29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, 30 and 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.’
31 “Therefore you are witnesses against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt. 33 Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell? 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 synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets 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! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”
24 Then Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. 2 And 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.”
Click here to watch the sermon that goes with this blog post.
You don’t have to listen to much more than an hour or so of Christian TV or radio before you hear someone bring up “the end times.” That amount of time exponentially drops if the Christian station is talking about current events and politics. My entire life, and conservative, Bible-believing evangelicals have been obsessed with “the end times.” Who can forget the international best-seller 88 Reasons Why The Rapture Will Be In 1988 or The Late, Great Planet Earth?
They’d look at contemporary politics, what Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan were up to, and try to divine exactly how the world was going to end. It should seem pretty silly now, but people were very serious about it then. And people do the same thing today. They see the things governments are doing and reach the same conclusions those people did in the 1970s and 80s. What’s more, they will take these ideas and then go and read Matthew 23 and Matthew 24, without spending any time carefully and diligently studying Matthew 1-22.
For the next few weeks, we will be studying these passages. We have already painstakingly gone through Matthew’s Gospel leading up to this, and are very familiar with the context. Jesus has just entered Jerusalem at Passover. The multitudes there have hailed Him as the true heir to David’s throne, He sees that the temple has become a leprous house and He cleanses it, and the illegitimate chief priests, the scribes, the Sadducees, and the Pharisees all come to verbally brawl with Him for two days which ends with Him silencing them and pronouncing 8 curses upon the Pharisees before all of Israel assembled in the temple.
Everything going on here is centered around Israel, around Jerusalem, and around the Temple. Everything going on in Jesus’ ministry is centered around the fact that Israel is the people of God. They are the priestly people God set apart to minister His name to all the nations of the world. And they are a wicked people constantly rebelling against Him. Jesus ministry is to these people. That is who His focus is on. All the many healings and miracles He did and all the harsh rebukes and fire and brimstone preaching. All of it—is for Israel.
Israel is absolutely central to everything going on here. And the temple is central to Israel.
In the last curse that Jesus pronounces upon the Pharisees, He says that these guys act like they are the heirs to the prophets, that they are so courageous just like them and if the prophets came to them, they’d listen. They are completely clueless and aloof. They have no idea that, no, if they were living in the days of their fathers, they would be just like their fathers who persecuted and murdered the prophets. Jesus specifically says “we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets.” They partake in blood. That is what this is about. In the Bible, from the murder of Abel onward, innocent blood spilled out on the ground cries out to heaven for vengeance.
Jesus says to them “because you say this, you are actually testifying against yourself that you are the heirs to the men who murdered the prophets.” Then He says something very interesting. “Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers’ guilt.” What does He mean by this? What does fill up the measure of guilt mean? Does the Bible speak anywhere else about guilt being filled up?
When God told Abraham he was going to inherit the land of Canaan (the very land upon which Jesus later walked, The Land that became Israel), He told Abraham that he could not take possession of the land yet. Why? Because the sin of the Amorites had not yet been filled up. God was patiently waiting for the wickedness of the Canaanites to become so bad that the only response was wiping them out. This is what God does. So often people say “there’s never going to be earthly justice, only heavenly.” That isn’t true. That is not how God acts. There is a reason that in God’s Word He has given us entire songs that we are supposed to sing to Him asking Him to do justice against those who are doing evil to His people.
O Lord God, to whom vengeance belongs—
O God, to whom vengeance belongs, shine forth!
Rise up, O Judge of the earth;
Render punishment to the proud.
Lord, how long will the wicked,
How long will the wicked triumph?
God patiently waits until the exact right time to act. He is not silent. He is not cold and heartless. He waits for sin to be filled up and then BAM judgment. Israel has become like the Canaanites. Their sin is very bad, Jesus has already said that the kingdom is going to be taken from them and given to somebody else (the church). Someone is going to come in and destroy them just like Joshua came in and wiped out most of the Canaanites.
And how are they going to fill up their fathers’ guilt? Well, first they are going to murder the Son of God. But even that is not enough, blasphemy against the Son will be forgiven. Then they are going to persecute and murder Christ’s bride, the church, which is filled with the Holy Spirit after Pentecost. Blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven.
Jesus then calls the Pharisees what John the Baptist called them: Serpents, brood of vipers. Jesus says He is going to send prophets, wise men, and scribes to them. They will kill them, they will crucify them, they will scourge them in synagogues, and persecute them from city to city. What is Jesus describing here? He’s describing the Book of Acts. In Acts, after Jesus ascends into heaven to rule at the Father’s right hand, He sends the Holy Spirit to the church, and from there the church ministers to Israel and to the world.
