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The Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity — the Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost — is November 7, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 12:38-44

12:38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces,

12:39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets!

12:40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”

12:41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums.

12:42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny.

12:43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury.

12:44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We nearly pick up from where we left off last time. These are the intervening verses between last week’s reading and this week’s:

Whose Son Is the Christ?

35 And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? 36 David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared,

“‘The Lord said to my Lord,
“Sit at my right hand,
    until I put your enemies under your feet.”’

37 David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.

Our Lord cites Psalm 110:1 in verse 36:

The Lord says to my Lord:
    “Sit at my right hand,
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

Members of the Sanhedrin were testing Jesus theologically. They failed every time. Yet, the onlookers listened to what Jesus had to say.

Matthew Henry elaborates:

Now this galled the scribes, to have their ignorance thus exposed, and, no doubt, incensed them more against Christ; but the common people heard him gladly, Mark 12:37; Mark 12:37. What he preached was surprising and affecting; and though it reflected upon the scribes, it was instructive to them, and they had never heard such preaching. Probably there was something more than ordinarily commanding and charming in his voice and way of delivery, which recommended him to the affections of the common people; for we do not find that any were wrought upon to believe in him, and to follow him, but he was to them as a lovely song of one that could play well on an instrument; as Ezekiel was to his hearers, Ezekiel 33:32. And perhaps some of these cried, Crucify him, as Herod heard John Baptist gladly, and yet cut off his head.

The events of Mark 12 took place on the Wednesday of Passion Week, two days before the Crucifixion.

Jesus was teaching in the temple. This was His last public teaching session.

He warned the people — ‘Beware’ — about the scribes, the religious lawyers, who enjoyed walking around in their long robes and being greeted with respect in the marketplaces (verse 38). They had the best seats in the synagogues and at banquets (verse 39).

Jesus went on to say that they devoured widow’s houses and, to look better in the eyes of the public, say long prayers. He passed judgement on them saying that their condemnation would be the greater (verse 40).

It is rather serendipitous that this reading comes after the first week of COP26, the synod of the secular religion of climate change. The parallels between the two are uncanny.

John MacArthur says that the people listening to Jesus were aware of the religious corruption but they could do nothing about it and they had been steeped in the system:

I’m convinced that when Jesus wiped out the corrupt businesses in the temple on Tuesday of that week, that many of the people were attracted to Him because of that, because they knew the corruption.

They knew they were paying ten times the price they should pay for a sacrificial animal. They knew they were – they were getting bilked in the exchange of coins when they brought their temple tax offering. They understood the charlatanism and the robbery that was going on there, and Jesus even said, “This is My Father’s house, it’s to be a house of prayer, you turned it into a robber’s den.” I don’t – I don’t think that drove the people away; I think that drew the people to it.

They could see some of the corruption of the system, even though they couldn’t extract themselves from it, and they were bound to it by lifelong commitments to what they had been taught.

MacArthur compares Mark’s account with Luke’s:

And now, as we approach our text, the people are listening; the end of verse 37 says, “The large crowd enjoyed listening to Him.” Luke 20 verse 45, the parallel passage, says, “All the people were listening”; all the people. And then it says, “He said to His disciples” – so around Him are the disciples.

But beyond them, that immediate group gathered around Him – the apostles and whatever assorted disciples were there – the whole crowd, the massive crowd in the temple, is listening to Him. By the way, when Luke says, “All the people were listening, but He said this to His disciples,” that’s a transition. That’s a transition, because after He says this, in verses 38 to 40, to everybody, from here on out, He speaks only to His disciples, as verse 43 indicates, “Calling His disciples to Him, He said” – so this is the final word to the crowds.

The rest is going to be for the disciples. The sad note here: not only have the leaders gone away for the moment in shame and silence, thwarted in their efforts, but the people have never moved from their superficial interest in Him to a real and genuine faith in Him, and so He is really through talking to them as well. These are, then, His last words publicly – His last words publicly, verses 38 to 44 – very strong words and very, very condemning words.

Henry says that there was nothing wrong in wearing a long robe, however, the scribes wore them with pride, as if to say they were closer to God, when nothing could be further from the truth:

1. They affect to appear very great; for they go in long clothing, with vestures down to their feet, and in those they walk about the streets, as princes, or judges, or gentlemen of the long robe. Their going in such clothing was not sinful, but their loving to go in it, priding themselves in it, valuing themselves on it, commanding respect by it, saying to their long clothes, as Saul to Samuel, Honour me now before this people, this was a product of pride. Christ would have his disciples go with their loins girt.

2. They affect to appear very good; for they pray, they make long prayers, as if they were very intimate with heaven, and had a deal of business there. They took care it should be known that they prayed, that they prayed long, which, some think, intimates that they prayed not for themselves only, but for others, and therein were very particular and very large; this they did for a pretence, that they might seem to love prayer, not only for God’s sake, whom hereby they pretended to glorify, but for their neighbour’s sake, whom hereby they pretended to be serviceable to.

3. They here aimed to advance themselves: they coveted applause, and were fond of it; they loved salutations in the marketplaces, and the chief seats in the synagogues, and the uppermost rooms at feasts; these pleased a vain fancy; to have these given them, they thought, expressed the value they had for them, who did know them, and gained them respect for those who did not.

As for receiving a greater condemnation, MacArthur explains why:

They are hypocrites – they may do it in different ways, but they are hypocrites, and they are destructive – so our Lord cautions and characterizes. Then He condemns – end of verse 40: “These will receive greater condemnation.” You know, there are people who think that if you’re religious, you’ll receive less condemnation. Sometimes you hear people say, “Well, I’m sure – I’m sure that I’m going to go to heaven, because I’m a very religious person.” Really. I think hell will be the hottest for religious people – especially religious false teachers, agents of Satan, who, sons of hell themselves, produce more sons of hell.

They will receive a greater condemnation, not a lesser condemnation; not because they were good, or moral, or religious, will they receive less judgment – they will receive more judgment. If you have the idea today that there’s good in all religions, and God loves all religions, and we need to find God in all religions, and find the good that is there – Jesus pronounces a greater condemnation on the religious leaders of Israel – who are monotheists, who believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the creator God of the Old Testament.

But because they had apostatized from the true religion and come to a self-righteous works system, and because they had rejected Him and the gospel, their hell would be hotter than everybody else. You don’t want to get too close to the truth, because if you’re too close to the truth, the potential for judgment is even greater. “How much greater judgment will the one feel” – Hebrews says – “who has trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant an unholy thing?”

That’s the greatest of all judgment, to reject Christ; better you never know Him, hell will be less furious. The idea is clear: those who are in the wrong religion will receive the far-greater suffering, the far-greater damnation, because of that false religion, and because they reject the true gospel, the true Christ, as I just quoted from Hebrews 10. Don’t be fooled by them, don’t be drawn to them, be warned – they are dangerous, and they will be condemned.

The scribes were Pharisees and they handled all matters of law in what was a theocratic society.

Part of their work involved settling estates, which involved enriching themselves and the temple.

MacArthur explains why Jesus condemned them for their treatment of widows:

… the key thing to note right now in verse 40 would be, “They devour widows’ houses” – file that in your mind – “they devour widows’ houses” – that’s just awful. They’re supposed to be the shepherds of the sheep, and if there’s anybody that needs to be protected, who would it be? Widows; widows.

Pure religion – James says that you care for the widows and orphans; that’s an Old Testament command reiterated over and over and over in the Old Testament. I could take you to 25 or 30 Old Testament passages, starting in Exodus 22 and moving right on through Deuteronomy, all the way to Malachi chapter 3, and all in between, and show you how much the Old Testament has to say about the people of God having responsibility to those who are widows in their midst, to care for them.

What do these men do? They consumed them – that verb means to plunder them – it means literally to eat them up – how did they do that? Well, a little bit of historical study will provide an answer for that; there are records about how they did it – their own records, by the way. These false leaders would take support, ask money from widows for themselves – though that was forbidden. They would cheat widows out of their estate, while they were offering them legal protection.

In other words, a widow would have an estate, she would want to make sure that it was secure and safe, and so she would bring in a scribe to take care of the legal work to protect her estate, and while pretending to protect her estate, he would take it. They would mismanage the property of widows. They would abuse the hospitality of widows – living in their houses, taking up space in their houses, eating their food in a gluttonous fashion, making excessive demands, leeching off of them.

