Matthew 23:13-39 Part 3


The covenantleaders of Israel have stood there in the temple and listened while theirhypocrisy was exposed and judged in public.  Seven times (a judicially complete number) Jesus has criedout against them with the horrible sound of “woe”.  It was a wail as if from the seat of judgment in the heavens(which ought to strike terror in the hearts of leaders everywhere); for theLord will not long abide the persecution, deception, oppression, and entrapmentof His people!

The sum of itall is that the scribes and priests and pharisees of Israel are full ofhypocrisy and lawlessness (verse twenty-seven); and they “fill up” the measureof their fathers, who hated and abused and murdered the prophets of God.

They are enemiesof doctrine, corrupters of worship, perverters of Law; and they are plagues onthe Church of God.  Jesus’ wordsnow become even more violent as He drags them through their own filth to thejudgment seat.  And from the wordsof the prophets themselves He prophesies the extent of their doom.

In the explicitwords of the Scriptures, Heaven and Earth is about to pass away in a flood ofwrath akin to the flood by which Noah was saved.  All the language of the creation of the world is used todescribe the “decreation” which is about to occur.  The “end of the age” is near; and by His resurrection a “newheavens and a new earth” would be created by God and set apart for Himself –one which all of God’s “newborn” creations would have the Law written in theirhearts, and He would be their God and they would be His people.

So, at the sametime God’s Son put Himself under the authority of these men (all the way to thecross), the vitriolic language used here was “end of the age” judgmentallanguage which was brought forth against them from the words of the prophetsthemselves.

Jesus Christ wasthe “Fullness” of the revelation of God – O Logos, the Word of God made flesh –the One without Whom nothing was made that was made!  And He had come to terminate the old and create the new.  Therefore His language, which we’venoted a number of times before, has to be understood in that light.  It is the language of prophecy; it is the language of the end of the age; itis the language of “the Day of the Lord”; it is the language of “decreation”and “recreation”!

As Moses says,He “spoke” and the creation came to be! He spoke and light came to be! He spoke and the heavens came to be – with all the stars and galaxies!  He spoke and life in His Own image cameto be!

And yet, here inour text, He opens His mouth and “speaks” to men standing before Him who are“gods” in their own sight and aftertheir own image – men who wouldkill Him (as they killed the prophets before Him) rather than worship Him asGod the Son, the express image ofthe Father!  These are men who areintoxicated with themselves – self-idolaters who have entrapped and enticed andenchanted the nation (the “land”) that God had set apart for Himself – just astheir forefathers had done for over seven hundred and fifty years!  And Israel had become more evil thanall the surrounding pagan nations.

There were“beasts” that had arisen to enchant and deceive (as Satan had done with Adamand Eve).  And having made awilderness of God’s nation, it became a perfect habitat for demons.

Like father,like son.  Their fathers had givenbirth to sons who were “like” them – each generation bringing forth more evilaccording to his nature.  Isaiahthe prophet describes them in chapter fifty-nine where he says that if you wereto crush an egg from one of these beasts, out would come a viper!

And that’sexactly what Jesus refers to in verse thirty-three, which is where we beginthis morning.  “Serpents, brood ofvipers, how will you escape the judgment of Gehenna?”  (It’s a rhetorical question, of course – the obvious answerbeing “they can’t”!) but if you crush the egg of a viper, out comes anotherviper!  The “brood” (the children),of a beast consists in “baby beasts” doesn’t it?

So a “brood”, orcourse, is “progeny”. Offspring.  Serpents bringforth serpents!  Snakes bring forthsnakes.  As Isaiah prophesied, whathas come forth from those beasts of before is a “brood” of vipers!  The creature inside an egg has the samenature as its sire.  It looks like its sire; and it has the same habits as its sire. It can’t escape doing what it is. It comes forth from creatures that produce others like themselves!

