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The Blue Letter Bible

David Guzik :: Study Guide for Luke 13

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Repentance, False Religion and the True Way

A. The importance of repentance.

1. (Luk 13:1-5) Jesus uses two recent disasters to drive home a point.

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."

a. The Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices: We don't have a record in secular history about the specific incident mentioned here. But there is a similar incident before the ministry of Jesus, Pilate wanted to build an aqueduct from the Pools of Solomon to the city of Jerusalem. To pay for it, he demanded money from the temple treasury, money that had been dedicated to God-and this outraged the people. When the Jews sent a delegation to beg for their money back, Pilate sent into the crowd soldiers dressed as common people, and at a certain signal they took out daggers and attacked the people asking for the money.

i. This doesn't seem to be the same incident mentioned here, but it shows how completely consistent it was with the character of Pilate to slaughter some Galilean Jews on their way to sacrifice to the Lord in Jerusalem.

b. Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans: Jesus cites two instances of disaster that were well known in His day. One was an evil done by the hand of man, and the other was seemingly a natural disaster (eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them).

i. We normally think of some people as "good," and some people as "bad," and believe that God should allow good things to happen to good people and bad things to bad people. Jesus dispels this notion.

ii. But Jesus' point is not that the Galileans in question were innocent; they were simply not more guilty than the others. All are guilty.

c. Unless you repent you will all likewise perish: In analyzing the issue, Jesus gets away from the question "why did this happen?" and turns it into "what does this mean to me?"

i. It means that we all may die at any time, so repentance must be a top priority. Those who died in both of these instances did not think they would die soon, but they did, and we can suppose that most of them were not ready.

d. By noting the ancient Greek grammar, we see that Jesus here mentions two kinds of repentance, and both are essential. Luke 13:5 (unless you repent) describes a "once and for all" repentance. The verb tense in Luke 13:3 (unless you repent) describes a continuing repentance.

i. Jesus' warning that they must repent or perish had an immediate, chilling fulfillment. Within a generation, those citizens of Jerusalem who had not repented and turned to Jesus perished in the destruction of Jerusalem.

2. (Luk 13:6-9) Jesus illustrates some principles regarding God's judgment.

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.'"

a. He came seeking fruit: After the warning unless you repent you will all likewise perish, Jesus used this parable to illustrate principles of God's judgment. The first point is simple: God looks for fruit.

i. The fruit of our live shows what kind of person we really are. An apple tree will bring forth apples, not watermelons. If our lives have really been touched by Jesus Christ, it will show in the fruit we bear, even if it takes a while for the fruit to come forth.

ii. What fruit is God looking for? It certainly has to begin with the fruit of the Spirit, mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

b. Look, for three years I have come seeking fruit … let it alone this year: The farmer in the parable illustrates the patience of God in judgment. He waited three years and gave it a second chance.

i. The farmer, illustrating God, did not leave the tree alone. He gave it special care. Perhaps God is showing His special care for you right now-but it feels like there is manure all around you! Yet, don't resist God's work. Flow with it and bear fruit as He continues to work in your life.

c. If not, after that you can cut it down: The farmer, illustrating God, is also just in His judgment. There finally will come a day of reckoning. It is not just an endless string of threats.

B. The danger of false religion.

1. (Luk 13:10-17) False religion is manifested in the synagogue.

