When tyrants rage and buildings fall, it may seem that our world is falling apart. Stories of political unrest and natural disasters fill our 24-hour news cycle, and there may be an emotional impact to it. We feel that we are living in a time of uncertainties, and we may wonder: what’s next?
Such questions are not new.
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1–5, ESV)
We don’t know for certain the motive of those who related the account of Pilate and the Galileans. Some have suggested that they were following up Jesus’ discussion about interpreting the times a few verses prior (Luke 12:54-56). What is interesting is that Jesus doesn’t turn this into a national or global discussion.
With question and answer, Jesus affirms that these Galileans were not worse sinners than others. It wasn’t as if this calamity had fallen upon them as a matter of divine justice. This was a case of moral evil — the actions of a tyrant — falling upon individuals caught up in the politics of the day. Jesus expands the example to include a tower that had fallen and killed eighteen. Here we have a case that we would describe as a natural disaster. Construction accidents occur. Storms come. Earthquakes happen. Again, Jesus affirms that these victims were not worse sinners than others in Jerusalem who escaped the disaster.
Instead of drawing some big picture application from these disasters, Jesus makes a very personal warning: “Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Death and disasters are a consequence of sin in the world, but the spiritual consequences of sin are very personal. I may not know what will happen in tomorrow’s news, but I’m aware that two events are in my future: my death (unless Jesus returns first) and the Day of Judgment. When I see disasters happen, I need to ask a personal question: is a spiritual disaster coming upon me because I’m not ready to meet my Maker. Repentance is that change of mind and heart that leads me to say and live “not my will, but Yours, be done.” When tyrants rage and buildings fall, the important question is: am I spiritually ready?