For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2001 James Melough

13:1.  “There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilaeans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.”

This chapter continues the warning of the need to repent and be converted in order to escape judgment, but the first application is to Israel, for it is apparent that in the first two incidents God is presenting typological pictures of the judgment about to overtake Israel, and which fell in AD 70.

Since the Galilaeans were fanatically patriotic, as were all the Jews, it is generally believed that these referred to may have been guilty of some insurrection which resulted in Pilate’s having them slaughtered even while they were in the act of offering sacrifices to God, but nothing is known about this massacre except what is recorded here, nor is it necessary to know further details in order to read the spiritual lesson.

Their having been killed by the Roman governor even as they worshiped, was but the foreshadowing of what was about to befall Israel.  She too, busy with all the details of an empty religious ritual, while in heart very far from God, was similarly destroyed by the Romans under Titus in AD 70.  God was trying to show them that adherence to a mere religious ritual was no protection from His judgment.  But the lesson applies to the Gentile as well as the Jew, and is no less applicable today than it was then.  The warning is not only to apostate Christendom, but to every man whose only hope of heaven rests in mere religion apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

There is, however, also an application to every professed believer.  It is imperative that our faith is resting in Christ and His work completed at Calvary, and not in our performance of some religious ritual such as baptism, or participation in the ordinance of the Lord’s Supper each week.  What happened to the Galilaeans, and to Israel in AD 70 are previews of what will be in the coming Tribulation era, but clearly the warning goes beyond every earthly judgment, and points to that terrible eternal judgment awaiting every man who dies without having trusted in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

13:2.  “And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilaeans were sinners above all the Galilaeans, because they suffered such things?”

13:3.  “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

It happens not infrequently among religious people that any calamity befalling others tends to be viewed by those unaffected, as a Divine judgment for exceptio­nal sin.  The Lord immediately dispelled such a notion relative to the death of the Galilaeans. They were no better and no worse than others who weren’t slain; and the lesson we ourselves must learn is not to make such judgments relative to what befalls others.  Calamity short of death may also be God’s method of refining genuine faith.  It is better to pray for those affected by calamity, rather than to pass judgment as to the cause of it; and when it comes to us, to ask whether it may perhaps be God’s judgment upon sin, and if honest examination of our lives reveals no known sin, then to accept it simply as God’s refining of our faith for our ultimate blessing.

The Lord stressed the imperative of repentance (which of course involves faith in Christ) as the only way for men to escape the eternal judgment of God.

13:4.  “Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem?”

13:5.  “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

As with the slain Galilaeans, the only information we have relative to these eighteen is what is given here, but again, further details aren’t needed.  This simply emphasizes the lessons connected with the deaths of the Galilaeans, the lesson the Lord would have all men learn being that the only place of safety from God’s judgment is in the Lord Jesus Christ; and the dramatic suddenness with which death overtook them points up the uncertainty of life, and the imperative of trusting in Christ while there is still time, as it is written, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation,” 2 Cor 6:2.  Tomorrow may be too late.

It is interesting to note that the first Biblical mention of a tower has an evil connotation.  It is in Ge 11:4 which records the building of the tower of Babel by those who rebelled against God’s command to spread themselves abroad over the earth.  It is instructive also to find that in a good connection God uses a tower as the figure of Himself as man’s place of refuge, e.g., 2 Sa 22:3,51; Ps 18:2.  It may be therefore that beyond the literal fact of eighteen having been killed by the collapsed tower, is the spiritual truth that all who are depending on anything except faith in Christ to take them to heaven, will also perish amid the “collapsed tower” of their false hope.

Siloam, in the vicinity of Jerusalem which means dual peace shall be taught: lay (set) ye double peace, means a missile (as sent),. This adds further details to the symbolic picture, for connected with a missile is the thought of swift and sudden destruction.  The sudden destruction of the eighteen, occurring in the midst of the very place that speaks of peace, is the symbolic announcement of the truth that sudden destruction will come upon all those living in the enjoyment of a false peace based on a false hope, as it is written in connection with the Lord’s coming to execute judgment, “When they shall say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them ... and they shall not escape” 1 Th 5:3.

13:6.  “He spake also this parable; A certain man had a fig tree planted in his vineyard; and he came and sought fruit thereon, and found none.”

The vine, the fig tree, and the olive tree are all biblical symbols of Israel, the vine representing her as she was in the past, “Thou hast brought a vine out of Egypt: thou hast cast out the heathen, and planted it,” Ps 80:8.  The fig tree represents her as she is during this present Church age; and the olive tree, as she will be in the Millennium. 

