HYPOCRITICAL RELIGIOUS LEADERS DESERVE SEVERE DENUNCIATION FOR THEIR IMPACT OF DESTRUCTIVE CORRUPTION
Donald Hagner: The seven woes that make up the centerpiece of the denunciation of the scribes and Pharisees are constructed by Matthew for maximal impact. The fact that there are seven woes (cf. six woes in Luke 11:42–52) is itself significant symbolism, pointing to a fullness of corruption.
William Barclay: Verses 13–26 of this chapter form the most terrible and the most sustained denunciation in the New Testament. Here we hear what A. T. Robertson called ‘the rolling thunder of Christ’s wrath’. As A. Plummer has written, these woes are ‘like thunder in their unanswerable severity, and like lightning in their unsparing exposure … They illuminate while they strike.’ . . .
To Jesus, the scribes and Pharisees were men who were acting a part. What he meant was this. Their whole idea of religion consisted in outward observances, the wearing of elaborate phylacteries and tassels, the meticulous observance of the rules and regulations of the law. But in their hearts there was bitterness and envy and pride and arrogance. To Jesus, these scribes and Pharisees were men who, under a mask of elaborate godliness, concealed hearts in which the most godless feelings and emotions held sway. And that accusation holds good in greater or lesser degree of anyone who lives life on the assumption that religion consists in external observances and external acts.
David Turner: Jesus’s denunciation of the religious leaders must be viewed against the background of the biblical prophets, who frequently cried woe against Israel’s sins. These oracles blend anger, grief, and alarm about the excruciating consequences that will come upon Israel due to its sin. The form of such oracles includes an initial pronouncement of woe followed by a description of the persons upon whom the woe will come. This description amounts to the reason the woe is merited. Thus a woe oracle states the conclusion and then the premises on which it is based. Woe oracles may have developed from covenant curses (Deut. 27:15) or even from funeral lamentations (Jer. 22:18). (See Clements, ABD 6:945–46; Westermann 1967: 192–95.)
In oracles of woe, the prophet’s attitude is anger tempered at times by grief and alarm at the horrible price Israel will pay for its sin. Prophets are angry because they are speaking for God against sin. But prophets are also stricken with grief because this anger is directed toward their own people. The palpable pathos of woe oracles is due to the prophet’s dual solidarities. The prophets must speak for God, but in announcing oracles of judgment, the prophets know that they are announcing the doom of their own people.
In light of this biblical background, Jesus’s pronouncements of woe upon the religious leaders were not innovative. His severe language must have had a familiar ring in the leaders’ ears. In light of the woe oracles in Second Temple literature, Jesus’s woes would have sounded rather contemporary. His woe oracles were not merely an exercise of spite against his opponents; as is clear in Matt. 23:37, his words come at least as much from grief as from anger.
Charles Swindoll: These outcries aimed at the religious leaders were part reproof and part lament. Jesus’ seven “woes” in Matthew 23:13-36 were both cries of anguish for their stubborn, wicked hearts and cries of sorrow for the judgments they and their followers would suffer because of their rejection of the Messiah. William Barclay puts it well: “[Ouai] includes not only wrath but also sorrow. There is righteous anger here, but it is the anger of the heart of love, broken by stubborn human blindness. There is not only an air of savage denunciation; there is also an atmosphere of poignant tragedy.”
R. T. France: Language: There are many places in the gospels where Jesus’ language is far from “meek and mild,” but nothing else at this level of invective except perhaps in the dialogue with “the Jews” in John 8.16.
Structure: The first six woes may be seen as three pairs with matching themes:
- the first pair (vv. 13–15) speak of keeping people out of the kingdom of heaven;
- the second pair (vv. 16–24) focus on the distorted perspective which puts concern with details before the basic principles of religion and ethics;
- the third pair (vv. 25–28) contrast outward and inward purity.
The seventh woe then brings the denuncuiation to its climax with the charge of complicity in the murder of God’s messengers.
Warren Wiersbe: As we review these tragic woes from the lips of our Lord, we can see why the Pharisees were His enemies. He emphasized the inner man; they were concerned with externals. He taught a spiritual life based on principles, while the Pharisees majored on rules and regulations. Jesus measured spirituality in terms of character, while the Pharisees measured it in terms of religious activities and conformity to external laws. Jesus taught humility and sacrificial service, but the Pharisees were proud and used people to accomplish their own purposes. The holy life of Jesus exposed their artificial piety and shallow religion. Instead of coming out of the darkness, the Pharisees tried to put out the Light, and they failed.
