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When the Pharisee disputed Jesus’ practice of not washing his hands before eating in Luke 11:38, he uncovered an entire range of important issues that came rushing to the surface. The primary issue was whether God was pleased with outward rituals or the inward condition of the heart. Luke 11:41 says,
41 But give that which is within as charity [eleamosuna, “alms”], and then all things are clean for you.
Giving alms to the poor was good, but if it was done only as a duty, or to get some benefit in return, then it missed the whole point of giving alms. Duties are obligations imposed by the command of another. It is only when one gives out of love from the heart that the alms carry weight with God. In fact, Jesus says, this is what makes their actions “clean” in the sight of God.
This is the true basis of all of the laws concerning cleansing. In the law there were many cleansing rituals that God commanded in various circumstances. To be “clean” involved being fit to approach God and to be eligible for divine service. But outward rituals were only designed to teach people the deeper spiritual truth about a “clean” relationship with God. Such inner cleanliness was manifested not by fulfilling duties but by giving out of a heart of love.
Giving alms in an outward manner is limited, because few give everything that they possess. But giving in an inward manner is unlimited, because such people give all that is within them. Further, as Lightfoot tells us,
“For indeed, this principle was the spawn of their own schools, that giving of alms had a value in it that served for atonement, justification, salvation, every thing… And hence is it that, in those numberless places in the Holy Scriptures, where the praises of justice and righteousness are celebrated, and all the blessings of it pronounced, they apply it all to the giving of alms…. Almsgiving delivereth from sudden death, and from the judgment of hell. R. Meir saith, If any wicked man should make this objection, that if your God love the poor, why doth he not feed them? do make this answer; it is, that we by them might be delivered from the judgment of hell.” (Commentary, Vol. III, p. 122)
The effect of this rabbinic teaching was that people gave alms as penance to atone for sin, to attain justification, and to gain favor with God. Almsgiving, then, was reduced to a commercial enterprise to purchase favor with God. The inner desire to help others in need was overlooked, as the poor became the means by which others might obtain atonement. Even beggars themselves found themselves in the strange position of being a necessary part of the community, providing a quasi-priestly service to others as the means for their being “delivered from the judgment of hell.”
In the context of Luke’s narrative, those who truly heard the word of God were filled with the light of the Holy Spirit, and so all of their works are done by nature. That is, the nature and character of God is within them, and so they are givers by nature.
The traditions of men, taught by the Pharisees and lawyers, distorted the word, added to it the ideas of men, and confused men’s works with their character. Jesus showed that washing one’s hands before eating does nothing to cleanse the heart, and for this reason Jesus had little or no interest in performing this ritual. He and others are “clean” because of the inner light, which is the heart and nature of God Himself.
Luke 11:42 continues,
42 But woe to you Pharisees! For you pay tithe of mint and rue and every kind of garden herb, and yet disregard justice and the love of God; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.
Rue was a shrub that had medicinal value. Many grew it in their gardens and paid tithe on it along with all other vegetables. Jesus did not instruct the people to omit the tithe. The problem was that their precision in calculating their tithe on each vegetable distracted them from the real issue of “justice and the love of God.”
Luke 11:43, 44 says,
43 Woe to you Pharisees! For you love the front seats in the synagogues, and the respectful greetings in the market places. 44 Woe to you! For you are the concealed tombs, and the people who walk over them are unaware of it.
A “concealed tomb” is an interesting metaphor. The Greek word for “concealed” is adela, “unseen.” It carries the same meaning as hades, made up of alpha and eido. The alpha makes it a negative, and eido means “to see or perceive.” Hence, hades literally means “the unseen” or “imperceptible.” It is a state of being, rather than a location, and hence, when men die, their souls descend to hades (or “hell”). Their souls are said to descend into a state of sleep (Ps. 13:3; 1 Cor. 11:30), not perceiving anything in their soulish (mental) or physical senses. The spirit, on the other hand, has a consciousness (mind) of its own and is never said to “sleep” but to “return to God” (Eccl. 12:7; Luke 23:46).
So when Jesus called the Pharisees “unseen tombs,” He was calling their bodies “tombs” and linking their hearts to the death condition of hades because they were unable to see, hear, or perceive the word that Jesus was teaching. Furthermore, the people also were unaware of the Pharisees’ heart condition, so they walked over these tombs unaware of their contact with death. Only by hearing the word and receiving the light of revelation through Jesus’ teachings could the people come forth from their grave condition.
Of course, contact with the dead made people unclean in the law. Therefore, when the people were touched, or influenced, by the teachings of the Pharisee “tombs,” the people were rendered unclean without realizing it.