The fig tree in the context of this parable is a picture of Israel as she was in the time of Christ - fruitless, this same truth being emphasized in Mt 21:19, “And when he (the Lord) saw a fig tree in the way, he came to it, and found nothing thereon, but leaves only (symbol of mere empty profess­ion), and said unto it, Let no fruit grow on thee henceforward for ever.  And presently the fig tree withered away.” 

But her ultimate salvation in the Tribulation and in the Millennium is also pictured under the figure of a fig tree.  In Mt 24, the Lord gives detailed warnings relative to what will be prior to the inauguration of His millennial kingdom, declaring in verses 30-33, “And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory.  And he shall send his angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.  Now learn a parable of the fig tree; When his branch is yet tender, and putteth forth leaves, ye know that summer is nigh: so likewise ye, when ye shall see all these things, know that it is near, even at the doors.”  This coming to life after the death of winter, portrays the coming resurrection of Israel following the long winter of the past two thousand years, when like the vine in winter, she has given every appearance of being dead.

13:7.  “Then said he unto the dresser of his vineyard, Behold, these three years I come seeking fruit on this fig tree, and find none: cut it down; why cumbereth it the ground?”

The dresser here represents the Lord Jesus Christ as led in everything by the Holy Spirit, and the three years may correspond to the three years during which He had been engaged in His public ministry to Israel, and as God’s Representative had sought in vain for the spiritual fruit that accompanies faith.

13:8.  “And he answering said unto him, Lord, let it alone this year also, till I shall dig about it, and dung it:”

13:9.  “And if it bear fruit, well: and if not, then after that thou shalt cut it down.”

This portrays the patience of God.  He would expend still further effort to lead the rebellious nation to repentance, but sadly, the effort was wasted.  Instead of repentance, there was increased rebellion, culminating in the crucifixion of God’s Son, and the resultant reluctant cutting down of the fig tree (Israel) in AD 70.

There is, however, a practical application that reaches beyond Israel, and applies to every professed believer: the evidence of a genuine conversion is the production of spiritual fruit, as it is written, “Ye shall know them by their fruits.  Do men gather grapes of thorns, or figs of thistles?  Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit.... Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them,” Mt 7:16-20.  The profession of faith that isn’t accompanied by a changed life, is suspect.

13:10.  “And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.”

The synagogues were buildings where the Jews through­out the world met to worship, pray, and read the Scriptures, and to deal with matters of discipline, etc.  The Lord often taught in the synagogues, and the very fact that He did teach as frequently as He did, ought to remind us of the importance of teaching today.

13:11.  “And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.”

The woman seems to be also a picture or type of Israel.  Eighteen factorizes to 2 x 32, so that the eighteen years speak of the fact that the nation will be healed only when she has experienced a double resurrection: first, physically as a nation in the Tribulation; and then spiritually also in the Tribulation when a believing remnant will be resurrected out of spiritual death through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, becoming then the new Israel that will enter the Millennium.  That physical resurrection is necessary due to the fact that for almost two thousand years, since AD 70, she has had no corporate existence as a nation, it being only in 1948 that her national rebirth occurred, her growth as a national entity continuing to the present through the numbers of Jews who are daily returning to Palestine, that renewal of her national existence being one of the warning signs that we are in the closing days of the Church age.  The Lord could return today!

The woman’s bowed condition pictures Israel bowed down under the unbearable weight of law-keeping by which she has foolishly hoped to be justified.  The impossibility of her straightening herself up declares the impossibi­lity of Israel delivering herself by her own power.

Since, however, Israel is God’s mirror for the whole world, the lesson also being taught is that all men are similarly bowed down under the weight of trying to justify themselves by law-keeping or adherence to the requirements of whatever religious system they happen to be involved with.  There is no salvation for any man apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ; nor does any man have the power to save himself.

In this crippled woman we are being shown the present earthly effects of sin: it blights lives; but in the dropsied man of 14:2 God bids us see the eternal results of sin: it brings men down to the pit: first hell, and then eternally the torment of the lake of fire.

13:12.  “And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.”

13:13.  “And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.”

