Praying. Bible Reading. Running.
Prepared by Dr. John E. Marshall
Matt. 23:34a (Holman) This is why I am sending you prophets, sages,
“This is why” is merciful on one side, but judgmental on the other. God’s main desire was; His emissaries would win many. God’s other purpose was; all who rejected the prophets would prove their condemnation was just.
Some of the leaders did later believe, including Nicodemus, Joseph, priests, Pharisees, and Saul, but most leaders proved they truly were sons of murderers. To them, the message of salvation increased their guilt; the good tidings were not a scent of life, but of death leading to death (2 Cor. 2:16). They rejected the valuable messengers God sent to them. Have we?
“I am sending.” Only God has this prerogative. Jesus was presenting Himself as divine. He commissioned them, as He has commissioned us, to go forth, bringing water of life to the thirsty, and light to those in darkness.
“Prophets” were heralds of God’s plan of salvation offered in Christ. They were preachers. “Sages” were wise leaders who understood the times, who knew how to handle life and church situations. This included the seven deacons, who were full of wisdom (Acts 6:3). “Scribes” were writers who loved to write the name above every name (Maclaren). Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Paul penned the Book that has always undergirded our faith.
Matt. 23:34b Some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them
you will flog in your synagogues and hound from town to town.
They did what their forebears had done. History sadly repeated itself. The main thing we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.
With Saul of Tarsus’ consent, they stoned Stephen to death. They flogged the Apostles (AC 5:40), and except for maybe John, killed them all, including crucifying Peter upside down. The Apostle Paul was imprisoned often, flogged five times, beaten with rods, and stoned (2 Cor. 11:23ff).
After agreeing to Stephen’s death, Saul did dirty work in synagogues (AC 22:19) and then chased believers from one town to another (AC 26:11). After his conversion, he was the one often found running, with enemies on his heels. He was chased from Pisidian Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Berea, Thessalonica, Corinth, Jerusalem, and Caesarea. Early church disciplines included prayer, fasting, Bible reading, church attendance, and fleeing.
Matt. 23:35 So all the righteous blood shed on the earth will be
charged to you, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of
Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the
sanctuary and the altar.
Martyrdom began early in this cruel fallen world. Earth’s first death, caused by one brother killing another, was for religious reasons. Abel pleased God. Cain did not, and murdered Abel out of jealousy (Gen. 4:1-8).
Zechariah was the son of the great priest Jehoiada. Wicked Queen Athaliah ordered all the seed royal to be executed in order to eliminate any possible rival claimants to the throne of Judah. Jehoiada hid baby Joash from the murderers, and later made him king. Due to his extraordinary greatness, Jehoida the Priest was buried with honor in the tombs of the Kings. Years later (2 CH 24:20-25) King Joash scorned Jehoiada’s kindness by murdering the priest’s son Zechariah, who as a prophet rebuked the king for embracing idolatry, “You have abandoned YHWH, He has abandoned you”. The king’s assassins killed the prophet in the Temple courtyard. As he died, he said, “May YHWH see and demand an account”. In a year, Jerusalem had been plundered, its leaders killed. King Joash, severely wounded in the attack, was assassinated by his servants, and denied burial in the tombs of the kings.
Jesus chose Abel and Zechariah as prime examples of the religious leaders persecuting the prophets because they were the first and last martyrs in the Old Testament. Zechariah was not the last martyr time wise, but the last book in the Hebrew canon is 2 Chronicles. Thus, for Jesus to say Abel to Zechariah would be like us saying from first to last or Genesis to Revelation.
Matt. 23:36 I assure you: All these things will come on this generation!
The religious leaders are about to commit the worst crime ever. They will pay for it dearly. These men had the best opportunity ever. God came among them in the flesh, yet they did not receive His message. Their hideous crime will prove that God’s sentence pronounced against them was just.
When Jesus walked in Israel, the nation had already suffered exile, the dreadful wars fought by the Maccabees, and Rome’s oppression. They had now grown smugly secure, believing a political Messiah would come and let nothing more or worse happen to them. They were mistaken. They wrongly believed nothing could destroy God’s property, His temple. They miscalculated. The collective buildings that for 1000 years had pictured God’s presence have been in ruins for 2000 years, picturing His absence.
This frightening scenario teaches a profound lesson regarding God’s sovereignty in history. He rules in the affairs of men, and commands history in ways we often cannot figure out. YHWH declared, “My thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not My ways” (Isaiah 55:8). “How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways” (RM 1:33-34)!
One of His hard-to-understand ways is when He allows innocent citizens to share their nation’s collective guilt, and to endure its collective punishment, as in the bloodbath caused by the ludicrous luxury of the kings in eighteenth century France, and as in slavery in mid-nineteenth century USA. Israel’s religious leaders’ failures brought disaster on all the people.
This whole episode showed the representative solidarity of the race in God’s governance. We receive providences we don’t deserve, good and bad.
In Adam’s sin, we all fall. He represented us all. We suffer from something we had nothing to do with. On the other hand, Jesus in His death and resurrection also represented us all. We are thus blessed by something we had nothing to do with. Only God has wisdom enough to sort it all out.
Matt. 23:37a “Jerusalem, Jerusalem!”
Jesus’ repeated “woes” in this chapter 23 had not been vindictive. Our Lord’s forlorn lament in this verse frames His “woes” with love. Jesus broke down. Choked with emotion, intense feeling poured from His aching heart. He was sad, not mad. Jesus loved the city to which He spoke His rebukes.
Affection spurned, love disappointed—Jesus literally wept over Jerusalem (LK 19:41-44). We feel His urgency in groaning the city’s name twice. Repetition deepens the sadness. You can almost feel the moaning.
It expressed strong emotion, as when He said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things” (LK 10:41); “Simon, Simon, look out!” (LK 22:31). “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me” (AC 9:4b)?
I remind us; Jesus was grieving not over righteous people–that would have been condescending enough–but over a murderous rabble that will soon kill Him. He grieved over evildoers. Are we sad over the lost?
Too many people like to call down wrath without first shedding a tear over the people affected. Denounce only if you can do so grievingly. I read that many in the younger generation are forsaking Facebook because their parents’ generation took it over and changed it from a socializing outlet to an angry arguing outlet. Our love is not shining through. It was said of D. L. Moody that he should be the only person allowed to preach on Hell because he did so with compassion, from a breaking heart. May his tribe increase.