Monday, June 19, 2006

The Woes of Matthew 23 Part 4

Matthew 23
27  "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness.
28  "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.
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!'"

Well, it has been some time.  I have been busy tearing out the old ceramic floor and putting down a new ceramic tile floor in the kitchen, the final application of grout sealer to be applied tomorrow.  Praise the Lord!  Also, I have been all over the state of North Carolina from Charlotte, to Durham, Raleigh, to Wilmington and down through South Carolina all the way to Augusta Georgia over the past few weeks.  We have had several birthdays and completed a few books with the family of which I will try to recommend for your reading.

But for now, we will make an effort at finishing up Matthew 23.  In doing so, I’ll let you know that I began an introduction to the book of Revelation this morning at Heritage Community Church.  I may post some of my notes or thoughts in the days ahead, since I feel they might be of some value in helping others understand why I believe what I believe and the reasons why.  With that in mind, we will finish up the last 2 woes of the chapter, which are so intimately connected to the discussion found in Matthew 24, that to disregard them and assume they are speaking to thousands of years into the future is quite simply to miss the entire point of the passage, the context that it is set in and it is to make the Lord Jesus Christ a liar and a false prophet.  However, we know that He is the Truth and is indeed the Son of God.
Jesus concludes with two final woes.

The Seventh Woe
Verses 27 and 28 speak of Tombs that are in order, but filled with the stench of death.  The Jews were known to mark graves in those days.  They would do this in order that they might make someone aware of the sight of a grave and thus keep them from making themselves unclean and defiled (Numbers 19:16).  They would do this with a simple solution made of lime or chalk and water.  This would produce a white-colored “paint”, which they would mark the grave with.

This was done often since the rain would eventually dull the color and, for the most part, remove it.  It is noted that every February they would do this and at various times when they repaired some of the roadways.  

These tombs also “appeared beautiful” from a distance.  This was in part due to the incredible whiteness.  We note something of that effect today.  We have great monuments that are erected within cemeteries that are beautiful to look upon and even have wonderful epitaphs written on them, yet just underneath they house the rotting corpse, filled with the stench of death.  As John Gill so vividly portrayed that last part,

“worms and rottenness, which arise from the putrefied carcasses, and are very nauseous and defiling.”

Truly the Pharisees were guilty of such a cover up.

They were not guilty, in many cases, of committing physical adultery, and yet were committing it constantly within their hearts.  They were not guilty in many cases of actually committing murder and yet they hated their brother.  They were those who honored God with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him.  They wore the outward attire of righteousness without the inward manifestation of justification.  How sickening it is to us when we see such hypocrisy.  What must it be like for the Lord of glory to witness it?

Jesus thus concludes that the Pharisees have pretended to be clean.  They have outwardly kept themselves from what was considered to make one unclean, but they have taken no heed to deal with their morbid, stinking, and wicked hearts.  Instead they have thrown the whitewash upon themselves and boasted in their ceremonies and religious practices as that which makes them clean.  If we could be very clear here it is though they have taken a bottle of perfume and a can of paint to a pile of dung and sought to make it into something beautiful.  Such was not the case, and Christ exposed them once again and pronounced judgment upon such hypocrisy.

Verse 28 tells us what we already know ourselves and that is the Pharisees were looking for and audience of men, rather than living Corem Deo (before the face of God).   Jesus mentioned that they had their reward in that.  How men spoke of them was their reward.  The praise and pats on the back they received were reward enough for their hypocrisy.  Yet, in appearing righteous before man, they were full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.  The term full here, gemw, speaks of being full to the point of swelling out.  The term for lawlessness is anomia, from where we get our word antinomian, and speaks of transgression, or violating the law or even without law.  These who were the teachers of the Law of God and who claimed to understand and obey it the most were in fact guilty of openly sinning against God and then covering up that sin with the fig leaves of their own system of religion, rather than the righteousness of the gospel that comes through Jesus Christ.  No, they rejected God’s means of righteousness and chose, like their fathers, to knit the apron of self-righteousness, which became hypocrisy.