The Lord will similarly call a repentant remnant out of the apostate nation in the Tribulation, and that remnant, cleansed from sin through faith in Him, will become the new Israel that will enjoy the millennial blessings so long forfeited by disobedience and unbelief.  The woman’s praise foreshadows that which will be the grateful response of the Tribulation remnant, and which ought to be the response of everyone who knows his sins forgiven.  But whether for a nation or an individual, the method of salvation remains the same: there must be response to the Lord’s call given through the Gospel, for salvation must be received as a free-willed acceptance of the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  No one is predestinated to be saved, nor will the Lord compel any sinner to trust in Christ.

13:14.  “And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.”

The ruler’s response portrays the attitude, not only of unbelieving Israel, but of every man who insists on being justified by law-keeping, or by obeying the dogma of his own particular creed.  The fatal flaw in all such methods is that they reject totally or in part the sacrifice of Christ, and give the man himself credit for providing his own salvation in whole or in part.  All such ways are anathema to God.

The stupidity of the Jewish leader’s reply lies in the fact that there is no logical connection between the work that men might do in the six working days of the week, and that miraculous work which only the Lord could do at any time without effort.  The hypocritical leader ignored the miracle that had just been performed, and instead of seeing in it proof that this was the Christ, and falling at His feet in worship, attempted instead to make the Lord a lawbreaker.  This is the consistent mark of the self-righteous religionist.  He will exalt himself, and thereby diminish the value of Christ’s sacrifice.

It is interesting to note that he lacked the courage to reprimand the Lord directly, but did so indirectly by addressing his rebuke to the people.

13:15.  “The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?”

In the original, the word hypocrite is in the plural, for the ruler of the synagogue wasn’t the only one there who had the same antagonistic attitude towards the Lord. 

The implication couldn’t be clearer.  They would relieve their animals’ thirst on the sabbath day, but would deny relief to this poor woman who had suffered for eighteen years.  They would have done to her what they wouldn’t do to their animals: make her suffer for  another day an infirmity worse than one day’s thirst.  Relative to spiritual things there is nothing more irrational than the unconverted mind.

But beyond the literal, lies the spiritual message.  The Lord would have men enter here and now, through faith alone, into the joy of His salvation, while the self-righteous religionist would deny anyone that pleasure, failing, in his own delusion to see that if a man doesn’t know the joy of sins forgiven through faith, he isn’t forgiven at all.  He who is living in anticipation of a salvation to be earned by works, will make the terrible discovery, too late, that anything, except faith in Christ’s finished work, leads to hell, not heaven.

13:16.  “And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?”

In identifying Satan as the cause of the woman’s infirmity, the Lord was teaching the greater truth that Satan is the author of sin, and therefore of the spiritual state of all men as portrayed by her bowed condition.  It is he, the father of lies, who teaches the lie that men can be saved from sin by works rather than (or plus) faith.

The Lord’s referring to her as a daughter of Abraham implies that her faith had not only brought her physical but spiritual healing also.  So will it be with the believing Tribulation remnant.

13:17.  “And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.”

The shame of His adversaries, and the rejoicing of the people, extend beyond that day, now almost two thousand years ago, and point to what will be on that day when He returns in power and glory to judge the nations, banish His foes, and establish His kingdom.  Then His foes will not only be ashamed, but banished into hell, while the believing Jews and Gentiles emerging from the Tribulation, will rejoice.

13:18.  “Then said he, Unto what is the kingdom of God like? and whereunto shall I resemble it?”

What is introduced by this verse isn’t the description of the actual kingdom, but rather, the outward character of it during this present Church age.  It is marked by genuine faith, but also false profession.

13:19.  “It is like a grain of mustard seed, which a man took, and cast into his garden; and it grew, and waxed a great tree (bush); and the fowls of the air lodged in the branches of it.”

This speaks of the abnormal growth of the great harlot church which has developed, and which has overshadowed the true Church for the greater part of the past two thousand years.  The fowls (literally, and very significantly, vultures, unclean birds of prey) nesting in the branches, point to the evil spiritual character of this religious travesty, for in Scripture fowls are always indicative of the evil spirits which do Satan’s bidding.  Behind the outward glorious facade of the great world church are Satan and his evil minions controlling the men who seem to control the system, but who are themselves simply his deluded agents, all of them spiritual vultures preying on the souls of men.

A further portrait of this evil system is presented in Re 18:2 which describes its ultimate destruction at the hand of God,  “Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.”

13:20.  “And again he said, Whereunto shall I liken the kingdom of God?”

13:21.  “It is like leaven, which a woman took and hid in three measures of meal, till the whole was leavened.”

