Luke 13 - Pilate and Herod

Luke 13 – July 15

A great deal of this chapter is unique to Luke’s gospel. Today we are going to consider three seeds that are planted in this chapter that will sprout into huge plot points later in the life of Jesus. Then, we will jump back to the beginning of the chapter and consider the way the Lord teaches us to respond to tragedies.

  1. Pilate

In the opening events of Luke 13 we are introduced to Pontius Pilate. Pilate was a wicked ruler who had been set in place as the Roman governor over the region of Judea. He had most likely been given this responsibility as a punishment. (It was often the case that high-ranking officials who had ambitions of advancement would be sent away to the far reaches of the empire in order to keep them from treacherous means of climbing the ladder.) We find that Pilate was particularly insensitive to the Jew's religious practices. He was also vicious when it came to quelling rebellions. Here we find that there were a group of Galileans who somehow ended up on his bad side and he killed them and had their blood mixed with the blood of their sacrifices. Although this event is not recorded for us in history, we do know of another instance when he had 3,000 Galileans killed for sedition while they were at a religious festival in Jerusalem. Here we see the seeds of Pilate’s brutality and rejection of Jewish worship. We will see this come into play when we arrive at the trial of Jesus.

  1. The Fruitless Tree

The fruitless tree is a common metaphor that Jesus utilizes in the last days of His ministry in all three synoptic gospels. It is a reference back to multiple OT passages comparing Israel to fruit trees or vines that did not produce good fruit. In all of these passages, national Israel is the center of focus. In verses 6-9 we find Jesus explaining that the time of Judaism was coming to a swift conclusion. We will see this played out more as we make our way through Luke as well as when we continue Luke’s writings in the book of Acts.

  1. Herod

In order to really understand what is going on with Herod you first need to know three important things.

There is more than one person named Herod.

  1. Herod the Great – tried to kill Jesus when He was a baby.
  2. Herod Antipas – The son of Herod the Great. This is the Herod found at the end of Luke 13. He is known for Killing John the Baptist and overseeing the trial of Jesus.
  3. Herod Agrippa I – The grandson of Herod the Great. Persecuted the church and executed James the apostle by the sword (Acts 12:1-3). He was famously eaten by worms.
  4. Herod Agrippa II – The great-grandson of Herod the Great. Sent Paul to Rome to be tried by Nero. (Acts 25-26) He was the last Herod and the last known Edomite of the stage of history

Herod was not a real king. 

Rome had propped Herod up as a puppet to rule over the Jews. He was from the region, but not committed to the ways of Israel. Therefore, he had no real power. He was a figurehead in order to appear as an ally of the people while really being loyal to the Emperor.

Herod was an Edomite (Also called Idumeans by the Romans)

The Edomites were the descendants of Esau. They hated the Jews and fought against them regularly. There are many prophecies in the Old Testament that the Lord would eventually overthrow the Edomites through the Messiah. (Most famously the short book of Obadiah.) Every Herod would continue the struggle that had existed between Jacob and Esau. God’s promise to overcome and defeat Edom was fulfilled through Jesus’ defeat of the Herods. It appeared as though they won at the cross. Little did they know that His crucifixion was their own demise. After King Agrippa II fell out of power, there is never again another known Edomite in history. God never fails to carry out His promised judgment – but He always does so in ways that are more complex and surprising than we could ever imagine. 

Responding to Tragedies

There are often tragedies that befall our communities that cause us to ask profound theological questions. One of the responses to tragedies that we often hear from the Christian community is the question of whether or not the people who experienced the suffering deserved it. For example, just recently at one of our Q+A sessions on a Wednesday night service, someone from the audience mentioned how they believed that Hurricane Katrina and the ensuing damage to New Orleans and the surrounding area was God’s response to the American government’s legalization of same-sex marriage.

The Jews in Luke 13:1-5 are asking a question of that nature. They are looking at two distinct tragedies: the first was an act of oppression by an unjust ruler, the other an act of seemingly random devastation when a tower collapsed killing several people. Here is the question that they were asking. Did God kill these people because they were worse than everyone else? They were trying to understand why a good God would permit these seemingly innocent people to die in such brutal ways.

Jesus helps us to avoid presuming to know why God does the things that He does. We are not supposed to fixate on whether or not these people who die are deserving of it. Jesus instead tells us that tragedies should cause us to look at ourselves and realize that WE are worthy of God’s wrath and that the only way of escape from His judgment is through repentance. The good promise that we find here is that if we repent (turn from our sinful ways and turn to Christ for salvation), we are promised that we will never encounter God’s fully vented wrath. This does not mean that we will never experience suffering (most of the apostles were martyrs). It means that our response to tragedy should be to take sin seriously and see how it infects not only our society and our world, but our own hearts. Praise God that He has saved us from the wrath we deserve.