Luke 11:45 says,
45 And one of the lawyers said to Him in reply, “Teacher, when You say this, You insult us too.”
Unfortunately, the problem permeated the entire religious culture in Judea. Though not of the sect of the Pharisees (as his words indicate), this lawyer was thought to be an expert on the law and apparently taught the same outward ritualism that the Pharisees believed. So he complained that he too was being insulted. But Jesus replied,
46 But He said, “Woe to you lawyers as well! For you weigh men down with burdens hard to bear, while you yourselves will not even touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”
The “burdens” in question were the multitude of legalistic requirements that the rabbis had set forth in their traditions. These were their interpretations of the law which often went far beyond the text of the law itself. Instead of being content with teaching the law itself, they established thousands of specific applications of the law in daily life.
Jesus overthrew these cumbersome burdens in favor of the heart and essentially left it to each individual to be led by the Spirit in those matters that were not specifically commanded in the law. The religious leaders, however, saw this as a violation of the law, because they confused their interpretations with the law itself.
The next “woe” was perhaps the most serious charge. Luke 11:47, 48 says,
47 Woe to you! For you build the tombs of the prophets, and it was your fathers who killed them. 48 Consequently, you are witnesses and approve the deeds of your fathers; because it was they who killed them, and you build their tombs.
The prophets were not killed for being true prophets. The civil and religious leaders of their day killed them because they were charged as false prophets. The prophets prophesied things that went against the common understanding of the leaders and their prophets. The true prophets were executed for going against the traditions of men, which were the commonly accepted views of their time.
The people of Jesus’ day had the same heart problem. Hence, they would plot soon against Jesus in the same manner that their fathers had plotted against the prophets in earlier times. The problem was not that the scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers had built tombs to honor the prophets posthumously. One could hardly fault them for this. This condemnation should be viewed in the light of Jesus’ previous metaphor about the Pharisees being unseen tombs.
Their fathers killed the prophets, and the succeeding generations honored those same prophets. How did they honor them? By claiming those prophets as their own, as if they disagreed with their forefathers and were in agreement with the dead prophets. This is established in Matthew’s account, where he says in Matt. 23:30,
30 and say, “If we had been living in the days of our fathers, we would not have been partners with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.”
Yet those dead prophets were no longer alive to dispute their claim. The prophets spoke with the same light of revelation that was seen in Jesus, and if they had been alive in Jesus’ day, they too would have been executed by those who had put away the law to maintain their traditions of men.
It was the traditions of men that had brought about the death of the prophets; those same carnal understandings prevailed in the hearts and minds of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. These religious leaders were unseen tombs. In building tombs for the prophets, they had encased the prophets in the traditions of men who themselves were tombs. Their actions seemed to make the claim that these later generations agreed with the word of the prophets; but in actuality, it claimed that those prophets were in agreement with the religious leaders of later generations.
Because the real issues remained unchanged, this later generation were said to be the “children” of those who persecuted the prophets. This was a common Hebrew metaphor indicating that people were following in the footsteps of their “fathers.” Genealogy was subordinated to following the example of the predecessors.
Luke 11:49 continues,
49 For this reason also the Wisdom of God said, I will send to them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and some they will persecute, in order that the blood of all the prophets, shed since the foundation of the world, may be charged against this generation.
The Wisdom of God is Jesus Himself. This is shown in Matt. 23:34, where Jesus Himself spoke these words without quoting the Old Testament or an apocryphal book. Jesus expands the issue by taking it back to its prophetic roots since the day Cain murdered Abel.
I explained these roots more fully in my book, The Genesis Book of Psalms, where Psalm 2 prophesies of the roots of all martyrdom from the story of Cain and Abel.
The judgments of God are pronounced against the guilty when the offense occurs; but God then gives a grace period to give people time to repent before the judgment is actually executed. This is apparent at the beginning with Adam’s sin, for if he had been executed immediately, history would have ended almost as soon as it had begun.
Because men are mortal, the execution of judgment usually comes in succeeding generations, falling upon those who follow the example of the original offender. Hence, the fathers and the children are considered to be one. So when the grace period ends, that generation pays the penalty not only for their own sin, but they take upon themselves the liability for the sins of their fathers whom they have imitated in their actions.
Those who find grace are exempt from the judgments of God, for they do not imitate the offending man or nation against whom the judgment was pronounced. These blessed ones hear a different voice and thus have a different “father,” legally speaking.
So how will this judgment come upon the spiritual children of those who killed the prophets and saints?
When John saw the fall of Mystery Babylon, its fall uncovered the blood of all the martyrs. Rev. 18:24 says,
24 And in her was found the blood of prophets and of saints and of all who have been slain on the earth.
So the “generation” (i.e, “offspring”) of those in Jerusalem who killed the prophets are liable because they are part of Mystery Babylon, a system of government that usurped the authority of Shem and Abraham in Genesis 11. Originally, Shem had departed from Shinar after Nimrod had usurped power and had built his capital at Babylon. Shem built Jerusalem for the legitimate Kingdom of God on earth.
