Matthew 23:29-36 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our forefathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the sin of your forefathers!
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.”
Jesus’ words and His judgments on these leaders may seem unduly harsh to some, but He is actually passing judgment on them, not for what their ancestors did in the past, but for what they themselves were plotting to do to Him in the present.
The teachers of the law and Pharisees really did proclaim that if they had lived in the days of their forefathers, they would not have persecuted the prophets like their ancestors did. The prophets, especially during the eras of apostasy, were widely reviled and hated by the leadership of the land, both religious and civil. This was mostly because they fearlessly preached God’s judgment on the people and their leaders. So if there was a way to get rid of them, legitimately or illegitimately, they did it.
Even though the leaders in Jesus’ day loudly protested the actions of their forebears, their hearts were dismayingly similar to theirs. Just as their ancestors had plotted against the prophets, wise men, and teachers that God had sent to them, these men were now plotting to assassinate the Son that He had sent.
Killing God’s prophets is bad enough, but killing the Son of God, orchestrating His death, plotting in secret for months, and continually trying to trip Him up, ultimately bearing false witness against Him to orchestrate His torture and death is infinitely worse. Instead of simply bearing the guilt that their ancestors bore before God for killing a single righteous prophet like Zechariah, the guilt of these men was going to be as if they had killed every martyr from Abel all the way up to their own day. It was not a position to be envied.
Jesus’ hope was that these dire predictions would wave these men off the suicidal course that they had already chosen, although He knew in His heart that they were already dead-set on murdering Him, and they weren’t going to change their minds, no matter how much He warned them. But their blood would now be on their own heads for ignoring His clear warnings.
Father, thank You for Your love and grace, shown even to those who would seem to be best written off. It was that love that saved me, and that I can pass along to others. Amen.