Having warned the people that a faithful following of His teaching would lead to opposition and division, the Lord Jesus reprimands them for not recognising this. They can interpret the weather well enough by noting the cloud formation, but they do not look around them at the present time and discern what is happening (verses 54-56). If they have a disagreement with an enemy, it would be better to get it settled before it reaches a court and the magistrate (verses 57-59). This was a parable way of saying that God's judgment was near and reconciliation with Him was essential before this took place and it was too late.
The Lord follows this with the parable of the barren fig tree. This is found only in Luke. Trees have been used in Old Testament days and later to designate Israel -- the fig, the olive, and the vine, but in each case they have failed to produce fruit or oil. After all the divine attention and training during the Old Testament period they yielded no real fruit of a faithful witness to God and His gospel to the whole world. When at last the owner came and looked for fruit for three years He found none. Some expositors object to linking this with the Lord's ministry to Israel. But why? The three years had taken place except for the last short four months leading to Calvary. Why not cut the tree down, it was only wasting valuable space? But a plea was made to spare it for another year and give it fertilising treatment, then perhaps it would bear. And that gracious sparing took place, for Israel, during the period covered by the Acts. This is the long record of God waiting for Israel's repentance (Acts 3:19-26) with stupendous promises of forgiveness and blessing if they did so.
But it was in vain; the tree, Israel in unbelief, was cut down at the end of the Acts (chapter 28). Note it was cut down not up-rooted, and Romans 11 gives us the fact that He who cut the tree and the branches down can graft them in again (Rom. 11:17-29), in other words restore the tree, and this will happen at the Lord's Second Coming (verses 25-27) and then 'all Israel will be saved' (verse 26). This is complete restoration and the unconditional covenant promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob will be literally fulfilled as God promised them. There is no need to alter the meaning of the text by doubtful spiritualizing.
The evangelist now records the healing of the crippled woman and again this incident is found only in Luke. It was on the Sabbath day when the Lord was teaching in one of the synagogues. She had been crippled by a spirit (Satan, verse 16), for 18 years with curvature of the spine and was unable to stand upright. When Christ saw her, He called her forward and said, 'Woman, you are set free from your infirmity' (verse 12). Then, putting His hands on her, she immediately straightened up and praised God.
This did not suit the ruler of the synagogue, who declared that the Sabbath had been broken by doing work.
"The Lord answered him" (note the use of 'the Lord' by Luke). The reply was overwhelming:
"You hypocrites! Doesn't each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or donkey from the stall and lead it out to give it water? Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?" When He said this, all His opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things He was doing. (verses 15-17 N.I.V.).
This is the third instance of an objection to Christ's so-called breaking of the Sabbath that Luke has recorded. Following this, the Lord asked 'What is the kingdom of God like?'. This question shows that the answer is difficult. The Lord uses the mustard seed and the leaven to illustrate. He had used these figures before of the development of the earthly kingdom. Both of these parables are in Matthew (13:31-33); the first is also in Mark (4:30-32) but not the second. Our interpretation must take in all the details that are given in Matthew and Mark. The kingdom of God had two aspects, an external one and an internal one. The external one gives a mixed picture of good, with evil from Satan seeking to overthrow it.
The birds of the air devour the good seed sown (Matthew 13:4; Mark 4:4; Luke 8:5) and there are other corrupting agencies. Clearly these birds have a bad meaning in each of these passages, and therefore we should take care in Luke 13:19.
Some expositors give them a good meaning here, but this would be very confusing to all who were diligently listening to the teaching of Christ, for it would be a contradiction to what He had said.
Of course it is easier to interpret Luke 13:19-20 with a good meaning. Similarly with the leaven which has a consistent bad meaning all through the Bible.* The three measures of meal were the usual quantity for baking (see Gen. 18.6). There is no need to look for mystical meanings such as 'body, soul and spirit'; or 'earth, state, church' as some do. It is safer, we feel, to interpret these parables of Luke 13 in harmony with their occurrence in Matthew, Mark and in this Gospel.
Verse 22 of Luke 13 tells us that Christ went through the towns and villages, teaching as He made His way to Jerusalem. This is the second of the journeys to Jerusalem in this later ministry corresponding to that of John 11. Someone asked Him, 'Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?' (verse 23). This was a theological problem with the rabbis. We must bear in mind that the question relates to the generation of the questioner and does not look to the future. It is the present participle in the Greek, 'that are being saved'. Doubtless an element of curiosity was behind the query and it still exists today. But this is a question that the Word of God does not answer, nor did Christ give a definite reply to the one who asked the question. The parables of the Sower, the Barren Fig Tree, the lamentation over Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, the description by the Lord of His disciples as a little flock (12:32), seem to suggest that only few were being saved when Christ spoke and taught, although crowds were following Him.
Luke now records truth that the Lord Jesus had already given in the Sermon on the Mount, and as we have observed more than once, Christ repeated truth when it was necessary.
