Matthew 23: 34 -39
Ignorance is no excuse
34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city, 35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. 37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing! 38 See! Your house is left to you desolate; 39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”
Most of you are familiar with the statement, ‘ignorance of the law is no defense.’ All citizens are charged with knowing the law. The most common example of this is the speed trap.
Now I want you to think about ignorance of what the Bible says. What does this mean to us who have put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Ignorance is the lack of knowledge or understanding. Ignorant people are either unaware or uninformed. Sometimes we are ignorant because we did not know there was a need to learn something. Other times, we are ignorant because we have chosen not to learn something we need to know.
Our Holy El Shaddai, Almighty God says to us in the prophet Hosea’s book chapter 4, “My people are destroyed from lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also reject you.”
Willfully rejecting knowledge that God wants us to have is sinful ignorance. While unintentional ignorance about earthly topics is understandable, intentional ignorance about spiritual matters can lead to eternal destruction as the book of Romans informs us in chapter 1, “18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, 21 because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Professing to be wise, they became fools, 23 and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”
The bible makes a distinction between ignorance and innocence. We don’t have to be ignorant of the fact of sin; in fact, we can be highly informed about sin yet remain innocent of it. But we should all be ignorant about the practice of evil. Ephesians 5 says, “11 And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of those things which are done by them in secret.”
Our Lord Jesus advises us in Matthew Gospel chapter 10, “16 “Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves. Therefore, be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
To effectively fight the spiritual battle, we must know something of how our enemy functions. Believers are encouraged to forgive each other, “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for the scripture says in 1 Corinthians chapter 2, “11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.”
Ignorance about what the devil is up to and ignorance of the damage done by unforgiveness is dangerous to our spiritual health. One of Satan’s basic tactics is to keep people ignorant as we learn in the book of 2 Corinthians chapter 4, “11 For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God.”
God commands us to repent of our ignorance and seek Him with all our hearts as the prophet Jeremiah teaches us in chapter 29 of his book , “13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.”
One of the most important fact our Holy and Great God told mankind was when He was going to show up in the flesh personally. Sadly, the people were not doing their homework in studying the word of God, so they were not waiting for His arrival nor did they recognize Him when He showed up.
Having warned the crowds and the disciples against being like the Scribes and Pharisees in their behavior, ending with an exhortation to humble themselves and not to exalt themselves (23.1-12), and having totally exposed the inadequacies of the Scribes and Pharisees in the seven woes, ending in an accusation that they are simply like vipers, deceitful and deaf to entreaty, lying in wait for their victims (23.13-33), Jesus now unfolds the future both for the Scribes and Pharisees and their supporters (23.34-36), and for the whole of Jerusalem (23.37-39).
34 Therefore, indeed, I send you prophets, wise men, and scribes: some of them you will kill and crucify, and some of them you will scourge in your synagogues and persecute from city to city,
Jesus is aware that He must shortly die and rise again, and that as a result He will send out His messengers (28.18-20), in the same way as He has done previously (chapter 10). He defines them in Old Testament and inter-testament terms, ‘prophets (speakers of inspired words; and wise men (teachers of wisdom from the Scriptures) and scribes (teachers of the Law. Note how these cover the three sections of the Old Testament, the prophets, the wisdom literature and the Law. All would be needed in taking out His message.
In the light of the dangers of His time and the problems He would expect His disciples to face once they were out in the world into which He was sending them, He recognized that it was inevitable that some would be crucified at the instigation of the Jewish leadership or because of the suspicions of the authorities. It was the Roman way, and inevitable, and in anticipation of it He had already warned His followers that they were taking up the cross by following Him (16.24). He also knew that others would certainly be killed in other ways (10.21), for He had come to send fire on earth. In turbulent times men with a controversial message would always be in danger of their lives, while deaths from violent mobs out of control were not uncommon. He recognized only too well that many would certainly be beaten in the synagogues (10.17). This was a common experience for Jews who displeased the synagogue authorities, for they were responsible for local discipline among Jews.
