Experiencing the Religious Spirit
In the twenty-third chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the Word of God records Jesus’ discourse and rebuke of the Scribes and Pharisees, the religious leadership of His day. They exemplify everything that a leader of God’s people should not be. The religious spirit that was in those leaders of God’s people, is still operational today. Unfortunately many of today’s pastors are carrying the same religious baggage into their pulpits that Jesus rebuked. It is vitally important for anyone who is in ministry, or studying for a leadership position in the church, to understand what this spirit is in order to prevent it from ruining their ministry.
If we can understand what the Pharisees did wrong, we’ll get it right.
We will begin by using Matthew twenty-three as a foundation for this study.
Verse 1 – Then spoke Jesus to the multitudes and His disciples. –
In the previous chapter 22, Jesus had just finished winning another verbal duel with the scribes and Pharisees who followed Him around like flies trying to outwit God’s Son and find some error in His teaching with which they could denounce Him. They discovered that trying to outwit God is obviously impossible.
Jesus continues in verse 2 –
The scribes and Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat, -
They have an appointment as teachers of God’s Word that we are required to respect. We are to respect the position of authority of any leadership position in the church.
Verse 3 –
All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; -
When you are being told what the Bible actually says by these leaders you are to do it. –
But Jesus continues; –
But don’t do after their works, for they say and do not.
In other words, the Pharisees are hypocrites. Hypocrisy is the foundational pool in which this spirit is nurtured and breeds. No one is perfect and hypocrisy affects every Christian at some point as we progress in our walk with the Lord. But a sincere Christian does not intentionally practice hypocrisy.
Let’s stop a moment to consider the fact that the Pharisees knew the Word of God thoroughly. They had memorized all the books of the Old Testament. They had a lot of head knowledge of God, but no heart knowledge. And as we observe from Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the sinner (Luke 18:10-14), this pride in their knowledge had produced in them a self-righteous spirit that made them think they were superior to the people they viewed as sinners. They disdained eating with sinners (Luke 15:2) and would not allow themselves to be touched by a sinner. (Luke 7:39).
Their lack of love and compassion is consistent throughout all the Gospels.
Having a lot of knowledge of the Word of God is very important and necessary for ministry, but if we do not allow the Holy Spirit to use that Word to transform us, then we will fall into that same pool of hypocrisy and self-righteousness that bred the Pharisees.
We can see from the Pharisee’s example that the Word of God can then be mis-used and become a tool that can bring people into bondage, as we note in verse four. –
For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.
I think it is important to understand that when Jesus came, the Pharisees were busily adding laws and regulations to what God had originally ordained through Moses. The new laws that the Pharisees were inventing were oral at the time and were not written down until after Jesus was crucified. This became the Talmud which today is contained within the Babylonian Talmud which is used by modern orthodox Jewish leaders. In the minds of these teachers you can’t understand the Torah without it. The Babylonian Talmud is thirty-three volumes of commentaries and parts of it are pretty vile.
Because of this, today the orthodox Jews are in bondage to observe 600 laws. It is a characteristic of Satan to operate through “religion” to complicate God’s simplicity and bring people into bondage with man-made laws.
Jesus knew what the Pharisees were instigating at the time, and what it would develop into and this is why in the previous chapter twenty-two, He simplified the entirety of God’s law into just two commandments – “Love God with all your heart, soul and mind, and love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:40).
In other words, keep it simple. In simplicity there is safety. Use your knowledge of the Word of God to guard you and the people you have been sent to serve from philosophy and man-inspired doctrine that Satan will use to complicate and confuse and to lead people away from the simplicity that is in Christ (11 Corinthians 11:3).
The very first time I heard the Still Small Voice of the Lord, He said “The Blessed dwell in simplicity.” Keep it simple. Don’t let the devil complicate your ministry.
The next three verses, five through seven, are one sentence and this sentence reveals the root of the disease of Phariseeism, and that root is pride.
But all the works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments (verse 5).
The phylacteries were little boxes that held Scripture that were worn on the head or arm. The outer cases that held the box were enlarged by the Pharisees to show others that their reverence for God’s word was greater than the average person. They wore them all the time, not just when praying as was the custom of the common folk.
