Commenting on Luke’s parables, Stuart Briscoe wrote, “It has been said that when churches are looking for a pastor they sometimes search for a man who will be totally fearless and uncompromising as he tells them exactly what they want to hear!” (Patterns for Power, Gospel Light Publications, 1979, p.87.) Jesus loves us too much to do that. He loves us enough to tell us what is sometimes very hard to hear. It’s true that Jesus brings peace to troubled hearts and rest for weary souls, but we must not consider Him to be only meek and mild and soft on sin, and unconcerned about truth and justice.
The passage begins with a comment about a slaughter of Galileans by Pilate. A governor who did not exactly endear himself to the Jews, Pilate once took temple offerings to build a public aqueduct, sparking a rebellion. He then had his soldiers mingle in the crowds, wearing cloaks to disguise their armor. At a given signal, they pulled out their heavy clubs and dispersed the crowds, resulting in a considerable number of Jews losing their lives. Were these Galileans of verse 1 part of that slaughter? Were those upon whom the tower fell, workers on Pilate’s aqueduct? We can only speculate.
Jesus directed his response to a common assumption in Jewish thinking: if something bad happens to someone, that one must have committed a grievous sin. Tragedy is God’s judgment upon those who deserve it. For example, after Job lost all of his children and his home, one of his friends said to him, “Who, being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (NIV) We see in Job’s friends a smug self-congratulation, stemming from the belief that law-abiding Jews hold a favored place in God’s eyes–God curses the bad and blesses the righteous. So it must have been a shock to these Jews when Jesus countered with the words, “…unless you repent, you too will perish.” Perhaps they thought, “Oh, but surely those on whom the tower fell had it coming!” But Jesus repeated His warning, “…unless you repent, you too will perish.” With the cross close at hand, He seized a final opportunity to sternly warn His people that if they do not admit, confess and turn from their sin, they will perish for eternity.
Jesus continued with a parable of a fig tree planted in a vineyard—not unusual, since a vineyard is a fertile place and fig trees did well there. So, who is the owner of the vineyard and who is the keeper? Hard to say. Perhaps Jesus was thinking of Himself as the owner, or perhaps God is the owner and Jesus the keeper who pleads for mercy and more time for the fig tree. Either way, the message is the same—the fig tree planted in fertile soil enjoyed a special and favored position, but it is not bearing fruit. It will have one more chance to do what a fig tree does before the owner has it struck down. We dare not fool ourselves about our spiritual condition. Jesus knew the danger of doing so and He sounded the warning in hopes of mercifully plucking a few brands from the fire. His call to repentance is because He is “not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). God grant us humble and grateful hearts, and let this attitude be in us that was also in Christ Jesus (Phil 2:5).