And the greatest certainty of all was that most would at some stage be persecuted from city to city as had happened previously (10.23). Those who spent themselves obtaining proselytes for Gehenna (verse 15) would also spend themselves in persecuting the righteous. Furthermore, He already had the example of what had happened to John the Baptist to go by, to say nothing of His own expectation of being crucified (20.19), and He could tell that some of these men were capable of anything.
35 that on you may come all the righteous blood shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.
And because of this behavior they would also take the guilt of all the prophets who had died prior to this, on themselves, for all of them had died in preparing the way for the Messiah, so that to reject Him and His disciples would be to take on themselves the whole burden of guilt for those who had died before.
Alternately the point is that God has continually held back His judgment up to this point, but now that the final day of salvation has arrived will release it on the present generation who will reject and crucify His Son. Probably there is an element of both in the words. The sins of the fathers will be visited on the children, because they are like their fathers.
For the blood of Abel, the righteous see Genesis 4. He too was slain by a man who would not face up to his own sinfulness.
36 Assuredly, I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation.
Jesus then makes clear quite forcibly (truly I say to you) that what He has been speaking about (their blood coming on them) will come on the present generation. He knows, as He will shortly explain to His disciples, that after His death God’s judgment will come on Jerusalem, and that that will include all the effects of a major invasion which would set alight the whole of Palestine, beginning in Galilee.
For the importance our Lord Jesus places on ‘this generation’ as the generation that faced its greatest opportunity and blew it. Above all other generations it proved its unworthiness, for it was the only generation in history that had witnessed God made man walking among them. It stands for ever against the lie that if only God would reveal Himself we would believe.
The Lamb of God Jesus Christ finishes with a lament over Jerusalem. It is not just the Scribes and Pharisees who have rejected Him, it is Jerusalem. They had been singled out because of their claim to religious significance, but in the end, it was the whole of Jerusalem which had turned its back on Him. Time and again He had made His plea to them (note how His words assume a number of visits as portrayed in John’s Gospel) but they had refused Him. Now only desolation could await them in the very house of God which would be left barren, for God was again departing from them as He had before (Ezekiel 10.18-19; 11.22-23). But nevertheless, He would return again, but only to those who welcomed Him in the Name of the Lord (as the pilgrims had welcomed Him into Jerusalem - 21.9). The idea is twofold. He would return in power after His resurrection through His disciples to all who would receive Him, and He would return for His own at the last day
37 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!
In these moving words Jesus sums up the people of Jerusalem the very heart of the Hebrew nation, and to a certain extent representative of the whole. It was a city whose economy was built around the Temple, and very religiously intense. Everything in it was bound up in religion, and it was because of their intensity of feeling that many came to live there as they grew older. But that was the problem. It was so intense that it was not open to the truth. It had become a superstition. Like the Scribes and Pharisees, who were typical of it, it was so bound up in ritual that it could not see beyond it. It had killed (verse 34) and stoned the prophets, and now it had rejected the One Who had finally come to take them under His wing. This last picture is a beautiful one. In time of danger the mother hen would call her chicks to hide under her wings, and this was what Jesus had offered Jerusalem. The message is that there was total security in Him. It was another subtle claim to be the Beloved Son. He is acting in the place of God. But they refused to find their shelter in Him.
38 See! Your house is left to you desolate;
And because they had refused Him there was nowhere else to turn. They were so intense about their possession of God’s house that they could not see beyond it, and the sad consequence would be its desolation. It would both lose its significance and be destroyed, for God had deserted it. Note that it is the desertion that is emphasized here Compare ‘I have forsaken My house, I have cast off My heritage’ (Jeremiah 12.7). It was His earthly dwelling place no more.
39 for I say to you, you shall see Me no more till you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the LORD!’”
And the people would never see Him again until their hearts were open to receive Him, until they were ready to welcome Him as the pilgrims had welcomed Him into Jerusalem (21.9), and as had been promised in the Psalms (118.26). In other words, until they would acknowledge His Messiahship and more.