Luke 12 ended with Jesus issuing a scathing rebuke of the people’s inability to rightly discern the impending doom for Israel. This runs us into Luke 13 where it appears some of the people took offense to this saying or tried to deaden the blow by pointing to some Galileans who had been killed and Pilate had mixed their blood with the sacrifice, a dubious thing. We tried to do this when we were kids: “But Jimmy’s mom lets him do this.” Or you may have done something wrong and you tried to bypass your guilt by pointing out someone who did something worse than you. A simple tactic that sometimes works. Not so with Jesus. He brings their attention back to the matter at hand: Israel.
Jesus argues that is not because of great sin that these Galileans suffered the way they did under Pilate. Some scholars point to an incident where Pilate put soldiers in plain clothes with concealed weapons to silently kill a number of Jews gathered in protest of an aqueduct Pilate was having built. The problem was he was using funds from the temple treasury. Others say that this was a slaying of Judas the Galilean and his mob (see Acts 5.37) during a festival while they were sacrificing. Hence, their sacrifices were mixed with blood. This is simply an illustration to draw the crowds attention back to the subject at hand: themselves. “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.”
Jesus uses another illustration unknown to us save for this reference but clearly known by his audience. A tower in Siloam fell upon some people. Were they worse offenders (lit. debtors) than all the other people in Jerusalem? Absolutely not. Jesus is pointing to the urgency behind the need to repent and that right soon. Do not wait for the hour of disaster; repent lest you likewise perish. The same is true for us today; do not wait, for we are all debtors to God with debt we cannot pay. Hence, we need to repent, turn to God so that he can remove the debt before calamity comes upon us.
As is common for Jesus, he uses a parable to drive his point home (v.6-9). It is simple: a man has an unfruitful fig tree which he intends on cutting down. The vinedresser asks for one more season and if the tree still is unfruitful, then it can be cut down. There are two points that rise to the surface for us. First, this points us to the patience of God. He is not willing that any should perish but that all would come to repentance and a knowledge of the truth. The man in the parable is willing to wait the season and extends mercy to the tree. So our God is patient with us, granting us mercy for yet another season in the hopes that we will produce fruit.
But the second truth that comes up is that man has an obligation to God. He is patient with us, but we need to respond to that kindness. We need to change our life, start obeying his word, and begin to produce fruit in keeping with repentance. If we do, “well and good” (v.9, ESV). But if we do not, the ax is already at the root of the tree and divine judgment awaits us (Luke 3.9). Unfortunately, Israel would not listen to the warnings. In AD 70, God’s patience came to an end as he utterly devastated Jerusalem and scattered the Jews to the ends of the earth. John and Jesus were correct: the ax was at the root of the tree even as they preached. AD 70 saw the ax of God’s wrath hack down the unfruitful tree and it was cast into the fire.
How much should we heed the warnings of our Lord? If we linger in unrepentance, the ax is at the root of our tree and it is the mere mercy and patience of God which stays his hand from hacking you out of his vineyard. It is also the pleading of a loving Savior on your behalf, begging the Father not to pour forth his wrath upon the barren tree. Won’t you hear and heed this word from Jesus: Repent, lest you likewise perish. Turn from your life of sin and back to God before it is too late.