The Fig Tree, Luke 13:1-9

1. Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans, whose blood Pilate had mingled [shed along with] with their sacrifices.

Josephus, the Jewish historian of the time of Christ and after, records a number of massacres during this period, but does not mention this one.

Perhaps the people reporting to Jesus were seeking to get Him to comment politically on Pilate and thereby use Jesus as a means of rallying support for their cause.  Remember, the Jews were under the rule of the Roman government and resented it.  Ungodly gentiles were ruling over the house of Israel.  Obviously, the people doing the reporting are interested in deliverance as well as justice.  They want what is right; at least, right the way they see it.

Another way to look at the situation would be to imagine a church gathered one Sunday having communion. Then gunmen enter and shoot everyone present thereby mingling their blood with the wine of the supper. The natural reaction would be one of horror and hatred. This is the type of thing that is presented to Jesus.

Possibly could refer to Judas of Galilee in Acts 5:36-37: “For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody; and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him.  And he was slain; and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing.  37 “After this man Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census, and drew away some people after him, he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered."

2. And He answered and said to them, "Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered this fate?

When Jesus was told about the slaughter in the temple, He responded not with indignant denunciation of Roman brutality, but with a warning to His own people to "repent".

This raises an important question: Why were they told to repent after Jesus heard about the indignity?  Jesus is more concerned with the eternal than the temporal.  This is not to say that the loss of the people wasn't serious, but Jesus' mission was not to settle political disputes, or fix people's personal problems.  It was to atone for sin, to fulfill the promises of God concerning Israel and the Gentiles, and to usher in the Kingdom of God.

The people are too short-sighted.

The word "fate" is not in the original and is not here intended to support the belief of fatalism. The Greek says, "such things."

3. I tell you, no, but, unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

His statement that they repent or perish is a bold confrontation of sin; something the Jews did not appreciate Jesus pointing out, particularly when they are expecting Jesus to side with them about the slaughter of the Galileans.  Apparently, they were looking for ways to get Jesus to agree with them politically.  But Jesus would have no part of it.  He is not to be parceled out in order to get his approval on different matters on which people are personally concerned whether it be political, social, or theological.  He won't be used that way.  Instead, Jesus gets to the heart of the matter.

He pulls a switch on them.  Jesus doesn't comment on the atrocity of people killed in the act of sacrifice to the God of Israel, as terrible as it is.  Instead He tells the multitudes they need to repent or perish.

We know that the judging hand of God fell upon the Jewish nation in the form of its destruction in 70 A.D. when Israel was scattered and the temple destroyed.  The Jewish nation had not repented of its sins of legalism, self-righteousness, and ethnic pride, all of which, combined to bring about the murder of Jesus at their hands.  The Jews reaped what they sowed.  They sowed death.  They reaped death.

However, there is not intended here a one to one correspondence on the relationship between sin and its consequences. Elsewhere Jesus denies such a correspondence.  Please consider this: "And as He passed by, He saw a man blind from birth. And His disciples asked Him, saying, 'Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he should be born blind'?  Jesus answered, 'It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him," (John 9:1-3).

4. Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, were worse culprits [debtors] than all the men who live in Jerusalem?

Jesus broadens the scope of the discussion by mentioning an incident where a tower fell and killed eighteen people.  This may be one of the towers near the pool of Siloam in John 9.

He uses the word in Greek for "debtor," (opheiletes).  This word stands in contrast to the word "sinners" in verse two.

We are in debt to God because we have broken His laws; we have sinned.  A debt is what is owed.  Matthew renders the Lord's prayer as "Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors."  The Lucan account of the same prayer uses the words "forgive us our sins...".  Debts are unfulfilled duties; sins are both purposefully and accidentally committed acts of rebellion.

The people speak of the slaughter and Jesus speaks of 18 who died long ago.  The 18 were no worse than the Galileans.  Why then were they all killed?  Perhaps the better question might be, "Why were any left alive?"  Nevertheless, there is no such thing as chance in a universe governed by God.  The deaths under the tower and at the altar of sacrifice were all permitted by God.  In this sense God ordained it. That is, He ordained it by permitting it.

But, this does not mean that God causes sin and suffering, but that in His sovereign plan, He ordains that they occur.  Again, this means that He gives place in His divinely appointed history for all events to occur that do occur: “For truly in this city there were gathered together against Thy holy servant Jesus, whom Thou didst anoint, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, 28 to do whatever Thy hand and Thy purpose predestined to occur," (Acts 4:27-28).

