Go and Tell that Fox: An Exposition of Luke 13:31-35
When we read Jesus’ words, we realize that He was a master of word pictures. Parables are a type of word picture where a story is used to make a point in comparison to a more Western idea of stating and elaborating propositions, In this passage, Jesus uses two animals of word pictures, the fox and the hen. This brings to mind the modern saying of the fox in the henhouse. Foxes will try to get into the henhouse and devour the hens. This passage reflects this idea. Herod is the fox, and Jesus compares himself to a mother hen who defends her chicks, even to the death.
Although the statement about Herod does not appear, the comparison of Jesus to the hen is. This, on the surface presents a problem as the context of that saying in Matthew is in chapter 25 just before His arrest. Here is appears in the middle of Luke’s gospel. In fact, much of Luke 13 parallels Matthew 25. Did Jesus make these sayings at two different times and places. This, of course, is possible as preachers recycle sermons and ideas. It would not be beyond possibility. However, it seems that the two accounts point to the same event. So where is the correct context for these sayings – Matthew or Luke? We must also answer why the other is out of place.
When we look at the text in Luke, we are given a clue. This occurs in verse 32 where Jesus says that He must cast out demons and heal today and tomorrow and be perfected on the third day. Matthew 25 occurs after Jesus has left the Temple the final time and goes out to the Mount of Olives. If we see that Jesus entered Jerusalem on Sunday, cleansed the Temple on Monday according to Mark, came back on Tuesday to see the withered fig tree and then Taught on the Temple before leaving it. If we see Wednesday as being the first day mentioned here and Thursday the second, then Good Friday becomes the third day when Jesus lays down His life as the perfect sacrifice. Here the present passive “is being perfected” indicated the immediacy of the event. If the event was in the middle of Jesus’s ministry, then the future passive would have been used. If we go to John’s gospel, we see “It is finished” said from the cross which is from the same root in Greek. It seems conclusive that this passage belongs at the end of Jesus’s life.
So why does Luke place it here? We tend to see the gospels chronologically, that one event follows the previous one in time. But there is also logical organization where two passages which are displaced in time and put together because the one two are meant to be interpreted together. At the beginning we have the passage about the passage about Pilate spilling the blood of the Galileans at the Temple altar and the seat hog 18 when the Tower of Siloam fell. These events seem to have happened sometime during the ministry of Jesus. If one takes a logical relationship between that passage and this one, we should see the Tower of Siloam’s fall as being logically related to the judgment and fall of Jerusalem. When Luke at the beginning of his gospel says that he wanted to make an orderly and accurate account, it does not necessarily mean it is ordered by time. It seems that Luke uses both the order of time as well as the order of logic. We must also affirm that the Holy Spirit, using human authors, is the ultimate and perfect inspirer of Scripture blesses this arrangement.
This passage begins with “In that same hour.” This is a temporal marker which says the passage immediately preceding occurred just before this passage. The context of the preceding passage fits the context of Matthew 25 well. Luke has placed the events into this logical context. It then says the Pharisees came with a word of warning that Herod was out to kill Him. When Jesus appears before Herod in Luke’s gospel, it does not seem to be a true statement. Herod was amused about Jesus and the reports he had heard about him, there was no indication he wanted to kill Jesus. In fact, as Jesus was Herod’s subject, he certainly had the power of life and death over Jesus and did not avail himself of the opportunity. As a client king of Rome, the restrictions of capital punishment against the Jews did not apply to Herod. In fact, he wasn’t a Jew at all. Herod also seems to have had remorse over killing John the Baptist. He considered Jesus to be the reincarnation of John, so there was also some fear on Herod’s part against killing Jesus.
So it seems that the Pharisees were either uninformed, or were trying to exploit Jesus in some way. There were a lot of divisions, both spiritually and politically among the Jewish people. There were Sadducees, Essenes, Hellenists, and Pharisees among the religious sects. And the Pharisees were divided between strict interpretation and a more liberal one. There were Zealots who were the political, nationalist right and the globalist Herodians. A person as popular among the people as Jesus was subject to recruitment in the hopes of bolstering their position. They hoped the could bring Jesus to moderate His views and take their side. The Pharisees on the surface were closer to Jesus’s teaching than the Sadducees. But Jesus refused and castigated the Pharisees. He is God’s Son and not a party person. Jesus’s rejection of all these parties actually united all of them against Jesus. Of course, this worked into the plan that Jesus should die and them rise again.
Jesus answers them by saying: “Go and tell that fox.” This is not the way one ought to answer his earthly lord. The fox was known by its cunning. But no one wanted to be called one, and more than being called a liar or deceiver. The Pharisees would have agreed that Herod was a fox. It was a family tradition. Herod the Great played the role of the fox well. We can see it in the way he talked to the Magi. “Go and find this child and report back to me that I might worship also.” But he was being “foxy.” He wanted to kill Jesus. But Herod was not the only fox. The Pharisees were also known for trickery. Most of the Pharisees wanted Jesus dead. A plot with the Sadducees was already underway to destroy Jesus. So the Pharisees come as wolves in sheep’s clothing. So what Jesus tells Herod is meant to be overheard by the Jewish nation as well. On the third day, He was going to be killed, not by Herod, but by the Jews who delivered Jesus over to Pilate for capital punishment, totally contradicting Jewish law about turning a brother over to a foreign power. Judas is rightly called a “traitor” in betraying Jesus. But the same Greek word “paradidomi” is used for the Sanhedrin turning Jesus over to Pilate. Their treason was on par with that of Judas. Soon, even the mob would cry out: “We have no king but Caesar! Crucify Him!”
Jesus must remain in Jerusalem today and to tomorrow and to leave on the next day. When we read the Transfiguration account in Luke, Jesus was talking with Moses and Elijah of his coming departure (exodus) in Jerusalem, a reference to His death. Herod might want to kill Jesus. The Pharisees, Sanhedrin, and the Sadducees wanted Jesus dead. Jesus would die, but not on their terms, but by the will of the Father in the appointed place and time. But yet He would not perish. On Sunday, he would arise from the dead, having conquered death forever. The prophet they wanted dead would not say dead. He would not perish, but Jerusalem would as a result of their rejection of Jesus.
The fox wanted to kill the hen. Satan wanted to kill the promised sed of the woman. But all He could do is bruise His heel. This One the world wanted dead has instead given Satan a death blow. Satan is mortally wounded, and his death is at hand. The hen has conquered the fox by dying at the hands of the foxes. This same Jesus invites all to come under the shelter of his wings. Those who live by the sword die by the same. The one who dies by the sword for Jesus’ sake shall have eternal life. What a strange and wonderful reversal of history! The Lamb conquers all!
But Jerusalem as a whole rejected Jesus. They would not come under the protection of the hen’s wings. As a result, the very foxes of the Herods and Rome would scatter and consume them. Their city would be utterly destroyed. The remnant who believed in Jesus, even though many suffered terribly like their Master survived as the church and escaped the destruction of Jerusalem. We should as Christians understand that we must trust in Jesus rather than the foxes of this world. We need to be wiser than the Serpent while being as harmless as the doves. Let us keep our trust in the LORD Jesus who has promised to return and receive us unto Himself.
The good news here is in the word "until." There is a promise of restoration if one repents and says "Blessed is He who comes in the name of Yahweh." And Jesus is the "He." Even in judgment, God woos us,