Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary

Verses 34-39 (Matthew 23:34-39)

We have left the blind leaders fallen into the ditch, under Christ?s sentence, into the damnation of hell; let us see what will become of the blind followers, of the body of the Jewish church, and particularly Jerusalem.

I. Jesus Christ designs yet to try them with the means of grace; I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes. The connection is strange; ?You are a generation of vipers, not likely to escape the damnation of hell;? one would think it should follow, ?Therefore you shall never have a prophet sent to you any more;? but no, ?Therefore I will send unto you prophets, to see if you will yet at length be wrought upon, or else to leave you inexcusable, and to justify God in your ruin.? It is therefore ushered in with a note of admiration, behold! Observe,

1. It is Christ that sends them; I send. By this he avows himself to be God, having power to gift and commission prophets. It is an act of kingly office; he sends them as ambassadors to treat with us about the concerns of our souls. After his resurrection, he made this word good, when he said, So send I you, John 20:21. Though now he appeared mean, yet he was entrusted with this great authority.

2. He sends them to the Jews first; ?I send them to you.? They began at Jerusalem; and, wherever they went, they observed this rule, to make the first tender of gospel grace to the Jews, Acts 13:46.

3. Those he sends are called prophets, wise men, and scribes, Old-Testament names for New-Testament officers; to show that the ministers sent to them now should not be inferior to the prophets of the Old Testament, to Solomon the wise, or Ezra the scribe. The extraordinary ministers, who in the first ages were divinely inspired, were as the prophets commissioned immediately from heaven; the ordinary settled ministers, who were then, and continue in the church still, and will do to the end of time, are as the wise men and scribes, to guide and instruct the people in the things of God. Or, we may take the apostles and evangelists for the prophets and wise men, and the pastors and teachers for the scribes, instructed to the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 13:52); for the office of a scribe was honourable till the men dishonoured it.

II. He foresees and foretels the ill usage that his messengers would meet with among them; ?Some of them ye shall kill and crucify, and yet I will send them.? Christ knows beforehand how ill his servants will be treated, and yet sends them, and appoints them their measure of sufferings; yet he loves them never the less for his thus exposing them, for he designs to glorify himself by their sufferings, and them after them; he will counter-balance them, though not prevent them. Observe,

1. The cruelty of these persecutors; Ye shall kill and crucify them. It is no less than the blood, the life-blood, that they thirst after; their lust is not satisfied with any thing short of their destruction, Exod. 15:9. They killed the two James?s, crucified Simon the son of Cleophas, and scourged Peter and John; thus did the members partake of the sufferings of the Head, he was killed and crucified, and so were they. Christians must expect to resist unto blood.

2. Their unwearied industry; Ye shall persecute them from city to city. As the apostles went from city to city, to preach the gospel, the Jews dodged them, and haunted them, and stirred up persecution against them, Acts 14:19; 17:13. They that did not believe in Judea were more bitter enemies to the gospel than any other unbelievers, Rom. 15:31.

3. The pretence of religion in this; they scourged them in their synagogues, their place of worship, where they kept their ecclesiastical courts; so that they did it as a piece of service to the church; cast them out, and said, Let the Lord be glorified, Isa. 66:5; John 16:2.

III. He imputes the sin of their fathers to them, because they imitated it; That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, Matt. 23:35, 36. Though God bear long with a persecuting generation, he will not bear always; and patience abused, turns into the greatest wrath. The longer sinners have been heaping up treasures of wickedness, the deeper and fuller will the treasures of wrath be; and the breaking of them up will be like breaking up the fountains of the great deep.

Observe, 1. The extent of this imputation; it takes in all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, that is, the blood shed for righteousness? sake, which has all been laid up in God?s treasury, and not a drop of it lost, for it is precious. Ps. 72:14. He dates the account from the blood of righteous Abel, thence this aera martyrum?age of martyrs?commences; he is called righteous Abel, for he obtained witness from heaven, that he was righteous, God testifying of his gifts. How early did martyrdom come into the world! The first that died, died for his religion, and, being dead, he yet speaketh. His blood not only cried against Cain, but continues to cry against all that walk in the way of Cain, and hate and persecute their brother, because their works are righteous. He extends it to the blood of Zacharias, the son of Barachias (Matt. 23:36), not Zecharias the prophet (as some would have it), though he was the son of Barachias (Zech. 1:1) nor Zecharias the father of John Baptist, as others say; but, as is most probable, Zechariah the son of Jehoiada, who was slain in the court of the Lord?s house, 2 Chron. 24:20, 21. His father is called Barachias, which signifies much the same with Jehoiada; and it was usual among the Jews for the same person to have two names; whom ye slew, ye of this nation, though not of this generation. This is specified, because the requiring of that is particularly spoken of (2 Chron. 24:22), as that of Abel?s is. The Jews imagined that the captivity had sufficiently atoned for the guilt; but Christ lets them know that it was not yet fully accounted for, but remained upon the score. And some think that this is mentioned with a prophetical hint, for there was one Zecharias, the son of Baruch, whom Josephus speaks of (War 4. 335), who was a just and good man, who was killed in the temple a little before it was destroyed by the Romans. Archbishop Tillotson thinks that Christ both alludes to the history of the former Zecharias in Chronicles, and foretels the death of this latter in Josephus. Though the latter was not yet slain, yet, before this destruction comes, it would be true that they had slain him; so that all shall be put together from first to last.

