At that very time there were some present who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. 2He asked them, “Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? 3No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish as they did. 4Or those eighteen who were killed when the tower of Siloam fell on them—do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all perish just as they did.”
There was a belief in the first century that bad things happened as a punishment from God. Some people still today believe that, note comments from Pat Robertson after Katrina or after the earthquake in Haiti. Jesus says that is not true at all.
Then Jesus talks about two incidents that were apparently in the news at the time.Pilate had killed some men from Galilee and mixed their blood with sacrifices – there is no historical evidence of this incident, and we have no more detail than this, but that Pilate was ruthless and cruel is certainly documented. This was an evil act perpetrated by an evil human being. It did not happen to these men because they sinned. But those looking on should repent of the evil in their own hearts – for unless they repent, they will suffer just as those did – He is not saying Pilate will kill all of them – he is speaking of future suffering, of the salvation of their own souls. Jesus has just been talking about end times, and about entering the kingdom of God, in this life, as well as the one to come. Now, again, he emphasizes repentance and living now in the kingdom way.
He goes on to give another example, eighteen were killed when a tower in Jerusalem collapsed. This probably happened more often than we know – construction in the day was sometimes done using Roman engineering, stone, slave labor, and extensive planning – i.e. the Coliseum, still standing today. But in the cities, often tenements and other buildings were thrown together, built of mud brick, and poorly planned. But it was not the fault of the 18 beneath the tower when it collapsed. Our actions have consequences – but sometimes the consequences are caused by someone else; sometimes the innocent suffer the consequences of someone else’s actions. That does not mean it was a part of God’s plan. Everything does NOT happen for a reason! Jesus says, do you think those men were worse sinners than you? or than others living in Jerusalem? No, he says, but you must see this and look to your own soul – repent of your own sins.
Jesus is saying, look to your own soul – do not judge the other person. Those events in the news of his day must have brought on a lot of conversation about how evil other people were, or about how it was their own evil that got people killed, or about who was to blame for a tower collapse. Think about that in terms of today’s news. Jesus says stop looking at the other guy, and look at your own heart, and repent of your own sins.