Repent or Perish (Luke 13:1–5)

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Image by Ben White. Adapted for Redemption of Humanity. Used under licence.

Last edited on 19/Jan/2021

The Meaning of Repentance

“There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2 And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 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? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” — Jesus (Luke 13:1-5, ESVUK)

In this Bible reading, we see that repentance is an important aspect of Jesus’ message. He tells us that unless we repent, we will perish, just like the people mentioned above perished. To repent means to change one’s heart and mind.1,2 In biblical times it was a military word that referred to a soldier marching in one direction who then turns around to march the other way.3 In biblical usage, it therefore means turning away from sin, and towards God. When we repent, we view sin the way God views it; we see it as evil, and are grieved when we commit it. When we repent, we also stop rejecting who Jesus Christ truly is, and accept him as our crucified and risen Lord and Saviour. Basically, repentance means that we change our minds about sin and Jesus.

Repentance Produces Good Works

True repentance results in changed behaviour (Acts 26:20), where we no longer live for ourselves, but for Jesus.4 Our old selves were crucified with Christ, and we were raised as new people together with him in Holy Baptism (Romans 6:3-5). As new creations, with God dwelling within us, our desire is to please God and live according to his will, not to continue living in sin. Repentance must never be seen as a work that we must do before we can be saved, because it is something that only God produces within us (Acts 11:18; 2 Timothy 2:24-26).

Therefore, according to Jesus, unless we change our hearts and minds from living a life of unbelief and sin, to living a life of faith and obedience to God, we will perish in the same way that the aforementioned people perished; suddenly, and without warning. The word for “perish” in this context doesn’t simply mean die, but it also denotes being separated from God eternally (see John 3:16-18). Jesus taught that repentance is not simply an optional part of the Christian life, but an essential one.

The Urgency of Repenting Now

Another important thing that we see in this Bible reading is what Jesus said about the people who died in this passage. First, there were the Galileans, “whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices”. Then, there were the eighteen “on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them”. Jesus clearly tells us that these people didn’t die because they were worse sinners than all the other people living in the same areas. Therefore, we cannot simply assume that people who die of unnatural means are worse sinners than those who die of old age. Instead, Jesus used their premature deaths as an example of the urgent need for repentance right here, right now, because you can’t repent after you’ve died.

None of us knows when our time will be finished on the earth. Those Galileans and residents in Siloam certainly wouldn’t have expected their lives to have ended in that way, or at that time. In the same way, we also can’t expect our lives to turn out the way we want, when we want. If you haven’t yet repented, then now is better than ever to do so, because if you die without having repented, you will indeed perish as Jesus said. If, however, you have repented, then take comfort in the fact that there was much joy in heaven because of this, and that one day the Lord will bring you there forever (Luke 15:1-7).

References List

1. 2016, What is Repentance? – What Does Repent Mean? | Jeremiah 34:15-16 Devotional | Bible Study, Bible Munch, viewed on 22 July 2018, <https://https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=axbq0AICV9E>

2. Repentance, Wikipedia, accessed on 22 July 2018, <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Repentance>

3. Graham, J 2012, WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO “REPENT”?, Christianity.com, accessed on 22 July 2018, <https://www.christianity.com/jesus/following-jesus/repentance-faith-and-salvation/what-does-it-mean-to-repent.html>

4. What is repentance and is it necessary for salvation?, Got Questions Ministries, accessed on 22 July 2018, <https://www.gotquestions.org/repentance.html>

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