And when they minister to Israel, what happens? Does Israel listen? Do the chief priests repent? No. Some of Israel listens. Many Jews become saved. But Israel as a whole does not. They instead persecute the church. Murder the saints. The Book of Revelation describes Jerusalem as a drunken prostitute, with a cup filled up with what? Filled up with the blood of the saints.
And Jesus is making this point about blood. Not just His blood and the blood of His church will be upon apostate, unbelieving Jerusalem, but ALL the blood from Abel to Zechariah, who Jesus says they murdered right over there. ALL that righteous blood is on their hands and they will be made to pay for it.
And He tells them this specifically. All these things will come upon this generation. While most of the people to whom He is speaking are still alive, this is going to happen. God’s wrath for all the righteous blood that has been spilled from Abel all the way to Zechariah, from literally A to Z in the Bible, is going to fall upon their heads.
And does this happen? Yes. Within one generation, 40 years, the land of Jerusalem is completely wiped out. The Jews rebelled against Rome, and Rome swoops in with its legions like a flood and kills anything that moves. They lay siege to Jerusalem and the city is utterly destroyed, and the temple is plundered and ransacked and not one stone is left upon another. The blood of the righteous really did come down upon this place and it happened exactly when Jesus said it would.
Jesus then laments Jerusalem, just like the prophet Jeremiah. He cries out in sadness over His people and His city. I wanted you to repent. I wanted you to return to Me. I wanted to gather you together to me, like a hen with her chicks. Your house is left desolate. What does that mean? An abomination has made it desolate. That is what is meant by the abomination of desolation. It is not pagans defiling God’s House, it is God’s people defiling it. Israel’s leaders have driven God out of His own house. Jesus will not return to it until He destroys the House in His wrath.
So, Jesus leaves, but as He does, His disciples start pointing out the impressive buildings in the temple. But He tells them, this place is going to be destroyed. Not one stone is going to be left upon the other. And again, this happened, right when Jesus said it would, almost exactly 40 years to the day.
What Jesus is beginning to explain here is “the end times,” but it is not the end of history or the cosmos. It is the end times for the Old Covenant. Every time God made a covenant with His people He is destroying an old world and remaking a new one. This literally happened in the Noahic Covenant. While Noah and his family were safely in the ark, while 40 days and nights of rain overwhelmed the old world. The new and old briefly existed together for those 40 days, and so too the Old Covenant and New Covenant existed together for 40 years. But at the end of that 40 years, the Old Covenant would reach its cataclysmic end. That is the end times that Jesus is describing. And the centerpiece of the Old Covenant was the temple and that is what Jesus has His eyes set on here.
The lesson for us in this is to recognize what this judgment upon the temple means. Why is Jesus bringing judgment upon it? What has He repeatedly said? Well, to begin with, worship is what makes the world go round. Worship is fundamental to everything. This is why the temple had such a central place. This is where Yahweh was worshiped on earth. The problem is that the people are offering profane worship. They are offering worship to Him that dishonors Him. It dishonors Him because they go before Him totally unrepentant. They think they can worship God but still love their sin. They believe they can go before Him without having to repent, without having to confess their sin and be forgiven by Him. Fully intending to go right back to their sin once they have worshiped.
One of the reasons “end times” stuff is so popular is because it is obvious that our nation is in a period of profound decline. Since we are at the very center of the world of course this means the world is ending. But the reality is the decline we see in our country is happening, ultimately, for the same reason that judgment came upon the temple. The church leads the world, it is not the other way around.
It may seem like it is the other way around, especially when we look at how so many churches adapt what they believe to fit the world, but even in doing that they are leading the world. America would be a vastly different place spiritually, culturally, politically, and economically if the church were faithful. If we all unashamedly taught what the Bible says and diligently strived to live that way. Instead, we soften God’s Words (if we don’t eliminate them completely), we heal wounds lightly, we do what is easy, what will cause us no personal pain. The result is that God is bringing hard times upon our nation and upon our churches. This is often necessary for repentance.
But what we can do, as one tiny congregation among many in one small town among many, is to do all we can with our lives to be faithful to the Lord Jesus Christ, to gather before Him in worship offering ourselves to Him with clean hearts, to receive His gifts with thanksgiving, and to pray that He would bring repentance to our churches and to our land. What we can do is go out from here and devote our lives to serving others and being a blessing to them, inviting them into Christ’s Kingdom and instructing them in the way He wants us to live. That is our mission and what God has called us to, so go, and conquer: in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen!