The Blood of Righteous Abel (Matthew 23:35)

Does God punish nations for the sins of their forefathers? Did God punish Israel for killing his prophets? It seems like it when you read these words of Jesus:

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, so 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. Truly I say to you, all these things will come upon this generation. (Matthew 23:34-36)

Both here and in Luke 11:49-51, Jesus pronounces what is effectively a death sentence on the nation of Israel. “You’re going to pay for the blood of Abel and Zechariah.”

This raises some interesting questions because the first-century Jews did not kill Abel or Zechariah. Abel was murdered by Cain, thousands of years earlier, while Zechariah was murdered eight centuries back. Yet Jesus says, “Zechariah whom you murdered between the temple and the altar.”

That’s like telling an Englishman, “You killed Braveheart.”

Did Jesus pronounce divine punishment?

The first-century Jews did not kill Abel and Zechariah, but they paid for the crime. Within a generation Jerusalem was wiped off the face of the earth. From this we can draw one of three possible conclusions about the Jews and the murder of Abel:

  1. God punished them as though they did it
  2. God punished them for the sins of their fathers
  3. They were punished, but not by God

The first conclusion is easy to dismiss for God is gracious. If he won’t punish you for the sins you have done (Psalm 103:10), he certainly won’t punish you for the sins you haven’t. All this is to the glory of Jesus who bore our sins along with the sins of the scribes and Pharisees.

The second conclusion – Jesus charged them with sins their fathers did – sounds like it comes out of the old covenant, but it doesn’t. The Law of Moses forbade punishing children for their parents’ mistakes. According to the law of the day, the scribes and Pharisees could not be held accountable for the sins of their fathers, let alone their distant ancestors. Thus we can dismiss the second explanation.

So who punished them?

Not God, but sin. By sin, I am referring to that spiritual power that crouched at Cain’s door (Gen. 4:7). Sin as a noun, rather than a verb. In Romans, Paul talks about how sin desires to enslave and dominate us. Sin is a monster that seeks to kill us.

You’d be surprised at how often people confuse God with the devil or the Savior with sin. But when Jesus told the scribes and Pharisees that a day of reckoning was coming, he was simply saying their chickens were coming home to roost.

The blood of all the prophets, which was shed from the foundation of the world, may be required of this generation. (Luke 11:50, KJV)

“Required” in the sense that sin has consequences. Sow death, and you’ll reap death.

Again, this has nothing to do with divine vengeance and everything to do with the natural consequences of our actions. Sin is destructive. Text on the freeway and you could crash. Flirt with your coworker and you might destroy your marriage. Slaughter a Roman garrison and you’ll invoke the emperor’s wrath.

And none of it will be God’s fault.

But Abel, really?

Abel was the first man of faith in the Bible. His offering was a signpost to Jesus. When righteous Abel was murdered by his self-righteous brother, it was the beginning of a bad pattern. From Abel to Zechariah, faithful men have been killed by the religious.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets… (Matthew 23:37)

For hundreds of years God had been trying to draw Israel from their self-destructive course, but they kept the pedal to the metal, and now their end was imminent.

Behold, your house is being left to you desolate! (Matthew 23:38)

Your temple, your religion – it’s empty. There’s nothing there! God has left the building.

For I say to you, from now on you will not see me until you say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.” (Matthew 23:39)

In Luke’s account these words come before Palm Sunday (Luke 13:34-35), but in Matthew’s they come after. Palm Sunday, as you may recall, was the day the crowds welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem shouting:

Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. (Matthew 21:9)

This is a psalm of salvation (see Ps. 118:26). The cry of Hosanna literally means “save us.” The Pharisees were indignant when they heard the crowds shouting this (Matt. 21:15). They were offended. Yet Jesus told them, “You will never see me again until you say these words yourselves.”

After he rose from the dead the Lord revealed himself to hundreds of believers, but not once did he appear to the unbelieving Jews (except Saul). They had had their chance, but now he was gone.