They would take money from older widows with deficient mental powers – as the older women lost the ability to reason and think what was going on, they would steal them blind. Then they would take the house of a widow in pledge for the debt that they were owed for their legal services; then when the widow died, they would own the house – nothing would be left if she had children. They demanded that the widows give to purchase blessing from God – as they demanded that from everybody in their system.

Jesus sat and watched the people contributing to the temple treasury; many of the rich put in vast sums of money (verse 41).

Then a widow came to give money to the temple, putting in two small, nearly worthless, copper coins (verse 42), or ‘mites’ in some translations.

MacArthur explains the system. The people had been taught that giving money to the temple purchased salvation:

Their whole system was built on the fact you had to bring your money to the temple – there were thirteen receptacles in the Court of the Women where you dropped your money; that’s how you purchase your salvation. The rabbi said with alms you purchase your redemption. The money went in there, it came out the bottom into the pockets of these religious leaders – the more money that was given, the richer they got – and the money needed to be given, because that’s how you bought your salvation, so people were literally pouring money into those places – those receptacles – to buy redemption.

Jesus called His disciples to Him and said emphatically — ‘Truly I tell you’ — that the poor widow gave more than everyone else contributing to the treasury (verse 43).

He said that the others contributed out of their abundance but that she gave away her last two coins, which was all she had to live on (verse 44).

I am dreading tomorrow’s sermon, because it will likely be about giving to your church until your coffers run dry.

MacArthur sees this entirely differently. He relates it to the corrupt system and says that Jesus condemned forcing a poor widow to give her last two coins, leaving her totally destitute and dependent on society:

No matter who you read on this – or what sermons you might hear on this – typically, people will say this is how we ought to give. We ought to give till it hurts, we ought to give sacrificially, we ought to give in a surrendered fashion. We ought to give so that we completely demonstrate trust in God, and that’s how this woman gave. There isn’t one word of support in this text for any of those perspectives; it doesn’t say anything about her attitude at all.

The fact of the matter is, it doesn’t even tell us that she was a believer; it doesn’t say that she knew the true God, that she believed in Christ; she is not a spiritual hero in the story. What is she in the story? I’ll tell you what she is, she’s a victim; she is a victim. A victim of what? She is a victim of the system. She is the ultimate victim of a system that “devours widows’ houses” – verse 40 – that’s the connection. This has nothing to do with Christian giving, unless you think Christian giving is, “Give everything you have; take a vow of poverty, go home and die.”

You think that’s Christian giving? Or maybe you would go to Plan B: “Give everything you have, take a vow of poverty, spend the rest of your life leeching on everybody else so you can survive.” Where in the Bible is it a Christian principle of giving to give everything you have and go home and die? That is not in the Bible, not at all – it makes no sense, and by the way, the people who gave other than the woman, there’s no judgment rendered on them – Jesus doesn’t condemn that. Why aren’t they the model?

Why don’t we say, “Isn’t it wonderful that rich people gave large sums?” That’s great, isn’t it? You wouldn’t argue that, would you? In fact, if you wanted a model of Christian giving, you’ve got to go with the rich who gave large sums, not the woman who gave everything and went home to die; that – God has never asked that. He doesn’t say that the rich gave too little, He doesn’t say the widow gave exactly the right amount, He doesn’t say the rich had too much left and the widow had the right amount left – none.

He doesn’t say the rich had a bad attitude when they gave a lot, and the woman had a good attitude when she gave everything – He doesn’t say anything about any motivations or any attitudes at all. Her outward action is simply an evidence of what that system did to widows. You want blessing of God, you give your money. She’s destitute; she’s got two cents left. She says to herself, “Either I take my two cents and buy my last meal, or I do what they tell me – send them the money, and God will bless me” – does that sound like a TV preacher to you?

That’s the system: send me your money. If you’re down to your last penny, send me your money, open the floodgates – God will bless you if you send me your money. It was a den of robbers, and they were stealing it from the worst, the lowest, the most destitute, the worst off. This isn’t to teach us about attitudes in giving or amounts in giving; this is to teach us about corrupt religion. Beware of the false shepherds, the false teachers who take the last coins out of the widow’s purse to fill their coffers, on the pretense that that kind of giving is the path to blessing; that’s the prosperity gospel.

There’s nothing in her about the Lord loved her, she was in the kingdom. There’s nothing here about, “Okay, you disciples, you need to follow her example, so take the bag with all the money we’ve got in there and go in there and give it.” That’s the last thing He would have told them. Why would you put your money in a robbers’ den? You wouldn’t commend that; she was a victim. There’s no invitation for the disciples to imitate what she did – empty their pockets, empty the little purse that they carried – would have been a perfect time to do that, right?

Jesus is going on the cross, this would be a great time to test your faith, dump it all in. No. This is not any place for the Lord to inject a lesson on giving. This isn’t about giving, this is about taking. This is all in a judgment context – judgment, verses 38 to 40, and judgment starting in chapter 13 – the whole section as He talks about what’s coming is judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment. The context all along is judgment, and certainly the rest of His message recorded in Matthew 23 is judgment, judgment, judgment, judgment.

And all those woes pronounced on the leaders are literally justified and validated by this one woman’s act. She is a poor, dear woman who is nothing but a son of hell, captive to a false religious system, dumping her last two coins into that system under the promise that somehow this is the path to blessing. She gave everything she had. Let’s look at the text a little more closely – that’s the overview – verse 41, He was seated there, opposite the treasury. The treasury was in the Court of the Women, it was called, and Jesus had taught there before, John 8 – that’s a great chapter to read what went on when He was teaching there on that occasion …

Relatively speaking, comparatively speaking, her gift was greater, right, ’cause it was a hundred percent. You know, that system can’t be more corrupt; it cannot be more corrupt – devouring widows like that. Scripture is full of commands, by the way, as I told you earlier, to care for the widows. False religion has no interest in that at all – they abuse widows – and they do it in the name of God, they do it in the name of Christ. This is a tragedy, and the Lord will not tolerate it

I hope that has put a different — and truer — perspective on this passage, universally misinterpreted for centuries, which is why I dread this Sunday’s sermon.

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 23:6-11

Now when Paul perceived that one part were Sadducees and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. It is with respect to the hope and the resurrection of the dead that I am on trial.” And when he had said this, a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided. For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all. Then a great clamor arose, and some of the scribes of the Pharisees’ party stood up and contended sharply, “We find nothing wrong in this man. What if a spirit or an angel spoke to him?” 10 And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks.

11 The following night the Lord stood by him and said, “Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.”

——————————————————————————————————-

Poor Paul. In last week’s entry Ananias the high priest illegally ordered him struck on the mouth — a painful punch or blow with a club or rod — for saying that he had lived his life in good conscience before God. The Sanhedrin then accused Paul of showing disrespect to Ananias, whom he said he did not recognise as the high priest. This was because they were hastily called to Fort Antonia and were not in their usual ceremonial robes. It could also be that Paul did not wish to recognise a scoundrel of a high priest and/or he was affected by bad eyesight, a real possibility.

Under Mosaic law, Paul was wrong and Ananias was wrong in equal measure. Both had violated the law of Jewish conduct.

I cited John MacArthur’s four themes for Acts 23: the confrontation, the conflict, the conquest and the consolation. Last week’s verses showed the confrontation.

Today’s verses show the conflict as the tension briefly moves away from Paul to a dispute between the Pharisees, of which Paul was one, and the Sadducees, who were not at all spiritual in their theological outlook.

Matthew Henry summarises this beautifully (emphases mine):

Many are the troubles of the righteous, but some way or other the Lord delivereth them out of them all. Paul owned he had experienced the truth of this in the persecutions he had undergone among the Gentiles (see 2 Timothy 3:11): Out of them all the Lord delivered me. And now he finds that he who has delivered does and will deliver. He that delivered him in the foregoing chapter from the tumult of the people here delivers him from that of the elders.

Did Paul deliberately cause the division when he announced that he was a Pharisee to take the heat off himself (verse 6)? Matthew Henry answers in the affirmative:

The great council was made up of Sadducees and Pharisees, and Paul perceived it. He knew the characters of many of them ever since he lived among them, and saw those among them whom he knew to be Sadducees, and others whom he knew to be Pharisees …

So does John MacArthur:

So you know what Paul did? He just turned the whole Sanhedrin on itself. Revolution. Civil war. He just calmly stood there while they started the fight. You see, the real issue at stake was Paul had given his testimony, and Paul declared in his testimony that he was going down the Damascus Road and who spoke to him? Jesus of Nazareth. Well, if Jesus of Nazareth spoke to him, that meant Jesus of Nazareth was alive, right? So what was that saying? Resurrection.