David Thompson: RELIGIOUS LEADERS WHO ARE PHARISAICAL HYPOCRITES WILL SUFFER THE WORST KIND OF PUNISHMENT GOD CAN GIVE.
I. (:13) HYPOCRITES – CORRUPTING THE ENTRANCE TO HEAVEN
A. How Accessible Should Heaven Be?
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,
because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from men;”
Stu Weber: Here “woe” is an expression of righteous anger and a pronunciation of impending judgment. Jesus himself is the judge who will judge every person.
Donald Hagner: The woe saying is a painful statement of displeasure involving an implied judgment . . . hence it serves as the opposite of the beatitude. Woe sayings are found elsewhere in Matthew (11:21; 18:7; 24:19; 26:24), but the seven woes of the present pericope form a distinctive set (all are identical with the present formula [cf. vv 15, 23, 25, 27, 29] except for v. 16). Woe sayings are not uncommon in the OT, and a piling up of a succession of woe oracles is occasionally also found (cf. Isa 5:8–22 for a series of six; Hab 2:6–20 for five).
Grant Osborne: ἔμπροσθεν is strong here, meaning normally “in front of, before” and having the idea of slamming the door of heaven “right in the face of” their followers. The purpose of the Pharisees in “building a fence around the law” should have been to shepherd God’s flock through the gate or door to the kingdom. Their teaching should have made the reign of God . . . more apparent and meaningful in the lives of the people. Instead, they have closed the door to God.
Earlier Jesus had taught about the narrow and wide gates (7:13–14) and had given Peter (and the church) the “keys of the kingdom of heaven” (16:19), meaning the authority to open the doors of heaven. The binding/loosing metaphor that followed referred to the authority to open the kingdom truths by properly interpreting God’s Word. The Pharisees have rejected the final authority of Jesus as interpreter of Torah and so have fallen into false teaching.
B. How Inaccessible Do the Hypocrites Make It?
“for you do not enter in yourselves,
nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.”
Charles Swindoll: Rather than drawing others into God’s kingdom life with the glorious message of forgiveness and hope, they intentionally resisted the truth themselves and stood in the way of others.
[Jeffrey Crabtree: Verse 14 is not in the Greek manuscripts of Matthew that the textual scholars rely on most, and so some translations do not include it or place it in brackets. However, Mark 12:40 and Luke 20:47 both record this woe, confirming that it was part of Jesus’ teaching that day.]
II. (:15) HYPOCRITES – CORRUPTING THE PROCESS OF DISCIPLESHIP
A. How Important Is the Process of Discipleship?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,
because you travel about on sea and land to make one proselyte;”
Stu Weber: This pronouncement of judgment highlighted the zealous evangelistic activity of the hypocrites. They would travel the world (over land and sea) for only one convert. A convert was a Gentile who was won to faith in Yahweh, the God of Israel.
But the new convert would have been better off if he had not been found by the Jewish evangelist. By following the evangelist’s hypocritical example, the convert surpassed his teacher in hypocrisy and evil. As a result, he incurred an even harsher judgment. The new convert may have even convinced himself that he was following God, but he was actually following Satan. God intended Israel to be his ambassadors to the world to bring people to him, but these representatives of Israel were leading people into rebellion.
Charles Swindoll: They had become “missionaries of evil,” multiplying their numbers by spreading legalism like a disease. Their way included zeal without knowledge, capturing unsuspecting converts in deceptive, destructive false piety.
B. How Condemned Are the Disciples of Hypocrites
“and when he becomes one,
you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.”
William Barclay: It was the aim of the Pharisees to turn these God-fearers into proselytes; the word proselyte is an English transliteration of a Greek word prosëlutos, which means one who has approached or drawn near. The proselyte was the full convert who had accepted the ceremonial law and circumcision and who had become in the fullest sense a Jew. As so often happens, ‘the most converted were the most perverted’. A convert often becomes the most fanatical devotee of the new religion; and many of these proselytes were more fanatically devoted to the Jewish law than even the Jews themselves.