But all was not lost. The religious leaders had rejected Jesus, but he had not rejected them. If they were to cry, “Lord, save us,” he would be there. The moment they saw him as a blessing from the Lord, they would be blessed.

There is comfort in these words. For as long as there is life there is hope.

You may be the worst sinner on the planet, even a murderer of prophets and apostles, but cry for salvation and the Savior will hear.

Extracted and abridged from Paul Ellis’ book AD70 and the End of the World.

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15 Comments on The Blood of Righteous Abel (Matthew 23:35)

  1. Thank you brother Paul for a job well done. More of God’s blessings

  2. Factual, contextual, straight to the point and inspired by Holy Spirit! Keep up the good work of the LORD Jesus Christ! One day we are going to invite you to Zimbabwe. We are fed up with false doctrines!

  3. This is great! Thanks!

  4. I’ve always had a hard time seeing God as a God of love in the Old Testament and this helps SO much. Thank you for making this so easy to see!

  5. Blessed be the name of the Lord! His name is Jesus.

  6. Thank you, Paul, for your faithfulness and encouragement. As life is not turning out as I had hoped (like to two on the road) I find myself often looking to vices and distractions to find some kind of relief from pain and disappointment. So, I find myself walking away from him, but I am learning he is hard to recognize until I turn toward him to break bread, to rest and abide. I found the tone of this post to be much like what I am hearing him speak to me from Isaiah 30 today:
    15This is what the Sovereign Lord,
    the Holy One of Israel, says:
    “Only in returning to me
    and resting in me will you be saved.
    In quietness and confidence is your strength.
    But you would have none of it.
    18So the Lord must wait for you to come to him
    so he can show you his love and compassion.
    For the Lord is a faithful God.
    Blessed are those who wait for his help.

  7. What a profound revelation! Love it! Thank you Paul for opening our eyes to see and understand the times these things were spoken, and there reference. ❤️

  8. This interpretation leaves me reeling with wonder,busy wondering what of Huemanetics is at play here.?i am very worried with what this type interpretation. The context is deliberately thrown away, Jesus was simply prophesying judgment on Jewish religious system, for it was now a demonic household busy killing innocent prophets and Jesus used a prophetic analogy to describe the comming judgement of 70 AD judgment onJerusalem….read correctly Matt 23 into 24 and get the gist..

  9. A man does what he reaps. Yes, good reminder and needed perspective for many who reject God as unjustly harsh. He has built into His economy “the wages of sin”. We often do not get the connection here especially when “sin” has become one of the obsolete vocabulary words of our post Christian culture.
    It still does not erase the dilemma or paradox of sin existing at all and Jesus’ atonement for sin being plan A not some plan B corrective action. Sin is problematically essential to the perfect plan. I don’t think we are able to “trace” that out.

  10. I feel like sin, as a noun, is heavily misunderstood. If many are even aware that such a thing exists at all.

  11. Well articulated. Thank you brother Paul for being faithful with scriptures.

  12. Mmmm God punishes and make sure “that whatsoever a man soweth that shall he reap”

    • Isaiah 53 says the punishment that brought us peace was upon Jesus. Since a just God cannot punish the same sin twice, no punishment for sin remains. Sowing and reaping describes the natural consequences of our sin, and that’s what Jesus is talking about here. Not divine punishment.

      • I think there is more mystery in it than that, what if divine justice and consequences for sin are basically one and the same from Gods perspective? the only reason we talk about righteousness at all is because that is part of His nature. In that way, the mere fact that Jesus showed up meant divine judgement was an inevitability rather than an arbitrary action.
        When the lights come on you can’t stop your eyes from seeing, you can’t un-see what you’ve seen, it requires a response or a deliberate act of the will to ignore revealed reality. In that sense they were as guilty as Cain, of his seed, and prone to the same nature and action. What happened next proved that beyond all doubt.

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