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Luke 23:31:- “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”

What do the “green wood”, and the “dry” one indicate?

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Luke 23:31:- “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?”

What do the “green wood”, and the “dry” one indicate?

Both indicate the temple. The “green wood” symbolizes the physical body of Christ which in turn symbolizes the temple of God. The "dry" symbolizes the physical Jerusalem temple.

Jesus was on his way to be crucified, Luke 23:

26 As the soldiers led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.

Jesus warned the women of bad things would come upon them and their kids. Thirty-some years later, Rome would burn the city of Jerusalem and the temple.

31For if people do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”

A green tree is not so easily set on fire. Jesus didn't commit any crime. Despite Pilate's reluctance to execute him, he was about to be crucified. They were about to hang Jesus' body on a tree. Jesus' body symbolizes the temple of God.

A dry tree can be set on fire easily. The dry tree symbolizes the Jerusalem temple. It had not been producing good fruit because it was dry. Rome would come and burn the city of Jerusalem and its temple for its rebellion.

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A green tree is healthy and full of life as opposed to a dry tree that is dead and withered. A green tree is very hard to burn, while a dry tree burns very easily.

Jesus was saying that if these things were happening to Him, then how much worse would it be for those who were unjustly condemning Him.

If an innocent person were being treated this way, how would the corrupt and guilty be treated? A passage with similar meaning was spoken by the Apostle Peter in 1 Peter 4:17.

1 PETER 4:17 For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?

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Apparently, this was a proverb using green wood and dry wood. Green wood for the innocent and dry wood for the guilty. Apparently, the idea is taken from dry wood burning easier than green wood. Dry wood breaks rather than bends like green wood, but this apparently isn't the reference.

With the context of the Crucifixion versus the destruction of Jerusalem meant if these bad things are happening to the innocent, Jesus Christ, how much worse will the Romans be when they destroy Jerusalem.

Some commentators took this in a more general sense.

Quotes from the Commentaries

It follows, But if they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry?

GREGORY. (Mor. 12. c. 4) He has called Himself the green wood and us the dry, for He has in Himself the life and strength of the Divine nature; but we who are mere men are called the dry wood.

THEOPHYLACT. As though He said to the Jews, If then the Romans have so raged against Me, a fruit-bearing and ever flourishing tree, what will they not attempt against you the people, who are a dry tree, destitute of every lifegiving virtue, and bearing no fruit?

BEDE. Or as if He spake to all: If I who have done no sin being called the tree of life, do not depart from the world without suffering the fire of my Passion, what torment think ye awaits those who are barren of all fruits?

THEOPHYLACT. But the Devil, desiring to engender an evil opinion of our Lord, caused robbers also to be crucified with Him; whence it follows, And there were two other malefactors led with him to be put to death.

Thomas Aquinas. (1843). Catena Aurea: Commentary on the Four Gospels, Collected out of the Works of the Fathers: St. Luke. (J. H. Newman, Ed.) (Vol. 3, p. 748). Oxford: John Henry Parker.

In the green tree (ἐν ὑγρῳ ξυλῳ [en hugrōi xulōi]). Green wood is hard to burn and so is used for the innocent. In the dry (ἐν τῳ ξηρῳ [en tōi xērōi]). Dry wood kindles easily and is a symbol for the guilty. This common proverb has various applications. Here the point is that if they can put Jesus to death, being who he is, what will happen to Jerusalem when its day of judgment comes? What shall be done (τι γενηται [ti genētai]). Deliberative subjunctive. -- Robertson, A. T. (1933). Word Pictures in the New Testament (Lk 23:31). Nashville, TN: Broadman Press.

23:31. Unlike a green one, a dry tree would easily catch fire. The point may be that Jesus is “green” wood, not really a revolutionary; how much greater would be the Roman judgment against the dry wood, the real revolutionaries? Or that if they murdered the innocent, how much more would they destroy themselves (the Jewish leaders fought one another as well as the Romans in 66–70)? Or the saying may simply mean that Jerusalem is becoming more ripe for judgment. Jesus may also allude back to the trees and Jerusalem’s fall in 21:24, 29–30, though this option is less likely. -- Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible background commentary: New Testament (Lk 23:31). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

Vs. 31. For if they do these things to the green wood.—So long as the enemy at his incursion into a land spares the green wood, he will, perhaps, even refrain from destroying the dry; but if he does not even spare the fruitful, how should he not deny compassion to the unfruitful? The image, sufficiently intelligible of itself, is probably taken from Ezekiel 20:47, and places the fate of the innocent Saviour as a prophecy of evil over against that of the guilty Israel. We have here not the contrast between young and old (Bengel), and as little the continuation of the exclamation of the despairing women themselves, vs. 30 (Baumgarten-Crusius), who, he supposes, from the fate which comes upon themselves as guiltless, now make inference as to the lot of the guilty; but, on the other hand, a pathetic allusion of our Lord Himself to that which even now is coming upon Him, in which this is given to the women as the standard according to which they were to measure the fate impending over themselves. Comp. Jer. 49:12; Prov. 11:31; 1 Peter 4:17, 18. Εἰ ταῦτα ποιοῦσιν, He does not even say what, in order not to agitate the souls of the women yet more deeply; they were themselves to see it in the moments next succeeding; ποιοῦσιν, Impersonally; it designates neither the Jews nor the Romans alone, but is an indefinite expression of what is here to be accomplished by human hands. -- Lange, J. P., & van Oosterzee, J. J. (2008). A commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Luke. (P. Schaff & C. C. Starbuck, Trans.) (p. 370). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

“Sow for yourselves according to righteousness, reap according to mercy, break up your fallow ground; for it is time to seek Adonai” (v. 12). In other words, repent, return to God. The advice is sound for all eras, as much in our own day as in Yeshua’s or Hosea’s, especially in the light of v. 31 of our present text, which says that if such terrible things happen when the wood is green and cannot burn well, that is, on the day when innocent Yeshua is put to death as a criminal, how much worse it will become as the years pass and resentment of the Messiah and his followers hardens (especially when that resentment is inflamed by evil deeds done in the Messiah’s name by those claiming to be his followers). -- Stern, D. H. (1996). Jewish New Testament Commentary : a companion volume to the Jewish New Testament (electronic ed., Lk 23:30). Clarksville: Jewish New Testament Publications.

Jesus may be repeating a proverb. The idea seems clear enough: If innocence meets such a fate, what will be in store for the guilty?32. Cf. Is 53:12. -- Brown, R. E., Fitzmyer, J. A., & Murphy, R. E. (1996). The Jerome Biblical commentary (Vol. 2, p. 161). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

23:31 Then the Lord Jesus added the words, “For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?” He Himself was the green tree, and unbelieving Israel was the dry. If the Romans heaped such shame and suffering on the sinless, innocent Son of God, what dreadful punishment would fall on the guilty murderers of God’s beloved Son? -- MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1455). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Fire spreads much more rapidly through a dry forest than through a wet one; so Jesus’ words in v. 31 warn of a situation in the future even worse than the events surrounding his crucifixion. -- Liefeld, W. L. (1984). Luke. In F. E. Gaebelein (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke (Vol. 8, p. 1042). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House.

23:31 This apparently is a common proverb that in essence means “if they can treat me like this when I am innocent, then what will they do to you?” “if” This is a FIRST CLASS CONDITIONAL SENTENCE, which is assumed to be true frm the author’s perspective or for his/her literary purposes. -- Utley, R. J. (2004). The Gospel according to Luke (Vol. Volume 3A, Lk 23:31). Marshall, TX: Bible Lessons International.

Verse 31 is a proverbial phrase which could be used in many connections. Here it means, if they do this to one who is innocent, what will they some day do to those who are guilty? -- Barclay, W. (2001). The Gospel of Luke (p. 336). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

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The metaphor of the tree is a regular Hebraistic image which was employed to represent people or a nation. Here is a sample:

  • Matt 3:9, 10 - And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The axe lies ready at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. [Here the tree represented the Jews who were rejecting Jesus.] See also Luke 3:9.
  • Matt 7:15-23, Luke 43-45 - a tree and its fruit represented the life and good (or bad) works of the Christian life
  • John 15:1-10 - the vine represented the Christian community dependent on Jesus for spiritual nourishment
  • Rom 11:11-23 - the olive tree represented the original Jewish nation and the christian community being grafted into it.
  • Matt 12:33-37 - the tree and its fruit represented the Christian and it fruit represented the Christian's works. See also Luke 6:43-45.
  • Matt 24:32-35, Mark 13:28-31, Luke 21:29-33 - the fig tree used to illustrate the people of God reading the signs of the times
  • Mark 11:12-14, 20-25 - the withered fig tree represented the rejected nation of Israel unable to grow and produce fruit. See also Matt 21:18-22
  • Luke 13:6-9 - the parable of the vineyard representing the finite probation of the Jews.

In the OT, the tree often represented the nation of Israel such as:

  • Joel 1:7 (fig tree), 12 (grapevine, fig tree, pomegranate, palm, apple), 19 (trees of the field), etc
  • Eze 17 - parable of the two eagles and a vine that represented the Jewish nation, especially the remnant of Israel.
  • Eze 31 - the parable of the tree in the forest of Lebanon representing Pharaoh and Assyria, among the Israelites.
  • Isa 56:3 - Let no foreigner who has joined himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will utterly exclude me from His people.” And let the eunuch not say, “I am but a dry tree.”
  • Isa 27 - the parable of the LORD's vineyard representing the God's people.
  • Isa 5:1-7 - the song of the vineyard representing Israel
  • Isa 11:1-1 - the coming Messiah is compared to the shoot from the stump of Jesse
  • Judges 9:7-15 - Jotham's parable of the trees electing a king/leader representing the Israelites
  • Dan 4 - the dream of the great tree representing Nebuchadnezzar

Thus, tress and large plants (including vines) are consistently used to represent people, or communities or a nation.

In Luke 23:31 we have a reference to green and dry trees. The green and dry tree is used to denote whether the tree is growing (green) or dead (dry). The verse in Luke 23:31 should not be divorced from its previous verse which has significant references to two other places:

  • Luke 23:29-31 - Look, the days are coming when people will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore, and breasts that never nursed!’ At that time ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’ For if men do these things while the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?”
  • Hos 10:6-8 - Yes, it will be carried to Assyria as tribute to the great king. Ephraim will be seized with shame; Israel will be ashamed of its wooden idols. Samaria will be carried off with her king like a twig on the surface of the water. The high places of Aven will be destroyed— it is the sin of Israel; thorns and thistles will overgrow their altars. Then they will say to the mountains, “Cover us!” and to the hills, “Fall on us!”
  • Rev 6:15-17 - Then the kings of the earth, the nobles, the commanders, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and free man hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains. And they said to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the One seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of Their wrath has come, and who is able to withstand it?”

Thus, Jesus appears to be saying in Luke 23:31 that the "tree" of Israel and its Messiah, Jesus Himself, could be so badly treated when the nation of the Jews is still functioning, what would happen later when the the nation was abandoned and dead? Ellicott reaches the same conclusion:

(31) If they do these things in a green tree.—The word for “tree” primarily meant “wood” or “timber,” the tree cut down. In later Greek, however, as, e.g., in Revelation 2:7; Revelation 22:2; Revelation 22:14; Revelation 22:19, it was used for “tree.” The “green tree” is, therefore, that which is yet living, capable of bearing fruit; the “dry,” that which is barren, fruitless, withered, fit only for the axe (Matthew 3:10; Luke 13:7). The words have so much the character of a proverb that the verb may almost be treated as practically impersonal. So far as any persons are implied, we must think of our Lord as speaking of the representatives of Roman power. If Pilate could thus sentence to death One in whom he acknowledged that he could find no fault, what might be expected from his successors when they had to deal with a people rebellious and in arms? In 1 Peter 4:17 we have the same thought in a more general and less figurative form.

Barnes is similar:

For if they do these things in a green tree ... - This seems to be a proverbial expression. A "green" tree is not easily set on fire; a dry one is easily kindled and burns rapidly; and the meaning of the passage is - "If they, the Romans, do these things to me, who am innocent and blameless; if they punish me in this manner in the face of justice, what will they not do in relation to this guilty nation? What security have they that heavier judgments will not come upon them? What desolations and woes may not be expected when injustice and oppression have taken the place of justice, and have set up a rule over this wicked people?" Our Lord alludes, evidently, to the calamities that would come upon them by the Romans in the destruction of their city and temple. The passage may be applied, however, without impropriety, and with great beauty and force, to the punishment of the wicked in the future world.

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