And the scribesand pharisees and priests of Israel were sons of Gehenna (burning refuse) –sons of hell.  Like father, likeson.  So how can they escapeit?  Their fathers before them weresons of Gehenna, and theirs before them; and they’ve produced sons in their ownlikeness!  They all have hated Godand abused His prophets; and they have led God’s covenant land in nationalharlotry with other gods – a sin of such magnitude that God would destroy“heaven and earth” – which is what Israel was called!

And, then, comesthat most remarkable statement in verses thirty-four and thirty-five.  And notice that here is the word “lo”again which our Lord uses to emphasize a great, prophetic event of momentouseschatological significance.

Here’s thestatement:


“Becauseof this”… because these men are just like their fathers, and because they haveabused the prophets of God just like their fathers… “Because of this, Lo, I, Isend to you prophets sages and scribes; of them you will kill and crucify, andof them you will scourge in your synagogues; and you will pursue from city intocity in order that all righteousblood which is spilled upon the earth shall come upon you from the blood of therighteous Abel until the blood of Zacharias Son of Barachias, whom you murderedbetween the temple and the altar!”


Now, let me saythis to you right here – that this is such an important statement from our Lordthat the entire New Testament Scriptures must be read and understood in itslight!

Let me put it toyou this way:  we’ve said from thebeginning that the context is one of the critical factors in our understandingof the text of Scripture.  And now wemust say that this prophecy of Jesus is theintegrating factor for our understanding of the New Testament context!  Several points….

The first thingwe see about the prophecy is that Jesus emphasizes the fact that it is He Who“sends”!  Even though He will bemurdered and buried at Jerusalem (for all to see), this resurrection andascension to Power of God’s Son is implied as He emphasizes that He is the One Who sends the prophets and sages and wisemen!  Implied as well is His greatdivine authority, in that He is the One Who sent the prophets of old that thesepharisees and their fathers have abused and persecuted!

The second thingthat is clear is that Jesus is speaking of the Church!  Even though He uses Older Testamentlanguage (prophets, wise men and scribes) to describe those He will send, it isthis generation of scribes and pharisees who will persecute them!  (We see that in verse thirty-six).  It is apostles and evangelists andelders who will be pursued from city tocity and persecuted!  Especiallythe apostles!  And it leaves verylittle to the imagination that it was the scribes and pharisees and prieststhat will entice and entrap and persecute individual Christians in all theChurches!

And one has todo nothing other than read the books of the New Testament to discover thecomplete fulfillment of Jesus’ prophecy concerning those whom He sent – theimprisonment of the apostle, the stoning of Steven, the eventual crucifixion ofPeter – and many, many others; and we have Paul’s account of his ownpersecution as an apostle and preacher of the Gospel.  Five times he was lashed thirty-nine times; three times hewas beaten with a rod; he was stoned and left for dead; pursued from city tocity, many times he was driven out of synagogues – “in peril”, he says,constantly from the pharisees. Left naked and alone in the cold without food or drink.  Imprisoned at least three times.  The subject of vile rumors, falselyaccused, entire Churches “stirred up” against him by the false prophets andteachers – “dogs”, as he calls them. Paul’s account of his persecution and suffering is the epitome ofChrist’s prophecy here in our text; and, as Paul says in another place, hissuffering is a “filling up” of the suffering of Christ!

The third thingof such great importance about Jesus’ prophecy is that the pharisees’ pursuitand persecution of the New Testament Church and its apostles is the “crowning”event by which they were judged with all the blood of the righteous!

Do you seethat?  This generation of pharisees will persecute Christ’s Church inorder that (verse thirty-five) all therighteous blood spilled upon the earth from Abel to Zechariah would come uponthem!  This generation of pharisees would be judged of all ofthe blood of God’s elect people from the beginning!  Because of their persecution of the Church!

