, tragically. Third, both groups died at a place and time when they may have felt very safe. When would a legalistic Jew feel more spiritual and “closer to God” (thus “safe” from divine judgment) than when he was performing his religious ritual of sacrifice. They died while offering sacrifices! And the 18 men who died in Jerusalem died while standing near a tower, undoubtedly a tower that was a significant part of their defense network. The tower would be that place where guards were stationed, the place from which an attack from outside the walls of the city would be countered. Where could anyone have stood that would have made them feel more secure? And yet they died by the tower. Literally, they died under the rubble of that tower. That which they viewed as their salvation was their destruction.

MacArthur: So here is the simple principle. God has a right to kill every sinner instantaneously and it’s a just act. He doesn’t do that so sinners get used to being favored by God in the sense of common grace. In the Old Testament, occasionally, when God opened up the ground and swallowed somebody, or sent bears out of the woods to tear up young men for saying bald head, bald head, mocking a prophet, people say, why would God do that? That’s not the question. The question is, why did God let people live? Why does He allow the sinner to live? Why does He extend common grace, the just falls…the rain falls on the just and the unjust. Why is God so patient and so gracious? And we’ll see in particular the answer to that at the end of our discussion this morning.


“And He began telling this parable:”

Opportunity to repent does not last forever;

God’s patience won’t cut them slack forever

A. (:6) Expectation of Fruit

“A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard;

and he came looking for fruit on it, and did not find any.”

Lenski: It is precisely because the owner planted this fig tree in his own vineyard that he had every right to expect it to bear fruit. The tree had grown to full maturity in the very best of places. Jerusalem was not the capital of some pagan nation.

MacArthur: Like in Isaiah 5, Israel was planted in a very fertile hill. They were blessed with everything God could give them. Like Romans 9:4 and 5, they had the revelation of God. They had the prophets. They had the Scriptures. They had the covenants. They had the adoption and from them came the Messiah. They had it all. They were already apostate when Jesus arrived. They were apostate when John the Baptist began to preach. The ax was already laid at the tree when it started. Before Jesus ever began the ministry, John said the ax is laid at the tree because the nation was already apostate. They already had departed from the true faith and the true and living God and created a system of works righteousness that was an abomination to God.

B. (:7) Exasperation and Logical Pronouncement of Destruction

“And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come

looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any.

Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’”

Significance of the 3 years followed by a 4th? Corresponds approximately to the time of the ministry of John the Baptist and of Christ on earth up until His ascension

C. (:8-9) Extension of Merciful Patience and Forbearance

1. (:8) Additional Cultivation Measures

“And he answered and said to him, ‘Let it alone, sir, for this year too,

until I dig around it and put in fertilizer;’”

We are all living on borrowed time

MacArthur: Borrowed time is not permanent. God’s patience is not permanent. These points are easy to understand in this little story. In fact, they’re virtually unmistakable. The tree is a solitary tree. It’s a nation, but it’s an individual. If you have no fruit, you will be cut down. You’re living on borrowed time, judgment is near. And there is nothing about you that earns that borrowed time so it is purely at the merciful discretion of God that you live another day. And His patience is not permanent. And that is why the prophet Isaiah wrote, Isaiah 55:6 and 7, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, the unrighteous man his thought, let him return to the Lord and He will have compassion on him, and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.”

2. (:9) Last Chance to Produce Fruit … Or Destruction

“and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.”

Anyabwile: The Lord is being patient. He gives more time. He waits for his servants to bear fruit. But he will not always wait. He will not always be patient. One day he will inspect us for fruit. The question is: Will we be fruit bearing, or will we be fruitless?

Deffinbaugh: While this parable, like the account of the tragic deaths of the Galileans and those who died by the tower of Siloam, conveys a message of warning to the Israelites, it also corrects another error in the thinking of the people. The inference underlying the conclusion of the people in verses 1-5 is that God hastened the death of those who died, in judgment of their (greater than normal) sins. Our parable tells us the exact opposite. The people were wrong to conclude that these people who died prematurely were greater sinners than their peers. God had not come to judge them early because of their greater evil. Indeed, the parable of the farmer and the fruitless fig tree speaks rather of the patience and longsuffering of God with respect to the stubborn rebellion and sin of Israel. This extended time, this delay in judgment, was for the purpose of allowing God’s people further opportunity to repent. While some sinners may very well interpret and apply His delay as an occasion to expand in their sin (cf. 12:45), the righteous will know better. The erroneous conclusion of the people reveals the perspective of the people; the point of the parable reveals the perspective of God.