Paul further triggered the Sadducees by mentioning that he believed in the resurrection of the dead, which the Pharisees did. With that, the quarrelling between the two religious groups began (verse 7).

Luke, the author of Acts, summarised the theological differences concisely (verse 8), so that the reader would understand.

The dissension escalated when some of the scribes — who were Pharisees — posited that Paul might have received a message from an angel or a spirit (verse 9). Hearing that enraged the Sadducees, who believed in neither. This does not mean that the scribes became Paul’s defenders after this: far from it, as we see in Acts 24. Despite this, Henry thinks that some of the Pharisees seriously thought about Paul’s defence of his faith:

We will hope that some of them at least did henceforward conceive a better opinion of Paul than they had had, and were favourable to him, having had such a satisfactory account both of his conversation in all good conscience and of his faith touching another world …

The arguments between the Sadducees and the Pharisees became so violent that the Roman tribune — commander — was concerned for Paul’s life, so he had his soldiers remove Paul by force and return him to the barracks (verse 10).

MacArthur sees this as providential:

The Romans to the rescue; the second time in two chapters. Amazing, God has superintended them. The whole of the nation of Israel is thrown into confusion, and he’s got the whole Roman army on the side of Paul.

As Henry points out, Paul was truly alone during this prolonged ordeal, with none of his Christian convert friends coming to his aid. Perhaps they were too afraid or perhaps they tried, but were not allowed admittance to see him:

The chief captain had rescued him out of the hands of cruel men, but still he had him in custody, and what might be the issue he could not tell. The castle was indeed a protection to him, but withal it was a confinement; and, as it was now his preservation from so great a death, it might be his reservation for a greater. We do not find that any of the apostles or elders at Jerusalem came to him; either they had not courage or they had not admission.

None of that mattered, because the Lord was with Paul. The next night He stood beside Paul and said that his work in Jerusalem was complete. Rome was to be the Apostle’s next destination in His Holy Name (verse 11): ‘Take courage’.

Henry provides this useful analysis:

Christ bids him have a good heart upon it: “Be of good cheer, Paul; be not discouraged; let not what has happened sadden thee, nor let what may yet be before thee frighten thee.” Note, It is the will of Christ that his servants who are faithful should be always cheerful. Perhaps Paul, in the reflection, began to be jealous of himself whether he had done well in what he said to the council the day before; but Christ, by his word, satisfies him that God approved of his conduct. Or, perhaps, it troubled him that his friends did not come to him; but Christ’s visit did itself speak, though he had not said, Be of good cheer, Paul.

In closing, MacArthur reminds us that our Lord revealed Himself to Paul five times in total. His awe-inspiring appearance to Paul on the road to Damascus was the first. This passage mentions another one of the five:

Always at times of crisis, the Lord stood by him. He was alone in the cell. Maybe he was saying, “Carest Thou not that I perish?” Maybe he was saying, “Lord, seems as though You’ve been all gone a while. Lord, have You forgotten me?” You know, you can have those kind of moods when you’ve been through something like that easily.

It wasn’t enough for the Lord to just remind him of a few principles. Jesus came to him. Jesus came and stood by him and He gave him three little words: consolation; commendation; and, confidence.”

Knowing this, we can better understand why Paul was so optimistic in his letters to the faithful. He understood that the Lord does not forsake His people. Even if we cannot physically see Him, our Redeemer does not forsake us, either.

As MacArthur says:

Do you think God cares for you? God came to Paul and He gave him thanks for the past; comfort for the present; assurance for the future. He’s the God of all comfort. I’ve seen Him comfort many people. I’ve seen Him comfort in my own life and give consolation. I know you have. In the midst of any trial, He cares. Cast your care on Him.

Paul’s ordeal continued with yet another murder attempt against him.

Next time — Acts 23:12-15

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:29-33

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30 saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33 You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

—————————————————————————————————

This is the seventh and final woe — condemnation — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here), fourth, fifth and sixth.

Today’s reading recounts the worst judgement that Jesus placed on the scribes and Pharisees. Once again, He called them hypocrites (verse 29). This was because they presented themselves as being holy and pure but were filled with sin and hardness of heart inside.

They feigned reverence for the prophets whose graves they rebuilt and decorated, claiming that had they lived in the time of the prophets — when their fathers (ancestors) did — they surely would have followed those Old Testament martyrs.

Jesus rightly called them out on implicating themselves in mentioning their fathers, ancestors, who took part in killing those same prophets they refused to follow (verse 30). He condemned them because here He was, the Messiah whom the prophets foretold, and — once again, like their fathers — they planned to kill Him (verse 31). Let them therefore continue to fulfil that unspeakable sin, ‘the measure of your fathers’, so deeply offensive to God (verse 32).

Matthew Henry observes that it is easy to honour prophets — and, in our time, saints — because, like the scribes and Pharisees, we were not alive back then to heed their warnings against sin. Those warnings would have cut us to the quick and angered us in their truthfulness. As Henry puts it, translating a Latin saying (emphases mine):

Note, Carnal people can easily honour the memories of faithful ministers that are dead and gone, because they do not reprove them, nor disturb them, in their sins … They can pay respect to the writings of the dead prophets, which tell them what they should be but not the reproofs of the living prophets, which tell them what they are. Sit divus, modo non sit vivus–Let there be saints but let them not be living here.

How true.

It is easy for us to say that had we been alive when Christ was physically present, we surely would have followed Him. Henry explains why we deceive ourselves with such reasoning. We do not even heed faithful ministers of the Gospel in the present day:

Note, The deceitfulness of sinners’ hearts appears very much in this, that, while they go down the stream of the sins of their own day, they fancy they should have swum against the stream of the sins of the former days that, if they had had other people’s opportunities, they should have improved them more faithfully if they had been in other people’s temptations, they should have resisted them more vigorously when yet they improve not the opportunities they have, nor resist the temptations they are in. We are sometimes thinking, if we had lived when Christ was upon earth, how constantly we would have followed him we would not have despised and rejected him, as they then did and yet Christ in his Spirit, in his word, in his ministers, is still no better treated.

As for the scribes and Pharisees, John MacArthur interprets Jesus’s judgement plainly:

Jesus says, you are a witness to the fact that you indeed are a son of those who killed the prophets … Well, what were they right there, right then plotting to do? … Kill Him. I mean, they were so consumed with their own lying deceit that they didn’t even see the reality of the fact that they were killing one greater than the prophets, the son of God. Verse 32, “Fill up then the measure of your fathers.” What does He mean? Do it. Go ahead. You’re scheming to kill the greatest prophet of all. That’ll fill up the full measure of the murderous attitude of your people against God’s messengers. Do it.

You ought to underline verse 32

Jesus concluded His discourse on the woes by calling these truly wretched men ‘serpents’ and ‘brood of vipers’ and asking them how they could escape ‘being sentenced to hell’ (verse 33). ‘Blind’ men, ‘hypocrites’ and now ‘brood of vipers’; all the terms from the seven woes fit perfectly. We would expect no less from our Saviour.

MacArthur says Jesus pointed out that these men were dangerously false teachers. He cautions us against similar men and women who subvert and corrupt the Gospel message:

They kept people out of heaven. What does a true spiritual leader do? What? Brings them into heaven. They did all they could to send people to hell. To make them as evil as possible, double sons of hell. What does a true spiritual leader do? He is used by God to make men not hellish, but what? Righteous. They subverted the truth. What does a true spiritual leader do? Leads people into truth. They appeared pious, but only used people for their own gain. What does a true spiritual leader do? He serves people, meets their needs. They contaminate everybody they touch. What does a true spiritual leader do? He makes holy anyone he touches. And they proudly thought themselves to be better than everybody else. What does a true spiritual leader say? I am the least of all the chief of sinners. God help us to be true spiritual leaders and to avoid these false leaders. People beware[,] would you? Beware. Be thankful God’s given you true leaders.

Therefore, let us pray for divine grace, spiritual fortitude and for discernment.

Understanding what the Bible says, particularly the New Testament, will help us to know false teachers when we see them.