Adam’s firstson, Cain, murdered the second son, Abel, who was righteous before God.  And although it’s not in the OlderTestament Scriptures, Jesus says that Zechariah the prophet (one of the lastprophets of God to Israel) was murdered between the altar and the holy ofholies!

And every dropof the blood of God’s people that was spilled (in between those two events) isto be laid to the account of the pharisees of this generation!  And it is all to be imputed to them because of the persecution of Christ’sChurch and its apostles!  In fact,Jesus states clearly that the persecution of the church and its apostles (bythese pharisees) will occur in order that ALL the blood of the righteous should be laid to their account.

And, from this,not only do we see the supreme value that Christ places on His Church, but wealso see the filling up of the sin of Israel and the “just” judgment of God incutting her off from His covenant and destroying her in 70AD.  As Jesus says in verse thirty-six:  “All these things shall come upon thisgeneration.”  He’s speaking of His“Parousia” in 70 AD.

So the contextis herein laid for the New Testament Church and the understanding of the NewTestament Scriptures.  “Thisgeneration” of pharisees will persecute the Church of Jesus Christ in everyplace, and “this generation” shall be judged for all righteous blood from thebeginning!  Therefore the documentsof this entire forty-year period between the crucifixion and resurrection ofChrist and the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem have to be read in the lightof this context – this statement of our Lord!

The texts of theNew Testament Scriptures were written while in the framework of what Jesus sayshere in this text.  And so were thehistory books of that time (although not inspired and certainly not of the samequality or reliability).  So whenwe read and study the New Testament we must do so with the understanding thatthe entire process of the establishment of the Church was, 1) fraught with greatdanger – not only from physical persecution, but also from false christs andprophets and teachers.  Thepharisee Judaizers were very active from without and from within the Church;and, 2) that the great “day of the Lord” was soon coming (i.e. “upon thisgeneration”) when the justice of God would be exacted upon Israel for thespilled blood of the righteous from Abel on!

If theScriptures are not read in this context,then God’s Word will not beunderstood arightly!  As we allknow, great damage has been done to the Church by those who place the (what iscalled) “apocalyptic” language of Scripture off in some distant future, and whoreplace the nature and attributes of God with some human preconceptions.

I’ll just giveyou one example of that, and then we’ll go on to verse thirty-seven.  Jesus says plainly that the phariseeswill persecute those that Jesus sends… in order that the blood of all therighteous in history will be laid to their account.  Churches of Jesus Christ are to be established everywhere bythe prophets Jesus sends; but the Judaizers will do everything in their powerto destroy them.  And in so doing,their obstinacy will be laid open; the sins of their fathers will be imputed tothem by God; and their condemnation thereby made more severe!  They can’t escape what they are!

But modernevangelicals (futurists) strenuously object to any idea that God might dothat!  They say that the God ofScripture is not a cruel tyrant who takes pleasure in inflicting more pain andpunishment; and there’s no way He deliberately appointed the pharisees topersecute the Church… in order that Godshould lay all the spilled bloodof the righteous to their account! Since the Scribes and Pharisees are already devoted to their hypocrisy,why not just let them go and be satisfied with their ruin!

But, again, thisis a false, human conception of the nature of God.  Men ascribe to Him their own ideas of what He ought to be; and, by doing that, they judge Him! And when they see it in Scripture, like it is here, they somehow excuse Him in some way (or maliciously ascribe this kind ofaction to the Old Testament!).  Andthen they re-arrange the prophesied events to match what they think God ought to do!

But, you see,this prophecy of Jesus concerning His Church is post resurrection activity – not the Old Testament!  People bark like dogs that God does notmake men obstinate and blind by design and by the Light of His Word.

But the apostlePaul plainly says, in Second Corinthians chapter two, at verse sixteen (as if weneeded more proof),


that“we are unto God a sweet savor of Christ in them that are saved and in them that perish.  To the ones the savor of death unto death; and to the otherthe savor of life unto life….”