However, in later centuries the Judahites corrupted themselves, turning Jerusalem, “City of Peace,” into a city of rebellion against God. The prophets then called it “City of Blood,” or “the bloody city” (Ezekiel 22:2, 24:6, 9; Nah. 3:1). The presence of God then abandoned the city (Ezekiel 11:23) in favor of a New Jerusalem, whose temple is comprised of the true believers (1 Cor. 3:16).
The old Jerusalem, then, is shown to be “Hagar” (Gal. 4:25), the capital of Old Covenant bondage, which cannot inherit the promises of God. It must be “cast out” in favor of the New Jerusalem (“Sarah”), Paul concludes in Gal. 4:30. The old Jerusalem is then classed with immoral Sodom and taskmaster Egypt in Rev. 11:8, where we read,
8 And their dead bodies will lie in the street of the great city which mystically is called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified [i.e., old Jerusalem].
In other words, Jerusalem, Sodom, and Egypt have become synonymous with Mystery Babylon. This provides us with the main connection between Luke 11:50, Matt. 23:35, and Rev. 18:24. The blood of all the martyrs from Abel to the fall of Babylon are charged to the offspring who have claimed the leaders of Babylon as their fathers. The judgment will fall upon that final generation when Babylon falls and her sins are exposed.
The Law says in Deut. 24:16,
16 Fathers shall not be put to death for their sons, nor shall sons be put to death for their fathers; everyone shall be put to death for his own sin.
This is supported by the prophets in Ezekiel 20:18, “the son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity.” Yet God appears to contradict this in Exodus 34:7, “visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children to the third and fourth generation.” Furthermore, Paul adds in 1 Cor. 15:22, “in Adam all die.”
The simple solution is to see that God does not judge any man directly for the sin of his father (or ancestor). It is an indirect judgment. Adam’s sin made all of us mortal, or death-ridden (Rom. 5:12), and in this way the sins of father Adam are visited upon the children. This mortality then has become the weakness or disease by which we all sin personally. We are then judged directly for the sins that we personally commit, but only an indirect judgment for the sin of our father Adam.
To be given the death penalty (mortality) on account of Adam’s sin still contains a ring of injustice. But this apparent injustice is rectified by the fact that Jesus Christ came as the Last Adam to reverse the curse of Adam’s sin and to restore all that was lost in Adam. In other words, Jesus took the responsibility for the sin of the world which men committed on account of their mortality. God’s commitment under the New Covenant to save all mankind fully satisfies the demand of the law and absolves God in the matter of Deut. 24:16.
In other words, when God’s New Covenant promise is fulfilled and His work is complete, His actions and His plan will leave no permanent conflict in the mind of God.
Jesus said in Luke 11:48-50 that the “prophets and apostles” were persecuted and killed in times past, and that this blood would be charged to the children of those who murdered them. But there is still more liability placed upon the children, as we see in Luke 11:51,
51 from the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah, who perished between the altar and the house of God; yes, I tell you, it shall be charged against this generation.
Some have taught that this proves that the Jews in Jesus’ day were physically descended from Cain, who killed Abel. They interpret “fathers” and “children” in its genealogical sense. But the Hebrew language is richly metaphoric, as is clearly seen in many biblical statements.
A wise man was said to be one of the “children of wisdom” (Luke 7:35). Someone with revelation was a “son of light” (Luke 16:8). A bad person was a “son of the devil” (1 John 3:10). A man of faith was a son of Abraham (Gal. 3:7). James and John were “sons of thunder” (Mark 3:17). In Hebrew, thunder is kol, “voice.” Either they were loud mouthed or, in a good sense, they spoke the words of God, which was often compared to thunder.
It is clear, then, that this Hebraism was not to be taken in a genealogical sense. The “generation,” or offspring of those who killed the prophets are those who follow the example of past murderers, not only those in Jerusalem but also going back to Cain himself, the original murderer.
Jesus specifically mentions the time frame from Abel to Zechariah. There were at least three men named Zechariah who were killed in similar fashion. Matt. 23:35 calls him “Zechariah, the son of Berechiah,” who wrote the book of Zechariah. Zech. 1:1 says,
1 In the eighth month of the second year of Darius [520 B.C.], the word of the Lord came to Zechariah the prophet, the son of Berechiah, the son of Iddo saying…
An earlier Zechariah, “the son of Jehoida the priest,” was also killed “between the altar and the house of God,” as we read in 2 Chron. 24:19-21,
19 Yet He sent prophets to them to bring them back to the Lord; though they testified against them, they would not listen. 20 Then the Spirit of God came on Zechariah the son of Jehoiada the priest; and he stood above the people and said to them, “Why do you transgress the commandments of the Lord and do not prosper? Because you have forsaken the Lord, He has also forsaken you.” 21 So they conspired against him and at the command of the king they stoned him to death in the court of the house of the Lord.
