Thursday, November 07, 2013

Repent Or Likewise Perish

“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices.  And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-3)

Pilate, as a Roman ruler over Jerusalem, had essentially one job; to keep the peace. Sometimes that took the form of appeasing the Jews when they were angry, and at other times it took the form of putting down rebellion against the Roman Empire.

We know that Pilate was a cruel man, and history bears witness to that fact. But Pilate was not arbitrarily cruel. As one who had a vested interest in keeping the populace happy, he was not prone to using deadly force on a whim.

So, taking what we know about Pilate into consideration we can safely assume that those Galileans who were killed in the temple as they offered sacrifices were in the act of rebellion against the Empire. Especially since we know that this time in Roman History was littered with would-be Messiahs who routinely gathered followers and made attempts to overthrow the yoke of the Roman government.

It was not uncommon for these wannabe Messiahs to seek God’s favor before they launched their rebellion. This almost always involved offering sacrifices to God in hopes that His favor would rest on them – and not on the Romans – as they set out to free themselves from Roman rule.

This practice was also indicative of a mindset that Jesus often tried to correct in his teaching. For example, whenever someone got sick or experienced suffering the assumption of the day was that this was due to some sin the person’s life.

You might remember when the disciples pointed out a blind man to Jesus and asked, “Who sinned that this man was born blind? His mother and father, or him?” Jesus was quick to answer, “Neither.”

Not only did the Jews wrongly assume that suffering equaled God’s judgment, they also assumed that a lack of suffering equated to God’s approval or favor. Jesus tried to dispel that idea often. But he also tried to teach people that violent rebellion against Rome wasn’t God’s strategy.

He had already told everyone that instead of following the “eye for an eye” method of resisting their oppressors, the way that God approved of was quite unconventional:
“You’ve heard it said, ‘an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth’ but I say to you, do not resist an evil person (that includes your Roman occupiers). If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…If anyone forces you to walk with them one mile (a common practice of Roman soldiers), go with them two….You have heard it said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy’ but I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you..If you love only those who love you what reward will you get? Don’t even tax collectors do that?” (Matt.5:38-47)

In essence, Jesus here is warning the Jews that if they persist in these attempts to overthrow the Roman Empire by employing violent rebellion, they would “likewise perish” which means, literally, that they would die “in the same way”, that is, by having the Roman army slaughter them while they are in the Temple offering sacrifices.

Sadly, this is exactly what did happen to the Jews in AD 70 because they did not listen to Jesus. They refused to accept Him as their nonviolent Messiah. They refused to let go of their “eye for an eye” method of resistance. They refused to love their enemies (the Romans) and therefore they perished just as those Galileans did.

Jesus goes on after this to point out the death of eighteen people who were crushed when a tower in Siloam fell on them. Several New Testament scholars have suggested that this tower was a Roman stronghold which fell when Jewish rebels attempted to tunnel underneath it to reach the stockpile of weapons stored there in hopes of arming themselves for yet another rebellion. The tunnel weakened the integrity of the tower’s foundation and it fell on them and killed them and others living around the tower.

Once again, Jesus warns them that unless they repent of this lust for Roman bloodshed they would “likewise perish”, that is, by having Roman structures knocked over to crush them beneath the weight. This, again, is exactly what happened to the inhabitants of Jerusalem who were destroyed when the Romans made Jerusalem desolate in AD 70. [And the parable of the fig tree in the vineyard that follows this verse verifies that this destruction is exactly what Jesus has in mind here.]

The point Jesus wants to make is that it was not the sinfulness or righteousness of those people that brought the calamity upon their heads, as they were prone to assume. Instead, Jesus wants them to see that their lust for a violent messiah and a bloody uprising is what brought them doom, and unless they repented of that way of thinking and began to trust the nonviolent, enemy-loving way that Jesus was preaching, the entire nation would be lost to violence.

We still have the same choice today. As followers of Christ, our choice is clear. We obey Jesus. We trust Him. We do not put our hope in weapons or violence or bloodshed. No, instead we put all of our hope in the way of the Cross.

We embrace the wisdom of Jesus and we refuse to trust in violence because we are convinced that love is more powerful than any weapon formed by man.

Aren’t we?


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