1 There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:1-5 ESV
Jesus was adept at using the comments and questions of His listening audience to further the point He was trying to make. Unperturbed by these seeming distractions from His primary discourse, Jesus would simply and seamlessly integrate them into His message, and in chapter 13 of his gospel account, Luke provides a perfect illustration of Jesus displaying this particular oratory skill.
Jesus’ ongoing discussion regarding judgment must have left the 12 disciples and everyone else in the crowd more than a bit confused and less than thrilled. All His talk about wakefulness, watching, and waiting for His eventual return must have disappointed them. And His admission that He had come to bring division, not peace, would have seemed counterintuitive. Yes, since they believed Him to be the long-awaited Messiah, they fully expected Him to wage war with the Romans, dividing the enemies of God from the children of God. But Jesus had been talking about dividing households – pitting “father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law” (Luke 12:53 ESV). None of this was what they had been expecting.
As Jesus was speaking, some individuals arrived with news of a tragic event that had just happened in Jerusalem. The way in which Luke records this scene implies that these people were bringing news about something that had just taken place. It was fast-breaking news that no one in the crowd had yet heard, including Jesus.
Jesus was informed that Pilate had murdered some people from Galilee as they were offering sacrifices at the Temple. – Luke 13:1 NLT
It is important to remember that Jesus was currently in the southern region of Judea. But He had spent a great deal of His ministry in Galilee. His birthplace of Bethlehem was located there, as well as His hometown of Nazareth. While ministering in Galilee, He and His disciples had made Capernaum their unofficial headquarters. And most of His disciples were Galileans. So, this news would have had a particularly strong impact on these men. There is some speculation that this horrible tragedy took place during the annual celebration of Passover since this was the only time when non-priests were allowed to offer sacrifices. But whatever the case, this news was devastating and would have reminded everyone in the crowd of their hatred for the Romans.
Pontius Pilate was appointed by Emperor Tiberius to be the Roman governor over Judea, and he served in that post for ten years, from A.D. 26-36. His job was to maintain peace within the province of Judea, using the Roman military as a kind of police force to keep the Jews in check. The ubiquitous presence of the Roman legions made life for the average Israelite miserable, providing a constant reminder of their oppressed state. Because of the high taxes levied by the Romans, the average Jew lived in a state of near poverty. And now, the news has arrived that this Roman-appointed governor has slaughtered innocent Jews who were offering sacrifices at the temple of Yahweh.
But rather than express outrage at the actions of Pilate and his Roman goons, Jesus directs a rather strange question to the crowd.
“Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way?” – Luke 13:2 ESV
It could be that Jesus overheard the discussions going on in the crowd. As the people attempted to process this horrible news from Jerusalem, they probably speculated as to the cause. While some placed all the blame on the Romans, there were likely those in the crowd who deemed the dead Galileans as somehow deserving of their fate. This was a common idea within Judaism that they applied to everything from disease to poverty and even death.
John records an occasion when Jesus and His disciples encountered a man who had been blind since birth. Upon seeing the man, Jesus’ disciples asked for an explanation for the man’s tragic state.
“Rabbi,” his disciples asked him, “why was this man born blind? Was it because of his own sins or his parents’ sins?” –Luke 9:2 NLT
It’s clear that they associated this man’s blindness as a form of curse from God. The question in their minds was not whether the man’s condition was a result of sin, but whether it had been him or his parents who had committed the sin. Since the man had been blind since birth, it seems that the disciples were expecting Jesus to expose the parents as the guilty party. But Jesus surprised His disciples by stating, “It was not because of his sins or his parents’ sins…This happened so the power of God could be seen in him” (John 9:3 NLT).
And, in Luke’s account, Jesus takes the news regarding the murder of the Galileans to expose the faulty teaching of the religious leaders of Israel. They were primarily responsible for the propagation of this false understanding of sin and suffering. The self-righteous and prideful Sadducees and Pharisees deemed themselves to be blessed by God because of their health, wealth, and prosperity. They were quick to spread the lie that anyone who struggled with poverty or disease must have offended God and were only getting what they so richly deserved.