Jesus accused these Pharisees of being missionaries of evil. It was true that very few became proselytes, but those who did went the whole way. The sin of the Pharisees was that they were not really seeking to lead others to God, they were seeking to lead them to Pharisaism. One of the gravest dangers which any missionary runs is that of trying to convert people to a sect rather than to a religion, and of being more concerned in bringing people to a church than to Jesus Christ.
Daniel Doriani: The teachers and Pharisees are zealous, but they do more harm than good. . . The first century was the heyday of evangelism by Jews, but because the Pharisees promoted a false religion, when they made converts, they were more proud, blind, and legalistic than the Pharisees themselves.
III. (:16-22) BLIND GUIDES – CORRUPTING INTEGRITY BY EVASIVE PRIORITIES OF ALLEGIANCE
A. (:16-21) How Do Blind Guides Corrupt Integrity?
Charles Swindoll: They went to great lengths to accommodate the Scriptures to their own desires. Their self-serving interpretations led to disobedience of the clear teaching of the Law. So twisted was their thinking, though, that they were blind to their own deceptions.
Warren Wiersbe: The Pharisees were blind to the true values of life. Their priorities were confused. They would take an oath and use some sacred object to substantiate that oath – the gold in the temple, for example, or the gift on the altar. But they would not swear by the temple itself or the altar. It was the temple that sanctified the gold and the altar that sanctified the gift. They were leaving God out of their priorities.
David Turner: The bitingly sarcastic expression “blind guides” is repeated in 23:24 (cf. 15:14). Jesus condemns the casuistry of these oaths as an evasion of duty before God (cf. 15:4–6). Two different loopholes based on empty distinctions are exposed, one in 23:16–17 concerning the temple and the gold (Josephus, Ant. 14.34–36, 72, 106, 110; 15.395; J.W. 5.201–10, 222; Ag. Ap. 2.84) within it and another in 23:18–19 concerning the altar and what is offered on it. Although the leaders view some oaths as binding and others as nonbinding, Jesus rejects this as empty casuistry and teaches that all oaths are valid (23:20–22). Previously Jesus has flatly denied the need for any oaths (5:33–37), even though oaths and vows were very important in Second Temple Judaism (m. Ned.; CD 15; 16.6–12).
- (:16-17) Practicing Deceit by Prioritizing Gold over the Temple
“Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘Whoever swears by the temple, that is nothing;
but whoever swears by the gold of the temple, he is obligated.’
17 You fools and blind men; which is more important,
the gold, or the temple that sanctified the gold?”
Grant Osborne: Only in this third of the seven woes does Jesus alter his opening formula and insert “blind guides,” undoubtedly because he calls them “blind” again in vv. 17, 19. This emphasizes they are not only “hypocrites” but also “blind” to the truth. They were also “blind guides” in 15:14.
2. (:18-19) Practicing Deceit by Prioritizing Offerings over the Altar
“And, ‘Whoever swears by the altar, that is nothing,
but whoever swears by the offering upon it, he is obligated.’
19 You blind men, which is more important,
the offering or the altar that sanctifies the offering?”
3. (:20-21) Conclusion: Validity of Oaths Based on Integrity
“Therefore he who swears by the altar,
swears both by the altar and by everything on it.
21 And he who swears by the temple,
swears boh by the temple and by Him who dwells within it.”
William Barclay: We have already seen that in matters of oaths the Jewish legalists were experts in evasion (Matthew 5:33–7). The general principle of evasion was this. To the Jew, an oath was absolutely binding, as long as it was a binding oath. Broadly speaking, a binding oath was an oath which definitely and without equivocation employed the name of God; such an oath must be kept, no matter what the cost. Any other oath might be legitimately broken. The idea was that if God’s name was actually used, then God was introduced as a partner into the transaction, and to break the oath was not only to break faith with others but to insult God.
The science of evasion had been brought to a high degree. It is most probable that in this passage Jesus is presenting a caricature of Jewish legalistic methods. He is saying: ‘You have brought evasion to such a fine art that it is possible to regard an oath by the Temple as not binding, while an oath by the gold of the Temple is binding; and an oath by the altar as not binding, while an oath by the gift on the altar is binding.’ This is to be regarded as an extreme description made to bring out the absurdity of Jewish methods, rather than a literal description.
The idea behind the passage is just this. The whole idea of treating oaths in this way, the whole conception of a kind of technique of evasion, is born of a fundamental deceitfulness. Truly religious men and women will never make a promise with the deliberate intention of evading it; they will never, as they make it, provide themselves with a series of escape routes, which they may use if they find that promise hard to keep.