I imagine that no Pharisee in his wrong mind would be caught dead without wearing his phylacterie in public. Likewise, there are some pastors that feel the same way about wearing their suits. I know of one pastor who was seen mowing his lawn in his suit. He and his wife also refused to fellowship with any Christian outside their denomination.
Getting back to our text, the fringes were to remind the people to keep the commandments (Numbers 15:38,39). So the Pharisees, of course, being the most righteous of all in their minds, made sure their fringes outnumbered anyone else’s.
We conclude that the phylacteries and the fringes were status symbols to the Pharisees that were used to convey to others their spiritual superiority. Today’s equivalent, might be the amount of letters after a name. It is okay to experience fulfillment in one’s academic accomplishments, but excessive pride in your degrees can breed a Pharasitical spirit.
The Pharisees who were so steeped in their own religious superiority, but lacked any wisdom and genuine relationship with God, were mortified and humiliated by Jesus’ knowledge. He also confounded them because He had not been formally educated like them. He was just a carpenter, a common tradesman. The Pharisees were provoked to a jealousy that ultimately resulted in Jesus’ crucifixion.
The religious spirit that helped to crucify Jesus, can operate the same way when a talented, anointed individual is confronted by one of these jealous religious spirits. Remember David and Saul? The anointed David was forced to spend his early career hiding in caves from Saul’s spear.
If God raises up people within your congregation that excel, don’t be a Pharisee, encourage them don’t crucify them, or you will end up soiling your ministry before the Lord. Give all your ego problems and jealousy to Jesus and let them go.
Jesus continues in verses six and seven. –
And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues. And greetings in the markets, and to be called by men, “Rabbi, Rabbi.”
I was visiting a church in California, where a new pastor was speaking. It was his first day in his new pulpit, and he told us that his previous position was vice-president of a Christian college. He said that one of the reasons he decided to leave his job at the school and become a pastor was that he could be the number one man, instead of number two man. He actually said that. Desiring to be the number one man should not be a motive for entering into ministry.
In contrast, another pastor I met who ministered in New Jersey, refused to put the title “Pastor” on the door of his office. He choose the title, Assistant Pastor instead. To him, Jesus was the real pastor of the church and he was just there to be the Lord’s assistant.
Another pastor I met, insisted that he be addressed by everyone in his congregation as “Reverend.” I hope his wife was not forced to comply with the same rule. – “Reverend, honey, dinner’s ready.”
A Pharisee uses his position in the church as a status symbol, and loves to be called Rabbi, Rabbi, or Reverend, Reverend.
No wonder the Pharisees loved to be called Rabbi. In the original Hebrew, the word can mean, “My Great One.”
In verses eight through twelve Jesus offers words of correction to those who allow their inflated egos to run amuck in His sanctuaries.
But be not called Rabbi: for one is your Master, even Christ; and you all are brethren (verse 8).
Jesus is showing us here not to revere any man above the Lord. We are all brethren, no matter if those among us have achieved greater positions, or have acquired enormous ministries, none is more important than the other. God esteems the least, equal to those who are the greatest in the eyes of men.
Jesus continues. –
And call no man your father upon the earth: for One is your Father, which is in heaven (verse 9).
In the context of the text, Jesus is referring to religious leadership. It is okay to call your earthly daddy, father, but the title of father is not to be used to designate the status of any in religious leadership.
A father begins life. Only God begins life, and births spiritual life through Christ. Therefore, to use the title father to any in religious service is to imply that man can assume the role of life giver supplanting the Divine Authority that is God’s alone, putting man on the same level as God.
Here again, Jesus is safeguarding us against exalting church leadership to spiritually unhealthy levels.
This principle is reiterated in verse 10. –
Neither be called masters (teachers) for one is your Master, even Christ. –
Even though we can have excellent church leadership and wonderful teachers, they are brethren and fellow servants submitted to God the Father and His Son, who is the Master teacher from whom we receive the pure Word of God. Teachers are merely distributors of His original words and instructions.