But Jesus blows holes in the false teaching of the religious leaders by stating, “No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3 ESV). Once again, Jesus deftly steers the discussion back onto His original topic: The coming judgment of God. The tragic fate of the Galileans had nothing to do with their sin. They had simply experienced one of the inevitable outcomes of living in a fallen world. They had been in the right place but at the wrong time. What happened to them could have happened to anybody.
Just a few minutes earlier, Jesus had warned the crowd about the difference between death at the hands of men and final judgment at the hands of God.
“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell.” – Luke 12:4-5 ESV
Jesus went on to say, “everyone who acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man also will acknowledge before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God” (Luke 12:8-9 ESV). He wanted His audience to realize that there was going to be a future judgment where men would stand before God Almighty. And the only way they could escape the judgment of God would be through belief in His Son.
Those Galileans had not suffered death at the hands of Pilate due to their sin. The Roman governor could put them to death but he had no power to condemn them to hell. Only God could do that.
Not long after this exchange, Jesus would find Himself standing in the very presence of Pilate. The man who had put the Galileans to death would stand in judgment over Jesus of Nazareth, another Galilean accused of crimes against the state. And Pilate, irritated by Jesus’ silence, will state, “Don’t you realize that I have the power to release you or crucify you?” (John 19:10 NLT). To which Jesus will reply, “You would have no power over me at all unless it were given to you from above. So the one who handed me over to you has the greater sin” (John 19:11 NLT). The lowly Galilean Rabbi will stand before the all-powerful governor of Judea, who believes he holds the fate of Jesus in his hands. But he will be wrong. And while Pilate will be the one who ultimately sanctions Jesus’ death on the cross, it will be Caiaphas, the high priest, whom God will hold responsible. Because of the false accusations leveled by Caiaphas, Jesus will die a criminal’s death on a Roman cross. But it will be Caiaphas who will one day stand before the judgment seat of God and answer for his rejection of the Son of God.
What is interesting about this story is the way the messengers described the fate of Galilean martyrs. Pilate had “mingled their blood” with their sacrifices. And that is exactly what will happen when Jesus goes to the cross. His own blood will flow down and mingle with the sacrifice – His body. And in the upper room on the night of His betrayal, during the celebration of Passover with His disciples, Jesus will explain the significance of His death.
He took some bread and gave thanks to God for it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.”
After supper he took another cup of wine and said, “This cup is the new covenant between God and his people—an agreement confirmed with my blood, which is poured out as a sacrifice for you.” – Luke 22:19-20 NLT
Those Galileans had shed their blood, but not because of their sin. Yet Jesus, the Galilean, will willingly pour out His blood as an atonement for the sins of mankind. His body will be broken and His blood will be shed so that others might one day stand before the Father fully forgiven and uncondemned.
Jesus wanted His audience to understand that death was the inevitable outcome for all humanity. It was inescapable and unavoidable. But there is a second death that is far worse than physical death. In the book of Revelation, the apostle John records the words of Jesus spoken as He sits enthroned as King.
“It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” – Revelation 21:7-8 ESV
This was the death that all men need to fear. Attempting to live a good and moral life will not prevent death or suffering. While you might make it through life relatively unscathed, you will still face the ultimate judgment of God and the reality of the second death. This is why Jesus repeated His point for emphasis.
“No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” – Luke 13:5 ESV
Jesus had begun His earthly ministry by declaring, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15 ESV). He was the Messiah and He had come to usher in the Kingdom of God. But it would not come in the manner they had hoped or according to the timeframe they were expecting. Yes, Jesus was the Messiah, but He had not come to rule and reign, but to offer Himself as a ransom for the sins of many. He had come to provide freedom from sin, not emancipation from Roman rule. But unless one chose to repent and believe in Him, they too would likewise perish. Their fate would be no better than the Galileans or those who were crushed beneath the tower of Siloam. All who refuse to place their faith in the Messiah’s death will ultimately face the second death.
English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.