Killing to Prevent the Inevitable
Matthew 23:32-39: A Preterist Commentary: Summary and Highlights
In Matthew 23:33-38, Jesus predicts that Jerusalem would soon kill Jesus’ followers and the city would be punished and the Temple destroyed. Jesus’ was right. The people of Jerusalem did ultimately kill many of the leaders of the early Christian church after Jesus’ death. And shortly thereafter the Roman army besieged Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and destroyed the city and its temple. See the following Preterist commentary on Matthew 23:33-34 for details.
The following may seem unbelievable. However, all information is taken from unbiased historical records and is easily verifiable. Sources listed at the end.
Killing to Prevent the Inevitable
Matthew 23:33-39: A Preterist Commentary Intro: What was the Motive for Jesus’ Execution according to the Bible?
Throughout His ministry recorded in the gospels, Jesus repeatedly and publicly decried the hypocrisy of the teachers of the Law and Pharisees. In the presence of these men, Jesus declared the following in Matthew 21:43: “Therefore I say to you [the teachers of the Law and Pharisees], the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people, producing the fruit of it.” The teachers of the Law and Pharisees understood the kingdom of God to be the Messianic kingdom. Feeling threatened by Jesus’ words in Matthew 21:43 and especially Luke 19:27, the chief priests and Pharisees feared that they would lose their positions of authority if Jesus became the king of the Israel. Therefore, it is not surprising that after Jesus spoke these words these men plotted to have him arrested to prevent Jesus from becoming king of the Jews:
‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit. He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.’ When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them. They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet (Matthew 21:43-46).
In Matthew 21:43-46 the motive leading to Jesus’ arrest and subsequent crucifixion is made clear. After Jesus spoke the words recorded above, the teachers of the Law and Pharisees began searching for a way to have Jesus arrested. The first and most obvious strategy they employed was to turn Jesus’ ambiguous Messianic ambition against Him.
First century Israel was not a sovereign nation. Israel was under Roman rule. The teachers of the Law and Pharisees correctly understood that if Israel crowned any man the sovereign king of Israel as the Messiah was expected to be this act would inevitably trigger a war with Rome. After calling a meeting of the Sanhedrin, the teachers of the Law selfishly plotted to dispose of Jesus for their own gain under the noble guise of avoiding a war with Rome: “If we let him [Jesus] go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation (John 11:48).”
This plot to have Jesus arrested or killed for being the Messiah backfired because throughout His ministry and while in the presence of Pilate Jesus declared that His kingdom was not on this world: “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36) If Jesus believed Himself to be the king of a heavenly kingdom, not an earthly kingdom, then Jesus would, therefore, pose no direct threat to Pilate and His reign in Israel nor would Jesus be a direct threat to Roman rule in the region.
Desperate to stop the spread of Jesus’ popularity among the common people, the chief priests and Pharisees arrested Jesus and brought Him before them. At that time they found another motive to have Jesus executed: blasphemy. After telling the high priest that he would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of God and coming on the clouds of heaven, the high priest shouted, “He has blasphemed!” (Matthew 26:65) In response, the chief priests declared, “He deserves death!” (Matthew 26:66)
Before settling on this motive for arrest and execution, these men intent on saving their own skin carefully followed Jesus’ ministry searching for a charge to bring against Him so that they might thwart any chance of Jesus’ ministry spreading to the point in which it inspired a popular uprising resulting in Jesus being crowned the king of the Jews. Aware of their intentions, Jesus accuses these men of being the sons of those who murdered the prophets in Matthew 23:29-32. In the following verses, Jesus continues to voice His anger:
32 Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.1 33“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? 34Therefore I am sending you prophets and wise men and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. 35And so upon you will come all the blood that has been shed on the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation. 37“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. 38Look, your house is left to you desolate.
A Preterist Commentary on Matthew 23:33-39: After Jesus’ Death, Jerusalem killed the Saints, and the City was destroyed in that Generation as Punishment.
After successfully having Jesus killed, the Jewish authorities immediately raised their hand against the Christian church in fulfillment of v 34. This mass persecution recorded in Acts 8:1 and Acts 26:10 is also mentioned by the church historian Eusebius:
First they [the Jews] stoned Stephen to death; then James the son of Zebedee and the brother of John was beheaded; and finally James, the first after our Saviour’s Ascension to be raised to the bishop’s throne there, lost his life in the way described, while the remaining apostles, in constant danger from murderous plots, were driven out of Judaea.2
In v. 34 Jesus predicts that the Jews would pursue the Christian saints from town to town. The fulfillment of v. 34 is mentioned in Acts 9:1-2 in which Saul is said to have gone to the high priest to ask for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any Christians there he might bring them back as prisoners to Jerusalem. This persecution of the saints by their fellow Jews extended well beyond Damascus and is alluded to often in Acts. It is also confirmed by Suetonius who says that “the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Jesus Christ][.]”3
If a person orders someone to be killed and that person is murdered, the one who issued the order is guilty of the crime even if he or she was not physically present at the time. The same idea is conveyed in v. 35. Because the persecution of the early church began and was ultimately instigated in Jerusalem, Jesus says that all the blood shed on the earth would be on Jerusalem. In other words, the blame for the unjust deaths of the saints would ultimately fall on Jerusalem.4
In Revelation 17:4-6 the woman representing Jerusalem presumably shares her cup of blood with the beast representing Rome as is pictured in Jeremiah 51:7: “Babylon was a gold cup in the Lord’s hand; she made the whole earth drunk. The nations drank her wine; therefore they have now gone mad.” The fact that Jerusalem the whore of Babylon seems to share her cup with Gentile Rome, the beast she rides, appears to symbolize the historical fact that the persecution of the saints started in Jerusalem before it spread throughout the Roman Empire in the first century. Because Jerusalem shares her cup filled with the blood of the martyrs with all the nations it is upon Jerusalem that the brunt of the blame is placed. And it is for this reason that Jesus says, “And so upon you [Jerusalem] will come all the blood that has been shed on the earth[.]”