5. I tell you, no but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." But what is Jesus saying?  He mentions the 18 and says they are no worse than those then living in Jerusalem.  Jesus' declaration of the need for Israel to repent of their sins, in the light of the slaughter of the Galileans would almost seem to bring extreme anger, even revolt against Him by those listening.  After all, the Jews felt oppressed and the incident of the Galileans would only cement their attitudes of persecution and self righteousness.
6. And He began telling this parable: "A certain man had a fig tree which had been planted in his vineyard; and he came looking for fruit on it, and did not find any.

Leviticus 19:23-25 says, "And when you enter the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall count their fruit as forbidden.  Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it shall not be eaten.  But in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. And in the fifth year you are to eat of its fruit, that its yield may increase for you..."

The vineyard owner was ready to eat of the fruit.  But there wasn't any.  It was the 7th year of looking: the 5th year fruit would have been the first year he could have partaken.  The 6th year would have been the second year he could have partaken, and the 7th year would have been the year spoken of here.  Therefore, he says in verse 7...

7. And he said to the vineyard-keeper, 'Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?'


The owner has the right to expect fruit from his vineyard.  Symbolically, this parable seems to be teaching that the Jewish leadership has had enough time to repent of their sins.  John the Baptist said to the multitudes going out to see him, "Therefore bring forth fruits in keeping with repentance..." (Luke 3:8).

Luke 13:34-35 says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her!  How often I wanted to gather your children together, just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not have it!  35 “Behold, your house is left to you desolate; and I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’”

Years ago I came across a tract of which title alone struck me hard.  It said, "No Fruit? Cut it down."  This is the case with Israel. God had suffered long with them and the nation had grown cold, legalistic, and self-centered . Israel was not bearing the fruit of God's truth.

As Christians we are to bear the fruit of the Spirit mentioned in Gal. 5:22-23: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  If these fruit (In Gal. 5:22, the word "fruit" is in the singular, not plural) are not manifested in your lives, should you be cut down?  Apparently, the Jewish leadership were not manifesting the fruit of the Spirit nor the fruit of repentance.

You can ask yourself, "What fruit am I bearing for the Lord?"  "Am I showing love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and/or self control"?

These are internal characteristics, but what about external manifestations of those fruit?  Ministry to others?  Are you bearing fruit in furthering the Kingdom of God?

Isaiah 5:1-7, "Let me sing now for my well-beloved A song of my beloved concerning His vineyard. My well-beloved had a vineyard on a fertile hill. 2 And He dug it all around, removed its stones, And planted it with the choicest vine. And He built a tower in the middle of it, And hewed out a wine vat in it; Then He expected it to produce good grapes, But it produced only worthless ones. 3 “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem and men of Judah, Judge between Me and My vineyard. 4 “What more was there to do for My vineyard that I have not done in it? Why, when I expected it to produce good grapes did it produce worthless ones? 5 “So now let Me tell you what I am going to do to My vineyard: I will remove its hedge and it will be consumed; I will break down its wall and it will become trampled ground. 6 “And I will lay it waste; It will not be pruned or hoed, But briars and thorns will come up. I will also charge the clouds to rain no rain on it.” 7 For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, And the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; For righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress."

Matt. 21:18-19, "Now in the morning, when He returned to the city, He became hungry. 19 And seeing a lone fig tree by the road, He came to it, and found nothing on it except leaves only; and He *said to it, “No longer shall there ever be any fruit from you.” And at once the fig tree withered."

John 15:1-2 “I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. 2 “Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it, that it may bear more fruit."

8. And he answered and said to him, 'Let it alone, sir, for this year too, until I dig around it and put in fertilizer;

9. and if it bears fruit next year, fine; but if not, cut it down.'"
Literally, "to put dung" around the tree in order to get it to bear fruit.  The word occurs only here.  Sometimes we need a little crud in our lives to get us to bear fruit.


Literally, remove it from the vineyard.

This section contains simple teachings:

  1. The spiritual leaders of the household of faith are planted in "God's vineyard" and are expected to produce fruit.
  2. God will not tolerate fruitlessness indefinitely.
  3. Mercy and Grace are extended to those who do not bear fruit.

What is the expected response of the one who hears?

You should examine your own lives and look for fruit.  Preferably the fruit of the Holy Spirit mentioned in Galatians 5:22-23, for this is how you store up fruit for eternal life (John 4:36).  You must also realize that it is not possible to bear fruit apart from the Branch, Jesus (John 15), for apart from Him you can do nothing.

There are many types of fruit that could be examined: giving, praying, righteousness, forgiveness, tithing, discipling, leading others to Christ, missionary support, etc. Each is different, but each is from the same Lord.

Each of us is different with different gifts and fruit, but we are all of the same body.

Use what God has given you for His glory, to bear fruit, and to further His Kingdom.


About The Author

Matt Slick is the President and Founder of the Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.