Turn or Burn!

There were present at that season some that told him of the Galilæans, whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answering said unto them, Suppose ye that these Galilæans were sinners above all the Galilæans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. Or those eighteen, upon whom the tower in Siloam fell, and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Luke 13:1-5

A popular “evangelical” tool used to coerce superficial belief and obedience is sometimes referred to as “turn or burn.” 

Texts like the one above and others are used to coerce the hearer into following Jesus out of fear of burning hell rather than out of the comfort of love.  There are MANY problems with this technique, not the least of which is that Jesus Himself said:  

For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

John 3:17

If Jesus did not come to condemn, then His gospel should not be used to condemn or threaten condemnation to hell either!  

So, what does this passage teach us?  

First of all, we need to remember the techniques of the Scribes and Pharisees who continually tried to sidestep the need for repentance. In this case, Jesus has just told them that they don’t see Him as the Messiah and this will have national consequences.  They thought themselves better than those who revolted against Rome and died. Jesus said that there was a similar destruction coming for them if they did not repent. 

Jesus then mentions another event where eighteen men were killed when a tower fell on them. Jesus said that the Scribes and Pharisees will likewise perish if they do not repent. 

The historian Josephus recorded that 1.1 million were killed in the siege of Jerusalem and that 300,000 were crushed in the rubble of the Temple when Titus eventually destroyed Jerusalem in 70 AD.  

Jesus is referring to another national catastrophe that could be avoided if the Jews would just repent of their arrogance and self justification. 

This text should be understood and applied in its historical context. It should not be used to threaten with eternal damnation. Rather, it should be used to show that there are timely consequences to impenitence and unbelief.  

As you can see in the parable that follows, God is longsuffering toward unbelief, not impatiently vindictive.

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