In Matthew 23:32 Jesus says to the people of Jerusalem, “Fill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers.” The guilt of their fathers is the guilt of having killed the prophets (Matthew 23:35-37). The blood of these martyred saints is depicted in the cup full of the blood of the saints held in the hand of the whore of Babylon in Revelation 17:4-6:
The woman was clothed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a gold cup full of abominations and of the unclean things of her immorality, and on her forehead a name was written, a mystery, “BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH.” And I saw the woman drunk with the blood of the saints, and with the blood of the witnesses of Jesus.
The fact that Jesus tells Jerusalem to “[f]ill up, then, the measure of the guilt of your fathers” is thus a reference to Jerusalem filling her cup with the blood of the saints depicted in Revelation 17 (see the Preterist commentary on Revelation 17).
Despite the efforts of the chief priests and Pharisees to avoid a war with Rome by killing Jesus, the war with Rome came anyway. In A.D. 66 the Jewish zealots successfully dragged Israel into war. The house left desolate in v. 38 is the temple in Jerusalem which was destroyed by the Romans in A.D. 70, less than forty years after Jesus spoke these words. Jesus was right when He said, “I tell you the truth, all this will come upon this generation.”5
Fulfilled! Matthew 24:34 Commentary: Another Connection between the Exodus and the End of the Age . . .
Numbers 32:13 implies that a generation is about forty years: “The Lord’s anger burned against Israel and he made them wander in the wilderness forty years, until the whole generation of those who had done evil in his sight was gone.” Interestingly, there was a generation or forty year interval from the time Jesus began His ministry, around Tishri of A.D. 29, to the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of its temple in A.D. 70.6 See Daniel 9:24-27 Commentary: Daniel 9 Miraculously Fulfilled! During this generation or forty year interval, Jesus’ promise of judgment came to pass and the wicked people of Israel were purged from the land by death and exile as a consequence of the war with Rome. At the time of the exodus, God killed off the wicked generation of Israelites that He had taken out of Egypt over a forty year timeframe thereby preventing them from entering Israel, the Promised Land. Similarly during the time of the end, God also killed off and exiled that wicked generation that had killed the Messiah and many of His people over the course of a generation or forty years. Neither generation was allowed to enter or stay in Israel, the Promised Land.
According to Hebrews 3-4, Israel, the Promised Land, is itself a symbol or earthly reflection of heaven. This fact also says something about the fate of that wicked generation in the afterlife. In Matthew 24, Jesus reveals more about the war expected to occur within that generation.
39 For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
Verse 39 is sometimes used to argue for a future return of Jesus. However, verse 39 is fulfilled when Jesus rode on a donkey during Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem recorded in Matthew 21. At this time the crowds shouted, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord,” (Matthew 21:9) saying exactly what Jesus stated in Matthew 23:39. Although Matthew 21:9 is recorded before Mathew 23:39 it is important to note that the Gospel of Matthew does not record Jesus’ words or His ministry in chronological order. This fact is well-known and accepted even in evangelical circles and Matthew 23:39 and 21:9 is one of many examples of this fact. If we are to look for a more likely chronology in this example it is best to refer to the Gospel of Luke. The synoptic equivalent of Matthew 23 is recorded in Luke 11:37-54. In Luke 11:53-54 we learn that it was after Jesus spoke these words recorded in Matthew 23:33-39 and Luke 11:37-54 that the Pharisees began to plot against Jesus to try to catch Jesus in something He said. In Luke 11:37-54, Luke implies that the plot to kill Jesus began in Luke 11:37-54 which was long before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem which is later recorded in Luke 19:28-48.
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Interested in THE PRETERIST VIEW OF ESCHATOLOGY, or are you a PRETERISTstruggling with a prophecy or verse? It DID happen just like the Bible says! If you liked this essay, see PRETERIST BIBLE COMMENTARY for a detailed explanation of the FULFILLMENT OF ALL MAJOR END TIME PROPHECIES IN THE BIBLE. The more unbelievable the prophecy, the more amazing and miraculous the fulfillment!