This will inevitably lead to the eighth and final woe.

The Eighth Woe

If we haven’t sensed the tremendous condemnation that Jesus has placed upon the Pharisees and scribe and in general those that they have led, then we certainly will understand it in this final woe from the lips of Christ.  The hypocrisy found in the final verses of chapter 23 makes the others pale in comparison.

First we will note that these men and their fathers engaged in building certain edifices over the graves of their ancestors, namely righteous men, the prophets.  They are not faulted for building such structures.  This is not what Christ’s condemnation is towards, but we will see it is the attitude with which they build them that evidences their hypocrisy.

I do find John Gill to be very helpful in describing some of the structures and to whom they were made.  The Jews made a distinction between the grave and the building.  They would speak of burying in a hole with digging and what took place above the hole as the building.  This is probably where the distinction of graves and sepulchres come in.

Listen to some of these that Gill references in his commentary:

“and these edifices which they built over the graves of some of their prophets, and righteous men, were very grand and beautiful. The Cippi Hebmici furnish us with many instances of this kind: in Hebron, in the land of Canaan, which is Kirjath Arba, is the cave of Machpelah; in which were buried the fathers of the world, Adam and Eve, Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, Jacob and Leah; and over it is a wonderful, hanw, "and beautiful" building and it is the building of David the king; and opposite the city, in the mountain, is a beautiful building, and there was buried Jesse, the father of David the king: in the way from Hebron to Jerusalem, is Chalchul, where Gad, David's seer, was buried; and Tekoah, where Isaiah the prophet was buried, and over him a "beautiful" structure: at the Mount of Olives is a beautiful fabric, which they say is the sepulchre of Huldah, the prophetess; at the bottom of the mount is a very great cave, attributed to Haggai the prophet, and in the middle of it are many caves; near it, is the sepulchre of Zechariah the prophet, in a cave shut up, and over it is han hpyk, "a beautiful arch," or vault of one stone: between Rama and Jerusalem are caves ascribed to Simeon the just, and the seventy (elders of the) sanhedrim: at Rama, Samuel was buried, also his father Elkanah, and Hannah his mother, and in a cave shut up, and over the cave buildings: at Cheres, which is Timnath Cheres, in Mount Ephraim, are buried Joshua the son of Nun, and Nun his father, and Caleb the son of Jephunneh, and over them are trees. At Avarta is the school of Phinehas, the son of Eleazar the priest, and Eleazar is buried upon the mountain; and below the village, between the olive trees, Ithamar, and over him a large monument: at the barns is a temple of the Gentiles, with a vault and a cave, where they say are buried seventy elders. At Belata, a village about a sabbath day's journey from Shechem, Joseph the righteous was buried: at Mount Carmel, is the cave of Elijah the prophet, and there was buried Elisha, the son of Shaphat the prophet: at Jordan was buried Iddo the prophet, and over it is a great elm tree, and it is in the form of a lion; and there was buried Shebuel, the son of Gershom, the son of Moses, over whom is a great oak tree: at Geba, in Mount Lebanon, is buried Zephaniah the prophet, in the middle of a cave shut up. On a mountain, a sabbath day's journey from Zidon, Zebulun was buried, in a beautiful vault; at Cephar Noah, was buried Noah the just; and at Kadesh Nephtalim, Barak the son of Abinoam, and Deborah his wife, and Jael; and at Timnath, Shamgar the son of Auath, over whom are two marble pillars. At Cephar Cana, is buried Jonah, the son of Amittai, on the top of a mountain, in a temple of the Gentiles, in a "beautiful" vault: at Jakuk, was buried in the way, Habakkuk the prophet; and at the north of the village of Raam, was buried Obadiah the prophet: at Susan the palace, was buried Mordecai the Jew, and over him a beautiful stone statue; and on it written, this is the sepulchre of Mordecai, the son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, a man of Jemini; and near the river Hiddekel, Ezekiel the prophet was buried. In this account, many things may be observed, which confirm and illustrate the words of the text. And certain it is, that it was accounted very honourable and laudable in persons, to beautify the sepulchres of the patriarchs and prophets.”

