“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell? Therefore I send you prophets and wise men and scribes, some of whom you will kill and crucify, and some you will flog in your synagogues and persecute from town to town, so that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you murdered between the sanctuary and the altar. Truly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
(Matthew 23:29-36 ESV)
Today we finish up our study of Jesus’ “woes” against the Jewish religious leaders and their religious system. For the third time in these passages Jesus calls them “hypocrites” because once again He will demonstrate that they claimed to be one thing but they were actually the opposite.
Jesus’ seventh and final “woe” condemns the scribes and Pharisees for claiming they were better than others, notably their ancestors (fathers) who had shed the blood of God’s prophets.
God had sent numerous prophets under the Old Testament to warn Israel of her sin and invite her back into a relationship with Him. Many of these prophets were severely mistreated by the Jewish leaders and people. Some were even killed.
The men Jesus spoke to claimed they would not have taken part in the shedding of the blood of the prophets. But as we know (and as Jesus knew) they were currently plotting His death [Matthew 12:14] which will take place in just two days. This would fill up the measure of their fathers. That is, killing Jesus (who was God’s final prophet), would complete the work started centuries ago by previous leaders of Israel.
In this passage Jesus’ also speaks prophetically about how His disciples, whom He would send, would be treated similarly. The leaders of Israel would kill and crucify some of them. They would flog and persecute others. We know from history that all the disciples, except for John, died a martyr’s death at the hands of the leaders of Israel who for decades after Jesus’ death still sought to suppress any reference to Him in their jurisdiction.
Sadly we have the very same thing in our culture today. Our leaders in government, business, and entertainment are feverishly removing references to God, the Bible, and Jesus from our public places. They are even trying to suppress what can be taught in a church as Annise Parker, the openly lesbian mayor of Houston, is doing.
The reason for this is simple: these people are consumed by their hatred of God’s truth and their love of their sin so they are compelled to snuff out God’s righteousness, which exposes that sin. They eliminate God from their lives (and the lives of others) in a misguided effort to justify their sinfulness.
Such people are a family (brood) of vipers. Vipers are poisonous snakes that look like sticks of wood. They would bite people who naively picked them up. This is the kind of snake that bit Paul when he was gathering wood on Malta [Acts 28:3]. Like these snakes, leaders who toil to suppress Jesus are deceptive and deadly. They are hypocrites. They think they are doing something good when they are actually doing great harm.
Such people, Jesus says, will not escape being sentenced to hell. And neither will anyone who follows their lead and drinks their poisonous Kool-Aid. They must be avoided [2 Timothy 3:1-5].
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