Also see Historical Evidence that Jesus was LITERALLY SEEN in the Clouds in the First Century. For an explanation of how the end of the age and its fulfillment during the Jewish War mirror Genesis 1-3; how the Bible teaches that the resurrection of the dead is a resurrection of heavenly bodies to heaven, not a resurrection of perfected earthly bodies; and how the resurrection is a mirror opposite of the fall see How the Jewish War and Resurrection to Heaven Mirror Genesis and the Fall; and How Preterism fixes the Age of the Earth Problem and unravels the Mysteries in Genesis.
Matthew 23:33-39: A Preterist Commentary: Conclusion
As explained in Matthew 23:33-39: A Preterist Commentary, Jesus was correct in His prediction. The people of Jerusalem did ultimately kill many of the leaders of the early Christian church, and shortly thereafter the Roman army besieged Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and destroyed the city and its temple.
- Eusebius The History of the Church 3.5.
- Suetonius Lives of the Twelve Caesars 5.25.4.
- Given the fact that upon Jerusalem would “come all the blood that has been shed on the earth,” does this absolve Rome of any guilt in the martyrdom of the saints under the Neronic persecution? No. In John 19:11 Jesus tells Pilate that Rome shares some of the guilt for His death, “Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” Recall that Rome also persecuted the saints during the Neronic persecution and killed Jesus at the Jews request. Thus Rome was something like a hitman hired by the Jews. When a hitman is hired both the one who issues and the one who accepts the contract are culpable. So how is Jerusalem guilty of “all the blood shed on the earth” if Rome is also partially culpable?
Throughout Revelation earth signifies Israel and sea, the Gentile nations (i.e. Rome) (see In the Bible “Earth” Signifies the Specific Land Addressed While “Sea” Symbolizes Foreign Nations). I believe a similar meaning for “earth” is intended in Mt 23:35. I believe “all the blood that has been shed on the earth from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah” refers to Jerusalem being guilty of all the bloodshed in all the land in which the Jewish people settled throughout their history going back to Genesis. Thus I believe the “earth” or land referred to in v. 35 is the land of Mesopotamia, Egypt and Palestine. Remember the “earth” as it is used in the Bible is generally a local term denoting a specific kingdom, city-state or territory. In other words, it is a specific land in focus. Interestingly, Adam and his children settled east of Eden (Genesis 3:24, 4:16) which is also where Behemoth is said to be located (1 Enoch 60:8). In Revelation 13 we see that the land beast is Behemoth (see Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary). That having been said, I do not believe Jesus intended to suggest that Jerusalem would also be guilty of all the bloodshed in Rome, the sea, under the Neronic persecution.
What about the fact that Christians were still martyred after A.D. 70? It is certainly true that many Christians were martyred after A.D. 70. However, it is critical to note that these martyrs were killed by Romans, not the people of Jerusalem. In Matthew 23:27 Jesus attributes the deaths of the prophets to the people of Jerusalem: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you[.]” In this same chapter, Jesus says that it will also be the people of Jerusalem who will kill the Christian saints and that these murderers would be punished in their generation:
“You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? Therefore I am sending you prophets and sages and teachers. Some of them you will kill and crucify; others you will flog in your synagogues and pursue from town to town. And so upon you will come all the righteous blood that has been shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah son of Berekiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. Truly I tell you, all this will come on this generation.” (Matthew 23:33-36.)
Jerusalem is the Whore of Babylon (see Revelation 17: A Preterist Commentary). The fact that Jerusalem, the Whore of Babylon, was responsible for the deaths of the saints and that she was punished in that generation for their deaths in fulfillment of Matthew 23:33-36 is stated in Revelation 19:2, “He has condemned the great prostitute [Jerusalem] who corrupted the earth by her adulteries. He has avenged on her [Jerusalem] the blood of his servants.” Jerusalem was to be punished in that generation (Mt 23:33-36) for having killed the martyrs under the altar (Rev 6:9-11, Mt 23:27-36) to avenge the deaths of those martyrs (Rev 19:2). Thus the “full number” of martyrs mentioned under the altar (Rev 6:9-11) are only those saints killed in or around Jerusalem. Of course, Jerusalem is not responsible for the deaths of the martyrs in Rome or anywhere else after A.D. 70 so the full number of martyrs of Rev 6:9-11 must have been avenged in the fall of the city responsible for killing them. In confirmation of this idea, recall that it was rich Jews of Jerusalem who killed Jesus and His people so as to avoid a financially disastrous war with Rome. Of course when that war occurred anyway there was no longer any motive for these people to go on killing the saints assuming they were still alive after to do so (see Revelation 13: A Preterist Commentary).
- Matthew 23:36. Don Preston notes the fact that the punishment for the murders of the saints of old was to fall upon that generation ultimately points to the judgment at the time of the resurrection. (Don K. Preston, We Shall Meet Him in The Air: The Wedding of the King of Kings!, (Ardmore, OK: JaDon Management Inc., 2010), 197.)
- There were almost forty-one years from the time in which Jesus began His ministry until the fall of Jerusalem and the resurrection of the dead at the last trumpet.