Kingdom Postponed; Judgment Coming; What is Gehenna?
Matthew Lesson #147
December 4, 2016
“Father, we are amazed at the fact that we have Your Word before us, that you have revealed Yourself down through the centuries, starting with Job and then the five books of Moses, and onto the prophets of the Old Testament.
Again and again there is a drumbeat of a prophecy and prediction of the coming Savior, the Messiah—the Seed of the woman. And again and again this was rejected—the prophets were rejected—and even today in fulfillment of what Jesus says in the passage we study, there are millions upon millions who are hostile to Your Word, who reject Jesus as Messiah, and who refuse to look at the truth.
They suppress the truth in unrighteousness, the Scripture says. Father, sometimes we in our own walk with You do the same thing. We imitate unbelievers in that way, and as such, we are guilty of rejecting the prophets as well.
Father, we pray that we might be responsive to Your Word today and that as we study it, we might come to understand more fully who Jesus Christ is, His role and purpose in coming at the First Coming, and we pray that we might come to a greater understanding of what the text says and of Your grace in our lives.
We pray this in Christ’s name, Amen.”
We are studying a passage in Matthew that, by Jesus’ sayings, is not designed to win friends and influence people. It is His last public message. He is announcing through seven woes condemnation upon the religion of the Pharisees.
And by extension that is a condemnation of all religions that reject the grace of God through the provision of God’s Messiah, the Lord Jesus Christ.
We have studied the first six woes and with this seventh woe, Jesus is bringing these seven woes to a climactic conclusion. He is confronting the Pharisees with a history that has gone on for centuries among the Israelites—among the Jewish people—in rejecting the prophets in the Old Testament: of persecuting them and murdering them.
He says in this section, that all of the prophets predicted the Messiah would come, and all of these predictions were complete at this time, and yet there is still a continued rejection of Him as the One who fulfills these prophecies, at least as far as the First Coming was concerned.
What He says to the Pharisees is that this rejection of Him by them also makes them culpable and responsible in the same way as their forefathers were responsible for the rejection of the prophets. They too share in that accountability and that rejection because they are rejecting Him as the Messiah.
That is clear from Matthew 23:35 when He says, “that on you”—on that generation of religious leaders—“may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth from Abel to Zechariah.”
The implications of that are profound. He is saying that that generation is responsible in some way and to some degree because they share in the history of rejection that preceded them.
Then Jesus foretells their future judgment, that He’s going to send more prophets, wise men and scribes, and they too will be rejected: they will be arrested, they will be scourged, and some will be crucified.
So the implication is that those who reject those future messengers are also accountable and share in the responsibility for this. We see that one sobering application of this is that whether a person is an unbeliever or a believer, there still remains an accountability for how we respond to what is revealed to us in God’s Word.
When we reject it, we stand in the path of those generations that rejected the prophets. We stand in the same path as the religious leaders who shared in that responsibility and that rejection of the prophets, which emphasizes for us how important it is for us to learn the Word and to respond to the Word.
As we’ve seen in this last section that started at the beginning of Matthew 21, Jesus is presented to Israel as her Messianic King, and He’s rejected. He is publicly presented on what we call Palm Sunday, and then He’s rejected by the nation—by the national leadership that represents them—but not by all of the people.
In this chapter we see that Jesus is rejecting the nation through these eight woes. The reason there’s a difference there is there’s that one textual problem, so everybody talks about seven woes, so there’s seven plus one, as I’ve explained the last two weeks.
The emphasis here is on this distinction between “religion versus Christianity.” God hates religion. Religion is man doing the work, man going through ritual, morality, works, his own efforts, whatever he thinks of that he thinks will impress God.
God will reject that because everything flows from the root of a corrupt sin nature, and if the root is corrupt, the fruit is corrupt. No matter how morally or ethically good we are, no matter how sincere we are, it all flows out of a fallen nature. And unless that’s corrected, there is no hope.
God corrects that: when we trust in Christ, we are given Christ’s righteousness, we’re given new life, we’re born again, and that is all based on grace. That’s what Christianity is: God doing all the work, and man simply accepts it by faith.
This is what lies behind these seven plus one woes. The Pharisees are consistently described as hypocrites and in context that is describing those who are claiming to have a path to God.
But they are rejecting it, they’re preventing others from coming to Jesus as Messiah. He’s offering the Kingdom, and even though they believe in the Kingdom, they are keeping them from coming to the Kingdom.
So here we come to the seventh woe. This seventh woe is the climax. It is the pinnacle of these seven woes.
Matthew 23:29 Jesus says, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous.”
As we saw in the previous woe that began in Matthew 23:27, He said, “Woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.”
There’s an obvious transition from the fact that He’s already talking about these tombstones to how they are treating these tombstones and monuments.
In that previous section, when He talked about the whitewashed tombs: this was a standard practice at that time in Second Temple Judaism, to whitewash the tombstone. If there was a cave or there was a hollowed out area where they had buried in the back, and a stone was rolled over the front, that was whitewashed.
If somebody was buried in the ground that was whitewashed, so that it would warn those who were coming not to touch that ground because that was unclean ground because it had been corrupted by the death that is there.
The reason that death always made a person unclean in the Old Testament didn’t have anything to do with biology or germs or corruption or bacteria or anything like that. It was because death was the penalty for sin. It was a constant reminder of the corruption of the human condition because we’re all fallen.
They were simply whitewashing and covering up what was on the inside. That’s what Jesus is saying, that our very nature is like dead men’s bones and unclean. You can’t camouflage, you can’t somehow cover it up by simply whitewashing. The procedure of religion is to just cover up through ritual activity or through morality or through ethics or something of that nature.
Jesus builds on this image He’s already come to, and He talks about them in terms of a current practice. This relates to two different groups of people—He talks about the tombs of the prophets and the graves of the righteous. These tombs refer to on the one hand, the burial grounds for prophets from the Old Testament; then the other group—the righteous—is a term to refer to religious leaders of the past.
These groups have been combined before in Matthew. We’ve seen them mentioned in Matthew 10:41, “He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward, and he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward.” So this was a standard distinction at that time.
It is used again in Matthew 13:17, “many prophets and righteous men”—there was that distinction.
These are two different words, and they treated them differently: they were honoring them. They were building tombs for them that they would decorate and honor in a way that would bring glory, which would indicate that they were glorifying their past.
The picture that I have associated with this verse is of the cave where a number of ossuaries were found. An ossuary is a bone box. By the first century when people were buried, then after a year when the body had decomposed and all that was left was the bones, in order to conserve space, they would pull the bones together and put them in a bone box.
Then they were decorating these bone boxes with various designs. In fact, the high priest of this time, Caiaphas, was buried in a very highly decorated bone box, which was discovered archaeologically and is on display at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
Funerary art was very common at this particular time. They also would paint the walls of the tombs and write various poems and things of that nature in order to bring honor and glory to these particular righteous.
He speaks of the tombs of the prophets. Here is a tomb that was built during the time of the Maccabees. It’s called the Tomb of Zechariah, but that is not where Zechariah, who is mentioned later in this passage, is buried. It may be another Zechariah because there were quite a number of Zechariahs during the Old Testament period and up to the first century.
In Matthew 23:30 Jesus addresses the claim of the Pharisees. “You say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.’ ”
They are saying, “We wouldn’t have done that. We would not have stoned them, we would not have rejected their message. We love God. We love His Word. We would not have participated in the persecution of God’s prophets.”
Jesus is going to completely refute this statement when He states it this way, He says, “If”—and that is just for the sake of argument, assuming the truthfulness of that first part of the condition, and it doesn’t mean that it is true, it just means you’re assuming it’s true for the sake of argument, that—“If we had lived in the days of our fathers”—this is what we would’ve done—“we would have not been partakers of them in the blood of the prophets.”
That phrase “blood of the prophets” is just a metaphor, a figure of speech for their death. So “we wouldn’t have been participants in their death.”
Jesus rejects this clearly in Matthew 23:31, “Therefore you are witnesses”—you claim that you wouldn’t have done that but you are witnesses—“against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.”
As you look at that, you may say, “Wait a minute. Seems like something’s missing there. Seems like I’m missing part of the argument.” And that has to be provided and supplied from the context.
We see a parallel to this in Luke11:47–48, “Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them. In fact, you bear witness that you approve the deeds of your fathers, for they indeed killed them, and you build their tombs.”
Same thing: it seems like something is missing here. How is it that they are approving what their forefathers had done? Because they’re doing the same thing. Their forefathers rejected the prophets and their announcement of a coming Kingdom and a coming Messiah.
These Pharisees have the coming Kingdom being presented to them. They have the Messiah in their presence. They are doing the same thing. They are rejecting Jesus as Messiah, and they are rejecting His Kingdom. So their rejection of Him puts them in the path and in the flow of their forefathers who rejected the messengers of God.
We saw Jesus refer to this earlier in Matthew 21. We studied a series of parables where Jesus was showing the indictment against the Pharisees after they had questioned Him about their authority. In the second parable, He talks about this vineyard owner who has leased out his vineyard to sharecroppers who are raising the grapes, and when vintage time came, he sent his servants.
That is, the land owner—who is God—sent his servant to the vine dressers—the sharecroppers—that they might receive its fruit. They’re there to get the profits from what is been made off of the grapes.
Matthew 21:35, “And the vinedressers took his servants”—of course, that represents the prophets of the Old Testament—“beat one, killed one, and stoned another.”
Matthew 21:36, “Again he sent other servants, more than the first, and they did likewise to them.” That means they beat them, killed them, and stoned them.
Matthew 21:37–38 , “Then last of all he sent his son”—which, of course, is a reference to Jesus Christ—“he sent his son to them saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the vine dressers saw the son, they said among themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come let us kill him and cease his inheritance’ ”—or his property—because the term inheritance is a term that refers to possessions or property.
Jesus clearly indicts the Pharisees. He points out that they are hypocrites in claiming that they would not have rejected the prophets, they would not have participated in the evil deeds of their forefathers. Jesus says, “No, that’s exactly what you’re doing by rejecting Me and rejecting the message of the Kingdom.”
In the next passage, He all but commands them to go ahead and kill Him. The way He states it is this way, in Matthew 23:32, He says, “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.”
The term “fill up” there basically means to bring it to completion. This process started in centuries past with generation after generation that rejected the Father’s prophets, rejected the message of the coming Messiah, rejected the commands to repent and turn back to God. He is saying bring this to its logical conclusion, which means, of course, to kill Him.
He says, “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.”
Then He says something in Matthew 23:33 that is really designed to gain their approval and to make up with them. He calls them, “Serpents, brood of vipers!” And then He says, “How can you escape the condemnation”—and it’s always translated—“of hell.”
This is a big problem. First of all, He calls them serpents. This term immediately takes us back to the first time we see a serpent in the Bible, which is in Genesis 3 when Satan indwells a serpent. He sneaks up on Eve, and says, “Now what did God say about this fruit? Did God really say you shouldn’t eat it? Did God really say you would die?”
She gets sucked into his line of argumentation, and as a result, she looks at the fruit and thinks it looks good. If the serpent is right, then the reason God doesn’t want us to eat the fruit is that we’ll become like God—He’s just jealous! Maybe I’ll eat it, and I’ll be like God. When she ate of the fruit, sin entered into human history.
But she is not the head of the race, so it just enters into human history. It is not determinative for the fall of the race. That is Adam’s responsibility as the head of the race. That’s why the text talks about Jesus as the Second Adam, it’s the first Adam that eats of the fruit. When she entices him, he eats it. She offers it to him, he eats it, and they are both then spiritually dead.
When God shows up to talk to them, He concludes that part of the conversation with a series of announcements of the consequences—or the judgment—upon man. In Genesis 3:15, He says to the serpent that there would be this conflict between his descendants, and the Seed of the woman. He talks about the seed of the serpent versus the Seed of the woman.
When Jesus takes this phrase, which He echoes from John the Baptist, He calls them “serpents” and then a “brood of vipers.” That’s just the descendants of vipers.
It’s the same idea built off of Genesis 3:15. He calls them the seed of Satan. That is always going to make your enemies feel good about you, especially if they’re religious enemies, calling them the seed of Satan.
This goes back to Matthew 3:7: we studied this at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry when John the Baptist has come on the scene. You remember John the Baptist has so many people coming down to see what he’s doing, down on the Jordan. He’s baptizing people, he’s offering the Kingdom, challenging them to repent for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand, and those who responded were baptized.
As word got back to Jerusalem, the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem had to send out an investigation team to see who this man was. Is he a genuine prophet? Is he the Messiah? Who is he? What’s his message?
This is why they showed up, and when they did, we’re told in Matthew 3:7, “But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘Brood of vipers!’ ”
So John isn’t real winsome when it comes to his approach to the religious leaders either. He says, “Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”
Notice “wrath to come” is not eternal wrath. That’s why I added this at the end of that verse: temporal judgment; it’s not eternal judgment.
This phrase “wrath to come” is used in 1 Thessalonians 1:10, where Paul says that they are waiting “for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”
That phrase “wrath to come” in the context of 1Thessalonians isn’t talking about eternal judgment in the Lake of Fire, it is talking about the future, eschatological judgment that comes on man during that period known as the “Time of Jacob’s Trouble”—the time of Daniel’s 70th week.
We usually call it “The Tribulation,” that seven-year period that comes after the Rapture of the church. It doesn’t come immediately after the Rapture; there is a transition there. It will begin when the antichrist signs a peace treaty with Israel that will allow them to rebuild the temple.
But that’s all part of the future, and we’ll get into that when we get into our study of the next two chapters that focus on that Tribulation period.
Jesus is making the same kind of condemnation in Matthew 23:33. He says, “How can you escape the condemnation of hell?”
This term that is translated “hell” is not a term for the Lake of Fire. It is often mistaken to be that way, and I did an extensive study one whole class on this when we studied Matthew Lesson #29. So if you want more detail, go back to Lesson 29 and listen to that. I’m just going to summarize it briefly in the next ten minutes or so.
The English word “hell,” comes from a Nordic term for a place where people went and were punished after they died. That really doesn’t relate well at all to what the scriptural text says. When it’s talking about the condemnation of hell, we have two options:
Option 1: this is referring to eternal condemnation in the Lake of Fire, which a lot of people teach.
Option 2: this refers to God’s judgment in history either on Israel or possibly even some other judgment such as the Tribulation.
We have to understand this terminology. The word “hell” translates the Greek word GEHENNA. GEHENNA itself is borrowed or transliterated over from the Hebrew which is ge’hinnom. The word ge’ is the Hebrew word for valley, and the word hinnom is a person’s name. It was the Valley Hinnom.
On the map, here is the Old City of Jerusalem, and the Hinnom Valley runs just to the south. Three basic valleys that run through all Old Jerusalem: the Hinnom Valley, what’s labeled on the map as Central Valley—that was filled in—which was the Tyropoeon Valley or the Valley of the Cheesemakers. Then to the east of the city where this blue line is located—that would be an intermittent stream—is the Kidron Valley.
We’re talking about the Hinnom Valley here, and that had a significant role in the history of Israel. But it makes more sense if when we’re translating this, don’t call it hell. That’s an interpretation. Just bring it over from the original, call it the Valley of Hinnom. And in this case, Jesus would be saying that this is the condemnation of the Valley of Hinnom.
Well, what is the Valley of Hinnom? What would that condemnation be? In the Old Testament, this was a place where the Israelites sinned by committing child sacrifice and burning their sons and daughters in the fiery arms of an idol called Molech.
He is pictured here: this is an artist’s conception. There was a literal furnace there where they would heat up the fire, and then the infant would be placed into the fire and would be burned alive. This was a sacrifice of their children, the next generation.
We’re told that this happened quite frequently. This is one of the reasons that God brought judgment on that generation and destroyed Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple at the first destruction, which was in 586 BC.
2 Chronicles 28:3 says that “Ahaz burned incense in the valley of the Son of Hinnom, and burned his children in the fire.” They thought that this would placate the gods.
Jeremiah 7:31, “They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and daughters in the fire”— God is speaking here and He says—“which I did not command.”
This was the indictment against that generation. For several generations, there were Israelite kings and others who taught the people to sacrifice—to immolate—their children on the arms of Molech.
This took place in the Valley of Hinnom, so it was indeed a bloodied ground. Just a horrible scene. I cannot imagine and neither can you: somebody who would take a child, an infant, and burn them alive in a way to placate God. It’s just unimaginable.
GEHENNA then became a place where God would then judge them for what they had done to their children.
For their sins of idolatry, Judah was going to be punished in the very same place in this Valley of Hinnom. It would become a place of condemnation, and that condemnation was judgment for their sin. It wasn’t an eternal judgment in the future. It was a judgment that occurred the first time in the Valley of Hinnom in 586 BC.
In Jeremiah 19:6, he predicted that for punishment for their sins that that very same valley that had witnessed the death of their children would witness their death at the hands of foreign invaders, and that is where they would in turn be buried as they were slaughtered by the Babylonians in 586 BC.
Jeremiah 7:31–32, “They have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command. ‘Therefore, behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, when it will no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter, for they will bury in Tophet until there is no more room.’ ”
That’s the announcement: they will be so slaughtered by the Babylonians that they will bury until there’s no more room.
Jeremiah 19:6, “‘Therefore, behold, the days are coming,’ says the Lord, ‘that this place shall no more be called Tophet or the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.’ ” Twice that is prophesied.
In terms of our conclusion, historically the Valley of Hinnom was not used in the Old Testament as a reference to future eternal judgment in the Lake of Fire, but as a place of divine discipline, a place of divine judgment or condemnation on historical Israel in 586 BC.
Because of their spiritual failure, because of their spiritual idolatry, because of their rejection of the message of the prophets and God’s plan of salvation, it became a symbol for spiritual failure, for condemnation and shame: divine discipline in time and not in eternity.
This is used in the New Testament. In Matthew 5:22, Jesus said, “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Racal’—or fool—“shall be in danger of the council.”
Notice, first you’re in danger of judgment—some sort of minimal condemnation—then it steps up: you had to go for the council and be judged at the council. Then He says, “But whoever says ‘you fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire”—literally, that is “in danger of the Valley of Hinnom.”
A few verses later, Matthew 5:29, Jesus says, “If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into the Valley of Hinnom.”
The Valley of Hinnom, or GEHENNA, is taken to be one of two things: again, it’s either eternal condemnation or its temporal judgment. Most people interpret it as eternal condemnation. That’s why it’s translated “hell.” They’re saying this is because if you commit this, you’re in danger of hell.
The Arminians—that is those who do not believe in eternal security—will come and say, “See, this is a passage that says that even if you trust in Jesus, if you hate your brother, you’re going to lose your salvation, and you’re in danger of judgment in the Lake of Fire.”
When I taught this two or three years ago in Matthew Lesson #29, there was a new member of the congregation who’d been here maybe five or six weeks—she’s not here this morning. She actually serves in the chaplain’s office at the jail—and she really studied that lesson.
I got a call maybe five or six months later from David Dunn over at Grace Bible Church, who also works at the jail, and he said, “I’ve got to tell you this story.” He said, “I was down there at the jail and we’ve got this guy who is Arminian, and he’s always coming up with these objections to eternal security.”
“He came up to me the other day, and he brought up Matthew 5:22. He said, ‘How can you believe in eternal security when this passage says that if you hate your brother, you’re going to go to hell?’ ”
See that’s what it looks like. If you take the take GEHENNA as eternal condemnation, that’s where you’re forced to go: no eternal security.
David said, “Before I could begin to answer, this chaplain assistant started taking him through the Old Testament passages on the Valley of Hinnom, explaining to him exactly what the Valley of GEHENNA was used for and what it signified, and then walked him into the New Testament and went through it.”
David said, “My mouth was hanging wide open.” Afterwards he said, “Where in the world did you learn that?” Of course, this is how David would’ve answered it, but not too many people are taught that well.
She said, “Well, I got it from my pastor.”
He said, “Who’s your pastor?”
She said, “Well, Robby Dean is my pastor.”
David said, “Well, of course, makes perfect sense now.”
This is the issue: if this describes the eternal judgment in the Lake of Fire, then we have to throw out eternal security. There are sins Jesus didn’t pay for, there are sins God wasn’t aware of in His omniscience, and that just doesn’t fit with many passages of Scripture.
What Jesus is talking about is if you continue in certain sins, then you run the risk of divine discipline in your life. What He’s going to say to the Pharisees is the same thing, and that is that you’re risking divine judgment on the nation. That’s what He is saying in Matthew 23.
Matthew 10:28 is another passage. He says, “Do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” That is in the Valley of Hinnom; that is divine judgment in time. Fear the One who can bring you under divine discipline for your disobedience and rebellion.
This is the same thing He is saying in the parallel passage in Luke 12:5.
In our passage when He refers back in Matthew23:15, He referred to the Pharisees as sons of the Valley of Hinnom. They are identified with that kind of judgment. They’re bringing another form of idolatry into Israel that is just as destructive. He is saying therefore, that He condemns the Pharisees because they are recruiting these proselytes, and they’re going to be just as much a part of the condemnation as you are.
Then in Matthew 23:33, He says, “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of GEHENNA?” That condemnation is looking forward to the destruction in 70 AD.
The second time the Temple’s destroyed is for idolatry, just as the first time. But it’s not a physical idolatry, where you’re worshiping idols of wood, stone, and metal, but it is a spiritual idolatry, where you’re worshiping your own false set of standards, your own religious ideas.
When we study this, one objection that comes up that people may ask is, “Well, there are places where the fire of GEHENNA is said to be eternal. How do we understand that? That would seem like that would be the Lake of Fire.”
One place that we have this is in Isaiah 66:24, “And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me. For their worm does not die”—that’s talking about the maggots that are continually feasting on the corpse—“and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.”
See, that’s talking literally about these corpses. It’s not talking about the Lake of Fire. It is just using that term to refer to something that goes on for a long period of time because in the context those bodies are not going to be eternally consumed. The physical body is corrupt in the grave, so it can’t be talking about the eternal.
Jeremiah 17:4 says the same kind of thing as well as in Jeremiah 21:12, it talks about what God says to Israel in Jeremiah 17:4, “For you have kindled to fire in My anger which will burn forever.”
God is not still angry with Israel, so that term burn forever is hyperbole. He did not burn in His anger against Israel forever and ever. That judgment was culminated in 586 BC.
Jeremiah 21:12, He’s going to announce a judgment on the house of David, and He says, “… and burn so that no one can quench it, because of the evil of your doings.”
That had a temporal reference point: it does not always mean eternal. The word AIONIOS in the Greek does not always mean eternal. You have to look at the passage.
These passages are simply using a hyperbole to express the seriousness of the punishment. The Hebrew word olam has the same connotation.
When Jesus speaks to the Pharisees and calls them “brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of the Valley of GEHENNA?” He’s talking about the same thing, a temporal judgment.
Jesus goes on to say in Matthew 23:34, “Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogue, and persecute from city to city.”
He is talking about what He will do. He—Jesus—now is going to send representatives. This is a subtle claim for deity also, because previously, He talks about how the prophets were sent by God. Now He is saying He will send prophets and wise men, and scribes, so He takes upon Himself the position of deity, and the One sending these.
This is prophecy of what will take place in the Apostolic Age. “Some of them you will kill and crucify,” that took place through the agents, many took place in the agency of Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul.
“Some of them you will scourge in your synagogues.” Paul got some of that along the way where he talks about this in 2 Corinthians: how he was scourged, how he was beaten, and how he was left for dead. Also, we know that he was persecuted by those in Jewish synagogues who followed him from city to city. So this is fulfilled in the New Testament.
We see a reference to this also in Acts 7:54–60, where the Jewish religious leaders stoned Stephen, and later there would be others who would be crucified.
In Matthew 23:35, Jesus goes on to say, “… that on you”—that is on your generation—“may come”—that is you are going to also be included in the punishment—“may come all the righteous blood shed on the 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.”
Abel starts with “A,” and Zechariah starts with “Z,” but Jesus isn’t talking about everyone from A to Z. That’s not how the Hebrew alphabet is organized. Jesus is talking about the very first death of a righteous person in the Old Testament, in Genesis 4 when Cain murdered Abel.
The way the Hebrew Bible is organized, 2 Chronicles is the last book, the last book in the section of the writings, not Malachi. So in the organization of the Hebrew Bible, the last person who is killed is Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada.
You say, “Wait a minute! Jesus says this is Zechariah the son of Berechiah.” So that presents a problem, and there’s no certain solution to this problem, but there are two or three options that are very reasonable ways of explaining this.
This is most likely referring to what occurred in 2 Chronicles 24:20. We’re told there that “the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest.”
Now the word “son” can be “descendent of,” so it could be his grandfather, his great-grandfather, his great-great-grandfather, it doesn’t have to be his immediate father. So his father could have been named Berechiah, these names are very, very, common.
Just like, recently, there was a tomb that was discovered that had an ossuary that was the “Yeshua, the son of Josef,” and, of course, the liberals are all leaping to the conclusion, “Ah! Jesus wasn’t raised from the dead. We’ve got His ossuary here!”
Well, Joseph and Jesus were extremely common names—like Bill or Mark or Tom—in our culture. There were probably dozens of people who were named Jesus, whose father’s name was Joseph.
Just as at the time of Zechariah, there were probably many who were born to fathers who were named Berechiah. So this was a very common name.
But the connection in 2 Chronicles is because this is during the reign of Joash is to connect this prophet, Zechariah, to the high priest Jehoiada, who is responsible for a great revival during that particular time. So that’s why you would not go to the immediate father.
We’re told in 2 Chronicles 24:21, “So they conspired against him, and at the command of the king, they stoned him with stones in the court of the house of the LORD.”
This is just another example of ongoing negative volition, and it reminds us very much of what is going on throughout all of history—the rejection of God and His messenger.
So two things we need to note about this verse in Matthew:
First of all, this is a pattern of rejection of God’s prophets. And as such, Israel stands as a paradigm and as a representative of the entire human race: that no matter what the evidence or the rationale or the logical issues may be, rejection of God, rejection of His Word, and rejection of the Messiah is not a rational issue. You can’t argue somebody to faith in Christ by reason.
That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t use reason as a way of pointing out flaws in their reason or that belief in Jesus is rational. But the ultimate problem isn’t rational, the ultimate problem is spiritual.
This is what Paul says in Romans 1:18–19, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them.”
Romans 1 says that there is the witness of the heavens that is more than enough to hold everyone accountable, but in addition to that, every single human being who is created in the image and likeness of God, knows that God exists, but they’re suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
The second thing that we need to understand that we can learn from this passage is that at the time of Jesus, the Old Testament Canon was set. That’s important because we know that later books were not added.
If you come from a Catholic background, you know about the set of books called the Apocrypha. Now the Apocrypha was never accepted by Jews as part of the Old Testament Scripture. It would change the order of the books.
The Apocrypha wasn’t accepted officially by Christians until the Roman Catholic Church accepted it as part of the canon at the Council of Trent in the 1540s after the Protestant Reformation. It was part of their reaction to the Protestants.
This tells us that by the time of Jesus, the Canon was already set and accepted. It began with Genesis and ended with 2 Chronicles. Just like the present Canon of the Old Testament.
Jesus says in Matthew 23:36, “Assuredly, I say to you, all these things”—that is, the condemnation, the judgment of HINNOM—“all these things will come upon this generation.” You have rejected the Messiah. You are going to be judged for it.
There are some people take “this generation” to refer to all Jews, and that’s part of anti-Semitism. It’s not talking about all the Jews. It’s talking about this particular generation.
Others have tried to extrapolate this to refer to all unbelievers. He’s talking about what is happening then, and it refers to what will occur in AD 70. There are others who try to make this refer to many other things, but we have to understand it in its historical literal context.
Matthew 23:37: Jesus, looking over Jerusalem, says, “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets”—that’s been their modus operandi—“and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
Two things we should note about this verse:
Number one: The will of God is to save people. The will of God is to gather them under His wings. The will of God is to bring people into salvation, but He is not going to override human volition.
This is the error present in Calvinism. It is a determinism that they hold to. Jesus says I wanted to do that. This is God’s will is to gather them, to save as many as He can. The problem is individuals are not willing. Why? They’re suppressing the truth in unrighteousness.
And so the judgment is announced.
Matthew 23:38, “See! Your house”— this is a reference to the Temple—“Your house is left to you desolate.”
This means that at this point and actually since Matthew 12, that the destiny, the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple will be set.
He has set their house desolate. The armies of Titus of Rome came in and completely destroyed Jerusalem and burned the Temple to the ground.
In Matthew 24:1, Jesus leaves there, He goes away from the Temple, and He was going over to the Mount of Olives. His disciples are going to question Him about the buildings of the Temple. “Is that what You’re referring to, that the Temple is what will be destroyed?”
The Temple is what will be abandoned. Literally, that’s what that word means in the Greek is to be abandoned, that this is going to be abandoned.
Then Jesus’ answer to that, which will set up the next chapters, Jesus said to them, “Do you not see all these things? Assuredly, I say to you, not one stone shall be left here upon another, that shall not be thrown down.”
If you go to Israel to the Temple Mount, you will see this is an extension of the Western Wall. If you go a little bit further down to the left, you would come to the Western Wall Plaza, where Jews come to pray.
What you have left here is these huge massive stones. These were part of the wall that surrounded the Temple complex at the time of Herod. These were the stones that were pushed down at that time.
You see a little broader look of it here. You see much of this rubble. Here’s a pile of stones right over here, and you see these massive craters in the pavement where the stones landed as they came down from the wall.
One man once asked me, “Well, the Scripture says ‘and not one stone will be left on another,’ but it looks to me like all the stones are left at the at the Western Wall one on top of another—doesn’t seem like Scripture was fulfilled.”
But the question is the buildings of the Temple. What you see with the Western Wall is simply a restraining wall that was built on the Temple complex, so that all of the weight from the buildings would not cause the land to spread out: you have a stable foundation.
This isn’t what Jesus is talking about. This isn’t what He’s asked about. He’s asked about the buildings, not about the restraining wall. So this has nothing to do with the lack of fulfillment. What we see here is the remains of what happened in AD 70.
To wrap this up, what we see here is this condemnation that is announced on that generation. Jesus then finishes up in Matthew 23:39, “For I say to you, you shall see me no more until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’ ”
This is a quote from Psalm 118:26—we’ve studied this before. When Jesus came into Jerusalem, He is presented as the king, and on Palm Sunday, they were singing Psalm 118. They were singing “Blessed is He who comes the name of the Lord.” But those were Jesus’ followers. Now He is saying until the nation as a whole and the religious leaders of Israel welcome Him as the Messiah, He will not come.
The focus at this point shifts to another coming, to a second coming, and that will be the topic of the next two verses. Not the Rapture, but the Second Coming of Christ. That’s the question the disciples will ask, “What are the signs of Your coming and the end of the age?” Not the signs of the Rapture.
So we’ll look at that in about three weeks. In the meantime we’re going to focus on the birth of our Lord in the next three Sundays up to Christmas, and then we’ll start the New Year with the study of prophecy in Matthew 24 and 25.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things today, to be reminded that there is an accountability on each of us in our response to Your Word, and especially upon those who are negative to Your Word, those who have rejected it.
They are in the paths of those Israelites who punish the prophets and of the Pharisees who crucified Jesus, and there is a judgment and accountability on all who reject Your Word.
Father, we pray for anyone listening today, that they would recognize that there is accountability in the universe, accountability in life, and the only way to avoid the eternal condemnation of the Lake of Fire is to trust in Jesus Christ as Savior.
He did it all, that we can’t work our way to Heaven, we can’t do things to please You.
The only thing that has pleased You is the substitutionary death of Christ.
He died for us, and the only way that we secure that in our behalf is to trust in You.
Father, we pray that You would make this clear to anyone listening to this message today.
Father, we pray that you would challenge each of us with our response to Your Word, that we would be willing to make that the highest priority of our life, is to learn it, to study it, to apply it.
And we pray this in Christ’s name, Amen.”