Now He was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bent over and could in no way raise herself up. But when Jesus saw her, He called her to Him and said to her, "Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity." And He laid His hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath; and he said to the crowd, "There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day." The Lord then answered him and said, "Hypocrite! Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? So ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has bound; think of it; for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath?" And when He said these things, all His adversaries were put to shame; and all the multitude rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by Him.

a. A spirit of infirmity: Apparently, this woman's physical condition (bent over and could in no way raise herself up) was due to a spiritual dynamic. We are foolish to think that spiritual issues cause all physical problems, but we just as foolish to think spiritual issues can never cause physical problems.

i. This woman is often used as an example of a "believer" who can be demon possessed. But as godly as she may have been, she was not born again by the Spirit of God, because the work of Jesus had not yet been accomplished on the cross. We believe that Christians cannot be demon possessed, not because they are good, church-going people, but because the are new creatures in Christ, and are off limits to demonic possession and control.

b. Woman, you are loosed from your infirmity: Of course, Jesus has no problem ministering to this woman's need. He shows complete mastery over demons, sickness, and disease.

c. There are six days on which men ought to work; therefore come and be healed on them, and not on the Sabbath day: The religious leaders objected, saying that Jesus broke the Sabbath. They were more concerned about observing religious traditions and forms than in seeing human need touched by God's Spirit.

i. Does not each one of you on the Sabbath loose his ox or donkey from the stall, and lead it away to water it? Jesus' reply is simple. If you can loose an animal on the Sabbath, why can't you free a suffering person on the Sabbath?

d. So ought not this woman … be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath? Jesus uses a strong word in the ancient Greek language; really, He is more saying she must be loosed than she ought to be loosed.

2. (Luk 13:18-21) Two parables warn of false religion's corruption of the kingdom community.

Then He said, "What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and put in his garden; and it grew and became a large tree, and the birds of the air nested in its branches." And again He said, "To what shall I liken the kingdom of God? It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened."

a. What is the kingdom of God like? The "standard" interpretation of these parables is that they describe the growth and spreading influence of the church. But it is more likely, in light of the language used and the course of church history, that these parables describe the corruption of the church by false religion.

b. It grew and became a large tree: With the parable of the mustard seed, Jesus describes an abnormal-even monstrous growth. Mustard seed plants simply do not become large, tall trees.

i. Additionally, trees are sometimes used in the Bible to describe human governments, and evil governments at that. In fact, this tree reminds us of the one Nebuchadnezzar saw in his vision (Daniel 4:10-16).

ii. And the birds of the air nested in its branches: Additionally, birds are consistently emissaries of evil in Jesus' parables (Matthew 13:4, 19). Apparently, this parable describes the kingdom community-the church-that has become so large and established that it is a roosting place for evil.

c. It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal till it was all leavened: With the parable of the leaven in the three measures of meal, Jesus also describes corruption. Leaven is always representative of sin, and three measures of meal was the standard grain offering to God.

i. Essentially, Jesus gives a picture of corrupt worship. Hiding sin within corrupted an offering to God.

d. History abundantly proves the dangerous influence that false religion has had on the church. It has been shown in political intrigue, lust for power, intolerance, vain superstition, immorality, and greed.

C. The first and the last.

1. (22-24a) Jesus responds to a question about salvation.

And He went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem. Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate"

a. Lord, are there few who are saved? We often wonder about the salvation of others. But in His reply (Strive to enter through the narrow gate), Jesus points back to the only person's salvation we can really know and asks, "are you yourself saved?"

i. The rabbis of that day used to love to debate the question of whether many or few would be saved. But Jesus won't be drawn into this debate. His only question is, "are you saved?"

b. Strive to enter through the narrow gate: The way is narrow. We can't bring our self-centeredness, pride, lusts, hate or especially our own righteousness. As the famous hymn sings: "Nothing in my hand I bring, only to Thy cross I cling."

c. Strive to enter: Therefore, we must strive (the word is literally "agonize") in order to lay these things aside and come in. The Greek word for strive has "the idea of a struggle or prize-fight." (Bruce)

d. Strive to enter through the narrow gate isn't a call to save yourself by good works. Good works aren't the right gate. You can strive to enter all your life long, but if it isn't at the right gate, it makes no difference. Jesus Himself is the gate; He is the door.

e. Then why must we strive to enter? Because there are many obstacles in the way. The world is an obstacle. The devil is an obstacle. But probably the worst obstacle is your own flesh.