When Jesus fed the five thousand, (Matthew 14: 15-21) He gave the bread, which is symbolic of His word, to His disciples and they in turn distributed that bread to feed the hungry. The Source of the bread is Jesus and this is why we must always check what we are being taught by church leadership with the Source, the actual Word of God to affirm what we are being taught is the truth according to the Scriptures.
Jesus sums it all up in verse 11. –
But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.
Jesus would illustrate this graphically to His disciples at His last supper with them before His crucifixion.
Gathered together in an upper room, the disciples watched Jesus disrobe, and wrap himself with a towel. Then He knelt before them and began to wash their feet; a task that was reserved for the lowest of servants. The foot washing normally was done before a meal. Obviously, the disciples went through the dinner with unwashed feet. Not one of the disciples volunteered to perform this lowly task for his brethren. Apparently Jesus was waiting to see if any of them would volunteer.
When Peter objected to Jesus washing his feet, he was told by His Lord, that if he did not submit to his foot washing, he could have no part of Him. It was actually Peter’s pride that initially refused to allow His Master to perform this lowliest of tasks. And that pride, if it was retrained would prevent him from being in full unity with His Master, because to be a disciple of Jesus means that His humility must be ours as well, or we can have no part of Him.
When the foot washing was complete, Jesus told them this. –
Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Master and Lord: and you say well; for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you (John 13:12-15).
The greatest among men is Jesus, the Son of God, and He was not ashamed to perform the lowest task to serve His people, and to also suffer a horrendous death to save our souls. This humility is what we as disciples are required to emulate. Those in religious service especially are to be examples of the same humility expressed by our Lord.
Jesus summarizes the principle. –
He that is greatest among you shall be your servant (verse 11).
And Jesus concludes this portion of His discourse in chapter 23 with this. –
And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased, and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted (verse 12).
The Apostle Peter reiterates Jesus’ teaching to church leadership in his first epistle. He says; -
The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder, and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking oversight thereof, not by constraint (because you have to) but willingly; not for filthy lucre (money) but of a ready mind; neither as being Lords over God’s heritage, but being examples to the flock (I Peter 5:1-3).
And that example is not ashamed to humbly serve one another, no matter what our status is in the church or in life.
Up to this point, Jesus had been addressing the crowd in general. The Pharisees were also part of that assembly. We have been shown what we need to do in order to keep from becoming a Pharisee. Now from verses thirteen to the conclusion of the chapter at verse thirty-nine, Jesus turns His attention to address the ones who actually are Pharisees. While He is specifically addressing the religious leadership of His day and their practices, we can see reflections of their behavior reoccurring in today’s religious environment.
The lesson continues in Part Two.
Jesus begins His admonishment directly to the scribes and Pharisees of His day by showing them that their present spiritual condition is making them the targets of a great deal of “woe.”
But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!...
Jesus doesn’t water down His indictments. The Pharisees and their assistants are hypocrites. You can look at these people and get a pretty good picture of what hypocrisy in religion really is. Phariseeism is hypocrisy.
For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering in.
In other words, they block those from entering by their own distorted concepts of the faith. Jesus is describing a religious leadership that has detached itself from God and become its own entity. It then will persecute and hinder anyone with a genuine faith in God.
I have a friend who is a new Christian and has made great progress in her spiritual development. She wanted to be baptized. Her pastor at the time, wanted her to give a speech before her baptism. She wasn’t comfortable about speaking in front of people, so the pastor refused to baptize her. He told her she was not ready.
Giving a speech is not a requirement for baptism. The only requirement for Baptism in the Scriptures is faith in Jesus, His death and resurrection, which my friend definitely had. We are not baptized based on our spiritual development. The pastor put a stumblingblock in the path of this woman. Then He emailed her to tell her that he baptized five people, which was designed to remind her that he did not think she was qualified for baptism. I recommended that she find another church, she did, and she was promptly baptized by Christians who were eager to welcome another member into the Lord’s family.
