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Matthew 23:33-39: Snakes! Sons of vipers!

Posted by adventbiblestudy on July 15, 2012


Matthew 23:33-39 Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? (34) “Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city. (35) As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time–from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar. (36) I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation. (37) “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me. (38) And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. (39) For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!'”

 

With His disciples gathered around Him, Jesus used mistakes the priests, scribes, and Pharisees made as explicate examples to show how temptation and pride placed them in their present state. They intentionally separated themselves from the people they were trusted to teach. They convinced themselves separation was the best way to show God had given them His blessing, and the only way to gain favor was to follow their example. Jesus wanted His disciples to see the danger that occurs when people try to substitute themselves for a personal relationship with God.

 

Jesus had been teaching this throughout His ministry. After His sermon on the mountain Jesus healed a leper, sending him to the priests as a testimony. He wanted the priests to see, God looked at everyone, including lepers with love and compassion. He continued this lesson when He healed a woman who had been rejected by society because of a medical condition. The disciples saw Jesus heal and teach people from all walks of life, servants, slaves, Roman commanders, rich, poor, male, female, children, and religious leaders. In every instance He did it to glorify God.

 

Jesus was about to complete His lesson in the temple court. To ensure He had everyone’s undivided attention He shouted, “Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell?” Everyone knew Jesus was referring to the group gathered across the court. The priests, scribes and Pharisees had been at odds against one another since anyone could remember. They never attempted to reach a compromise by discussing their common beliefs, but chose to constantly argue the details they disagreed on. This only disgusted the people, filling them with distrust for each group. Many people sided with one faction or another, but their actions repulsed a vast majority. Their constant bickering permanently turned some people away from God. Those people could not see how they could serve a God who ruled with so much pride, arrogance, confusion, and strife. Jesus knew, all would be lost if His disciples copied any of the attributes displayed by the religious leaders.

 

Now that Jesus had their attention, He introduced a very personal matter. “Therefore, I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers of religious law. But you will kill some by crucifixion, and you will flog others with whips in your synagogues, chasing them from city to city.” The disciples wondered who Jesus was going to send. Was He about to raise up a new group of prophets? How come they had not heard of this before? Suddenly they questioned, were they the new prophets, wise men, and teachers of religious law? For a moment it seemed like a great honor, until they heard the consequences. They thought Jesus would always be there to protect them. Their image of Jesus’ new Kingdom was more along the lines of sitting on royal thrones, with people coming to them for advise. The thought of persecution hardly entered their minds.

 

Jesus continued. “As a result, you will be held responsible for the murder of all godly people of all time–from the murder of righteous Abel to the murder of Zechariah son of Barachiah, whom you killed in the Temple between the sanctuary and the altar.” The minds of the disciples went beyond the examples given. Able was killed by his brother Cain because of a jealous fit. Zechariah was stoned in the temple court because of a simple message from God he delivered. And the Spirit of God came upon Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest, which stood above the people, and said unto them, Thus saith God, Why transgress ye the commandments of the LORD, that ye cannot prosper? because ye have forsaken the LORD, he hath also forsaken you. (2 Chronicles 24:20)

 

The disciples wondered how the religious leaders standing on the other side of the courtyard could he held responsible for the murder of prophets they had never seen or met. The first verse that came to their minds was: “‘What?’ you ask. ‘Doesn’t the child pay for the parent’s sins?’ No! For if the child does what is just and right and keeps my decrees, that child will surely live. The person who sins is the one who will die. The child will not be punished for the parent’s sins, and the parent will not be punished for the child’s sins. Righteous people will be rewarded for their own righteous behavior, and wicked people will be punished for their own wickedness.” (Ezekiel 18:19-20)

 

As they looked at Jesus for some type of sign to help them understand this dilemma, some of them remembered an inspiration given to Moses. “I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty. I lay the sins of the parents upon their children and grandchildren; the entire family is affected– even children in the third and fourth generations.” (Exodus 34:7)

 

Their minds raced over verses in the book of the kings that describe how many sons followed in the foot steps of their father’s sins. Then every once in a while, a king would follow God, establish reforms to a point, but in the end fail to lead the people back to God. They wondered, is it possible to bring the world back to God? Looking at Jesus, they also wondered why God had not done something about the ever growing disease of sin.

 

As the courtyard was caught up in the silence of thought, prayer, and meditation, Jesus continued. “I tell you the truth, this judgment will fall on this very generation. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me.”

 

The minds of the disciples were reminded how Jerusalem is used as a symbol to point to something much larger, more important. As they searched for the answer a thousand verses from the prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and others raced though their minds, all warning about the immanent fall of Jerusalem. Was Jesus telling them a prophecy? Was Jesus about to reveal something new, something they had been waiting for?

 

Every eye was riveted upon Jesus. His head slowly turned from one side to the other. His body seemed rigid, but His face seemed to be calling to them. Jesus looked up, past the people in front of Him to the walls of the court. It was easy to see He was looking at the structure of the temple court. “And now, look, your house is abandoned and desolate. For I tell you this, you will never see me again until you say, ‘Blessings on the one who comes in the name of the LORD!”

 

Jesus’ comment caught them all by surprise. Jesus did not often discuss plans such as where they were going, or when. This was the first they heard of Jesus leaving. They wondered where they were going next, and why they would not be returning to Jerusalem with Jesus. The disciples began to move through the crowd, gathering in small groups to discuss what they had just heard. They knew Jesus had plans, but they had no idea what they were.

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