Next time: Matthew 24:1-36, followed by Matthew 26:6-13

Bible ancient-futurenetThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:27-28

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 28 So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.

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This is the sixth of seven woes Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here), fourth and fifth.

Jesus condemns them, calling them whitewashed tombs: brilliantly white on the outside but full of decay on the inside.

That analogy described the state of their hearts and souls. These men looked holy and pious but were filled with the worst kinds of sin (verse 28). By steering the faithful away from Jesus, whom they so hated, they were also keeping them from knowing God. In addition, they had their temple racket, described in the aforementioned woes, which was nothing short of extortion. Matthew Henry explains:

God is jealous for his honour in his laws and ordinances, and resents it if they be profaned and abused.

… they were at this time plotting to murder Christ, to whom all the prophets bore witness.

The Jews had a practice of whitewashing tombs, because touching one meant that person was unclean for seven days (Numbers 19:16):

Whoever in the open field touches someone who was killed with a sword or who died naturally, or touches a human bone or a grave, shall be unclean seven days.

Painting them white was akin to a huge ‘DO NOT TOUCH’ sign.

Henry tells us (emphases mine):

And it was part of the charge of the overseers of the highways, to repair that whitening when it was decayed. Sepulchres were thus made remarkable, 2 Kings 23:16,17.

John MacArthur has more on this practice, especially important before Passover. A person travelling to Jerusalem for that feast could not participate in certain rituals if he accidentally touched a tomb, because that act would have made him unclean:

On the 15th Avadar, which is the month of March in Israel in the time of our Lord, there was a very unusual custom. It was right after the spring rains and the rains that came washed away many things. One of the things they washed away was white-wash. You say where was white-wash used? It was on walls, it was on houses sometimes, but most specifically the Jews used to white-wash the tombs. They would white-wash those limestone caves and limestone tombs where people were buried, the more prominent people were buried that way. And the reason they did that was because in preparation of Passover, along the roads and the hillsides where people would be traversing, they feared that people might inadvertently touch a tomb and thus be defiled. And because of the ceremonial cleansing process necessary, they could void out certain activities in the Passover season.

And so to accommodate the Passover visitors who might not know where the tombs were and also just to keep the rest of the people clear of them, they went around the city of Jerusalem with white-wash. In some cases, they white-washed the entire tomb, historians tell us. In other cases, they just painted white-washed bones on the outside so that people wouldn’t touch them lest according to Numbers 19:16, they’d be ceremonially defiled.

The lesson here is to pray often for divine grace so that we remain pure in heart and mind. A pure interior will reflect itself in our outward behaviour and demeanour.

Similarly, we must avoid false teachers — and other leaders — who present themselves as being holy yet have dark souls and depraved hearts.

Satan doesn’t present himself as being evil. He masquerades as being respectable.

Henry warns against hypocrisy, which he saw as the worst sin of all:

Hypocrisy is the worst iniquity of all other. Note, It is possible for those that have their hearts full of sin, to have their lives free from blame, and to appear very good.

He reminds us that God sees and knows all things.

Nothing is hidden from the Almighty:

what will it avail us, to have the good word of our fellow-servants, if our Master doth not say, Well done? When all other graves are opened, these whited sepulchres will be looked into, and the dead men’s bones, and all the uncleanness, shall be brought out, and be spread before all the host of heaven, Jeremiah 8:1,2. For it is the day when God shall judge, not the shows, but the secrets, of men. And it will then be small comfort to them who shall have their portion with hypocrites, to remember how creditably and plausibly they went to hell, applauded by all their neighbours.

Next time: Matthew 23:29-33

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:25-26

25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

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This is the fifth of seven woes — judgements — that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here) and fourth.

In this woe, Jesus aptly compared the scribes and Pharisees to a cup and plate which look clean on the outside but are filthy on the inside. They were concerned how pious and prayerful they appeared to each other and to the average Jew. Yet, inside, they were corrupted by greed and excess.

Jesus called them hypocrites for this (verse 25). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

They were all for the outside, and not at all for the inside, of religion. They were more desirous and solicitous to appear pious to men than to approve themselves so toward God.

In speaking of greed and self-indulgence, Jesus was referring to their system of encouraging costly sacrifices and gifts (see the third woe links in my second paragraph). They had a racket going. John MacArthur tells us:

It all is so religious and everything in it and on it was gained by extortion

Extortion, by the way, is the word harpage. It means to plunder or rape; they are rapists … it says they are full of extortion, and notice this word, excess. That means unrestrained desire for gain; acarsia. And unrestrained desire for gain; a lack of self-control. So the Lord is saying they appear so scrupulous. They appear so religiously meticulous. They appear so pious in their system and everything they serve you was gained with their filthy desires. Gained by the abusive people. They are greedy rapists and robbers who steal and plunder the souls and the money and the hearts and the minds and the goods of everybody they can touch.

Jesus was condemning their practice of making their racket look holy and ceremonial, when, in fact, it was an abomination before God.

Therefore, He exclaimed, ‘Blind Pharisee!’ (verse 26). They were spiritually blind to their deep sins of extortion and greed. Henry tells us:

They thought themselves the seers of the land, but (John 9:39) Christ calls them blind … Self-ignorance is the most shameful and hurtful ignorance, Revelation 3:17.

This is why He told them, in speaking of the clean inside of the cup and the plate, to examine their hearts. A pure heart is reflected in pure thoughts and actions. Henry applies this to Christians:

Note, the principal care of every one of us should be to wash our hearts from wickedness, Jeremiah 4:14. The main business of a Christian lies within, to get cleansed from the filthiness of the spirit. Corrupt affections and inclinations, the secret lusts that lurk in the soul, unseen and unobserved, these must first be mortified and subdued. Those sins must be conscientiously abstained from, which the eye of God only is a witness to, who searcheth the heart.

MacArthur applies these verses to false teachers:

So prevalent today, the false spiritual leaders become rich, they become fat, they become wealthy with their paraded piosity and they have the heart of a thief.

Henry’s analysis of Jesus’s words applies equally to laity and false teachers. This is beautiful and true:

Observe the method prescribed Cleanse first that which is within not that only, but that first because, if due care be taken concerning that, the outside will be clean also. External motives and inducements may keep the outside clean, while the inside is filthy but if renewing, sanctifying grace make clean the inside, that will have an influence upon the outside, for the commanding principle is within. If the heart be well kept, all is well, for out of it are the issues of life the eruptions will vanish of course. If the heart and spirit be made new, there will be a newness of life here[,] therefore we must begin with ourselves [that] first cleanse [,] that which is within[;] we then make sure work, when this is our first work.

Next time: Matthew 23:27-28

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:23-24

23 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

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This is the fourth of seven woes — judgements — that Jesus pronounces on the scribes and Pharisees.

Previous posts discuss the first and second woes as well as the third (continued here).

The fourth woe concerns their being more interested in the minutiae of observing the tithes of herbs and seeds rather than God’s greater laws of justice, mercy and faithfulness (verse 23). Jesus rebukes them for not observing both.

The parallel verse is Luke 11:42:

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and every herb, and neglect justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others.

Jesus also related the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, involving a Pharisee who boasted of tithing all that he possessed (Luke 18:9-14).

The command to give tithes of herbs and seeds to God is stated in Deuteronomy 14:22:

“You shall tithe all the yield of your seed that comes from the field year by year.

It was easier for the Pharisees to enhance their reputations by placing great weight on crop and seed tithes rather than exhort themselves and the faithful to love their neighbour. The same is true today of some churches where legalism takes priority over mercy and compassion.

Another aspect, as Matthew Henry surmises, is that the Pharisees got some sort of self-enhancement by exacting tithes:

it is probable that they had ends of their own to serve, and would find their own account in it for the priests and Levites, to whom the tithes were paid …

John MacArthur tells us that tithes continue in Judaism, although they are no longer of the same nature as in the Old Testament.

However, where the Church is concerned, tithing is not obligatory (emphases mine):

… the tithe is mentioned six times in the New Testament. Three times in the gospels and each time it is mention in the text condemning the abuse of it by the scribes and the Pharisees. Three times in the book of Hebrews when it simply reaches back and describes its historical reality in the history of Israel. At no time is it ever mentioned in the New Testament as binding on the church. It had to do with taxation of the national government of Israel.

That cannot be emphasised enough. Churchgoers do not have to tithe. Nor should they be required to do so.