A Pharisee will invent regulations not found in the word of God that will hinder the spiritual development of others. The additional regulations and requirements are tools that a Pharisaical spirit will use to control and manipulate others.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widow’s houses, and for a pretense make long prayers: therefore you shall receive the greater damnation (verse 14).
We are shown in (Luke 16:14) that the Pharisees were covetous. In verse 14, we see that they are opportunists and will take advantage of the vulnerable for their own gain, all the while maintaining a façade of false spirituality.
Today we have televised religious personalities begging for money, while they have already acquired millions and can well support themselves without having to coerce a poor widow out of her last ten dollars.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, you make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves (verse 15).
Whoa, that’s quite a woe there! He calls them a child of hell. In another place Jesus is very blunt in telling them that their father is the devil (John 8:44). It shows us that the devil likes to camouflage himself in religious leadership. Be aware of that fact, especially as we continue on into the latter days.
Verse 15 is an introduction to the verses that follow, sixteen through twenty-two. As I have mentioned in part one of this study, the Pharisees were adding to the words that were originally delivered by God to Moses. Thus, when a proselyte was made by the Pharisees, the new convert was discipled into the Pharisees’ image, which was a gross deviation from the Scriptural model. The same principle applies today, when apostate church leadership seeks to disciple people into their own distorted version of Christianity and not into the image of Christ as portrayed in the pure Word of God.
Jesus goes on to illustrate this principle in verses sixteen through nineteen in regards to their practice of “swearing” or making oaths to God.
Woe to you, you blind guides, which say, ‘Whosoever shall swear by the temple, it is nothing, but whosoever shall swear by the gold of the temple, he is a debtor!’ (verse 16).
You fools and blind: for which is greater, the gold, or the temple that sanctifies the gold? (verse 17).
Jesus is directing their attention back to the Word of God from which they have strayed. In God’s original instructions to Moses, a holy anointing oil was to be made, and the tabernacle, the ark of the testimony, the table and all the vessels there and the altar, were to be anointed with the oil and sanctified, so that whatever came in contact with those holy things would in turn be sanctified by them. (Exodus 30:22-29). The Pharisees had reversed the order making the things that were offered of greater importance than the actual temple and the altar that were designed to sanctify the gifts.
And whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever swears by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty (verse 18).
You fools and blind, which is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifies the gift? (verse 19).
Jesus is telling them basically to go back to the Word and do their homework. This example reminds us that church leadership can stray from the Word of God and this is why we need to know the Word of God for ourselves, so that we can protect ourselves from being deceived by apostate church leadership, whom our Lord has described as “fools” and blind guides.” If we follow them and not the Word of God, then we too will become fools and blind like them. This is how “children of hell” (verse 15) are made according to Jesus.
Jesus goes on to show them, that when they swear, or make an oath by the altar, it includes the gift that is on it, and when they swear or make an oath by the temple they are also swearing by the God that dwells there, and if they swear by heaven, they are actually making an oath by the throne of God and God Himself. –
Whoever therefore shall swear by the altar, swears by it, and by all things upon it (verse 20).
And whosoever shall swear by the temple, swears by it, and by Him that dwells there (verse 21).
And he that swears by heaven, swears by the throne of God, and by Him that sits there (verse 22).
In these examples we ascend from the altar, to the temple and then to heaven. He is showing the Pharisees and us that we cannot separate what God has ordained as holy from Himself and it is not for us to redesign God’s Word to suit ourselves. In other words, the Pharisees were giving the people permission to make an oath by the temple, or the altar and if they could not keep their vows, then they would not be held accountable to God. Jesus is telling them that whenever they swear by any of these holy things, gift or altar they would be held accountable, because they are basically swearing by the God of heaven. Leviticus 19:12 – And you shall not swear by My name falsely, neither shall you profane the name of your God: I am the Lord.
This is why Jesus instructs us not to make oaths at all, (Matthew 5:33-37) for He is quite aware of the frailties of human nature and our inability at times to not perform what we have promised.
We proceed to yet another woe. This one concerns the Pharisees outward show of “religion.”
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these you ought to have done, and not to leave the other undone (verse 23).
