“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to Hell?” That was Jesus describing the most committed religious leaders of his day with their fasting, their tithing, their memorizing of the scriptures, and their devotion to God. It goes to prove that sometimes your religious observances can be so ‘right’ that they are dead right!
Commendable spiritual disciplines had been hijacked by their pride, to strangle any real passion they had for the Lord; their lives existed only for outward ‘show’ and praise by their peers. All genuine heart passion had long since evaporated, leaving behind the husk of a legalistic lifestyle that buttressed an egocentric soul. The ‘tipping point’ – long since passed – was probably the point at which they became more concerned about what other people thought about them than what the Lord thought.
Matthew 23 lists the errors of Pharisaic living: surface holiness, ostentatiousness, spiritual privilege and exclusiveness, vain oaths, legalistic giving stripped of generosity of heart, persecution of those genuinely following the Lord, resisting the Holy Spirit, and claiming to be God’s favourites. Their convert-disciples were worse than them! True, Jesus told them to keep on tithing, but to reinstate the acts of justice, mercy and faithfulness that were behind the whole Law, and which manifested themselves in particular laws. See Micah 6:6-8. The blame for every murder of God’s true prophets would be laid at the feet of this generation of hypocrites!
The shedding of righteous blood from that of Abel to that of Zechariah was chronologically from the beginning to the end of the Old Covenant; Zechariah being the last prophet known to have been martyred. Jesus, in realising that this generation of the Jewish establishment would reject the only genuine method of forgiveness, was able to say with assurance that this generation would stand condemned for the murder and persecution of every righteous believer past and future. Part of the punishment would be the total destruction of the great temple of Herod and of the so-called ‘Holy City’ itself.
He wept over that city, frustrated that they always seemed to reject the very ones who would help them. They habitually persecuted those people who were closest to God and whose lives were genuinely righteous. The final verse of the chapter: “For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’” is a direct quote from Psalm 118:26. Interestingly, in that Psalm, it follows the verses about “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone…” which, of course, refers to the Messiah himself. When Jews finally acknowledge their Messiah and return to him, then they will see him face to face again.