Summary: Sin turned our thinking around backward. Jesus has to turn that around before we can understand anything.
“Now on the same occasion there were some present who reported to Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. 2 And Jesus said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? 3 “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 “Or do you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were worse culprits than all the men who live in Jerusalem? 5 “I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” 6 And He began telling this parable: “A 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. 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?’ 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.’ ”
Here is the setting for our focus today. Jesus is teaching, we don’t know precisely where but probably in Judea somewhere outside of Jerusalem. Most translations begin saying some people were present who began to report this incident with some Galileans. We’ll talk more about that. But the actual wording indicates that some people ‘came to’ where Jesus was, rather than being already present.
That is worthy of mention because if they came to where He was to give Him this report, then they had some purpose in it. Now we’re not told whether these were Pharisees, and if they were I would imagine that Luke would have said so. Nevertheless, they may have had some political goal in mind. They may have wanted to set Jesus up, so to speak, in getting Him to either side with the cause of the Galileans who had died, or defend the actions of Pilate.
Or, they may have simply wanted to find out what Jesus thought of the incident and hear His take on the justice or injustice of it.
All we can say for certain is what is actually written for us, and that is contained in the response of Jesus to this report.
First though, let’s talk about the event in question. The historian, Josephus is the only one who recorded this incident (or at least a like incident) with the Galileans so far as I’m able to determine; and there is doubt as to whether this is the same incident or even related.
What Josephus reveals to us is that Pilate had angered the Jews, not for the first time, by misappropriating funds from the Temple treasury for the construction of an aqueduct into Jerusalem. According to Josephus there was an uprising over this and Pilate had Roman soldiers disguised as civilians mix with the multitude. On Pilate’s signal the soldiers attacked the rioters and beat them, quelling the disturbance by brute force.
The differences in the accounts may indicate that they were not the same event. Galileans visiting from the north to make sacrifice in the Temple sounds very different than a multitude rioting in the street. Now it could be that the Romans were indiscriminate in their attack and the poor pilgrim Galileans were caught up in it.
In any case, we have this small amount of information; that Pilate was responsible for a group of worshiping men from Galilee being killed, apparently while they were in the Temple making sacrifice, since their blood was mingled with the blood of the animals being sacrificed. It may be the primary reason these people came to Jesus.
Whereas it would not have been so uncommon for a riotous uprising to be harshly put down by the Romans, it most certainly would have been an outrage to the Jews that pagan soldiers had entered the place of worship to murder attendants there.
So that is the setting as we know it. Jesus is teaching, people come to Him and report this despicable incident in which a group of Galileans were murdered at the command of the Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate.
As in other places in Scripture we aren’t given all the information we might want in order to satisfy our curiosity or so that we might come to some moral conclusion of our own concerning it. What we are given though, is all the information we need to then hear what Jesus had to say and carefully consider His words, applying them as much as we are able to the circumstances in which they were said, but more importantly, to our own hearts and lives with the Holy Spirit’s enabling.