We need not with conscious superiority condemn the Pharisaic science of evasion. The time is not yet ended when people seek to evade some duty on a technicality or call in the strict letter of the law to avoid doing what the spirit of the law clearly means they ought to do.
For Jesus, the binding principle was twofold. God hears every word we speak, and God sees every intention of our hearts. In view of that, the fine art of evasion is one which should be foreign to every Christian. The technique of evasion may suit the sharp practice of the world, but never the open honesty of the Christian mind.
Walter Wilson: It was customary at the time to avoid the risk of profaning the divine name by employing oath formulae that were linked to God only tangentially, for example, by using the word Korban (“offering”). The prevalence of such customs obliged the rabbis to deliberate over which circumlocutions were valid and which were not, discussions preserved especially in the tractate Nedarim, for example, m. Ned. 1:2 (“He who says to his fellow, ‘Konam,’ ‘Konah,’ ‘Konas’—lo, these are substitutes for Korban”). According to the opinion taken up in 23:16 and 18, formulae that mention something that can be dedicated to God (e.g., gold, gifts) are substitutes for Korban, while an oath that mentions only items that already belong to God (e.g., the temple, the altar) is not valid. Jesus counters by arguing that the logic informing this distinction contradicts the obvious sacred hierarchy, in which the temple and the altar are “greater” (i.e., more holy) than the objects associated with them, since it is the former that sanctifies the latter (23:17, 19). This observation is then coupled to the argument in 23:20–22: just as certain objects derive their sanctity from the temple and the altar, the temple and the altar derive their sanctity from the presence of God (23:20–21), a principle that applies by extension to heaven (23:22), since it is God’s throne (cf. 5:34). Given the interconnected nature of the sacred hierarchy, in reality every oath is an appeal to God and thus runs the risk of profaning God’s name. The practice of making distinctions between binding and nonbinding oaths, then, is not only fallacious but also dangerous.
B. (:22) What Should Integrity Look Like? Heaven Deserves Highest Allegiance
“And he who swears by heaven,
swears both by the throne of God and by Him who sits upon it.”
Grant Osborne: Here the point made in 23:16–22 comes full circle. Every oath, from the least to the greatest, involves God and his throne and so is binding. In this sense Jesus’ point in 5:34–37 is in full agreement. Since every oath by nature centers on God and is made in relation to God, there is no need to swear by anything, but instead a “yes” is a “yes” and a “no” is a “no” because all promises are made before the throne of God and will be judged by God (so also Davies and Allison, Morris, Nolland).
Donald Hagner: The conclusion is again clear: the implied distinctions are unjustified, and thus all oaths must be honored. Oath taking is always in effect an agreement in God’s presence.
Van Parunak: The real issue, missing in all their careful logic, is that these implements of religion are intended to focus the worshiper’s attention on God. The Lord makes this point by breaking the symmetry. The internal alternation in 20-21 would require that 21 end with the words, “by all things therein.” But the Lord shifts the reference to the Lord, and then expands it with a reference to oaths by heaven, which were also in focus in ch. 5,
Mat 5:33 Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths: 34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: 35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.
Lies are wrong, not because they violate a reference to holy things, but because “a lying tongue” is “an abomination unto” the Lord,
Pro 6:16 These six things doth the LORD hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him: 17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, 18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief, 19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.
God commanded Abraham,
Gen 17:1 I am the Almighty God; walk before me, and be thou perfect.
Our integrity must be based on our walk with God, not formulas we utter over our promises.
IV. (:23-24) HYPOCRITES – CORRUPTING THE ESSENCE OF GODLINESS BY MAJORING ON THE MINORS WHEN IT COMES TO GOD’S RIGHTEOUS REQUIREMENTS
A. (:23) Majoring on the Minors
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
B. (:24) Missing the Essence of Godliness
“You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”
Stu Weber: Jesus’ hyperbole in verse 24 was humorous. His hearers would have chuckled at the picture of the Pharisees straining out a small insect (gnat) while swallowing a huge camel.
William Barclay: There is nothing more necessary than a sense of proportion to save us from confusing religious observances with real devotion.
R. T. France: The grotesque imagery of straining out the gnat (from wine or water before drinking)40 and swallowing the camel belongs to the same class of burlesque as the splinter and the plank in 7:3–5 or the camel going through the eye of a needle in 19:24. It depends on the relative size of the smallest and largest creatures in Palestine. The gnat, as an insect, was unclean (Lev 11:20–23; cf. also the “swarming creatures” of Lev 11:41–44) and therefore must not be ingested; but then the camel was no less unclean (Lev 11:4), and a lot bigger! The joke may have been helped by an Aramaic word-play between qalmâ (gnat) and gamlâ (camel).
V. (:25-26) HYPOCRITES – CORRUPTING THE PROCESS OF SANCTIFICATION
A. (:25) Wrong Process = Only Cleansing the Externals
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish,
but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.”
Grant Osborne: The next four verses are dominated by the “outside-inside” (ἔξωθεν-ἔσωθεν) distinction, forming the perfect definition of hypocrisy as stemming from the dichotomy between “outward” appearance and “inward” reality. Jesus uses as his example the care with which the scribes wash the outside surface of cups and plates.
B. (:26) Right Process = Prioritize Cleansing the Heart
“You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish,
so that the outside of it may become clean also.”
VI. (:27-28) HYPOCRITES – CORRUPTING THE TESTIMONY OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
A. (:27) False Facade
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!
For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful,
but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”
William Barclay: Here again is a picture which any Jew would understand. One of the most common places for tombs was by the wayside. We have already seen that anyone who touched a dead body became unclean (Numbers 19:16). Therefore, anyone who came into contact with a tomb automatically became unclean. At one time in particular, the roads of Palestine were crowded with pilgrims – at the time of the Passover Feast. To become unclean on the way to the Passover Feast would be a disaster, for that meant that such a person would be debarred from sharing in it. It was then Jewish practice in the month of Adar to whitewash all wayside tombs, so that no pilgrims might accidentally come into contact with one of them and be rendered unclean.
So, as people journeyed the roads of Palestine on a spring day, these tombs would glint white, and almost lovely, in the sunshine; but within they were full of bones and bodies whose touch would defile. That, said Jesus, was a precise picture of what the Pharisees were. Their outward actions were the actions of intensely religious men; their inward hearts were foul and putrid with sin.
Daniel Doriani: Tombs were whitewashed annually, during the Passover, so this whitewashing was occurring as Jesus spoke. Jews did this so no one would defile themselves by accidentally walking on a tomb. The beautification was incidental. Sadly, the Pharisees defile people as surely as tombs do. A properly marked tomb keeps people clean by telling them to stay away. But the Pharisees do just the opposite. “In their scrupulous regulations they appeared magnificently virtuous but were actually contaminating the people.” They appear to be clean—law-abiding—but they are full of wickedness. They seek disciples, then corrupt them.
B. (:28) Internal Corruption
“Even so you too outwardly appear righteous to men,
but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Donald Hagner: The fundamental flaw of the Pharisees, their hypocrisy, was in their concerted attempt to appear to be what they unfortunately were not. While they wanted to appear righteous, in fact they were unrighteous.
Charles Swindoll: To those on the outside, they looked spotless, clean, pure, and holy. Their clothes no doubt gleamed in the light. However, like tombs painted with bright white paint, inside they were filled with the stench of death and corruption.
VII. (:29-36a) HYPOCRITES – CORRUPTING THE TREATMENT OF GOD’S PROPHETS
A. (:29-33) Indictment for Present Hypocrisy
- (:29-30) Pretending to Revere the Prophets
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and say, ‘If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’”
- (:31-33) Participating in the Guilt of the Persecutors
“Consequently you bear witness against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up then the measure of the guilt of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how shall you escape the sentence of hell?”
Donald Hagner: All of this, however, was again but a facade covering an endemic lack of receptivity to the messengers sent to Israel by God. It is an irony that the very claim that they would not have participated with their (“your”) fathers (cf. τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν, “our fathers,” in v. 30) in killing the prophets (cf. 5:12) does establish them as the υἱοί, “sons,” of τῶν φονευσάντων, “those who murdered,” the prophets. The implication is that the sons are, at least in the present instance, inescapably like their fathers. In making their disclaimer, they inadvertently also bear witness against themselves (ὥστε μαρτυρεῖτε ἑαυτοῖς, “so that you bear witness against yourselves”). For the sons, by their hostile rejection of Jesus and his disciples, are repeating what their fathers had done in rejecting the prophets. There is a certain bitter and ironic inevitability in this—hence the sharp exhortation πληρώσατε τὸ μέτρον τῶν πατέρων ὑμῶν, “Fill up the measure of your fathers.” What the fathers began will be completed by their sons (cf. v. 34; and the fulfillment in Acts 7:52; 1 Thess 2:15–16 [with ἀναπληρῶσαι αὐτῶν τὰς ἁμαρτίας, “filling up of their sins”]). And no rejection of God’s messengers is more grievous than the Pharisees’ rejection of God’s supreme messenger, Jesus.
Charles Swindoll: Characterized by Hearts of Murder — They were poisonous and dangerous, like vipers ready to strike their unsuspecting prey. Specifically, they hypocritically praised the prophets of old, while in reality they would have been among those who persecuted and killed the prophets, just as they were plotting to murder Jesus in just a few days.
Daniel Doriani: Jerusalem at its worst represents false religion. Egypt at its worst represents oppressive government and brute force. Babylon (with Sodom) at its worst represents the seduction of wealth and sensuality. In God’s sight, all three oppose true religion. False religion, false government, and false prosperity are all one. All stand united against the Lord and his people. They would slay God himself if they could, and they do slay God’s people when they can. Therefore these wicked cities are ripe for judgment. They cannot “escape being condemned to hell” (Matt. 23:33).
Jeffrey Crabtree: Jesus called them snakes and the offspring of serpents (v. 33). They were snakes in their own right and their parents had been serpents as well, thus showing that they had both the heritage and character of snakes. Jesus’ use of the question form “intensified the guilt” of these men and “emphasized the inevitability of their judgment” (Gundry 469).
B. (:34-36a) Indictment for Future Persecutions
- (:34) Litany of Future Persecutions
“Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and wise men and scribes;
some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues, and persecute from city to city,”
Michael Wilkins: The Jewish leaders could not take on capital punishment without support from the Roman occupying forces, so with their backing they were able to unfurl their wrath first on Stephen (Acts 7:54–60). Crucifixion of Christians would have been at the hands of the Romans but likely instigated by jealous Jewish officials.
- (:35-36) Liability and Guilt Extend to Persecutions from the Beginning of Time
“that upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth,
from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”
Jeffrey Crabtree: There is no biblical record of this Zechariah’s martyrdom. Many commentators suggest that Zechariah, son of Jehoiada (2 Chr. 24:20), was who Jesus meant. This Zechariah was stoned in the temple court and was the last martyr listed in the Hebrew Scriptures as they were ordered at that time (Hagner 33B:677). One respected manuscript of Matthew does not have “son of Barachiah” in Matthew’s Gospel adding a little weight to this possiblity. However, according to Blomberg (85), “later rabbinic traditions believed that the prophet Zechariah, son of Berekiah, who is depicted in the O.T. book that bears his name, was also killed in the temple.”
Regardless, both Jesus and His audience knew of whom He spoke. His point was that His generation would be judged for all of the persecutions and martyrdoms since the first murder (v. 36). In other words, not only would God judge the religious leadership, He would also judge that entire generation of Jews.
R. T. France: It is because the current generation is continuing in the same tradition of hostility to God’s messengers that it now faces judgment, and that judgment results not only from their own failings but from the whole tradition from Abel to Zechariah to which they are the willing heirs.
(:36b) IMMINENCY OF CERTAIN JUDGMENT
“Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.”
Stu Weber: Jesus finished the seventh and most sobering woe with his pronouncement of judgment. I tell you the truth assured the listeners of the validity of his prediction. All this included the persecutions and the judgment for them. This generation (cf. Matt. 11:16; 13:39,45; 16:4) should be taken quite literally in this case, since judgment on Israel did come in the form of the A.D. 70 devastation. Israel had broken covenant with Yahweh as completely in the first century as in any previous century, by murdering the greatest prophet, the Messiah, God’s Son. As in centuries before, punishment would certainly come. This generation of false religionists living in the time of Christ would inherit all the guilt of their forefathers (cf. Jer. 16:10-13).
Jesus had just pronounced a finality to his dealing with Israel. He had determined that judgment for all the unfaithfulness of the nation through the centuries (Abel to Zechariah) would fall upon “this generation.” He was about to announce that your house is left to you desolate—a statement that shocked the disciples. Jesus would deal with their questions and this impending future judgment in Matthew 24-25.