Verse 24 is one I have wondered about all my life. Before explaining its meaning, it is worth pointing out that Jesus once more called the scribes and Pharisees ‘blind guides’ — spiritually blind leaders of the faithful. They were false teachers actively leading their people to perdition, hence the seven woes.

Previously, Jesus made a previous reference to them as ‘blind guides’ in verse 16, as ‘blind fools’ in verse 17 and as ‘blind men’ in verse 19.

What was Jesus speaking of when He rebuked them for ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel’?

As we know, Mosaic law, which observant Jews still abide by today, forbids the consumption of certain creatures. The gnat is the least of these and the camel the greatest. This goes some way towards explaining the meaning behind the verse.

In some versions, such as the King James, the verse says ‘straining at a gnat’, which causes confusion for modern readers and listeners. MacArthur tells us:

“You blind guides, you strain out,” it should be, “you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel.” You say what in the world is this? Well, you have to understand something about this. The word strain means to filter, diulizo, filter.

In Jesus’s time, the Jewish leaders were careful to remove any gnats that might have flown into their wine. MacArthur explains:

They make wine and as they’re making, crushing the grapes, a little gnat is flying around, he lands in the grapes, he gets gobbled up in the grapes, winds up in the wine or maybe he just flies in the wine and lands there. So the fastidious Pharisee drank his wine like this. Then he picked the gnat off his teeth

That made them look pious to each other and to onlookers.

What all were ignoring were the greater violations of God’s law: the business (which it was) of the faithful making oaths to free themselves from observing one or more of the Ten Commandments in favour of ‘tradition’. One of these was the Corban which released one from honouring one’s father and mother (Mark 7:9-13), which I discussed in 2010. Here are the verses (emphases mine):

9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This is the explanation of how the Corban worked:

Jesus points out to them that they distorted the commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11).  Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). 

This is what He rebuked in Matthew 23:16-19.

The Corban and similar evasions of the Commandments were what Jesus referred to as ‘swallowing a camel’. It was a figurative way of saying that their tradition was a huge sin and violation of God’s supreme law in favour of insistence on fine minutiae that brought them prestige. It was as bad as if they had swallowed a camel.

MacArthur gives us this interpretation of Jesus’s message:

In other words, you are all confused. You’re whole priority system is inverted. You’re just fooling around with stuff that doesn’t matter. And blind to the enormous evil that you’re consuming. You’re afraid to eat the tenth mint leaf and then you’re allowing into your life hypocrisy, dishonesty, cruelty, greed, self-worship; incredible.

We can better understand this verse now that it has a context.

In closing, Matthew Henry reminds us of the importance of observing God’s greater laws and Jesus’s rebuke of the scribes and Pharisees, who cared nothing for the ordinary or destitute Jew:

Judgment and mercy toward men, and faith toward God, are the weightier matters of the law, the good things which the Lord our God requires (Micah 6:8) to do justly, and love mercy, and humble ourselves by faith to walk with God. This is the obedience which is better than sacrifice or tithe judgment is preferred before sacrifice, Isaiah 1:11. To be just to the priests in their tithe, and yet to cheat and defraud every body else, is but to mock God, and deceive ourselves. Mercy also is preferred before sacrifice, Hosea 6:6. To feed those who made themselves fat with the offering of the Lord, and at the same time to shut up the bowels of compassion from a brother or a sister that is naked, and destitute of daily food, to pay tithe-mint to the priest, and to deny a crumb to Lazarus, is to lie open to that judgment without mercy, which is awarded to those who pretended to judgment, and showed no mercy nor will judgment and mercy serve without faith in divine revelation for God will be honoured in his truths as well as in his laws.

John MacArthur concludes:

It’s amazing how fastidious religious people can be and so far from the reality of what God seeks. So many false spiritual leaders reverse divine priorities, substitute insignificant forms and outward acts of religion for essential realities of the heart. You see, that’s the point. So the false spiritual leaders are condemned for exclusion, perversion, subversion, inversion, how about extortion for a fifth; extortion.

This is why true Christians condemn legalism. It has no basis in Scripture. God will judge it harshly.

Next time: Matthew 23:25-26

Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:16-19

16 “Woe to you, blind guides, who say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ 17 You blind fools! For which is greater, the gold or the temple that has made the gold sacred? 18 And you say, ‘If anyone swears by the altar, it is nothing, but if anyone swears by the gift that is on the altar, he is bound by his oath.’ 19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

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Last week’s entry discussed the first of the seven woes that Jesus pronounced on the scribes and Pharisees for their ungodly, false teaching which prevented people from entering the kingdom of heaven.

In today’s passage, Jesus takes them to task for their — not Scripture’s — tradition on oaths. It was called the Corban, which means ‘given to God’ and involved a gift or sacrifice on the altar of the temple.

Jesus criticised the Corban (Mark 7:9-13), which I discussed in 2010. Here are the verses (emphases mine):

9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! 10For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ 11But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban”‘ (that is, given to God)— 12then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, 13thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do.”

This is the explanation of how the Corban worked:

Jesus points out to them that they distorted the commandment of honouring one’s father and one’s mother. According to the Pharisees, if a child did not wish to obey that commandment, he had a get-out clause (verses 9-10). The child could swear by the gold of the temple and the gift upon the altar — the Corban — that he washed his hands of his parents (verse 11).  Should his parents ask anything of him, all he had to do is say that he made his oath (verses 12 and 13). 

Jesus rebuked the scribes and Pharisees for this practice. In the first woe (Matthew 23:13-15), he called them ‘hypocrites’. Here he calls them ‘blind guides’ (verse 16) and ‘fools (verse 17).

‘Blind guides’ is easily understood in the literal sense but Jesus primarily meant it as being spiritually blind, leading faithful Jews to perdition. In Matthew 15:10-20, He talked about what defiles a person:

10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.”

The Pharisees were offended. Jesus told His disciples:

14 Let them alone; they are blind guides.[a] And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

The spiritual condition of good people following spiritually blind leaders is bad. However, even worse is the condition of such leaders who deliberately deny, scorn or block out the truth from their followers. Their punishment and condemnation will be much the greater.

Jesus pronounced woe on these blind guides for honouring an oath made by the gold of the temple but dismissing one made by the temple (verse 16).

He called them fools because valuing an oath made by gold over one made by the temple made no sense (verse 17). An oath made by gold was only worth anything because it was made in the temple (verses 18, 19).

What they were doing was wrong on three counts. Matthew Henry explains.

First, Corban was not following God’s law. It was:

the work of men’s hands …

An oath is an appeal to God, to his omniscience and justice and to make this appeal to any creature is to put that creature in the place of God. See Deuteronomy 6:13.

Secondly, they placed a higher obligation on oaths made by gifts and sacrifices to enrich themselves than on an oath by the temple, which brought them no material gain. That said, neither should have been made in the first place:

Here was a double wickedness First, That there were some oaths which they dispensed with, and made light of, and reckoned a man was not bound by to assert the truth, or perform a promise. They ought not to have sworn by the temple or the altar but, when they had so sworn, they were taken in the words of their mouth. That doctrine cannot be of the God of truth which gives countenance to the breach of faith in any case whatsoever. Oaths are edge-tools and are not to be jested with. Secondly, That they preferred the gold before the temple, and the gift before the altar, to encourage people to bring gifts to the altar, and gold to the treasures of the temple, which they hoped to be gainers by

Thirdly, they lured many faithful people into their deceitful tradition:

Those who had made gold their hope, and whose eyes were blinded by gifts in secret, were great friends to the Corban …

Looking at Jesus’s statement and question about this, we see that He is telling them that without the oaths being made in the temple — God’s house — the gold or gift has no meaning. Therefore, how can an oath made by gold be more important than one made in the temple? It is the location — the altar in the temple — that renders the gold holy:

19 You blind men! For which is greater, the gift or the altar that makes the gift sacred?

Henry tells us:

The temple and altar were dedicated to God fixedly, the gold and gift but secondarily.

Henry gives a practical Christian application of this lesson, warning us not to place our good works above or on a par with justification by faith:

Christ is our altar (Hebrews 13:10), our temple (John 2:21) for it is he that sanctifies all our gifts, and puts an acceptableness in them, 1 Peter 2:5. Those that put their own works into the place of Christ’s righteousness in justification are guilty of the Pharisees’ absurdity, who preferred the gift before the altar.

