Were They Greater Sinners?

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“[D]o you suppose that those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them were greater sinners[i] than all the men who live in Jerusalem?” (Luke 13:4)

Before you read ahead and I give the answer, consider that this statement was made in the middle of very seemingly harsh statements by Jesus. Just before this question was posed, Jesus spoke of casting fire upon the earth, dividing families and calling people hypocrites who could forecast the weather but not the times that we live in. (Luke 12:49-57)

Many people today like to view Jesus as a mild-mannered, wise man who turned the other cheek, washed peoples’ feet and talked about love. He certainly demonstrated those characteristics, but he was “not a tame lion” as C. S. Lewis might have said. He certainly did not pull any punches.

The question was prompted by people who pushed through the crowd to report to Jesus about some Galileans “whose blood Pilate mixed with their sacrifices.” While we do not know the exact details, it seems that Pilate had killed some Galilean Jews who were offering sacrifices at the Temple.

The people reporting this atrocity were probably looking to see how Jesus would respond and what he would do about it. The Galileans were fellow Jews, and Jesus was implying that he would be king of the Jews. Jesus, as he so often did, however, asked a question seemingly out of left field:

“Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate?” Luke 13:2)

Wait… what?! “Aren’t you going to do something about this?!” would have been a likely response from the crowd. But Jesus immediately turned the question on them:

“I tell you, no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:3)

In case you are wondering, this is the same answer he gave to the first question.

It was just reported to Jesus that Pilate slaughtered fellow Jews! … for nothing! … while they were worshiping in the Temple! And Jesus calls us sinners?!! And he is not going to do anything about it!!!

We think we are better than others. (Be honest!) We are certainly not as bad as that evil Pilate! We are not like cops who abuse their authority! We are not like rioters who are destroying their own city! We are not like the people in Nepal who were killed in the earthquake….

Don’t we think like that? We think that they must have somehow deserved it. Jesus clearly implies in his rhetorical questions that the people Pilate killed were not greater sinners than all the other Galileans (that was the easy one); and the people on who the tower fell were not greater sinners than anyone else in Jerusalem. (That is the tough one – why do bad things happen?)

Yes, there is evil in the world, and evil is wrong. (Think ISIS) Yes, disasters happen, and people are killed. Instead of thinking in terms of justice (against the evil of Pilate) or fairness (for the people struck down by evil) or karma (for the people killed by the tower), Jesus would have us think of ourselves.

Are you right with God?

The point is that we will all perish. We will all die someday. It really does not matter the circumstances; whether we die peacefully in bed after living a full life or are hit by the proverbial bus, our lives will come to an end. Jesus is always asking, “But are you right with God?”

The people who die tragically, whether at the hands of evil or by some fortuitous event or natural disaster, are no better off or worse off than the person who dies peacefully in bed after a full life. Were they greater sinners? No!

Yes, some people enjoy a better life than others, but the end of life is the same. If we are sinners, if we are people who have missed the mark, our fate is eternity without God.

On the other hand, if we are right with God, what does this life even matter? We have eternity with God awaiting us!

It does matter, of course. It matters not for this life but the next. This life is the springboard into the next life, the ultimate life, eternal life. We should be living this life like it matters for all eternity!

Jesus would tell you, “Repent then and be made right with God!” Turn to God, turn from your own ways; and get right with God. God is waiting for you.


[i] 268/Hamartolos is derived from 264/hamartano, meaning “to forfeit by missing the mark”; properly, it means loss from falling short of what God approves (“wide of the mark”); a blatant sinner. Hamartolos describes someone constitutionally opposed to God. We have all sinned and fallen short of God. (Rom. 3:23). We are all constitutionally opposed to God unless we repent and turn from our ways. None of us are better off in that department than others on our own. We are saved from this condition of sin only by grace. (Eph. 2:8) We access this grace by faith and confession that Jesus is Lord. (Rom. 9:10) When we die to ourselves and allow Christ to live in us (Gal. 2:19-21), we become one with God and God resides in us (John 17:21-23) – we become children of God.


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