2. The effect of it; All these things shall come; all the guilt of this blood, all the punishment of it, it shall all come upon this generation. The misery and ruin that are coming upon them, shall be so very great, that, though, considering the evil of their own sins, it was less that even those deserved; yet, comparing it with other judgments, it will seem to be a general reckoning for all the wickedness of their ancestors, especially their persecutions, to all which God declared this ruin to have special reference and relation. The destruction shall be so dreadful, as if God had once for all arraigned them for all the righteous blood shed in the world. It shall come upon this generation; which intimates, that it shall come quickly; some here shall live to see it. Note, The sorer and nearer the punishment of sin is, the louder is the call to repentance and reformation.

IV. He laments the wickedness of Jerusalem, and justly upbraids them with the many kind offers he had made them, Matt. 23:37. See with what concern he speaks of that city; O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! The repetition is emphatical, and bespeaks abundance of commiseration. A day or two before Christ had wept over Jerusalem, now he sighed and groaned over it. Jerusalem, the vision of peace (so it signifies), must now be the seat of war and confusion. Jerusalem, that had been the joy of the whole earth, must now be a hissing, and an astonishment, and a by-word; Jerusalem, that has been a city compact together, shall now be shattered and ruined by its own intestine broils. Jerusalem, the place that God has chosen to put his name there, shall now be abandoned to the spoil and the robbers, Lam. 1:1; 4:1. But wherefore will the Lord do all this to Jerusalem? Why? Jerusalem hath grievously sinned, Lam. 1:8.

1. She persecuted God?s messengers; Thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee. This sin is especially charged upon Jerusalem; because there the Sanhedrim, or great council, sat, who took cognizance of church matters, and therefore a prophet could not perish but in Jerusalem, Luke 13:33. It is true, they had not now a power to put any man to death, but they killed the prophets in popular tumults, mobbed them, as Stephen, and put the Roman powers on to kill them. At Jerusalem, where the gospel was first preached, it was first persecuted (Acts 8:1), and that place was the head-quarters of the persecutors; thence warrants were issued out to other cities, and thither the saints were brought bound, Acts 9:2. Thou stonest them: that was a capital punishment, in use only among the Jews. By the law, false prophets and seducers were to be stoned (Deut. 13:10), under colour of which law, they put the true prophets to death. Note, It has often been the artifice of Satan, to turn that artillery against the church, which was originally planted in the defence of it. Brand the true prophets as seducers, and the true professors of religion as heretics and schismatics, and then it will be easy to persecute them. There was abundance of other wickedness in Jerusalem; but this was the sin that made the loudest cry, and which God had an eye to more than any other, in bringing that ruin upon them, as 2 Kgs. 24:4; 2 Chron. 36:16. Observe, Christ speaks in the present tense; Thou killest, and stonest; for all they had done, and all they would do, was present to Christ?s notice.

2. She refused and rejected Christ, and gospel offers. The former was a sin without remedy, this against the remedy. Here is, (1.) The wonderful grace and favour of Jesus Christ toward them; How often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings! Thus kind and condescending are the offers of gospel grace, even to Jerusalem?s children, bad as she is, the inhabitants, the little ones not excepted. [1.] The favour proposed was the gathering of them. Christ?s design is to gather poor souls, gather them in from their wanderings, gather them home to himself, as the Centre of unity; for to him must the gathering of the people be. He would have taken the whole body of the Jewish nation into the church, and so gathered them all (as the Jews used to speak of proselytes) under the wings of the Divine Majesty. It is here illustrated by a humble similitude; as a hen clucks her chickens together. Christ would have gathered them, First, With such a tenderness of affection as the hen does, which has, by instinct, a peculiar concern for her young ones. Christ?s gathering of souls, comes from his love, Jer. 31:3. Secondly, For the same end. The hen gathered her chickens under her wings, for protection and safety, and for warmth and comfort; poor souls have in Christ both refuge and refreshment. The chickens naturally run to the hen for shelter, when they are threatened by the birds of prey; perhaps Christ refers to that promise (Ps. 91:4), He shall cover thee with his feathers. There is healing under Christ?s wings (Mal. 4:2); that is more than the hen has for her chickens.

[2.] The forwardness of Christ to confer this favour. His offers are, First, Very free; I would have done it. Jesus Christ is truly willing to receive and save poor souls that come to him. He desires not their ruin, he delights in their repentance. Secondly, Very frequent; How often! Christ often came up to Jerusalem, preached, and wrought miracles there; and the meaning of all this, was, he would have gathered them. He keeps account how often his calls have been repeated. As often as we have heard the sound of the gospel, as often as we have felt the strivings of the Spirit, so often Christ would have gathered us.

[3.] Their wilful refusal of this grace and favour; Ye would not. How emphatically is their obstinacy opposed to Christ?s mercy! I would, and ye would not. He was willing to save them, but they were not willing to be saved by him. Note, It is wholly owing to the wicked wills of sinners, that they are not gathered under the wings of the Lord Jesus. They did not like the terms upon which Christ proposed to gather them; they loved their sins, and yet trusted to their righteousness; they would not submit either to the grace of Christ or to his government, and so the bargain broke off.

V. He reads Jerusalem?s doom (Matt. 23:38, 39); Therefore behold your house is left unto you desolate. Both the city and the temple, God?s house and their own, all shall be laid waste. But it is especially meant of the temple, which they boasted of, and trusted to; that holy mountain because of which they were so haughty. Note, they that will not be gathered by the love and grace of Christ shall be consumed and scattered by his wrath; I would, and you would not. Israel would none of me, so I gave them up, Ps. 81:11, 12.

1. Their house shall be deserted; It is left unto you. Christ was now departing from the temple, and never came into it again, but by this word abandoned it to ruin. They doated on it, would have it to themselves; Christ must have no room or interest there. ?Well,? saith Christ, ?it is left to you; take it, and make your best of it; I will never have any thing more to do with it.? They had made it a house of merchandise, and a den of thieves, and so it is left to them. Not long after this, the voice was heard in the temple, ?Let us depart hence.? When Christ went, Ichabod, the glory departed. Their city also was left to them, destitute of God?s presence and grace; he was no longer a wall of fire about them, nor the glory in the midst of them.

2. It shall be desolate; It is left unto you desolate; it is left eremos?a wilderness. (1.) It was immediately, when Christ left it, in the eyes of all that understood themselves, a very dismal melancholy place. Christ?s departure makes the best furnished, best replenished place a wilderness, though it be the temple, the chief place of concourse; for what comfort can there be where Christ is not? Though there may be a crowd of other contentments, yet, if Christ?s special spiritual presence be withdrawn, that soul, that place, is become a wilderness, a land of darkness, as darkness itself. This comes of men?s rejecting Christ, and driving him away from them. (2.) It was, not long after, destroyed and ruined, and not one stone left upon another. The lot of Jerusalem?s enemies will now become Jerusalem?s lot, to be made of a city a heap, of a defenced city a ruin (Isa. 25:2), a lofty city laid low, even to the ground, Isa. 26:5. The temple, that holy and beautiful house, became desolate. When God goes out, all enemies break in.

Lastly, Here is the final farewell that Christ took of them and their temple; Ye shall not see me henceforth, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh. This bespeaks.

1. His departure from them. The time was at hand, when he should leave the world, to go to his Father, and be seen no more. After his resurrection, he was seen only by a few chosen witnesses, and they saw him not long, but he soon removed to the invisible world, and there will be till the time of the restitution of all things, when his welcome at his first coming will be repeated with loud acclamations; Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord. Christ will not be seen again till he come in the clouds, and every eye shall see him (Rev. 1:7); and then, even they, who, when time was, rejected and pierced him, will be glad to come in among his adorers; then every knee shall bow to him, even those that had bowed to Baal; and even the workers of iniquity will then cry, Lord, Lord, and will own, when his wrath is kindled, that blessed are all they that put their trust in him. Would we have our lot in that day with those that say, Blessed is he that cometh? let us be with them now, with them that truly worship, and truly welcome, Jesus Christ.

2. Their continued blindness and obstinacy; Ye shall not see me, that is, not see me to be the Messiah (for otherwise they did see him upon the cross), not see the light of the truth concerning me, nor the things that belong to your peace, till ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh. They will never be convinced, till Christ?s second coming convince them, when it will be too late to make an interest in him, and nothing will remain but a fearful looking for of judgment. Note, (1.) Wilful blindness is often punished with judicial blindness. If they will not see, they shall not see. With this word he concludes his public preaching. After his resurrection, which was the sign of the prophet Jonas, they should have no other sign given them, till they should see the sign of the Son of man, Matt. 24:30. (2.) When the Lord comes with ten thousand of his saints, he will convince all, and will force acknowledgments from the proudest of his enemies, of his being the Messiah, and even they shall be found liars to him. They that would not now come at his call, shall then be forced to depart with his curse. The chief priests and scribes were displeased with the children for crying hosanna to Christ; but the day is coming, when proud persecutors would gladly be found in the condition of the meanest and poorest they now trample upon. They who now reproach and ridicule the hosannas of the saints will be of another mind shortly; it were therefore better to be of that mind now. Some make this to refer to the conversion of the Jews to the faith of Christ; then they shall see him, and own him, and say, Blessed is he that cometh; but it seems rather to look further, for the complete manifestation of Christ, and conviction of sinners, are reserved to be the glory of the last day.

- Matthew Henry's Complete Commentary