A careful study of this important part of the Lord's ministry to Israel is necessary in order to understand this context in Luke. One of the chief problems that it raises is that salvation there is conditional upon striving and doing one's utmost to enter the kingdom and salvation in the evangelical sense cannot be attained by human effort. This is the universal testimony of Scripture and is made quite clear in the ministry of the apostle Paul. The solution is to realise that, in the ministry of the Lord to Israel relating to the kingdom of heaven, salvation has two aspects: (1) salvation from sin and (2) salvation in the completed sense of 'entering the kingdom' which is linked with faithful service. The Sermon on the Mount was addressed primarily to the twelve disciples, who were saved men in the evangelical sense. Salvation, as applied to them, was parallel to 'entering the kingdom' and the word 'enter' is one of the key words of the Gospel and every occurrence should be carefully studied. It is linked with the practical response in service after salvation and is in the nature of a reward which can be won or lost, according as one has rendered either faithful or unfaithful service.
This explains the stress on works in Matthew and Luke. (This is dealt with in some detail in the author's commentary on the Gospel of Matthew.)
The Lord said: "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to." (verse 24 N.I.V.).
"Make every effort" or 'strive' is a strong word, literally agonize. It is the language of the race and athletic struggle. No one is saved from sin by reason of their struggling or working hard, otherwise salvation is by human effort or merit. In the parable the hearers are urged to:
"Make every effort (or struggle N.E.B.) to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, 'Sir, open the door for us'. But he will answer 'I don't know you or where you come from'". (verses 24,25 N.I.V.).
The sense of the owner's words is 'I do not acknowledge you or where you come from'. They were not true guests but merely intruders. They claimed to know Him because they lived with Him in Galilee and sometimes ate with Him. But this was only knowing Him 'after the flesh' as Paul expressed it later on. They were never His true disciples who rendered faithful service to Him, but were rather 'evil workers'. Thus the refusal was related to conduct, in spite of all their pretensions.
What was the end of the story? The Lord said:
"There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and first who will be last." (verses 28-30 N.I.V.).
These words must have been a shock and an offence to the scribes and Pharisees -- their great progenitors there and all the prophets but themselves shut out! No wonder there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, intense disappointment and impotent rage at this topsy-turvy end to their conception of the kingdom.
Next we find the Pharisees warning the Lord against the schemes of Herod, when they themselves are plotting (verse 31). 'Herod wants to kill you', they said and thus expressed their own wicked desires. Christ's reply was enigmatic.
"Go tell that fox, 'I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach My goal.' In any case, I must keep going today and tomorrow and the next day -- for surely no prophet can die outside Jerusalem!" (verses 32-34 N.I.V.).
The Lord's description of Herod as a cunning fox shows how clearly He understood the character of the man who had put John the Baptist to death and evidently wanted to get Christ into his power. 'Today, tomorrow and the next day' was evidently part of a proverb, showing that the Lord Jesus was independent of the plots of both Herod and the Pharisees. 'I am perfected', teleio is an important word in the New Testament which means to reach a goal, to reach maturity when it is used of ordinary human beings.
Verse 33 is a severe ironical indictment of Jerusalem. The city had become the recognised murderess of prophets, so it was not likely that a prophet would die anywhere else.
The Lord's sad lament over Jerusalem is also given in Matthew 23:37. Dr. Plummer thinks it would be a 'violent hypothesis to suppose that Christ spoke these words twice'. Why indeed? Was the Lord going to be moved by this tragedy only once? Was He not stirred to the depths by the blindness, hardness and opposition of this the city of God? And here we get the blending of divine sovereignty and human response, or the lack of it. 'How often would I' ... but 'you would not'. This clash of wills results in rejection and darkness but, praise God, it is not the end of the story. The time will finally come when Israel, who once rejected their Saviour and King, will welcome Him at His Second Coming and so 'all Israel will be saved' (Rom. 11:25-27 and compare Zech. 12:10-14). Note the word 'often' in verse 34 which clearly shows that Christ made repeated visits to Jerusalem. These are recorded only in John's Gospel.
Here we have once again Christ eating a meal in a Pharisee's house. And he was a prominent one, a leader (verse 1) Luke tells us. All the while the Lord was being watched by His enemies, the religious leaders. This time Christ put the problem straight to them, which demanded a reply.
Jesus asked the Pharisees and experts in the law (the Scribes), "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath or not?" (verse 3 N.I.V.).
In front of Him was a man suffering with dropsy. This disease is only mentioned in the New Testament by Luke the physician. The enemies were silenced because they did not know what to say. Getting no answer, the Lord took hold of the man, healed him, and sent him on his way (verse 4). He was not finished with the Pharisees, for He put another pertinent question to them:
"If one of you has a son or an ox that falls into a well on the Sabbath day, will you not immediately pull him out?" And they had nothing to say (verses 5-6 N.I.V.).
How could they speak? Their hypocrisy was mercilessly exposed and there was no reply to it except for them to admit their guilt. But this they had no intention of doing.