Tyre and Sidon, ancient cities of Phoenicia, are mentioned several times in both the Old and New Testaments. Jesus mentions Tyre and Sidon in Luke 10 in the context of judgments He was pronouncing against the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida.
Tyre and Sidon are port cities located in modern Lebanon on the Mediterranean coast. Sidon is believed to have existed prior to 2000 BC, with Tyre being just a little younger. The Old Testament mentions Israel’s dealings with these cities, including the Israelites’ failure to conquer Sidon in the conquest of the Promised Land (Judges 1:31), their worship of Sidonian gods on several occasions (Judges 10:6–16; 1 Kings 11), and their obtaining materials from Sidon and Tyre for the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 22:4). King Hiram of Tyre provided many of the temple furnishings for Solomon (1 Kings 7:13–51). Tyrians and Sidonians are also mentioned in helping rebuild the temple in Ezra’s time (Ezra 3:7). Queen Jezebel was a Sidonian (1 Kings 16:31). The Sidonian city of Zarephath was where a widow took care of Elijah and the Lord provided oil and flour for her through the famine; later, the widow’s son became ill, and Elijah raised him from the dead (1 Kings 17:8–24).
The Old Testament also has several prophecies against Tyre and Sidon that predicted a complete overthrow (Isaiah 23; Jeremiah 25; 27; 47; Ezekiel 26–28; Joel 3; Amos 1:9–10; Zechariah 9:1–4). Nebuchadnezzar besieged Tyre from 585–572 BC. Alexander the Great conquered Tyre in 322 BC, completely destroying the city. The Persian king Artaxerxes conquered Sidon. In short, God’s prophesied judgment came to pass. Later, both cities became prosperous provinces of Rome.
Tyre and Sidon were Gentile cities north of Israel, and Jesus had been sent to the Jews (Matthew 15:24). But Jesus still ministered to them: crowds from Tyre and Sidon came to see and listen to Him (Mark 3:7–8). Jesus helped a Syrophoenician woman and commended her faith (Matthew 15:21–28).
Jesus mentions Tyre and Sidon in Luke 10:13–14 (see also Matthew 11:20–24), comparing them to several cities in which He had performed miracles. These cities of Israel had been blessed with Jesus’ presence, preaching, and power, yet they had not repented. Jesus pronounces woes on them, stating that Tyre and Sidon, given the same opportunity, would have turned from their wickedness and been saved: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than for you.” Jesus also says Capernaum is under God’s judgment for their rejection of Christ (verse 15), because “whoever rejects me rejects him who sent me” (verse 16).
Jesus used the pagan cities of Tyre and Sidon to highlight the way God’s chosen people refused Him. The Israelites of Jesus’ day believed themselves to be righteously following God, yet they did not recognize God in their midst. Jesus, in essence, shamed Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum—they, who were supposed to be God’s representatives on earth, refused to listen; yet pagan cities would have quickly repented. Jesus’ comments demonstrate the importance of responsibility and stewardship. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48).
God’s desire is for His Word to be known and believed, with the result that people are transformed (see Luke 6:46). To reject the light we’ve been given is to remain in darkness. To spurn the grace of God and reject the Savior is to receive the due penalty for our sin.