In Scripture leaven is always symbolic of evil, and in the present context, of evil doctrine, for the woman represents the great false church, while the meal is the symbol of the written Word.  Her hiding the leaven in the meal is the symbolic announcement of the truth that the false church has corrupted the Word by her surreptitious mingling of it with her false doctrine, no part of it having escaped her pernicious activity.  The woman is primarily the evil Roman system which rules Christendom today, with apostate Protestantism her abettor.

13:22.  “And he went through the cities and villages, teaching, and journeying toward Jerusalem.” 

The Lord always had Jerusalem before Him, the place where once He had dwelt in the midst of His people, but the place from which He had long since departed, because the people had first departed from Him.  Now He was going to present Himself for the last time, but the city was going to seal its doom by rejecting and crucifying Him, thus bringing upon itself the terrible judgment which came in AD 70 when the Romans, as God’s agents of judgment, brought Jewish autonomy to an end as they destroyed Temple and city, slaughtered thousands, sold thousands of others as slaves, leaving only a few who escaped to wander like Cain as fugitives among­st the hated Gentiles for the past two millennia.

It is a fearful thing to exhaust God’s patience, and to become instead the object of His wrath.

13:23.  “Then said one unto him, Lord, are there few that be saved? And he said unto them,”

13:24.  “Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able.”

13:25.  “When once the master of the house is risen up, and hath shut to the door, and ye begin to stand without, and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, Lord, open unto us; and he shall answer and say unto you, I know you not whence ye are:”

The direct answer was that few are saved, but the Lord would impress upon His audience the imperative of being one of those few, because the alternative is attended by dreadful eternal consequences.

Strive, which is related to the word agonize, and conveys the idea of struggling mightily, should be understood in context.  There is no thought of God’s making it difficult for one to be saved, but rather that Satan will use every weapon in his arsenal to keep a soul from Christ.  Those seeking to enter, but without success, are they who on earth allowed other things to come between them and the Savior, and now when it is too late, will seek to enter but without being able.  The Master will have closed the door!  During their earthly lives they refused His gracious invitation to enter in through the door which stood open, He having opened it through His death on the cross so that they might without effort enter heaven, but once He has shut that door it will not be opened.

And He sounded the warning that there is a limit to the time within which one can be saved.  As already noted, Israel was perilously close to the end of that time when the Lord issued His warning.  God warns all men, “My Spirit shall not always strive with man,” Ge 6:3.  Once a man crosses that invisible line which separates God’s mercy from His wrath, he cannot be saved.  As in the time of Noah, there came a day when he and his family were bidden to enter the ark, and then God shut the door, and it wasn’t opened again until after the flood and destroyed all those who had refused to enter in God’s time.

Undoubtedly many knocked desperately on that door after God had closed it, but too late: they perished.  So will it be with the multitudes who will stand at the great white throne, eternally condemned, being compelled to pass into the eternal torment of the lake of fire, because on earth they had refused to enter the door of life by confessing themselves sinners, and trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.  What bitter remorse will be the portion of all who refused to open their hearts to Christ when He knocked as Savior, and they find Him refusing to open to them when they knock frantically, but too late, on the door of heaven!

13:26.  “Then shall ye begin to say, We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets.”

This was literally true of the generation the Lord addressed that day, but since then there have been countless others who have eaten the bread, and drunk the wine of the Lord’s Supper, who have sat in churches listening to sermons about Christ, who have been busy with many religious activities, but without ever having known Him as Savior.  What unimaginable horror will be theirs on that day when they discover, too late for remedy, that in spite of all their religion, the door of heaven is closed against them for ever!

13:27.  “But he shall say, I tell you, I know you not whence ye are; depart from me, all ye workers of iniquity.”

Workers of iniquity!  These religious church goers workers of iniquity?  Yes, a man may be religious, but it is faith in Christ as Savior, not religion that saves the soul from hell and fits it for heaven.  Every man who reads these words of Christ ought to examine himself in the light of God’s Word, and be certain beyond doubt that he has had a second birth, for without it, he too will hear this dread pronouncement from the lips of Christ.

13:28.  “There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when ye shall see Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob, and all the prophets, in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrust out.”

The application is first to apostate Israel, but no less so to every unconverted religionist.  Few things are more abhorrent to God than the smug self-righteousness of the religious, but unbelieving man.  He who has never wept in contrition for his sins, will weep eternally for a salvation lost by refusal to confess himself a sinner and trust in the blood of Christ for the remission of his sins.

Apostate Israel, for all her boasted kinship with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, will discover too late for remedy, that the only thing that can save a man from hell and fit him for heaven is kinship with Jesus Christ, the very One they despised, rejected, and crucified.  Who can begin to imagine the horror of those arraigned at the great white throne when they discover that the despised and hated Jesus Whom they consigned to Calvary’s cross, is the Judge about to consign them to the eternal torment of the lake of fire!

13:29.  “And they shall come from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God.”

The reference is not only to the Gentiles but to individual Jews scattered across the earth, who will believe the Gospel, and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, the Jews who exercise that faith in the Tribulation, becoming the new nation of Israel that will enter the Millennium to enjoy its blessings before passing into the enjoyment of eternal blessings with us.  The believing Gentiles out of all nations will constitute the redeemed nations that will also enjoy millennial blessings, but in willing subjection to Israel then become as described in Dt 28:13, “And the Lord shall make thee the head, and not the tail; and thou shalt be above only, and thou shalt not be beneath.”

13:30.  “And, behold, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.”

The reference here is not to time, but to rank.  There are many who have been lightly esteemed on earth, who will hold high positions in the governmental hierarchy of Christ’s administration.  Those occupying prominent positions in the Church are not necessarily the Lord’s most faithful stewards!

13:31.  “The same day there came certain of the Pharisees, saying unto him, Get thee out, and depart hence; for Herod will kill thee.”

The implication is that He was in Herod’s territory, but there is no readily apparent reason why the Pharisees, of all people, should have warned Him to save Himself.  There are two possibilities: they may have been believers, though it seems unlikely, or they may have been trying to intimidate Him into going to Jerusalem, where they may have felt that there was a better chance of His being killed by the Jewish leaders than by Herod.  The hatred borne Him by the Jewish leaders was fanatical.

13:32.  “And he said unto them, Go ye, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out devils, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall be perfected.”

The Lord’s response was enigmatic to those addressed, but today, in the light of fulfilled events, we see it as the statement that nothing could hinder His miracle working power until His work was done, and He had performed the ultimate miracle - paying the redempti­on price of men’s souls with His own precious blood.  “I shall be perfected” is generally taken to refer to the perfect completion of the work the Father had given Him to do.  The reference to the third day is obviously to be taken figuratively, not literally, though there may be in it an oblique reference to His resurrection.

13:33.  “Nevertheless I must walk today, and tomorrow, and the day following: for it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem.”

Again, the reference to the three days has the same meaning as in the preceding verse, while the words “it cannot be that a prophet perish out of Jerusalem” are generally accepted as meaning that it would be unthinkable for the greatest of all the prophets to be killed any place except in Jerusalem, the place which had become the center for the evil religious travesty that had replaced the Divine order, and that was, in spite of its outward pious pretense, bitterly antagonistic to all that is of God.  In other words, it didn’t matter where a prophet might have been put to death, the ultimate blame lay with the apostate leadership of which Jerusalem had become the center, and God was going to have that truth declared to all the world.  It would be in Jerusalem that His own Son would be killed, Jewish leadership thus filling its cup of iniquity to overflowing, and justifying the fearful judgment that followed in AD 70.  In the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown commentary on this verse Jerusalem is described very aptly as “the prophets’ slaughter-house.”

13:34.  “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee; how often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not!”

All their bitter hatred, however, couldn’t quench His deep abiding love for them, expressed not only in the lament recorded here, but in His cry from the cross, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do,” Lk 23:34.

13:35.  “Behold, your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, Ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

That great house of which the temple was the center, with all its busy religious activity was to be brought to desolation, as it is written, “Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it: except the Lord keep the city, the watchman waketh but in vain,” Ps 127:1.

That generation that was about to condemn the Lord to death, was itself about to die, for in another thirty-eight years temple and city, priesthood and ritual, would all be swept away, the city and temple left a charred ruin, and the land a desolation, with its people scattered amongst the Gentiles where they remain to this day.  Those who have been gathering back to the land since 1948, with great expectations of restored national glory, are unaware that they are being gathered back there by God to suffer the terrible judgments of the fast approaching Tribulation era, and they are equally unaware that out of those judgments will emerge a believing remnant which will become the Israel destined for blessing.  It will be that believing remnant from among the apostate mass, that will look for the Lord’s return, crying in joyful anticipation, “Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”

It is with the same glad expectation that the Church awaits His return to rapture her to heaven.

[Luke 14]


     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough