Luke 11:47-51 (NIV) “Woe to you, because you build tombs for the prophets, and it was your forefathers who killed them. So you testify that you approve of what your forefathers did; they killed the prophets, and you build their tombs. Because of this, God in his wisdom said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and others they will persecute.’ Therefore this generation will be held responsible for the blood of all the prophets that has been shed since the beginning of the world, from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, this generation will be held responsible for it all.”
For all of the public righteousness of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, their private actions, which God saw clearly, and which Jesus knew, betrayed their corrupted hearts, which Jesus compared to the bones of dead men in whitewashed tombs (Matthew 23:27).
The history of Israel was replete with the leaders of the people killing and persecuting the prophets that God sent to them. These men and women were sent to warn them away from the precipices that lay before them, death disease, captivity, before it was too late and the people had to face God’s judgment. But instead of listening to God’s voice, they killed and harassed His messengers, and this made them even more worthy of God’s judgment.
Jesus’ inclusion of two specific martyrs, righteous Abel, murdered by his evil brother, Cain, the first murder victim in history and in the Scriptures (Genesis 4:1-8), and Zechariah, the son of Jehoiadah, murdered in the temple complex by the apostate king Joash (2 Chronicles 24:20-22), is significant. In the Jewish Scriptures, the order of the books is different than in the Christian Old Testament. In the Jewish order of books, Genesis is the first book, and Second Chronicles the last., Thus those two martyrs form a set of bookends, the first martyr in the Old Testament and the last, symbolic of every martyr in between.
Jesus knew that this generation of scholars and leaders would soon be plotting and carrying out His own murder, the murder of the very Son of God, the ultimate martyr. Thus, in that one act, they would bring on themselves the guilt of all of their forefathers who had killed God’s messengers before them, capping off a family tradition of the supposed righteous killing of the genuinely righteous, and making themselves liable to a final exile and destruction of their city and their temple. In those words, Jesus was acting as God’s prophet, warning His people one final time of the precipice that was gaping ahead of them, directly on the path that they were intent on taking. But sadly, tragically, He knew that they would not turn before it was too late, before their own inertia carried them over the edge and into the abyss.
Father, the greatest tragedy in all of this is that You always warned Your people, often in many different ways. But Your people refused to listen, often persecuting or even killing Your messengers in the process, thus sealing their doom. And Your Scriptures, Your Holy Spirit, and Your anointed prophets still speak today. Help us to never turn away from Your message that probes our hearts and shows us where we need to repent, but instead to yield ourselves to You completely, so that we can be forgiven and start anew. Amen.