Summary: Trying to compare yourself favorably to those who sin more than you is a dangerous endeavor.
Were These Worse Sinners? An Exposition of Luke 13:1-9
The natural tendency of human beings is to justify one’s self by finding someone who sins worse then himself/herself. Psychologists call this “projection.” It is a survival reflex in which one wishes to place their justly deserved punishment upon someone else. This passage in Luke 13 serves as an example of this. Let us look further into this passage.
The chapter begins with people coming to Jesus saying that Pilate had just mingled the blood of some Galilean worshipers with the sacrifices they were offering. As Pilate was governor of Judaea and not Galilee, one must think that this happened at the Temple in Jerusalem. So it does not seem that this was referring to Galilean idolaters or a group who was sacrificing to the LORD in Galilee which was clearly contrary to the Law. If they had done such things, surely the Jews would have seen their condemnation as just. Jesus’s charge of them as being sinners would have been seen as just. The shock would have been that Jesus had called those who had come as being sinners worthy of the same condemnation.
It would have taken some time for the report to have come to Jesus who seems to have been in Galilee at the time. The imperfect tense indicates that more than one report had come to Him. If they were sacrificing in Jerusalem when this happened, then Pilate’s actions would have been seen as pure sacrilege. Although we don’t have any other account of this incident, the actions appears consistent to the types of actions Pilate was known to have done to the Jews. In the eyes of many Jews, these Galileans were not sinners, but martyrs of Yahweh. Their blood became part of the sacrificial blood poured out at the base of the altar. We can even see a hint of this in Revelation where the souls of the Christian martyrs spoke from under the altar. We read from the Old Testament that the blood of Abel cried out from the ground unto the LORD. The Jews would also remember all the things which had happened in the Jewish revolt against Antiochus Epiphanes.
When Jesus calls these Galileans sinners instead of saints, it would have come as a total shock. This emphasizes the conflict of two strains of wisdom. The thought of the day was that all misfortune was the result of someone’s sin. We see an example of this when the viper attaches itself to Paul’s hand while he was on Malta. The people expected him to die a horrible death. He was a prisoner among prisoners. They had escaped the fate of the terrible storm. In their eyes, he must have especially offended the gods and should not live. They were wrong, of course. Paul did not die, and public opinion quickly changed. We also see in John 9, that the man was born blind because of the sin of his parents or even the sin of the unborn child. This stands in conflict with what appears to be the heroic martyrdom of these Galileans who were there countrymen whereas Pilate was a wicked invader. It seems under these circumstances; the latter idea would have prevailed. They would be resurrected on the last day and given especial reward on the day of Judgment, and Pilate would have received eternal punishment.
Jesus not only offends their sensibilities by calling their heroic martyrs, sinners, he calls all of them sinners. Unlike John 9, where Jesus tells the disciples that the man’s blindness was not result of anyone’s sin but rather to display God’s glory, He seems to imply that Pilate was God’s agent in punishing these Galileans for their sins. Judging from the context of this passage, it also implies that the Romans would be the agents of God when they destroyed Jerusalem just as the wicked Babylonians were God’s agent in punishing Israel. “Certainly not!” Surely God would not do such was the thought of the Jews of Jeremiah’s day.
Verse three begins with an emphatic negative. These Galileans were NOT worse sinners than the people Jesus addresses here. This is followed by the emphatic “BUT” which is used to replace the idea of the suffering of the Galileans with the idea that the hearers faced an even greater punishment for their sins unless they repented. As we have noted, the rejection of many of the Jews of Jesus would result in the greater destruction of Jerusalem. The use of the plural “you” rather than the singular “thou” seems to refer to the group as a whole rather than individual repentance even though Jesus does call everyone to repent individually as well.
Jesus now sets forth a second example which was known to the crowd. A tower known as the “Tower of Siloam” had fallen resulting in eighteen deaths. Towers were places of refuge in the times of war. They offered protection from the enemy. So in this place where people had gone for refuge became the very means of their death. We don’t know directly of this tower, but Luke had proven himself to be a reliable historian. These eighteen who had perished had put their trust in the wrong place.