God’s Word (andits preaching) is a savor of death unto death for some.  And God purposefully sends His apostlesand ministers and elders to them; it is His design, and it is the judgment ofGod potentiating His wrath and their depravity.  That’s the nature and character of God – as revealed byHim in the Scriptures.  To believe it is faith – to arbitrarily change it is blasphemy!

But in our textJesus implies that Israel will remain stiff-necked and hard-hearted (except forGod’s remnant – Isaiah one, verse nine, Romans eleven, verse five – God did preservesome seed according to election). But the Church will be pursued and persecuted with murderous intent.

And all thewhile, you see, the pharisees always boasted of their goodness – claiming thatGod historically sent the best prophets to them!  And while they boasted of the prophets, and Israel’s favorin the eyes of God, they persecuted and killed them!

Now in versethirty-seven, we quickly make reference to Jesus’ statement concerning the cityof Jerusalem.  This is very easy,so I won’t take much time with it. Some say that Jesus cries out with longing and love and tenderness forthe city and its people, and makes “another attempt” for its repentance.

But that’ssimply not the case!  By His words Jesus shows what goodreason He had for His great indignation –that Jerusalem, the city that God had chosen to be His earthly abode, and theearthly version of His universe, had shown itself to be completely unworthy ofso high an honor.  It was God’schosen city; but, as Jeremiah had prophesied, it was a den of thieves andaccustomed to shedding the blood of the righteous.

The very place,on the very mountain of God which housed the very temple which imitated theuniverse, which housed the very room which imitated His glory cloud/throneroom, was monstrous and detestable! It was a place of incredible impiety.  So the contrast here is between the “place” of God (on theone hand) and the worst harlot-city on earth (on the other hand).  (Ezekiel sixteen, twenty-three)

But Jahvey hasbeen forbearing with her in not destroying her previously – and the indignationflowing from the fact of centuries of the Presence and blessings of God – meton the other side with the criminality of haughty disdain and inexcusableingratitude!  That’s the point ofJesus’ words here; and we’ll leave it at that – except for the fact that anyplace, should it be bestowed with greatgifts of God, any place which disdains God’s blessings and His worship, willnot be graced with forbearance forever.

And, lastly,that great pronouncement of desolation,verse thirty-eight, beginning with the word “lo”.  The words of Jesus come right out of Jeremiah chaptertwenty-two, at verse five where Israel is warned of a foreign army and utter ruin should it not turn from its sin.  We’ve taken up these words – wildernessand desolation and ruinpreviously, (always associated with a foreign army) and we’ll see them again inchapter twenty-four, so we’ll not spend more time on them here.  But Jesus’ pronouncement is final –there is no remedy.  It is nolonger the house of God.

And the RedeemerWho they now despise will soon be their Judge.  The ancient Psalm which they all now sing (chapter onehundred eighteen, verse twenty-six) hypocritically:  “blessed be the One coming in the Name of the Lord,” willbecome a song of great fear and dread. For the next occasion of His Presence will be in judgment upon thenation.  And, too late, they willsee Him in all His majesty as the King of Heaven and Earth executes justice forall the spilled blood of the righteous. They’ll still be singing thePsalm, waiting for their “messiah” when He comes upon them in judgment.

And let the Gospel age beware – unless you repent and be reborn as ababe, you shall not see theKingdom of God!  And those whodespise and reject the blessings of God in His great Prophet/Redeemer, yourvanity is equal to, and even greater than, that of the hypocritical phariseesof old.  For this is the age of theGospel of the crucified andresurrected Lord Jesus Christ.

The Day of theLord has come; and all of the mysteries of God have been revealed in theGospel.  God the Son – the resurrected and ascended God the Son – destroyed “heaven andearth” because they despised the Gospel. There are direconsequences for despising the Gospel! For God the Son has called His Church into being!  And those who refuse to hear and giveallegiance to the Head of the Church will suffer similar consequences to thehypocritical pharisees of Israel.