They also most likely had a perfect record of church attendance. This reminds me of a pastor I met who needed some counseling before he did a funeral for a member of his church, who had been a chronic problem. He was always causing trouble and did not operate in a spirit of Christian love. He finally repented on his death bed, but the pastor really didn’t have any good thing to say about the man and he was at a loss as to how to proceed with the funeral. He finally did the funeral, and he decided to be honest. He used the testimony of the man’s life as an example of what a Christian should not be, but rejoiced in the repentance and change of heart the man had at the end of his life. The pastor and the congregation were able to celebrate the beautiful redemption provided for us through our Lord’s abundant mercy, a mercy that this poor soul had failed to exhibit in most of his adult life.
He, like the Pharisees, paid tithes, went to church and did all those outward things, but he was missing the mark when it came to exhibiting the fruits of Christ in his life.
Jesus tells the Pharisees here that it’s good to pay tithes and do the things that they were instructed to do by the law at that time, but not to neglect the things that are really important to God. He is more concerned about who we become in Christ than those religious things we do.
In the next verse, Jesus says regarding this issue; –
You blind guides, which strain at a gnat and swallow a camel (verse 24).
I always imagine Jesus getting a good laugh on this one liner from the crowd that was listening. The Pharisees were making a big deal about less important things (the gnats) that made them look righteous before others, but in the process, were biting off more than they can chew, so to speak. They were inviting judgment upon themselves from God, for not judging righteously in the things that matter the most.
Church leadership that is not being led by the Holy Spirit of God, can bring the people they profess to serve into a spirit of legalistic bondage. Sadly, the “gnats” of legalism are still swarming in many churches today.
The purpose of the law is to guide us to holiness. Jesus is showing the Pharisees that even though they thought they were keeping the law, they were not holy.
We must be exhorted to self-examination to protect us from developing a self-righteous Pharisaical spirit.
If we judge ourselves, we shall not be judged (I Cor. 11:31). This is why, in Jesus’ parable of the Pharisee and the sinner (Luke 18: 1014), the sinner was justified, and the self-righteous Pharisee was not.
Up to this point we have been merely chiseling our way through the crust, we have now been brought to the heart of the matter – literally.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you make clean the outside of the cup and platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess (verse 25).
We look at the Pharisees and recognize that unless we seriously examine ourselves in the Light of Christ and His Holy Word, we too, can end up operating with Pharisaical spirits. The reformation of the inner man is most important, and to be conformed into the image of Christ through the work of His Holy Spirit, is the ultimate goal of the Christian life. When we lose sight of this fact, then the church can become a club for the practice of religious pomposity.
I have learned that when someone has a “religious spirit” and if they can be brought to recognize that they need to focus on allowing God to reform their inner man, the Pharisaical spirit can be eventually removed.
Jesus continues to reinforce us in the importance of inner reformation in verses 26 through 28. –
You blind Pharisees, clean first that which is within the cup and platter that the outside of them may be clean also (verse 26).
Jesus is telling us all what needs to be done. The inner cup and platter of our spirit and soul, must be cleansed to prevent us from becoming Pharisees. Jesus removes our sins and saves us by His death on the cross, which also enables us to receive the Holy Spirit so our inner perfecting work can begin. Repentance and confession before the Lord, and a willingness to allow Him to do what He wants to do in our innermost beings is an absolute necessity.
This is what true discipleship is all about. This is what makes the difference between a “religious” Christian and a real disciple of Jesus. We all start with our rough edges, but we must remain still before Him in prayer time and Bible study, to allow His gentle Holy Spirit hands to reform these irregular clay pots into vessels He can use.
If we don’t follow Jesus’ instructions in this matter, we, like the Pharisees will share in the next woe.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness (verse 27).
A Pharisee is like a beautiful tomb on the outside, and a rotting corpse on the inside. Makes you want to run away from this graveyard as fast as you can, doesn’t it? Is this the reason why so many people don’t want to attend church? The religious spirit is a dead spirit, for it will not allow the Holy Spirit to reform them, there is no genuine life of Christ inside. It’s all a show.
Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but within you are full of hypocrisy and iniquity (verse 28).
When the church does not make discipling people into the image of Christ according to the Biblical pattern seriously, it can become a breeding ground for Pharisees.
Holiness is important and a genuine holiness originates on the inside and manifests itself outwardly over time. In its maturity it is consistent, and a believer will respond to life’s changes as Jesus would respond.
We are to abide in the Vine of Christ (John 15), for we recognize that we are totally dependent upon God in Christ, and without Jesus we can do nothing (John 15:5).
A pharisaical spirit, is a prideful, independent spirit, and the root of this spirit is satan himself as we shall see. He will operate in a Pharisee to do as much damage as he can to the cause of Christ, to discredit and malign true Christians by mis-representing them through these apostate “religious” people.
As we near the conclusion of the twenty-third chapter of Matthew, there is a change in the narrative. We have been shown for the most part what a Pharisee is, now Jesus is turning our attention to view the fruits of Phariseeism. This encompasses the last “woe” of Jesus’ rebuke to these religious leaders.
In these verses He is being specific to the leadership of His day, but again, the principle applies to all who are not exhibiting the fruits of Christ.
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets, and garnish the sepulchers of the righteous (verse 29).
They were making memorials to the prophets that their ancestors had martyred, yet they refused to learn from their example, as Jesus reminds them. –
And say, ‘If we had been in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partakers with them in the blood of the prophets’ (verse 30).
The God who can read hearts knows better. Jesus says in essence, “Oh, Yeah?” In another place he accuses them of being murderers (John 8:44). They proved Him right and delivered Him to Pilate for execution as Jesus accurately foretold. This same spirit operated abundantly through church leadership during the infamous inquisition. It was a different period of time but the same Pharisaical spirit had entrenched itself in the church with devastating results. No one who is truly in Christ will deliberately do harm to another human being. Jesus said we will know them by their fruits. A good tree cannot produce evil fruit and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit (Matthew 7:18).
The Pharisees were produced from the same tree that rejected God’s instructions and refused correction from His prophets.
Wherefore you are witnesses unto yourselves, that you are the children of them which killed the prophets (verse30).
Therefore they will live up to the image of their forefathers. –
Fill you up then the measure of your fathers.
Which tree are we growing from? The true Spirit of Jesus or a religious counterfeit?
In the next verse Jesus likens them to serpents and poisonous vipers. Satan was likened to a serpent in Eden, so Jesus is making it very clear to these ones who they are emulating in their religion. –
You serpents, you generation of vipers, how can you escape the damnation of hell? (verse 33).
This is an excellent question. If the Pharisees had stopped to ponder it, the outcome of their lives would have been considerably different. Repentance is the key, but a Pharisee is too prideful to repent and allow God to change them.
Even though God knows these people will not repent, He will still send His prophets to warn them, as He does to this day. -
Wherefore, behold, I send unto you prophets, and wise men, and scribes: and some of them shall you scourge in your synagogues, and persecute them from city to city: (verse 34).
God is a just God, and He will not condemn anyone to hellfire without giving them the chance to understand what they doing wrong and allowing them time to repent of their deeds.
Jesus is also prophesying of a time in the future when Christians would be persecuted by this same Pharisaical spirit. It is the same spirit that has operated throughout the centuries to persecute the Christian church; and this persecution will intensify as we near the time of Jesus’ second coming.
Jesus said that His people would be persecuted by members of their own house (Matthew 10:36). This would include family members as well as those professing to be fellow Christians.
The apostle Paul prophesied of a last apostasy (II Thess. 2:3) and the apostate Christian church will be one of the major persecutors of true Christians who have kept themselves from that apostasy by cleaving to Jesus and the Holy Scriptures.
The persecution of God’s chosen will result in judgment as exemplified by the following verse thirty-five.