Where making promises and taking oaths are concerned, John MacArthur cautions us to take them seriously:

Keep your promise. Keep your word. God hates lying. So many Old Testament texts in the Psalms particularly. Let me just call your attention to several just as a point of contact. In Psalm 50, verse 14, “Offer unto God thanksgiving and pay thy vows unto the Most High.” Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Promise to God, keep your promise. Psalm 56:12, “Thy vows are upon me oh God, I will render praises unto thee. I’m bound by my promises to you oh God. I won’t break my word.” Psalm 61, verse 8 and these are just samples, “So will I sing praise to thy name forever, that I may daily perform my vows.” Psalm 66:13, “I will go into the house with burnt offerings. I will pay thee my vows.” Psalm 76:11, “Vow and pay unto the Lord your God.” And it goes on like that a lot of places in the Old Testament. Keep your word to God. Keep your word to men.

Next week’s entry will Jesus’s final words on this woe.

Next time: Matthew 23:20-22

Bible GenevaThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew 23:13-15

13 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.[a] 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell[b] as yourselves.

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Last week’s entry on Matthew 22:23-33 ended with the final verse of that chapter. The Jewish leaders finally stopped challenging Jesus (emphases mine):

46 And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

Matthew 23 has Jesus’s Seven Woes to the scribes and Pharisees, His damning response to them.

Some translations have Eight Woes. Today’s verses show two instead of three. The bone of contention is verse 14, which appears in some Bibles, e.g. the King James Version — Matthew Henry’s — but not in others, e.g. John MacArthur’s:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows’ houses and for a pretense you make long prayers; therefore you will receive the greater condemnation

As true as it is, John MacArthur tells us why it is excluded:

… the older manuscripts of the New Testament do not include verse 14, which is to say that if in the early manuscripts you don’t have this verse and it shows up in the later manuscripts, it’s usually evidence that it was added later. That it wasn’t in the original. What is said in verse 14 is true about the Pharisees and scribes. In fact, it looks like a scribe took it out of Mark Chapter 12 and also Luke Chapter 20. Both of those Chapters mention the same kind of things. And probably a well meaning scribe thought that it fit in so well he just took it from Mark and Luke and put it here.

Matthew Henry offers an interesting explanation for this: that the eight woes are

in opposition to the eight beatitudes, Matthew 5:3.

Matthew 23:1-12 recounts our Lord’s condemnation of the scribes and the Pharisees. He does not want His disciples to either follow them or act like them. This can be applied to false teachers in the Church:

Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, 2 “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear,[a] and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi[b] by others. 8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers.[c] 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

In verse 13, Jesus pronounces the first woe on them. MacArthur explains woe:

The word woe in the Greek is a most interesting word. It’s this word, lie, which doesn’t even sound like a word. It sounds more like a painful guttural cry … It’s an onomatopoetic word. That is it sounds like its meaning. It is a word that just utters similar to the Hebrew word to howl, which is the word hoi. It’s a word used, for example, in the Septuagint to express grief, despair, sorrow, dissatisfaction, pain, and the threat of losing your life. It’s used in the New Testament to speak of sorrow, to speak of judgment. It’s the mingling of punishment and pity, cursing and compassion.

You could almost translate with the word alas; alas. And that’s the word you find in Revelation talking about Babylon in Chapter 18; alas. It’s as if to say inevitable judgment is coming, but oh how sad is that inevitable judgment. Judgment then is mingled with pity in the word woe.

In the same verse, He calls them hypocrites, from:

the word hupokrites. It originally came from a term which meant actor. Someone who played a part on a stage. Someone who pretended to be something he wasn’t.

And it was a good word that I guess etymologically in its origination, but it came to be a very bad word and finally it came to mean deceiver; deceiver. One who pretends in an evil sense, who acts evilly.

MacArthur has an excellent quote from the late professor of Divinity, William Barclay (1907-1978), who taught at the University of Glasgow:

someone who manifests what he calls “theatrical goodness who parades an outward goodness but inwardly is evil. Who wants people to see him give.”

Jesus said that these men were shutting the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. Henry tells us:

that is, they did all they could to keep people from believing in Christ, and so entering into his kingdom.

Jesus added that they do not ‘enter’ — or believe in Him — but, even worse, prohibited others from doing so. This went all the way back to John the Baptist’s ministry, when many Jews were baptised and repented of their sins. The religious leaders never did this and, so, when Jesus began His ministry, dogged him with quarrels and accusations from the start. All of these were designed to discredit Him and discourage the faithful.

MacArthur says:

In other words, this mass of people in Israel were moving toward the kingdom … Repenting of their sin and trying to get their lives right and listening to the preaching of this prophet who confronted their evil lives and called them to obedience. In fact, it says in Chapter 3 of Matthew verse 5, “Then went out to him Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region round about the Jordan and they were baptized by him in the Jordan confessing their sins.”

And right then the Pharisees showed up and the Sadducees and he said “oh generation of snakes,” you snakes, “who warned you to flee from the wrath to come. Bring forth the fruit of repentance.” That’s pretty confront[ational] stuff. But He knew why they were there. Here were all these people getting ready to move toward the kingdom and here came the very guys who would slam the door in their face. The false religious leaders. So the picture is one of movement of flow toward the kingdom and these people slammed the door in the faces.

This is the pursuit of the person who’s looking for religious answers, who’s searching for God, who’s searching for some spiritual reality. And they shut up the kingdom. How’d they do that? By denying the word of God, misinterpreting the word of God, denying that Jesus was the Messiah. Denying His deity. Denying salvation by grace. Denying the need for repentance. They shut it in the faces of the people with a works righteousness system that had no place for Jesus Christ.

Now the point that its making here is that false spiritual leaders damn peoples’ souls to hell. So you don’t deal with this lightly.

In verse 15, Jesus pronounces ‘woe’ on these ‘hypocrites’ a second time, this time for travelling far and wide to make converts to the works righteousness system that He came to abolish by fulfilling the Law.

There were two types of proselytes, or converts, in Jesus’s time. One was a proselyte of ‘the gate’, which meant that the person took part in religious worship with the Jews. The second was a proselyte of ‘righteousness’, which meant that he fully adhered to Mosaic Law and became a full convert, which included circumcision. There were more proselytes of the gate than those of righteousness for obvious reasons. However, this is why the Pharisees widened their net to travel so extensively in search of those who would enter fully into their religious system.

Jesus fully condemned this because of all the zealotry it brings with it:

you make him twice as much a child of hell[b] as yourselves.

MacArthur explains:

Have you ever noticed that a convert to a cult is more zealous and aggressive for the cult than somebody raised in it? That’s pretty much routine. That’s almost true of anything. That can be said of Christianity. Very frequently people saved out of the world and brought into Christ from an ungodly, un-Christlike background are more zealous for their newfound faith than people that are raised up in it.

There’s something about that tremendous transition that is made. That euphoria of coming into the movement that gives you a great amount of zeal. And so here this new convert is filled with more fanatical zeal for his newfound system than even the ones that brought him in. And naturally there’s a euphoria about having discovered what he thinks is the truth and the newness and he’s not been in long enough to find out all the problems with it. And he becomes a double son of hell in the sense that he is perverted even beyond his teachers. And more zealous even than they are. And so they make a spiritual convert who turns out to be perverted instead of finding God, instead of finding heaven, he becomes a son of hell.

This extended into the Apostolic Age, the time of the Apostles’ ministries. Henry reminds us:

In fury against Christianity the proselytes readily imbibed the principles which their crafty leaders were not wanting to possess them with, and so became extremely hot against the truth. The most bitter enemies the apostles met with in all places were the Hellenist Jews, who were mostly proselytes

However, St Paul was a Pharisee by upbringing and was every bit as zealous. He took his persecution to distant places before his Damascene conversion, effected directly through Christ Himself (verses 14, 15). Acts 26 records his testimony before King Agrippa:

4 “My manner of life from my youth, spent from the beginning among my own nation and in Jerusalem, is known by all the Jews. They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?

9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

Then Paul’s dramatic conversion occurred:

21 For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22 To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23 that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”

It’s difficult to imagine how dire that period, with its physical violence, must have been for those early Christians, suffering at the hands of zealots.

In closing, I wanted to look at the Pharisees’ treatment of widows, often taken advantage of. This occurs today as well, including in the Church. Who is more vulnerable than a woman alone, especially one grieving the loss of her husband?