Again, they engaged in memorials for those in their history who were remembered for their faith in God.  That is a noble thing.  But it is what comes from their hearts that is wicked.  Christ says that while they do these things they 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.'  They actually think they are different from their fathers before them who murdered the prophets.  They think that if they had been living in the days of the prophets that they would not have rose up against them and murdered them.

Jesus tells them clearly that that they are witnesses against themselves.  How can that be?  What is He implying?  He calls upon them to fill up the measure of their fathers’ guilt.  Throughout the Scripture it is clear that God waits for man’s guilt to become full before He exercises judgment upon them.  We recall in Genesis 15:16 that God would allow the children of Israel to suffer in the land of Egypt in order that He might deliver them to come against the Amorites, when their iniquity was complete.  We read in the book of Revelation 14:14-20 that the angel there thrusts in his sickle to exercise judgment because the grapes are ripe (they are full).

Jesus clearly is calling for them to go ahead and show themselves for who they really are, not what they say they are.  He calls them vipers…..snakes.   John the Baptist used the very same terms to apply to them.  They are those who have been addressed as having Satan as their father, that old serpent, and they are indeed referred to as his offspring.  You can really sense the hatred they must have of Christ at this point.  

Then He throws a bombshell on them.  How can you escape the condemnation of Hell?  This is not the term Hades or the grave that is so often translated at hell, but rather geenna, the future place of fire and destruction.  What is said is so incredibly terrifying that I tremble even as I write this.  He is setting their hearts towards to be hard.  Just as He did with Pharaoh (Rom. 9), He does with these wicked hypocrites.  There will be no escape for them from what is about to take place as they seek the death of the Son of God and of his apostles and followers.  They will fulfill the predestined plan of God, just as Peter will clearly point to in his sermon in Acts 2 and Jesus makes them well aware that they will be held responsible for their actions as well.

They think that judgment will not fall on them because of the sins of their fathers, yet judgment will fall on them because of their fathers’ sins and because of their own.  Their fathers sinned in rejecting the prophets of God and they have an even greater sin in that they are rejecting God’s own Son.

Therefore, Jesus says to them to kill and crucify and persecute those who are sent unto them:  prophets, wise men and scribes, in order that they may receive the judgment that has been withheld until the measure of iniquity are filled up.  You might want to read the post I had from Daniel 9 to draw a conclusion to this, for it is one of the things spoken of in the 70 weeks prophecy.  These things will evidence that they are worthy of punishment and in fact will bring what Jesus says, “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.”

Jerusalem and its leaders will suffer judgment at the hands of God for the deaths of all the prophets, from Abel to Zechariah, which covers the entire Old Testament.  This should be worth noting that it is possible that Jesus specifically addresses the issue of what would be considered the canon of the Old Testament, from Genesis to 2 Chronicles (the chronology of the Old Testament).  Not only this but they will fill up the measure by crucifying the Messiah and persecuting and seeking to destroy His followers.  In the end, they are no different from their fathers.  Had they been alive when the prophets before came, they would have join in unison with their wicked fathers before them in desiring their deaths.

Then notice verse 36:

“Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.”

The term genea is used here for generation.  Many will try and sidestep the context here in order to place Matthew 24 thousands of years into the future.  They will say that this refers to the race of Jews.  Personally, I find that laughable, since the entire context has addressed a specific people at a specific time in history and in light of the biblical, prophetic texts of Daniel and other passages, this is the fullness of time, not only for the coming of the Messiah, but also for the filling up of iniquity by the Jewish nation.  The context is so clear that you must distort it in order to have this mean race rather than refer to what is obviously being said.
Then we come to verse 37.  This verse is so often quoted out of context by “free-willers” that frankly I am amazed when I meet others who actually quote it in context.  Jesus has just lambasted the Pharisees and condemned them from everything from taking advantage of the poor and widows to killing the prophets God sends to them and now as He is closing out His condemnation says, "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!”  He lumps Jerusalem in as the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her.  He has just made the connection of the leaders with the people that they lead.  He then states that He wanted to gather those who were under these wicked men, but the leaders were not willing.  The issue has nothing to do with “free will”.  Rather it has to do with the fact that these men simply desired to keep their power over their little flock and were simply un-willing to submit themselves to God Himself.  

