Matthew 23 - IVP New Testament Commentaries

Impending Judgment on the Religious Establishment

Many of us today do not like to preach on judgment, but the prophets of Scripture, including Jesus, heavily emphasized warnings about judgment. If we are to be faithful to our calling as Christ's followers and if we care about others, we dare not shortchange Scripture's message of judgment on individuals and nations. We must recognize that every nation, including our own, will face divine punishment (if Israel, how much more Gentiles!). Yet we must remember that God's heart of judgment sometimes sounds most like a lament (v. 37).Persecutors of God's Servants Will Face Judgment (23:33-36) Just as the religious people had murdered God's spokespeople in the past (vv. 29-31), they would do to Jesus (v. 32) and his followers (v. 34). But whatever judgments past generations might have suffered, the true guilt had been saved up for the climactic murder of this generation--the execution of Jesus (27:25). Like Matthew 24, this section views the destruction of the temple, due to occur in the leaders' generation (23:35-38), in the context of the final period of judgment (vv. 33, 39).

John the Baptist had demanded to know who warned these offspring of vipers (see comment on 3:7; compare 12:34) to flee approaching hellfire yet failed to call them to bear fruits of repentance (3:7-8). Jesus offers the same message (23:33). The prophets, wise men (hokmim, "sages") and teachers ("scribes") Jesus would send represent the various missions of his own followers (5:12; 13:52; compare "apostles" in Lk 11:49), whether they came as prophetic or teaching figures (see 11:18-19). Jesus here fills a role that God filled in the biblical tradition (as in 2 Chron 36:15-16). These prophets, like the earlier prophets Jesus mentioned (Mt 23:29-31; compare 21:35-36) and himself (23:32, 36; compare 21:39), would face persecution (see again 10:17, 23).

Filling up the cup to the brim refers to meriting all the blood (bloodguilt) saved up among past generations, never punished as was deserved (compare Deut 32:43; Ps 79:10; Is 40:2; Rev 6:10). The blood of Abel, a prototypical martyr (as in Ps-Philo 16:2), had cried for vengeance against his fraternal slayer (Gen 4:10; Heb 11:4; 12:24; Jub. 4:3; 1 Enoch 22:6-7). Jesus' second example is probably the Zechariah of 2 Chronicles 24:20-22, martyred in the temple. According to Jewish tradition, Zechariah's blood, like Abel's, cried against the murderers for vengeance, yielding the massacre of many priests (b. Gittin 57b; p. Ta`anit 4:5, Section 14; Pes. Rab Kah. 15:7). The bloodguilt for Jesus' death would fall on that generation (Mt 27:25). And as Zechariah's blood had once desecrated the priestly sanctuary and so invited judgment (Lives of Prophets 23:1; Sipra Behuq. pq. 6.267.2.1), so would the blood of the priests in A.D. 66 as the "abomination that causes desolation" (24:15).Jesus Longs for Repentance Rather Than Judgment (23:37-39) In contrast to the woes earlier in the chapter (vv. 13-29), verse 37 represents a true lament. That Jesus wishes to gather his people under his wings recalls the image of God sheltering his people under his wings (as in Ex 19:4; Deut 32:11; Ps 17:8; 36:7; 63:7; 91:4; 1 Enoch 39:7). But as often in the case of God in the Old Testament, Jesus' love for Jerusalem here gives way to the brokenhearted pain of their rejection. God also weeps over his judgment of Israel (for example, Jer 8:21-22; 9:1, 10). Israel had killed (Jer 26:20-23; here especially 2 Chron 25:16) and persecuted (Is 30:10; Amos 2:12) the prophets God had sent; Jewish tradition amplified prophetic martyrology further (Manson 1979:126-27), as did Christian tradition (the interpolation in Sib. Or. 2.248). After A.D. 70, Jewish prayers also confessed that Israel's sins had brought on the calamity of exile.

This passage reminds us that God does not forget his promises to his people. For Luke, Jesus' grief and his promise that they will see him later (Lk 13:34-35) precedes, hence is fulfilled in, the triumphal entry (19:41); Matthew places it among the woes of coming judgment, but in so doing transforms this into a promise of future hope (compare Mt 10:23; Glasson 1963:96-98; Aune 1983:176). Israel's restoration was a major theme of the biblical prophets and reappeared at least occasionally in early Christianity (Rom 11:26), though the emphasis of early Christian apologetic came to focus on the Gentile mission.

In this context, the impending judgment Jesus promises for the climactic shedding of his blood is the "desolation" of their house--the temple's destruction. To this theme the discussion quickly turns (24:1-3, 15).

Previous commentary:
Woes Against Human Religion

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