Henry explains what the Pharisees did under the cloak of religiosity and law. They ingratiated themselves to these vulnerable women to gain use or ownership of their property for their own personal gain:

What their wicked practices were they devoured widows’ houses, either by quartering themselves and their attendants upon them for entertainment, which must be of the best for men of their figure or by insinuating themselves into their affections, and so getting to be the trustees of their estates, which they could make an easy prey of for who could presume to call such as they were to an account? The thing they aimed at was to enrich themselves and, this being their chief and highest end, all considerations of justice and equity were laid aside, and even widows’ houses were sacrificed to this. Widows are of the weaker sex in its weakest state, easily imposed upon and therefore they fastened on them, to make a prey of. They devoured those whom, by the law of God, they were particularly obliged to protect, patronise, and relieve. There is a woe in the Old Testament to those that made widows their prey (Isaiah 10:1,2) and Christ here seconded it with his woe. God is the judge of the widows they are his peculiar care, he establisheth their border (Proverbs 15:25), and espouseth their cause (Exodus 22:22,23) yet these were they whose houses the Pharisees devoured by wholesale so greedy were they to get their bellies filled with the treasures of wickedness! Their devouring denotes not only covetousness, but cruelty in their oppression, described Micah 3:3, They eat the flesh, and flay off the skin. And doubtless they did all this under colour of law for they did it so artfully that it passed uncensured, and did not at all lessen the people’s veneration for them.

This reading gives us two practical takeaways for our era.

First, let us not do anything by coercion, forcing people to give their money, property or time to the Church. Leave it for church members to decide if that is what they wish to do. Coercion is no different to works righteousness and legalism.

Secondly, new converts quite rightly are ‘on fire for Christ’, as I so often read online. However, those who are ‘all in’ — another commonly used expression — should take care how they present this to their families, especially wives and children. Many who have come to the church from the occult or addiction display an off-putting tendency to push their faith down other people’s throats. Their approach in its mildest form looks nutty but, when extreme, has the potential to become threatening and violent.

Coercion and threatening behaviour is not in His Name nor is it evidence of the Gospel of Grace. In fact, it often leads to cultlike allegiances and alliances.

Pray for guidance, discernment and a cool head.

Next time: Matthew 23:16-19

Bible oldContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Kingdom Obstructionists’, ‘What’s Missing in False Religion’ — Parts 1 and 2).

Luke 11:45-54

45One of the lawyers answered him, “Teacher, in saying these things you insult us also.” 46And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers. 47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets whom your fathers killed. 48 So you are witnesses and you consent to the deeds of your fathers, for they killed them, and you build their tombs. 49Therefore also the Wisdom of God said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, some of whom they will kill and persecute,’ 50so that the blood of all the prophets, shed from the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation, 51from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the sanctuary. Yes, I tell you, it will be required of this generation. 52Woe to you lawyers! For you have taken away the key of knowledge. You did not enter yourselves, and you hindered those who were entering.”

 53As he went away from there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to press him hard and to provoke him to speak about many things, 54 lying in wait for him, to catch him in something he might say.

——————————————————————–

Today’s reading continues Jesus’s condemnation of the Pharisees, specifically the lawyers who were among their group. The setting was a lunch to which one of the Pharisees invited our Lord.

A parallel passage is the whole of Matthew 23. Reading it will help to clarify the reading from Luke.

Matthew 23 includes a few of the most memorable New Testament verses:

24You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!

27 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. 

33You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

It ends as follows:

Lament over Jerusalem

 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! 38See, your house is left to you desolate. 39For I tell you, you will not see me again, until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”

Now onto today’s reading from Luke’s Gospel.

John MacArthur explains who the lawyers were and how they fit in with the Pharisees (emphases mine below):

nomikon, law experts…also called scribes down in verse 53 they’re called scribes. But law experts is really the right thing. That’s what they were, they were the experts in the Law. The Pharisees, as a total group, were committed to fastidious observants of the religious system. Within the Pharisees were the lawyers, the experts of the Law. Not all Pharisees were lawyers, but many were. But if you were one of the lawyers, one of the Law experts who were associated with this system, you would be a Pharisee because you couldn’t be a theoretician without being a practitioner. But to make a little bit of a distinction, the Pharisees were the practitioners of the system developed by the Law experts. To put it simply, the Law experts were the theologians, the exegetes, the expositors. They were the academicians. They were the interpreters of the Scripture and they came up with the system which the Pharisees practiced. And so not all Pharisees were Law experts, but within the Pharisees they had the Law experts that developed the system. The Sadducees, different than the Pharisees, had a religious system and they had some of their own experts interpreting the Law their way. But these that Jesus talks with here, or refers to here, were part of the Pharisaic system and they were the dominant force in Israel.

Therefore, not all Pharisees were lawyers (scribes) but all lawyers were Pharisees. The lawyers were a subset of the Pharisees. Consequently, they associated with each other.

With this in mind, it is not surprising that one of the lawyers complained that Jesus was insulting them with his invective against the Pharisees (verse 45).

Jesus responded by condemning them — ‘Woe to you lawyers also’ — for loading untenable burdens on the everyday Jew which they themselves did not practise (verse 46).

MacArthur explains that Jesus was not talking about Mosaic law but a complex subset of manmade rules and regulations which the lawyers and Pharisees said had to be observed if one was to be considered holy and faithful:

They were skilled in the Law and tradition. They were the theorists who put it all together, who crafted the traditions, the routines, the rituals, the system that had nothing to do with the heart because their hearts had never been changed. Nothing to do with true holiness, nothing to do with true righteousness, but they had concocted a complex of behaviors that left no room for choosing anything. It was an endless list of thousands and thousands and thousands of methods and means, a labyrinth of behaviors imposed upon the people as if it was the true will of God, so complex that you had to have a lawyer around to interpret it. It’s like those legal documents you get written by lawyers. Lawyers write them and you need lawyers to read them. Lawyers wrote the system and you needed a lawyer to explain the system to you it was so complex.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

They would seem, by the hedges they pretended to make about the law, to be very strict for the observance of the law but, if you could see their practices, you would find that they not only make nothing of those hedges themselves, but make nothing of the law itself neither

In Matthew 23 Jesus gave us an example of these extreme and ostentatious laws, distinguishing themselves above the ordinary Jew through their prayer boxes (phylacteries) and prayer shawls:

5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long

MacArthur explains that all these manmade laws of ostentatious ritual were a case of ‘for thee, but not for me’. The Pharisees didn’t have to observe them, nor did the lawyers, only the ordinary Jews:

The practicing Pharisees were dependent upon the lawyers to interpret the Law for them and to find them the loopholes which they were very adept at doing.

Just as bad, possibly worse, is the show they make of building elaborate tombs for the Old Testament prophets whom their fathers killed because they hated the prophets’ calls to repentance (verses 47 and 48).

Yet, these lawyers are no different to their ancestors. In Matthew 23, Jesus tells them:

29 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, 30saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. 33You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

MacArthur unpacks this for us:

your decorating the tombs becomes ironically a way to identify with your fathers. You are the same as they. You think your veneration of their tombs shows you’re better than your fathers who killed the prophets. But the reality is your attention to their graves just links you to what your fathers did

In fact, Henry’s commentary points out that the Old Testament advised leaving a prophet’s remains where they were:

Josiah, who had a real value for prophets, thought it enough not to disturb the grave of the man of God at Bethel: Let no man move his bones, 2 Kings 23:17,18. If these lawyers will carry the matter further, and will build their sepulchres, it is such a piece of over-doing as gives cause to suspect an ill design in it, and that it is meant as a cover for some design against prophecy itself, like the kiss of a traitor, as he that blesseth his friend with a loud voice, rising early in the morning, it shall be counted a curse to him, Proverbs 27:14.

Jesus points out in Luke’s Gospel that God knew this would happen. The Old Testament, via the prophets, foretold their persecution and martyrdom (verse 49). And now, the Messiah — also prophesied — stood right in front of them and they disregarded Him, too. This is why He says that this bloodshed, from Old Testament times to Jesus’s day, would condemn the lawyers (verse 50).

Jesus spells it out in verse 51. These men carry condemnation for this abomination from A — Abel — to Z — Zechariah (‘the son of Barachiah’, Matthew 23:35). This includes manmade laws (Abel) to murdering prophets (Zechariah).