Notice also, that it says nothing about Christ desiring to gather these men He has just stood in condemnation against.  Instead, He was desirous of gathering people who were under them, but they were not willing that He do so.  Did that stop Christ from gathering those He sought?  Absolutely not.  The indictment is clearly against these hypocrites from attempting to put themselves between Christ and those they were leading.

Notice the concluding remarks for they are introductory to Matthew 24.  Jesus closes with “See! Your house is left to you desolate”.  This is very interesting in light of where they are.  We will note that they are about to depart the Temple (24:1).  So it seems abundantly clear that Jesus’ reference to “your house” refers to the Temple itself and so we find Him immediately after this encounter leaving this great edifice that is currently under construction and funded by Herod.

It is amazing to see Jesus speaking of the temple now and calling it “your house”.  No longer is it spoken of as the house of God, but He puts it upon them as theirs.  Why?  They have rejected the reality of which the Temple was merely a type.  Let’s recall the words of Christ,

But I say unto you, That in this place is one greater than the temple.
Matthew 12:6

Here the one that the Temple, in essence, foretold of standing in it.  He is greater than the type for He is the fulfillment of it and yet these men are like those spoken of in the book of Hebrews who would rather hold onto the types, symbols, and shadows rather than embrace the reality.  So He says that their house is now desolate.  Remember this is only a few days before He fulfills the prophecies of Daniel concerning His confirming the covenant and cause the sacrifice and oblation to cease (9:26-27).  The Temple has served its purpose and now it has been rendered desolate, though the sacrificial system will continue on for another 40 years, it will be Satanic, rather than God honoring, for it will be serving to count the blood of Christ as a common thing.  Therefore, Ichabod is written over the door and the Master leaves heading for the Mt. of Olives and a discussion of how these things will take place.  Thus the greatest desolation is the removal of Christ’s presence from the Temple.

One thing to remember is that this was the last thing on the disciples mind.  They had no idea that Jesus was indicating a judgment upon the Temple, as well as, the Pharisees and scribes.  Like so many things, it didn’t even show up on their radar.

Christ’s final statement have caused many to wonder if somehow he is referring to a time in the future where He will return and the Jews will say these words, as in pre-millenialism or dispensationalism.  I don’t think that is the case.

Obviously they do see Him when He is crucified.  That is beyond dispute, however, there maybe spiritual implications to this as well.  First we will note that they have heard Christ’s words, they have witnessed His miracles, they have been humiliated by His wisdom and yet they proceed against Him with a hard heart of unbelief.  They will now face what Matthew Henry refers to as judicial blindness.  They will not see Him as Messiah.   They will not perceive Him to be the Son of God.  They will forever view Him as a mere man………until He comes again and they are brought forth from their graves to stand before Him in judgment.  At that point, they will stand beside millions, both saved and lost to proclaim that He indeed is Lord and they will bless Him (Phil. 2:9-10).

Indeed there is a day of reckoning, not only for the Pharisees and the scribes, but for you and I as well.  May we not find ourselves with a hard heart of unbelief as these men did, but may the Lord be merciful to us in spite of ourselves for His great name’s sake.

Thus the conclusion of the woes of Matthew 23 pronounced by our Lord Himself and we will be reminded that the judgments are to come upon “this generation” (vs. 36).  I will attempt to begin posting thoughts on Matthew 24, I hope, this week along with periodic  posts concerning our study in Revelation.

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