This is a curious little passage, don’t you agree?
The scene hasn’t changed from that of Chapter 12; the disciples are still there, and so is the crowd, when someone brings news of a massacre of Galileans in Jerusalem. This is the only historical account of this particular massacre, although Josephus the historian records others of a similar nature at the hands of Pilate. Jesus uses this news to further illustrate the point He has been trying to make to the crowd…
Those unfortunates who were killed by the Romans recently were not guiltier than anyone else although they had obviously come to Pilate’s attention for some reason. Nor were the unfortunate victims of the disaster that had taken place when the tower of Siloam had collapsed killing some eighteen bystanders; they just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
It sounds as though Jesus was having difficulty finding His well known compassion, doesn’t it?
Yet, as I said just above, He was trying to teach the people; He explains with a parable…
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’” (13:6-9)
Remember now the last passage, 12:54-59: The people need to understand that time is running out for them to repent, just as time is running out for that fig tree. Everything has been given to that tree; it should be producing fruit; what is its problem? Patience has already been given, along with the blessing of its provision by its owner. Yes, time is running out for that tree.
Just as time was running out for the Jews to repent and follow Jesus… Isn’t it interesting that the owner had been waiting on that tree for three years already?
What is really happening here is that Jesus is hinting about something that He will make very clear in Chapter 21, and that is that a certain amount of time will be allotted for the Jews to accept grace before God’s judgment comes upon them. It will strike first in Galilee, and then move south to Jerusalem, where the city, including the Temple itself will be utterly destroyed along with tens of thousands of people… Oh yes, God has been patient for centuries, they have received their sign, which is their very Messiah come to save them from their evil ways: It’s now time to quit fooling around.
Luke wrote this somewhere in the 65-75 AD range. The Roman campaign against Judea ran from 66-70 AD and culminated in the utter destruction of their way of life, and terminated their sacrifices, the very center of their national identity. It has never been resumed.
This curious little passage would have been easily understood by Luke’s original audience. As for those of us who come along so much later, we’ll see much more about the subject in Chapter 21, as I mentioned…