Jesus has dialogued with the Pharisees, scribes, Herodians, and Sadducees—proving His dedication to the Scriptures and showing that He is a qualified Rabbi. In this section, Jesus speaks seven woes against the Pharisees and scribes, seven reasons they are Hell-bound and take others to Hell with them (cf. Matthew 23:13, 15). This is Jesus’s last woe against the Pharisees and scribes.
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29 Οὐαὶ ὑμῖν, γραμματεῖς καὶ Φαρισαῖοι ὑποκριταί, ὅτι οἰκοδομεῖτε τοὺς τάφους τῶν προφητῶν καὶ κοσμεῖτε τὰ μνημεῖα τῶν δικαίων, 30 καὶ λέγετε· Εἰ ἤμεθα ἐν ταῖς ἡμέραις τῶν πατέρων ἡμῶν, οὐκ ἂν ἤμεθα αὐτῶν κοινωνοὶ ἐν τῷ αἵματι τῶν προφητῶν· 31 ὥστε μαρτυρεῖτε ἑαυτοῖς ὅτι υἱοί ἐστε τῶν φονευσάντων τοὺς προφήτας. 32 καὶ ὑμεῖς πληρώσατε τὸ μέτρον τῶν πατέρων ὑμῶν. 33 ὄφεις γεννήματα ἐχιδνῶν, πῶς φύγητε ἀπὸ τῆς κρίσεως τῆς γεέννης; 34 διὰ τοῦτο ἰδοὺ ἐγὼ ἀποστέλλω πρὸς ὑμᾶς προφήτας καὶ σοφοὺς καὶ γραμματεῖς· ἐξ αὐτῶν ἀποκτενεῖτε καὶ σταυρώσετε, καὶ ἐξ αὐτῶν μαστιγώσετε ἐν ταῖς συναγωγαῖς ὑμῶν καὶ διώξετε ἀπὸ πόλεως εἰς πόλιν· 35 ὅπως ἔλθῃ ἐφʼ ὑμᾶς πᾶν αἷμα δίκαιον ἐκχυννόμενον ἐπὶ τῆς γῆς ἀπὸ τοῦ αἵματος Ἅβελ τοῦ δικαίου ἕως τοῦ αἵματος Ζαχαρίου υἱοῦ Βαραχίου, ὃν ἐφονεύσατε μεταξὺ τοῦ ναοῦ καὶ τοῦ θυσιαστηρίου. 36 ἀμὴν λέγω ὑμῖν, ἥξει ταῦτα πάντα ἐπὶ τὴν γενεὰν ταύτην.
Building monuments (v. 29-30)
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 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.’
Jesus announces His seventh woe. He identifies the Pharisees as hypocrites, holding others to standards which they do not hold themselves (cf. v. 3) and building their own kingdoms on Christ’s back (cf. v. 15). The Pharisees are condemned to Hell because they (1) build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous and (2) claim that they would not have partaken in the sins of their parents—killing the prophets.
1) Why is it so bad to build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous? Pharisaical, outward, religiosity demands appearance. Build better religious buildings. Prioritize the organization. Play the numbers game. Do things so people can see how spiritual you are. Make a public display of your honor for the prophets of old. Memorialize all the things that people have done by adorning monuments. True spirituality is not outward but inward. True Christianity is concerned about building up people, the church, rather than tombs or buildings. Further, true Christianity is about moving forward, not getting stuck in the past; the church is not a monument but a movement.
2) The Pharisees, though they verbally honor the prophets, lie when they say they would not have been partners with those who shed the prophets’ blood. This is part of their hypocrisy. They honor the preachers of old with their lips but would have hated them and killed them. Such is the case with many so-called Christians today. They honor the prophets of old with their lips, saying they love the Bible, but would have hated them because of what they taught. There are many who do not love the word of God but merely love the appearance of loving the word of God; it makes them feel like they are better than others, but they are dead inside.
Brooding vipers (v. 31-33)
So you testify against yourselves, that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?
Jesus explains that they testify against themselves by their outward religiosity. They claim to be sons of those who murdered the prophets by saying, “We would not have participated with our fathers.” Jesus claims that they are guilty of their fathers’ sin against the prophets and God. Then, Jesus identifies their lineage by identifying them as a brood of vipers—sons of snakes. While the Pharisees referred to their biological lineage, Jesus referred to a spiritual lineage. This language comes from the curse in Genesis 3:14-15:
The Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, Cursed are you more than all cattle, And more than every beast of the field; On your belly you will go, And dust you will eat All the days of your life; And I will put enmity Between you and the woman, And between your seed and her seed; He shall bruise you on the head, And you shall bruise him on the heel.”
When Jesus identifies the Pharisees as a brood of vipers, He identifies them as the serpent’s seed under the curse of the serpent. They are like their father, the devil. How will they escape the sentence of Hell? They wont. Since they are spiritual children of Satan, they speak well of the prophets because that looks good. Yet, they would have killed the very prophets they speak well of.
Bashing preachers (v. 34-36)
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, so 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.
Because the Pharisees would have killed the prophets of old, Jesus is sending them modern day prophets, wise men, and scribes. These prophets will speak the word of God. The wise men will speak truth. The scribes will keep records. I believe Jesus is referring directly to the apostles (the twelve plus Paul). Jesus predicts that, even though they offer lip-service, they will kill and crucify some of those He sends. They will scourge some of them in their synagogues. They will persecute them from city-to-city. This will be done so that the Pharisees will incur the guild of all the righteous blood shed on earth—so that the Pharisees will be found guilty like their fathers. When they persecute God’s preachers, the guilt of all past persecutions falls on them—from the blood of Abel to that of Zechariah, who was murdered between the temple, or sanctuary, and the altar (cf. 2 Chronicles 24:21).
When I think about the ministry of Paul as recorded in the book of Acts, I recall his being persecuted in every city that he shared the gospel and planted a church. He was persecuted by high-church type religious people who had the written word of God available to them. The high-church type religious people used their influence in the synagogues to run Paul out of town. The guilt Jesus refers to here is on them. They have not and will not escape Hell according to Jesus. God is a vengeful God (cf. Nahum 1:2). Those who persecute God’s preachers should be very afraid because vengeance is the Lord’s, and He will repay each one (cf. Deuteronomy 32:35; Psalms 94:1; Romans 12:19; 1 Thessalonians 4:6; Hebrews 10:30).
There are many people today who offer lip service, build up their religious buildings and organizations, but use their synagogues or local churches as a means to persecute modern-day prophets (here to mean expository preachers), wise-men, and scribes sent by Christ and called by the Holy Spirit. These people are pharisaical bullies who speak nicely but are hypocrites who earn for themselves the wrath of God. They are children of Hell, and those who follow them are twice as much children of Hell as they are (cf. v. 15). They incur the guilt of their father, the devil. God will have His vengeance in His good timing. These people should be very afraid, for God’s vengeance is far more terrifying than any man’s.
Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Jesus foretells that all the things He has described in His woes against the Pharisees will come upon the generation listening to Him. By the close of the First Century or shortly thereafter, many prophets, wise-men, and scribes will come bearing the Gospel, be persecuted by the pharisaical Jews, and be killed because of they preach the Gospel. Notice, Jesus did not say that each Pharisee would pay for His sin within the generation but, instead, incur the guilt of their fathers and be condemned to Hell. God’s vengeance does not always take the form of some wrathful expression in this life. Rest assured, Hell is to pay for those who persecute God’s prophets, wise-men, and scribes in any generation—a reality which should scare us more than any consequence we could imagine on this earth.