Do the commentaries help? I have told you before, use the commentaries when you have done the work on the passage. Otherwise we are prey to what the commentators tell us and we don’t know how to refute them. What follows has been clipped from E-Sword.
Here is a summary:
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.
Thus applied, it means that the sufferings of the Saviour, as compared with the sufferings of the guilty, were like the burning of a green tree as compared with the burning of one that is dry. A green tree is not adapted to burn; a dry one is. So the Saviour - innocent, pure, and holy - stood in relation to suffering. There were sufferings which an innocent being could not endure. There was remorse of conscience, the sense of guilt, punishment properly so called, and the eternity of woes. He had the consciousness of innocence, and he would not suffer forever. He had no passions to be enkindled that would rage and ruin the soul. The sinner is “adapted” to sufferings, like a dry tree to the fire. He is guilty, and will suffer all the horrors of remorse of conscience. He will be punished literally. He has raging and impetuous passions, and they will be enkindled in hell, and will rage forever and ever. The meaning is, that if the innocent Saviour suffered “so much,” the sufferings of the sinner forever in hell must be more unspeakably dreadful. Yet who could endure the sufferings of the Redeemer on the cross for a single day? Who could bear them forever and ever, aggravated by all the horrors of a guilty conscience, and all the terrors of unrestrained anger, and hate, and fear, and wrath? “Why will the wicked die?”
Luk 23:31 - If they do these things in a green tree - This seems to be a proverbial expression, the sense of which is: If they spare not a tree which, by the beauty of its foliage, abundance and excellence of its fruits, deserves to be preserved, then the tree which is dry and withered will surely be cut down. If an innocent man be put to death in the very face of justice, in opposition to all its dictates and decisions, by a people who profess to be governed and directed by Divine laws, what desolation, injustice, and oppression may not be expected, when anarchy and confusion sit in the place where judgment and justice formerly presided? Our Lord alludes prophetically to those tribulations which fell upon the Jewish people about forty years after.
Luk 23:31 For if they do these things in a (e) green tree, what shall be done in the dry?
(e) As if he said, "If they do this to me who is always fruitful and flourishing, and who lives forever by reason of my Godhead, what will they do to you who are unfruitful and void of all active righteousness?"
Luk 23:31 For if they do these things in a green tree,.... Or it may be rendered impersonally, "if these things are done in a green tree"; by which is meant the Lord Jesus Christ, who is often compared to a tree, as to a green fir tree, an apple tree, a vine, and is called the tree of life: and may be said to be a moist or green tree; because, as a green tree is full of juice, so is he of grace and goodness . . . the metaphor seems designed to express the righteousness and innocence of Christ; see Eze_20:47 who was pure in his nature, without sin in his life, harmless in his conversation, and did no hurt to any man's person or property: his enemies could find nothing, nor prove any thing against him; . . . and now if all these things were done to such an useful, holy, harmless, and innocent person, what shall be done in the dry? by whom wicked men are designed; who, as dry trees are without juice, so are they destitute of grace and righteousness, and all that is good, and bring forth no fruit, neither to God, nor themselves, nor others; but, like dead and withered trees, are dead in trespasses and sins, and full of all manner of sin, and rottenness, and impurity; and are deserving to be cut down, and are fit fuel for the fire of divine wrath and displeasure, both in this, and in the other world. . . . so the children of men are, by the Jews, in their writings, called, עצים יבשים, "dry trees" (u); the Targumist on Eze_17:24 paraphrases the words thus;
"I have humbled the kingdom of the nations, which was strong as a green tree, and I have strengthened the kingdom of the house of Israel, which was weak as a dry tree.''
It is a common proverb with the Jews (x);
"two dry sticks, or brands, and one green, the dry burn up the green:''
intimating, that a few righteous persons among wicked men suffer with them; but if righteous men suffer, how much more the wicked? see 1Pe_4:17.
He shows how natural it was for them to infer this desolation from his sufferings. If they do these things in a green tree, what shall be done in the dry? Luk_23:31. Some think that this is borrowed from Eze_20:47 : The fire shall devour every green tree in thee, and every dry tree. These words may be applied, (1.) More particularly to the destruction of Jerusalem, which Christ here foretold, and which the Jews by putting him to death brought upon themselves: “If they (the Jews, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem) do these things upon the green tree, if they do thus abuse an innocent and excellent person for his good works,how may they expect God to deal with them for their so doing, who have made themselves a dry tree, a corrupt and wicked generation, and good for nothing? If this be their sin, what do you think will be their punishment?” Or take it thus: “If they (the Romans, their judges, and their soldiers) abuse me thus, who have given them no provocation, who am to them as a green tree, which you seem to be as much enraged at, what will they do by Jerusalem and the Jewish nation, who will be so very provoking to them, and make themselves as a dry tree, as fuel to the fire of their resentments? If God suffer those things to be done to me, what will he appoint to be done to those barren trees of whom it had been often said that they should be hewn down and cast into the fire?” Mat_3:10; Mat_7:19. (2.) They may be applied more generally to all the revelations of God's wrath against sin and sinners: “If God deliver me up to such sufferings as these because I am made a sacrifice for sin, what will he do with sinners themselves?” Christ was a green tree, fruitful and flourishing; now, if such things were done to him, we may thence infer what would have been done to the whole race of mankind if he had not interposed, and what shall be done to those that continue dry trees, notwithstanding all that is done to make them fruitful. If God did this to the Son of his love, when he found sin but imputed to him, what shall he do to the generation of his wrath, when he finds sin reigning in them? If the Father was pleased in doing these things to the green tree, why should he be loathe to do it to the dry?
Jamieson, Fausset, Brown
green tree — that naturally resists the fire.
the dry — that attracts the fire, being its proper fuel. The proverb here plainly means: “If such sufferings alight upon the innocent One, the very Lamb of God, what must be in store for those who are provoking the flames?”
Does this help at all? You be the judge. The Bible’s answer tomorrow. Keep looking.
What has God called you to do? Don't wait until you're successful... Start now by saying you are what you want to become. Bob Gass
Your greatest obstacle to personal growth isn't ignorance; it's the illusion of knowledge. It's in believing you've 'arrived.' Bob Gass