That upon you may come all the righteous blood shed upon the earth,…
Here Jesus is specifically addressing the religious leadership of His day. He is telling them that the same religious spirit that is infecting them, is also responsible for all the religious persecution that preceded them –
“from the blood of righteous Abel …
We see Cain making his offering to God of the fruits of his own labor from ground that God had cursed (Genesis 3:17, 4:3-5). Cain’s offering was rejected, igniting a jealous fire against his brother whose offering from his flock God received. Abel’s gift was symbolic of the sacrifice that clothed his parents, and that sacrifice represents the final sacrifice that Jesus made to redeem mankind (Isaiah 53) and remove their sins with His precious blood. Therefore Abel’s gift, which is symbolic of the Lamb of God to come, was accepted, for only an act of God is capable of removing sin from the corrupt inner heart of man.
Cain’s religious offering representing his works or own efforts could never be accepted by God.
So we see from this example that those who are relying on their own works or self-effort to justify themselves before God, may end up like Cain, persecuting those who are relying on God’s chosen plan of redemption that He has foreordained through the Messiah Jesus. The same murderous religious spirit that operated within Cain to kill his own brother, can also operate through any religion that rejects Jesus as the sole redeemer of mankind, and the persecution of true Christians will continue to increase.
Jesus continues -
…to the blood of Zacharias son of Barachias, whom you slew between the temple and the altar.”
Here Jesus is referring to Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. According to the Protevangelion, which is contained in the Christian apocrypha and is attributed to be written by James, the apostle and the Lord’s brother, Zacharias was slain between the temple and the altar. –
However Zacharias was murdered in the entrance of the temple and the altar, and about the partition; (Protevangelion 16:16).
According to James’ account, Zacharias was slain by Herod who thought that Zacharias’ son, may be the prophesied one the jealous king was trying to eliminate through his slaughter of the children. Elizabeth had fled with the infant John into the wilderness. When Zacharias refused to disclose their location to Herod, he was murdered for that cause.
The Jews did not like Herod, so to be likened to him in the murder of Zacharias, Jesus was again linking their murderous religious spirit with one who possessed the same hideous disease, and at the same time Jesus was also hurling at them a devastating insult. Jesus is trying to get them to see a reflection of themselves in this one they despised. The purpose again, is to bring them to repentance, which sadly never happened.
In verse 36 Jesus declares; –
Verily I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.
The blood that was shed by this religious spirit would bring judgment upon that particular generation, meaning Jesus’ generation. The rejection of Jesus as the Messiah, would open the door for that judgment, which would ultimately result in the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.
O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you that kills the prophets, and stones them which are sent to you, how often would I have gathered your children together, even as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you would not (verse 37).
God chose the Jews to be the womb through which He would birth redemption for all of mankind. They are His special chosen vessels, and while they have missed the mark on many occasions, bringing them into the Babylonian captivity and causing them to endure many other hardships, God has never forsaken or abandoned them for the sake of the Patriarchs (Romans 11:28). So while great judgments await them for following an apostate religious leadership, there is also great hope for their restoration.
Behold, your house is left unto you desolate (verse 38).
Their house would be desolate, they would face great destruction then and in the future, but Jesus cradles a promise in His words that someday they would welcome the ones they previously rejected when they finally recognize that Jesus really is the prophesied Messiah.
For I say to you, you shall not see me again, until you shall say, ‘Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord’ (verse 39).
Jesus is prophesizing of a time of evangelism when the Jews would again be restored to their own land. That time has come and once again the Jews have the opportunity to hear the Gospel proclaimed upon their own soil. There is hope for them and all who are willing to put aside their man-inspired religious indoctrinations and open their hearts to the truth of the Word of God that has been proclaimed from the beginning of creation.
As we conclude this study we must keep in mind that this evil, religious spirit that has slithered its way through the centuries and the entire church age, will be one of the major persecutors of the church in the last days, which I believe we are living now. We must remember that it is a spirit and it is not confined to any particular race or ideology. While Jesus was rebuking this spirit in the Jewish leadership of His day who were infected with this disease, it has no racial barriers. Anyone in any denomination or religion can catch it and wreak havoc in the name of religion.
Let’s keep in mind what we have learned and guard ourselves from emulating that compassionless example of religious leadership that God has used as an example for us to contemplate.
Copyright 2015 by H.D. Shively
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