Josephus also tells us of a third Zechariah (Greek version, Zacharias), who was killed in similar fashion about 34 years after Jesus spoke these words during the Jewish War before Jerusalem was destroyed. Zacharias, the son of Baruch, was killed for opposing the Jewish War. In urging the people to submit to Rome, he followed the instructions of Jeremiah 29:4-14, wherein the prophet told the captives in Babylon to submit to the judgment of God during their captivity.
Jeremiah himself was accused of treason and persecuted for speaking the word of God. Like him, Zacharias the son of Baruch was persecuted and even killed for being on God’s side of this contentious issue. Josephus writes the story:
“And now these zealots and Idumeans [Edomites who converted to Judaism in 126 B.C.] were quite weary of barely killing men, so they had the impudence of setting up fictitious tribunals and judicatures for that purpose; and as they intended to have Zacharias, the son of Baruch, one of the most eminent of the citizens, slain…. So they called together by a public proclamation seventy of the principal men of the populace, for a show, as if they were real judges, while they had no proper authority….
“Now there appeared no proof or sign of what he was accused… Now when Zacharias clearly saw that there was no way remaining for his escape from them, as having been treacherously called before them, and then put in prison, but not with any intention of a legal trial, he took great liberty of speech, in that despair of life he was under. Accordingly, he stood up, and laughed at their pretended accusation, and in a few words confuted the crimes laid to his charge….
“Now the seventy judges brought in their verdict, that the person accused was not guilty; … hereupon there arose a great clamour of the zealots upon his acquittal, and they all had indignation at the judges for not understanding that the authority that was given them was but in jest. So two of the boldest of them fell upon Zacharias in the middle of the temple and slew him.” (Wars of the Jews, IV, v, 4)
Luke does not identify the Zechariah of whom Jesus spoke. However, Matt. 23:29-39 also gives a longer account of Jesus’ words. He writes in Matt. 23:34-36,
34 Therefore, behold, I am sending you prophets and 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 upon you may fall the guilt of all the righteous blood shed on earth, from the blood of righteous Abel to the blood of Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, whom you murdered between the temple and the altar. 36 Truly I say to you, all these things shall come upon this generation.
This identifies him with the prophet Zechariah who wrote the book bearing his name.
It is obvious that Jesus was identifying His opponents—who would soon crucify Him—with all those of the past who were afflicted with the spirit of murder. This group was not of a single genealogy, but all were (as it were) sons of murder. Their murderous spirit was soon to be manifested openly when they crucified Jesus Himself.
In Acts 4:10 Peter said to the Sanhedrin,
10 Let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health.
In Acts 5:30 Peter again answered the accusations of the Sanhedrin,
30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross.
Later, in Acts 7:51-53, Stephen told the same Sanhedrin,
51 You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.
In the actual account of Jesus’ crucifixion, John 19:15, 16 says,
15 They therefore cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him; crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he [Pilate] then delivered Him to them [the chief priests] to be crucified. 17 THEY took Jesus therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There THEY crucified Him…
To this day it is a point of contention between Jews and Christians as to who crucified Jesus. Jews make the claim that the Romans crucified Jesus, whereas Scripture shows how Pilate wanted to set Him free. Pilate refused to crucify Him but instead allowed the chief priests to do it.
So they fulfilled the measure of their fathers, who had persecuted and killed all the prophets before them.
Incidentally, it is important to know who crucified Jesus, because Jesus was the final Sacrifice for sin, fulfilling all of the types and shadows set forth by the animals that were sacrificed since the beginning of time. The law prophesied also that these animals should be sacrificed by the priests of Levi, not by the Romans. If Jesus had been crucified by the Romans, then one might have reason to question the legitimacy of that sacrifice on behalf of the sin of the world.
It was necessary for Him to be crucified, and in this case, that divine service was done by the high priest himself, either directly or indirectly. Though he did so with murder in his heart, yet he also fulfilled the law and the prophets in this. The real problem was that he and many others did not follow through by fulfilling the law of sacrifice in Lev. 17:3-9. They were instructed to apply the blood of the sacrifice to the altar of the sanctuary, but they did not treat His blood as a sacrificial element.
It is only by applying His blood to our heart-altars in our temple (1 Cor. 3:16) that we are able to escape liability for sin.