MacArthur explains:

The history of Israel is just horribly sad. Apostates through the Old Testament all the way, apostates in the New, pretending to honor the prophets while not believing their message nor believing on the one they predicted would come. They were so spiritually blind, they were so spiritually lifeless. That’s the word, they didn’t have any spiritual life and that’s why they couldn’t know who was in their midst, they were so dead. It was as if a live person walked into a mortuary amidst a whole group of corpses. They couldn’t connect. There’s no way corpses would know who’s there. They possessed no spiritual life, therefore no spiritual perception. And so they wanted to kill the prophet of all prophets. Later Jesus will tell them a parable about a man who had a vineyard and he sent his servants to collect from the man who was managing it for him, and the man killed all the servants. And finally he thought I’ll send my son, and he sent his son and they killed his son. And Jesus says that’s what you’ve done, you’ve killed all the prophets, and I sent My Son, you killed My Son. That’s God’s view.

Jesus was foretelling the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD, which actually began four years before. This period in history, incidentally, comprises the opening scenes of Nicholas Ray’s 1961 film King of Kings. That was no director’s confection. MacArthur tells us:

So barely a lifetime, a very short lifetime from the murder of Jesus came the days of vengeance. It all started in May of 66. Radical zealots, a party within Judaism who hated the Romans, they were killers and terrorists who went around stabbing Romans. They did deeds of violence and rebellion. They finally broke in open revolt in May of 66. Rome struck back by starting a bloody butchery in Galilee. They swept into Galilee and started massacring the Jews there. This went on for some time and shortly before the full moon in the spring of 70 A.D., the great Roman general Titus marched with an enormous army outside of Jerusalem, something in excess of 80 thousand men. Jerusalem was swarming with people at the time because it was Passover. The Romans moved into their camps outside the city and called for a surrender. They put on a siege. The Jews laughed at the Romans. Siege machines were then brought in. They threw hundred pound stones, massive stones at the city, battering rams smashed at the gates and the walls and eventually the Romans broke through the wall and called again for surrender and the Jews said no. The battle began again and the death toll was absolutely enormous. It’s hard to know exactly how many died, there are some estimates as high as a million from in the hundreds of thousands to a million. Tree after tree was cut down to make crosses, ramps, scaling ladders, campfires. The land was completely raped of trees in this tremendous siege. The Romans sealed off the city with a dirt mount all around it and killed everybody who came out by crucifying them so that they crucified thousands of them. The historians said an unbearable stench from the dead bodies thrown over the wall piled outside and one estimate a hundred thousand dead bodies were pitched over the wall because of their corruption and their stench. Famine resulted. Whole families died daily. Finally in August of 70 A.D. the Temple itself was destroyed. The Roman soldiers erected their banners in the holy place and sacrificed to their idols there. They took about a hundred thousand prisoners. Took out about a hundred thousand corpses. This was divine judgment. One writer said, “That generation that filled up the final measure of iniquity was the one to reap the full consequences of sin.” And so Jesus says it’s coming. Apostate Judaism at this point, at this level is not only no different than the past, it is worse and you’ve demonstrated it by the fact that you’re plotting to kill Me and you will kill Me and all the preachers and apostles of the gospel. You are headed for judgment. More terrible than anything you’ve known historically. And, of course, beyond that they would be cast into eternal hell as well.

Readers might wonder how Jesus came up with a list of martyrs beginning with Abel. MacArthur says:

What you have here is two Old Testament righteous martyrs. Really in a sense, the first and the last martyr of the Old Testament, the A to Z. The first martyr was Abel. Who killed him? Cain. Cain was engaged in what kind of religion? False religion, works righteousness brought the fruit of the ground when he should have brought the sacrifice that God required. He hated his brother. Why did Cain hate Abel? Because Abel had a right relationship with God. And Satan hates those who do. Abel was the first martyr.

Zechariah is the last one, sort of the A to Z. Many commentators say this is the son of Jehoiada who was stoned to death in the temple court at the order of King Joash. And they stoned this man, Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, to death because he had rebuked the government and he had rebuked the people for idolatry and they didn’t like it. That’s in 2 Chronicles, by the way, chapter 24 verses 20 to 22. So this was a man who spoke for God as a prophet who indicted the people and under the authority of the king they stoned him to death. However, this is not who it is and the reason we know that is because in Matthew 23:35 which is a comparative text where Jesus says on another occasion essentially the very same thing, Jesus identifies this man, Zechariah, with this identifying note. “From Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berachiah whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.” The Zechariah in 2 Chronicles 24 is the son of Jehoiada. But in Matthew 23 and obviously in this passage parallel to it, where Jesus refers to Zechariah, we have one that is the son of Berachiah. Also, the Zechariah who is the son of Jehoiada died in 800 B.C….800 B.C. That is by no means the last Old Testament martyr. So it doesn’t fit the parallel with Abel because he just said in verse 50, “The blood of all the prophets.” And then verse 51, “From Abel…which is the starting point…to Zechariah,” which would be the ending point. So it has a to be a Zechariah at the end. So the solution is simple, there is a Zechariah at the end, Zechariah the prophet who was the son of Berachiah. If you look toward the end of the Old Testament, you see the last two books are Zechariah and Malachi. Zechariah then, son of Berachiah, was martyred some time between 5 A.D. and 570 at the end of the Old Testament era, or near the end. He must have been martyred. We don’t have a record of it except right here in Matthew 23. So he had the same name as one martyred three centuries before, but this is Zechariah the son of Berachiah. So you have one at the beginning of the Old Testament, one at the end of the Old Testament era.

By the way, unless you be sort of put off by the idea that it could be a different Zechariah, there are 27 different individuals in the Old Testament named Zechariah.

Jesus condemned the lawyers’ spiritual blindness (verse 52).  He said they had taken away ‘the key of knowledge’ from the people, forbidding them from understanding the Old Testament. The people understood the observance of the Law but only as legalism. They did not understand — because of the Pharisees and lawyers — that the Law was to prepare their hearts and minds for the Messiah. And here He was in their midst, yet they did not see it. Their hearts and minds were hardened. Because of this spiritual blindness, the people could not receive Jesus into their hearts.

This is why Jesus commented in Matthew 23:37:

How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not!

Also, earlier in Matthew 23:13, 15 (verse 14, not universally used, is in footnote ‘d’):

13“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in.[d] 15Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

And we see the blindness continuing in the last two verses (53 and 54) of today’s reading from Luke. The scribes — the lawyers — and the Pharisees felt the same enmity towards Jesus as their fathers did towards the ancient prophets. They were planning to ensnare Him on a point of religious law, then do away with Him. And so it happened, as Scripture foretold and God already foreordained. The Crucifixion was no accident or plan gone wrong.

In closing, what follows is MacArthur’s explanation about the frequency of murders in the temple:

the temple was a common place to murder people

They tried, you remember, in Acts 21:27 and following to murder Paul in the temple. You remember that? It was sort of a great way for mob rule to take over and be pretty hard to indict any particular person for the crime. But it says he perished between the altar and the house of God. Outside the holy place[;] the house of God is the holy place and the Holy of holies place. So outside in the courtyard he was killed by the religious Jews. The religious Jews of the time of Zechariah murdered him, just like religious Cain when he brought his own self-styled sacrifice killed his brother. And both Abel was killed because he had a right relationship with God, and Zechariah was killed because he had a right relationship to God and that’s always what false religion does if it can.

A final point to mention is the end of the world, as foretold in Revelation. Someone said to me last year, ‘Well, I don’t believe in God, so,  if it happens while I’m alive, either my world will carry on or I’ll sleep through it and awake in front of Him — if He exists.’

I am fascinated by atheists, who think that the Final Judgment affects believers only.

Atheists, like the Jewish Sanhedrin (leadership which included the Pharisees and lawyers), will be among the first to be condemned to eternal death.

MacArthur says:

The same is going to happen in the future when the great holocausts at the time of the Tribulation and you read the book of Revelation and everything begins to disintegrate in the universe and all hell breaks loose on earth and demons run rampant and the Holy Spirit doesn’t restrain evil and Antichrist rises and slaughter and persecution goes on and natural phenomena begins to disintegrate[:] life as we know it in the world and the whole of the world begins to collapse. It will all fall down on the heads of those people living at that time, but it will be the accumulated wrath of God coming at the very end of time to people who have had the opportunity to receive the truth, the accumulated truth and the message throughout all of history.

Next time: Luke 12:1-3

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