2. (24b-27) The reason why it is important to strive in entering.

"For many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, 'Lord, Lord, open for us,' and He will answer and say to you, 'I do not know you, where you are from,' then you will begin to say, 'We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets.' But He will say, 'I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.'"

a. The punctuation supplied by translators in Luke 13:24-25 is poor. It should read will not be able when once the Master of the house has risen up and shut the door. The point is that there will come a time when it is too late to enter-that is why one must have an urgency to enter now.

i. This is true regarding our soul's salvation. You can know something about Jesus and not be saved. You can be in the presence of Jesus and not be saved.

ii. It is likewise true of so many areas where God challenges our lives. We must be urgent to do what God tells us now. For example, many men are terrible husbands, until the day when their wife just gives up-then they wake up, but it may be too late.

b. You begin to stand outside and knock at the door, saying, "Lord, Lord, open for us": Many will seek to enter (in the sense of wishing to enter), but they will not be able to. When the door is open, it is open; when it is shut, it is shut.

i. There is a real difference between a mere seeking and striving to enter. A casual wish to be saved isn't enough, because there are too many obstacles on the way.

3. (Luk 13:28-30) The destiny of those who don't strive to enter.

"There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out. They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last."

a. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth: They will be in hell (the place of weeping and gnashing of teeth), and they will see that others enter instead of them.

i. One woman protested to an evangelist that weeping and gnashing of teeth cannot apply to those who have lost their teeth. The preacher solemnly replied, "teeth will be provided!"

b. Yet, indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last. The makeup of those in (or out) of the kingdom may be different than what some expected.

4. (Luk 13:31-33) Jesus proceeds despite a threat from Herod.

On that very day some Pharisees came, saying to Him, "Get out and depart from here, for Herod wants to kill You." And He said to them, "Go, tell that fox, 'Behold, I cast out demons and perform cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.' Nevertheless I must journey today, tomorrow, and the day following; for it cannot be that a prophet should perish outside of Jerusalem."

a. Go, tell that fox: Why did Jesus call Herod a fox? In this context, fox refers to a "cunning but weak ruler" (Geldenhuys). It was used as a contrast with a majestic animal like a lion.

i. We need to be aware that Satan can come at us as a fox as much as like a lion. We often just wait for a lion to come along, and a fox deceives us.

b. Herod is also an example of one of the first who will be last, mentioned in Luke 13:30. Now he sits in power and authority, but it won't last long.

c. The third day I shall be perfected: Be perfected actually has the idea of "reach the goal." Jesus knew that before long, He would reach the goal on the third day-resurrection would be His.

5. (Luk 13:34-35) Jesus laments over the city that will reject Him.

"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, 'Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!'"

a. How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! Jesus knew the destruction and terror that would come upon Jerusalem. He knew that their only chance of avoiding that horror was to receive Him as He who comes in the name of the Lord.

i. "When the hen sees a beast of prey coming, she makes a noise to assemble her chickens, that she may cover them with her wings from the danger. The Roman eagle is about to fall upon the Jewish state-nothing can prevent this but their conversion to God through Christ-Jesus cries throughout the land, publishing the gospel of reconciliation-they would not assemble, and the Roman eagle came and destroyed them." (Clarke)

b. This is what G. Campbell Morgan called "the Mother heart of God." God wants to save His people from the pain and suffering their sin will bring upon them.

i. What would God spare you from? What things would Jesus gather you under His wings and protect you from? When the little chick is out running on its own, it is especially vulnerable.

c. Jesus also reveals something of the conditions surrounding His second coming. When He comes again, the Jewish people will welcome Him as the Messiah, saying, "blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord."

i. It will take a great deal to bring Israel to that point, but God will do it, and Israel will welcome Jesus back-even as Paul wrote in Romans 11:26: And so all Israel will be saved.

© 2000 David Guzik-No distribution beyond personal use without permission

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